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Rant Time: Polaroid Zip and App

Posted in botch, business, california, fail by commorancy on January 5, 2019

polaroid-zip-printerI haven’t ranted in quite a while and it’s time, especially considering this is the new year. Polaroid is the target of my tirade today. Let’s explore.

Polaroid Zip

The Polaroid Zip is a small pocket photo printer priced around $99. You can sometimes find it on sale. But, don’t go out and buy it before you read this article!

There are a number of these small pocket Zink paper photo printers available such as the Polaroid Zip, the HP Sprocket, the Canon IVY, the LifePrint, the Kodak Mini2 and even the not-so-pocket-sized zInk Happy photo printer. Every one of these printers depends entirely on an app designed by the company selling the printer. In fact, without this app, the printer device is an entirely useless brick… they don’t support Airprint!

Useless is exactly what Polaroid Zip has become when Polaroid updated its software with a major update in mid 2018. The formerly working app, which was a just a slight bit rough around the edges, worked to produce high quality prints. This latest 2018 app version is a piece of trash the size of Mount Everest, once you toss all of these now useless Polaroid Zip printers into a mound at the landfill.

The updated app is entirely junk!

The Dangers of Portable Devices with Apps

I have no idea what compelled Polaroid (C&A Marketing) to toss out the older, completely working app and replace it with a broken piece of junk. However, it completely spells out the danger of buying into these app enabled devices.

In yesteryear, we used to buy printers which had standard printer drivers that would simply just print from any app capable of printing. On iOS, these are known as Airprint printers. With the introduction of the Polaroid Zip and similar devices, this is no longer a concept in the printer industry. Now, you must using a single proprietary app to funnel and print your images. If the app breaks, you can’t print.

I’m not sure WHY this standardization change made its way out of the printer industry, but I don’t like it one bit. It makes the devices far less flexible than their distant printer brethren and it makes printing images far more complicated than it needs to be. I don’t want to have to always use your stupid little app just to print an image. I want to be able to print from any app on my phone. Being tied to and dependent on your stupid little app is not only an asinine requirement, it’s insanely stupid. Please, just open your printer up to iOS as an Airprint device. Let us use whatever app we want to use. I don’t want to be dependent on your stupid app that you can hack up and break at the drop of a hat.

Polaroid as a Poster Child

I’m sorry that I have to rail so hard against Polaroid, but they made their bed and now they must lie in it. It’s their app and they ruined a perfectly good printing device by producing such a crap app to go with it.

The older app was at least functional, had semi-intuitive tools and simply just worked. This new app requires jumping between multiple screens, has tools buried in several different places, is more complicated to use, they removed “magic” enhancements designed to print images correctly on Zink paper and overall hobbled the printer.

Worse, now you have to waste tons of paper because you have to tweak and retweak the image OUTSIDE of the app to get a decent print out of the printer. The Zink paper is expensive and wasting sheet after sheet just to get a print is stupid and costly! With the old app, I never wasted one sheet. What I saw on screen was what I got out of the printer (pretty much). This new app provides no such predictable output. What you see on the screen is definitely not what you’ll get out of the printer… and this is why this newest 2018 update is such a #FAIL on Polaroid’s part.

Get With The Program, Polaroid

Polaroid, do the right thing! Pull that crap of an app from the store and revert to the older app version. Let your new developer update that crap app to the point where it is at the same level as the older app. That might take 6 months to 1 year. Whatever it takes, just do it.

For now, remove that app from the store and put the old one back. This new one sucks hard and doesn’t work. Right now, my printer is a useless $99 brick. Polaroid, do you want to reimburse me my money?

Class action lawsuit anyone?


If you’ve had a similar experience with your pocket photo printer from another brand, please leave a comment below and let me know.

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How important is nutrition education in Schools?

Posted in food, Health, nutrition, school by commorancy on January 3, 2019

Stalks2Happy New Year, Randocity Readers! Welcome to the first post of 2019. Here’s a topic that’s been boiling for quite some time, but never quite mashed it into a written article. With the new year comes resolutions. Considering this is typically a new year resolution, it’s the perfect time to roll this article out. This topic is something I think that public schools and even colleges need to rethink. Let’s explore.

Growing Up, Food Choices and School

One of the things that more or less caused me lots of angst throughout grade school (and even into college), as I now reflect on it, was the lack of mandated nutrition education. I grew up in Houston and went to public school there and later went to college up state. At the time I was in grade school, I obviously didn’t know any better about nutrition and wouldn’t have challenged the ‘establishment’ even if I did. No, I was clearly in the dark on this topic.

One thing that I can definitively say about Houston ISD was its serious lack of food education. While there were classes available like Home Economics, these classes were far less about nutrition and more about how to prepare a meal and not burn it and not cut yourself. You know, the logistics of using pots and pans, cooking in the oven, using a blender or food processor, time budgeting and how to handle kitchen cutlery safely. As I said, logistics. While these are incredibly valuable kitchen safety and functionality education conversations, they have nothing whatever to do with smart food choices or in understanding healthy nutrition.

No, there was no such class available in elementary, junior high (now called “middle school”) or even high school. In fact, the cafeteria’s food choices served to the kids was actually some of the worst, least nutritional meals I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. They were edible, yes, but just barely.

Not only was the school remiss in teaching proper food education, the school entirely failed in feeding the students a proper meal that would aid in the nutrition learning process… which is really the most important part of any nutrition program. If you’re falling asleep in class because you ate the wrong foods, then perhaps it’s important to teach better food choices to avoid this outcome?

Unhealthy Choices

Before I dive deeper, let’s talk about the weird food choices from my school’s cafeteria. While I don’t recall exact meals served in my elementary school, I do recall the pints of milk that nearly every student bought and drank each day… sometimes two. Mostly I missed what was served each day due to the fact that I rarely bought a meal from the cafeteria. My parents packed me a lunch each day. However, what the cafeteria served was one from a set menu each day. One day might be pizza, another day might be hamburger and another might be Salisbury steak. If they served any fruit with the lunch, it was usually in the form of Jello. Oh, how I hated the school’s Jello. For whatever reason, it always had a very hard top “crust” that formed on the Jello that resembled more of chewing on rubber than a food product. Horrible.

As I said, I thankfully missed much of that nutritionally deficient and poor quality food fare as I rarely bought food from the cafeteria. Throughout elementary school, my parents made and packed my lunch in lunch box or bag and I would only purchase a pint of milk to have something to drink with my lunch.

When I did rarely eat a meal at the elementary school cafeteria, pretty much any meal served was either way overcooked, under cooked or simply tasted like a really bad 70s frozen TV dinner. I recall that the food mostly tasted of cardboard (little flavor from that grade C or D food). There was absolutely no care in the quality or the nutritional value of the food. It was simply supplied to “feed” the kids and, hopefully, get them through the rest of the day (at the cheapest cost possible).

It’s not that my bagged lunch was so much better, though. I mean, how many days in a row can you eat a bologna and cheese sandwich, some chips and/or maybe an apple or banana? Yep, that’s pretty much what my parents packed… that or peanut butter and jelly. It was a meal that needed to withstand no refrigeration. By the time we were ready to eat lunch, it was room temperature and was, well, not that tasty.

It was definitely a meal that left me wanting. Peanut Butter and Jelly offered its own share of problems, such as solid sustenance. Peanut butter is tasty enough, but it’s no where near filling enough to substitute for actual protein. The Jelly is just glorified fruit sugar. Jelly simply gave you a sugar high that would eventually drop so low as to make you tired and sleepy. Peanut butter and jelly was, in fact, one of the worst meals I could have eaten. I’m not necessarily speaking for others, but for me that meal didn’t work out. Thankfully, I almost always got lunch meat on a sandwich. Better, but obviously not best. It was almost always a sandwich so they wouldn’t have to pack silverware or containers. Occasionally, they might use the thermos in my lunch box to pack some soup, but that also lacked in being filling as PB&J… mostly because it was usually Campbell’s soup.

I don’t fault my parents as they really didn’t know better. Their food education throughout their schooling was as poor for them as it was for me. They made these food choices for us kids even though it wasn’t always the smartest of choices. It was mostly out of cost value or convenience (read speed). I can certainly understand them not wanting wake up two or more hours early to prepare cooked meals for us, then still be required to go to work later. I get it. But it also meant nutrition that didn’t fulfill our nutritional requirements. The cafeteria meals were hot and cooked, but not always that fresh or tasty. Either meal type left me wanting.

Middle and High School

As I moved into junior high and high school, my stance on nutrition only got marginally better. What I mean by that is that in junior high, I ate most of my meals by buying a cafeteria lunch. I rarely brought in bag lunches at this point. I guess, my parents were tired of having to make a meal every day and I was certainly tired of eating nearly the same sandwich every single day. So, I began buying meals at the cafeteria. Not the best choice I could have made in hindsight, but I definitely remember these meals.

These cafeteria meals consisted of a poor quality protein, including fried chicken, chicken fried steak and gravy, pizza (very, very bad pizza), spaghetti, Salisbury steak, hamburger (tasted like it was frozen) and other similarly horrible entrees. Everything served tasted as if it had been frozen solid an hour before. Our rectangular 4 or 5 compartment trays would also be fitted with a horribly overcooked and/or canned side dishes (i.e., green beans, corn, peas, etc) and a desert (Jello, ambrosia, carrot raisin salad, etc). Sometimes one of the tray slots would be filled with bread. The choices and food combinations were questionable, but always predictably the same. Because the school lunch program published its monthly meal schedule in advance, you could avoid the days when the worst foods were served… which was pretty much every day.

As I moved into High School, the whole lunch food dynamic changed for my first 1.5 years (before the school moved to a new location). Because my high school had no cafeteria at all when I started as a freshman, we had to fend for ourselves at lunch. Yeah, I know, it’s weird. Because of this dilemma at the school, a few of the faculty took it upon themselves to run to Del Taco or some other fast food place and buy a bunch of burritos or hamburgers, bring them back and sell them to us. I’d occasionally used this option when I didn’t have much time between classes. Again, nutrition was a second thought. It was less about feeding the kids a proper meal and more about getting the kids fed. It’s that cattle mentality.

Thankfully, our school campus overlapped with part of Houston Community College’s campus. Because HCC had a culinary program (such that it was), the students were tasked with operating an eatery and, thus, there was a school operated cafeteria on the top floor of their classroom building. Occasionally, I would end up there to eat lunch and, I will say, for the first time I had a reasonable quality and tasty lunch. It was probably even somewhat nutritious as they had a salad bar that I occasionally used. The bar was expensive because it was “by the pound”, but the ingredients were always freshly made and tasty. For me, it was a treat to eat this kind of food for lunch rather than burritos.

The last half of my high school years, the school had moved out of that facility and into a “new” building. I put that in quotes because while it was “new” it was horribly lacking in design and it was incredibly small for a high school building. I’m not sure what HISD was thinking when they designed it. I digress.

Anyway, we were again dependent on HISD to provide us with meals. This basically meant, we had to fend for ourselves because, once again, the food was total garbage. Instead of the cafeteria where you ask them to plate foods from a buffet bar, this was a walk up window and there was a fixed menu. One day it might be hamburgers, another day it might be pizza and another day who knows what crappy concoction they would sell us. The food was horrible, salty, sugary and greasy all at the same time. Yet, that’s what they served us at a similar (or sometimes higher) price to McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Del Taco or Wendy’s. In fact, because we had been so spoiled by being allowed to leave the campus for lunch during those 1.5 years at the older campus, we still took the opportunity to leave the campus to go get lunch. However, many of us ended up over at 7-Eleven because it was on the next block over and we could walk there and back in less than 10 minutes on our strict 30 allotted minutes. Fast food places required hopping into a car and driving for at least 5-10 minutes in addition to waiting on the order during a busy noon lunch crowd. You ended up eating your meal in the car on the way back because you had maybe 5 minutes to eat it if you waited until you got back.

None of these were terribly smart food choices, but this is what choices we had as students. Choices that could have been made better if we had had some nutrition classes to teach us better eating habits and had had better food choices served to us in the cafeteria. Or better, offer the students (at least in junior high on up) a real kitchen facility with microwaves to allow us to make our own lunches and offer up a fridge system to store our lunches until lunch time so the lunches aren’t sitting out for 4 hours without refrigeration.

Junk Food, Candy and Time Management

Candy bars, soda and generally sugary junk foods were common staples in my lunchroom beginning in junior high (7th grade). This was in addition to vending machines… which you couldn’t use during lunch because we were captive in the lunch room (doors were basically locked) and the vending machines were in the hall a fair distance away. If you managed to walk buy one during class exchange, you could buy and stock up before lunch, leaving it in your locker. If you did leave the lunchroom to go to the vending machine and were caught, you got detention.

In junior high, there was the cafeteria line which served “hot meals” on trays with very long lines, but there was also a concession booth in the back of the lunchroom that served foods like hot dogs, candy bars, chips, soda, granola bars, gum, candy with a much, much shorter line. It was basically the prepared stuff you’d find at a 7-Eleven or at a movie theater (minus popcorn).

Why is this important? During junior high school, the lunch line was so long, if you weren’t at the lunch room early, you’d be waiting to get your meal for upwards to 25 minutes in a very long line. The cafeteria workers were incredibly slow and it took even longer to pay for your meal due to the “meal program” slowness. Because the lunch lasted 30 minutes on the dot, that meant 5 minutes or less to woof down your meal.

This is an important point. Having enough time to eat a meal is just as important as the food that’s being served. The school didn’t care that it took students upwards to 25 minutes simply to buy their meal. Woofing down a meal in 5 minutes doesn’t offer enough time to properly chew your food. It just doesn’t work. Again, naïve school administration. It wasn’t my fault that my class was the farthest away from the lunchroom and let out last, yet I was constantly penalized with excessively short amounts of time to eat my meal if I chose to buy a meal from the line.

This meant three choices: bring your lunch, 5 minutes to eat or junk food available almost immediately. There were many times were I opted for the junk food so I could at least have 15-20 minutes to sit down and relax before the next class. It wasn’t the greatest choice, but it was “the lesser of those evils.” Junior high school ultimately taught me how to eat fast AND eat junk, but never eat nutritiously.

When I got to high school, the high school’s lunch window (toward the latter half of my time there) sold both a combination of meals and junk food. You made the choice when you got to the window. Because this window wasn’t part of the “official” HISD lunch program, you’d only find out what was being served the day of. This meant asking when you got to the window and then making a choice to buy or not. If you chose not, then you’d have to leave the campus and find a meal elsewhere. Believe me, the “meals” being served from that cafeteria window were some of the most questionable I’d ever had in school. Not only was the food expensive, it was simply horrible quality food. I walked away empty handed and ended up at 7-Eleven far too much of the time. Ultimately, it was trading one bad choice for another. But, at least it was something I could eat.

However, because of lunch period time constraints, sometimes there was no choice. As an example, one of the “meals” my high school lunch window regularly served (more than twice a week) was a Frito Pie. You know, pouring chili over the top of Fritos and topping it with cheese and onions. Yeah, such great nutrition there, if you consider salt, carbs and grease as nutritious. If you wanted fruit or salad, I can’t recall them ever selling that. Because these healthier choices of foods are more perishable than canned, frozen and bagged items, they didn’t want to keep it in the kitchen. Oh, how I longed for the days of the HCC cafeteria. In fact one or two times I decided to drive over there and eat instead. It wasn’t that far from the new school, but it was a hassle to leave and make it back on time. Instead, I’d usually make my way to 7-Eleven to their cold case and buy something prepackaged or to get a piece of fruit. Even then, towards my final year, the school office was trying to enforce not leaving the campus at lunch time. There’s no way that was not going to happen. Many of us still left to picked up lunch from 7-Eleven or McDonald’s or Wendy’s… just try and stop me.

In my senior year, one of the stickler academic instructors tried to hassle me one day for going to 7-Eleven. I simply told them I was on an errand for another instructor, which was a common request. He had to shut up and go away. Thankfully, it was my senior year and I could finally get away from that crap food.

Nutrition Education

The problem with public schools is that while they do a decent job at teaching the academic basics of history, math, biology and general science, schools typically neglect food science and fail to embrace the holistic idea of how food acts on the body. Students might learn about this topic if they happen to have parents who work in that profession, but many won’t learn it from school… which means most students didn’t learn it during my time in school. Today, schools may have added some nutrition classes, but I kinda doubt they’re where they need to be… teaching only the barebones basics and still serving questionable quality meals.

The closest that schools came to nutrition education at the time I was there was Home Economics (or whatever they might be calling it today). Home Economics is less about food and nutrition and more about the logistics of navigating a kitchen safely, knife handling, food prep, using kitchen appliances and timing of cooking so that all of the food lands on a plate at or close to the same time. It might have even included a discussion on budget shopping. That’s not nutrition, that’s logistics.

Basically, I learned nothing about food or nutrition until into my late-30s. I learned about it on my own slowly, which allowed me to better understand some of the problems I was experiencing to better my own quality of life through better food choices. To some degree, I still struggle with this only because of the lack of formal education around food and nutrition, thanks mostly to the lack of public education in teaching this important knowledge area.

Unfortunately, I moved from one type of “school” to effectively another when I took my first job at a theme park. Because the food being served there was only marginally better than my school’s food, I still didn’t learn about food and nutrition while working there. The food choices there were also questionable… and mostly consisted of a hamburger and fries. The park simply didn’t treat nutrition as anything important. It was more important to serve foods that people liked instead of supporting healthy nutritious choices. As employees, we had to suffer through with that food rationale geared towards park guests.

As employees, we also had no kitchen or fridge facilities to store our foods. If you wanted to bring something from home, you had to bring a small cooler yourself and then find a place to store it. Coolers only marginally worked because of the high outside temperatures during summer. For folks who worked in food service, they might be able to store a brought lunch in their restaurant’s fridge if the manager allowed it. That was only a perk for those specific workers. The general staff was offered no such kitchen facility when there was plenty of park space to build and offer such a lunchroom location.

Food is Energy

It’s clear, food is the energy needed to keep the body working. As they say, “You are what you eat.” That is a fairly accurate statement. Food is about balanced nutrition including balancing carbohydrates, proteins and fats in combination with vitamins and minerals. It’s also about understanding which foods contain which vitamins and minerals and understanding which specific foods fall under carbohydrates, fats and proteins by eyeing the food. For example, a hamburger patty is both fat and protein with very little carbs. A hamburger bun is almost all carbs with some fats. When you add vegetables, such as tomatoes and onions, this is primarily where vitamins and minerals come in.

Candy bars are primarily sugar and fats with a bunch of fillers, flavors and cocoa.

It’s really easy to write this now only because I’ve come to understand what is what. But, when you’re 5-18 years old, you don’t learn this. Like a foreign language, students learn best during these early years. Why this information is not imparted to children at that age just doesn’t make sense.

If I had been taught nutrition during my early school years, I could have moved into my 20s much more informed, with a healthier weight and ultimately made better food and nutrition choices during college years. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

Nutrition Classes

Nutrition is not a hard topic to grasp the basics. For example, understanding the Nutrition Facts label, understanding how to read an ingredient label and understanding what foods fall into which category (fats, carbs, protein) is actually mostly easy today, thanks to the standardized nutrition labeling requirements.

I guess schools thought that the Nutrition Facts label was so simple to understand that there’s no need to teach anything. Well, that’s not true. There are plenty of gotchas when reading a Nutrition Facts label. Sometimes it’s not about what’s on the label, it’s what’s missing from the label, such as food combinations.

Also, it’s quite important to offer sufficient time to consume the food in combination with supplying fresh, high quality meals is what would help the students to perform their best. For a timing example, the short 30 minutes offered to eat lunch in the cafeteria and the 10-15 minutes to woof down breakfast during the first class of the day. Teaching kids to eat fast is not a smart choice. Eating smart and chewing it properly is the smarter choice. As an example, sweet laden breakfasts causes the body to fight against sleepytime as insulin crashes because of the 150g of carbs during breakfast or lunch. This is why understanding smart nutrition is so important… such as how the foods act on the body.

For those students who have diabetes or require special dietary needs, these students become well versed in what to eat and what not to eat because of severe health consequences. Though, temptation is always there, there are severe consequences if they cheat. Kids with diabetes or food allergies learn these consequences early. Why does it take this level of consequence for kids to learn? Why can’t this type of information make its way to the general population of students? Setting up a nutrition class is not that hard to design, but it does require funding by the school. I guess schools just don’t feel that this level of nutrition education is important. It’s a short-sighted point by the schools.

Equipping our Kids for Success

Giving our kids every opportunity to succeed in life should be the goal of every school. Yet, withholding such vital information as how to eat properly in a world full of bad food choices simply doesn’t make any sense.

We teach students about such things as history to help prevent history repeating itself, yet we give students no tools to help manage food, nutrition and their body. Food can make or break the body. As a child, the body is very resilient to the fillers and chemicals placed into junk food. As we age, the body becomes less tolerant to these. This means that as our kids move into becoming young adults, then adults, many will forever struggle with weight issues and food related health problems… because they were given no tools in school.

