Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Can Trump actually ban TikTok?

Posted in banning, government, spyware by commorancy on August 1, 2020

There are two sides to this question. Let’s explore both sides.

Technological Ban

Could TikTok actually be technologically stopped from working? Yes, and to be honest, it wouldn’t take that much effort, though it will take some time. Let’s explore how this works.

Domain Name Service (DNS)

DNS is a fundamental internet service that maps Internet names, like google.com, into an IP address, like 8.8.8.8 (which is Google’s DNS server IP address, actually). When you type in a name into the address bar of your browser, DNS converts that name into a numeric IP which is how your browser then connects to and serves you (and your browser) that web content.

This same system applies to all apps including apps like TikTok. When you launch an app on your phone, the app then uses DNS to resolve its service into an IP address which then connects to, for example, TikTok’s servers to begin serving you (and the app) its content.

DNS is the Achilles heel of the internet. It is both a cornerstone and a single point of failure. If DNS fails, then apps fail to connect to their required services.

This is the first touch point where Donald Trump could target. Donald Trump can mandate that the registrar who operates the domain tiktok.com drop serving DNS for this domain… assuming it operates within the United States (hint, it doesn’t).

Further, the secondary non-authoritative DNS system (those servers operated by your ISP or phone provider) relies on caching (or temporary memory storage with expiration timers). So long as the timer hasn’t reached zero, DNS will continue to serve content for that domain based on what’s in the cache rather than asking the authority each time (much faster performance). However, most domains have, at most, a 24 hour countdown timer on cached data. At the end of that 24 hour period, the cached data must be renewed into the cache. If the registrar has disabled DNS resolution for a domain, the cache will fail to renew and the service will go offline.

What that means is that as caches around the Internet slowly expire after the domain registrar has pulled the DNS plug, TikTok will stop working.

The difficulty with this request is which registrar handles this domain. It appears that the tiktok.com domain is operated by the registrar ename.com. Visiting the ename.com registrar’s domain shows that it’s written in Chinese. Since this domain and its IP space is registered and operated outside of the United States, Trump may find it hard to get the registrar to do anything for him.

Even still, Trump could request (via executive order) U.S. based Internet Service Providers to block the tiktok.com domain from being served within U.S. bordered DNS servers. See ISP blocking below for more on this.

App Store

Donald Trump can further request both Apple and Google to remove the TikTok app from each respective app store. This action doesn’t stop the app from working for those who have downloaded it already, but it does stop new users from downloading it. It also means no more app updates for this app.

When Apple or Google release a new operating system update, they can then stop the app from working entirely. In fact, these OS creators could, in fact, wipe the app from any remaining devices with it still installed. However, they can also simply block the app from launching. However, this part can only work if Apple and Google release updates that explicitly perform this operation and that both of these companies agree to doing this in the first place.

Internet Service Provider (ISP) Blocking

The third avenue that Trump can seek requires ISPs to block network access to TikTok’s servers within the United States. This requires contacting and requesting this action of many ISPs all throughout the United States, including all phone carriers like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint. This is a long tail request and could take weeks to see roll out. This one also has a low probability for success as ISPs are notorious for not wanting to be told what to do or how to run their networks. This particular request is not one that will work quickly or, indeed, at all in some cases… until the DOJ brings action against ISPs that refuse to comply.

In addition to blocking access at the network level, he can also request DNS blocking for the tiktok.com domain within United States DNS servers operated by ISPs. Basically, an ISP double whammy… assuming ISPs agree (or are forced to agree) to these terms.

App remains functional?

For a time after Donald Trump requests DNS and network IP blocking, the app could remain functional on devices that have it downloaded. Why? Because DNS has up to several day caching in combination with the fact that network IP blocking can be circumvented by the use of a VPN. Though, exactly how many kids are going to run out and buy a VPN service just to use TikTok is unknown.

If Donald Trump can get all four actions lined up (the first three at least) as follows:

  1. App removal
  2. IP network blocking
  3. DNS blocking at the registrar
  4. Secondary DNS blocking within U.S. ISPs

Then, the app may stop working as early as 24 hours for many and for as long as a week for outliers. It is also dependent on how long it takes for each of these steps to be completed. Some companies require long convoluted internal processes and testing to avoid inadvertent screw ups before changes are allowed to proceed.

All of these technical measures are ALL doable. They will all work IF everyone complies (and that’s a tall order).

The most damaging of these four banning steps is seeing Tiktok removed from the app store. If Trump can get the app removed from the stores, this cripples TikTok’s ability to gain new users. That means that for a time, users who have already downloaded the app can continue to use it. But, as they buy new phones, restore their phones before it was installed or if they accidentally delete the app, the app is gone forever. No more TikTok on that phone device.

Removal from the app store also means no more updates. As Apple and Google roll out OS updates, they can invalidate TikTok’s functionality. An OS update can see a small banner pop up that says something similar to “This app is no longer compatible with this device” and prevent it from launching. The only option the user has at that point is to delete the app and move onto something else. If you can’t launch the app, then it’s useless.

This step, by far, is the simplest step to banning an app. It only requires two touch points: Apple and Google. That also assumes that both Apple and Google would be willing participants in this action. They may not. If they choose to challenge Trump’s legal authority to request such actions.. that leads me into the second half of this article.

Legal Authority

I guess the biggest question on people’s mind is, “Does Donald Trump have the authority to ban an app like TikTok within the US?” The short answer is, “I’m not sure”. Trump’s executive authority powers do allow him to write and execute executive orders.

Wikipedia states of Presidential Executive Orders:

Article Two of the United States Constitution gives the president broad executive and enforcement authority to use their discretion to determine how to enforce the law or to otherwise manage the resources and staff of the executive branch. The ability to make such orders is also based on express or implied Acts of Congress that delegate to the President some degree of discretionary power (delegated legislation).

the Wikipedia article further goes on to state:

Like both legislative statutes and regulations promulgated by government agencies, executive orders are subject to judicial review and may be overturned if the orders lack support by statute or the Constitution.

That means that an Executive Order can be challenged via judicial review and may be overturned if unconstitutional or lacks support by statute. And, lacking support by statute may be Trump’s biggest hurdle.

However, the Patriot Act gives the government and, in general, the President broad powers with regards to national security. If he deems TikTok a threat to national security and deems it illegal surveillance, it may invoke clauses under the Patriot Act which would allow him to write an Executive Order supported by the Patriot Act.

Yes, this is all convoluted and tenuously threaded, but it may have enough binding weight to hold together under scrutiny via judicial review.

That’s not say that TikTok is in any way performing surveillance via its app. But, seeing that it was an app developed in China, it is entirely possible that it does contain illegal surveillance mechanisms, otherwise known as spyware.

TikTok as an App

TikTok may seem an innocuous app on the surface. You use it to create a funny small video clippets (ha, just coined a new term) and then upload it for all to see. What you don’t know is whether this seeming innocuous app is spying on you when you’re not using it. You must give this app permissions to your microphone, camera, location and possibly other access. The app can turn on these devices at any time it so chooses, even if when you’re unaware. If you have given any other access permissions, such as access to your Photo Gallery, Clipboard, Contacts or other points of permission, it may have blanket access to far too much private information about you that it can feed to China.

Even if you have installed TikTok once, that data may have been shared back to someone in China. You have no idea exactly what this app is doing under-the-hood. The same can be said of many apps in the app store. However, China is under no obligation to uphold data privacy laws in the United States. If your child has installed the app, it could feed all manner of private data about your child back to China.

U.S. Company?

TikTok apparently has a U.S. presence, but if that presence doesn’t have a hand in the creation, maintenance or dissemination of the app itself, the U.S. arm may not be violating any laws if the app does unsavory things outside of its stated and intended purpose.

Even though it seems TikTok does have a U.S. presence, the company itself seems to be heavily backed by Chinese companies. Since the President’s announcement regarding a potential TikTok ban, this company has quickly attempted to divest its Chinese interest from TikTok and allow it to become a wholly owned and operated U.S. business. That may be too late for this company and this app.

Honestly, sharing tiny entertaining videos of your silly antics is really not an essential part life. It’s fun to watch, but it’s overall something to be watched and forgotten. In other words, none of the content on TikTok is in any way meaningful or, indeed, useful. It is briefly funny content that might elicit a few laughs and then you are encouraged to move on to the next.

What Wish is to trashy Chinese merchandise, TikTok is to trashy occasionally funny clippets. They’re both cut from the same cloth, but cut from different ends. I’ve watched many TikTok videos and I find most of them no more entertaining than watching a TV commercial. TV commercials are, in fact, better filmed and many times better written.

Ultimately, if TikTok is banned, it won’t be missed in the long run. Oh, it will be immediately missed by the tweens and teens alike who rely on that sort of thing to get through the boredom of their day, but even this age group will quickly forget and move onto the next app.

TikTok is ultimately another social media fad riding a temporary wave that will eventually surf its way into the next app fad, and far away from TikTok. A Presidential ban may simply speed this process up exponentially and cut short TikTok as a fad.

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The rise and danger of private fat loss infomercials

Posted in food, Health, nutrition by commorancy on July 27, 2020

Recently, a number of seemingly trustworthy individuals have arisen from who-knows-where to put out very long form infomercials (around 40-50 minutes or longer), which ultimately espouse some kind of fat loss product. The dangers with these infomercial claims lie within. Let’s explore.

Dr. Amy Lee

While I despise calling out specific individual web hucksters, here’s one who claims to be an M.D. or medical doctor. While she may have an M.D. degree (though, I can’t easily confirm this), she is clearly misinforming the public with her long-form video.

In her exceedingly long form video, she calls out 3 harmful foods and then proceeds to describe why these foods are so harmful, in her opinion. The ‘in her opinion’ is exactly why this video is so dangerous to watch.

Let’s closely examine one of these three “damaging” ingredients, high fructose corn syrup, otherwise known as HFCS.

While I’m not going to state that eating HFCS is good for you in any way… and it isn’t, Dr. Lee is sadly and completely misinformed with this substance. She claims that HFCS is treated as an unknown substance by the brain and body. This claim is entirely and 100% patently false. The body knows exactly what fructose is and how to process it. It is NOT unknown to the body or the brain. Fructose is a simple sugar (unless bound to glucose as a complex sugar), one of many forms of sugars available in foods. High Fructose Corn Syrup is just as it sounds… a syrup that contains a high amounts of fructose. How it gets that high level concentration of fructose is in how this syrup is produced.

Fructose is a naturally occurring sugar in nature and occurs in all fruits in combination with sucrose and glucose (other forms of sugars). The body knows exactly how to process and break down sucrose, lactose, maltose, maltodextrin and, yes, even fructose. The digestive tract has enzymes ready to break these substances down into glucose for use by the body. Glucose is sometimes also called dextrose. To be fair, fructose (when not bound to glucose) is considered a simple sugar which is broken down in the liver, which is the reason it can cause liver problems if eaten to excess (more on this below).

The body cannot utilize complex sugars (sugars with multiple molecules bound together). It must break these into the simplest sugar, glucose. The body utilizes enzymes for this process. Only glucose can be used by the body within the blood stream.

Dr. Lee is entirely misinformed and is then misinforming you when you watch her video. She doesn’t seem to understand that fructose is not an unknown substance. It is very much a known substance to the body.

Let’s get down to the reason why HFCS is bad for the body. High fructose corn syrup is ultimately processed by the liver (at least the fructose portion) in ways that can lead to liver damage and liver disease. It is this liver damage the leads to further reactions by the body, such as insulin problems leading to obesity which can lead to diabetes. It is this liver damage and potentially other organ damage from consumption of high levels of fructose that can lead to these problems.

The body can tolerate levels of fructose consumed from fruits. One orange may contain ~12g of sugar with about 3.2g of that being fructose (about 27% of all of the sugar in that orange). One can of soda may contain up to 36g of sugar when sweetened with HFCS and may contain at least 18g of fructose (half of all sugars in that can). It would take consuming 5.6 oranges to consume the same amount of fructose in one can of HFCS sweetened soda. If you consume 5 cans of soda in a day, you’ve consumed the same amount of fructose as eating at least 28 oranges during that day. Who eats 28 oranges a day?

While it’s easy to consume 5 cans of HFCS soda, it is indeed much more difficult to consume 28 oranges in one day. That doesn’t take into account additional sources of HFCS that can also be found in ketchup, bread, cereal, yogurt (yes, that fruit at the bottom may contain HFCS), jelly / jams, peanut butter, candies (Snickers, Mars Bars, etc), salad dressing, juices, cereal bars, baked goods (cookies, cakes, pies) and the list goes on. Just read the ingredient label to see if a specific food contains HFCS. If it does, you might want to steer clear.

However, Dr. Lee suggests HFCS interferes with hormones, particularly the hormone that regulates hunger. It might do this, but more likely it interferes with liver function which leads to other problems within the body. The liver is designed to weed out toxins from the body, but if HFCS is interfering with or blocking that process, toxins may be getting into the body to interfere with the hormones, the pancreas and other organs in the body. It may not be HFCS directly causing these issues, but instead the fructose overload causes the organs of the body to fail their functions, such as the liver and pancreas.

Additionally, overloading the body with sugar is never a good thing, no matter the type. Fructose is but one sugar. Keep in mind that HFCS contains approximately 42% fructose with the remaining 68% made up of sucrose and glucose. It’s not necessarily just the fructose doing the damage here. The remaining 68% of sugar is still acting on the body in ways that may be triggering other problems. Sure, fructose is there, but it’s entirely disingenuous to ignore the remaining 68% of sugars in HFCS as if it weren’t there and as if weren’t potentially problematic.

When you’re watching videos like hers, use caution and do some research to find out if what’s she’s saying makes any sense at all. Don’t blindly follow a person like her without doing research. Doctors may seem intelligent because of that degree hanging on their wall, but it’s clear that many don’t do their home work. Dr. Lee clearly hasn’t been doing her homework.

“I’m Full” trigger

Feeling Hungry?

Further, Dr. Lee suggests blame on HFCS for interfering with the “I’m Full” signal after eating. It’s not just fructose that triggers that response in the body. Any sugar (or even high starch food) does this. Consuming massive amounts of sugar or starch in any form automatically interferes with the “I’m Full” sensation. Why? Because consuming sugar triggers this response early, but it doesn’t last.

After the consumed sugar, which is entirely devoid of vitamins and minerals, is done being processed, the body realizes it hasn’t received any nutrition. From that sugar intake, the body has simply received a quick energy boost. That’s great if you need that energy boost to run or perform exercise. That sugar is used by the muscles to function. However, that sugar, once processed and done, leaves the body wanting actual sustenance. It wants vitamins and minerals that were not in that sugar. So, the body triggers the hunger sensation to force you to eat food again hoping that you’ll eat something meaningful this time. Something that satisfies the body’s need for vitamins and minerals.

This is why when you eat a meal that’s healthy and nutritious, you feel satisfied for far longer than when you consume a can of soda or a candy bar. A soda can satisfies the hunger craving for a very short time… perhaps 30 minutes. After that, the body then asks for food again, the actual chewable kind.

Processed Food vs Whole Natural Food

Here’s where we come to the crux of the problem. The body was designed to process whole natural foods, not highly processed, concocted food items from industrial machines.

By pulverizing ingredients into tiny, but concentrated powders, then reconstituting them into baked goods, pies, cakes and candies, the body wasn’t designed to handle foods with these levels of ingredient concentrations. The body was designed to handle and processed naturally occurring concentrations as they were grown in nature. When these items are pulverized, powdered and highly concentrated, then reconstituted, the body doesn’t handle these overly concentrated foodstuffs well at all. Oh, it will process much of this highly concentrated food, but it will also just as easily put it on your hips.

This is why cakes (and breads), which rely on concentrated processed flour and concentrated processed sugars aren’t always considered the healthiest of food choices. Healthy foods come from nature, directly from nature. We all know that. Foods that don’t come from nature and which are manmade are typically considered less healthy food options. Though, bread has its place when consumed in moderation.

Olean

Here’s where Dr. Lee’s video takes a huge weird turn. Now she begins harping on a product that is not only not a carbohydrate (which she clearly states it is), it’s almost non-existent in the market. Olean was a type of oil or fat. Dr. Lee is clearly misinformed about this product. It’s also exactly when I rolled my eyes and turned her video off as pointless.

Olean or Olestra was a type of alternative oil that was briefly introduced into the market for commercial use. Some potato chip makers adopted this new oil in hopes that it would be a miracle baking product. Unfortunately, this oil product turned into a literal nightmare for potato chip producers and any other company that chose to use it in baked goods.

This oil is not at all digestible by the body. Most oils are fully digestible as fat. Olean isn’t. Whenever it is consumed within foods, the body excretes this product 100% through the bowels. The trouble is, at the time, it caused many problems with many people. Because this “new” oil was touted as a low fat alternative, people bought and ate these chips with all of the careless abandon you might imagine.

