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Update Review: Wild Appalachia – Fallout 76

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

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

Fallout 76

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

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

Wild Appalachia

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

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

Some negative additions include:

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

What went wrong?

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

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

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

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

This is the example of how Bethesda continues to go wrong with this game. They only half think through these ideas and then they half-assed implement them. Worse, the Distillery may have seemed like a great idea on paper, it’s pretty much worthless in practice. If they have given us a new liquor that drastically increases damage output of weapons or drastically increase damage resistance against certain types of foes, that would be a useful addition. Because none of this exists, distilling is pointless.

Crafting Stations

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

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

Recipes and Nukashine

Bethesda typically gives you a handful of recipes right off the bat with any workbench. The Brewing Station is no different. You get the crafting basics which include beer, wine, vodka, rum, bourbon, whiskey and the new Nukashine. If you want any other recipes, you have to go find them. Of course, you can’t make any specialty beers (yet) like Old Possum, Pickaxe Pilsner or Old Holler Lager. You can only make ‘Beer’.

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

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

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

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

Rad Ant Lager and Daily Quest

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

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

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

Overall

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

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

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

The distillery is interesting for about 5 minutes. However, adding vending machines, a bank, a way to transfer items between characters and decorating the camp via found world items is much more important to this longevity of this game. Please, stop with the time wasting additions and fix the problems that actually matter and add the features that are actually useful and that people actually want.

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Shopping Tip: Target App and Prices

Posted in botch, business, shopping by commorancy on February 7, 2019

img_4265.pngTechnology has finally caught up with “live pricing”. While shopping at a competitor grocery the other day, I scanned an item while in that store within Target’s app to get a price comparison. What I found before and after visiting Target was surprising. Let’s explore.

Target App and Item Scanning

Assuming you have a smartphone running iOS or Android, the Target app is a way to both shop online as well as comparison shop. However, I found the following money saving trick that you’ll want to use to save money at Target.

Target’s phone app offers a UPC code scanning feature. This allows you to scan the UPC code and check that item’s pricing at your local store. As I said above, what I found when scanning away from Target versus inside of Target was a little unsettling… but is also handy trick to save money when shopping at Target.

Scanning Items In-Store

When you’re inside a Target store, you can scan each item’s UPC code and it will show you not only the price of the item in the store, it will tell you which aisle it’s on. It may also trigger a Cartwheel discount if you’re lucky. For example, if you happen to find a random loose item sitting on a shelf in the store (stray merchandise) and you want to know where it’s located in the store, you simply need to scan it in Target’s app and it will tell you what aisle it’s on and it actually shows you a map in the store. It will also tell you the item’s price. This actually works in the Walmart and Home Depot apps too.

This means you can easily find items in the store and determine the item’s price. This locate feature is particularly handy after a Target store remodel when items that were formerly on the left side of the store have been moved to the right side of the store. I’m not terribly a fan of such remodels, but I guess Target thinks it makes their stock seem “fresh and new” when it simply makes it confusing to find stuff in the store. It’s also a way for Target to raise in-store prices.

Cost Savings

Now for the cost savings tip that you’ve been waiting for. Target’s pricing shown in the app is entirely based on proximity to the store (assuming you have a GPS on your phone). For example, I was at a local grocery looking at Gold Medal Self-Rising Flour. The cost for a 5lb bag at this particular store was $3.99. I decided to pick the item up and scan it through Target’s app for a price comparison. The price at Target came up as $3.69. I thought, “Great, I’ll save 30¢. I’ll stop by Target on the way home and pick it up. Little did I know the surprise that my Target store had waiting for me.

A few minutes later, I arrived at Target and wandered through to their baking section and noticed the exact item priced at $4.29. I’m like, “Hold up.. what’s this?” When I scanned the item in the Target app inside the Target store, it again showed $4.29… not the $3.69 price I had been shown when at the other market. I had even confirmed that the “my store” location was set to the store where I was. Yep, that’s my store.

I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on with Target’s App, so I drove back to the other market thinking the UPC code might be slightly different. I hadn’t bought that other item over there before heading to Target. When I arrived at the other market, I again scanned it in Target’s app and it again showed the $3.69 price. I also took a picture of the UPC code so I could compare when I got back to Target. Stumped at this discount pricing I was being shown, I decided to add the item to Target’s cart and buy it via Target’s app for in-store pick up. Surprisingly, this worked.

By the time I arrived back at Target, my order was ready for pickup. In fact, the “Your Order Is Ready” notification arrived on my phone just as I drove into Target’s parking lot. I walked in, picked up my order and headed towards the door. I did actually get the item for the $3.69 price. Before I walked out of the store, I scanned the UPC code on what I had just purchased for $3.69 and it showed $4.29. I compared the code to the one from the local market. Same UPC code. I’m like, “Hmm…” I decided it had to do with Target’s proximity beacon. The app knew that I was in the store and raised its Target app pricing to reflect the store’s shelf prices.

As I had drove away and while waiting at a traffic light in front of Whole Foods Market (a store about a block away from Target), I scanned the item in the car. It once again showed the $3.69 pricing. Aha, Target is using its store proximity beacon to raise its prices to match its in-store shelf pricing.

Cost Savings Tip

If you’re looking to get your best savings from Target, you need to scan your items in Target’s app away from your local Target store. Because you’re not in proximity of the store, you could find lower prices on some items. Unfortunately, you won’t know that you’re saving money until you get to the store and scan the item inside the store. For this reason, ordering for store pickup may save you money over visiting the store and physically shopping in the store.

Just be aware that Target changes its prices on items in the App depending on where you are and whether you’re in or out of a store. It may even detect when you’re in a competitor’s store and mark prices in the app to compete with that competitor. Note that if you do place an order for pickup and find that an item you ordered is cheaper in the store or there’s an in-store coupon, Target will refund you the difference as long as you’re still within the return period. You simply need to ask.

For the reason of proximity pricing, you should save the UPC codes from your regularly consumed items in a drawer and scan them in the Target app at home. Then, place an order for pickup. You may find that you can save more money at Target before ever leaving home. It also saves you time because you don’t have to roam the store looking for stuff. It can also save you money by not seeing and buying random stuff that you don’t need.

If you scan for a price in the Target app while away from the store, take a screenshot. Screenshots are your friend for lower pricing. You can then compare those screenshots to price scans you make in the store to see if the pricing has changed. Because I’m assuming that scanned prices can go both ways (up and down), you might not always find your best deal in the app. However, it seems more likely you’re to find a better deal using the app away from the store than in the store. For this reason, taking a screenshot of the items you scan saves you hassles later. Whether or not Target’s customer service team will honor a price markdown as a result of a screenshot taken away from the store, I’m uncertain. You’d have to visit the customer service desk with the item in hand and ask. Target is usually willing to give the lowest price if you bring it to their attention, but in this case who knows? Worst case, just drive away from the store and order the item for in-store pickup. Then drive back to Target and wait for the item to become ready.