By failing to equip our students to identify and avoid problematic foods, we are leading some of our kids down a path that will fail them. Knowing history, math, biology and science is great, but it doesn’t fully equip our kids to survive in the world, particularly when it comes to food choices.

Kids need to learn to make smart food choices in elementary school. They need to understand the difference between eating green beans or a salad over mac and cheese and chicken nuggets. They may not like green beans or salad, but they need to understand the positive benefits they could experience by eating them. Kids that age may not want to explore foods like these that early, but with a proper class, we could entice kids to want to explore these foods and become excited over them. This is the benefit of offering food choices and nutrition classes.

Bullying, Obesity and Kids

Much of the reason kids bully one another due to body weight issues. It might be that the kid is too thin and lanky, but it’s just as likely they’ll be overweight or even obese. Thin or fat are two sides of the same coin, usually resulting from improper relationships with food and simply not understanding nutrition. Being overly thin could be a metabolism thing, but it might also be the food choices. Being obese is also a metabolism problem in relation to food choices.

Weight loss or gain starts in the kitchen. The body needs proper nutrition based on the body type. If you’re predisposed to gaining weight, then that requires a different course of action with food than if you’re thin trying to gain weight. It’s all about tailored nutrition.

As I said above, the young body bounces back easily even when the wrong foods are being eaten. This is why kids can be both overweight and still be considered ‘healthy’. At that point, it would be considered a degree of health. Healthy isn’t simply a specific number. There’s variation between levels of health. You can fall under healthy with medical tests, but still feel awful, have aches and pains, sleep poorly and generally feel crappy overall. That’s a degree of unhealthy. Even kids can suffer from this problem.

Growing up, I couldn’t sleep more than 5-6 hours at a time. That wasn’t a sleeping behavior problem alone. That was a food and nutrition problem. When I eat properly at the proper times during the day, I can sleep for up to 8 hours, but generally hit the 7 hour mark before waking. I still struggle with proper nutrition. Today, that’s less about naïvety than time constraints.

It’s also important to understand moderation and variety in food consumption. Eating the same food day in and out may be tasty, particularly if the food is Pizza or Mac and Cheese, but that doesn’t make it a healthy food habit. It’s easy to become deficient in nutrition if you’re not getting balanced foods… like eating a piece of fruit or vegetables at some of the meals. It’s also about cooking and raw foods. Vegetables can be eaten raw or cooked.

The point is, teaching a proper food lifestyle from an early age can mean better body image, feeling better, more energy and a more positive outlook when at school. By eating only junk food and sticking to a diet that consists of the same foods over and over, the body may not be getting what it needs to concentrate in class or getting proper sleep. This can mean irritability, irrational behavior and perhaps leading to bad grades or being a troublemaker. Eating properly cannot in any way fix mental health issues, but it can improve health and well being, including mental well being. This is why it’s important to give students every possible tool to help them not only succeed in school, but have life tools to help them succeed into adulthood.

Raw vs Cooked

School cafeterias always cook the food until it’s overcooked. However, eating raw fruit or vegetables is a very good way to add more vitamins and minerals to your diet. Because we’ve recently had a spate of problems with raw vegetables (i.e., Salmonella or E.Coli), many people feel that they should be cooking their vegetables. Cooking vegetables is great, but it also strips some of the important nutrients from the food. This is why it’s important to include both raw and cooked vegetables in your diet. If you’re concerned over Salmonella or E.Coli, then lightly steam the vegetables. Let them remain mostly raw, but give them enough hot steam time to kill off any outside bacteria. Try to keep that vegetable as raw as possible. If a green vegetable has turned a dull yellow-green, then it’s overcooked. Green vegetables should remain a vibrant green color even when steamed.

To eat fruits and vegetables raw, wash them with at least water. Better, wash them in a diluted vinegar solution (3 parts water to 1 part vinegar). The vinegar won’t damage the produce and also won’t in any way preserve it, but it will kill off almost all of the bacteria and pesticides (and any remaining soil). You can also buy commercial produce wash solutions like FIT or Veggie Wash, but these can be more expensive than plain vinegar.

If you’re really concerned about this problem, I’d suggest visiting your local farmer’s produce market and get to know your local growers. Ask them how they manage their crops, the kinds of pesticides they use, the kinds of fertilizer they use and also ask about their general produce storage and handling practices (make sure they’re keeping the produce properly stored, such as chilled and that they are packed separately from other vegetables).

Shopping for produce also gives you the opportunity to take your children with you and let them pick out produce that is appealing to them. Shopping lets them explore the fascinating world of fruits and vegetables and lets them pick them up, touch them and see how they feel. It’s a way to get your kids interested in more than chicken nuggets, pizza and mac and cheese. Children are naturally curious explorers. Let’s let them do what they do best and explore the world of fruits and vegetables through new eyes. They may not like everything they try, but that’s okay. They’ll find at least something that they like. Kids are also more likely to like it if you let them choose rather than trying to force the foods on them. Food exploration is an important tool to entice children into trying fruits and vegetables. If you take them to a farmer’s market, many produce vendors cut up and offer fruit samples right there. This gives your child a chance to try the fruits right at the market.

Buying local produce, you can typically avoid many of the problems you find with the large commercial growers who supply your local supermarkets… and that includes supermarkets like Whole Foods and Sprouts, even as much as they tout fresh, healthy, whole foods and produce. Buying local doesn’t necessarily get you better tasting produce, but many times it does. For example, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries in the supermarket are often bland and not at all sweet. Buying from a local grower, many times you’ll find much, much sweeter berries at or less than store prices. But, it’s really less about the price and more about the quality of the nutrition. It’s also about food exploration.

College

When I moved onto college, not much changed in terms of food quality. Our college cafeteria treated food towards students like someone might treat feeding pigs on a farm…. just throw some random slop out there and they’ll eat it.

My college cafeteria food clearly created some of the worst food I’d ever experienced at a school. In hindsight, the food itself was probably not much worse than HISD’s food… it was the extremely poor food handling practices that made it much, much worse. For example, when the college cafeteria served hamburgers, they would cook the meat in advance, place them into some kind of flavored water solution and leave them overnight in the fridge. Then they’d pull the metal hot table bins from the fridge, unwrap them and place them onto a hot grill to heat them up for the day.

Not only were the hamburger patties not fresh, they tasted weird. I think I only ever ate one or two before bowing out of that mess. Now keep in mind that the college forced a meal plan on every incoming freshman and sophomore who lived in the dorms. I can understand why they forced it. The food was so grade D that there was no other way they could sell that trash to anyone actually willing to pay at the register. On these bad hamburger days, I’d make my way to Whataburger, who always cooked at least grade B burgers fresh to order… none of that weird floating in hot water grade D nonsense.

It also meant that, for the first time, I had the option to make better food choices for myself. Food choices that not only worked for my budget, but that also provided fresh hot nutritious meals; meals that didn’t leave me feeling lethargic, sleepy and generally crap. That not to say I didn’t occasionally overindulge and get that way, but I began learning much more about nutrition on my own while in college. I also began learning because due to the crap way I had been taught to eat my meals in 5 minutes in junior high (reinforced by my first job) and the kinds of food I’d been taught to eat. I had also begun experiencing digestive problems.

At the time, I’m quite sure the college offered nutrition classes because of their various athletics and Kinesiology programs, but I didn’t take any of these classes. Though, I’m certain they were offered. In hindsight, I probably should have taken at least one class just to find out what I didn’t know. Unfortunately, my college degree already kept me busy. My degree plan just didn’t have any room after I’d filled in all of very few electives with classes that helped me graduate faster. However, my public school days definitely offered no nutrition classes. There was simply nothing available. If I had wanted to take a class like this, I’d have had to do it after school on my parent’s dime. My parents wouldn’t have agreed to this. Though, even in junior high, I was aware of services like Weight Watchers… and I’d even considered joining. I simply had no spare time (or spare money as they required you to buy into their food).

In high school, there were sex ed classes, but there were no nutrition classes… definitely none at my high school. In junior high, if there was any nutrition conversation, the extent of it was in a biology class, usually offering a very academic overview… being less about proper nutrition than the sheer basics about how food works on the body. There were zero nutrition classes available during elementary school, the most formative time when children should be exposed to proper nutrition.

Sure, we understand what tastes good (ice cream, Cheetos and Coke) and what tastes bad (broccoli and liver), but that’s such a basic understanding for a child, it’s just surface understanding of food, but completely skips healthy nutrition. It’s just a “I like this, but I don’t like that” kind of preference… which has nothing at all to do with making healthy food choices or nutrition.

No, it seems many public schools completely ignore nutrition and just how much healthy eating contributes not only to weight, but also to overall health, mental health, well-being and focus. That’s not to say that we should eat nothing but Kale salads with sprouts. Moderation is the key, eating healthy means making choices that allow the body to feel its best, act its best, look its best and be its best. Splurging on ice cream or soda or pizza or fried chicken is fine, occasionally. Everyone needs moderation in their diet. These should be rare events rather than every day. Treat them as ‘treats’, not as ‘staples’.

Controversial Topics, Making Choices

Nutrition is kind of a “he said, she said” world. Because there are so many foods (real and fake) on the market, every food industry wants an edge to get their product to sell. For this reason, this is why there’s all of these conflicting food topics… such as eggs are good, then eggs are bad, then eggs are good again… and so on. This has happened with salt, eggs, shrimp, avocados, sugar, saccharin, food dyes, food additives and even Coke. This is why schools probably shy away from setting up classes.

If you set up nutrition class, you’d have to decide which side of the fence you’re on… or at least so a school might think. This means that they might need to side with the egg industry that “eggs are good”. But then, some parents might not like that their child is being taught that.

Schools prefer to avoid this kind of confrontation with parents, particularly vocal parents who might do damage to the school. This is a misguided reason not to include a nutrition program in the curriculum. It would be simply easy to avoid this problem. You don’t spout the marketing rhetoric at all in the class. For something like an egg, simply offer what an egg is made of, the nutrition it offers and let the student (and parents) decide if the food belongs in the child’s diet. Don’t even bring up the industry politics of the egg. The point to school is to create an environment for critical thinking. After all, critical thinking is what we’re expected to do as adults. We need to think for ourselves and come to our own conclusions. No one can really make a choice about their own body but each person. This is the very message that needs to be driven home in any nutrition class. Basically, don’t blindly listen to an advertisement that says, “Eggs are good” or, “Eggs are bad”. Come to your own conclusion for yourself. If you eat an egg and it doesn’t agree with you, then clearly eggs are not for you. If the parents are strict vegans and they project that onto their children, then eggs may not be for the child.

Teaching students to listen and pay attention to how their own body reacts to eating a food is the only way that student can make an informed choice. For example, if drinking milk equals upset stomach and indigestion, this could mean lactose intolerance. This is the perfect example of listening to your own body. If you try something and your body reacts in a way that you don’t expect, perhaps you eliminate that food from your diet.

That’s the key element that needs to be taught in a nutrition class. That’s smart food choices. That’s choosing foods based on how your body reacts to it. We are not taught to do this as children. But, it’s something we learn going into are 30s and 40s when we can put 2 and 2 together. We learn which foods work for our bodies and which do not. Most of us learn this by trial and error. Some of us never learn and continue to feed our bodies with foods that make us sick and sicker.

Nutrition Concepts

This is why it’s important to introduce nutrition concepts early in a child’s life. Get them thinking about it in 5th, 6th or 7th grade. By this point, most children have probably experienced getting sick by eating some sort of food. Learning by experience is an important tool that schools can leverage in any nutrition class. Teaching young children about these concepts early will help them use critical thinking skills in the future… a valuable tool that can be used for a whole lot more than food choices and nutrition. It may even save a child’s life for critical food allergies.

For example, when I was aged 10-12, I never put 2 and 2 together about food. My parents would drop me off at the YMCA for a summer camp program. We would be out and about on a bus the whole day. I was packed a bag lunch, just like at school. Every day when we arrived back at the Y and before being picked up, I’d have a raging headache… every single day. One thing that I would get nearly every day was a chocolate candy bar from the vending machine when we would get back. Because we ate promptly at noon, we had no other food for the rest of day from then until around 5PM when I got picked up. I was rather hungry when we got back to the Y, particularly if we had run around outside most of the day. I’d save up the 35¢ or so for the candy bar and buy one most every day.

It never dawned on me that it was likely both the chocolate and the sugar rush that either caused or exacerbated the headache. I can’t say it was a migraine as it didn’t last overnight. Looking back now, I’m almost certain it was a sugar related headache. It might have been low blood sugar due to not eating much after our lunch or it could have been the rapid rise and fall of blood sugar from the precipitous insulin rush. It might have also been that I already had the headache and chocolate bar doubled or tripled its effect.

Since I was never diagnosed and because I had no classes in nutrition, it was only guesswork for both myself and my mother. She always found it curious that I had these, but it was never investigated because it was gone the next morning. If I had had nutrition classes during my time at public school, I might have been able to find the trigger and, with my parents help, eliminate the problem so that I could come home each day after camp feeling just fine with fond memories of what we had just done that day. Instead, most of what we did at camp is just a blur because the headaches seems to have not allowed those memories to “set”. Keep in mind that just a few years later, I worked outdoors every day and rarely, if ever, had headaches at the end of the day. I also didn’t eat candy bars after working. It’s one of life’s critical thinking skills that you must learn when considering nutrition and how nutrition and food affects each of us. This is an important lesson that could be taught much earlier to students, but isn’t.

Grade School Today

It has been a while since I’ve attended grade school, so I will concede it appears school districts have implemented some food science and nutrition programs. It seems that HISD is now offering a Breakfast in the Classroom program which allows students to eat at their desks during morning announcements. Unfortunately, what is served is limited to a single entree item. Students are also given a short amount of time to consume the food. If what’s offered is not something a child can eat (i.e., diabetes, allergies or autism), then they go hungry for the morning. I’d also include that some example meals include Turkey Sausage Egg Sandwich, Beef Kolache, Yogurt, Chicken Biscuit and Strawberry Oatmeal Breakfast Bar as the ‘main entree’. Along with this ‘entree’ portion, the students are served regular or skim milk and a selection from: apple juice, an apple, Craisins or similar fruit (basically, something sugary).

While having the students eat breakfast in the classroom isn’t something that happened in my school days, starting the day off with these fatty and sugary foods isn’t a recipe for focus because the foods served are sometimes too rich to start the day. The school should start the day with fresher whole ingredients that satisfy student hunger better with less emphasis on sausage egg biscuits, dried sugary fruits, breakfast bars and apple juice. You can serve these kinds of rich foods once a week, but not every single day. Serving these as “treat” foods gives the students something to look forward to… or better, offer the students a menu and let the parents and/or student pick their morning breakfast in advance. If the student fails to choose their breakfast, then serve them the ‘selected’ entree of the school’s choice. Letting the parent decide what their child eats at school allows the parent to head off health problems with their child.

HISD also claims to be helping students learn about food and nutrition. Here’s an excerpt from HISD’s web site about its nutrition education program:

Houston ISD is committed to teaching food literacy and food inclusion through a nutrition-focused curriculum. Food literacy starts with understanding where food comes from. It then expands to understanding relationships with food. This begins at a personal level; how different foods can be beneficial to the body and how some foods do not have any benefits for the body. This includes an openness to trying new foods and seeking out exposure to new foods. The relationship with food expands to cultural preference with foods, understanding both personal culture and others’ cultures and how that impacts food choice and why preferences vary between cultures. Expanding even further, food literacy includes the relationship with food/agriculture on a global, environmental, and economical scale. Food inclusion promotes a pattern of healthy choices that are flexible enough to fit into many cultural preferences and promote balance, variety and moderation. Overall, this means making delicious choices that benefit your body. The message of health should promote a positive relationship with food, avoiding messaging that use fear instead of facts. Nutrition Services aims to educate our students in the classroom, in the garden and in the cafeteria.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any information on HISD’s web site that discusses its class offerings, its class content, how or when the students can take these classes (i.e., are they electives?, are all grade levels required to learn this?, etc), or even if this curriculum is required by the students. It’s good that HISD has itself learned the effect that food has on students in focus, but I’m not sure that what’s being served to the students and what is taught encourages students to eat healthy meals and understand why some foods are to be considered ‘good’ and some are considered ‘bad’. It seems most of what HISD has implemented is more being driven by bad press against the school district and keeping up with competing school districts than actual commitment to the importance of food.

What HISD has done so far is definitely a step in the right direction. However, it’s nowhere near getting the importance that it needs in the classroom. Food and nutrition is equally important to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) courses. Food and nutrition clearly falls under science, but it is almost never treated with the same level of importance as a biology, physics, chemistry and others. Teaching the students the importance of food in the world may lead one of these students into a food breakthrough that helps out the world. That can’t happen when students aren’t properly exposed to the importance and role of food in everyday human life.

Sure, we must eat food to live. That’s the very basics of food. Food science goes well beyond that by enabling students to become productive adults who might create a food invention that can feed the hungry of the world. Yes, food keeps our own bodies fueled, but food science education can bring about positive food changes in the world. Only these new fresh eyes can see what adults cannot.

Other ISDs

In researching this article, I’ve found many larger ISDs also offering Breakfast in the Classroom programs. For example, New York and Los Angeles both have BIC programs. In the case of LA Unified, the students basically do all of the work from retrieving the food in a cart, to serving themselves, to cleaning up and returning the cart. Here’s a video that describes Los Angeles Unified School District’s program:

Of course, this doesn’t mean every school district offers a BIC program yet. Many still do not. They may offer breakfast in a cafeteria, but apparently participation in cafeteria breakfasts is as low as 30%. It makes sense, arrive at school early to eat breakfast or sleep in longer? I’d say that one is a no-brainer. No student wants to get to school any earlier than they absolutely have to. However, serving breakfast in the classroom is a smarter approach because it means students don’t have to show up early to eat breakfast. Students are already be in their first class by a certain time anyway and eating breakfast during that dead 10-15 minutes while the teacher is performing morning attendance, making announcements and getting their daily plans together is a smarter way to use that time. Though, it is also costlier because someone needs to pay for the meals. I would hope that students could bring their own meals from home and are allowed to eat those instead of eating the supplied food if they so choose.

If I could have eaten food during the first 15 minutes of my first class, I certainly would have taken advantage. However, at the time, my school had a strict no-eating-in-the-classroom policy. Though, some of us did sneak eat when we had the chance. We didn’t do it often because the penalties were pretty severe if caught. It also meant less food to eat at lunch.

While I’m all for the Breakfast in the Classroom program idea, the way it’s currently implemented is a bit lacking both from a nutrition perspective and definitely from a tailored nutrition perspective. In the case of food, one size does not fit all.

Health begins in the Kitchen

While performing exercise improves the body’s conditioning, it doesn’t always help with weight loss. There are many people who exercise every day and never lose any weight. Why? Because their nutrition is wrong. Many people mistakenly believe that exercising equals weight loss. That’s not true. Weight loss begins in the kitchen, not at the gym. To lose weight, you have to eat smart. Eating smart means understanding your body’s energy requirements for the day. In fact, you can lose weight simply by changing your food lifestyle.

I write, “food lifestyle” instead of “diet” because the word “diet” has negative connotations. It also has connotations to mean “temporary”. Meaning, you do it for a short time, lose the weight and then go back to “regular eating”. That doesn’t work. That’s also a recipe for the Yo-Yo problem. Weight goes down, then weight goes back up. In fact, the Yo-Yo problem is actually worse on health than staying at a consistent weight, even if somewhat overweight.

To lose weight, you need to change your thinking about food from “dieting” to making food lifestyle choices. What “lifestyle choices” means is changing the way you think about and eat on a permanent daily basis. For example, drop the candies, cakes and sugary foods from your diet entirely and adopt a cheat day system. Make the healthy foods your primary goto foods. If you want to snack, grab carrots, celery, broccoli and cherry tomatoes instead of a granola bar, a breakfast bar, chips or even cereal.

Adopt a don’t buy it attitude. If you keep the “bad” foods at a minimum around the house, you can’t cheat on them. No ice cream in the freezer? You can’t eat it. No cookies? You can’t eat them. And so on. This is a healthy food lifestyle. Instead, keep carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and cherry tomatoes around. Keep oranges, apples and bananas around. If you have these around the house, then you’ll eat them if you really want a snack.

Better, don’t snack and wait until your next full meal. Sometimes it’s only an hour away. In fact, if you’re an hour or less away from your next meal, get some water and wait for that. In fact, water is a good quencher. If you think you’re hungry, go get some water and drink it first. You might find that that satisfies your hunger for long enough to get you to your next meal. If you do find that you really do need a snack, grab something fresh (fruits and vegetables) over something packaged (chips, granola, breakfast bars, cereal).