The trouble is, eating foods to this level of excess, particularly this food ingredient, led to many problems including anal leakage and major bouts of explosive diarrhea. Because too many people chose to eat Olean-fried potato chips to excess, this is how Olean got such a bad wrap. As a result and because of all of the complaints, about 6 months after introduction, potato chip makers stopped using this oil completely. This all happened in the span of about 6-9 months in… get this, 1996.

This product hasn’t been widely used in commercial food products in over 20+ years. Yes, that’s 20+ years! Apparently, though, Olestra may still be in limited use in certain products in very small quantities and it may go unlabeled due to its small quantities. Why Dr. Lee has decided to dredge up a 20+ year old oil food product that is effectively no longer on the market to harp on as though it were still being sold in products today, I have no idea. Sure, it was a bad product at the time, but it was off the market in around 6-9 months after introduction and hasn’t been used in any substantial way since!

Again, Dr. Lee ends up way off on a tangent that has no practical value in the fat loss or nutrition industry today. There are basically no food products today that contain Olestra / Olean. Even at the time, you couldn’t purchase this oil for use at home. The only oils available on the shelves then were those that are still available today, like peanut, olive, safflower, corn, vegetable and, yes, even Canola (introduced in 1978). While coconut, avocado and olive oils were burgeoning during the 90s, they have since become much more ubiquitous and commonly available in regular supermarkets. Olean / Olestra was never made available to consumers, only to commercial food producers. I know from first hand experience. I attempted to buy Olean in supermarkets, but it never appeared on the supermarket shelf during its short time on the market.

History of Products

It’s important to understand the history of food products that a would-be huckster uses to entice you to buy into whatever thing they end up hawking. Once you know the history of a product like Olean, you can easily spot when someone is trying to pull the wool over your eyes with their lies.

Doctor or not, she has a fiduciary responsibility to understand what’s she’s saying. If she’s trying to pull some bullshit on you, you need to be able to recognize that quickly and easily.

Hucksters Abound

This isn’t the only private web site infomercial like this. I’ve seen several others about this length in duration. Typically, they’re hosted by either a seeming professional, like a doctor or they’re hosted by a 20something male or female bodybuilder in near perfect shape.

It’s these tricks that video producers use to lead you in and then foist a bunch of garbage on you to make you think the host is intelligent and knows what the hell they’re saying. In fact, if you dig deep, you find that it’s a script written by someone who just threw together random unrelated “facts” (which usually aren’t facts at all) and then use that rhetoric to entice you into some supplement product that they plan to sell you for $40 to $100 per bottle.

Once you get to the end of the video, if you even last that long, I urge you to take the name of product and Google it. Look and see if that same product is being sold on Amazon and, if so, look at Amazon’s reviews closely. Most times, you’ll find the product doesn’t work. Sometimes these products don’t make it onto Amazon by name. Instead, find the ingredients and look for a similar product on Amazon containing the same ingredients and look for those reviews.

You might be surprised to find that people using a supplement with those same exact ingredients have found it not to do anything other than make a hole in your wallet. It’s wise to be cautious when watching these purported self-proclaimed authorities when the whole goal is to hawk some product at the end.

Fat Loss

If you’re really intent on losing fat, you’ll need to do three basic things and none of these rely on taking “magic” supplements:

  1. Choose whole natural foods that will fill you up and leave you satisfied
  2. Eat less foods throughout the day (i.e., monitor your calorie intake)
  3. Eat smaller, but more frequent meals throughout the day.

Number one keeps your hunger in check. You can keep your mind occupied on other tasks for longer and have the energy needed to maintain those tasks.

Number two reduces the amount of calories you eat. By eating properly following number one, number two may sort itself out naturally. But, you may still need to count your calories for a period of time to be sure you remain on track.

Number three keeps your metabolism at full steam throughout the day. If you have a slow metabolism, you will need to increase the frequency of meals, but reduce their size. Around 250 calories per meal is enough. This keeps the furnace lit and the body’s metabolism high enough to burn fat.

The best type of food to eat is the food you make yourself. Why? Because you know exactly what goes into that food. You made it, you added the ingredients, you chose what went into it. When you eat out at restaurants, you have no idea what they choose to add to the foods. Could they use Olestra? Doubtful, but it isn’t outside the realm of possibility. Unlike store bought foods which require Nutrition Facts labels, restaurants are under no such obligations to tell you exactly what goes into their menu items. If you want your best option for fat loss, you need to control the foods you eat and you can only do that by making your meals yourself at home from whole fresh ingredients.

The final thing that you need, which isn’t in the list… is to know your resting metabolism. This is important to know what calorie level you need to remain in fat burning mode. Additionally, you may need to stop drinking alcohol of any kind for a period of time. Alcohol consumption may halt fat loss and put a stopper on it for several days. If you’re intent on losing fat, you’ll need to make the necessary dietary changes to ensure your body remains in fat loss mode. That only happens by eating under your resting metabolic rate (RMR) and by eating in an appropriate way with healthy nutritious meals.

Typically, an average adult’s RMR is somewhere between 1700 and 2000 calories per day. You can get your RMR measured at many gyms and fitness centers. Your doctor or a nutritionist may also have access to such a device. Knowing your resting metabolic rate is key to understanding how much food is too much or too little per day.

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Why Fallout 76 sucks badly

Posted in botch, business, video game, video game design by commorancy on July 26, 2020

NPCsWhenever I play Fallout 76, I just want to pull my hair out. This game is so fraught with bugs, poor design, piss poor consistency and overall crap gameplay, it’s a wonder anyone wants to actually play this turd of a game at all. And, it gets worse with every release. Let’s explore this crap game in all of its crap glory.

Bugs Bethesda Won’t Fix

One of the most infuriating things about this game is its incessant bugs which Bethesda has consistently refused to fix. Some of these bugs have existed since before the release in the Beta (if you can even call one week of early play “beta testing”).

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of gameplay bugs I’ve run into with this game (in no particular order):

  1. Getting in and out of power armor breaks mutations, specifically Speed Demon. This bug persists until you log out and back in. If you use power armor at all, this mutation remains broken while both IN and OUT of power armor. This is a new regression bug and didn’t exist early in the game’s life.
  2. When playing sneaky while crouching, the game will sometimes overload the fire gun action onto the run button and fire your weapon when you attempt to run from the crouching position. This happens with any weapon. Not only does this waste ammo, you may be forced to reload your weapon, wasting time. This is an older bug and has existed for at least 6-9 months.
  3. Getting stuck in power armor. While this bug has supposedly been fixed, I have run into occasions where it is impossible to exit power armor. It clearly is not fixed. This bug has existed since Beta.
  4. Getting stuck in VATS. This is a new bug that sees you pull VATS only to find that the game won’t let you exit it, while allowing the enemies to attack you without any resistance. This is a recent bug, but existed before Wastelanders.
  5. Enemies staggering the player. This is a new bug that sees enemy stagger your player for longer amounts of time. Like getting stuck in VATS, you are unable to move or fire your weapon for up to 5-10 seconds, all while letting hordes of creatures attack and kill you. This may have been introduced in Wastelanders.
  6. Camp over budget after update. This one begins after you buy and install Atomic Shop items into your camp. After an update, Bethesda will raise the budget of SOME item(s) in your camp substantially causing your camp’s budget to go WAY over. There’s no way to know what is causing the issue or resolve it without randomly deleting camp items one by one.
  7. Toxic Goo fails to work. After your character dies and respawns, Toxic Goo doesn’t work for up to 1 minute (or longer) after a load-in or respawn. You’ll end up wasting goo after goo after goo trying to get it to work. This affects Bloodied builds.
  8. Loss of certain perks, but not all, after your character dies. Yes, I consider this a bug. There is no reason why this exists in the game. The Well Rested and Well Tuned perks disappear after the character dies and respawns. You are forced back to your camp to sleep and play an instrument again to refresh these. This is a bug that, I think, has been in the game since the start.
  9. Can’t choose respawn point after character death. This bug has been in the game since day one. Under certain conditions, if your character dies, the game will give you zero respawn points on the map. You are forced to log out and log back in… losing any dropped loot and any other benefits you may have had coming. Day 1 bug.
  10. VATS accuracy…. When the game first arrived, VATS could reach 100%. After a ‘balancing’ update, this has been visually reduced to a maximum of 95% at all times (no matter how close the enemy is to you). This is a ridiculous change. However, during this ‘rebalance’, Bethesda introduced two VATS percentages (one you see visually and one you don’t). The one you don’t see is the one that determines whether the bullet will hit. This has caused VATS to become mostly unusable, particularly when combined with bug #4 and specifically with certain weapons. It fares even worse when attempting to use the Concentrated Fire perk card.
  11. After loading into the game world, the game client runs a background process to synchronize the game to the remote game world server. This process takes at least 5-10 minutes to complete. It’s very slow. While this background process is running, you can’t craft on a workbench as the workbench stutters on and off while this synchronization process runs. This is a new bug introduced within the last 6-9 months. It existed before Wastelanders. This bug prevents using workbenches for at least 10 minutes after you’ve loaded into the game world.
  12. In-Game Music can’t be controlled with volume settings slider. A volume slider for music was introduced into the game client, but it has been selectively applied to only certain music. For example, music inside of Whitesprings, inside of Valley Galleria and with musical instruments are not covered by this volume slider. You must endure this music in the world regardless of your settings.
  13. Main Menu Music Slider settings. This one is also broken. While it does not play music on the main menu on the PS4, it does not at all work on the Xbox One. Worse, after a few minutes inside of the Atomic Shop and after the music changes, the music will begin playing at full volume in the Atomic Shop. This slider is only minimally effective at doing what it’s supposed to do.
  14. Challenges don’t work. This is an ongoing problem. If you’ve bought into Bethesda’s Fallout 76 challenge system, then that means doing whatever convoluted activities are needed to win that challenge. Some challenges require you to perform multiple activities to win the challenge. Because of these multiple activities, if one of them does not register after completion, the entire challenge fails. This is one way challenges don’t work.

    The second way challenges fail to work is if you do perform all of the actions successfully and receive a check mark, but the overall challenge doesn’t reward its bounty to you. Both of these are firmly broken. Even the newest update to the Legendary Run suffers from this same bug. You can perform everything required of the challenge and still not see the 1000 score you’re supposed to receive. Bethesda support won’t help with these failures. You’re just shit-outta-luck. Bethesda simply doesn’t support the game or gamers who are playing this game. These are Day 1 bugs.
  15. Blue Screen Crash… yes, these still exist. I regularly experience these crash-to-the-dashboard bugs about once every day or so. They are about as frequent as they were when the game was released. This is partly because of the memory issues.
  16. Level of Detail Image Rendering… this bug as existed since day one. As you approach objects, the game won’t load in the higher res texture version until you’re standing on top of the object (literally). Even then, it may take 1 minute before the higher res texture loads in. It’s a cosmetic bug, but who wants to look at blurry 8 bit textures?
  17. Fast Travel Bug — Here’s a bug that has existed since day one. You open the map and select a travel point, choose to pay the caps and then …. nothing. The map exits and you’re back in the game. You haven’t fast traveled and nothing has happened. Worse, you try again and it does the exact same thing. This bug is annoying, frustrating and shouldn’t even exist.
  18. Workshop Bug — Here’s a regression bug. This bug existed a week or so after release. It was gone for a long time, but now it’s come back in the latest update: v1.3.2.9. Under some conditions, the workshop icon reverts to the older “regular” icon. As a result, the game requires you to pay caps to travel to your owned workshop.
  19. Bethesda Math — Here’s a bug (several actually), but this one’s very very subtle with the perk cards and with damage multipliers. Bethesda sucks really hard at math and they hope that players won’t notice. Too late, we have. When Bethesda calculates damage multipliers, it rarely does so accurately. For example, a multiplier card might say “does 30% more damage”, but in reality it may calculate out 28% more or 25% more or some random value way less than 30%.

    You can see this in action after enabling damage numbers on your weapon. If you calculate out the number shown, you’ll find that the damage is far, far less than what the gun claims to offer with the damage multipliers. This is just one way that Bethesda reduces the damage level of weapons without showing that reduced damage in the weapon info panel.

    This further continues in the weapon info panel as well by not accurately calculating the damage multipliers within this panel. While some perk cards offer exact damage multipliers, many of these cards offer nebulous increases like, “does more”, “does even more”, “does substantially more” without stating any numbers. This allows Bethesda to modify these nebulous cards at their whims on each release, so you never know exactly what those nebulous cards are actually giving you. In many cases, they don’t give you anything. As for the hard number cards, it only stacks these multipliers by calculating from the gun’s base damage level. For example, if you put on cards each offering 10% damage, it will be stacked like so:

    Gun base damage = 197
    Gun + 10% damage = 197 + 19.7 = 217
    Gun + 20% damage = 217 + 19.7 = 237
    Gun + 30% damage = 237 + 19.7 = 257
    and so on…

    Basically, Bethesda calculates the value based on the current gun value + the % to be applied. It doesn’t add by stacking. If it added by stacking, 60% more damage would stack like this:

    Gun base damage = 197
    Gun + 10% damage = 197 + 19.7 = 217
    Gun + 10% more damage = 217 + 21.7 = 239
    Gun + 10% more damage = 239 + 23.9 = 263
    Gun + 10% more damage = 263 + 26.3 = 289
    Gun + 10% more damage = 289 + 28.9 = 318
    Gun + 10% more damage = 318 + 31.8 = 350
    and so on… but this is not how Bethesda does math during stacking.

    Worse, guns with +30% damage to Scorched (Zealots) or 30% damage to animals (Hunter’s) never see these percentages reflected in the gun’s damage information panel. You have no idea if the gun is actually giving you that extra % damage.

    Even worse, when you kill something with damage multipliers on, you almost never see the damage level of the gun reflected in the damage number seen on the enemy. For example, with the 257 damage listed above, if this is an Instigating rifle, it would do double damage to an enemy with full health. This means that at 2x, Instigating damage should do 514 damage to an enemy. With sneaking, it should double that to 1028. However, shooting an enemy with sneak might show way less than that damage inflicted. Damage to an enemy should reflect actual gun damage.
  20. VATS + Accuracy … this bug has been ongoing since day one, but affects some weapons more than others. For example, neither has the Tesla nor the Gauss rifle ever properly worked with VATS. Using these weapons is more likely to miss than hit. You waste so much ammo using VATS with these weapons, it’s not even worth considering. For every one shot that hits, you might have 10 that fail… even with high accuracy, even if you have the +33% VATS accuracy legendary perk, even with all of your best perk cards equipped, these electric weapons are the worst for VATS.

    Even the Pipe Bolt-Action Pistol fares poorly with VATS. This weapon when set up correctly can have an accuracy of 108, yet it acts as if it as an accuracy of 2. It misses way more often than it hits. This is a VATS problem. In fact, I find that using the scope fares way better than relying on VATS.
  21. Gauss Rifle Wind Up and Misfire — this bug has been ongoing since a week or so after release. You can press and hold the trigger to power up the Gauss, but upon release, you only hear a sad sputter and then nothing. The rifle misfires. This is the only weapon in the game that misfires. I’ve given up using the Gauss rifle entirely because of this one bug that Bethesda refuses to fix.
  22. Bullet Connects, Does 1000+ Damage, Health Wiped, Enemy Lives — this is a new bug, but I believe has existed for quite some time and is a regression from early in the game’s life. You can shoot an enemy point blank in the head, the heath bar is reduced to 0, but the enemy’s health bar goes back to full and lives to fight. This is not a legendary enemy. I’ve run into this bug with Ghouls and Robots alike. There is nothing you can do but shoot again and hope it will kill the enemy. This bug seems specific to shooting the enemy in the head, but can occur shooting any body part. Collision detection on this game is piss poor, to say the least.
  23. Delbert’s Traditional Chitlins Recipe — Here is a bug that has most definitely existed since day one and before. This recipe is supposed to exist on a piece of notebook paper sitting on a picnic table at Spruce Knob Lake, next to a blue cooler. The note paper is sitting there on the table, but it cannot be retrieved from the table. Bethesda has had this bug reported probably hundreds of times and at least twice by me since launch, yet they have still not yet fixed this very long standing bug. There are supposed to be 13 Delbert’s recipes in this game, but this one is not retrievable, leaving only 12 in the game. It’s anyone’s guess as to what this recipe offers.
  24. Backpacks — In a recent update, Bethesda decided to change how backpack skins work. Instead of selling individual backpacks as they had been formerly doing, they set it up to place skins on top of the generic backpack. In doing so, they introduced two fundamental bugs:

    1) We had to pay to reskin our already skinned backpack, using up more resources again. We had to do this for every backpack we own.

    2) The backpacks no longer sit correctly on the character’s back. Instead of sitting properly on the back, they are now embedded in the back and look crappy when wearing certain bulkier outfits. The original packs adjusted their placement on the back to accommodate outfits and the size of the pack. This new system doesn’t. It inherits the placement of the original skin and assumes that placement is correct for all packs. One of the worst cosmetic bugs in the game.