Proximity Pricing

Because most everyone is looking for a savings advantage when shopping, proximity pricing is likely to become an even bigger deal as we move forward. That Target is now using proximity pricing in its app shouldn’t be a revelation, but it is surprising to see Target using it in this way.

Always consider scanning items in the Target app when you’re looking for cost savings at Target. It can save you money without ever leaving home.

Trick of the Eyes

Here’s the part about proximity pricing that I don’t like, making this is a bit of a rant. When I first scanned the package of flour away from Target, Target’s app showed me the $3.69 price. When I visited the store and scanned the exact same item on the aisle, it scanned at $4.29 (30¢ more than my local grocery market at $3.99 and 60¢ more than the Target app had previously shown me). I couldn’t get the app to show me that $3.69 price no matter what I did while inside of Target. I felt that this was a kind of bait and switch tactic, something I have never before seen Target use.

This meant that I couldn’t get the app to show me that price at all while at Target. I was understandably miffed, particularly after having spent the time to drive over there thinking I would get the $3.69 price.

As a result, I couldn’t show that lower pricing to the customer service desk nor could I even prove at all that that pricing had ever been shown to me. The history in Target’s app is practically non-existent. What is there shows you the price wherever you happen to be… not what might have been shown to you earlier. I actually had to leave the store and travel a quarter mile away before I could see that $3.69 price again.

For this reason, that’s why I decided to order the item for pickup while still in the parking lot of my local grocery market and away from Target. To my surprise, I was able to add the lower priced item to my Target app cart and place an order. When I arrived at the store, I walked away with my order at the lower $3.69 price.

Higher In-Store Pricing

The proximity pricing problem signifies three things: 1) Target intentionally marks up items when you’re physically visiting the store, 2) these markups are impossible to detect (or argue) while you’re in the store and 3) you can only find these markups while away from the store.

You’re required to check the prices before and after arriving at the store. This means making a list of prices while away from the store, then again at the store and then see how proximity affects your Target’s in-store prices.

Ultimately, it’s a scammy practice by Target. It’s a scammy practice by any store that performs this kind of proximity markup. If anything, this article intends to call out this practice and warn consumers that the pricing you see in the store may not be the lowest price that store is willing to sell you that item. While you can’t haggle with a store (other than via competitor price matching), you can be armed with ways to cut your costs by being a shrewd shopper, particularly by taking full advantage of each store’s app proximity mark downs and avoiding store mark ups.

Note that this kind of proximity pricing is not considered under the store’s “price matching” guarantees. Whatever the store’s in-store pricing is, you’re expected to pay that… even if you find that the app shows you a cheaper price while away from the store. If you want that cheaper price, you’ll need to place an order in the app for in-store pickup. The unfortunate part is, you won’t know which is the cheapest price until you compare the item’s away app prices against in-store prices.

Even then, Target may offer differing prices in the app when in a Big Lots than when in Safeway. This means you might need to run around town and visit various discount stores to find your best price in the Target app. Yes, kind of a hassle.

Good Luck and Happy Shopping!

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Rant Time: Fallout 76

Posted in botch, business, fail by commorancy on January 30, 2019

12-9-2018_10-41-26_PM-qybv0b53I’ve been playing Fallout 76 on and off since its release. However, Bethesda has not only miscalculated the quality of the game itself, Bethesda’s devs have repeatedly introduced more bugs than they have fixed. So far, the patches have been a strategy of one step forward and three steps back. This game has all of the signs of code outsourcing and illustrates all of the dangers of this practice. Let’s explore.

Game Development

Having worked at many different high tech companies that write code for their business to succeed, I have seen many different code writing practices… some good, many more that are bad.

Typically, when code is written “in-house” (meaning, by developers on site at the headquarters), the quality control remains at a “standard bar” set by the development manager. This doesn’t mean that every piece of code written is great, but it does mean that the bad code likely won’t make it into production after “code review”. The “code review” process is a process by which all code is peer reviewed by other developers to make sure the code is up to formatting standards, that it doesn’t make any egregious mistakes and that such things as math calculations make sense. Comments in the code are usually optional and up to the development team to set how code gets documented.

I’ve worked at many companies where code is not documented at all. Instead, the documentation is written in a Wiki or similar internal web site describing the design goals of the code. I don’t particularly like this practice when working on the production side of the house, but it’s generally not a practice we can win a fight against. Reading documentation in the code is sometimes the only defense when code acts up in production. If they choose not to write inline documentation, that’s on the development team. Though, I will say that this practice leads to technical debt and is not recommended.

Without diving too deeply into code development practices, let’s apply all of what I’ve said to Bethesda’s Fallout 76.

Bad Coding Practices

I don’t even know where to begin with how Bethesda is managing this product. Let’s just say that having worked in several large Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) organizations, how Bethesda is handling Fallout 76 is so behind the times, it’s not even funny.

Today, the current practice is to use the following code development cycle otherwise known as Systems Development Life Cycle (SDLC). This cycle has the following phases:

  1. Planning
  2. Analysis and Requirements
  3. Design
  4. Development
  5. Integration and Testing
  6. Implementation / Release
  7. Operational Maintenance

These 7 phases are a never ending cycle in a continuing software product. In fact, there could be several releases all running in concert each at different phases. Meaning, the current release is at phase 7, the next release is at phase 4 and two or three future releases are at at any of the phases prior to release.

The SDLC process has grown out of bad coding practices used during the 90s and has been adopted to counter those bad coding and release practices. This life cycle is a way to ensure quality of code when it is finally released. It’s also a way to ensure that the end user has the highest quality experience possible with the end product. Quality assurance is the name of the game. As a development company, the key to success is to minimize disruptions via bad code and maximize user experience with high quality features. No code is ever perfect, but you can reduce problems by following best coding practices and implementing solid SDLC processes.

Bethesda’s Coding Practices

Unfortunately, Bethesda has chosen a poor coding cycle for Fallout 76. Instead of treating Fallout 76 like a professionally produced product using SLDC practices, they are simply slinging code as fast as possible without actually performing any sanity checks or, indeed, performing any quality assurance on the end product.

In fact, with each new Fallout 76 release, the product has become increasingly worse, less reliable, less performant and increasingly more unstable. By “worse”, I mean that they’re introducing not only regression bugs that break previously and correctly working features, they’re introducing new bugs and not even fixing the bugs they claimed to have fixed. Indeed, the product is actually getting worse.

While I realize that coding a game like Fallout 76 is probably reasonably complex, the difficulty I have with this game is why a developer is touching code in portions of the game where bugs did not exist. What were they doing touching that part of the code? And yet, here we are, this newly broken code is being rolled out to their production servers?

Clearly, Bethesda performs absolutely zero testing. These bugs are so basic, anyone spending 5 minutes using the game would spot them instantly. It’s crystal clear that Bethesda is NOT following an SDLC process. They’re just releasing code by the seat of their pants and hoping it does “something positive”.