For the cheat day, you can eat out, eat ice cream or basically eat anything you want, though I always recommend eating in moderation. Don’t stuff yourself to the point of being sick or uncomfortable. Eat until you’re no longer hungry, not until you are “full”… there is a difference. This allows you to partake in holiday meals, birthday meals and other special occasions. Leave these decadent foods to the special occasions, not your regular meals. Also, don’t skip meals because you’re “not hungry”. Eat something anyway… it doesn’t have to be a lot, it just needs to be enough to keep your body regular. If you want to eat a cookie or a piece of cake occasionally, that’s fine. It shouldn’t be everyday. If you’re single eating alone, don’t buy a gallon of ice cream or full sized pie. Buy smaller portions and individual sizes.

Food Combinations

Without getting into a ton of nutrition detail here, eating certain foods together is more likely to encourage weight gain than eating these foods an hour apart. For example, drinking milk together with cereal is a great way to gain weight. There’s fat (and sugar) in the milk and sugar in the cereal. The sugar in the cereal and milk act on the body to release insulin which then prompts the body to uptake the fat in the milk into storage via adipose tissue. This is especially true when you consider what other foods you might have already eaten that day. You don’t want to encourage the body to store fat. You want the encourage the body to use the fat stores that are already there, this reducing weight.

There are many food combinations that can lead to fat gain. There are also food combinations that lead to fat loss simply by eating certain foods together or eating certain foods far apart (or not at all).

Of course, calories also matter. Calories are a unit of energy consumed versus expended. Unless your body is in a near constant calorie deficit, you could gain weight by consuming the wrong foods together.

There are two ways to get into a calorie deficit. The first is obvious… exercise. The second is through food choices. Exercise doesn’t guarantee a calorie deficit because you can still consume more calories than you have expended. For this reason, exercise doesn’t guarantee weight loss… only a calorie deficit does, and that is achieved in the kitchen, not in the gym.

Kids, Food and Obesity

Armed with that information, let’s bring it full circle. Food isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. Offering the same Breakfast in the Classroom meal to all students may not be the smartest nutrition approach for every student and may still lead to obesity in some students. For example, if a student already ate a huge breakfast before coming to school, they may still consume the BIC food simply because it’s there. This encourages overeating. The BIC program in no way polices the student to find out if they have already eaten a meal for the day. It simply assumes that every student hasn’t eaten before coming to school. Many haven’t, but some have.

This is a lax approach to nutrition for the students. If the school wants to be responsible for maintaining a healthy student weight, then they should be responsible for all of the meals for the student during their charge. The parents should refrain from serving the student any food other than dinner… and even then, the school should provide a nutrition plan for the student so that the parent knows what and how much to serve the student at the end of the day as a guide. Of course, the parent is free to do whatever they want, but that encourages obesity if they do.

When creating exercise programs for the students, the school should take into account the nutrition being fed to the students and offer exercise programs that work in concert with the amount of food being served. This means that the students will receive a balanced amount of exercise against food intake and lead the student to maintain their body weight.

If a student is overweight or obese, the school needs to have a nutrition counselor on staff who can tailor a meal program to help the student get back into a healthy weight by tailoring their meals to lead to that outcome. This means a tailored breakfast and lunch program. Once the student is back at their correct body weight, put the student onto the balanced nutrition program to maintain that weight.

Right now, the schools are simply throwing standardized food at the students to help maintain attendance (primary goal) and keep the students awake and focused (secondary goal). Those goals, while commendable, don’t aid the student into a healthy body weight. The schools aren’t taking a holistic approach to food, exercise and nutrition to not only keep students focused, but also to help the students maintain a healthy body weight for their height. A holistic approach is a smartest approach for the students health and well-being. School districts are still no where near this level of holistic understanding of food and nutrition for students. If the schools were to tailor food programs to an individual student’s needs, healthy body weight can be achieved and maintained giving bully students one less piece of ammo against fellow students. More than the bullying, it teaches the student how to maintain a healthy body weight going into adulthood (the most important aspect). Empowering students with understanding of proper nutrition and how to manage their own bodies will give them a huge edge when getting a job.

Being overweight or obese can affect your chances at landing a job. Being at a healthy body weight gives you that extra first impression you need when interviewing for a job. Don’t think for a moment that being overweight isn’t considered by a hiring manager. If a specific job requires a certain level of mobility, movement and carrying capacity, a hiring manager might not consider someone who is overweight or who appears overall unhealthy. Weight discrimination is real in the job market. Learning how to manage weight early in childhood and in the teens goes a long way to maintaining that weight into adulthood. Children who fail to be taught this are at a disadvantage when becoming an adult.

Schools need to consider a holistic and individualistic approach to food and nutrition when putting together their food and exercise programs for students. One size definitely does not fit all when it comes to nutrition and exercise.

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What is 35mm film resolution?

Posted in entertainment, film, movies, technologies by commorancy on December 26, 2018

filmstrip-fI’ve seen a number of questions on Quora asking about this topic, likely related to 4K TV resolution. Let’s explore.

Film vs Digital

What is the amount of pixels in a 35mm frame of film? There’s not an exact number of pixels in a single frame of 35mm film stock. You know, that old plasticky stuff you had to develop with chemicals? Yeah, that’s stuff. However, the number can be estimated based on the ISO used.

Based on an ISO of 100-200, it is estimated that just shy of 20,000,000 (20 million) pixels make up a single 35mm frame after conversion to digital pixels. When the ISO is increased to allow more light into the aperture, this increases film noise or grain. As grain increases, resolution decreases. At an ISO of 6400, for example, the effective resolution in pixels might drop to less than 10,000,000 (10 million) due to more film grain. It can be even lower than that depending on the type of scene, the brightness of the scene and the various other film factors… including how the film was developed.

If we’re talking about 70mm film stock, then we’re talking about double the effective resolution. This means that a single frame of 70mm film stock would contain (again at ISO 100-200) about 40,000,000 (40 million) digital pixels.

Digital Cinematography

Panavision Millenium DXL2With the advent of digital cinematography, filmmakers can choose from the older Panavision film cameras or they can choose between Panavision‘s or RED‘s digital cameras (and, of course, others). For a filmmaker choosing a digital camera over a film camera, you should understand the important differences in your final film product.

As of this article, RED and Panavision digital cinematography cameras produce a resolution up to 8k (7,680 × 4,320 = 33,177,600 total pixels). While 33 million pixels is greater than the 20 million pixels in 35mm film, it is still less resolution than can be had in 70mm film at 40 million pixels. Red DragonThis means that while digital photography might offer a smoother look than film, it doesn’t necessarily offer better ‘quality’ than film.

Though, using digital cameras to create content is somewhat cheaper because there’s no need to send the footage to a lab to be developed… only to find that the film was defective, scratched or in some way problematic. This means that digital photography is a bit more foolproof as you can immediately preview the filmed product and determine if it needs to be reshot in only a few minutes. With film, you don’t know what you have until it’s developed, which could be a day or two later.

With that said, film’s resolution is based on its inherent film structure. Film resolution can also be higher than that of digital cameras. Film also looks different due to the way the film operates with sprockets and “flipping” in both the camera and projector. Film playback simply has a different look and feel than digital playback.

RED expects to increase its camera resolution to 10k (or higher) in the future. I’m unsure what exact resolution that will entail, but the current UW10k resolution features 10,240 × 4,320 = 44,236,800 pixels. This number of pixels is similar to 70mm film stock in total resolution, but the aspect ratio is not that of a film screen, which typically uses 2.35:1 (Cinemascope widescreen) or 16:9 (TV widescreen) formats. I’d expect that whatever resolution / aspect that RED chooses will still provide a 2.35:1 format and other formats, though it might even support that oddball UW10k aspect with its 10,240 pixels wide view. These new even wider screens are becoming popular, particularly with computers and gaming.

Film Distribution

Even though films created on RED cameras may offer an up to 8k resolution, these films are always down-sampled for both theatrical performance and for home purchasing. For example, the highest resolution you can buy at home is the UltraHD 4K version which offers 3,840 x 2,160 = 8,294,400 pixels. Converting an 8k film into 4k, you lose around 24 million pixels of resolution information from the original film source. This is the same when converting film stock to digital formats.

Digital films projected in theaters typically use theatrical 4K copies, much the same as you can buy on UltraHD 4K discs, just tied to a different licensing system that only theaters use.

Future TV formats

TV resolutions have been going up and up. From 480p to 1080p to 4K and next to 8K. Once we get to 8K in the home, this is the resolution you’ll find natively with most digitally captured films. Though, some early digital films were filmed in 4K. Eventually, we will be able to see digital films in its native resolution. 8K TVs will finally allow home consumers to watch films in their filmed resolution, including both 35mm film and 70mm film stock both as well as many digital only films.

For this reason, I’m anxious to finally see 8K TVs drop in price to what 4K TVs are today (sub $1000). By that time, of course, 4K TVs will be sub $200.

8K Film Distribution

To distribute 8K films to home consumers, we’re likely going to need a new format. UltraHD Blu-ray is likely not big enough to handle the size of the files of 8K films. We’ll either need digital download distribution or we’ll need a brand new, much larger Blu-ray disc. Or, the movie will need to be shipped on two discs in two parts… I always hated switching discs in the middle of a movie. Of course, streaming from services like Netflix is always an option, but even 4K isn’t widely adopted on these streaming platforms as yet.

Seeing in 8K?

Some people claim you can’t see the difference between 1080p and 4K. This is actually an untrue statement. 1080p resolution, particularly on a 55″ or larger TV, is easy to spot the pixels from a distance… well, not exactly the pixels themselves, but the rows and columns of pixels (pixel grid) that make up the screen. With 4K resolution, the pixels are so much smaller, it’s almost impossible to see this grid unless you are within inches of the screen. This makes viewing films in 4K much more enjoyable.

With 8K films, the filmed actors and environments will be so stunningly detailed as to be astounding. We’ll finally get to see all of that detail that gets lost when films are down-converted to 4K from 8K. We’ll also get to see pretty much what came out of the camera rather than being re-encoded.

Can humans see 8K? Sure, just like you can see the difference between 1080p and 4K, you will be able to see a difference in quality and detail between 4K and 8K. It might be a subtle difference, but it will be there and people will be able to see it. Perhaps not everyone will notice it or care enough to notice, but it will be there.

Film vs Digital Differences

The difference between film and digital photography is in how the light is captured and stored. For film, the camera exposes the film to light which is then developed to show what was captured. With digital photography, CMOS (Complimentary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) or possibly CCDs (Charge Coupled Devices) are used to capture imagery. Most cameras today opt for CMOS sensors because they’re less expensive to buy and provide equivalent quality to the CCD sensors. For this reason, this is why RED has chosen CMOS as the sensor technology of choice for their cameras. Though, RED cameras are in no way inexpensive, starting at around $20k and going up from there.

Overall

In concluding this article, I will say that 4K is definitely sufficient for most movie watching needs today. However, Internet speeds will need to improve substantially to offer the best 8K viewing experience when streaming. Even Netflix and Amazon don’t currently provide even an amazing 4K experience as yet. In fact, Netflix’s 4K offerings are few and far between. When you do find a film in 4K, it takes forever for Netflix to begin streaming this 4K content to the TV. Netflix first starts out streaming at 480p (or less), then gradually increases the stream rate until the movie is finally running at 4K. It can take between 5-10 minutes before you actually get a 2160p picture. Even then, the resolution can drop back down in the middle and take minutes before it resumes 4K.

Today, 4K streaming is still more or less haphazard and doesn’t work that well. That’s partly due to Netflix and partly due to the Internet. The streaming rate at which 4K content requires to achieve a consistent quality picture can really only be had from Blu-ray players or by downloading the content to your computer in advance and playing it from your hard drive. Streaming services offering 4K content still have many hurdles to overcome to produce high quality consistent 4K viewing experiences.

For this reason, 8K streaming content is still many, many years away. Considering that 4K barely works today, 8K isn’t likely to work at all without much faster Internet speeds to the home.

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Apple Music on Amazon Echo via Alexa

Posted in Amazon, Apple, howto, music by commorancy on December 17, 2018

AppleMusicThis one’s a quickie. Let’s explore.

Apple Music and Amazon

Apple has recently begun expanding its reach of Apple Music onto non-Apple devices. First was Android. Now, Apple Music has come to Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant on the Echo, Dot and other Alexa enabled devices. Of course, you’ll also need to subscribe to Apple Music to take advantage. Personally, I find Amazon’s digital music selection a bit lacking when compared to Apple’s catalog… part of the reason I chose to buy into Apple Music instead of Amazon Music Unlimited.

That’s not to say Apple Music is in any way perfect. There are plenty of artists who don’t publish digitally on Apple’s or Amazon’s platforms. For these artists, Apple offers a solution. Amazon doesn’t.

Unlike Amazon, who recently shut down the ability to upload songs into its platform, Apple Music allows iCloud upload for sharing music not found on iTunes between all of Apple’s devices. This means that even if you can’t find the song on Apple Music, you can buy a CD, rip it and then upload it to the iCloud platform for sharing and download on all of your devices. You can even buy it digitally, if you can find it, import it into iTunes and upload it for all of your devices.

I actually liked this feature on Amazon before they shut it down this summer. This is other half of the reason I have chosen Apple Music over Amazon Music Unlimited. I have a number of artists in my personal catalog that do not exist on Amazon or Apple’s platforms. I still want to be able to listen to these songs on all of my devices and have them in my Apple playlists. Apple’s iCloud sharing works perfect for this purpose. Amazon no longer has a solution for its Amazon Music Unlimited platform.

If you have music outside of Amazon Music Unlimited platform, you’ll have to figure out some other way to listen to it. You won’t be able to listen to it via Amazon Music Unlimited or by asking Alexa to play it… though, you can play it on your Echo by using your Echo as a Bluetooth speaker.

Installing Apple Music on Alexa

AppleMusic

  1. It’s really simple to enable this. Launch a browser to alexa.amazon.com (intentionally not linkified, select it, right click and then “Open in a new tab”) and login. You can also perform this setup from the Alexa app on your phone or tablet.
  2. Once logged in, click Music, Movies and Books from the left panel. It doesn’t matter which device is currently selected as this skill applies to all devices, but make sure the device can play music.
  3. Scroll down under Music and look for Apple Music and click it.
  4. If you’re in a browser, a new tab will open and take you to an Apple login & password screen.
  5. Log in with your Apple ID. Once logged in with your Apple ID, you’ll need to allow linking between Amazon Alexa and Apple Music.
  6. Done. Time to play some music!

Asking Alexa to play Music

To play music, simply ask Alexa like, “Alexa, play the playlist Fallout 76 Modern Radio on Apple Music” or “Alexa, play the song Pistol Packin’ Mama by Bing Crosby on Apple Music.”

If you leave off the “on Apple Music” statement, Alexa assumes you want to play the song via Amazon’s digital music platform such as Prime Music or Amazon Music Unlimited. Don’t forget to say this.

Alexa will respond by telling you that the song or playlist is playing via Apple Music. Keep in mind that this is a new skill for Alexa from Apple. This means that Apple may not yet have all of the bugs worked out. Expect some problems, particularly if you’re trying to use multiple Dots or Echos to produce stereo. Apple will get all of this worked out, but it may not work perfectly for a while.


Third party Alexa enabled devices, such as Sonos, may not yet support the Apple Music skill. If your device isn’t yet supported, contact your device manufacturer and ask when the skill will be supported. Amazon’s own devices should all work fine.

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Top 25 reasons to hate Fallout 76

Posted in botch, business, video game design by commorancy on December 10, 2018

11-24-2018_1-30-49_AM-oyduc45dIt’s clear, Fallout 76 is a failure. From its lackluster controls, piss poor collision detection and poor enemy AI to its poor graphics quality and poor storytelling, this game fails in practically every conceivable way. Here are the top 25 reasons this game sucks. Let’s explore.


25. Map and Pins

Fallout76-MapWhile the map mostly works in terms of seeing locations, this game really needs multiple pins to mark items found that don’t have map markers, such as where specific plants are, veins of ore, small houses and other points of interest.

How it should have worked — Support multiple pins with labels which can be placed onto the map to allow for marking points of interest, specific areas of plants and other things that may be difficult to locate again.

How it actually works — You get a single custom marker that you can place down. You can’t mark anything else after that one marker, you simply have to remember where you found something. There’s only a single large marker that points your way to whatever you’ve marked. And believe me, you do need this in the game. Because all of the quest markers all look the same, when all of the quests are active at once, there are so many markers on the HUD, you have no idea which one is which.

This problem is mostly insignificant next to those problems yet to be described below. Only after all of the other major problems are resolved would I ever consider adding this to the feature improvement list.

24. Farming at your CAMP and in Blast Zones

You can plant certain limited fruits and vegetables, but they are not irradiated when in a blast zone.

How it should have worked — You should be allowed to plant any type of plant at your CAMP that you have discovered and picked. Any camps in a Blast Zone should be removed from the map and/or severely damaged. If not moved, then at least any planted crops should be irradiated like the ‘naturally occurring’ plants in the area.

How it actually works — Fallout 76 limits you to planting but a few fruits and vegetables from the build menu. In Skyrim, if you could pick it, you could plant it. Here, you can only plant those limited fruits and vegetables selected by the devs, such as Blackberries, Muttfruit, Corn, Razorgrain, Melon, Carrots and Gourd. If you want to plant Soot Flowers, Snaptails, Bloodleaf, Diseased Cranberries or anything else, you cannot. If your camp ends up in a blast zone from the Death from Above quest, your camp remains totally intact including your fruits and vegetables. I wandered into it wearing a Hazmat Suit that I found at the Westek building. While other flora in the area become irradiated, your CAMP planted foods remain completely ‘normal’.

23. Random Server Disconnects

This one might be expected occasionally considering it’s an always-on multiplayer game experience.

How it should have worked — Actually beta test your games and your servers so that server disconnects are the fewest type of failure points.

12-9-2018_10-41-26_PM-qybv0b53How it actually works — Random server disconnects are very common. You’ll run around the wasteland and with or without a *hang*, followed by a “Disconnected from Server”… well no duh… I can see that.

22. The Wrong Gender

At one point, I heard female grunts coming out of my male character.

How it should have worked — Keep track of the character and its associated characteristics.

How it actually works — The wrong vocal grunts were played for about 5 minutes while running around the wasteland. I have no idea why the female grunting began at all, but it’s clear that this game was not beta tested. And no, there was no one else around me at all. The game was playing female player character noises from my definitely male character.

21. Changing Weapons and Applying Medicine

Screen Shot 2018-11-26 at 1.34.10 AMThe supposedly favorites wheel to help get to stuff faster isn’t actually any faster than using the Pip Boy. In fact, neither the wheel nor is the Pip boy easy to use to change weapon loadout or apply Stimpaks when you can’t pause.

How it should have worked — For controller systems, it should have used the D-Pad to cycle through the favorites in a vertical list to the side of the screen so that doesn’t block your vision and it should remember the last choice so you can use it again quickly. Simply by pressing the D-Pad up and down, the favorites cycle to the next and previous. This way, the next time you press the D-Pad, it will bring up the last used item, then press the A button.

Favorites WheelHow it actually works — On the Xbox One, D-Pad up is assigned to favorite choices. D-Pad down is emotes. D-pad left and right seem to automatically assign to a weapon on the left and a healing item on the right. I haven’t actually determined how to assign these. It may have something to do with ‘last chosen’ from the wheel. When you have the wheel actually open, D-pad left cycles through the wheel clockwise starting at the 1 O’Clock position. D-pad right cycles through counter-clockwise starting at the 11 O’Clock position. There is no easy way to get to the item in the 12 O’Clock position when you’re fumbling for items from the wheel. The wheel covers your vision instead of keeping the vision open so you can see what the enemy is doing.

20. Pacifist Mode

This mode is mostly pointless the way it is currently implemented.

How it should have worked — Pacifist mode should prevent your player from giving damage to other players and prevent taking damage from other players.

How it actually works — This mode, while it does stop damage to other players from your weapons, it doesn’t prevent other players from damaging or killing you. This is wrong on so many levels and is entirely designed incorrectly. Bethesda, take a page from Rockstar’s book in GTA 5 and make it so Pacifist mode both stops outgoing and incoming damage to the player.

19. Obtaining Caps

You know, this one really shouldn’t be this hard!

How it should have worked — Caps should be bountiful practically everywhere. Traders should actually buy items for close to their ‘worth’. Sellers should carry more than 200 caps. Caps should always be given as part of the rewards when you finish all quest types.

How it actually works — Caps are exceedingly scarce and probably one of the scarcest things to find in Fallout 76. Caps are not given when a quest ends. Instead, you get mostly useless stuff. When you do find a trader, they carry 200 caps at most. Most sold items yield 1-4 caps per item. However, you can sell practically anything to a trader including Soot Flowers, Mongrel Meat, Plastic Plates and even flower pots. The difficulty is that it requires carrying a bunch of junk around with you until you can find a trader. Obtaining caps in Fallout 76 shouldn’t be this hard. The only quest types that seem to give caps on completion are Events and possibly Daily. Even then, they only give like 20 caps at most.

18. Fast Traveling

How it should have worked — The point in discovering a location is that you can fast travel to it. Fast traveling should be free as part of the perk of discovering that location. Charging caps to fast travel is just stupid design.