Perk Card Bugs

Under this section, I call out bugs specific to perk cards that have gone unfixed. They are just as numerous.

  1. Tenderizer — This Charisma perk card simply doesn’t work, it’s as simple as that. It’s supposed to afford an up to 7% bonus damage (3 star card) on every hit after the first, but it doesn’t do anything. Don’t bother equipping this card. I’m not certain if this card has ever worked. Day 1 bug.
  2. Concentrated Fire – This is a card that is supposed to not only allow you to target individual body parts of your enemy, it’s supposed to give bonus damage when you hit that body part. This card performs only one of its two stated perks. While it does allow you to target body parts individually, it does not offer any bonus damage. Day 1 bug.
  3. Super Duper – Lots of bugs here. This card is supposed to offer you a chance to duplicate whatever you are crafting on any crafting bench. This card has multiple problems. Its primary problem is that a 3-Star version is supposed to afford you your best chance at receiving a duplicate. However, ranking this card up to 3 does not increase your chances for a duplicate any more than using a rank 1 card. This card formerly functioned correctly for a short time after the game’s launch, but after a subsequent rebalance, it has been broken since.

    Additionally, this card is entirely selectively applied to certain crafted items and in specific amounts when it does work. For example, attempting to combine a 2 star Ammosmith with 3 star Super Duper doesn’t yield a duplicate number when crafting certain ammo on the Tinker’s Bench. For example, Ammosmith increases the Mini Nuke x3 count to x5. Yet, Super Duper doesn’t provide 10 Mini Nukes when Super Duper fires. Instead, it provides perhaps 6 Mini Nukes, not 10.

    Further, Super Duper formerly alerted us every time it fired letting us see how often it fired and how much extra we might expect. At some point during a ‘rebalance’, Bethesda stopped this every-time notification. Instead, now it only notifies us once inside the bench and once on the way out, no matter how many times it has fired. In other words, you have no way to know exactly how much extra you may have received. If you want to know, you are forced to exit the bench each time Super Duper fires so you can see exactly how many times it has fired while crafting… infuriating.

    I believe this much reduced notification change is because Bethesda reduced the frequency with which Super Duper fires (even at 3 stars) and they didn’t want people to see this lowered fire rate.

    Super Duper has also never been applied to the Brewing Station crafting bench. You can craft whatever you want on the Brewing Station and Super Duper will never duplicate it. This bug has existed since the Brewing Station was introduced. Some of these above are Day 1 bugs including this Brewing Station bug.
  4. Butcher’s Bounty / Scrounger / Cap Collector / Can Do! / Pharma Farma design change. Yes, I also consider this one a bug. Butcher’s Bounty (and the rest of these scrounging cards) formerly allowed us to search containers at any time and, most importantly, after the fact. Can Do! and Pharma Farma and some of the others still do allow after-the-fact searching, but it is now hands off with no button presses. You must look at the container with the card equipped to get the benefits. Before this change, you were forced to pressed a button. After the change, it works simply by looking at the container.

    However, unlike the rest of the cards, Butcher’s Bounty has some severe restrictions placed onto it how and when it works and it has seen new bugs introduced. Unlike the rest of these scrounger cards, Butcher’s Bounty no longer allows after-the-fact usage.

    Butcher’s Bounty now requires that you must have killed the creature yourself to be able to search a dead creature and to activate this perk card. Even still, searching a dead animal doesn’t really yield more meat. You hear the chime, but no additional meat seems to appear on the body. You only get what was originally dropped. Butcher’s Bounty is firmly broken. This bug was introduced during the Wastelanders release.

    Additionally, Butcher’s Bounty no longer searches Bloodbugs or Ticks and will not produce any additional bounty from these creatures. There may be other creatures it also fails to search. Ticks contain Tick Blood and this ingredient is important in crafting Stimpaks. Without being able to search Ticks for Tick Blood, this means of crafting Stimpaks is lost.

    Bloodbugs offered Bloodbug meat. Unfortunately, without Butcher’s Bounty, you could rarely ever find Bloodbug meat on a dead Bloodbug. You were nearly always forced to search them with Butcher’s Bounty. Unfortunately, this is another creature whose meat is now entirely extinct. There is no way to craft Bloodbug Pepper Steak… and this now entirely useless in-game recipe is rendered worthless by this specific bug.
  5. Storm Chaser — This perk card is supposed to see you have health regeneration during rain storms. I’ve used this card multiple times in rain storms with no effect. This card is broken.

Regressions

So many of the bugs from the past are actually returning from the past. Particularly duplication bugs. I have grown exceedingly tired of the 12 and 13 year olds whose sole goal is to find some overpowered weapon and dupe the hell out of it so they can make a few caps, caps that don’t make a difference to their game play.

Instead, Bethesda needs to counter these problems by removing this problem from the game. In fact, I’d prefer if Bethesda removed vending entirely from the game. No more sales at all. What you own is yours to keep forever. If you don’t want it, scrip it, scrap it or send it to the game’s void. Nothing at all good has come from player vending. Nothing. The world is not a better place. Vending is a form of play to win. It’s solely used as a way for players to buy their way into better weapons without having earned those weapons or armor.

The point in Fallout is to earn your weapons from your game play experience… not to buy the weapon from someone else.

Bethesda is already considering doing away with future item vending anyway. As more and more new items are introduced into the game, Bethesda is putting the no-vending restriction onto these newer items. You can’t sell them, you can’t drop them and you can’t transfer them to others. These newly introduced items are yours to keep, but not to sell.

I believe Bethesda is slowly introducing these items into the game to get players used to this new no trading concept. Then, at some point in the future, every new item in the game will be marked as player restricted. At some point, the newest great weapon will not be obtainable by buying it from another player. This change IS coming. Bethesda WILL introduce this in the future. It’s not a matter of IF, it’s a matter of WHEN. Don’t believe me? Just you wait.

Even more bugs

This next bug is one that has existed since the game’s release. The game has completely unresponsive button controls at the most inopportune times. You are forced to press a button twice, three times or more simply to get the game to respond to a button press. Infuriating. You press the button expecting VATS to trigger and it doesn’t. You press it again and again it does nothing. You press it again and it finally triggers. This multiple press issue sees the enemies getting ever closer or out of range. It’s entirely frustrating to have the perfect shot had VATS consistently worked. Instead, you’ve lost that shot because you were forced to press VATS multiple times to get it to activate, way too late to make that perfect shot.

This button press unreliability problem isn’t limited to VATS. It affects all manner of button presses from crafting, to firing your weapon to jumping to running. It doesn’t matter which button it is, they are all equally affected by this unreliability of the game’s controller input system.

I’ve never ever played a game with this amateur level of button unreliability. Never. I’ve been playing games since the Atari 2600 and this is the actual first time I’ve encountered a game with this bad of a controller interface. I cannot believe a top tier developer is putting out games with this low level of quality.

I believe this problem stems from multiple problems. I believe the game is giving priority to the back end synchronization with the server over front end input. This means that the game is willing to sacrifice controller button presses to ensure the game client is properly synchronized with the server. Ultimately, I believe this has to do with using a 20 year old engine and trying to retrofit it into a multiplayer system over the Internet. This engine was not designed for this purpose and the signature of this unreliability is in this game’s random and sporadic failure to read input from the controller.

This leaves the game with an increasingly problematic gameplay experience. This situation has only gotten worse with the game’s age. With each successive update and expansion, Bethesda keeps taxing the game engine more and more. As the game engine becomes more and more overtaxed, the controller input is given increasingly less and less polling time… to the point where button presses are entirely lost.

This problem is not a problem that should exist in a top tier game. No game should ever be released with this level of controller problems, let alone with all of the additional problems listed above.

Overpowered Enemies

With the addition of Wastelanders, the balance in the game has been lost. I do classify this as both a design failure and a bug. The human enemies that have been added into the game have not only begun overtaxing the already taxed game engine, but Bethesda has chosen to give level 15 enemies weapons that do the damage of level 98 enemies with similarly equipped armor.

A level 15 Blood Eagle with an automatic laser pistol can kill any level player (even over 200) with just handful of shots. If that’s not the very definition of overpowered, I don’t know what is. This isn’t limited to Blood Eagles, it works for Settlers and Raiders alike. All human enemies have these way overpowered weapons and overpowered armor.

Whether this was intentional design or simply janky happenstance, I’ve no idea. Bethesda has proven time and time again that they simply don’t care about the gamer. With every update, they make it increasingly harder to even play this game, let alone want to like or play it.

In fact, the joy I formerly found in playing some parts of this game is quickly evaporating with the ever mounting bugs, regressions and frustratingly poor design choices.

Atomic Shop and Camp Budget

Worse, I can no longer even build in my camp… which runs entirely counter to buying Atomic Shop items. If Bethesda wants us to buy Atomic Shop camp items, then they’ll need to understand this point of contention. We can’t buy anything for our camps that require budget if we can’t build in our camps. Camp budget maxed = no more sales!

Bethesda, however, doesn’t seem to get this fundamental concept. Bethesda relies on people buying Atom, yet no one will run out to buy Atom if there’s no camp budget available to build. It’s a Catch-22, Bethesda!

You can’t have your cake and eat it too. If this game is failing, it’s because of your short sighted management of this property.

Instead of throwing in NPCs because everyone complained about the lack of them, you should have focused on fixing these long standing bugs. Instead, you focused your time adding new and unnecessary features that are further overtaxing this game’s antiquated engine which exacerbates these existing bugs at the expense of actually useful and fun gameplay.

It’s getting almost impossible to play this game at times… just as it’s getting impossible to type this article into WordPress’s editor with its incredibly bad input lag.

Bethesda needs to wise up rapidly. The Fallout 76 team needs to focus on overcoming these listed shortcomings rather than spending more time crafting unnecessary items for the Atomic Shop which fewer and fewer people can buy with the updated daily challenges no longer giving out Atom. So, let’s talk about the ‘new’ ….

Legendary Run

This is supposed to be the replacement challenge system for Fallout 76. It was promised to be an improvement to help people perform the challenges more in-line with their daily play.

In reality, what this is is a junky and janky mess of a system. Not only are the rewards some the crappiest I’ve seen in this game, they are duplicated all over the place. Need Ghillie armor for Marine Armor? How about Robot? How about Secret Service? Well, Bethesda has littered the board with so many duplicate Ghillie armors that it’s entirely pointless. How many Ghillie armor types do you think that we need? It’s stupid and pointless.

We only need one Ghillie cosmetic suit that we can wear over the top of any armor we wish. We don’t need to own the plan to craft Ghillie skins on every type of armor in existence. We only need ONE cosmetic item we’re done. So many board spaces wasted with this single skin item, the same as the Atomic Onslaught paints.

Worse, handing out these skins runs entirely counter to the way the Atomic Shop wants us to play. This point has been hammered home, oh I don’t know, since the game launched… to wear cosmetic items over the top of our armor. So now suddenly you want us to not wear cosmetics and start crafting Ghillie armor pieces instead? This game is sending us such mixed signals. Show your armor, hide your armor, don’t wear armor, do wear armor. The messaging in this game is not only a mess, it’s a disaster. No wonder everyone is always so confused by this game.

Not a Fallout Game

And here is where we come to the crux of this article. This game is not a Fallout game. It is a cartoony representation of how someone who’s never ever played a Fallout game might think a game like this works. Fallout 76 only pretends to be a Fallout game. It certainly has the skins, the weapons, the armor and the rusted environments, but the game itself is just a hollow, vapid, pointless shell. It barely even resembles Fallout. Further, its lore is so weak and so shallow in storytelling, nothing even matters.

Beyond this, Bethesda has introduced new items into the universe that have never before existed in Fallout New Vegas, Fallout 3 or Fallout 4… games with world environments and stories that exist long after Fallout 76. Games that should have seen traces of many of these new Fallout 76 items.

That’s the danger in creating a prequel… introducing new items into a world where previously existing worlds you’ve already built won’t have these items. Not seeing these items in Fallout 4, for example, means major continuity problems… yet another reason Fallout 76 is a crappy installment.

It’s not just the continuity issues that are a problem, however. It’s how weakly handled the entire world concept is. You exit the vault with the hopes of rebuilding Appalachia, yet the 24 vault dwellers who exit the vault are limited to building tiny crappy camps in remote areas of Appalachia? That’s not rebuilding, that’s junk. That’s not coming together as a team, that’s every-person-for-themselves. That’s not how rebuilding should be envisioned or handled.

In fact, after all of the quests are done and all of the smoke clears, Appalachia remains the same old decrepit place with the same old enemies roaming it and so many of the old bugs present. The presence of vault dwellers did absolutely nothing to make Appalachia, or indeed, Fallout 76 a better place. For a multiplayer game, it’s hard to believe a top tier developer like Bethesda failed so spectacularly at producing a compelling and fun experience… but here we are. Even the combat fails mostly because of all of the bugs that remain unfixed. Bleah.

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Game Review: Ghost of Tsushima

Posted in gaming, plagiarism, video game design by commorancy on July 20, 2020

This Sucker Punch studios created game feels like a sucker punch to Ubisoft as it is far too much like Assassin’s Creed for its own good. Let’s explore.

Assassin’s Creed

Ubisoft originated the stealthy assassin take-down style game, but it seems that Sucker Punch is cool with both ripping off and carrying this concept forward in its latest game, Ghost of Tsushima.

By comparison, some of the most notable and identifiable mechanics in Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed include:

  1. Eavesdropping
  2. Hiding in weeds, hay piles or crowds of people
  3. Smoke Bombs (usually comes later as you unlock skills
  4. Healing, although this mechanic has changed several times in successive AC games
  5. Various button mashing combat mechanics including parrying, blocking, dodging and combos
  6. Parkour (climbing rocks and structures)
  7. Eagle Vision — allowing the protagonist to differentiate enemies from friendlies with an x-ray like vision
  8. Taking over Forts
  9. Horse riding and combat
  10. And… stealthy assassinations… basically how Assassin’s Creed got its name.

There are other features included such as the hidden blades, which also adds to the identity of Assassin’s Creed. However, there have also been AC games that lacked the hidden blade feature.

Why am I harping so much about Assassin’s Creed? It’s important to understand exactly how much Sucker Punch took from Assassin’s Creed to create Ghost of Tsushima.

Ghost of Tsushima

While no Assassin’s Creed game has yet visited feudal Japan, Sucker Punch decided it would be their turn to do so in Ghost of Tsushima. The game is set during the time of the Samurai, during the Mongol invasion of the island of Tsushima.

In that goal, the game sets up the protagonist, Jin Sakai. A little goofy, a little nerdy, a little naïve, Jin ends up becoming the lone Samurai who wanders the island helping out with various problems along the way while learning new skills, including stealthy assassination both from behind and from above. Learning these new skills, along with parkour, ultimately help him to defeat the Mongol leader holed up in Castle Kaneda.

Along the way, Jin learns how to become a ‘Ghost’ (Sucker Punch’s word for an assassin). He uses his newfound assassination techniques to stealthily take down everyone from archers to Mongols to whomever deserves it. Though, he is nearly just as adept at being a Samurai, heading into open combat nearly as easily.

Sounds similar to Assassin’s Creed? It is. In fact, it’s far too much like Assassin’s Creed for its own good. Even the landscape, terrain, stories, enemy archetypes, combat and situations feel like Assassin’s Creed, right down to a nearly identical Assassin’s Creed combat maneuver to break through an enemy’s shield and take down that enemy.

Stolen Ideas

Not only has Sucker Punch taken practically everything that was Assassin’s Creed and placed it into Ghost of Tsushima, it has done so with careless abandon. It’s as if Sucker Punch is flaunting this fact in Ubisoft’s face. “See what we made? It’s just like Assassin’s Creed, only better!”, I can hear someone at Sucker Punch saying.

Here’s the non-exhaustive list of how Ghost of Tsushima ripped off Assassin’s Creed:

  1. Eavesdropping
  2. Hiding in Pampas Grass and weeds
  3. Smoke Bombs
  4. Healing with ‘Resolve’
  5. Parrying, blocking, dodging and combos
  6. Parkour (climbing up rocks)
  7. Focused Hearing (looks like Eagle Vision)
  8. Forts and taking them down
  9. Horse riding and combat
  10. And, of course, stealthy assassination takedowns

Ghost of Tsushima even goes so far as to use a logo that looks like an A, just like Assassin’s Creed uses a different looking A for their franchise.

In fact, there are so many mechanics, behaviors and actions so similarly constructed to Assassin’s Creed (and in particular Origins, but really all of them), it makes me heavily wonder if Sucker Punch hired some of Ubisoft’s disenchanted Assassin’s Creed developers away and put them to work on this project. It’s all so suspect.

Legal Issues?