Outsourcing

Because Fallout 76 gets worse with each successive release, this has all of the telltale signs of Bethesda outsourcing their software development efforts to an off-shore team (possibly in India). Having worked with outsourced developers in India in the past, you MUST micromanage these outsourced companies at every tiny step. You also need to be extremely explicit with how you want the implementation and you need to 100% test every piece of delivered code.

Failing to micromanage an outsourced software development company leads to the exact problems seen in Fallout 76. While I can’t be 100% certain that Bethesda is outsourcing, their release practices certainly have all of the earmarks of using this practice for Fallout 76. There’s absolutely no reason why previously working features in the game should inexplicably become broken in the next release.

And believe me, I’ve become exceedingly tired and irritated of fighting these compounding stupid bugs in this game. Not only does it show Bethesda as a low quality developer, it says they have no quality standards of any kind. You don’t intentionally roll out broken features in a formerly working product… you just don’t do this.

Chasing Abusers

Bethesda has clearly bitten off more than they can chew. They certainly have no one on their team who understands SaaS product scaling. If one gamer on the server crafting boiled water can bring the server to its knees, there’s a major problem with this product. In a properly designed multi-user product, no single user should be able to overload the server with any “standard” user interface activity. By “standard”, I mean features that the product is supposed to properly support.

There are many instances where a single user can craft foods at a crafting table which causes “Server Not Responding” or incurs major lag for other users on the server. These are sanctioned activities intended to be used by the users, yet they can break the server?

Abusers, on the other hand, find loopholes to allow them to perform activities that the software was not designed to do. For example, duplicating items by logging on and off in very unusual ways… ways in which the developer didn’t test or consider during the design phase.

Right now, Bethesda is chasing down these unintentional holes at all costs… and by that I mean, by introducing game breaking bugs that affect standard users who are not abusing. And, they’re attempting to fix these holes at the cost of ignoring the design failings of the game that also need to be addressed. Many of these design failings were introduced at release and are still waiting in the queue to be addressed by Bethesda. Yet, instead of taking care of these long standing bugs, the devs are flying by the seat of their pants fixing the holes… which honestly don’t need to be fixed as a fire drill.

Penalizing Players

Bethesda doesn’t understand the dangers of reduction. Removing or degrading product features is always a negative for the end user, never a positive. For example, the Two Shot Explosive weapons are what players long to find. These rarely dropped highly powerful weapons are, in fact, one of the sole reasons players come back to the Fallout franchise.

Sure, the questing is fun, but it’s the Legendary dropped loot from these difficult bosses that is the actual Win. It’s the trophy that says, “Hey look what I got after spending all that time defeating the Scorchbeast Queen”. By degrading, limiting and/or removing these highly sought after items from the game, this removes a substantial reason to even play Fallout 76.

If you spend an hour defeating a boss only to see it drop a 12 damage Pipe Pistol (the same as a Level 1 enemy kill), what have you really accomplished? How does that make the gamer feel? Does it make the gamer feel good about what they’ve just done? No. Does it make the gamer want to come back and do it again? No.

On the Wrong Track

Bethesda is entirely on the wrong track. If you have abusers in the game, chase them down and ban them… no holds barred. If you find a player who is carrying 300,000 weight in duplicated items, ban them. Remove them from the game. Find them all and remove them. Logic dictates that anyone carrying 25,000 Stimpaks along with 25,000 guns stacked didn’t create them through legitimate means.

You ban the abusers. You don’t code around them. You don’t hobble your universe to make the duplicated guns worthless. Instead of spending precious time alienating your intended gaming audience, you focus on making the game better for legitimate users willing to stay within the game’s design framework. For those who stray and choose to test the coding boundaries of the game, you ban them… permanently. You also make a warning statement that any persons intending to cause harm to or disrupt the services will be banned without warning. In-game abuse can only be dealt with one way, the ban hammer.

Yes, you can fix the bugs along the way that enabled that abuse, but you don’t make that your sole and entire means of existing. You focus on fixing the bugs that are getting in the way of your legitimate paying gamers who are willing to stay on the game’s “golden path”. By “golden path”, this is a software development phrase that means the track designed by the developers for end users of the software product to follow. Anyone who strays from the “golden path” may encounter bugs, unexpected consequences or crash the software system. Though, your developers should have coded proper error handling so that crashing is nearly impossible.

Yes, some users can unintentionally stray from the “golden path” occasionally. These users are not the target. It’s the users who intentionally stray from the “golden path” to exploit holes in the software to gain access, privilege or items which are unintended. Speaking of gaining access….

Dev Room

There’s been much controversy over this room. Personally, I don’t care if it exists or not. However, that this room made it into Bethesda’s Fallout 76 production servers is entirely a design miss. Such dev environments should never make it onto production servers. That this room rolled out onto the production network is a problem Bethesda needs to address internally. Users who stray from the golden path into this room isn’t the fault of the gamer. Bethesda, you left the room in the game. It was your responsibility to ensure such rooms don’t exist on the production servers. That users ended up in there, that’s your mistake, Bethesda.

Sure, you can drop the ban hammer on these users, but that’s not good public relations. In fact, dropping the ban hammer on users for entry into this room is severe. If they didn’t cause damage to the game or take anything from the room, there’s no damage done. Those users who took items from the dev room and duplicated them should be banned… not necessarily for entering the room, but for exploiting the duplication bug which disrupts a server for other players.

Again, it comes back to disruption. Any gamer intentionally causing disruption to the game outside of the “golden path” should be perma-banned. This act of disruption should be spelled out as abuse in the terms and conditions for the game.

Fallout 76 is SaaS

Even though Fallout 76 is a game, it’s also a Software-as-a-Service product and it should be treated in the same way as any SaaS product. Yet, Bethesda hasn’t the first clue of how to build or operate a SaaS product. That’s crystal clear.

Bethesda’s SDLC seems non-existent. Without any kind of software quality assurance team, there’s no way to ensure the product lives up to any kind of quality standard. Right now, this game is a piss poor attempt by a game studio at a SaaS product. A product that is on the verge of being a spectacular failure. I might even argue, it’s already reached the failure point.

Bethesda, you have a hard choice to make. If you continue to chase the abusers at the cost of fixing the REAL problems with this game, your game WILL DIE. The choice you need to make is whether to stay on this insane path of chasing abuse bugs or stop this insanity and begin fixing the real reliability and stability problems with this game. Such real problems include severe frame rate drops, enemies can spawn in unkillable states, invisibility problems (enemies and players alike), the problem with quests that can’t be completed, the problem where Legendary enemies drop without any loot at all.

Game Economy and Systems Design

Bethesda continually argues that the abusers caused disruption to the economy in the game. What economy? There is none. If you call vendors with 200 caps an economy, that’s not an economy. An economy is players buying, selling and trading with one another. You know, the whole reason you designed the game with 24 players in each “World”. Yet, when players actually tried to create an economy, you shut them down with patches and then released many of the rare items to the vendors to make them “less rare”.