How it actually works — When you choose to fast travel, you are required to pay caps to every discovered place other than Vault 76 and your CAMP, which are both free (See CAMPs below for additional problems). You’ll also pay progressively more caps the farther away the place is. Because this is the primary means of travel in the game, fast traveling shouldn’t cost anything. The only point in making people pay is to deter them from using the feature. Why would you include the feature at all if you are intent on deterring gamers from actually using it?

17. Eating, Drink and Diseases

To disguise the leanness and the barrenness of the game’s features and quality, Bethesda devs force you to search for and create boiled water and cooked food. Otherwise, you’re subject to radiation, starvation, dehydration and diseases.

How it should have worked — Leave it out… a totally unnecessary addition that only serves to degrade the game.

How it actually works — You are forced to continually go get water, food and disease cure potions so you can actually play the game. You know, the thing that we’re supposed to be doing. Instead, because at least 50% of the time is spent constantly foraging to prevent from running out of food, water and avoid catching diseases (which you can’t avoid), you must constantly stop whatever it is you are doing and go get supplies. This problem is compounded by the fact that the inventory system is so poorly designed and because these supplies weigh far too much, particularly water.

16. Photo Mode

12-7-2018_5-54-58_AM-ma4zjmynPhoto Mode is a new thing many game developers are adding to games. However, some game development companies haven’t figured out how to build it properly. In the case of Fallout 76, while it works, it’s a hassle to use and isn’t properly designed.

How it should have worked — When in Photo Mode, the character should disappear from the world and not be visible to enemies or other players. This allows you to line up and take your shot without interference from enemies or other characters. This would allow you to actually take pictures of enemies doing whatever they are doing while in close proximity. The depth of field system should allow for both shallow and deep depth of field shots to blur both the foreground and background once the focal distance is set. Photo mode should support unlimited photos limited only by the Xbox’s hard drive.

How it actually works — Photo Mode leaves the character live in the environment. This means that if an enemy comes along, it will see you and attack you, losing the shot. Getting out of Photo Mode is slow and cumbersome when it should be a single button rapid exit. The quality of the photos could be improved a lot. We got 50 photo slots that requires us to go delete photos every time we run out… irritating.

15b. Crafting

I’m separating Crafting and Inventory into parts A and B to be more clear, but these two go together. Modifying and creating armor and weapons should be easy, yet it is completely cumbersome. Crafting food should be easy, but it is also cumbersome.

How it should have worked — Recipes requiring water should work with any water you have in your inventory including Dirty, Boiled or Purified. Water is water is water. If you choose to make your food out of dirty water, then you need to take the consequences of that choice. Crafting armor or weapons sometimes requires inexplicable items (i.e., Ballistic Fiber). The game should lead (or at least show you a small area marker) where you can search to find these needed items. Like Skyrim, Fallout 76 should have forced you to scrap new items to ‘learn’ what they are made of. Once you learn this, the game can then point out potential sources using pointers, instead of running around blind.

How it actually works — Recipes requiring water only allow the use of ‘Boiled Water’ . This means that even if you have a water purifier set up, you must still go draw water from a dirty water source (a very time consuming operation and adding Rads) and then spend time boiling it at a food craft station. These two steps are overly time consuming when you could have cooked with purified water and been on your way.

Locating specific components in the game is like pulling teeth. You have no idea what items contain what components until you carry them back and actually scrap them at a crafting table. Even then, putting a search onto a component only means you’ll see a magnifying glass on the item when you get close enough to pick it up. The game doesn’t offer a mechanism (at least that I have found) to locate the item on the map or via a sound in close proximity.

15a. Inventory

The inventory system in Fallout 76 is entirely broken. Each player only has two places to store stuff. The first place is directly on the player. The second place is the Stash Box. The player is limited by weight, but inexplicably so is the ‘Stash Box’.

stash.pngHow it should have worked — Inventory should be able to be sent to the ‘Stash Box’ at any time right from the Pip Boy. Permanent sharable boxes should be available to drop stuff off for friends or other players. Sharable boxes should hang around even when you log out of the game. Instead of a single Stash Box, we should be able to create independent objects in our CAMP that limit only by number of items and not limited by weight. A physical box on the ground doesn’t have weight limits, but has physical number limits.

12-7-2018_5-55-03_AM-iujn21rsHow it actually works —  The inventory system is way too limited and uses weight to judge capacity. On a person, weight makes sense as you can only carry so much. However, the game gives far too little per person. For a stash box sitting on the ground, weight limits make absolutely no sense. The Stash Box is always linked to you and there’s only one. If your Stash Box fills up, you’re screwed. You have to start dumping items out of your inventory in a paper bag to be lost. Paper bags are entirely transient. If you drop a second paper bag of stuff, the first one disappears. Be absolutely certain that whatever you drop in a paper bag isn’t something you want… otherwise, that bag may disappear at any time.

The Stash Box currently holds 600 weight which is not nearly enough as you progress in levels. By level 30, you’ll already be running out of space. The only way you can actually play is to have two characters and move stuff between them when both are logged in. The second character is just a storage place, but that means you need to have two systems to play the game. The Stash Box was recently raised from 400. Instead, Bethesda should charge atoms for more space. Just let us pay for the space we need. I don’t want to be limited with no options.

14. Power Armor

12-9-2018_9-41-56_PM-3ra4ojsuThroughout the game, you’ll find power armor in various buildings. The Power Armor may have Raider, T-51, T-45 or T-60 armor attached, usually only some of the pieces and usually with only half or less condition. Instead, you’ll have to go find the rest of the pieces you’ll need for that armor and you’ll need to find Power Armor crafting station somewhere so you can actually repair your armor.

How it should have worked — Power armor should add a seamless combat experience similar to Fallout 4. You enter your armor, you use it as you need to, you exit the armor and leave it behind. Wearing the armor actually gives you, you know, armor protection. Instead, you are forced to carry it in your inventory with a weight of 10 and it provides very little actual HP protection.

How it actually works — Power Armor is only slightly better than without it. It’s glitchy, buggy and sometimes it will trap you in it and you’ll be unable to progress in the game. Use the armor sparingly to avoid glitching up your game that you can’t even play. It takes up space in your inventory and it’s clumsy to use. The only one benefit is that you can jump from great heights without injury. Other than that one benefit, Power Armor is mostly for looks, not functionality. You must exit the armor to perform any crafting.

13. Collision detection

As a shooter, the single thing the developer must get right is the collision detection between a fired weapon and hitting an enemy with the bullet. Otherwise, the game just won’t work.

How it should have worked — With proper working collision detection, you shouldn’t be able to walk into or under objects, projectile physics should always land on their targets when the cross hairs are even remotely lined up and random animals and objects shouldn’t get stuck inside or walk through other objects.

How it actually works — You’ll never see bullet trajectories in a game unless the game developer adds a slow-mo bullet-time option. None of that here. Instead, aim, fire and miss. Even worse, you can use a high power sniper scope’s cross hairs on your enemy’s head directly in the middle and still manage to miss the target when pulling the trigger. If you’re up-close and personal with a Ghoul, it’s even worse. Up close, you’re actually much more likely to miss your target and you’ll expend a great deal of ammo on miss after miss. The only sure fire way to hit is to use a melee weapon or gun bash them.

This the poor collision detection isn’t limited to weapons and bullets. It includes trees, animations (getting into and out of Power Armor), enemy AI walking through environmental objects or other enemies including items getting stuck inside of doors and walls. This isn’t all possible examples, but these are the ones most prominent to show off how bad this part works.

12. Leveling up doesn’t work as expected

I’m not talking about the level up screen itself. In fact, the mechanics of actually applying perk cards to your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attributes works just fine. It’s one of the few things that seems to work well in this game, though I’m not fond of the card system. It’s what comes after that doesn’t work.

Lucky BreakHow it should have worked — Characters should always fight enemies at or close to their own strength and level. If you wander into a building, you should only find enemies within 4-5 levels of your own level. If you’re a level 4, this means you should only see levels 1-8 near you. This is how every other Bethesda RPG has worked this. This prevents having a level 5 character trying to kill, for example, a level 63 enemy. Perhaps Bethesda needed to find a Lucky Break card?

The card system should have been simplified to require less perk cards to provide the same amount of perks instead of needing loads of perk cards which do less per card. Simpler is always better, even in video game design.

How it actually works — When wandering around, not only will you find AI characters leveled randomly from 1 to 63, you’ll find random levels all bunched together. For example, as a level 5 character wandering into a camp, you can find ghouls and scorched ranging from level 1 to level 63. This means trying to fight level 63 enemies as a level 5 or 10 character. You’ll also find Scorchbeasts randomly flying around that are at always level 50, but in fact are probably level 100 or better. It takes so many shots to kill a level 50 Scorchbeast, it’s almost not even worth it unless you’re on a big team.

On top of this, you can run into randomly leveled up multiplayer characters who add to the problem. Thankfully, unless you engage in two-sided combat, the game sees to it that your character takes minimal damage from an opposing player of any level.

HomebodyThe cards have been broken out to the point of being pedantic. Instead of categorizing cards so that Lead Belly should cover for ALL food, drink and disease, it only covers for ‘food’ only. You have to get the Lead Stomach perk to drink irradiated water unharmed, even then there are limits. Because the cards are so pedantic, there are other perk cards like Natural Resistance to reduce diseases and All Night Long to reduce hunger and thirst (a stupid unnecessary addition).

The pedantic actually carries to the point of being broken. For example, the Aqua Boy perk allows you to swim and wade in water without taking radiation damage, yet drawing water from a water pump still incurs +5 rads damage (or more)? Huh? Clearly, the designers didn’t carry that logic through.

One perk card is actually broken and rarely works. This is the Stormchaser card which allegedly regenerates health when equipped and when standing in the rain, in a storm or in a radiation storm. Unfortunately, this card’s perk works less than 50% of the time. You can be standing in the rain and…. there’s a whole lotta nothin’ going on… no health regeneration. I don’t know how many other perk cards are broken, but this one most definitely is.

11. Crap enemy AI

Here’s a gaming portion where you think Bethesda might have been able to lock down, particularly on the heels of the Elder Scrolls Online. Nope. When you wander the wasteland, you’ll find either animals (Wolves, Mongrels, Radrats, Radroaches, Radstags, etc) or Supermutants, robots (i.e., Eyebots, Mister Handy, Miss Nanny, Protectrons, Assaultrons or Sentry Bots), Feral Ghouls, Scorched or Scorchbeasts. Whatever you run into, you’re likely to find them acting strangely. Sometimes they attack and sometimes they just stand there.

How it should have worked — Like, Fallout 4, when you run into an enemy, they should behave and act like they’re trying to kill you. They should point their gun at you and they should move in naturalistic ways. You know, like they’re actually walking around.

How it actually works — Many enemies, particularly Ghouls, slide around the environment without actually moving. Some people have found them sliding around in “first position” (the initial position a 3D character assumes without having been posed). I haven’t found the enemies in “first position”, but I have seen them locked into a single pose, then moving around the environment like a static posed action figure. They even shoot from these locked posed positions.

When I do find characters not locked up like this, the characters hold their weapons incorrectly. Some hold them downward, yet still manage to shoot at my character. The enemies also move way too fast. They can be on top of you in a matter of one jump or movement. One top of the AI movement, they can see and shoot me through walls, through floors and through buildings. There is no such thing as line of sight in Fallout 76. Even if you hide, they can still find you and kill you through walls.

Molerats must somehow be magic in this game as they can burrow not only into ground surfaces, but wood, cement and even thin air. They can also burrow and jump incredibly long distances in a fraction of a second. Radscorpions can also burrow into cement and other incredulous surfaces, yet they don’t even leave a burrow hole behind like Molerats.

10. Screen blur filters

For whatever reason Bethesda decided to not only add an intense depth of field to the actual gameplay making distant objects blurry, it also added an unnecessary light halo overlay making it seem like you might have vision problems.

lens flareHow it should have worked — Filters applied to the screen should be controllable (on, off and strength) on the settings screen. There is no reason to hard apply such annoying settings to the screen when not everyone wants it. Let the gamer choose what filters they want applied to the screen.

How it actually works — The depth of field applied to the full screen makes the game difficult to look at. When looking at a light source, the game applies a lens flare type blur filter that looks less like lens flare and more like your character has eye problems. These effects degrade the overall gameplay look and feel.

9. Scorchbeasts and Loot

In any game where there’s an oversized and consequently much more difficult opponent, when you do finally kill it, you should get fairly substantial loot more than, say, nothing.

How it should have worked — When you kill a Scorchbeast, the Scorchbeast Queen or a Deathclaw, the loot that is dropped should contain at least one legendary item. In addition, it should drop rare components in reasonable quantities. You should also receive a fair amount of caps.

How it actually works — When you kill an oversized ‘boss’ kind of creature, the dropped enemy loot may range from nothing at all to meat and hide. Basically, worthless items. They’re worthless because even if you do cook the meat, it offers nothing special. Radstag meat is probably the best meat in the game as it offers 20 extra carry points. Eating Scorchbeast steak does nothing for you and is mostly worthless. What’s the point in killing a Scorchbeast?

8. Non-existent non-player characters

While there are talking trader robots, the lone wandering Supermutant trader Graham and a few Mister Handy or Miss Nanny robots dotted throughout the game to provide some quest progression, this is of little consolation when you’re trying to find meaningful interaction with other Vault 76 or locals within West Virginia. Unfortunately, there are no NPCs to be found. See ‘Story’ below for more details as to why.

How it should have worked — While the overseer of Vault 76 may have died and there are 24 players wandering around the environment with you, there have to have been at least a few Vault 76 dwellers who aren’t player characters. In fact, 24 seems an awfully small number of live inside of a vault that big. Ignoring the vault situation, having everyone not in Vault 76 dead is improbable. Because there are also other vaults in the area, a few of these settlers should have survived and been available to talk with. Cities around the area should have been teaming with NPCs, some of which you should be able to convince to come to your own settlements.

How it actually works — Instead, Vault 76 churns out 24 people who are all multiplayer characters. As we all know by now, multiplayers characters don’t interact in meaningful ways. Those who don’t know each other rarely, if ever, work together. In fact, you’re likely to find more hostile multiplayer characters than you will find friends. It’s the nature (and expectation) of PvP. This means that the story failed to consider this problem. Trying to rely on 24 multiplayer characters to bring a story together is like mixing gasoline with fire. It just doesn’t work, unless you’re itching for an explosion… and an explosion is exactly what Bethesda got.

7. Graphics

nuka quantumWhile Bethesda touted an all new rendering look in this engine, it’s pretty much the same rendering engine used in Fallout 4. On top of the unnecessary screen blur (see #10 above) and filters, the rendering distance, shadow distance and up close textures are amateur attempts at best. There are times where the game devolves into a sheer mess, such as invisible buildings, structures that aren’t there and textures are so low-res, you could swear you were playing it on a PS1. This Nuka Cola Quantum bottle looks B_A_D (click on it and see)! When added to the low res background and texture, this looks like something rendered on a PS1.

How it should have worked — We should have gotten a next gen engine capable of producing superbly realistic rusty, sharp, dangerous environments. Sunbeams and moonbeams should be blocked by corresponding solid objects. Textures should hold up on close inspection. Textures should resolve when looking through a sniper rifle sight or binoculars. You shouldn’t notice pop-in at all when wandering.

How it actually works — The sun up and sun down moves too fast. There’s too much night and not enough day time. The sunset and sunrises are almost impossible to distinguish the difference. Textures look fine at an average distance from the player. Up close textures look horrid. Pop-in is horrible and happens way too close to the player.

If you try to zoom in with a sniper, everything falls apart. The sun remains the same size overhead as it does on the horizon. The moon always produces moon rays. The rays don’t actually come from the same direction as the sun and moon sky objects. Moonbeams and sunbeams shine out of rocks, the ground and structures. The smoke coming out of chimneys looks like flat spinning blobs. The character models actually look bad. The only saving grace here is the naturalistic lighting, but the rest of it might as well be cartoons.

The 59 sign below shows everything wrong with this game. The word INTERSTATE is much higher resolution than the 59. At least the texture folks could have used sufficiently high resolution images to create these signs. I just don’t even get why sun shines out of rocks and objects.

 

The only good thing about the graphics is the naturalistic lighting on the trees and house structures. You can get some great environmental shots with the sunbeams through the tree branches. Other than that, nothing else looks particularly realistic.

6. Multiplayer

Here’s one of the saddest parts of Fallout 76. This feature, in fact, is the entire reason Fallout 76 even exists. Yet, it’s one of the worst designed parts of this game. Though, it’s not this game’s #1 problem.

How it should have worked — Bethesda should have sat down and designed a compelling multiplayer experience around the Vault 76 reclamation date rebuilding goal. This means allowing players to fix up, build and then set up shops in towns. If the idea is to rebuild the wasteland, where is this idea in execution?

How it actually works — The Player vs Player (PvP) available in Fallout 76 consists of taking over a workshop and then fighting to keep it. When you do take over a workshop, you are required to spend your own resources to fix it all up. Yet when you log out, you lose that workshop. At most, you get to keep that workshop for as long as you remain logged in.

Once you claim ownership of the workshop, the game forces you to go into a PvP battle to keep it within just a few minutes of taking ownership… most definitely not enough time to both fix up the workshop and build defenses. The only way this would work is if you are on a team of at least 6-10 people who can all pool their resources to fix it up and build defenses simultaneously. One person has no hope of fixing up a workshop alone, particularly considering how little resources you can actually carry with you (See problem #

5. CAMP and Plans

12-7-2018_5-55-03_AM-uba3cuivCAMP is a portable device you can set down in the wilds of the wasteland and create a small CAMP. It doesn’t hold that much. Finding new plans allows you to craft new items.

How it should have worked — Actually, CAMP is entirely unnecessary. Without NPCs to recruit back to your CAMP to live there and help defend it, the point of the CAMP as a settlement is entirely useless. CAMP as a crafting area works, but it could have been implemented better. Plans shouldn’t be needed. Everything you need should already be available to build if you have the resources. If you scrap any weapon or object, it should automatically give you the plan to it. Big items that you can’t carry or scrap should have been unlocked from the beginning.

How it actually works — You drop your CAMP device in the wasteland and that gives you the ability to build a building and crafting tables. Unfortunately, the building allotment is far too small to actually build anything meaningful. In my allotment, I was able to build a small cabin with all of the crafting tables except a Power Armor station as I have no plan for it yet. After that, my CAMP is entirely out of available building allotment. Other than having a portable building that contains all of the crafting tables, there’s no point in CAMP. Plans are dotted all throughout the wasteland like a needle in a haystack that you have to go hunting for. The difficulty with this idea is that they’ll get found by players and documented on the Internet. The idea of hunting for a “thing” is pointless because the Internet will eventually find even the most rare thing and tell you where it is. Instead, plans should come to you by way of scrapping items. As it is now, scrapping certain weapons unlocks certain mods for that weapon… the wrong design.

12-7-2018_5-55-04_am-tgn02n2u.pngWorse, the game encourages you to move your CAMP frequently, yet it continually charges you more and more caps to move it from place to place. The cap rate to move it is also entirely random. Some days it’s 5 caps, other times it’s 25 caps and others it’s somewhere in between that. The game can’t even seem to make a decision on exactly how many caps it costs to move the CAMP. If you move your CAMP, there’s a very real possibility you will lose all of the items outside of your build structure (i.e., crops, water purifiers, turrets, defenses, etc). If the CAMP is supposed to be semi-permanent, then it needs to remain no matter what. If someone else has plopped their CAMP in the same location and there’s a conflict on that server, then the game should auto-disconnect and choose an alternative World server where there isn’t a conflict so the CAMP can be placed. This should be an automatic part of the login process.

Even more poorly designed, your CAMP may disappear at any time including objects in the CAMP. Placing a CAMP is not in any way meant to be permanent. There’s just no place to park it where it’s cannot disappear. I’ve had my CAMP disappear at least 6-8 times or more. The last time it disappeared, it lost every item outside of the building structure. I had a bunch of crops, a turret, a water purifier, a floor decoration and a water pump all outside of the building structure. All disappeared entirely from my inventory. These objects were not stored. Normally, these items should be stored under the STORED area, but not this time. Those items completely disappeared with no explanation and without a trace. It’s frustrating and stupid that the game makes you go find all of the food crops after it wipes them all out.

4. VATS

How it should have worked — Without pause, VATS should have been left out. It’s pointless without pause.

How it actually works — Because this game doesn’t allow pausing, VATS remains live as you attempt to shoot whatever enemy that it is. As the enemy moves around, VATS percentage of hitting the target constantly changes. Unlike Fallout 4 where the game paused to allow proper targeting, this VATS is entirely worthless without pause. However, the Mysterious Stranger remains, but only works with VATS. You have to remember to use it if you have the Mysterious Stranger card in play.

3. Story

As mentioned above about utilizing limited robot characters to progress stories, the rest of the time the stories are progressed by popping a Holotape (audio log) into your Pip-boy and listening. Boring and so easily interrupted by combat!