It’s one thing to hire a team to build a game that has slight similarities to another popular game title from another studio. It happens all of the time. However, it’s an entirely different issue to steal practically everything that made a single game, like Assassin’s Creed, unique and then put it all into a new game and call it your own without giving Ubisoft any credit.

Ubisoft’s Legal Team

If I were on Ubisoft’s legal team, I’d be looking at all options right about now. Considering that AnvilNext is a proprietary engine developed by Ubisoft and which is strictly for its own internal use… then seeing another engine looking, acting and performing similarly to AnvilNext, while driving a game that practically mimics Assassin’s Creed in nearly every way? Yeah… suspect.

Not only would I review that game with a fine tooth comb, I’d be looking through the credits roster to see who might have left Ubisoft and taken something with them. Talent moves around in every industry. It might be worth determining if any developers who worked on Assassin’s Creed made their way to Sucker Punch with a little something extra in hand.

Beautiful Rendering

There’s no denying that the landscape and terrain that has been built on Tsushima is outstanding, but no more outstanding than Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Origins. Yes, the rendering of the environments doesn’t look at all much different from what’s seen in Assassin’s Creed Origins and Odyssey. Galleries below.

In fact, it looks so similar that I’d have to say that Sucker Punch may be using portions of Ubisoft’s AnvilNext engine. The look and feel of the graphics are far too similar in quality. It’s also possible Sucker Punch picked up another similar game engine. Unfortunately, even Wikipedia doesn’t yet state which game engine Ghost of Tsushima is built on. My money’s on AnvilNext, or rather a modified version of AnvilNext, Ubisoft’s proprietary engine.

Game Play

Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima plays pretty much like mashup of the best parts of Assassin’s Creed games. It utilizes the eye popping graphics seen in Odyssey and Origins, but then goes back to basics with the combat mechanics and healing. It does have various staples seen in every AC game, such as smoke bombs and hiding in weeds and it improves upon the smoke bomb by adding its new sticky bombs.

Combat

The combat mechanics are almost identical to various Assassin’s Creed games, but with one difference. Jin is easily killed with one or two hits. The enemies also have the ability to immediately stagger Jin leaving him unable to attack or move for at least a minute. This means that the rest of the enemies can simply move in for the kill and they do.

Even though Jin has decent Samurai moves, his armor leaves a lot to be desired… and that stagger mechanic is literally a game killer.

For whatever reason, games have been adding these longer and longer lasting stagger mechanics into their games, which leaves the player unable to do anything other than watch their character die. I’m not a fan of this in games, particularly when my weapons don’t equally stagger opponents in the same way. Giving the enemy an upper hand method to basically kill the player’s character instantly is never satisfying.

What you, as a player, end up doing is… entirely avoiding this situation by making sure you always have the upper hand. The problem is, this game doesn’t let you get that upper hand when in open combat. The enemies always surround you and the best you can do is dodge out of the circle.

Healing

Here’s another sore spot of this game. Ghost of Tsushima gives you the ability to heal (called Resolve), but once used, you must gain it back through specific combat moves. The problem is, you can kill enemies galore, yet never gain any resolve back. There are some times where you do get it back, but there are many times were you can defeat 10 or more enemies and still have no resolve recovered.

This ‘resolve‘ mechanic is actually an incredibly piss poor design. It definitely needed a whole lot more development time. In fact, I’d have preferred just having dead enemies drop health and let me pick it up without having to regenerate “resolve” through very specific means, which clearly doesn’t always work.

Photomode

To carry on from the Beautiful Rendering section above and because this game is just so damned photogenic, you’re inevitably going to want to take some pictures. While photomode does work, it has some important limitations, which may be resolved in later updates. Let’s go through them now:

  1. If the game is night time and you change the time of day to daytime, the sun comes up, but the night sky remains. It looks like a very brightly lit night moon sky rather than daytime. If you want daytime shots, you’ll need to wait until it’s actually daytime in the game.
  2. There’s no way to pose the character at all. Once photomode begins, the character is in whatever pose he was in when it began. The only thing you can change is the facial expression. Even then, the facial expressions are poorly crafted.
  3. Likewise, there’s no way to pose the horse.
  4. While there are various types of weather from foggy to rainy to clear, none of them really work as well as you might expect. When switching between these, like the night/day problem above, the difference is just not that noticeable.
  5. Yes, there are filters. No, they don’t look great. In fact, the filters are so piss poor in quality, there’s really no reason to use them. Though, vivid is probably the most useful of these crappy filters.
  6. Unfortunately, photomode entirely lacks a vignette mode.
  7. Depth of field is also here, but it also doesn’t fare well. While it does support foreground and background blurring, it just doesn’t look as good as it should. It’s just not configurable enough.
  8. There’s no way to improve contrast, only brightness.

There are a number of other photomode features, but they just don’t really work as well as they should. You can get some great shots out of the game, but mostly by happenstance and not by messing with the filters and settings. Here are some images I’ve captured while playing….

Image Gallery

Ghost of Tsushima

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Compare the above to these similar in appearance images from both Assassin’s Creed Origins and Odyssey

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Weapons

As one would expect of a Samurai game, Ghost of Tsushima offers you your choice of blades including a dagger and a Samurai blade and more as you progress. You also get access to a Bow, bombs and various other weapons that you’ll get as you complete ‘Tales’.

Dyes and Plants

Picking certain plants gives you resources, such as wood and dyes, that you can trade at merchants to change or improve your clothing, armor or weapons. For example, picking flowers offers up dye, which can be used at certain merchants to modify your outfits. Remember back to Assassin’s Creed 2. Dye was a big thing in those early Assassin’s Creed games.

Skill Tree

There are basically two skill trees in this game. One is the Ghost (assassin) skill tree. The other is the Samurai skill tree. As you progress through the Tales (Quests), you are given skill points at the end, which you can use to unlock skills from any tree. As you progress more and more, you can unlock more and more skills. It’s a fairly bare bones basic skill tree setup.

Animus Missing

The one thing that Assassin’s Creed included that Ghost of Tsushima doesn’t is having an outer shell. What I mean is that Assassin’s Creed was predicated on Templars from the present using the Animus virtual technology to revisit the past to find specific relics. These relics would help them in the present day gain specific power.

Ghost of Tsushima refrained from using this wrappered shell system so as to avoid that similarity. Although, even though that’s not included in Ghost of Tsushima, the rest of the mechanics included more than make up for the lack of this one missing thing.

Tales

As with any open world system, there must be quests. In this game, they’re called Tales. When you participate in a tale, you help someone do something in return for their help. Sometimes they give you a bow or armor, but sometimes you’re recruiting them to help you later. In return for that help, they expect you to do something for them now. Most times, it involves combat.

Forts

As mentioned above, forts are common in Assassin’s Creed. You end up having to not only take down everyone in a fort, you must also take down its leader. Once you do this, you basically own this fort.

The same can be said of Ghost of Tsushima. Though, while at the end you don’t own the fort, you do get to loot it for whatever rewards you can find.

Overall

Ghost of Tsushima is pretty. Very, very pretty, particularly when the wind is blowing across the grass and trees. One only needs to look at the above images to see that. But, having a game rendering a pretty environment is only part of the battle.

The other part is producing compelling, innovative mechanics to drive this world. Unfortunately, Sucker Punch actually lives up to its name and practically sucker punches Ubisoft for its Assassin’s Creed franchise. Sucker Punch entirely took almost everything that was Assassin’s Creed and imported it almost intact into Ghost of Tsushima.

If you’re an Assassin’s Creed fan, you’ll probably like this game. However, it’s so similar and plays so similarly to Assassin’s Creed, you may also feel like you’ve played this game before… and you likely have.

Is it worth $60? That’s debatable. I’m not usually one to urge people to run out and buy copycat games. In the case of Deep Silver’s Saint’s Row 3 and 4, these were so satirical of Grand Theft Auto, they had their own quirky uniqueness. In this case, I would recommend Saint’s Row because while they had some similarities to GTA, they were uniquely different.

With Ghost of Tsushima, the only really unique thing about this game is it having been set in feudal Japan. Everything else pretty much feels like a clone of Assassin’s Creed, for better or worse.

Ratings

Graphics: 10 out of 10
Sound: 9 out of 10
Gameplay: 4 out of 10
Uniqueness: 1 out of 10
Stories: 7 out of 10
Voice Acting: 8 out of 10
Mouth Tracking: 2 out of 10
Replayability: 1 out of 10
Multiplayer Mode: none, single player campaign only

Overall: 4.5 out of 10 (Rent first. If you like it, then buy it.)

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Disney to reopen amid COVID surge

Posted in amusements, botch, business, disney by commorancy on July 7, 2020

According to reports, Disney intends to reopen its parks despite the current growing COVID-19 surge. Let’s explore.

Irresponsible

Let’s understand that Disney operates its parks to comfortably sport anywhere between 30,000 to 50,000 guests (on average) in the park at any one time. Though, it is stated the park is designed to hold up to 100,000 people. Though, if 100,000 people are in attendance, the lines will be massively long, the park will be intensely crowded and affords a situation that becomes ripe for COVID transmission that no amount of “planned” virus reduction measures can mitigate. In short, overcrowding and COVID-19 cannot work together.

Even at 10,000 people in the park (assuming Disney decides to self-limit), that’s still well enough people milling around that transmission will be exceedingly easy and inevitable. We already know that COVID-19 lingers on some surfaces, like metal, for several days. That means that riding a ride containing metallic surfaces, after someone infected has ridden, greatly increases your chances of getting COVID-19 through touch.

Open Air

Disneyland, Disney World and The Magic Kingdom are mostly open air environments. This means that aerosolized virus droplets can’t linger for too long, but they can land on surfaces. However, when you get inside of closed environments, such as restaurants, merchandise shops and dark rides, virus droplets can linger for quite a long time in the air (without proper ventilation)… and these droplets can also land on and infect merchandise, paper cups, utensils and particularly open condiments. It can also land on your ride’s seat cushion, handles, lap belts and the lapbar restraints.

In short, open air won’t necessarily mean your trip to Disney will be virus free. In fact, because Florida is presently having some of the highest cases in the nation, the chances of catching COVID-19 by visiting Disney World is exceedingly high… if even simply by staying in a hotel.

Trust in Disney

Disney hasn’t been the most trustworthy company in recent years. Of Disney’s reopening plans, Ron DeSantis (Governor of Florida) states:

We have to have society function. You can have society function in a way that keeps people safe. And when you have all of the different procedures that they have in place, people are going to be—it’s a safe environment. Disney, I have no doubt is going to be a safe environment.

No one, not a Governor, not a health official, not anyone can make an assertion that Disney will be a “safe environment”. The nature of amusement parks is taking risks. That’s why people attend amusement parks and ride rides. The thrill of the ride is worth the risk.

Though, there’s a big difference between being able to control the forces of inertia and being able to control an invisible virus you cannot even see. No, DeSantis is towing the line that Disney wants to hear (and that Florida’s economy needs). DeSantis wants the park open, not because it’s truly safe and virus free, but because Florida’s economic future depends on it… and in general, because tourism drives much of Florida’s income. Without tourism, portions of Florida won’t have much of a future.

DeSantis also stated the following of both Universal and Disney’s reopening plans:

I’m really impressed with what Universal’s done, and I’ve looked at Disney’s plan and it is very, very thorough.

Thorough won’t protect everyone all of the time. Disney may disinfect the park nightly, but that won’t help the interim times when perhaps thousands of people have ridden a ride or eaten at a table or sneezed on cups immediately before you arrived.

Amusement and Health

If your personal amusement is more important to you than your health and well being (and the health of those around you), then by all means head to Disney and ride the rides and indulge in the eats. If, however, you value your own health and the health of your loved ones, you should avoid visiting any amusement parks no matter what “plans” Disney or Universal may have made to help combat a virus that no one can see.

Plans have a way of unraveling, particularly when we don’t even know all of the factors which must be managed. Disney’s plans are probably, at best, 25% complete. That means that 75% of things that can happen to infect you haven’t even been addressed.

Judging the health and safety of the public is not something a governor should be doing. That should be the health department.

Pandemic Surge and Reopening

In the midst of a surging pandemic, planning to reopen a business that’s sole intent is to draw large crowds the size of Disney parks is not only reckless, it’s completely irresponsible. Large close crowds are exactly the vector for virus transmission. There is absolutely no way Disney has planned for every contingency or vector of infection… particularly because Disney can’t plan for how large the crowds may get. In fact, it’s entirely counter for Disney to turn away crowds which help drive revenue into the park. They’re not going to do this.

Turning on UVC lights every now and then or limiting attendance can only do so much. This virus is, at best, unpredictable. We already know that COVID-19 has a days-long no-symptom period when the virus makes the person heavily contagious, but the person shows no outward symptoms. It will be these very contagious carriers who will visit Disney World and Disneyland and not only carry in the virus, but they will spread it throughout the park by infecting everything they touch and the people around them. Even a simple sneeze or cough can carry the virus throughout an environment for a lengthy period of time and infect any number of people or land on surfaces which can be touched.

There is nothing Disney can do to plan for keeping their park virus free. The only way Disney can reduce or eliminate Disney parks as a source of COVID-19 infection is to test every visitor on the way into the park and deny entrance to any visitors who test infected. Even then, that’s not feasible because testing is very slow (hours) before results are back. Even then, there’s a high probability of both false positives and false negatives. Disney can’t (and more importantly, won’t) spend the time or money to do this for every visitor.

Ride Disinfection

Let’s understand the basics of how Disney could plan for ride disinfection management.

If Disney were to truly want to reduce exposure to COVID-19 on rides, every ride must close down and disinfect after every single ride. The ride cars would have to be put through a UVC light bath for approximately 5 minutes after each and every ride. This is not feasible for a park like Disney where getting riders through as fast as possible is the goal.

To further this line of reasoning, Disney would need to require reservations for all rides in advance. No lines would be present on any ride. Queue lines and queue houses must remain closed. At ride time, riders will gather and stand in a 6 foot enforced distanced line wearing masks, but of course that line couldn’t be shielded from passers by… a source of infection.

Riders are loaded onto the ride, one by one… distanced by one car between each rider. That means half as many riders per ride. At the end of the ride, the ride will pull into the station and each car must exit, one by one separately ensuring 6 foot distance between each rider.

After the car is empty, the ride is summarily closed. The car is then backed into a UVC light bath and disinfection commences for 5 minutes. Then Disney repeats for the next set of riders. Can you say, “cumbersome” and “time consuming”?

Let’s understand that even with all of these measures in place, you can still catch COVID from a rider in front of you. If the front most rider ahead of you is infected and sneezes, their droplets can carry onto you and infect you. Even if Disney enacts very strict ride disinfection measures, there’s still no guarantee you’ll walk away without COVID-19 after riding. The only way that would work is to fill the car with one party per ride. Yeah, that’s not feasible in a park the size of Disney’s.

Above all of this, operating an amusement park ride this way will ensure that very few people get to enjoy the ride in a day… way fewer than is otherwise normal for Disney. Disney is all about pushing through as many riders as possible. Performing such a thorough disinfection after every ride is entirely counter to this and will result in much lost revenue. A park can’t (and won’t) operate like this.

Restaurant Disinfection

Here’s an infection vector that’s even more difficult to manage than rides. The only way restaurants can work at Disney is to deliver your food to you directly. In fact, you should be required to order your food in the Disney app for delivery to your present phone’s location (using location tracking). All food must be delivered inside of sealed bags and the items inside the bags must only have been handled by Disney employees.

Restaurant seating becomes an issue, though. We all want to eat inside some place comfortable and air conditioned. The problem is that this type of communal seating environment cannot be controlled… not by Disney, not by anyone. If Disney wishes to use sit-down style restaurant seating, then the tables must be completely UVC disinfected after every use.

It is very doubtful that Disney has had the time to build any kind of automated system to blanket a table and UVC disinfect it. In fact, to do this, you would need to build a carousel type system with two seats back-to-back, where the seats attach to a turntable and spin around to a non-visible side. One table seating is disinfected, the other spun around to the non-visible side and is in the process of being disinfected.

Though, UVC light is caustic to humans. Any UVC light leakage would need to be strictly controlled.

It is very doubtful that Disney or Universal have taken disinfection this seriously or to this level. No company is going to invest a million or more dollars into equipping their restaurants for such a sophisticated UVC disinfection system. Instead, they’re going to rely on the use of dirty towels and bus staff to wipe down seating and tables. A towel is simply going to move the virus around, not kill it. It’s almost impossible to perform proper disinfection of tables and seats prior to seating a new party.

A new restaurant party will be lucky if a table is even properly bused after the last party has departed. If it’s a large party, 10-20, good luck with getting anything disinfected.

Merchandise Stores

The final place where Disney will need to address is merchandise. Because people want to touch and feel the things they’re about to buy, this must stop. The touchy-feely time is over. Merchandise stores must only sell like the restaurant example above. You order the merchandise you want through an app and an attendant stops by to deliver your items in a sealed bag that has only been touched by Disney employees. If you wish to return an item, you’ll have to do that through an automated returns system and by dropping the returned item into a slot at the front gate.