Part of the reason items were rare was entirely due to incidence of spawn rates. Spawn rates, I might add, that you designed into the game intentionally. Spawn rates intended to force players to hunt for stuff. Yet now you’re all butthurt over the fact that players actually created an economy around this.

What exactly are you wanting the players to do in this game then? Aren’t the players supposed to “rebuild” the wasteland? Setting up trading shops and whatnot is exactly what players would do in a world like this. In fact, in the ruthless wild-west of the wasteland, players would likewise be ruthless in obtaining anything and everything they could. That players used duplication exploits comes with the ruthlessness of wasteland territory. The problem with the duplication exploit isn’t the duplication. It’s the disruption it causes to other player’s games. That’s the abuse vector. That’s the reason to ban-hammer the player. The server disruption is the abuse, not the duplication.

Still, you should have been warning players all along the way when their weight got too high. That you didn’t have anything in place to monitor this part of the game is a design miss. A miss that wouldn’t have been missed if you had had a proper Systems Engineer reviewing the design all along the way. Yet, you chose to rush the game to market unfinished and now you have to redesign it along the way… a redesign that is causing player unrest and player abandonment.

Patch Upsides vs Downsides

The last several patches have been attempts at thwarting the abusers by fixing the exploit vectors at the cost of not fixing long standing disrupting bugs… bugs that have existed since the game’s release (i.e., getting stuck in power armor, unkillable enemies, invisible enemies, loading screen problems, etc). This strategy has been to the entire detriment of the Fallout 76 gaming community. Not only have you alienated so many users from the game, you continue to alienate more and more with each new patch.

If you’re planning on releasing a patch, you need to focus on the upsides of patching. You know, like fixing bugs that players NEED to have fixed… like frame rate issues, like audio glitching, like server lags, like a bigger stash, like improved features. Sure, you can throw in fixes like nerfing the Two Shot and Explosive weapons, but you also need to offset these heavily negative gaming experiences by adding positive new things to the game to entice gamers back… like adding new weapons to the game to take the place of those heavily nerfed Two Shot Explosive weapons.

There’s no reason for gamers to play Fallout 76 if the Legendary dropped loot is now no better than standard dropped loot. Focusing entirely on downside patches isn’t going to win you new players. It’s simply a quick way to the death of Fallout 76… as if the game needed any more help in this department.

Overall

Bethesda, you need to rethink your strategy for Fallout 76 and future MMO endeavors. The current strategy you are taking to address the issues in this game will not bring more players to this game. In fact, you’re likely to turn this game into a wasteland with only a handful of players ever playing.

If you stay on this path, I predict that you will end up shutting down your servers for this game by the end of 2019. Gamers won’t continue to play in an environment where the loot is not worth their time.

And what the hell? Serum recipes cost 19,000+ caps? Considering you can only hold 24,000 caps in the game, this is insane. Even 6,000 caps would be excessive.

Bethesda, figure it out quick or the game ends.

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Rant Time: Polaroid Zip and App

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

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

Polaroid Zip

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

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

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

The updated app is entirely junk!

The Dangers of Portable Devices with Apps

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

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

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

Polaroid as a Poster Child

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

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

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

Get With The Program, Polaroid

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

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

Class action lawsuit anyone?


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

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Top 25 reasons to hate Fallout 76

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

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


25. Map and Pins

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

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

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

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

24. Farming at your CAMP and in Blast Zones

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

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

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

23. Random Server Disconnects

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

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

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

22. The Wrong Gender

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

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

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

21. Changing Weapons and Applying Medicine

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

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

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

20. Pacifist Mode

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

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

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

19. Obtaining Caps

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

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

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

18. Fast Traveling

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

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

17. Eating, Drink and Diseases

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

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

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

16. Photo Mode

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

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

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

15b. Crafting

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

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

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

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

15a. Inventory

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

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

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

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

14. Power Armor

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

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

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

13. Collision detection

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

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

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

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

12. Leveling up doesn’t work as expected

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11. Crap enemy AI

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

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

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

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

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

10. Screen blur filters

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

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

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

9. Scorchbeasts and Loot

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

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

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

8. Non-existent non-player characters

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

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

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

7. Graphics

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

6. Multiplayer

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

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

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

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

5. CAMP and Plans

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

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

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

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

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

4. VATS

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

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

3. Story

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

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

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

2. Player Death and Dropped Loot

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

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

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

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

1. Glitches, bugs, quest bugs and client crashing

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

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

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

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

Commentary as of 12/21/2018

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

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

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

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

Overall

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

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

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


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

Should I buy an Xbox 360?

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

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

Design Flaws

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

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

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

Refurbishment Process

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

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

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

Buying Refurbished

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

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

Not Built to Last

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

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

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

Aging Hardware

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

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

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

Should I Buy?

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

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

Xbox One and Xbox 360 Compatibility

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

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

Xbox 360 Purchase Disclaimer

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

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How not to run a business — Case Study: Tumblr

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

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

Tumblr and Adult Content

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

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

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

Knee Jerk Reactions

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

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

Chasing Page Owners Away

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

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

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

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

Compensating Controls

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

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

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

Soooo…. Buh Bye, Tumblr.

Part 10 | Chapter Index | Part 11

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Review: Pokémon Let’s Go! Pikachu

Posted in botch, business, video game, video game design by commorancy on November 16, 2018

img_0072[Updated: 11/19/2018 for Pokéball Plus Controller] I’ll make this one short and sweet. This is the first Pokémon for the Nintendo Switch and in some ways it’s fun, but in many ways it’s a sheer disappointment. Let’s Go!

Pikachu

In this review, I’m playing the Pikachu edition. I’m sure that the Eevee edition will likely be very similar in play value, with the exception of certain Pokémon you can only collect in each separate edition.

Controller Problems

Here’s the first disappointment with this game. I want to get this one out of the way right up front. The Nintendo Pro Controller doesn’t work at all in this game. When you press the connect button, the light Cylons back and forth, but never connects.

img_0065Unfortunately, you are forced to use the JoyCons with this game. This is an extreme disappointment. But wait, it gets worse. If you pull the JoyCons off of the console and hold them in your hand and use the JoyCons wirelessly, you can’t use both of them together like you can when they are connected to the console. When they are separated from the console, the game mistakenly assumes that two people will be using one each. An entirely stupid decision. If there’s only one player, then let the player use both. If a second player wants to join, then remap the keys so each player is separate. Don’t just make bad assumptions about this.

Even if you place the two controllers into a JoyCon Grip to make the JoyCons feel like a Pro controller, the game still assumes one controller per person. Bad, bad design. It gets worse, again. If you want to hold the JoyCon horizontally so that the buttons are on the right and so you can hold the single JoyCon with both hands… not possible. The only possible orientation for holding the JoyCon is vertical.

I’m very disappointed in Nintendo and Game Freak here. It keeps getting worse. Because the JoyCons are not capable of the same distance away from the Switch as the Pro Controller, the connectivity to the console is entirely spotty using the JoyCons when it is docked several feet from you. Unless you intend to game with the console just a few inches in front of you (in which case you might as well attach them), using the JoyCons at a distance is entirely problematic and frustrating.