How it should have worked — Any RPG should have NPCs who not only exist to provide conversation, but also provide story development. You get to learn about these characters along the way and expand on the story.

How it actually works — Because no NPCs exist in the game, the entire story narrative plays out through a series of holotapes you must find and play. Because the holotape system is simply an audio log, it’s as boring as watching paint dry. If Bethesda had taken a page from a few other games that staged “ghost” reenactment scenes in the area, you could examine the scenes and watch the story unfold through a sort of hologram type environment. None of that here. It’s simply a series of boring holotapes audio logs. Without interactive characters, there is effectively no story worth exploring. The story and its quirky characters is the reason we play Fallout. Without NPCs, it’s not really Fallout.

2. Player Death and Dropped Loot

How it should have worked — When a player dies, the loot should remain on the player. There’s entirely no need to drop loot in the game on death. Also, respawn the player in place or alternatively, allow the player to respawn at the last death marker.

12-7-2018_5-55-03_AM-iujn21rsHow it actually works — When the player character dies, a death marker is placed on the map where the player last died and also marks the place where the player’s loot is dropped in a paper bag. When the player character dies, the game also gives the choice to “call for help” and get someone to revive the player with a Stimpak or you can “give up” and then respawn. If you do neither, you sit in limbo and can do nothing. When you choose to respawn, the game requires you pay caps to move to the nearest spawn location or if you can’t pay, then you’ll have to respawn at Vault 76 or at your camp, if it’s still there… that or kill the game and restart it (which, of course, loses your dropped loot). This player death and dropped loot issue is completely unnecessary and has never been part of Fallout in the past and shouldn’t be in Fallout 76.

If your game happens to crash immediately after dying or if you are killed by something on the way to pick up your loot, your loot is entirely lost. You get ONE chance to go pick up your dropped loot or it’s lost forever.

Oh… and the paper bag is such a stupid and unrealistic idea, I don’t even know how this idea passed design review. How can you possibly fit a Fat Man or a Missile Launcher into a tiny paper bag?

1. Glitches, bugs, quest bugs and client crashing

How it should have worked — Actually beta test your game product with real live QA folks, not holotapes. Get them to sign off that both the game client and the servers work consistently, as expected and are better than 95% stable. Actually play test the game internally. Get people to walk through the environment and see if they can break things.

How it actually works — There is so much to say here, that’s why this is the #1 problem. The game client is closer to 50% stable (maybe less). If it crashes or disconnects twice a day, consider yourself lucky. Sometimes it goes on a crashing / disconnect spree and just doesn’t stop. The network servers disconnect far too frequently. As mentioned above, you can be playing and *hang* with a long pause, then disconnect. Sometimes, the game hangs and then recovers. Sometimes it just disconnects out of nowhere. If any hangs or random disconnects happens you should always disconnect and reconnect and get a different server as that other server is likely having problems.

Sometimes the entire client crashes with the repeating audio loop and then the whole client dies. You have to start completely over when this happens. Hopefully, it’s not immediately after having dropped loot or you’ll have lost your “loot”. Below is a texture glitch video. I’m certain this is a client side problem.

Quest bugs are common in Bethesda games. These types of bugs prevent completion of quests because the character you need to interact with, for example, is already dead. This means you can’t complete the quest. There are plenty of other bugged quests as well.

Commentary as of 12/21/2018

The game has officially gotten even worse. With each new passing release, instead of improving performance, features and stability, the game gets more unstable. And, with each new update, Bethesda introduces even more and more bugs… bugs that didn’t exist in prior releases. In fact, I can’t even think of any place in this game where I’ve not encountered a bug, glitch or frustrating problem.

At this point, I actually suspect that someone at Bethesda is intentionally trying to sabotage this game and franchise. If I were management team at Bethesda, I’d actually have the engineers stop rolling out “bug fixes” post haste and evaluate what is going on with both the game and the team. I’d also remove Todd from further involvement in this game. Move him off to other projects and get a new lead… one who can bring some measure of stability and sanity to this game.

Fallout 76 is entirely laughable. There is so much wrong with this game it’s a comedy of errors. This game is literally the poster child of what-not-to-do when building and maintaining an online game. It seems like that for every bug they seem to squash, they introduce 10 more to take its place. It’s just insanely laughable… and it seems Bethesda is entirely oblivious, doesn’t care or is apathetic.

Hey Bethesda, if don’t care to make the game better, then please, just shut down the world servers, cancel the game and issue refunds to those of us who bought it. Admit your failure, cut your losses and move on to building better games in the future. Sometimes admitting failure is the only way to move forward.

Overall

This game was released way too early! Without NPCs, this game is completely devoid of feeling like ANY Bethesda RPG, let alone Fallout. Whomever’s idea it was to include no NPCs should be walked to the door at Bethesda. I realize this is considered an off-shoot game, but it is still a Fallout product. It should always true to being a Fallout product. Fallout 76 isn’t true to Fallout.

However, the instability trumps everything. If you can’t reliably even play the game without crashes, bugs and quest failure, then you don’t really even have a game.

Ultimately, this game needs a whole lot more development time and effort. I have no idea why Bethesda released this product so finished. Yet, here we are. Note that there are plenty more reasons to hate Fallout 76. These 25 reasons are just the tip of the iceberg. I’m quite sure you’ll find many more to hate on if you choose to buy this game.


If you’ve had a different experience when playing, please leave a comment below.

The FTC is investigating pay-to-win loot boxes

Posted in advice, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on December 4, 2018

img_3728.jpgThe FTC is investigating video game loot box issue that was so prominent in Star Wars Battlefront II and in many other games. Is it a form of gambling? Let’s explore.

Pay to Win?

The issue with loot boxes is that people feel ripped off by them, particularly after having already spent $60 for a big named video game title. If you spend $60 to buy a game, the implicit nature of that already hefty price tag is that it covers everything needed to play and win the base game without any additional payments. Any additional downloadable content (DLC) that appears later has a separate price tag. We understand this aspect of DLC. You can buy DLC if you want, but it’s not necessary to pay for DLC to win the base game. DLC is a tried-and-true model and it works to extend the gaming experience, but is not necessary to win the base game. Not everyone likes DLC, but as long as the DLC is created as separate world components, it’s fine.

When loot boxes were introduced, you might end up spending another $60 in addition to the already spent $60 to for the random chance to gain rare weapons or armor or level-ups that are not available in any other way and which are required to progress in the game.

The argument by game developers is that these pay add-ons are not strictly necessary. It depends on how you interpret that statement. It may not be strictly necessary to play the game, but it may make the game experience less enjoyable and possibly even problematic. If you plop down for the loot in the loot boxes, then your experience becomes much easier and better. Loot boxes turn games into a pay-to-win model.

Pay-to-win games to me are not fun. There’s no challenge in plopping down $5 here and $5 there just to get past a level or a boss or whatever it is holding you back. The challenge is and should be in the base game, not in buying add-ons needed to win. If the add-ons become the game, then the base $60 you paid is seen as a rip-off.

Smart Phone Games

Pay-to-win games have been available on the smart phone market for years and that’s fine. These games are typically free to download and free to play to a point. You only run into pay-walls when you want to progress beyond certain points or to buy more lives. Again, most phone game apps are designed around a pay-to-win model. However, there’s no challenge in paying to win a game. Paying to win only depends on how much money you are willing to spend. It’s just a money making scheme.

In the free download app model, you’re not paying an initial $60 to download the game. You’re paying nothing. This means there’s no base expectations set. So then each micro-transaction does help cover the developer costs of producing that free game. In the AAA $60 game arena, you’ve already paid for the development costs and you expect a fully functioning game in return for that $60. That’s the expectation of paying $60.

For example, adding loot boxes to Star Wars Battlefront II was simply a money grab by EA and nothing more. Everyone expected this loot to drop as a result of completing levels. No one expected that you’d have to pay to buy level up cards in addition to the already spent $60… cards that you might not see for many, many hours of play if they ever drop at all. Cards that are needed to unlock key pieces of the game.

Rethinking this Model

Fundamentally, game producers need to think long and hard about the pay-to-win model. Personally, I don’t like it and I will never be a fan of pay-to-win. You pay for the game itself, not for the ability to win it.  You should win the game or not on your own skill as a game player. For a $60 price tag, the game should drop all necessary loot or, if absolutely necessary, offer some kind of in-game credit system that you can spend towards the loot crates as you progress. Many games do give in-game credit that are awarded at level’s end that can be used towards ‘buying’ loot. You can also spend real money to buy those same credits in a store. This gives you two ways to ‘buy’ loot in the world. You can play the game and win credit or you can pay for it. The difficulty is when the game only drops the tiniest amount of credit within the game and then expects you to make up the difference with real money. Again, pay-to-win and I am so not a fan of this.

If you’ve already paid $60 to buy the game at the store, then don’t throw down real money loot boxes in front of the gamer and expect people to open their wallets and be happy about it. Real cash microtransaction loot boxes, again, turn the game into a pay-to-win model.

The argument here is that loot box costs offset the already expensive price tag of video game production. I counter argue that if a game now costs $80 or $100 or $120 per copy to develop, then simply raise the price of the game in the store accordingly and leave out the unnecessary loot boxes. No one says that a developer must sell a game at $60. They can price it at whatever they need to recoup their costs. If they can’t recoup their costs of a game at a $60 price tag, then perhaps they shouldn’t be in the video game business. Or, perhaps they should have kept to a lower budget production. However,  they are also free to raise the price of their game of they want to build bigger, flashier and more expensive games.

Other Alternative Systems

Let’s take a page from the toys-to-life games area. If developers want to offer a level-up swag system for the game, then do it through physical trading cards you can buy at Target or Walmart. Then, use a code on the card to load the card into an app linked to the game. This then gives you legitimate reasons to go buy the cards at the store. It also means anyone can go buy these cards to enhance their game experience… and you’re getting actual collectible trading cards for your money.

It also means the retailer can put the cards on sale and offer discounts on them. Digital cards coming from loot boxes purchased in-game are a waste that can only be used once and have no value after the game ends. It’s just money lost in addition to whatever you paid for in the game itself. Physical trading cards hold their value long after a game becomes a fond memory running on a Raspberry Pi emulator years later. It also means you can trade or sell these cards to others who might value them and at least recoup some of the money spent towards the game. Some of the cards might even become extremely valuable. A video game copy will never have that value.

Having cards produced into 5 or 8 card blind packets means the consumer gets to discover what cards they got and they can trade them with their friends if they get duplicates. It’s a real world way of adding value to the game and a shareable component, but at the same time offers a real world tangible component. Having these cards should also not be necessary to win the game, but they can be used to gain access to weapons, armor and character stats that might otherwise take a lot of grinding to obtain. All physical cards sold in blind packs should be discoverable in the game itself. But, they may contain exclusives that aren’t necessary, but add fun value to the game.

I’m a much bigger fan of using add-ons like real world trading cards than using in-game digital loot boxes… as long as these items are not needed to win the game. Pay-to-win needs to stop in general and these pay-to-win systems definitely have no place in a game sold at $60.

Are Loot Boxes a form of Gambling?

Here’s where some people feel that there’s a problem with loot boxes within video games. If you pay real USD to purchase a loot box, then you’re paying for the ‘chance to win’ something rare. In fact, when you pay for a loot box at all, it can be seen as a form of gambling strictly because of the ‘chance to win’ aspect. If the loot boxes drop on their own for free, there’s still a chance to ‘win’ something rare, but you’ve paid nothing for it and this would not fall under gambling. Gambling is when you pay money for a chance to win.

The paying of real USD to ‘win’ in-game loot is THE bone of contention and is the part in all of this that is seen as a form of gambling. Paying money to win anything is technically a form of gambling. It could also be considered a form of a lottery, much like a scratch card. Because lotteries are considered illegal unless operated by official state organizations, placing an illegal lottery into a video game could result in legal problems for video game producers. As a result, many people view for-pay in-game loot boxes as a form of gambling and in need of regulation under US gambling laws. Because gambling, at least in the US, is only allowed by persons 21 years of age or older, placing pay-to-win ideas into a video game designed to target minors and underage persons could be a problem for the video game industry. It also means the game should, at the bare minimum, put an M rating on any game that includes this mechanism.

These games could also be considered a form of early conditioning designed to teach children about gambling early and get them addicted to its risk-reward system. Because many video game companies also hold stakes in gambling operations, such as producing gambling machines for Las Vegas or actually own stakes in casinos, loot boxes could become very problematic for video game companies.

On the other hand, gambling usually entails winning money, not prizes. In Vegas, you pay to win money. At Dave and Busters, you pay to win prizes. So far, playing games to win tickets at an arcade has not fallen under gambling laws. However, you’re winning tickets, not prizes. The only random chance involved is how many tickets you win. In an arcade, simply playing the game is guaranteed to give you at least one ticket, usually more. The tickets are then redeemed for prizes of your choice. It’s not exactly a random chance kind of thing like a loot box. In addition, arcades use the payment given towards playing a game of skill which then gives you tickets. Giving tickets after playing a skill game that you can redeem is not exactly like paying for a loot box in a game with random chance to win its contents. Loot boxes are much more like a slot machine or lottery scratch card than they are like Dave and Busters skill-game ticket model.

I’m hoping that the FTC will find that any payment of real money towards ‘winning’ in-game loot is ruled as a form of gambling. This would mean that instead of paying for blind random chance boxes, that video game producers would have to set up a store and sell you exact items needed in the game. No ‘random chance to win’ involved. Either that or they must continue to drop the loot boxes in-game at no cost. Better, don’t drop loot boxes at all. Just create a store and sell us the the things we need… that, or use the suggested trading card system sold separately outside of the game.

If the FTC rules that the loot box is considered an illegal form of lottery, this mechanism could no longer be added to video games. I’d be fine with that outcome too.

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Should I buy an Xbox 360?

Posted in botch, business, scam, scams, video game console by commorancy on December 3, 2018

Xbox 360 EThis question seems to be common for some reason. I’ve seen it asked on Quora and on various other sites. I’ve even seen YouTube channels discussing the purchase of Xbox 360s. Let’s explore.

Design Flaws

First, a little history. The difficulty with the Xbox 360 was the Xbox team’s design of Xbox 360’s main board. Because this system was designed by an in-house design team at Xbox, they got a lot of things wrong with the hardware design based on incorrect assumptions. The primary problem was cooling the GPU down properly. This issue compounded with the thin flexible main board (intended to flex as the system got hot). The difficulty with this flexion is that it doesn’t want to work with surface mounted components and it could lead to the board becoming permanently warped and did lead to the GPU unseating itself unceremoniously.

For this reason, the later Xbox 360 editions, specifically the Slim models, clamped the board to the aluminum chassis to limit flexion of the board around the GPU and CPU. However, even this updated clamping system only delayed the inevitable… the Red Ring of Death commonly known as the RRoD. The difficulty of the design was primarily as result of using lower temp solder that would become molten at GPU operating temperatures. This meant that as the board flexed, as the CPU and GPU heated, as the fans and the hard drive caused vibration and even as external audio sounds from neighboring TVs and stereo system caused vibration, this could cause the GPU to lose solder cohesion and shift this chip off it is surface mount pads.

This GPU shifting would leave the system with the Red Ring of Death. One fix for this was using a towel and wrapping it around the Xbox 360 to let it heat up. What this did was cause the internal temperature of the Xbox 360 to rise which allowed the solder to reflow under the GPU and cause the chip to sort of move its way back onto its correct pads. The difficulty is that this was a temporary fix. The operating conditions that led to the original Red Ring of Death would eventually see to it that it would happen again, usually in only a few days. For the towel reason alone, you should avoid buying used Xbox 360s. It means that someone could have toweled their system right before selling it to you… and it might only run for a few days.

Refurbishment Process

Because of the design problems that led to the Xbox 360’s RRoD, the Xbox hardware team decided to try different things to see if they could improve the situation. As mentioned, one of these changes was the chassis clamp. Other changes included better and smarter positioned heat sinks. All of these changes only treated the symptom, not the actual design problem.

Ultimately, the primary fix for an Xbox 360 suffering from RRoD is to reball the chip with a higher melting point solder and then remount the chip. Then, adding on the smarter heat sinks to ensure proper heat dissipation from the chassis. Once the chip was reballed with higher melting point solder, it should no longer shift its position under standard operating conditions. Of course, the board could still flex and warp which could lead to other surface mount chip failures besides the GPU.

Companies like Gamestop employ either internal or third party refurbishers to perform refurbishment on Xbox 360s before selling them as ‘certified refurbished’. The problem is that reballing chips is time consuming and expensive. Gamestop doesn’t seem to want to afford such refurbishment processes and instead lets the refurbisher perform whatever they deem appropriate short of reballing, which is usually inadequate to provide a long term stable fix to these consoles.

Buying Refurbished

When you buy an Xbox 360 that’s been refurbished from Gamestop, the store has no idea what work has been performed on any unit. It might be simple DVD drive replacement to full main board replacement from other Xbox 360s. It’s possible to actually find frankenboxes with refurbished Xbox 360s having been rebuilt from a bunch of different generation parts. This means you could see some parts from the first gen, second gen, third gen Xboxes and so on… all coming together into the same unit. It means that the heat sinks might be the incorrect version for that version of the unit. Who really knows what you might find inside?

This is the problem with buying refurbished units from not only Gamestop, but any company. The design decisions that made the Xbox 360s so problematic compound into making the purchase of any used or refurbished Xbox 360 system a grab bag of problems.

Not Built to Last

The bottom line is that the Xbox 360 was not designed to last. It was designed to fail because of a set of design decisions that just didn’t work out. In short, it’s a lemon. It’s not just one version that’s the problem, it covers all generations.

Sure, some have claimed their their Elite has lasted. Some have claimed their slims have lasted. Even the last version of the Xbox 360, the Xbox 360 E suffered from the Red Light of Death. There has not been one version of the Xbox 360 produced that has been immune to the Red Ring of Death (or Red Light of Death) problem. You can’t rely on buying a more recent version of the Xbox 360 on the assumption that the failures have been eliminated. Some versions of the Xbox may have been a bit less susceptible, but at some point they will all succumb to failure.

Don’t believe the current sales hype that because this is the newest version of the Xbox 360 that it won’t have a problem. It very likely will. In fact, you should consider the Xbox 360 a unit with limited mileage. At some point, the system will fail and you’ll be left with a dead brick. The question is, when it will happen. It could happen 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months or even 3 years in the future. The point is, you spend your money and you just don’t know. However, because of the age of these systems now, it’s more likely the system will fail sooner than later.

Aging Hardware

The last Xbox 360 E model was discontinued in spring of 2016. This means that any Xbox 360 you might consider purchasing is now over two years old as of this article. That’s only if it’s an E model. Any other models will be much older.

There’s nothing new about any of these systems. Though, it’s entirely possible that some warehouse somewhere has some Xbox 360 E models stashed as new unopened stock. If you could find one of these, you might have some possibility of longevity with that Xbox 360. However, anyone claiming to be selling new unopened stock is probably scamming with a used or refurbished unit. I wouldn’t even trust Gamestop with this kind of a claim, even as big a company as they are. The only way you could trust this statement is to have them show you the merchandise. If you’re buying over the Internet sight unseen, don’t trust anyone.

No. You should always consider any systems on sale as, at best, used. Even refurbished consoles should be considered suspect. Better, don’t consider the purchase of any Xbox 360 at all.

Should I Buy?

In fact, you shouldn’t. Because of all of the aforementioned problems with the design, there’s just no way to know exactly what kind of condition any Xbox might be in. Unless you want to disassemble the unit to find out what’s on the inside and that you understand what you’re looking at, you should avoid spending any money towards an Xbox 360.

The bottom line is that the Xbox 360 is a risky investment that you might only get a few days of use out of before your new purchase dies. The Xbox 360 was a risky investment when buying it new. When buying it used or refurbished, the chances of receiving a unit that lasts only a few weeks is very high. In fact, it could be that the unit might last you long enough to get past the return policy, but a few days after that the unit dies. Then where are you?

Xbox One and Xbox 360 Compatibility

While not every Xbox 360 game has been made compatible with the Xbox One, many Xbox 360 games have been made to function on the Xbox One. Unless you want to play a game that isn’t compatible with the Xbox One, there’s no real reason to buy an Xbox 360.

For this reason, putting your money towards an Xbox One not only guarantees a better hardware experience, it also guarantees you’ll be able to play not only Xbox One games, but also all compatible Xbox 360 games. This is a much better deal than wasting your money on an old console that could die at any moment.

Xbox 360 Purchase Disclaimer

With that said, if you can find someone willing to sell you a fully functional Xbox 360 for $25 or less, then it’s probably fine to buy it… as long as you understand the unit may only work for a few days. If you’re considering spending well more than $25 for an Xbox 360 console bundle, you should consider the purchase of Xbox One instead and avoid the almost certain limited lifespan of the Xbox 360.