Disney Employees, Testing and Infection

Disney park employees, otherwise known as “Cast Members” (a cutesy moniker to be sure), must be properly tested daily prior to entering a shift. If any Disney employee tests positive, they must be sent home for a mandatory quarantine period and will not be allowed to work.

Disney employees are clearly a vector of transmission that Disney can’t control. I seriously doubt that Disney has procured enough tests to test every single “Cast Member” daily, prior to their shift. There will be a number of Disney employees who will actually become the vector of infection and transmission for COVID-19… simply being a ride loader, being a merchandise seller or by selling foods to guests. It’s inevitable. You can’t prevent “Cast Members” from transmitting COVID-19 to guests in the park. You can’t do it without daily testing. Even then, testing is only as accurate as the test type you’re using.

If Disney decides on simplistic symptom tests (i.e., temperature), then that ensures park employees will not only infect guests, they will also infect other employees. Eventually, Disney may have to close its parks again when the number of infected “Cast Members” impacts the ability of Disney to operate its parks.

Health and Safety

Disney’s only choice, particularly during this heavy resurgence, is to postpone opening of the park until later… much, much later. I get why Disney is pushing to reopen. Disney is losing money by not reopening. To them, it’s more about the money than it is about keeping you, the guest, healthy and COVID free.

You must choose to trust Disney or not. You must choose whether to visit the park or not. Only you can look at this situation and decide whether it’s worth the risk. If you believe that your risk of infection is low, then by all means head there and visit.

Having worked at an amusement park for 7 years at one point in my life, I can definitively state that no matter what measures Disney claims to be putting in place, it’s all for show. None of it will last. It’s entirely health theater. They’ll state they’re doing all of these things, but at the end of the day none of it will get done because it’s too costly, too problematic and, most of all, too time consuming for staff. Disney may put up a good show for a week so that reporters can visit and “see” the theater, but after the reporters are gone, so too will all of their theatrical “planned measures”.

If you want to put your health at risk over Disney’s health theater, then be my guest. Book a trip, stay in the hotel and indulge in all of the buffets. Make sure you get a good large dose of COVID all along the way. When you get home and the symptoms hit, you can head to the hospital right away. After that, it’s up to your body to do the work (or not).

Consider this final question. Is it really worth risking your own life AND spending $1-2k per person merely to buy yourself COVID-19? That’s an awfully expensive Disney virus.

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Should Kathleen Kennedy be fired from Disney?

Posted in botch, business, movies by commorancy on July 4, 2020

person using laptop and tablet

I’ve seen many, many YouTubers commenting on this very topic. In fact, this topic has had so many commentary videos, it’s probably consuming at least 10% of YouTube’s traffic. Just take a look for yourself. Anyway, because this topic is so widely being discussed, let me take the time to write an article here that describes most likely why she hasn’t yet been fired.

Contracts and Obligations

The biggest elephant in the room is also the most obvious, contractual obligations. It’s clear that most YouTubers really don’t understand the business of hiring executives. Executive leaders are always hired under contract. Contracts require both parties to fulfill their obligations as listed within the contract. It’s how employment contracts work.

However, there’s a snag here. Disney didn’t hire Kathleen Kennedy directly. Ms. Kennedy was already an employee of LucasFilm when Disney acquired the LucasFilm property… and this is the snag.

LucasFilm hired Kathleen Kennedy before the purchase took place. This meant that Kathleen was brought on board to Disney as an existing executive of LucasFilm. Why is this important?

Two Contracts

There are actually two contracts at play here with regards to Kathleen’s employment under LucasFilm.

  • The 2012 $4 billion George Lucas and Disney buyout contract
  • Kathleen Kennedy’s own employment contract with LucasFilm

In fact, it’s important to understand that George likely put Kathleen in charge of LucasFilm for the expressed intent of keeping the property sane after Disney purchased it. With that goal in mind, it’s very likely that LucasFilm hired Kathleen into a very long (and open ended) employment contract. What that means is that it is likely Kathleen’s choice whether the contract continues. As long as terms are written into the contract that allow this, Kathleen can remain at LucasFilm possibly for as long as she wishes.

The second side of this is the purchase contract. If George was smart enough to hire Kathleen for a very long stay at LucasFilm under Disney, then he likely also included provisions for her to stay employed for a specified period of time within the purchase contract also.

To do this, he likely wrote in a poison pill rider… probably written into both Kathleen’s employment contract and into the purchase agreement.

Putting this all together

With two contracts reinforcing each other, that means that should one or the other be breached, both contracts then fail to meet their obligations… which means that both contracts are breached and then outs for the contracts apply.

For the purchase contract, that could mean that the LucasFilm property (and any new work under it) reverts to ownership by George. This is a pretty big poison pill rider. I wouldn’t put this one past George. Not only would he get to walk away with $4 billion from Disney, he could also walk away with LucasFilm also. I’m pretty sure Disney wouldn’t find that poison pill attractive.

With Ms. Kennedy’s contract breached, Disney would likely have to pay her out a hefty golden parachute. A golden parachute rider requires the employer to pay out a huge sum of money upon failure to live up to contractual obligations. Because it’s very possible that both contracts are legally bound together, this means Disney is being held over a barrel with Kathleen Kennedy.

Not only might LucasFilm return to ownership under George, Kathleen may also get a huge payout (perhaps millions of dollars) if Disney fires her. It’s a very tough poison pill, but one I could easily see George requiring.

In other words, Disney can’t fire her. Should Disney fire her, both contracts dissolve and then penalties from both contracts apply against Disney.

Legal Obligations

Because contracts are very specific, should Kathleen personally breach the terms of her LucasFilm employment contract, then Disney may have cause to fire her.

Unfortunately, George probably wrote extremely loose and favorable terms for Kathleen and extremely unfavorable terms for LucasFilm into her employment contract intentionally. He did this knowing he would soon be selling LucasFilm to Disney. That means that Disney is in a very unfavorable situation with Kathleen. It means that Disney likely can’t fire her without a whole lot of legal things happening all at once.

Kathleen can breach the terms of her contract by doing something illegal. For example, if she’s accused and found guilty of inappropriate sexual misconduct, almost every employment contract allows releasing executives for breaking laws. That means Kathleen would need to violate laws for Disney to release her without Disney breaking any other terms of any other contracts.

Even then, George might still attempt to recover LucasFilm citing a breached purchase agreement.

Disney and Agreements

Disney likely agreed to the terms of both agreements more or less because they didn’t have a choice if they wanted LucasFilm. To get LucasFilm, they not only had to agree to the terms in the purchase agreement, they also had to agree with Kathleen’s employment terms as part of acquiring LucasFilm.

Kathleen’s Tenure

There could be an end in sight to Kathleen’s employment contract. It seems that in 2012, George may have set her employment terms to 6 years with the ability to extend. In 2018 and according to the Hollywood Reporter, she exercised her right to extend her employment contract and extended it by 3 years to 2021.

In 2021, Disney and Kathleen would again renegotiate her LucasFilm contract, which (depending on contract terms) could allow Disney to rewrite her contract to Disney favorable terms, place her directly under Disney and get rid of any poison pill riders in the process. A new employment contract would then allow Disney to fire her with impunity. Extending an existing contract doesn’t get rid of any poison pill riders.

It is entirely possible that Kathleen can extend her employment contract indefinitely with LucasFilm. However, it’s also possible that George did put a hard date limit on the type and number of extensions. Once her ability to extend ends, she will be required to strike up a new contract with Disney directly and those contract terms won’t be as favorable to her situation.

However, Disney could choose not to renew her contract at all and allow it to expire… at which point Disney could dismiss her. However, the unfavorable terms in the purchase contract could prevent that. It depends on what was written into the purchase agreement terms.

If George placed a timer on the purchase terms such that Disney can’t dismiss Kathleen while that timer is in place, then that means Disney must extend her contract until that purchase agreement timer runs out.

A contract timer works like this. The purchaser must remain in good faith under the terms of the agreement for a specified period of time, such as 10 years. The good faith part may include a bunch of agreed upon stipulations, such as keeping certain people employed during that period of time. If any of the stipulations are breached, the good faith terms no longer apply and the contract is considered breached.

What this means for Disney is that George Lucas could reacquire ownership of LucasFilm if Disney breaches these timer’s terms… and that is contingent on Kathleen’s employment contract. Even if Kathleen’s contract expires, Disney may be forced to craft a brand new contract to continue to employ her until the purchase agreement timer expires.

If Disney, again, extends her contract in 2021 for another 3 years, then this timer situation is likely the case. They can’t afford to lose LucasFilm and let it revert back to George Lucas ownership… and on top of this, pay Kathleen a huge sum of money from her Golden Parachute. Not only does that give George Lucas a potful of money, he also gets his former property back with new films in the portfolio to boot and Kathleen gets even more money.

Disney’s Response

Basically, a situation like what I surmise above (while a bit legally convoluted) may very well exist between George, Kathleen and Disney. Contractual terms can sometimes be unwieldy beasts and no side wants to breach those terms, particularly when looking at the downsides.

If any of what I suggest actually legally exists, this is why Kathleen Kennedy is still employed at LucasFilm cum Disney and cannot be fired. That doesn’t mean Disney can’t sideline her or take her off projects because these things may not be specified on the contracts, but those specifics which are in the contracts must be adhered to.

Only Disney, Kathleen, George and all of the lawyers involved understand the minute details of both the purchase contract and Kathleen’s LucasFilm employment contract (and how they both interrelate).

YouTubers

I get why YouTubers rail on Ms. Kennedy. I get why they want her fired. I get why they produce their videos stating all of this. However, these naïve YouTubers really don’t understand business or contractual obligations in the business world, particularly when it comes to executives and acquisitions.

While fans can continually call for Kathleen to be fired over her handling of the Star Wars property, it’s very unlikely to happen while contractual obligations are still in play. Kathleen herself would be stupid not to sit back and let the money roll in while she pretends to do a job for Disney. With such convoluted contracts, Kathleen is sitting pretty no matter what she does… short of breaking the law. She can completely turn LucasFilm and Star Wars inside out and pretty much Disney can do little to stop her, at least until any timers expire.

Once Ms. Kennedy understood the extremely favorable situation (if similar to what’s described above) that George arranged for her, she could pretty much torch Star Wars and Disney couldn’t really do anything about it. What Kathleen has done for Star Wars isn’t at all pretty. But, it’s not illegal and it’s possible there’s very little Disney can do to kick her out of the organization. Granted, she has turned a tidy sum for Disney, at least for the latest trilogy films, even as bad as they are. Disney can’t fault her for not making Disney money. As a result, Kathleen is likely still living up to her end of the employment agreement with LucasFilm.

Should Disney fire Kathleen Kennedy?

As long as unfavorable contractual obligations exist for Disney, no. Disney and Disney’s lawyers fully understand the ramifications of firing her. Until they can fire her without tripping contractual clauses, they’re going to let her sit in her comfy Disney office, using her comfy Disney chair pretending like she knows what the hell she’s doing.

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What is a ‘Karen’?

Posted in definition, lexicon, term, tips by commorancy on July 3, 2020

There are a lot of people using the ‘Karen’ term incorrectly on social media to describe all sorts of women. However, there is really only one true definition of the ‘Karen’ archetype. Let’s explore it now.

Karen: What she is and What she isn’t

The simplest definition of the ‘Karen’ archetype is a white female who is also a sports mom. She lives in a typical suburban neighborhood. Drives a typical suburban minivan. Shops at typical suburban stores, like Target and Walmart.

When a ‘Karen’ perceives an injustice has been wronged upon her while shopping at one of said stores, she will walk to the front and request a manager. In a semi-irate tone, she voices her displeasure at the manager.

Usually, a Karen’s perceived injustice is actually too small to quantify or is a mistaken rant, such as her believing that her favorite food is no longer carried by the retailer, when it has simply been moved one aisle over. In the end, the manager carefully listens to the ‘Karen’ rant and then politely corrects the ‘Karen’ for her mistake and shows her were to find the thing she ranted about. Sometimes the ‘Karen’ won’t listen and storms out. Sometimes she sheepishly accepts what the manager is saying and leaves to go find the item.

Ironic Comedy

Both the irony and the comedy of this situation are the hallmarks of the ‘Karen’ archetype. She’s funny, but in a sad ironic way. We laugh at her stupidity and make fun of it, but we do not laugh not at all with her. We understand her being irate, but we don’t understand the stupidity that goes along with it.

A ‘Karen’ is ironic comedy, but she is not dangerous nor does she wield knives, guns or any other weapons. Her voice (and her stupidity) is her weapon.

Gun Toting Women

If a woman brandishes a weapon in any way, she is not a ‘Karen’. The Karen archetype doesn’t brandish weapons. She’s a peaceful, if not a horribly misguided irate soccer mom. A ‘Karen’ becomes easily irate over the smallest thing, then goes off half-cocked before she has realized the error of her tirade. But, a ‘Karen’ will not pull a gun on someone.

Anyone who calls a murderous, gun brandishing female a ‘Karen’ doesn’t fundamentally understand what a ‘Karen’ actually is. Please refer to the above definition to better understand the ‘Karen’ archetype.

Any female who is violent and resorts to the use of a weapon might be an ‘Annie’ or simply a violent psychopath, but she is not, I repeat, is not a Karen.

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Did Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver have on-screen chemistry?

Posted in botch, business, movies by commorancy on July 2, 2020

I’ve recently come across this question on social media and I decided to answer this one in a full length blog article as I have much to say on this topic. Let’s explore.

On-Screen Chemistry

Whether two characters have any on-screen chemistry is a riddle that has plagued casting directors for many years. Putting two or three actors together on screen can make or break a film.

What factors go into on-screen chemistry? There are lots of factors including:

  • Looks
  • Acting prowess (when together)
  • Camaraderie
  • Ease of being together
  • Friendship
  • Believeability

There are way more factors than the above, but these are the primary contributing factors that make or break an on-screen relationship. When you see one, two or more characters together, you need to believe that these characters actually know one another and that they have an ease that says they can rely on one another and be friends.

There have been many exceptional on-screen chemistries. From Harry Potter’s Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and, of course, Daniel Radcliffe to the original lineup of Charlie’s Angels with Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith and Kate Jackson to Moonlighting’s exceptional casting choice of Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd and, of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Star Wars’s “Golden Trio” ensemble of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford.

Not all movie and TV productions get it right, however. There are many that, in fact, don’t even know they’ve gotten it wrong until it’s too far into the production. For TV shows, they can solve this blunder by recasting. For a movie series, that’s a bit more difficult.

The Force Awakens

When Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened, there was no way to easily judge the on-screen chemistry for most of the cast throughout much of this film. The scenes involving the primary characters together were few and far between… with the exception of Rey and Finn. These two had exceptional on-screen chemistry together… which is likely why the first half of the film involved these two actors almost exclusively.

Even the second half of this film heavily involves these two characters, again when romping through Han Solo’s cargo ship, The Eravana, after accidentally releasing Rathtars from the cargo hold.

However, we do get to see glimpses of Rey with Kylo together in TFA, but this scene only lasts a very short time before he leaves her alone. Even then, this is their first encounter, so it’s very hard to judge their chemistry together because of their entirely adversarial relationship, for the moments that they are on screen together. At this juncture, we aren’t really getting a sense that these two belong together… part of the reason I believe this scene with them together was so short. Let’s talk about Kylo, for a moment.

Kylo Ren

This character was introduced in the beginning of the film along with Poe Dameron. These two characters have limited screen time together. The amount of screen time they get is limited to Poe cracking jokes at Kylo’s expense. Even then, Kylo has still not yet unmasked. We’re not even sure who’s in that suit. There’s no way to judge any chemistry between these two characters.

When Poe and Finn meet, these two bond almost instantly. This pair, like Rey and Finn, again have tremendous and instant on-screen chemistry. Again, their scenes are short, but it’s easy to see exactly how Poe and Finn will get along in future scenes. Alas, though, meaningful scenes between these two is not meant to be in this film. Yes, there are a few more exchanges later in the film between Poe and Finn, but their screen time together is exceedingly short in duration.

Rey and Finn obviously get the maximum amount of screen time together.

The Force Awakens Part II

I’m focusing on this film to the exclusion of all others because this is the film that sets the tone for success or failure of future franchise installments. It is also this film that tells us if on-screen chemistry works or doesn’t. The then future films, The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker would continue to show us character dynamic growth, but it is The Force Awakens that tells us if on-screen chemistry works.

Unfortunately, because the scenes between the primary characters were of such short duration, it’s exceedingly hard to gauge the effectiveness of most of the on-screen chemistries in this film. The only character relationships we effectively get to see is that of Rey and Finn. We don’t really get to see the chemistry between Poe and Rey, Poe and Finn (much) or, especially, Rey and Kylo (a key element of The Last Jedi carried into The Rise of Skywalker).