So, the only way to use both controllers to play the game as a single player is when they are connected to the console and that means holding the Switch in your hand playing it using the built-in screen. You CANNOT play Pokémon Let’s Go using the Pro controller at all or by using both JoyCons together when they are not attached. You are forced to play this game using a single JoyCon per player when detached. A stupid and unnecessary requirement and decision. And people wonder why Nintendo is in third place for its consoles.

Pokéball Plus Controller

pokeball-plus.jpgNow that I’ve found, purchased and have had a chance to use a Pokéball Plus controller, I understand Nintendo’s reasoning not to support the Pro controller. It’s all in the name of making yet more money off of a new gadget. Considering that the Pokéball Plus controller costs $50 (just $20 shy of a Pro controller), this Pokémon game is simply a scam means to get you to buy into this new Pokéball controller.

With that said, the Pokéball Plus controller plays the game substantially better than using the JoyCons wirelessly and it has a longer wireless range. Though, with this controller, it’s still nowhere near perfect. However, I do see the attraction in using it.

The Pokéball Plus controller has two main functions:

1) To toss at your screen (cables hopefully keep it in check) and capture Pokémon with Pokéballs. When you toss, it simulates the action of throwing a Pokéball. The throwing action is heavily reminiscent of using a Wiimote.

2) The center knob acts as a joystick and the A button. On the red half, there’s another button that acts as the B button. I’m concerned with the longevity of this controller as you push through a rubberized surface to depress the button. I’m not sure how well that rubberized material will last.

Like the Wiimote, there’s a speaker in the ball. So, you’ll occasionally hear noises coming from the Pokémon when you trap them in the Pokéball. It’s a cute feature, but it’s really just a gimmick and the volume is no where near loud enough.

The downside is that the Y button is used throughout the game, but there’s no Y button on the Pokéball Plus controller. This means you’ll miss all of the areas where Y is used. Worse, there’s no way to take a screen snap or begin a video. You’ll still need to have your JoyCons sitting out for these functions. There’s also no button to get back to the Switch’s main desktop (to easily share videos and snapshots). Because you can only have two controllers active at any one time in this game, you can either have the left JoyCon active (sharing button) or the right JoyCon active (desktop button) in addition to the Pokéball Plus controller. This means you need to choose either to have the sharing button active with the Pokéball Plus or to have the desktop button active with the Pokéball Plus.

Basically, sharing anything from Pokémon Let’s Go is a pain in the rear. It’s just not easy, and it should be. If the single active controller could be the Pro controller, having both the sharing and desktop buttons available would be simple. Nooooo…. they can’t do that. This is only a problem if you have your Switch in the dock. If you’re carrying the Switch around with you and the JoyCons are attached, this isn’t a problem.

For the price of the Pokéball Plus, it’s a hard sell. Thankfully, I got it for about $36, but if you have to pay $50 for it, I’d certainly think twice. There is the game bundle where you get the game and the controller in one package. I don’t think it saves you any money, but it’s one way to give both as a gift. I bought the controller separately.

The round shape, unfortunately, leaves some to be desired. I’ve had problems with spherical shaped input devices in the past and these same problems arise here. If you don’t put the strap on correctly, you’ll always end up holding the ball backwards. You’ll have to take it off and flip it around. This makes it tedious to use this controller. Even if you are holding the ball in the correct orientation, if the controller position in your hand is slightly off, moving the character can be difficult. I find myself constantly readjusting my grip on the ball so that the joystick moves the character correctly.

The accuracy of “throwing” the Pokéball controller is hit or miss. Sometimes I think I’m throwing it correctly, but the ball goes off to the left or the right and misses. It’s a cool idea, but the accuracy and execution of this controller just doesn’t work all of the time. However, I will say that it is more accurate than trying to use a JoyCon. So, there’s at least that.

If I’ve somehow managed to sell you on getting a Pokéball Plus controller, I’d recommend looking for it at your local Best Buy store. Amazon appears to be out of stock and third parties on Amazon are selling it for $75 or higher. It’s also likely to be a hot seller over the holidays. If you’re considering it as a gift, I’d suggest going and getting it now. Don’t wait for Black Friday sales. It’s not likely to go on sale anyway. Just find it at Best Buy for $50 and pay for it at that price. If you have a Best Buy rewards card, I’d suggest using that with your purchase. You can eventually get some money back on it.

Dock

This game almost completely ignores the fact that there’s a dock and, as a result, doesn’t properly support it. Instead of allowing use of the Pro controller when docked, it forces you to pull the JoyCons off of the Switch or use the Pokéball Plus controller instead. I found the JoyCons to be cumbersome, problematic and unwieldy. We spend $70 for the Pro controller and we can’t even use it. To not be able to use the Pro controller on Pokémon (one of Nintendo’s flagship properties) is just an extremely bad design choice. It also ignores the the idea of using the dock to play your game on your large screen TV. It almost seems the developers want to force you to play this game out of the dock by holding the Switch in your hand. In fact, I’d consider Pokémon Let’s Go to be Nintendo’s first real misstep on the Switch platform. Let’s hope this is not a sign of things to come as missteps like this could doom the Switch to failure.

Game Play

img_0064Not completely ignoring the stupidism that is the controller system (which is stupid), the gameplay is underwhelming. Sure, Nintendo finally added the ability to see the Pokémon running around in the weeds before you collect it, but that’s of little concession when the game is basically the same game as every other DS version.

Let’s go back to the controller again, but for a different reason than above. When you are attempting to capture Pokémon with the JoyCons attached to the Switch, it’s much, much easier and simpler to throw Pokéballs. The ball throwing motion needed when using a detached JoyCon is much, much more difficult for no apparent reason. Worse, when using a loose JoyCon, the hand on the screen when trying to interact with your Pokémon is entirely difficult, where using the touch screen is easy peasy. Here’s another place where forcing the use of a JoyCon a tremendously bad idea. The motion to throw a Pokéball with the Pro controller would mimic the same motion used when holding the console… where using the a detached JoyCon for throwing a Pokéball is … well … strange.

Game Design

img_0068I was actually expecting a whole lot more use of the player camera than what is being offered. It’s effectively a 3DS version ported to the Switch. Nintendo completely missed the opportunity to give this game a much needed facelift for the Switch, like they did for Breath of the Wild. It is effectively the same game as every other Pokémon game. This is quite disappointing, but it’s also a double edged sword.

For some players, it is like a comfortable glove. If you’ve played Pokémon in the past, then you can fall right into this game without any problems at all. It’s old hat and feels old hat. The graphics are improved, but it needed a more open world RPG style update rather than this constrained old-school Pokémon conversion.

I’m sure a lot of people will absolutely adore this game. Because Nintendo has chosen to play games with how the controllers work, it really constrains this game to feeling rushed and unfinished or a really bad port.