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How not to run a business — Case Study: Tumblr

Posted in botch, business by commorancy on December 3, 2018

tumblr-logoToday, Tumblr announced that on December 17th, 2018, it will be removing and banning all “Adult” content on its site. I’m going to call it. This is the death knell that will almost assuredly see to Tumblr’s demise in less than 1 year. Let’s explore.

Tumblr and Adult Content

Tumblr started out as a kind of web blogging platform where users could share various content of any variety. Pretty quickly, adult content began to fill the pages of Tumblr. Adult content included naked people posing alone or performing sex acts with others. Whatever the imagery, it actually became a staple of Tumblr as a platform… and ultimately the Tumblr platform became known for its adult content.

The difficulty with not clamping down on adult content early in the life of Tumblr meant that Tumblr management and staff were okay with Tumblr being used to host adult content. If they had nipped this content type early in the life of Tumblr, we wouldn’t be in the dilemma that Tumblr currently faces.

Every platform has to make a decision early in its life about whether adult content is okay or not, particularly with sites that allow User Generated Content (UGC). When you create a UGC platform, you have to make the decision about adult content early and swiftly. If you don’t make this choice early and seal the deal in the Terms and Conditions agreement, your users will use the platform for adult content.

Knee Jerk Reactions

Even though Tumblr’s app was delisted by Apple in late November due to a case of child pornography appearing on a Tumblr page, it’s also crystal clear that the management team at Tumblr is entirely out of touch with exactly how Tumblr is used. Of course, now that Verizon owns Tumblr, they’re probably okay with taking the hit at losing better than 90% of their viewing traffic by making this knee jerk decision. Unfortunately, after the adult dust settles out of Tumblr, there won’t be much of a platform left to see or explore. Tumblr’s claim to fame was its adult content. Without it, this platform is dead. D.E.A.D! Tumblr, for better or worse, was really one of the few goto places for adult content. The Internet knew this. Tumblr really has no use as a G-rated platform. Too many other platforms fill that gap much better, including Pinterest and WordPress and Medium. No, the executives left at Tumblr really don’t seem to understand that Tumblr’s value as a platform was its adult content. Removing that content, you remove Tumblr’s value to exist as a site.

In reality, Verizon would do better to simply shutter Tumblr entirely… because effectively that’s what they are doing on December 17th. There’s literally no reason to go to any sites left on Tumblr once the adult content is removed. Those few G-rated sites left would also do better to move their content to a different platform such as Deviant Art, Medium or WordPress. The fallout from this change will be swift and immediate.

Chasing Page Owners Away

What’s worse in this situation is that non-adult content owners on Tumblr might have to move their content anyway. Many artists use the platform to host their art. Yet, Tumblr robots have been running around classifying their artwork as adult, even when it isn’t. This problem is likely intended to chase away not only those pages classed as ‘adult content’ but also those who don’t actually post adult content. Ultimately, whatever few sites are left after this shakeout means effectively a danger to those legitimate page owners left in the shambles of the former Tumblr. What drove traffic to Tumblr was its adult content, not the g-rated content. When all of that adult content is gone and most of Tumblr’s revenues are missing in action, legitimate content sites will now be in jeopardy because of the tenuousness of the Tumblr platform.

If you are a g-rated content owner on Tumblr, you should seriously consider moving your stuff somewhere else in the wake of this huge platform mistake. You don’t want to be doing this under a deadline in six months because Tumblr is about to close. Do it now while you have plenty of time. Removal of adult content is a mistake anyway you slice it and it is why this is appearing as a case study in the How not to run a business series.

I understand the issue for Verizon. Having worked for Verizon in the late 90s, I am fully aware of just how much of a conservative organization Verizon really is. It’s actually surprising this change wasn’t made sooner to Tumblr. So, I fully understand this knee jerk reaction of Tumblr being delisted from Apple’s App store over child pornography content. At the same time, making this knee jerk reaction by removing all of Tumblr’s adult content is a severe mistake for this platform.

Tumblr would do better to split its platform in two. Create Tumblr Adult and leave Tumblr for the G-rated stuff. Then, cordon off Tumblr Adult for those sites that fall under adult content. Then, hire mods to police the content on Tumblr Adult more closely to prevent child pornography content.

Compensating Controls

Typically, if you decide to make a rash decision about a platform, you must also introduce something to compensate for that rash decision. Removing the adult content kills many people’s reason’s to visit (or use) Tumblr at all. Take away that reason and you get far fewer visitors. Visitors that drive revenue into your site. Take away those visitors and you’re paying to host a site that makes you no money. In other words, it becomes a money losing proposition. For Verizon, it might be willing to soak up these losses for a short time, but there’s no way Verizon will allow a money pit to remain active for very long.

With the introduction of this new policy, it appears Tumblr isn’t implementing anything to make up for the loss of that adult traffic. Oh, well. It’s the death of Tumblr.

Ultimately, I predict no more than six months for Tumblr after December 17th and then the entire site will shutter to be heard from no more. Verizon might allow the site to continue operations longer than six months if they’re complacent. However, keeping a money sucking site open is not likely to go over well with Verizon management for very long. It’s almost a guarantee that Tumblr cannot survive on its G-rated content alone when other sites do this piece so much better.

Soooo…. Buh Bye, Tumblr.

Part 10 | Chapter Index | Part 11

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How to reset Philips Illuminate Lights

Posted in holiday, Household Tips, howto, repair by commorancy on December 1, 2018

img_4242When trying to connect to my Philips Illuminate strand of lights this year, for whatever reason the Philips Illuminate iOS app is no longer finding them. It took me a while to find these instructions to reset the control box. Here’s how I solved the problem. Let’s explore.

Philips Illuminate

This product had great beginnings, but unfortunately Philips has decided not to continue developing and improving either the app or the product. It is an expensive product which required the purchase of a control box and a strand of lights (startup kit)… the control box being the most costly item to buy. Typical strands of LED lights cost around half or less (even cheaper if you pick them up on clearance) compared to the Illuminate strands. However, the Illuminate strands of lights offered chasing lights and many colors, similar to Philips Hue. I think I may have spent $60-$75 or so to buy into the starter kit product with a small strand of lights. Pricey for the strand size. It also offers the ability to chain light strands together making the system expandable.

At the time, I invested into the Illuminate product because Philips had also created the Philips Hue system and I thought they might eventually merge the two product lines together. No such luck. Worse, the light programming options of the strand is far less programmable than one might hope. I was expecting improvements that just never materialized.

Improvements and Features

If you’re just hearing about Illuminate lights this year, then let me explain some of the gripes for this product. While the starter kit does come with the control box, the control box does not offer any kind of networking interface with IFTTT, Amazon Alexa or any other similar control systems. The control box is just a “dumb” box. Its purpose is only to allow for connectivity for the Illuminate app and to provide light effects for the connected strand(s) . The control box has no ability to turn the lights on or off. When power is applied, the lights always turn on.

You can still find the Illuminate lighting on sale at Target. However, the add-on strands themselves cost around $30-$50 per strand. If you need a starter kit, expect to spend about $75 or more.

To add the ability to control the power to the lights remotely, you’ll need to purchase a WeMo smart plug or similar networked plug sold separately. These plugs support Alexa, Apple HomeKit, IFTTT and other networking features. Adding a smart plug lets you control the lights on a schedule via their apps or by voice via a home assistant like Alexa.

Control Box

The control box itself is the heart of this system and allows for WiFi connectivity so the Illuminate app can control the light programming. It also handles the LED light sequencing. When the app was first released, they offered 17 different light patterns which include a variety of chasing options, fading options, twinkling and steady options. Today, we still have those same 17. There is a customize option, but it’s limited to Twinkle, Fade and Chasing.

Unfortunately, the one light programming option I wanted doesn’t exist. Specifically, I want the lights to each change from one color to the next individually and randomly rather than all at once. This one doesn’t exist. A small problem compared to what I faced when attempting to reprogram my strand this year.

For the last two years, I have been able to launch the iOS app and have it find and see the control box just fine on WiFi. For whatever reason, this year it no longer works. As a result, I can no longer program the lighting strand from my phone. I had also lost the instruction guide for this product long ago. Here’s what I saw when I attempted to control my light strand:

img_4243

I’m all, WTF? Rescanning does nothing. As there is no physical reset button on the control box to factory reset with a paperclip or similar method, I had to resort to scouring the Internet to find a solution. Unfortunately, the search engines didn’t turn up much right at the top for how to factory reset the Illuminate lights.

If you have run into the issue where your control box can no longer be found by your iOS or Android app, it’s likely that the control box is not registering itself properly on WiFi. Because there’s no troubleshooting as to why this is happening and after finding the reset instructions, I decided to use the Direct connection approach to control my lights. At least it works for the few times I need to make changes. It’s not handy for the audio/music feature, but it works for the standard light programming.

Resetting the System

To reset a Philips Illuminate control box, you’ll need to perform the following actions:

  1. Turn off or disconnect the power to the control box… wait 3-5 seconds
  2. Apply power to the control box… wait 3-5 seconds
  3. Perform steps 1 and 2 three or four times successively until the light strand begins flashing on and off. This signals that the control box has factory reset and you can stop this process.

If you find that after performing steps 1 and 2 multiple times doesn’t cause the strand to flash on and off, keep performing it until it does. If you can’t get the lights to flash, then you may not be waiting long enough or you are waiting too long between power off and on. Try waiting longer or shorter intervals between power toggling.

Note that factory resetting the device loses its knowledge of any WiFi devices it knew about including passwords. This means you’ll need to set this up again from the Illuminate app (instructions below).

Factory Reset

At this step, you’ll want to make sure you have the Philips Illuminate app installed on whatever device you’re wanting to use to control your lights. For Android, go to Google Play and search for and install Philips Illuminate. For Apple, navigate to the App store and install it. You’ll need this app for the next steps.

Once the control box is factory reset, it no longer attempts to connect to whatever previous WiFi network it once knew. The control box now goes back into initial setup mode and it creates an access point of its own. The new access point SSID will look like PhilipsACCF235B6838 or similar. For this article, I will assume the access point ID to be named PhilipsACCF235B6838. When you are performing this on yours, it will obviously be named something different. You can rename this SSID if you want, but I left it as it is because it doesn’t identify what the product is. It also doesn’t broadcast this SSID very far anyway, which is why you need to be close to it.

If you have installed multiple control boxes all handling different strands of lights around your property, then it would make sense to rename each SSID to a name that identifies which strand it is and where it is located. Renaming in this instance makes sense. For a single control box handling a single strand like mine, renaming is not important.

At this point, you’ll want to open your iOS or Android phone and navigate to the Android or iOS settings area where you can connect to a WiFi access point. Once in settings, wait for your device to scan looking for new access points. Once it finds PhilipsACCF235B6838 (or however yours is numbered), click on the it to connect. Note that you may need to be within a few feet of the control box for this to work. Don’t try to do this from a different room in the house.

Once connected, it will prompt you for a password. The default password is 12345678. Depending on which method you choose to try next will determine if you need to change that password.

WiFi Network Setup vs Direct Setup

There are two ways to go at this point. You can have your Illuminate control box connect to your local WiFi lan network or you can use a direct connection. I couldn’t get mine to connect to my local WiFi network for whatever reason. I think someone has set something up in my complex causing massive interference. I fill in the correct WiFi network details, but the app is never able to find the control box on my local WiFi network. So, I reset it again and this time I chose the Direct connection method to manage the lights. Slightly more of a hassle, but it at least works.

Network Setup

After connecting your phone to the WiFi access point PhilipsACCF235B6838 from your device settings, launch the Illuminate app. Once the app loads, it should find control box, the app may show you the control box screen (below) or it may jump into the setup screen. This screen below is what you should see each time you start the Illuminate app regardless of whether you choose Direct WiFi or connect the control box to your local lan via WiFi.

control-box

If not in the setup screen already, select the menu icon in the upper left of the screen and choose ‘Setup Wizard’. From here you can either setup the device for Direct connection or WiFi lan connection like so:

img_4237

If you want to use a WiFi lan connection, then click CONNECT CONTROL BOX TO LOCAL WI-FI. On the next screen, scroll the screen to find the access point you want to connect to and click it.

Illuminate-WiFi

Next, enter the password for the SSID you’ve chosen.

img_4240-1

Make sure the password you enter is correct. The Illuminate App should verify the correctness of the password you enter in this field, but if the password changes on the access point, it will no longer work. I can’t guarantee that the app will verify the password you enter here, so make sure it’s correct.

If you want to use the direct connect method to manage your light strands, then click USE A DIRECT CONNECTION and then follow the screen prompt that comes next:

direct-connect-control-box

From here, you’ll need to change the password you want to use on your control box going forward. This is the password change screen. It changes the password on the WiFi password you will use to connect to the SSID WiFi access point in the control box. You can also change your SSID for your control box on this screen, but I left mine as it is. After you CONFIRM the password, as the screen states, the control box will restart. Once the control box restarts, you’ll need to reconnect to your Philips SSID via WiFi settings on iOS or Android. You may need to forget the old network as it may have remembered the older 12345678 password. Then, reconnect and enter the new password you just entered in the screen above.

Security Tip: you should always change default passwords included with devices because anyone can easily find the default password on the Internet.

Once your WiFi has connected to the access point, relaunch the Illuminate app and it should take you to the screen that looks like so which should immediately find your control box:

control-box

Click the check box like above and press Enter to manage your light strands like normal.

Failure is not an option

If after going through the above steps to reconnect the control box to your local WiFi network, you find that your Illuminate app still cannot locate the control box on your local WiFi network on startup (what happened to mine), you’ll need to use the direct connection to control your lights. If you cannot connect to the control box after a factory reset, your control box may be damaged.

As always, if this article was helpful to you, please consider leaving a comment and following my blog for future helpful advice. If you could please share this article on Twitter and other social media, it would help me out 👍.

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Game Review: Fallout 76

Posted in reviews, video game, video game design by commorancy on November 26, 2018

11-24-2018_6-24-33_AM-r2dy5mq3Fallout 76 has arrived and its entirely a disaster. There is not much to like within Fallout 76, but there’s tons to dislike. I was personally hoping for a bit more than what I got in the game. However, because it’s still an early release, it could get better. Unfortunately, some of it is an outright fail. This one is quite long, so grab a beverage of your choice and let’s explore.

Updated as of 12/25/2018

DO NOT BUY THIS GAME! It will cause you more headaches than fun. It’s a pointless exercise that doesn’t in any way lead to fun or enjoyment. Worse, you’ll run into so many bugs that you’ll end up dealing with these more often than actually playing the game. You can read the rest of the review below, but be warned that this game is actually the absolute worst Fallout game that has ever existed. Todd should be ashamed.

Fallout 76 Map

Let’s get this review started with the Fallout 76 Map:

Fallout76-Map
I’ve not yet explored all of the places on this map, but above is what I’ve explored so far. You can click the image to see a larger map. So, yes, there’s plenty to explore in West Virginia. With that said, let’s get into the nitty gritty of what’s good and what’s bad, what’s beautiful and what’s ugly about Fallout 76. And believe me, there’s plenty to talk about.

Contents

This review has the following sections:

The Good
🔥 The Fail
💋 The Beautiful
🛑 The Butt Ugly
🚌 Missed Opportunities
👎 Overall (or TL;DR)
💯 Score


The Good

11-24-2018_1-30-30_AM-ye254zpmFallout 76 looks and feels like an extension of Fallout 4 with the exception of the multiplayer aspect. When wandering around the wasteland, it looks and feels very much like Boston in Fallout 4. Obviously, the landscape and terrain are different, but the structures and decay and rusting vehicles seems the same. A little too much the same, in fact. Even the enemies are the same including Supermutants and their mutant hounds, rad roaches, ticks, feral ghouls, Eyebots, Protectrons and many more. So, kudos to Bethesda for getting this part the same.

Photomode

There is a photomode in this game. The photomode does perform well, but unlike Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Origins photomode which, even though the game didn’t run at 4K on the Xbox One S, it did take 4K images… where Fallout 76 firmly takes only 1080p images. I was hoping for the higher res snapshots like Ubisoft’s Origins supported on the Xbox One S. Nope.11-24-2018_6-24-33_AM-gqvzwvoq

The exterior lighting and shadows looks reasonably good, but it all depends on the model. Some models, like the tractor above, look fairly good. However, some texture maps used on the sides of buildings are very low res like this Nuka Cola sign.

Particle physics in this game, particularly smoke, looks fake and flat and cartoony… nothing like smoke. For example, these smoke stacks look bad, particularly when animated:

11-24-2018_1-30-35_AM-3pb3yi3d

Photomode’s depth of field only offers far depth of field, not near. Basically, you can’t focus it to offer both near and far depth of field like an actual camera lens works. Instead, everything in the foreground is always perfectly clear, but the background is blurry. I’d also say that the Bokeh doesn’t work that well in photomode.

Photomode also supports additional filters and frames to create unique images. As you play and discover locations, you’ll get additional photomode frames and other photomode add-ons. With these frames and filters, you can produce images that look like these:

 

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Personally, the frames and logos are fun enough, but after having used them once, I don’t really want to overuse the frames and effects as it’s like having too much of a good thing.

Loading Times

Here’s another area where the game works quite well. I’ve found no problems with loading times, even after being killed by a gang of ghouls. I have no complaints at all about loading times. Even loading a game after a crash is decently speedy. Though, it would be nice if it didn’t crash in the first place.

Crafting

This process works much the same as any other Fallout. You simply need to find the correct ingredients and have a recipe (or plans) to make the item and you’re set. Sometimes you need to luck into finding the recipe or plan before you can make it. Some basic recipes and plans are given to you from the beginning, but the more advanced ones will need to be found through exploration.

The crafting that you’ll become intimately familiar in this game is cooking. You’ll end up making a lot of boiled water and a lot of meat steaks (to avoid all of the random diseases).


🔥 The Fail

While the look and feel are very much the same as previous Fallout games, the gameplay is a bit off. Some of this is due to the multiplayer aspects, but some of it is due to the way the game has been designed.

Missing NPCs

In all of the time I’ve been playing, I have yet to see a single NPC in this game. Where Elder Scrolls Online and Fallout 4 both had cities teaming with NPCs, Fallout 76 is quite devoid of them. With the exception of Graham and his Brahmin, Chally the Moo-Moo (the wandering Supermutant merchant) and a handful of Mr. Gutsy and Protectron robots, there are no human NPCs to be found in any of the the towns (big or small). Only enemies including mostly ghouls or scorched, but sometimes Supermutants are found. It’s a huge miscalculation for a Bethesda RPG. Perhaps they were trying to save money by not having to hire voice talent? Who knows the real motive here?

Personally, if I had been the manager over this project and this project idea was thrown my way, I would have tossed it back. I would have asked for alternative ideas involving NPCs in the game. It doesn’t need to be a large number of NPCs, but there should have been at least a few here and there, if only wanderers. Without meaningful interactions with NPCs, a game like this is a very difficult sell. The game would need to have chosen some other means of NPC interaction, if not using “ghosts” in the environment or some found technology that lets the player interact with live holograms of dead characters. There’s just nothing like that here.

While there’s no shortage of enemies to fight in Fallout 76, the only conversation you do get to have is with other live players using chat headsets. Even then, it’s simply discussion about problematic game mechanics. Instead, it seems that all quests come to your character by proximity to towns, picking up holo tapes, listening to audio logs, scouring computers, picking up objects or searching recently dead bodies (of which there are plenty to find). There are no one human NPCs here to talk to.

With Elder Scrolls Online, I found that there was random camaraderie between actual players, particularly when you’re trying to complete a dungeon… so you implicitly team up to get the job done. So far in Fallout 76, this behavior hasn’t been true. Partly because there’s so few people playing on any one “World” and partly because everyone seems to want to do their own thing. Yes, I do find the lack of NPCs a bit disturbing in this game’s design and it is probably the single biggest overall failing of Fallout 76 because the main quest falls extremely flat as a result.

Fast Travel and Traveling

With all Fallout games, you pretty much have to hoof it everywhere on foot. I kind of get used to this in Fallout. I was hoping that Fallout 76 would introduce a horse or motorcycle or even a bicycle (these could easily be repaired). This would let you move a little faster over the terrain and get from place to place a bit faster. Nope, nothing here.

Instead, this game relies on location discovery and fast travel, like all previous games. I think it’s about time that the Fallout series added some kind of vehicle besides Power Armor. The difficulty with Fast Travel (like moving your CAMP) is that it costs caps to fast travel. The cost is dependent on how far away from you the location is. If you’re on one side of the map and you want to go to the other, you’ll likely pay 20-30 caps. If it’s the next town over, it might be 1 or 2 caps.

If caps were more plentiful in this game, this wouldn’t even be a fail. However, because caps are so hard to find in this game, using even 1 or 2 caps to fast travel one town over adds up when you do it a lot. It really shouldn’t cost anything to fast travel anywhere because that’s the perk of discovery. Yet, here we are.