I’m not considering on-screen chemistry with scenes between a primary character and someone dressed in full concealing armor, such as Phasma and Kylo. You can’t judge actor chemistry when one is clad head to toe in concealment. I’m only counting scenes where actors faces are fully visible, when the audience can judge facial expressions and body language… very important to on-screen chemistry.

What it comes down to with The Force Awakens is that there were not enough scenes between the primary cast to actually determine if the primary character chemistry works for all three characters when together. For example, in Star Wars: A New Hope, all three characters are together for an extended amount of time when they need to escape the Death Star. Not only do we get to see these three work together, we get to see it for a long segment of the film. They do split up at times with Luke and Leia doing their swing across scene. With Chewie and Han doing their thing diverting attention away from Luke and Leia. Before that, they all work together in the dumpster scene.

We get to see these three characters many, many times over the course of all three films: A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. It’s also very easy to see the chemistry between these three actors. On screen, their chemistry just works, and boy does it ever.

With Poe, Finn and Rey at the end of The Force Awakens, we’re left wondering if these three truly do have any chemistry. The only two where we get to see any chemistry is, again, Finn and Rey… and they most certainly do have it. Unfortunately, the TFA story didn’t lend itself to a trio situation, leaving the audience wondering if this is truly about a trio or just a bunch of characters thrown together.

By The Last Jedi, we completely understood the answer to that question. It’s just a bunch of characters thrown together. It’s not really a trio. Luke, Leia and Han acted as a team much of the time. Unfortunately, in Disney’s trilogy, Poe, Rey and Finn didn’t act as a trio. Occasionally, these three would pair off and work in twos, but never did they work together as a team of three towards a common goal, like Luke, Leia and Han or even the prequel team of Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and Padmé.

This is where the Disney series learns a harsh lesson. This is also why the Disney trilogy just didn’t congeal with the fans of the series. More about this at the end. I digress.

Reylo

A lot of fans were so adamant that Rey and Kylo had some kind of thing going on. Oh sure, they had a thing, but it was forced by the hand of Snoke. When Kylo and Rey were both together, the scenes always felt awkward and uncomfortable, like a brother and sister kissing. This lasts from their first lightsaber duel in the snowbound forest to the red guard scene in The Last Jedi to pretty much any scene in The Rise of Skywalker. With ‘uncomfortable’ being the operative word. When two actors are on screen together, ‘uncomfortable’ denotes bad chemistry, not intentional design.

I can’t recall one scene between Rey and Kylo that didn’t feel ‘icky’. By ‘icky’, I mean disturbing and uncomfortable. It’s like oil and water. The two don’t mix. That’s how every scene I watched between Kylo and Rey felt. It felt like these two didn’t belong together in the same scene. THAT is a primary hallmark of bad (or zero) chemistry. These two effectively have no on-screen chemistry.

Let’s explore this a bit further…

Miscasting

Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver, was entirely miscast for the part of this series primary villain. Some observers have claimed that Adam was playing the part conflicted. Let’s understand internal conflict.

Both Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader (Anakin dressed in concealing garb) played this character conflicted. Yet, not once did Hayden Christensen nor did David Prowse resort to exhibiting a temper tantrum to get his “conflicted” point across. Brooding solace is much more effective at displaying conflict than lashing out at consoles in a fit of childish anger. Every actor must choose how to portray certain aspects of their character. Unfortunately, Adam Driver’s choice (or perhaps the script’s choice) was too infantile. This didn’t happen just once in the first film. It happened several times throughout the film and the series.

Infantile screaming outbursts don’t say conflicted, they say spoiled man-child. Let’s not even consider how Ben Solo managed to get this way. Spoiled brat behavior doesn’t convey internal conflict. Darth Vader, for example, learned to hold his anger in check and focus it towards the times when he needed to focus it. Anakin, before he became Darth, wasn’t great at holding in his anger, but didn’t resort to childish outbursts… mostly because Obi-wan was there to guide him.

Did Kylo and Rey have good chemistry?

The simple answer to this question is, no. Daisy Ridley and the miscast Adam Driver simply had zero chemistry when on-screen together. It was always awkward and uncomfortable when these two were acting in a scene together. Their scenes only moderately worked, but always felt unconvincing. The characters didn’t feel conflicted at all. When they were together, the scenes felt empty and contrived… again, both hallmarks of lack of chemistry.

I know a lot of people feel that these two had on-screen chemistry. I urge you to rewatch these films and examine for yourself how you feel when you watch these two together. Do you feel happy and elated or uncomfortable and unconvinced? Examine how you feel when you watch. That’s how you determine if chemistry works or doesn’t.

When chemistry works, you know it right away. You can see it. You can feel it. It’s an intangible, but very real sensation. When chemistry doesn’t work, you can also feel that too. You might be revulsed, indifferent, empty or you might even feel ‘icky’.

Let me give you different examples of exceedingly bad chemistry, weak chemistry and good chemistry so you can understand these differences:

Exceedingly Bad Chemistry

  1. Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman in The Star Wars Prequel Trilogy
  2. Toby McGuire and Bryce Dallas Howard in Raimi’s Spiderman
  3. The entire “cabin” cast of Joss Whedon’s The Cabin in the Woods
  4. Farrah Fawcett, Kirk Douglas and Harvey Keitel in Saturn 3
  5. Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley in the Disney Star Wars Trilogy
  6. Jaclyn Smith, Cheryl Ladd and Shelley Hack or Tanya Roberts in Charlie’s Angels
  7. Mariska Hargitay and Adam Beach in Law and Order SVU
  8. John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran in The Last Jedi
  9. Marjoe Gortner and Caroline Munro in 1978’s horrendous Starcrash

Weak Chemistry

  1. Toby McGuire and Kirsten Dunst in Raimi’s Spiderman
  2. Patrick Stewart and Gates McFadden in Star Trek TNG
  3. Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt in Jurassic World
  4. Jeff Goldblum and Julianne Moore in The Lost World
  5. Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds in The Green Lantern
  6. Harrison Ford and Karen Allen in Raiders of the Lost Ark
  7. Kate Jackson, Cheryl Ladd and Jaclyn Smith in Charlie’s Angels
  8. Mariska Hargitay, Ice-T, Kelli Giddish and Peter Scanavino in Law and Order SVU
  9. Laura Dern, Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum in Jurrasic Park (all 3 together)
  10. The entire cast of the original Blade Runner
  11. The entire cast of The Abyss

Brilliant Chemistry

  1. Jenny Agutter and Michael York in Logan’s Run
  2. Barbara Bain and Martin Landau in Space 1999
  3. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelly in OG Star Trek
  4. William Frakes and Mirina Sirtis in Star Trek TNG
  5. Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford in Star Wars
  6. C-3PO and the rest of the Star Wars cast
  7. Kate Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Jaclyn Smith in Charlie’s Angels
  8. Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd in Moonlighting
  9. John Ritter, Joyce DeWitt and Suzanne Sommers in Three’s Company
  10. Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni in Law and Order SVU
  11. Laura Dern and Sam Neill in Jurassic Park
  12. The entire cast of both Alien and Aliens films
  13. The entire cast of Gilligan’s Island
  14. The entire cast of The Brady Bunch TV series

Charlie’s Angels

Here’s a case study in both casting and chemistry. The late 1970’s TV series is a shining example of how cast changes can see chemistry range from brilliant to piss poor. When Kate Jackson left the series in 1979, the remaining cast chemistry between Cheryl and Jaclyn fizzled out. Because Cheryl Ladd didn’t bring with her the same level of chemistry as Farrah Fawcett, the show relied on Kate and Jaclyn to carry the chemistry. For the most part, this worked… until 1979 when Kate departed.

After that, Kate’s role was recast with a new angel. First, Shelley Hack, then the following season by Tanya Roberts. Neither of these two lovely ladies brought with them any semblance of chemistry or cohesion to the series or the cast. In fact, any remaining chemistry between Jaclyn Smith, Cheryl Ladd and either of these two ladies fizzled out entirely by series end. The series was merely pulled along by its premise, not by the cast chemistry.

The too early departure of Farrah Fawcett left a gaping chemistry hole in the cast with huge shoes to fill. Cheryl stepped in and did a respectable job and she looked great in a bathing suit, but the cast chemistry was much, much weaker with her there. If anything, this cast change is what ultimately did the series in… not because of Cheryl specifically, but simply because her chemistry between the other two leads was much, much weaker.

Another series that also suffered cast changes which weakened its cast…

Law and Order: Special Victims Unit

Dick Wolf’s SVU series began with brilliant casting and the show has since been running for 21 seasons and counting. The best seasons, however, still feature Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson and Christopher Meloni as Elliot Stabler. These two were the perfect team and had perfect chemistry. The series was on point with these two together. Apparently, Christopher’s contract ran out at the end of season 12 and it was not renewed. As a result, Christopher didn’t return for season 13 and Stabler was written off as retired. I won’t get into exactly how poorly Dick handled his departure, but suffice it to say that Christopher’s departure would disrupt the chemistry of the cast (and show) for many seasons to come. In fact, the season when Adam Beach joined is clearly the lowest chemistry point of the entire series.

It wouldn’t be until Dick settled on Mariska Hargitay, Ice-T, Kelli Giddish and Peter Scanavino before SVU got back some semblance of its chemistry, however small. Unfortunately, like Charlie’s Angels before it, this cast’s chemistry is much, much weaker than when Mariska and Christopher were together. Those two just exuded chemistry like Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd before them.

The Magic of Chemistry

You can’t predict chemistry when casting. It happens or it doesn’t. Sometimes, you don’t even know how well it has worked until the production has wrapped and you see the final product. With a TV show like Charlie’s Angels, where episodes are weekly, it’s much faster to see chemistry because time to completion of the final product is only a few weeks. With a film, it could be months before you see the end result, before you know if the chemistry has worked.

For this reason, films like The Force Awakens must take risks and assume cast chemistry works. Unfortunately, sometimes the chemistry between all of the actors just doesn’t congeal, but that was more a problem with the story than the cast. If the story had put these three together sooner, including Kylo, we could have seen that it didn’t work. In the case of Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver, it really doesn’t work. These two are like oil and water. They just don’t mix. The same can be said of Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman. Together, Hayden and Natalie were unbelievable as a couple. Trying to believe they were actually in love was about as convincing as watching two WFC wrestlers in the ring. The same can be said for Rey and Kylo.

Miscasting vs Chemistry

Both kind of go hand-in-hand, but both are separate things. Miscasting can lead to bad chemistry, but sometimes it doesn’t. When a character is miscast, it’s difficult to believe that actor is portraying that character. However, that actor might still work okay with other cast members. It may be weak chemistry, but it can still work.

Miscasting is when the wrong actor is cast for a part. It could be that the actor just doesn’t have the acting depth to properly portray the character or it could simply be that the character needs to be way more mature than the actor’s looks allow. For example, casting a 20something who looks 18 into a part designed to be a 35 or 40 year old is usually ripe for miscasting. If the character’s age is 40something, then a 40something (or someone who looks like a 40something) should be hired. Unfortunately, casting the correct age into the role doesn’t necessarily solidify good chemistry.

As I said, these two concepts are separate. To determine chemistry, the actors need to be put together and filmed in test scenes to determine if they have any chemistry at all. Chemistry is the magic of filmmaking. It is the heart of a blockbuster or a bomb. If the cast doesn’t work, then the film won’t work. If the cast works perfectly, then so too does the film… usually. Though, there’s no guarantee in filmmaking. You never know if the story being told is something people will embrace or discard. While chemistry makes the cast work properly, the story makes the film work. Both need to align for a project to succeed.

Even then, it’s still up to the fickle nature of the audience. If the material rubs the audience the wrong way, no amount of cast chemistry can make up for this situation.

As an example, there’s 1969’s Hello Dolly, starring Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau. While at least one of these two might be considered miscast, one cannot deny that these two together had a chemistry that worked. Barbra was definitely miscast as the middle aged meddling matchmaker Dolly Levi, but even still, Barbra’s and Walter’s charm came through boldly on screen… even when together. Unfortunately, another pair’s chemistry in this film wouldn’t fare quite so well… Michael Crawford and Marianne McAndrew, which both sported a very weak chemistry. Though, Danny Locklin and E.J. Peaker’s chemistry was brilliant.

This is a film that I expected to feel badly for this casting pair, but surprisingly their chemistry works… even though apparently Barbra and Walter didn’t get along on set.

Unfortunately, Hello Dolly came at a time when musicals were on the way out. The time of breaking into song randomly in the middle of a park singing about love had passed. Those days ended around the early to mid 60s. We would see a brief resurgence of musicals around 1980 (Grease and Victor/Victoria) which would later turn into single individual musical films that occasionally worked for audiences.

Hello Dolly, however, would become one of the first casualties of the audience’s fickle nature, causing this musical film to ultimately bomb at the box office. It would make up that loss much later in rentals and sales long into the future… but in 1969, it bombed hard… not because it wasn’t a good musical, but because 1969 audiences had grown tired of the genre.

Chemistry and the Problems of Star Wars

Star Wars has had a mixed bag of chemistry when it comes to actors. The original trilogy arguably offered the most brilliant casting choices of any of the films. The prequels probably had some of the worst casting choices, particularly the casting of a child actor. The Disney Trilogy’s casting choices were ultimately better than the Prequels, but still worse than the original trilogy. The “Golden Trio” as the original cast is sometimes called is actually the perfect description. It would have been more difficult to find three better actors than the actors chosen for Star Wars: A New Hope.

This casting set the tone for the future films. The sheer brilliant actor chemistry in the three original films carried these films through to conclusion even as the stories weakened. If George had made even one casting change prior to filming, the original Star Wars might not have done as well in the box office. Everything in the original films congealed perfectly to create a juggernaut that couldn’t be stopped… at least, not until the prequels.

Disney’s Questionable Choices

Disney hasn’t helped this series much by creating flaccid and vacuous stories that really don’t say anything significant and, yet, rehash the same tired tropes of the original series. It’s one of the biggest problems with the films. The cast works okay, with the aforementioned chemistry problems. However, the least of Disney’s worries was the casting and chemistry. It was the poor quality stories. These film’s stories are so derivative as to be pointless rehashed film exercises.

There’s nothing truly original in any of the Disney trilogy films. We’ve seen everything in it before and it’s been done better. As the saying goes, “Let sleeping dogs lie”. Disney should have bought LucasFilm and focused on producing new TV series. Leave the film universe alone. Everything that’s been done has already been done better. Disney forcing films down our throats that simply don’t tell us anything new are not films, they’re clones. We’ve already had enough clones in The Clone Wars, we don’t need yet more film clones of the original films.

Disney needed to have brought something new to the table with the Disney trilogy, but unfortunately they failed and they failed hard. That’s not to say that Disney’s films didn’t make money, because they did. Making money and being good quality films are two disparate things. You can make money from a crappy product. Many companies do this everyday with their As-Seen-On-TV junk. Disney is no different. They figured they could shove random rehashed stories down our throats wrapped in a new coat of paint and that it would go unnoticed and be well-received. Well, we noticed.

The films are done and locked. There’s nothing we can do about that. Disney can decanonize them, but that doesn’t make sense. Why would you invalidate a product you spent perhaps a billion to produce and made billions off of? No. The only way Disney can salvage the disaster that is presently Star Wars is to sell the film rights (and the canon) off to Sony, Warner Brothers, Fox or another large studio. Let them right this ship. Only a new studio can truly right the wrongs of Disney. Only they can rewrite the stories over. Only a new studio can decanonize Disney’s efforts and claim it doesn’t exist and do it with impunity.

Chemistry may have caused small problems in Disney’s films, but it is ultimately the crappy stories, the rehashed tropes and the poor writing that did these films in. That’s all on the writers, directors and producers. If these folks can’t understand what crap is, then perhaps they need a new job in a new industry.

Under Disney, the Star Wars brand is not salvageable. Under another studio, it can be salvaged. Disney must sell off LucasFilm to another studio so Star Wars can start anew. There really is no other way. In answer to the original question that began this article regarding chemistry between Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver, no. Just, no.

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Game Review: GTA Online

Posted in botch, gaming, video game design by commorancy on June 25, 2020

gta-coverThe GTA Online multiplayer world uses the same Los Santos map (mostly) as GTA 5 and is basically GTA 5 with multiplayer support. However, there have been some alterations to the map for certain expansions, such as the Diamond Casino add-on. The Diamond Casino, for example, is a mostly fully working casino with table games, slots and a once-a-day spin-to-win wheel. Unfortunately, all is not perfect in GTA’s online world. Welcome to Randocity’s GTA Online review for 2020. Let’s explore.

Where GTA Online diverges from GTA 5 is how it uses GTA$. While it costs GTA$ to buy stuff in GTA 5 single player campaign, the prices were much more reasonable. When you enter the GTAO world, the prices become astronomically high by comparison. An outfit that costs $500 in GTA 5 might cost you $50,000 or a $1 million in GTAO money.