Graphics

To be honest, the graphics are very low res, flat and cartoony. I sort of expected this, but not at this low of a level. It’s at such a low level, that it looks like a Nintendo DS. Though, as I said above, it is somewhat better than the DS only from the fact that the resolution is higher… but that’s not really saying much.

Overall, I was expecting a whole lot more from this game.

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Score

Graphics: 4.5 out of 10 (Underwhelming)
Sound: 2 out of 10 (Music is way too loud and unnecessary)
Controls: 2 out of 10 (Controller system is strange, no Pro controller support)

Overall: 4 out of 10 (Antiquated, strange controller design, seems unfinished or bad port)

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Rant Time: SmugMug and Flickr

Posted in botch, business, california by commorancy on November 12, 2018

Flickr2While you may or may not be aware, if you’re a Flickr user, you should be aware. SmugMug bought Flickr and they’re increasing the yearly price by more than double. They’re also changing the free tier. Let’s explore.

Flickr Out

When Flickr came about under Yahoo, it was really the only photo sharing site out there. It had a vibrant community that cared about its users and it offered very good tools. It also offered a Pro service that was reasonably priced.

After Marissa Mayer took over Yahoo, she had the Flickr team redesign the interface, and not for the better. It took on a look and feel that was not only counter-intuitive, it displayed the photos in a jumbled mass that made not only the photos look bad, it made their interface look even worse.

The last time I paid for Pro service, it was for 2 years at $44.95, that’s $22.48 a year. Not a horrible price for what was being offered… a lackluster interface and a crappy display of my photos.

After SmugMug took over, it has done little to improve the interface. In fact, it is still very much the same as it was when it was redesigned and offers little in the way of improvements. We’re talking about a design of a product that started in 2004. In many ways, Flickr still feels like 2004 even with its current offerings.

Status Quo

While Flickr kept their pricing reasonable at about $23 a year, I was okay with that.. particularly with the 2 year billing cycle. I had no incentive to do anything different with the photos I already had in Flickr. I’d let them sit and do whatever they want. In recent months, I hadn’t been adding photos to that site simply because the viewership has gone way, way down. At one point, Flickr was THE goto photo service on the Internet. Today, it’s just a shell of what it once was. With Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest, there’s no real need to use Flickr any longer.

A true Pro photographer can take their work and make money off of it at sites like iStockPhoto, Getty, Alamy and similar stock photo sites. You simply can’t sell your work on Flickr. They just never offered that feature for Pro users. Shit, for the money, Flickr was heavily remiss in not giving way more tools to the Pro users to help them at least make some money off of their work.

Price Increase

SmugMug now owns the Flickr property and has decided to more than double the yearly price. Instead of the once $44.95 every 2 years, now they want us to pay $50 a year for Pro service.

SmugMugFlickr

[RANT ON] So, what the hell SmugMug? What is it that you think you’re offering now that is worth more than double what Yahoo was charging Pro members before you took over Flickr? You’ve bought a 14 year old property. That’s no spring chicken. And you now expect us to shell out an extra $28 a year for an antiquated site? For what? Seriously, FOR WHAT?

We’re just graciously going to give you an extra $28 a year to pay for a 14 year old product? How stupid do you think we are? If you’re going to charge us $28 extra a year, you damned well better give us much better Pro tools and reasons to pay that premium. For example, offer tools that let us charge for and sell our photos as stock photos right through the Flickr interface. You need to provide Pro users with a hell of a lot more service for that extra $28 per year than what you currently offer.

Unlimited GB? Seriously? It already was unlimited. Photos are, in general, small enough not to even worry about size.

Advanced stats? They were already there. It’s not like the stats are useful or anything.

Ad-free browsing? What the hell? How is this even a selling point? It’s definitely not worth an extra $28 per year.

10 minutes worth of video? Who the hell uses Flickr for video? We can’t sell them as stock video! You can’t monetize the videos, so you can’t even make money that way! What other reason is there to use Flickr for video? YouTube still offers nearly unlimited length video sizes AND monetization (if applicable). Where is Flickr in this process? Nowhere.

Flickr is still firmly stuck in 2004 with 2004 ideals and 2004 mentality. There is no way Flickr is worth $50 a year. It’s barely worth $20 a year. [RANT MOSTLY OFF]

New Subscribers and Pro Features

Granted, this is pricing grandfathered from Yahoo. If you have recently joined Flickr as a Pro user, you’re likely paying $50 a year. 50 US dollars per year, I might add that’s entirely not worth it.

Let’s understand what you (don’t) get from Flickr. As a Pro user, you’re likely purchasing into this tier level to get more space and storage. But, what does that do for you other than allowing you to add more photos? Nothing. In fact, you’re paying Flickr or the privilege of letting them advertise on the back of your photo content.

Yes, you read that right. Most people searching Flickr are free tier users. Free tier gets ads placed onto their screens, including on your pages of content. You can’t control the ads they see or that your page might appear to endorse a specific product, particularly if the ad is placed near one of your photos. Ads that you might actually be offended by. Ads that make Flickr money, but that Flickr doesn’t trickle back into its paying Pro users. Yes, they’re USING your content to make them money. Money that they wouldn’t have had without your content being there. Think about that for a moment.

Advertising on your Content

Yes, that’s right, you’re actually paying Flickr $50 for the privilege of them placing ads onto your page of content. What do they give you in return? A larger storage limit that’s effectively useless? Even the biggest photos don’t take much space… not nearly as much space as a YouTube video. Flickr knows that. They hope us users don’t see the wool being pulled over our eyes. Yet, do you see YouTube charging its channels for the privilege of uploading or storing content? No. In fact, if your channel is big enough, YouTube’ll even share ad revenue with you. Yahoo, now SmugMug, has never shared any of its ad revenue with its users, let alone Pro users. Bilking… that’s what it is.

On the back of that problem, Flickr has never offered any method of selling or licensing your photos within Flickr. If ever there was  ‘Pro’ feature that needed to exist, it would be selling / licensing photos.. like Getty, like iStockPhotos, like Alamy. Instead, what has Flickr done in this area? Nothing.. other than the highly unpopular and horrible redesign released in 2013 which was all cosmetic (and ugly at that)… and that affected all users, not just Pro. Even further, what as SmugMug done for Flickr? Absolutely nothing… zip, zero, zilch, nada. Other than spending money to acquire Flickr, SmugMug has done nothing… and it shows.

Free Tier Accounts

For free tier users, SmugMug has decided to limit the maximum number of uploaded photos to 1000. This is simply a money making ploy. They assume that free tier users will upgrade to Pro simply to keep their more than 1000 photos in the account. Well, I can’t tell you what to do with your account, but I’ve already deleted many photos to reduce my photo count below 1000. I have no intention of paying $50 a year to SmugMug for the “privilege” of allowing them to monetize my photos. No thanks.

If you are a free tier user, know that very soon they will be instituting the 1000 photo limit. This means that you’ll either have to upgrade or delete some of your photos below 1000.