There are two places on the map that are free to fast travel and the first is Vault 76 and the other is your CAMP. You’ll want to place your camp somewhere a little south of the middle of the map so you can fast travel to the lower portions of the map easily. Vault 76 fast travel lets you travel to the upper parts of the map easily. Placing your camp a little south lets you easily cover pretty much the whole map without spending a lot of caps. Once you finish with an area, you may not need to visit it, so you can move your CAMP to be more beneficial to the upper level areas. It also means you don’t have to move your CAMP often.

Eating and Diseases

Unfortunately, here’s where Fallout 76 takes a turn for the worse. Even though Fallout 4 did require drinking and eating to recover HP, you only needed to do it when your health became low.

11-26-2018_12-16-12_AM-eomehsb0In Fallout 76, the game designers took this aspect to a whole new Sims-ish level. Now, you have a separate food and water meter from the HP meter. When these begin to drop below an arbitrary threshold, your character is socked with penalties. Sometimes the penalties limit your action points, sometimes it causes you to lose HP. It all depends on how low it is and whether it’s low food or low water or both.

As for diseases, these were in Fallout 4, but they usually appeared as a result of being exposed to certain things. Basically, in Fallout 4 it was rare to contract a disease. In Fallout 76, it’s super easy and it’s compounded by the fact that you have to eat so frequently, which means more chances.

Because of the excessive amount of unnecessary eating and drinking, you’ll spend inordinate amounts of gaming time running around looking for water, food and ingredients… then cooking it so you don’t get ‘diseased’. That is, instead of actually playing, you know, the actual game for its story or combat (i.e., the parts that actually matter), you’re spending at least 30-50% of your time in search of food and water (parts that are trivial and don’t matter). This is way too much time spent on such trivial tasks. And it gets worse. Because food and water weighs so much, you’re forced to carry it around all of the time which limits how much other stuff you can carry. It’s just a pisser at just how much this whole eating, drinking and disease aspect negatively degrades the game experience. Instead of playing the quests, you’re out running around looking for ingredients to create a Disease Cure potion or you’re out looking for Brahmin or Rad roaches or Bloatflies or water to make meals.

And wait, it gets even worse. When you get to a water source, it takes ages (real world time) to dip and collect a single dirty water due to the animation and overall slowness of this process. To collect 20 or 30 of these, you’ll be standing there 3 maybe 4 minutes (maybe more) doing this activity. It also takes 2 Dirty Water containers to create 1 Boiled water along with wood. That means if you pick up 30 dirty water containers, you’ll only get 15 boiled water containers. Unrealistic. You don’t lose 50% of your water to boiling that I recall. Anyway, you’ll also need wood, so you better also pick up a bunch of wood on the way to get to the water source and pick more up on the way back.

Bethesda needs to rethink this part of the game. Everything around eating and drinking is so trivial, banal and unnecessary, yet takes an inordinate amount of time away from the gamer when they could be interacting with story elements or taking part in more important events in the game.

In fact, I’d be much happier playing this game without the constant food, water and disease interruptions. This isn’t a Sims game. It’s an RPG. It doesn’t need to mimic real world survival aspects to that trivial level. At some point you have to ask, “Does this really enhance or degrade the game experience?” If the answer is that it degrades the game experience, then it needs to be taken out… regardless of how much developer time might have been spent on it. Eating, drinking and diseases heavily degrade the gaming experience and, IMO, should be removed. Or, at least calmed the hell down. For example, require that you eat or drink once a day instead of 5-10 times per day. I’d prefer removal of the disease aspect, or at very least calm it down so that we don’t catch diseases nearly as often… and put way more Disease Cure potions in loot stashes or make these crafting materials much easier to find.

There was one stretch of gaming where I spent most of a real world day with “parasites”. Parasites make your food health line drop rapidly. So, the only thing you can do is run around gathering foods and eating or try to locate or create a Disease Cure potion. I finally decided to stop eating food and see if it would go away on its own. It did, but the first thing I accidentally ate after gave me parasites again only to start the whole thing over. I was seriously pissed by that point.

Disease Meter

Like the HP, AP, Water and Food meters, if Bethesda really plans on keeping the disease aspect at this level in Fallout 76, then the devs needs to add a disease meter. The addition of a meter would allow the gamer to see how far they are from catching a disease (whatever it is), but also how long it will be before the disease wears off. Basically, you can use the Disease Cure potion or you can wait it out. With a disease meter, you know exactly how much longer it will be before the disease is gone… and whether it’s worth spending a Cure Disease potion. Some diseases should wear off faster than others. The meter should also display the name of the disease right on the HUD.

Disease Cure Crafting

11-24-2018_6-24-31_AM-3lssgfavI’ll point out that the Disease Cure potion requires four ingredients and access to a cooking fire… so, you should build your CAMP somewhere close to the necessary ingredients and have also built a cooking area.

The ingredients you’ll need for a Disease Cure potion consist of Snaptail Reed, Bloodleaf, Firecap and Water. The difficulty is that all of the ingredients aren’t close together. However, three of them are somewhat close: Bloodleaf, Snaptail Reed and Water can be found along the banks of the river that runs through Flatwoods. The fourth ingredient, Firecap, can be found not far away in the Vault-Tec Agriculture facility just outside Flatwood. It’s in the basement of the building in some soil tables. Unfortunately, it only grows four at a time and it seems rare to find it in there. You’ll need two Firecaps to create one Disease Cure potion. This means that, if all four are present, you can create two potions and then you’ll have to wait for the Firecaps to regenerate (might be hours) or try to find them growing somewhere else. There are other locations for Firecap, but these ingredients are also subject to spoilage. Once you find the ingredients, you better be prepared to drop whatever it is you are doing and go search for Bloodleaf, Snaptail Reed and Water to make some potions before the ingredients spoil. Note that all recipes involving water require Boiled Water. This means you’ll need to boil all your water before trying to create a potion.

Food Spoilage

Here’s another design blunder. When you go pick flowers or kill some rad roaches for their meat, you’ll find that within a few in-game hours, the meat will have spoiled. In your inventory, the item will go from showing its original food name to “spoiled meat” or “spoiled vegetables” or “spoiled biofluid”.

This is a design blunder because food doesn’t spoil that rapidly even in real life. Worse, some items that spoil don’t even spoil in real life, like flowers. You can pick, dry and use flowers for long periods of time. Flowers don’t spoil. Yet, in Fallout 76, they do.

What this means is, if you go pick a bunch of flowers or plants or come across some meat, you’ll need to cook it up quickly into whatever prepared dish you have a recipe for. And, you will have to go find these recipes. Prepared foods tend to hold their longevity longer than raw foods, apparently. However, eventually even these prepared foods will spoil. So, if you find meat, expect cook it and eat it quickly.

If you eat spoiled food, you’re going to get a disease… which means you’re going to be running around looking for ingredients to make the Disease Cure potion rather than playing the quests. Yet another Bethesda FAIL.

Spoilage Meter

If Bethesda wants to keep this food spoilage idea in the game, then they need to add a small spoilage meter next to or below the food item in the inventory. I realize there’s a CND meter in this area that may act as the spoilage meter, but I’d prefer this be relabled to SPL instead of CND if it means spoilage. This meter will show just how long it will be before each food item spoils. This means you can better plan which foods or ingredients to eat or use first. If it’s a ganged up item and there are multiples each with different spoilage times, then either normalize all of the ganged up items to the same spoilage time or represent the item that is the quickest to spoil in the meter and use that item first from the multiples.

Sleeping

11-24-2018_6-24-31_AM-bdti42iwEven sleeping in this game isn’t without peril. So, you think you’re going to grab a few quick ZZZs at some random bed in a house. But, then you hop in and almost immediately you’re diseased. I shake my head at this. The only bed you can trust (maybe) is the bed you build in your C.A.M.P. This may be limited to bedrolls on the ground, but don’t count on that throughout the game.

C.A.M.P.

11-24-2018_1-30-50_AM-wfg3dg31I will say that CAMP isn’t a 100% fail, but it’s close primarily because it’s mostly pointless. The fact that you can carry it around with you and drop it wherever you want is an improvement over stationary settlements in Fallout 4. This portability is not enough to call this idea a full win.

As you exit Vault 76, you’re given a number of supplies to help rebuild the wasteland. One of these is the CAMP device. It is a small camping gadget that you can deploy that lets you build a settlement within a radius of wherever you place it. You can’t place it everywhere, but there are plenty of ground locations that allow placement.

Once you place it somewhere, it becomes very much like the building of a settlement in Fallout 4. Instead of being a fixed location like the settlements, CAMP is portable. While the idea of CAMP is okay, it’s more or less a pointless exercise… other than giving you convenient crafting tables and it adds a free fast travel point to wherever you place it, these are its two primary reasons to exist… and that’s not nearly enough. Because the map is fairly sprawling, this portability only helps a tiny bit in terms of travel.

Here’s where the CAMP idea breaks down (which is why it’s under this FAIL heading). Wherever you first drop your CAMP is free. If you want to move your CAMP to a new location, you’ll have to pay caps to do this. If you want to move it a second time, it’s going to cost you progressively more caps each time. To move your CAMP, you’re going to pay caps. Why, Bethesda, why? You encouraged us to move our CAMP frequently, yet you’re going to take more and more hard-to-find caps each time? FAIL!

Even though the portability aspect of CAMP is a fail, setting up a camp lets you build crafting tables and this is much needed because of the food and water problem. In this game there are 6 crafting table types: Cooking, Armor, Weapons, Tinkerer, Power Armor and Chemistry tables. When you build a camp, you need to build at least one of these tables so you can easily and quickly scrap the junk you find into components. You’ll need the component parts to craft new items and mods and to reduce your junk weight. However, I’d recommend building the full complement of crafting tables so you can easily do everything in one place. You will need to look for plans for some of them.

I’d even recommend putting the crafting tables all inside of the structure you build so that the structure is easily portable. The only thing you can’t build inside is a water well. But, you will want a water well so you can easily get to a water source and create boiled water… which critical in this game.

Caps, Stimpaks, Disease Cure, etc

Here’s another place where Fallout 76 has lost it. Caps (and certain crafting resources) are extremely hard to come by. While there are some sellers where you can sell whatever you happen to find, they’ll only give you 1 or 2 caps no matter what the item is. I’d recommend doing this with random junk you happen to find around the seller. Unfortunately, many other players have caught on to this idea. Because these robots only carry like 200-300 caps, you can quickly drain them of caps. I’ll talk about the multiplayer aspect of this problem below. The good thing is that they’ll buy practically anything. The bad thing is that you’ll only get 1-2 caps for nearly everything including Stimpaks, which are equally as hard to find as caps. It means you need to run around locating tons of junk to sell to these dealers before you can drain their caps.

Bugs, Glitches, Bugs and even more Bugs

11-24-2018_6-44-06_AM-r1nxyocxThis game is chock full of bugs. From the bugs that crash the entire game client to bugs that kick you out of the server to quest bugs that prevent you from finishing the quest to floating rocks to flashing textures on robots to event bugs that prevent the event from working to bugs that prevent you from even playing the game at all. They’re all here.

Here’s a sample of texture glitching:


I can’t imagine that this is a fully ready game. For me, it’s still feels very much like a beta version. In fact, it feels very much like Elder Scrolls Online when it was first released. ESO was bug city. Well, Fallout 76 feels very much this same way. Certainly, there are odd cosmetic problems like floating rocks and invisible structures.

11-24-2018_1-30-32_AM-hsg2w0qeHowever, some people have experienced showstopper bugs related to the Power Armor that prevent them from doing anything in the game. Basically, they can’t exit the power armor, they can’t use the power armor and they can’t do anything else including play the game. Bethesda has what they think is a workaround, but apparently it doesn’t always work. Why is it that every game seems to have floating rocks?

Bethesda has a lot of work ahead of them to get this game to a better usability. The first thing I would do is fix the major bugs followed by majorly reducing the eating and disease problems. The latter problems only serve to heavily detract from the game and prevent the gamer from making story progress. That’s a fail any way you slice it.

Inventory, Carry Weight and Photo Gallery

Carry Weight is a problem in every Bethesda game. You’re always given a pittance allotment of weight that you can carry starting at around 120-150. This problem is actually compounded by bad design in Fallout 76. By level 15, I’m able to carry 190… which is not more than what the game gives you from the start. Granted, I haven’t used all of my perks to level up Strength, so I can’t tell you how high it would be if I had done this. I wanted a good mix of perks on my character… particularly the Lead Belly perk, which avoids much of the radiation problems in the game. However, even though I have worked to get Lead Belly to level 3 (maxed out), I found that this perk is limited by the disease factor. Meaning, even though you take no radiation damage by eating food, you can’t willy nilly eat random food because you can still get a disease. You must cook it all first. If there was a perk that made you 100% disease resistant, I’d most certainly level that one up too.

The photo gallery is limited to 50 pictures, way too few. When you fill it up, you have to stop whatever it is you’re doing and spend time jumping into the Photo Gallery area to delete some. It’s such a pain in the butt and so unnecessary. In reality, don’t even save them into an in-game gallery. Use the Xbox captures area, tag them there and use them in-game from there. Problem solved as the Xbox Gallery is limited only by system storage.

Multiplayer

Personally, I’d call multiplayer in this game mostly a fail which is ironic considering Fallout 76’s claim to fame is its multiplayer aspects. Some of this is because of the game design and some of it’s because of the players. Together, the multiplayer part of this game doesn’t work well and it’s actually worse than the multiplayer in Elder Scrolls Online.

Resource Collecting

The first problem is with collecting resources. Because resources are finite (and some are exceedingly scarce), any player who comes along before you and takes the resources means it won’t be there when you get there. If you need Firecaps and there are only two in the building and another player swept through the location 5 minutes before you, nothing will be there for you to find. This makes playing this game unnecessarily challenging.

 

Resources should remain independent in each player’s game. This means if I enter a building looking for Firecaps, they should always be there in my game and they should be there in everyone else’s game. These resources should be unique and independent of the multiplayer part. I don’t want to have to wait in-game hours for something to respawn simply because another player swept through and took it. That’s entirely a waste of my time. For this reason, I deem this problem a multiplayer fail.

Pacifist Mode

The second problem is with Pacifist mode. While I cannot accidentally hurt another player with this mode set to on, another player can come and kill my player. No! Yet another fail. Like Grand Theft Auto, pacifist mode should disable not only my ability to hurt other players, it should disable their ability to hurt me. If I want to quest the wasteland without fear of being killed by another player, that should be my choice. There are already enough enemies in this landscape without having to watch my butt around other players… particularly when a Level 63 player comes after my Level 15 player. No. Just. No.

Microphone Chat

Here’s a third problem. Because Microsoft makes it so difficult to locate a cheap compatible microphone + headset to use on the Xbox One, I find very few people using them when playing Fallout 76 on the Xbox One. Instead, people rely on emotes to convey limited information. While the emotes are fun and all, I don’t know why people can’t go get a cheap $9.99 set of Heydey compatible earbuds at Target so they can chat with other players. Even these $4.99 Heydey earbuds with mic might work. If not, Target’s return policy works well, so you can always return them.

Also, when you’re in first person view, you cannot see if your microphone is working. When in third person, there’s a small speaker icon that appears over the head of the player speaking, even yourself. If you’re in first person, this icon does not appear on the HUD.

Settlements and Workshops

11-24-2018_1-30-29_AM-2fnvsquwHere’s the fourth problem. This is a two problems in one, actually. In Fallout 4, settlements were designed to offer refuge and safety for NPCs whom you recruit to the settlement. Unfortunately, because this game seems entirely devoid of NPCs, there’s no one to recruit into your CAMP. Thus, the point in the having a camp in Fallout 76 is lost on Bethesda. Other than having a fast travelable location on the map and a convenient location to craft, there’s really no other reason to have a CAMP. You can invite other players into the camp, but other than interacting with the crafting tables and the ‘My Stash’ boxes, there’s little reason to visit someone else’s camp. It’s not like you could create a Ghoul infested building with full quests attached.

The second half of this problem is when taking over found workshops. In Fallout 4, when you find a workshop, you can establish a settlement there. In Fallout 76, again this is lost on Bethesda and there’s no reason or incentive to claim them. Because there are no NPC’s in the game, the only reason to claim a workshop is to start a multiplayer PvP war. What’s the point in that? Deathmatch went out with Halo 3. Trying to revive this play style in Fallout is, well, antiquated. Can’t we think up better ways to get players to team up in multiplayer mode?

If you do decide to take over a workshop, you’re expected to “fix it up” with your own caps and your own resources. When you do find an unowned workshop, they’re so run down, you’ll have to deplete nearly all of your resources not only fixing the place, but adding defenses. The game also only gives you about 15 minutes to fix it up fully and place defenses. There’s just no way to not only fix up the entire place, but build that amount of defenses in 15 minutes, Bethesda. Bah… FAIL!

Worse, even if you do manage to set up defenses and fix up the workshop, you’ll lose it all after you sign out of the game. Yep, your resources and caps… gone forever. So then, what’s the incentive here? If I’m going to spend nearly my entire inventory I’ve collected over many days in one location and then lose it in a few hours later, why? Why would I ever do that? No, if I’m going to claim a workshop, I better be able to own it for as long as I want or until some other faction of players takes it away from me. Let ownership rule so long as the player signs in at least once every 30 days. If the player fails to sign in for 30 days, then the workshop reverts to unowned.

Considering how unstable the Xbox One client is and how often it randomly crashes, there’s no way I’d ever consider investing in building and defending a workshop. Until Bethesda can get the bugs ironed out of the game clients, there’s no incentive for me to even consider attempting to own a workshop. Why bother with it anyway? It’s not like you can invite settlers into it to help man and defend it.

Also, why not let groups own a workshop together? If a group of folks get together and spends their resources to fix up the place, then it should be jointly owned. This means that even if the first person to establish ownership disappears, the property should revert to the next owner in the group list until there are no more people listed who can own it. A single day’s ownership is worthless. Perpetual ownership until the player or team forfeits the property or it is taken over by a new faction is the way to handle these workshops.

Not only does perpetual ownership encourage owning and fixing up a workshop, it encourages group ownership to prevent the workshop from being lost if a player suddenly disappears. Yet, that’s where we are today. If the first owner disappears and logs out, the property becomes unowned. Bethesda has a lot of redevelopment ahead. Yet another fail.

Worst case, do it like Cyrodiil’s campaigns. Let people own workshops for 30 or 45 days. At the end of the campaign, all ownerships are revoked and people will have to reclaim their workshop if they want it for the next campaign round. Owning a workshop for 24 hours only? This is stupid.

Power Armor

NukaColaPA-fThe fifth problem is the power armor. Not only are there bugs around using this armor, some of these bugs are show stoppers. Besides the bugs, the armor is just not that useful in this game. It does add a small amount of extra carrying power, but at the price of carrying around a 10 weight power armor suit + the weight of each armor suit piece in your inventory until you need it. It’s not like we’re given a ton of extra carrying capacity to begin with, but this? Really?

If we’re trying to be realistic with the survival eating and drinking, how is it then possible to carry an entire suit of power armor on your person? This is why it’s a fail. You shouldn’t be able to carry around power armor at all. You’re either in it or you’re out of it. If you want to use it, like Fallout 4, you have to go get it having parked it at a Power Armor crafting station. Carrying it around with you is as stupid as the horse that appears and disappears in Elder Scrolls Online. It’s a stupidly unrealistic addition that makes as much sense in Fallout 76 as eating and drinking every few minutes.

Additionally, the Power Armor has no light without a helmet. If you’re in it and press the light button, nothing happens. No light. At first I thought it was that there was no armor on the suit, but no. It’s a bug with the armor when there is no helmet. Even if you do have a helmet, the light is so basic and dim, the room is still dark even with the light. You do better by using the Pip Boy as a light. The best power armor light is actually the Raider power armor. Basically, the usefulness of wearing power armor comes down to carrying a bit more so you can stop being over-encumbered which allows you to fast travel. That’s the only reason to carry around an extra 10 weight of junk in the inventory. The power armor suit is only moderately better in combat, but is not that effective. In fact, many creatures can seemingly overcome the power armor’s armor and reduce your HP just as fast as wearing no armor.

The secondary trouble I’ve found with wearing power armor is that this seems to be an implicit deathmatch challenge signal to other players. If you’re in power armor, they seem to come after you and kill you… moreso than if you’re not wearing it. I’m not sure what’s going on here, but there seems to be some kind of unwritten rule that wearing power armor = “come kill me”. I don’t like this and so I rarely wear power armor because 1) I don’t want to trip the get stuck bug and 2) I don’t want to constantly fight other players. So, I rarely wear Power Armor so I can mostly quest in peace (such that questing is in this game).

Missing Elements

The final problem is what’s not here. In ESO, there was a Risk based board game scenario where factions could challenge each other by taking over each other’s territory. While I didn’t agree with the ESO implementation of PvP in Cyrodiil, it at least encouraged people to work towards maintaining their castles. Unfortunately, it had the side effect of spending each person’s money and resources to fix up the castles during and after battle. I’d have preferred if the castles could have made their own money and their own resources that could be used against rebuilding rather than forcing the player to dip into their own inventory.