Cars that might cost you $50-100k in GTA 5 might cost you well over $2 million in GTAO. There are plenty of other examples of exceedingly inflated prices in the online version of the GTA world. They’re inflated for a reason, though. This is where the fun meets tedium. There is actually a name for this in the gaming world. It’s called “grinding”.

GTA Online Missions

Almost every mission in GTAO will give you some amount RP (reputation points) and GTA$ in some amount. Unfortunately, the amount of GTA$ awarded is usually very small, like $10k up to $100k. Some are even lower like $5k and sometimes even less. You rarely ever get more than $100k in one mission. If you are awarded more than $100k, you usually have to split that money (i.e., heist) amongst other characters and players involved. Though, there are a few gun challenges that will award $200-250k for completion.

As another lame example, Lester’s Diamond Casino heist typically awards $2.1 million, but that money must be spread out between all of the participants… leaving you again with maybe $300-500k at most. You don’t get all of that $2.1 million. Most of that money disappears into the ether of the game. The money is claimed by AI NPCs, which is disgustingly pointless. That money isn’t even really there. The award number is all for show since you’re only going to get a very minimal (preset) amount of it.

When you do missions for your nightclub, Tony takes a nearly 10% cut of the money from it… money that again simple disappears into the game’s ether. Tony is a fictional character who appears mostly by phone and doesn’t “need” that money. Instead, it’s a cheat-you-out-of-money mechanic that simply skims that money off of the top and leaves you with far less money than you thought you were getting. This intentionally designed (and poorly thought out) system is not only disheartening for the gamer, it makes gaining money in GTA Online much, much more difficult than it needs to be.

In fact, it’s the way MOST of GTAO missions work. You have $100k worth of products to move, yet you’ll only get $90k (or less) out of the deal in the end.

Consider that your player character is the one doing ALL of the work, then the game turns around and stiffs you for 10%, 20% or even 50% of those earnings? It’s Rockstar ripping the gamer off for no reason. It’s a way to make the game tedious and time consuming without actually rewarding the gamer for a job well done. Plainly, it’s a slap in the face and it’s entirely unnecessary.

Even Fallout 76 plays this game with the vending machines. You lose 10% off of the top by selling items in a vending machine. Granted, though, you can mark up your item by 10% and recoup that cost in Fallout 76. In GTAO, you’re stuck with these lame mechanics. Oh, but these missions get even worse.

Mission Vehicles

Here we have a game called Grand Theft Auto. It’s a game about stealing, modifying and owning vehicles. Yet, when a mission starts, are we given the choice to use the vehicles we have formerly stolen? No. Rockstar decides to give us the most unwieldy, poorest performing, least customized, most horrible handling vehicle in the entire game and then expects us to deliver goods using this thing.

What the hell is with that? We spend $2 million to buy delivery trucks, Terrorbytes and semi-trucks the size of Texas and we’re forced into using a crappy vehicle that can barely drive? I don’t even have any idea what Rockstar was thinking here. It’s called Grand Theft Auto!

The online gaming experience with GTAO is, at best, mediocre. It was designed with one goal, to make money for Rockstar. To that end, they make the missions so lengthy and complex, the payouts so low, the end result so unsatisfying and then they expect us to come back for more? Are we expected to be sadists or something?

I don’t even get why people tolerate this level of garbage in a game. Anyone playing this game can clearly see that its a cash grab by Rockstar. It’s no wonder why players resort to bugs, duping and glitching to make bank in these online games. Would you want to spend 5 real hours making less than $100k in this fictional game world? It would be okay if the prices reflected that income level, but they don’t.

Bunkers, Motorcycle Clubs, Offices, Nightclubs, Garages and Arcades

GTA Online is chock full of properties to buy. So many properties exist, in fact, there is really no way to buy them all… unless you buy into Rockstar’s way overpriced Shark Card system. This is where Rockstar makes their bank. This is why tedium abounds in the game as described above.

Rockstar sells “Shark Cards” that start at $20 real dollars and go up to $85 real dollars. For that $20, that will buy you $1.25 million GTA$. For between $85 (when on sale) and $99 real dollars (off sale), that buys you about $8 million in-game dollars. $8 million in GTA Online will only buy you perhaps 1.5 properties or approximately 2 very expensive cars (Deluxo and Stromberg). You can see that even when plopping down real cash money, you’re not really getting very much for what you’re buying.

This is where Rockstar has pretty much failed this game.

Glitching and Loopholes

At this point, this is where players choose to make their own fun. Instead of playing GTA Online on Rockstar’s terms, they take the fun into their own hands and glitch, glitch, glitch their way until they have a billion or 10. This is why griefing is common in these games. This is why players take advantage of bugs, lagging, mods and other outside game mechanics to make bank in this game. I also don’t blame these gamers for playing this game out-of-bounds. Who wants to subject themselves to becoming a sadist?

If game developers would choose to give us satisfying amounts of reward at the end of a mission completed, we might be more willing to work within the bounds of their system. Unfortunately, they want to make things so costly and drop so little cash at the end of a each mission, you would have to spend literally months grinding, grinding and even more grinding and still never afford most things in the game. Things that they want you to afford to have fun within the game world.

Yeah, it’s that bad.

Multiplayer

One of the biggest problems with Grand Theft Auto is its requirement to force multiplayer activities onto other gamers. Literally less than 1% of the GTAO missions can be played solo. Almost every mission requires more than one person. Sometimes it requires 2 people, sometimes it requires more than that.

Even without a multiplayer system, the missions are challenging. Throwing multiple players and griefers alike into the mix makes some of them impossible to complete. Some of the missions for your businesses force involvement from other players. For example, you will have to transport weapons from one place to another. Yet, the game insists on alerting every other player on the server to that fact. In a real-life scenario, that wouldn’t happen. Yes, in the real world, trucks move stuff around, but they don’t announce what they’re moving to the world. Yet, GTAO does so with careless abandon, “Hey you, this player is moving $500k in goods. Go over there and harass them!”

Why GTA Online insists on announcing this to the game world is a questionable multiplayer system. Players can already see other players on the map, where they are and their marker. That’s already well enough information. If a player is moving cargo, force other players to physically drive over there manually and check it out. If they want to initiate combat to take out the truck, then so be it. There’s no reason for Rockstar to announce every single player movement to the rest of the server.

Missions are mostly okay when dealing with NPC AIs. However, when you throw another player into the mix (who could care less about your mission) and who is there solely to blow you up multiple times… that’s not challenging, that’s ridiculous.

Sure, you can change servers, but that doesn’t resolve the fundamental game problem. You’ll end up in another server with another griefer doing the same exact thing. Again, players end up resorting to glitching to avoid these situations.

Actions and Consequences

Building an online world with an in-game economy is a challenge. To date, I don’t think any game developer has done it right. If you’re planning to charge $6 million for something in the game world and that thing is needed to progress missions, then you need to provide missions that can see the player obtain that amount of money in a reasonable timeframe (a day or two). If it takes longer than this, as a game designer, you have failed.

In GTAO, simply go to YouTube and look for all of the GTA money making videos and you’ll see one common thread. You need to do a crap ton of missions to make that cash flow a reality…. requiring missions that have a high probability of failure due to multiplayer griefing. More about this below.

Glitching Part 2

While Rockstar has offered us single player sessions like ‘Invite Only’ or ‘Solo Session’, Rockstar has restricted many of the missions to being run only in ‘Public’ sessions. This means that Rockstar forces you to endure griefing simply to get your missions completed.

That leaves the gamer looking for alternative ways to avoid this situation and consequence. Hence, more glitching.

For example, on the PC and Xbox One, there are ways to force the game to kick everyone off of the public session you are using. With the PS4, it’s a bit more complicated to achieve. Once every other player has left, this leaves you in a solo public session. As a result, missions that require being in a public session can be performed without the possibility of other online gamers interfering with your mission objectives. That doesn’t mean NPC AIs won’t cause problems, but it does eliminate the problems from other multiplayer gamers. Rockstar should have given us this gameplay choice rather than forcing us to resort to glitching.

Unfortunately, the downside is that some missions require multiple players to complete because of stupid mission requirements. For these missions, you are forced to endure public griefing on servers by requiring multiple players.

Online Missions

Unlike GTA 5, a single player campaign game, the online missions almost always require matchmaking. This means being forced to work with random players who join that specific gaming session. As a result, some missions can be impossible to complete because some of the gamers are simply inept. They can’t perform the combat needed, they play contrary to the mission objectives or they simply end up dying. Because many missions only offer up 1 team life, that means that a single careless or intentionally sabotaging gamer can sink the mission for the entire team.

In fact, I believe some players join missions with the intent to tank the rest of the mission and keep it from being completed. They get some kind of jolly out of doing this.

Because these are the primary kinds of missions available in GTAO, it makes GTAO a far less than enjoyable experience.

Relaxed Restrictions

At some point, Rockstar needs to reconsider the way GTAO is designed. Instead of forcing multiple players on nearly every mission and forcing the use of Public servers, they need to rethink this. It’s probably too late for GTAO on the PS4, but it isn’t for the PS5 version or GTA 6’s online system.

I’m not saying that Rockstar needs to make GTAO fully single player friendly, but it would greatly help if there were many, many more 1 player only missions and missions that don’t announce to the rest of the server.

Mission Types: A History

The primary mission types in GTA Online include deathmatch, race, capture the flag, last team standing, king of the hill (last man standing) and survival.

Keep in mind that other than ‘race’, every other mode is a modified version of ‘deathmatch’. This basically means that you’re joining other players solely for you to kill their characters or them to kill your character. I don’t know about you, but deathmatch is so old it’s not even a fun game mode anymore… at least not for me. I’ve done deathmatch so many times in so many games, I’m bored with it. Why have online games not innovated in multiplayer gameplay space since the 90s? Why must these games rely on antiquated multiplayer features that were designed in 1992 or earlier? Why can’t we move beyond these modes and, like our graphics and sound systems, into next gen multiplayer modes?

It shouldn’t all be about deathmatch or racing. Even worse, King of the Hill and Last Man Standing modes almost never work out like they start. Players join these modes and devolve the entire mode into deathmatch. They don’t even try to become King of the Hill or actually Capture the Flag or be the Last Man Standing. It’s simply about how many kills they can get. Unfortunately, Last Man Standing is really just deathmatch wrapped with a weak shrinking world concept. Ultimately, deathmatch is less about who is left standing and more about continuing the match until a timer expires. Whomever gets the most kills wins. In Last Man Standing, it’s one life, no respawns and whomever is the last one is the winner. It’s all still deathmatch, but as I said, wrapped in a weak concept.

History Lesson

None of these multiplayer concepts are original to GTA Online, nor are they new. They are simply pulled from much older multiplayer games that started the whole thing, like Doom (1993), Age of Empires (2000) and Battlezone II (1999).

I played Doom in 1993 when it first released. We would sit in a computer lab in college eating pizza and playing deathmatch. That is, until, we found out that Doom’s networking system was basically bandwidth hogging the entire network. The software wasn’t designed well from a networking standpoint. The iD software company would eventually fix this network hogging problem, but not before it brought many networks to their knees.

Today, networking systems in multiplayer games are much smarter about the amount of traffic they generate. This is not a problem with GTA Online, but that doesn’t absolve Rockstar for using antiquated multiplayer features within GTA Online. I literally groan every time I log into yet another multiplayer game that has, once again, failed to innovate and relies on deathmatch as its primary objective of online play.

Even Fortnite is guilty of this. Fortnite is a Battle Royale system which is just a fancy way of saying Last Man Standing. I already explained the LMS system above. Deathmatch was first introduced in Doom (iD software) in 1993. Deathmatch was expanded to add network matchmaking in iD’s 1996 game Quake. Today, Last Man Standing is not in any way a new or innovative feature. In fact, the LMS system was first introduced in 1983 in Bomberman. Yes, 1983’s Bomberman was the first game to introduce a deathmatch type game since LMS is technically a type of deathmatch.

The first so-named mode of King of the Hill was introduced a bit more recently in 2006’s Gears of War and appeared again in 2007’s Halo 3. However, this mode actually originated under a different name in a game called Age of Empires II: The Conquerers, released in 2000.

You might think that Capture the Flag is also somehow newer, but you’d be wrong again. The Capture the Flag game mode was introduced in the game Battlezone II, released in 1999.

As you can see, all of these multiplayer game modes began as extensions of deathmatch and expanded into more formalized concepts that were built during the 90s.

Why Rockstar can’t spend a little of that effort designing new game modes that befit the Grand Theft Auto theme is beyond me. You spend all of that time building out a rich, vibrant world and then you throw in antiquated multiplayer features that are about as much fun to play as watching paint dry.

Instead, Rockstar lost their way with GTA Online in so many different ways. That’s not to say that GTA Online’s multiplayer missions don’t offer somewhat newer multiplayer game objectives, but they are effectively deathmatch type missions using matchmaking. I despise matchmaking. I’ve always despised it from the first time I played Halo 3 using it.

The difficulty with matchmaking is that these systems are never smart enough and don’t take into account enough factors. The matchmaking is still very rudimentary. Most times, I find myself paired with a teammate that either is so clueless as to be pointless or that person really only has one thing on his/her mind: deathmatch. They’re not there to complete the mission, they’re there to screw with both YOU and the other players and is there solely to try to kill everyone.

These matchmaking sessions don’t have ‘leaders’ or offer ways of kicking people off of the team if they aren’t carrying their weight. If you don’t like how the team works, you are forced to leave it. That’s not an optimal way of handling multiplayer. In any matchmaking session, there should be a designated team leader. That team leader should have some power to kick players from the team who are not performing or who are performing contrary to the mission.

Unfortunately, Rockstar offers us no such mission management system. You’re stuck with the team you get, for better or, in most cases, worse.

Heists

To round out this article, let’s now talk about the biggest problem with Rockstar’s GTA Online world. Money. I don’t mean that it’s hard to get, but well, it is. But, it’s way more than that.

When the Diamond Casino arrived, they added with it a new Lester casino heist that grosses $2.1 million in GTA$… and therein lies the problem. Well, several actually. $2.1 million in the GTA online world is peanuts. It’s chump change. It’s small potatoes. Grossing $2.1 billion in GTA online might be more worth it. Let’s understand how badly this system gets this heist wrong.

To setup and manage a heist, you’re required to BUY lots of very expensive stuff. From arcades, to vehicles, to clothing, to safe doors, to alarm systems, to personnel… and that GTA$ ALL adds up very quickly. All told, you’re expected to shell out around $5-8 million (maybe more) in GTA$ simply to even begin the heist, let alone finish it.

If you were required to follow Rockstar’s rules, you end up shelling out massive GTA$ simply to even play the f*cking game. Worse, other activities require just as much GTA$ cash simply to even get started. For example, want to start moving loads of cars? You’re gonna need to buy an Executive Suite to the tune of a cool $1.5 million GTA$. Then, you’re expected to shell out between $1.5 and $3 million to add on a vehicle warehouse and another $1.5-3 million to buy a crate warehouse.

Wanna sell guns in GTA online? You’re gonna need to shell out $1.5 million to buy a bunker, then add-on at least $3 million in doodads to make the f*cking thing work. Need to transport that crap? Expect to spend $2-3 million on a Mobile Operations center. Then there’s the $2-4 million Terrorbyte, a separate mobile operations center (?) you need to purchase for yet another setup.

This crap never ends in GTA Online. There’s always this thing they’re expecting you to spend up to $5 million in GTA$ to buy.

Let’s get back to the Casino heist for a moment. After you’ve shelled out all of that cash to even get started with the heist, what do you get out of the deal? A lame arcade that nets about $5k a day. Seriously, you outlay millions of GTA$ for a return of $5k per in-game day? It takes about 5 real hours of playing to even reach $20k in the safe. It’s ridiculous.

Then, after you do the heist, the whole heist grosses $2.1 million. You think, great, I’ll get at least some of my money back… except you’d be wrong. That $2.1 million must be shared amongst ALL of the players including Lester and every person you were required to hire to help with the heist. If you have your live friends join in, they’ll get a cut too. That means you’ll net at most $200k to $300k from that heist.

You’ve spent all of that time, effort and, most of all, massive amounts of GTA$ to buy all of the crap that Lester required for the heist, yet you net $300k (probably less) for all of that effort? Where’s the incentive here, Rockstar?

I don’t even get what Rockstar is thinking. Well, I do, actually. For gamers, GTA online is crap on a stick. The only thing that GTA online is, is a cash cow for Rockstar. You’re lining their pockets with cash every time you buy another Shark Card because you’ve run out of GTA$. You’re just sinking cash into the game with no hopes of recovering that in-game cash back because there’s a never ending smorgasbord of crap that Rockstar makes you buy simply to even begin basic missions. When you do complete the missions, they never give you enough GTA$ back to recover the money they required you spend simply to get started.