Because the Flickr platform is now far too old to be considered modern, I might even say that it’s on the verge of being obsolete… and because the last upgrade that Marissa had Yahoo perform on Flickr made it look like a big turd, I’m not willing to pay Flickr / SmugMug $50 a year for that turd any longer. I’ve decided to get off my butt and remove photos, clean up my account and move on. If SmugMug decides to change their free tier further, I’ll simply move many of my photos over to DeviantArt where there are no such silly limits and then delete my Flickr account entirely.

If enough people do this, it will hurt SmugMug bad enough to turn that once vibrant Flickr community into a useless wasteland. I believe that outcome will actually become a reality anyway in about 2 years.

SmugMug

This company is aptly named, particularly after this Flickr stunt. They’re definitely smug about their ability bilk users out of their money without delivering any kind of useful new product. It would be entirely one thing if SmugMug had spent 6-12 months and delivered a full features ad revenue system, a stock photo licensing tool and a store-front to sell the photos. With all of these additions, $50 a year might be worth it, particularly if SmugMug helped Flickr users promote and sell their photos.

Without these kinds of useful changes, $50 is just cash without delivering something useful. If all you want to do is park your images, you can do that at Google, at Tumblr, at Pinterest, at Instagram and several other photo sharing sites just like Flickr. You can even park them at Alamy and other sites and make money from your photographic efforts.

Why would you want to park them at Flickr / SmugMug when they only want to use your photos to make Flickr / SmugMug money from advertising on a page with you content? It just doesn’t make sense. DeviantArt is actually a better platform and lets you sell your photos on various types of media and various sizes.

Email Sent to Support

Here’s an email I sent to Flickr’s support team. This email is in response to Margaret who claims they gave us “3 years grace period” for lower grandfathered pricing:

Hi Margaret,

Yes, and that means you’ve had more than ample time to make that $50 a year worth it for Pro subscribers. You haven’t and you’ve failed. It’s still the same Flickr it was when I was paying $22.48 a year. Why should I now pay over double the price for no added benefits? Now that SmugMug has bought it, here we are now being forced to pay the $50 a year toll when there’s nothing new that’s worth paying $50 for. Pro users have been given ZERO tools to sell our photos on the platform as stock photos. Being given these tools is what ‘Pro’ means, Margaret. We additionally can’t in any way monetize our content to recoup the cost of our Pro membership fees. Worse, you’re displaying ads over the top our photos and we’re not seeing a dime from that revenue.

Again, what have you given that makes $50 a year worth it? You’re really expecting us to PAY you $50 a year to show ads to free users over the top of our content? No! I was barely willing to do that with $22.48 a year. Of course, this will all fall on deaf ears because these words mean nothing to you. It’s your management team pushing stupid efforts that don’t make sense in a world where Flickr is practically obsolete. Well, I’m done with using a 14 year old decrepit platform that has degraded rather than improved. Sorry Margaret, I’ve removed over 2500 photos, cancelled my Pro membership and will move back to the free tier. If SmugMug ever comes to its senses and actually produces a Pro platform worth using (i.e., actually offers monetization tools or even a storefront), I might consider paying. As it is now, Flickr is an antiquated 14 year old platform firmly rooted in a 2004 world. Wake up, it’s 2018! The iStockphotos of the world are overtaking you and offering better Pro tools.

Bye.

Reasons to Leave

With this latest stupid pricing effort and the lack of effort from SmugMug, I now firmly have a reason to leave Flickr Pro. I have deleted over 2500 photos from Flickr which is now below 1000 photos (the free tier level). After that, it will remain on free tier unless SmugMug decides to get rid of that too. If that happens, I’ll simply delete the rest of the photos and the account and move on.

I have no intention of paying a premium for a 14 year old site that feels 14 years old. It’s 2004 technology given a spit and polish shine using shoelaces and chewing gum. There’s also no community at Flickr, not anymore. There’s really no reason to even host your photos at Flickr. It’s antiquated by today’s technology standards. I also know that I can’t be alone in this. Seriously, paying a huge premium to use a site that was effectively designed in 2004? No, I don’t think so.

Oh, well, it was sort of fun while it lasted. My advice to SmugMug…

“Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!” Buh Bye. Oh and SmugMug… STOP SENDING ME EMAILS ABOUT THIS ‘CHANGE’.


If you’re a Flickr Pro subscriber, I think I’ve made my thoughts clear. Are you willing to pay this price for a 14 year old aging photo sharing site? Please leave a comment below.

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Why Star Trek Discovery is not canon

Posted in botch, business, entertainment, TV Shows by commorancy on November 2, 2018

A lot of “fans” of the latest Star Trek TV series installment of Star Trek Discovery claim to love the show. They also claim that because the show runners have claimed Discovery is official canon, that the show is canon. But, is it? Let’s explore.

What is Canon?

Canon is previous story and characters that a show must follow so as not to contradict something that has come before. Yet, Discovery has contradicted established canon all along the way. The first contradiction was the Klingons with their … well, let me show a picture:

Star-Trek-Discovery-TKuvma-Klingon-Leader

This is a Discovery Klingon. This Klingon above looks nothing like these 3:

NextGeneration Klingon

or even this Klingon from a TOS episode:

Classic-klingon

The latter two having been Klingons in The Next Generation and in the Original Series, respectively. The “bonehead” Klingons became the norm from 1979 onward. It was the bonehead Klingon design that Gene Roddenberry himself approved.

With Star Trek Discovery, that all changed and now we have the Klingon pictured in the top most image. The difficulty is, “Where did this Klingon come from?”. It doesn’t match the canon approved and used throughout the 80s and 90s and even into the 00s with Star Trek Enterprise.

Now, Discovery appears and gives us this odd designed Klingon that has never been used in any previous series ever. It doesn’t much resemble a Klingon, even though they’re speaking Klingon and have a kind of “bonehead”. The question remains, what happened? Is this design canon or not? Before I answer that question, let’s talk about how this Intellectual Property has been fractured between studios.

Paramount versus CBS

When Roddenberry was alive and even up until not too long ago, Paramount was the sole rights holder of Star Trek. However, when Viacom bought and then split Paramount and CBS, this all changed who owned what and it fractured the Star Trek franchise in unnecessary and inexplicable ways.

A little history. In 1994, Paramount was purchased by Viacom. In 1999, Viacom agreed to purchase CBS. This means that from 1999 to 2005, Viacom owned both Paramount and CBS. In 2005, Viacom’s then board of directors voted to split Paramount and CBS into separate companies for better “shareholder value”.

When the companies split, CBS was given the rights to the Star Trek TV series universe and Paramount was given the rights to the Star Trek motion picture universe. Ultimately, this now gives two separate entertainment companies the rights to create and make up canon in their respective universes. This is ultimately where the fracturing of the intellectual property comes into play and why Discovery is such a mess when it comes to producing its series based on canon.

This split also means that the canon is now split between two separate companies. A franchise disaster, to be honest.

Motion Pictures versus TV series

The TV series includes Star Trek The Original Series, The Animated Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise. These properties up to Enterprise existed at the time of the split. Discovery did not exist then.