Unfortunately, Fallout 76 has no such PvP element at all… at least that I’ve found. Granted, I haven’t explored the entire map yet. So, there might be other “different” PvP areas I’ve yet to uncover. I doubt it, though.


💋 The Beautiful

This section is devoted to what parts I liked most about Fallout 76. First and foremost, the landscape and the daytime lighting quality is amazing, particularly dawn and dusk. The sun ray aspect is probably the best part of this game and it’s done amazingly well… I’d say that it’s much better than the sun’s rays in Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Let’s take a look at some of these images. They’re just stunning against the apocalyptic ruins. Here’s a quick slideshow of some of these:

 

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Unfortunately, the night lighting isn’t quite so spectacular, but it still provides some stunning visuals nonetheless:

 

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With that said, I’m also equally disappointed with the far too many of the low res 3D models and the low res image textures within the game. I know this is supposed to be the Beautiful section, but I have to cover both sides, like I did under the Fails area. Let’s look at a few of the problems with this game’s models and textures:

 

The above images illustrate how badly the texture mapping can go wrong in this game. In fact, even the tree leaves and ground plants are pretty much flat planes. When you get close to an object, the reality and illusion of it breaks down rapidly. For example, the white flowers above show the edges of the texture map when illuminated by the Pip Boy. You can’t see the lines in the thumbnail, but if you look at this image full size and zoom in a little, you can see these thin edge lines. It’s very prominent when playing the game.

This lack of resolution even includes the character models themselves. Up close and personal on the characters, you’ll see the squared off edges of arms and legs of the character model rather than being smoothed out. I understand why they don’t include 3D model smoothing in games as it takes more CPU power. I’m hoping that this will be available on the PS5 and Xbox Next. 3D model edge smoothing would help the character models look far more realistic.

Pip Boy

11-25-2018_11-32-23_PM-n5eaph0cThe Pip Boy, while not much different than Fallout 4, performs its function quite well here. I will say that the 3D model could do with a bit of work, particularly the orange lit button that seems too low res. I’d also prefer to have the map in the Pip Boy rather than having to pop into a separate screen. It made it so much more handy to get to and fast travel via the map when using the Pip Boy. It was also much more immersive than having a separate and pretty colored map. It’s fine if they want to keep the nice pretty colored map, but having a map in the Pip Boy prevents the need of getting out of the Pip Boy to move move to a different screen. It’s all about time savings and this change would help a lot.

Here’s a little trick you can do with the Pip Boy that maybe you didn’t know. You can use the right stick and move the Pip Boy around, like so to get a better look at it:

If you really dislike using the Pip-Boy, there are two alternatives: 1) Hop into Power Armor. It has its own separate heads-up display. 2) If you don’t have Power Armor handy, you can press and hold the two squares (left button below the Xbox button) until it changes. It will give you a HUD that looks like so:

11-26-2018_12-16-12_AM-eomehsb0

This HUD performs all of the same functionality as the Pip Boy using a different color and without the distraction of it. To switch back, press and hold the two-square button again and the Pip Boy will return. Personally, I prefer the Pip Boy, but I’d like to change the screen color from green to something else. I remember you could do that in earlier Fallout games.


🛑 The Butt Ugly

Daytime and Nighttime

Day and night in this game is weird. It seems that daytime blows by quickly, yet night seems to drone on forever. It could be that there are more nighttime hours than there are daytime hours in the game. This is, frankly, unwanted. I’d prefer to choose day or night and let it stay that way until I change it. Since the clock is mostly unnecessary, each player should be able to choose the time of day setting they would prefer (day, night, dawn or dusk). Let the clock roll by, but let me keep my visuals on daytime. Rainstorms and Radiation storms can still roll through, but let my game remain on my visual choice.

Enemies and Levels

Simultaneously, enemies are both weak and strong at the same time. For example, I’ve run into level 1 Molerats that take at least two shots to kill and my character is level 15. How is that possible? One shot should kill a level 1 molerat. I’ve also run into level 33 enemies who I’ve been able to kill in 5-6 shots. The level system is broken. I shouldn’t even be able to come close to killing a level 33 enemy at level 15… or at least, it should take so many shots that I’d run out of bullets before I finished.

Aiming, Misfires and Collision Detection

This game has some of the worst collision detection I’ve seen in a game of this caliber. When the enemy is up close making hits on me, I can’t even seem to make a point blank shot with a gun… and believe me, I’ve tried. I know that the bullets should be connecting, but the game doesn’t register it. Not only have you lost the ammo, but you’ve wasted health points because the enemy is hitting you. Even worse is that some enemies constantly move around you. If you’re trying to shoot them, they’ll intentionally run behind you… even animals. This AI behavior is stupid and it means you’ll be constantly fumbling to locate them somewhere in your camera view. Combat is already difficult enough without having to constantly swivel to find them

On the flip side, I’ve used my .44 Somerset Special sniper pistol and hit enemies at a distance in the head when I know my aim was way off. I don’t understand this discrepancy in how weapons work here. This problem is even true of even shotguns which are known to have a wide dispersal pattern. Meaning, if there is a ghoul inches from you in Fallout 76, the chance of actually making a hit is very low unless you have exactly perfect aim… when, in fact, the dispersal pattern of an actual shotgun at that range would decimate an enemy as long as it’s aimed in the general direction. Still, in this game when enemies are up close, there’s an unnecessarily high chance of missing. When they’re far away, somehow you can connect shots even when you’re aiming in the ‘general direction’. This is very, very ugly for a shooter.

Instead, up close shooting should be much more accurate than distance shooting. Bethesda’s devs somehow got this one backwards in Fallout 76.

Inventory Storage Maximums

The inventory system on this game is what you’d expect, only worse. Unfortunately, Bethesda keeps adding stupid after stupid into these games. The weights you can carry are way too low for what’s needed to actually play this game. This poorly conceived idea compounds to make a bad situation worse. Once you fill your character’s personal inventory and your stash inventory, you have no other place to store anything. You are forced to drop stuff. You have no choice.

In previous single player games like Skyrim and Fallout 4, you could always store excess stuff in chests or drawers or practically anywhere and go get it whenever you need it. You can’t do that here. Once you’ve filled up your inventory, you’re screwed and there’s nothing you can do about it. As you can see from this video, the way the Stash Box is implemented simply doesn’t work…

Sweep System

Why can’t you drop stuff? This game is constantly sweeping dropped items. The sweep system is so bad and so aggressive that it will sweep away even recently killed enemies before walking over to them to get their loot. It’s particularly bad if you’re a sniper. If you snipe your prey from a distance, don’t expect anything to be there when you arrive. I’ve had so much kill loot stolen from me by the sweep system, I should have stopped playing then. But, I kept toughing it out hoping it would get better. It doesn’t.

This is the fundamental blocker that has made me stop playing. Being over-encumbered is a problem, but nothing’s worse than not being able to drop your stuff off easily and remove that problem or potentially lose it after a character death because of the dropped loot.

Note that the My Stash location holds a maximum weight of 400 … well, actually 399. Once you reach that level, it won’t let you store more. I tire of playing these systems which provide arbitrarily low limits when you really need at least 3 times as much storage space. This is the reason this one falls under The Butt Ugly.

Dropped Loot and Respawning

Upon your character’s eventual death in the wasteland, you will be allowed to respawn. When you do, the map gets a death marker and your character is respawned to the nearest chosen spawn point.

The fail here, and boy is it EVER a fail, is the fact that the game drops loot when you die. What’s the point in this dropping loot? It doesn’t make the game more challenging, it simply makes it a hassle. I absolutely and totally hate this design that’s now being implemented in so many games. Whomever thought that the death marker and dropping your loot upon death was a great idea should be walked to the door after being summarily fired. This is not a design that anyone wants.

Worse, it hangs your loot out to dry whenever you’re out questing. If you’re playing a game that doesn’t allow you to store your items, then maybe it might have a point to exist. Since ALL Bethesda RPGs allow you to store stuff in containers, there’s no point in dropping loot upon death. This just encourages you not to carry loot with you and continually go and drop it off.

The danger with dropped loot is compounded by Bethesda’s absolute crap storage maximums. When you’ve reached the storage maximums of the stash box and of your character, you have to being carrying more stuff with you as you can at least carry over-encumbered. The stash box can’t accept anything else once full.

This means that if actually want to go out questing, you have to carry a shit ton of stuff with you that could potentially be lost under bug conditions (as I’ve described above). It means your loot is being hung out to dry every time you go out questing.

I really don’t want to have to fight with a game’s systems over playing the quests. This game is already cumbersome enough to when attempting to apply stimpaks or change weapons while in battle. Having to fight with stupid bugs that lose stash items is just insane… which is why I’m done with playing this disaster of a game.

Changing Weapons and VATs

Because this is an online game, there is no such thing as pause. This means that while you’re changing your weapon, the enemy is hammering on you. Same for trying to apply Stimpaks or eat food to increase HP. Basically, it’s almost impossible to change weapons, eat food or apply medicine when you’re in combat. In the standalone games, the game pauses while you go into the Pip Boy. It doesn’t work that way here.

Yes, there is a weapon wheel, but it’s just as cumbersome to use as going into the Pip Boy. Because there’s like 15 slots, trying to target just one of the slots perfectly is a challenge, particularly when you’re trying to battle fast moving Ghouls. This part is really trying and needs a drastic redesign by Bethesda. It needs not only a simpler system to get to the most used weapons, it needs a faster way to get to them without blocking the screen. While this is a fail, it’s incredibly butt ugly.

CAMPs randomly disappear

While I believe this to be a current bug which may get resolved in a later version, I have found my CAMP has disappeared twice in the time I’ve been playing. The first time I’d built hillside camp with stilts. It was designed specifically for that hillside. After my camp disappeared, I quickly realized that I wouldn’t be able to build custom designed hillside hideouts as it’s almost impossible to locate that exact terrain to place the hideout in the same position.

Instead, I’ve opted to create a small cabin that can sit on practically any terrain. It means that it’s easily portable and can be dropped almost anywhere that’s reasonably flat. This helped because my CAMP disappeared a second time and I had to relocate it. Having this small self-contained shack made it easy to rebuild. I’m sure it will disappear again. When your CAMP disappears, the game doesn’t charge you to place it down again. It’s not considered ‘moving’ the CAMP, so there’s no fee involved.

However, the hassle of having to move CAMP around and the fact that it disappears is a highly ugly experience overall. Bethesda is aware that CAMPs are disappearing, but they’ve done nothing yet to solve the problem. Perhaps they can solve this in a later update.

The benefit is that if you want to move your CAMP and you don’t want to pay, this bug would let you move your CAMP somewhere else for free. You just have to wait for the bug to be triggered and have your CAMP disappear from the map.

Game Worlds

Finally, I should mention a miscalculated design decision that Bethesda engineers made for Fallout 76 that has contributed to the failure of this game. When you log into the Fallout 76 world, you are placed onto a individual server. It seems Bethesda’s engineering team made a fateful decision to limit each “World” to a maximum of 24 player slots. It also seems that a “World” is technically a server located in some datacenter. While I understand the need to help scale a game may involve using many servers, it seems the engineers decided to limit the number of players on each server to improve the gaming experience, but at the same time, this design choice limits multiplayer interactions.

This design decision has only served to make the game seem smaller than it is. There are times when I’ve been in some “Worlds” where there might be 4 or 5 other people online. Basically, the server is empty and thus, the game seems empty.

This is butt ugly because it causes two problems. The first problem is that in a game that should be teaming with multiplayer folks, you might only see and interact with only a handful of other players ever. You also don’t know how many people are on other “World” servers in total or whether a friend is on another server. Secondarily, this server boundary problem serves to make it impossible at times to put teams together. There was a time when one person on my team couldn’t get back onto the “World” server because it was full with 24 people. We all had to interrupt our gameplay, drop off of that world server, team up at the main menu, then reload the game by following one of the team into a new “World” server. A tedious hassle, at best. Any situations like these that serve to interrupt playing the game are not only a fail, but an extremely bad design decision. The game should seamlessly handle these issues without any interactions on the part of the player.

The engineers should have also designed the “World” system to allow cross play between “World” servers so that seeing people on the other servers is a seamless experience. This would drastically improve the game showing a teaming world of multiplayers rather than seeing no more than 24 people online. In a game where it is entirely devoid of NPCs, limiting the “World” servers to 24 people only serves to make the game seem even more barren and lifeless. Vault 76 then becomes less about hope of repopulation and more about the deaths of the Vault 76’s dwellers.

Vault 76 and Reclamation Day

I don’t even get the logic of Reclamation day. Unless the vault was running out of provisions to support its inhabitants (possible, but not explained), opening the door to let everyone out was a bad Overseer decision. It would have been better to send out a small scouting party to determine the situation “outside”, then report back. That’s the only logical thing to do before opening the door for everyone. If the scouting party didn’t report in at all or reported in unfavorably, then why open the door? I’m not sure what the Overseer was thinking by opening Vault 76 at that moment in time. Clearly, it was a bad decision as pointed out via the multitudes of holo tapes and the clear world devastation that the Vault 76 inhabitants were ill prepared to handle. Why would you intentionally sacrifice the safety of the vault’s inhabitants to such a hostile world? The story starts off badly and doesn’t get any better, unfortunately.


🚌 Missed Opportunities

With the introduction of Fallout 76, I was expecting a whole lot more to this game, particularly the multiplayer portions and settlement building. For example, with the idea of settlements and settlers, comes the idea of letting players settle and run businesses in the wasteland. Instead of roaming around the wasteland, they could man businesses and buy and sell merchandise they create or find. If the player wants to explore, a robot could step in and man the store with whatever merchandise is there. When the player wants to man the booth personally, they can step in and do so. This would allow for actual haggling in prices between players.

There’s also the idea of building a community. Letting players group together to create structures for settling and for extended quests. The settlements could even grow into thriving cities. That’s the point of what Vault 76’s opening meant… to rebuild. This means that players can not only build residential and business structures, but also build structures that might contain enemies including containers with loot and various other things. It would also let players create water treatment plants to filter out the radiation, set up farms for cultivating crops, building power systems and rebuilding manufacturing to allow for building of Power Armor, cars, and trucks to bring the modern world back.

Letting the players build extensions to the world to make the world more dynamic should be the plan of any multiplayer world. Of course, when just starting out in a new game, you don’t want low level players taking advantage of the modern conveniences and improvements… yet. So, they should be restricted from seeing and participating in these activities until they have either leveled up sufficiently or completed the main quest.

Yet, here we are. Fallout 76 is just a mere shell of what it could have been.


👎 Overall

As it is now, this game gets a thumbs down from me with a rating of 2 stars out of 10. I classify it as a disaster worse than the nukes that decimated West Virginia in this game. While the daytime wasteland is very pretty to look at, there’s so little to see and do that Fallout 76 really feels mostly incomplete. The lack of NPCs makes the whole game seem barren and lifeless. The quests are average, but it doesn’t really make me think that this game is heading in any direction like Fallout 4. Like Elder Scrolls Online, the whole experience feels hollow and without a point. Instead, it seems like you are asked to chase information about already dead Vault 76 characters via holo tapes and computer logs. You never seem to run into any other actual NPC characters from Vault 76 other than multiplayer characters whom are “just there”, but don’t play a part in the narrative.

Fallout 4 did at least have a cohesive story to tell. Fallout 76 feels like a pale imitation of Fallout 4, but doesn’t have the meat or the core.

What’s left then is the main quest line and so far that’s simply chasing holo tape after holo tape or logging into a computer to read notes on a computer screen… and you don’t even need to read them to get quest credit. These audio logs and computer screen entries are, well, uninteresting. Other than the enemies you have to kill to find or get to these quest items, the rest are mostly boring exercises with nothing to engage the gamer into wanting to progress.

This is all made worse by the fact that the game is chock full of bugs and glitches. The overly unnecessary eating, drinking and getting diseases simply interrupts and detracts from questing. The lack of a well designed PvP system, including the poorly designed unowned workshop system, simply makes everything seem pointless. The game’s entire reason to exist is for poignant multiplayer PvP, but then fails to even deliver on that. The biggest event to tackle is killing a Scorchbeast, but even the fun of that deflates once you’ve done it and all you receive at the end is basically nothing or some Scorchbeast meat, you really begin to sense just how hollow and tedious this game really is.

The primary thing I’ve found to hold my interest is scavenging. Even then, that’s actually limited because you find the same things over and over in each container. So then it becomes about dismantling these into component parts for crafting mods and such. Basically, scavenging becomes repetitive fairly quickly. This situation is then made worse by the extremely limited inventory storage amount that you’re given, into which you can store these component items. Once your storage space fills up, the game is pretty much over. There’s really no point in playing once you’re constantly over-encumbered.

What I recommend is the following. Wait 6 months to purchase this game. After 6 months or more of patching, this game might become more playable and usable. This same problem occurred with Elder Scrolls Online. Only time will tell. As it is now, unless you like playing these simplistic and poorly designed thin multiplayer games, you should steer clear and try playing this one 6 months from now, at the earliest. It’s definitely worth giving Fallout 76’s developers plenty of time to attempt to right this listing ship and improve the play value of this game in the process.

I’ve lowered my score from 3.5 to 2 stars because this game is far too much trouble than it’s worth. The problem is with the bugs and glitches. For example, here’s several bugs and glitches in a row that compounded into losing all of my “junk” inventory on my character… none of it was my fault in playing the game poorly and was entirely responsible by poor game design and bugs.

I’m currently at level 27. During combat, game lagged for about 5-10 seconds. It was logn enough for a low level scorched to kill my character. The controls didn’t respond at all during that 5-10 seconds. I couldn’t move or shoot or do anything. My health line before the glitching was at least 75%. The glitching allowed more than that scorched’s fair share of hits on my character (which, of course, I couldn’t see or respond to). After the game unlagged and showed my character dead, I respawned to the same location and within 15 seconds of respawning, the entire game hung and crashed on the Xbox with the signature sound looping. It was not enough time for me to go collect my dropped loot (which I don’t believe in dropped loot in games anyway). I believe this is a stupid tactic that doesn’t belong in any games.

After the game restarted, my dropped loot was gone as was my last death marker. All of my “junk” was lost and I had a lot of stuff on me important to repairing items. Items I couldn’t stash because my stash box is entirely full. At this point, I’ve had it with Fallout 76 and I killed the game. I won’t be playing Fallout 76 anymore and with that, I dropped this score to 2 stars out of 10. It’s a pointless and worthless piece of drek from Bethesda that you’d do best to avoid.

Parental Advice

This game is designed as a multiplayer (MMORPG) game. Because of the continuous multiplayer aspect, there is no way to fully rate what your child might be exposed to or with whom they might come into contact. Basically, use your best judgement if considering this game purchase as a gift for a child. As for the themes in this game, they are mostly adult themes. Children too young may not understand the themes contained in Fallout 76.

Requirements

This game requires an always-on and relatively fast (i.e., broadband) Internet connection to function. If you don’t have always-on Internet, you will not be able to play this game.

Updates to this game usually end up in the range of 30GB to 50GB per update. These updates appear at least every few weeks and may come more frequently as Bethesda attempts to squash bugs during the first few months after release. If your Internet connection is metered and/or you only have a small allotment of data, you might want to steer clear of buying this game. Also, once an update has been released, you cannot play the game until you have fully downloaded and installed the latest update.

Update as of 12/25/2018

One month after the release of this review and nothing has actually improved. In fact, with each new successive release, this game is actually worse. In fact, it’s MUCH, MUCH worse with stupid bugs that shouldn’t even exist. At this point, I’ve dropped this game down to 0 stars out of 10. This is unheard of for me, but there is no other way to deal with such a piss poor game.

Releasing patches is supposed to improve the game. But every patch that they’ve dropped has literally made the game worse. In fact, the devs seem to be imposing restrictions on the use of things and fighting abusers rather than fixing bugs. It seems the devs are chasing the players exploiting bugs.

Instead of chasing abuse problems, the developers should spend their time fixing legitimate show-stopper bugs. Bugs that crash or hang the client. Bugs that prevent playing the game. Bugs that are so severe, it would turn anyone off of actually buying the game. If you’re having problems with abusers, ban them from the game and report them to Xbox Live to have them banned from their Xbox account. Make it known that abuse in the world won’t be tolerated and will be reported to Xbox Live.

The devs need to focus in improving the stability and reliability of the world servers, of the quests and of the game client itself. They don’t seem to be doing this. It seems they are focusing on abusers. Fix the bugs now, worry about the abusers later…

Basically, DON’T BUY THIS GAME. If you’ve bought it for a gift, grab it from under the tree and buy the person something else. This game is so bad, it doesn’t deserve any players. This game needs to fail and go away. Let’s make that happen. Vote with your wallet and skip this one.

💯 Score

Graphics: 7 out of 10
Audio: 8 out of 10
Gameplay: 0 out of 10 (way, way too buggy)
Questing: 2 out of 10
Settling: 3 out of 10 (bugs here)
Workshops: 1 out of 10 (pointless)

Overall: 0 out of 10 (Nothing new to see here, way too many bugs)
Recommendation: DO NOT BUY, EVER!

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