As I said, crap on a stick. GTA online has its fun moments. Unfortunately, most of those moments are too few and far between. Like most online games, the only thing I find myself doing is logging on to get their freebies. Speaking of that…

Freebies

The one and only one concession here is Rockstar’s weekly and monthly freebies and discounts. This is the only way you can actually afford to buy most crap in the game… that and spinning the wheel in the Casino in hopes of winning the pedestal car. Rockstar regularly puts property types on discount, sometimes up to 50% off. At 50% off, this means that a $2 million property is now $1 million. The problem is, you never know when Rockstar plans to do this.

You simply have to wait it out and hope the discount comes soon. If you need it now but only have part of the cash, you can do one of two things:

  1. Buy a Shark Card
  2. Wait for Rockstar to launch a promotion

It’s really the only two ways. Sometimes Rockstar gives away GTA$ for doing certain things. For example, recently they had a “perform 10 daily objectives and get $1 million” promotion. Others are log in this month and receive $250,000. There are plenty of weekly and monthly freebies that can fill your wallet and help you along with the game.

The problem is that you can’t bank on these. They come when they come, or they don’t. You simply have to play the waiting game and hope Rockstar decides to throw a bone in our direction. Otherwise, you’re limited to whatever in-game money making missions you can play… and believe me, these missions offer up a pittance. Go find a car for Simeon? Sure, but you’ll only receive $5-9k for it when you turn it in. Even then, Simeon’s text is cryptic. He only gives you the names of the cars, not a way to identify them. It’s up to you to go search the bowels of the city to find the car that he wants. Even then, you have no idea of value for any of Simeon’s list of cars. It’s all best guess as to what Simeon will pay you in the end, until you turn it in.

The money does add up some if you do a lot of activities in a short time… such as racing and various multiplayer missions. Even still, if you’re truly lucky, you might be able to net $2-3 million in a gaming session. It’s enough to buy one expensive car, perhaps. That amount won’t buy you the full $6 million Diamond Casino suite, however. That’s why I’ve stated that Lester’s $2.1 million haul is pointless. You’ll need to grind a whole lot more to afford that Casino thing. For this reason, that explains exactly why there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of YouTube videos explaining how to make GTA$ in GTA Online. Yet, most of these videos are actual scams designed to steal from you, so be careful. Some of the videos may see your account banned. Again, be careful.

Banning

Many of the money making schemes involve playing games at the Casino and doing certain things with the actual game in the process. That also means that most of these schemes may see your money wiped out or you might find your account outright banned. Be cautious with following any advice of a YouTuber. YouTubers are only in it for the YouTube views. They don’t care if your account gets wiped or banned from GTAO. Take their advice with a grain of salt. If it looks too good to be true, it’ll probably get your account banned.

I saved this section for last because it’s the one thing that many gamers try thinking they’ll make a lot of money fast in GTAO. Yes, you can make money pretty fast on the high stakes tables, but you can also lose it just as fast if Rockstar catches you playing games with the Casino. They can even lock you out of using the casino entirely. Thinking that you can scam the tables by playing games with the game itself is only likely to get your account banned. Don’t think that Rockstar isn’t watching your account. They watch all accounts.

If your account turns up with an exceedingly large unexplained balance of GTA$ from one day to the next, they’re gonna take a close look at what you’ve been doing. Once they realize you’re using an exploit, they’re going take action against your account. Many gamers don’t realize this and attempt to play games within the game. Don’t do this.

Rockstar knows what it takes to earn cash in the game world by using legitimate means. If an account goes from a $500k balance to $500 million overnight, yeah that’s gonna send up some red flags all over the place at Rockstar.

Thinking you can scam the game out of a lot of GTA$ isn’t the brightest of ideas, either. Rockstar knows the scams because they’re published publicly on YouTube for all to see. If you’ve watched a YouTube video to see how it’s done, you can bet someone at Rockstar also watched that same video. If you choose to ignore this advice and go ahead with attempting to scam the casino out of cash, you’re not likely to have that money very long.

Overall

Grand Theft Auto V single player campaign was an overall fun experience and it also offered player rewards that met with expectations at the end. On the other hand, GTA Online offers no satisfying rewards that are worth the effort. Being handed $5k at the end of a mission in a world where you’re expect to shell out $4 million to simply play missions or buy a decent vehicle, yeah there’s no incentive to play GTAO.

If Rockstar had followed the same money formula in GTAV within GTAO, I wouldn’t be so harsh on Rockstar. Unfortunately, Rockstar fell into the greed trap trying to get people to buy into real USD Shark Cards. Doing so, they jacked up all of the GTAO prices, sometimes 100x the cost of the same thing in GTAV. Even the prices at Los Santos Customs are at least 10x (or more) the price in GTAO.

I really wanted to love GTAO, but Rockstar failed the economy in this game badly. Money on GTAO should be easier to obtain or the prices of properties and goods should be much lower… particularly properties and vehicles required to run missions. Overall, I give the online version of this GTA 3.5 stars out of 10.

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Gaming: PS5 vs XB SX Case Design Review

Posted in game controller, gaming, video game console, video game design by commorancy on June 14, 2020

Since the Xbox Series X and the PS5’s case designs have now been unveiled by both Microsoft and Sony, respectively, let’s explore these case designs.

Sony’s PS5

Let’s start with the recent elephant in the room, the Sony PS5. Here are some images:

Xbox Series X

Note, I will henceforth be calling the Xbox Series X the Xbox SX. Here are images of this console:

Design Goals

Sony claims they wanted something “bold, daring and future facing” according to Sony’s CEO. Microsoft’s Xbox Phil Spencer claims they wanted the, “fastest, most powerful console ever”.

Regardless of the claims, let’s dive into the designs of these consoles. The first word that comes to mind is “dated”. Both the Xbox SX and the PS5 offer odd choices in case designs.

Let’s discuss the Xbox SX’s case design. This design has already been done and been done better… thrice, in fact. Once by NeXT and twice by Apple. Let’s look at designs past, shall we?

The above computers consist of the following:

  • Apple G4 Cube (circa 2000)
  • NeXT Cube (circa 1990)
  • Apple Mac Pro Cylinder (circa 2012)

All three of these computers are of a very similar design to the Xbox Series X. Microsoft never can seem to come up with original designs, instead choosing to abscond with older manufacturer designs. I’m not sure what it is about Microsoft’s inability to come up with innovative case designs, but this is what we get with Microsoft: clunky, outdated designs.

That’s not to say that Sony’s case design is much better. It’s unique, but in a word, “ugly”. If you like the look of consumer routers, then I guess the PS5’s case design is what you might like.

The main problem I have with both of these designs is that neither of them are stackable. It seems with Sony, it’s all about having an oddly round shaped surface. This means when you place it horizontally, you can’t stack anything on top of it. With the PS4 Pro, it offered us a fully flat top. Unfortunately, the PS3 had that, again, oddly rounded design. It seems that Sony vacillates between flat topped systems and oddly shaped systems. If Sony’s were the only device in the home, it might be okay. Since some of us have several pieces of gear, including multiple older and newer generation consoles, we want to stack them so we have them together.

Additionally, stacking a console vertically, at least in my cabinet, is out of the question. There is no way for me to locate the Xbox SX or the PS5 vertically. In fact, I have yet to place any console vertically in the last 10 years (no space) and it’s not going to happen now. Note, I talk about alternative placement of the Xbox SX below.

Waiting… and airflow

As a result, I’m likely to wait until the second case iteration of the PS5. I’ve invested in too many first gen consoles and gotten burned. The only time where having the first edition console was a boon was with the PS3… before Sony yanked out the PS2 compatibility and several other useful features for later iterations. That was the one and only one time when it was a benefit. That didn’t excuse the horrible rounded PS3 case design, nor does it excuse the rounded case design of the PS5.

With the Xbox SX, it can at least be placed horizontally. In fact, this console design might actually fare better horizontally than vertically. Why? When standing vertical, there will be limited airspace under the bottom of the unit with which to pull air up and through. The airspace distance is probably designed well enough, but sitting close to a surface will still limit the amount of air flow.

Placing the Xbox SX case horizontally completely unobstructs the bottom intake vent and allows full and complete airflow through the unit. Placing the Xbox Series X horizontally might actually be the better way to place this unit for the best airflow possible. Sony’s case design probably won’t have an airflow problem. They usually don’t.

Sony’s choice of white case, black inner section using blue case lighting is also a throwback design problem. It has the same aesthetic as the Nintendo Wii. It’s not the same case shape, of course, but it has a similar lighting and visual aesthetic.

Form vs Function

One thing that video game console designers need to understand is that it really doesn’t matter how aesthetically pleasing a case design is. What matters is how well the console functions. That isn’t to say that we don’t enjoy seeing a pretty case, but we don’t spend time staring at it either. We want to use the unit, not stare at the case.

Therefore, the most important aspect of a video game console isn’t its case, it’s what’s under the hood and how well all of that works. Spend time making the innards work well. Make them solid and functional and with proper air flow. Put your effort and money into designing the innards and make that innovative. We don’t really care what it looks like.

In fact, as a gamer, I’d prefer the case be flat on top with airflow front-to-back or side-to-side so I can stack my other gear on top of it. A boxy looking case? Not a problem. Failing to understand this functional stacking issue is a design failure in my book. Clearly, Sony’s industrial designers weren’t considering ergonomics or functionality of its case design. For that matter, neither was Microsoft with the Xbox SX.

Case design isn’t really that important to a video game console unless it gets in the way of being installed into a cabinet… which both of these case designs do.

Vertical Design

More and more, game console creators want to produce vertical case designs. I’m not a fan. I don’t want my console sitting vertically. Not only do I have no cabinet space for this, I simply don’t like this design aesthetic. I prefer my computers to sit horizontally. This is partially to do with the cabinet I’ve chosen, but it’s partially due to the wasted space needed to place a console upright.

Case designers need to reconsider this unnecessary trend of designing for vertical installation. Any design that can be installed vertically should also be designed to install horizontally. Design for both use cases!

Blue LEDs

I’m also not a fan of blue colored LEDs. They are 1) too bright and 2) annoying as hell. At night, you simply can’t sleep with blue LED lights staring you in the face. They’re like little lasers piercing your retinas. I hate ’em with a passion. The faster we can get away from this blue LED trend, the better.

PS5 Reveal

Here’s the part where some of you may have been patiently waiting for me to chime in. Well, here it is. The PS5’s reveal was, meh. The gameplay was actually not any better looking than the PS4 Pro. The CPU and GPU might be somewhat faster, but Sony is reaching the law of diminishing returns. The PS5’s play was, well, not at all impressive. In fact, I was so unimpressed by the PS5’s gameplay so as to be disappointed.

I was expecting so much more from the PS5 and we’re basically getting another PS4 renamed PS5. It’s really unimpressive. Going back to the CEO’s remark, there’s really nothing “bold, daring or future facing” about this PS5 console. From the uninspired and knock-off case design to the PS4 graphics shoved into a new case. It’s really very unimpressive.

I’m not sure what Sony has been spending the last 2 years doing, but it’s clear they were not spending the time designing an innovative new product. The PS5 is a rehash of the PS4 in an oddly shaped case.

Innovation

Nintendo Switch

What is innovation? Innovation means to come up with something which hasn’t been seen or done exactly like that before. I’d consider the Nintendo Switch innovative. I’d also consider the Apple G4 Cube innovative. Why is the Switch innovative? Because not only is the Switch a dockable home console, you can take it with you and play on the go. It’s a powerhouse well big enough to work in both situations.

I was fully expecting this same level of innovation with the PS5. Unfortunately, what we got was exceedingly underwhelming. Even the “new” PS5 controller is bland and uninspired. This controller looks pretty much like the old controller with, again, horrible blue LED lights piercing your retinas and lighting up your face. Let’s hope that this time you can actually turn these silly lights off.

The touch pad remains, but is an unnecessary and almost never used feature of the PS4’s controller. The touch pad was simply a battery suck and a gimmick. I wouldn’t mind seeing Sony get rid of that touch pad garbage. As I said, battery suck, gimmick and completely unnecessary.

Yet, here the touch pad is again, making yet another unnecessary appearance. That’s most definitely not innovative. It simply means Sony is way out of touch with how most game developers use the PlayStation’s controller. Short of a handful of early game titles on the PS4, the touch pad was almost never used, other than as a button. Simply get rid of the battery hogging touch pad and replace it with a button, like the new Xbox SX controller has. If you need a touch pad for PS4 compatibility, allow connecting a PS4 controller via Bluetooth.

See, I innovated for you there, Sony. Microsoft’s Xbox SX controller, on the other hand, is about as simplistic and utilitarian as you can get. That doesn’t make it a problem. In fact, it looks so much like an Xbox One controller, you might not even notice that there’s a new button in the middle of the controller surface. It’s a button that basically does the same thing as the touch pad button on the PS4’s controller.

I was actually hoping to see a few more buttons added to both the Xbox SX and the PS5 controller. Buttons that can be programmed for lesser used functions so that game developers don’t have to keep overloading functions onto the same buttons depending on context. It’s frustrating, for example, to play Fallout 76 and expect the square button to do something, but does something entirely different because you’re too close to an in-game object. You have to move away before the original function resumes. Frustrating.

By having more buttons on the controller, you can map these lesser used functions to these other (smaller buttons) so that button overlapping in games becomes much less common.

PC’s don’t have this problem because you have a keyboard with usually 101 keys. On a controller, you have basically 13 buttons on the face plus 4 on the shoulders. I want more buttons on my controller’s face so game developers don’t have to overload button functions anymore. Yet, no such luck on the PS5 or Xbox SX. They are still basically the same ole controllers with the same limited buttons. Yeah, basically no innovation here.

Overall

I’m planning on waiting to purchase these consoles until the second iteration of the console. Possibly even until they release a case redesigned version. You know that both Sony and Microsoft will introduce subsequent case styles in the future. I tire of buying a the first day console and then having them redesign it six months later.

My plan is not to buy the console for at least six months to 1 year after release. I’ll stick with my PS4 and Xbox One until then. Even then, it doesn’t seem that many game developers will be taking advantage of the new console hardware fully for at least that time. Anything in development today on those consoles will have been using the gaming company’s older non-optimized engine. It will take at least six months for most developers to retool their engines to be optimized for the new platform.

For this reason and for the typical dearth of features that Sony is likely to offer us come release day, I’m waiting. There’s nothing like spending $700 to play one game, then let the console sit for 6 months without using it at all. Such a waste of $700.

No, I’m not doing that again Sony. I’ll lay out money towards a console once it actually has some gaming momentum behind it and usable features to boot. Once Netflix and Hulu and all of the staples arrive to the consoles, then there will be some reasons to consider. Until that day arrives, it’s a $700 paperweight.

Pricing

Don’t kid yourself about this next part. Even though pricing hasn’t been announced for the PS5 or the Xbox SX, you can bet that after buying games, accessories, cables, chargers and the console itself, you’ll easily have spent at least $700. The price will probably be closer to $1,000. Even the PS4 exceeded the $1,000 price point if you included a PSVR unit. If there’s a VR unit on the way for the PS5, then expect the PS5’s price point to hit $1,000 to $1,500, possibly more.

We’ll have to wait on the pricing, but Sony and Microsoft have to announce it soon. Few people will place a pre-order on these units without knowing what they’ll end up paying. I won’t. It’s a fundamental aspect of gaming. You have to know the cost of the unit to know if it’s worth the price.

If both Sony and Microsoft price at or close to $1,000 for a base unit, they are probably making huge mistakes. Since the gaming price point has always been $500 or so, doubling that price approaches PC pricing territory. If you can get a PC for cheaper than a console, what’s the point in buying a console?

Microsoft and Sony must be very careful when considering their price point for these consoles. For me, I’d value these consoles at being worth no more than $600-700 (regardless of the actual costs to assemble it). If they’re priced higher than this, the console industry is going to have a real problem on its hands. Even Nintendo may feel the pinch from it. Considering that the Switch costs $299, that’s an excellent price point for such a universally useful unit. Unfortunately, Nintendo has been lax on wooing developers to the platform. So far, Nintendo has only been able to woo Bethesda. Even then, Bethesda’s involvement on the Switch has been limited.

Sony and Microsoft must be very careful with their pricing. I’m actually hoping Microsoft announces their pricing first. This will start a price war between Sony and Microsoft. Sony will have to price the PS5 at or below the same price as the Xbox SX. Sony and Microsoft can ignore Nintendo’s pricing as Nintendo has never offered a similarly competitive console entry. It’s very unlikely Sony or Microsoft will ever price their consoles at $299. At least, not the day one console.

In the future, though, the pricing will be fluid and may approach the $299 price tag… yet another reason to wait.

Let’s hope that Sony and Microsoft can choose to do the right thing with these units and price them accordingly. At least, they shouldn’t be priced any higher than the Xbox One X or the PS4 Pro. As for the design, yeah, it could have been WAY better on both consoles.

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