The original cast motion pictures include Star Trek The Motion Picture, II, III, IV, V and VI. The Next Generation cast pictures include Generations, First Contact, Insurrection and Nemesis. The Kelvin time line pictures (i.e., J.J. Abrams) include Star Trek (2009 Reboot), Into Darkness, Beyond and there is a possibility of a fourth film which is in limbo as of this article.

This means that CBS owns the rights to the above TV series properties (in addition to Discovery) and Paramount owns the rights to the above Motion Picture properties. It also means that CBS can now ignore motion picture canon and Paramount can ignore TV series canon when producing future works.

Clearly, this is how CBS is proceeding with its latest TV series, Star Trek Discovery. One can argue, the “bonehead” Klingons appear in the TV series. They do. And, to a degree, the design above does appear somewhat like a bonehead Klingon, except without hair, much darker skin, odd shaped facial features and odd shaped outfits. However, no Klingon has ever appeared on screen in any way (TV or Movie) that looks like this Discovery Klingon. This Klingon type is actually the first of its kind… which means, it is NOT Roddenberry canon.

The Trouble with Tribbles

Or, more specifically, the trouble with double ownership of the Star Trek franchise means there is no effective steward maintaining canon. There can’t be. There are two separate companies competing for your almighty Star Trek dollar. One company can make shit up and the other company doesn’t have to use it. This is effectively what CBS is doing… making shit up as they go along because they don’t have to answer to canon placed into the motion pictures. Even then, they’re not following canon established by previous Star Trek TV series either. After all, Star Trek Discovery is clearly set at the same time as The Original Series.

The TV series timeline goes something like (timeline courtesy of Memory Alpha):

2151-2155 -- Star Trek Enterprise (Season 1 thru 4)
2254-2254 -- Star Trek The Original Series: "The Cage" (Episode)
2256-2257 -- Star Trek Discovery (Season 1)
2265-2269 -- Star Trek The Original Series (Seasons 1, 2 and 3)
2269-2270 -- Star Trek The Animated Series (Seasons 1 and 2)
2364-2370 -- Star Trek The Next Generation (Seasons 1 thru 7)
2369-2375 -- Star Trek Deep Space Nine (Season 1 thru 7)
2369-2370 -- Star Trek Enterprise: "These are the Voyages" (Episode)
2371-2378 -- Star Trek Voyager (Seasons 1 thru 7)

As you can see, Star Trek Discovery is actually set BEFORE Star Trek The Original Series, before The Animated Series and before any other series with the exception of one Star Trek TOS episode and Star Trek Enterprise which come before Discovery.

STMP-KlingonBasically, the canon that Star Trek Discovery must adhere to is what is seen in Star Trek Enterprise and in one episode of The Original Series (and, of course, anything in later TV series that corroborate Enterprise and TOS). Enterprise and this one episode of Star Trek TOS are both enough to set canon as to how Discovery should run. Discovery also occurs 9 years prior to The Original Series. However, The Original Series only showed the non-bonehead Klingons while Enterprise showed us both styles of Klingons. This means that both Klingon types already existed in the Roddenberry universe when Star Trek TOS existed. This also means that both Klingon types exist at the time when Discovery is operating. One could argue that Enterprise broke canon by showing us the bonehead Klingons that we wouldn’t see until Star Trek The Motion Picture in 1979 (picture to the left). However, Discovery’s Klingon type comes out of nowhere and goes back into nowhere because this Klingon type won’t exist after Discovery ends.

AfflictionHowever, in the Enterprise episode “Affliction” in the 4th season, I guess this episode is supposed to explain the difference between the bonehead and non-bonehead Klingons and the reasons why the non-bonehead Klingons appear in The Original Series. I think it was a cheap cop-out episode, but hey, at least they held true to the TMP and TOS Klingon designs… which is more than I can say for Discovery.

Discovery, on the other hand, doesn’t hold true to either design. They made their own Klingon canon. They made a Klingon design that has never exited before or after… not in ENT, TOS, TNG, DS9, TAS or Voyager. They’re clearly, “making shit up”.

Additionally, there’s the Spore Drive. Yet again, Discovery is found “making shit up”. This drive type has never been discussed either before or since, yet Discovery has introduced this propulsion system as some experimental thing that only existed during Discovery’s existence. I’m sorry, if the spore drive were a real thing in the Roddenberry universe, there would have been talks of it both in Star Trek TOS and likely Star Trek Enterprise and even in TNG, DS9 and Voyager (it would have at least come up, particularly in Voyager when looking for a way home). That no information was ever discussed regarding this drive system, Discovery is simply creating things out of thin air to make their series more watchable (and make more money). However, there may be another reason… so, keep reading.

Because “The Cage” episode shows us that the Federation chain of command already exists in a formalized and hierarchical command structured way, having Discovery show its characters as chaotic, insubordinate and outright informal makes me believe that the Discovery creators had no intention of following established Roddenberry “Federation” canon. In fact, I will go so far as to say that Star Trek Discovery is actually operating in its own universe. Perhaps it exists in the Kelvin universe along side the reboot Star Trek motion pictures, but I believe it lives in its own new CBS universe. But, Discovery does not live in the same universe as the Roddenberry universe TV shows do.

CBS Universe

Because Star Trek Discovery lives in its own universe, the creators of Discovery can literally make up anything they wish and it will be canon. It’s canon because the show isn’t set in the Roddenberry universe. It’s set in a CBS offshoot universe where everything can and does exist if the creators want it to. In this universe, weird shaped Klingons, spore drives and insubordination are all accepted because in this universe it’s all there.

In the Roddenberry universe, Discovery never existed and couldn’t exist. The spore drive doesn’t exist. The weird Discovery Klingons don’t exist. The F-bombs don’t exist. The nonsensical highly sophisticated NCC-1031 starship doesn’t exist with its operating panel designs that don’t exist on the Federation’s flagship Enterprise NCC-1701 just 9 years later.Star Trek Discovery BridgeDiscovery living in a CBS Universe is the only explanation that can possibly work for this TV show. When a show runner says it’s canon, well it is. But, it’s only canon if you consider that Discovery is a show created in an offshoot CBS universe that has never before existed. It is not canon were it to exist in the Roddenberry universe. Obviously, the show creators aren’t going to make this distinction because they don’t want viewers to understand the difference between the CBS universe and the Roddenberry universe. They just want the viewer to believe it somehow magically exists in the Roddenberry universe when this show clearly cannot.

It’s clear, Discovery does not exist in the Roddenberry universe. It can’t. That universe ended with the close of Star Trek Enterprise. It remains to be seen if the new Patrick Stewart series will be set in Discovery’s CBS universe or if CBS will try to set that series in the Roddenberry universe. My guess is that CBS may want to attempt some type of crossover episodes between Discovery and the as yet unnamed Patrick Stewart series. However, that would be a feat considering that Discovery occurs 98 years earlier from the original TNG series (see timeline). Considering Patrick Stewart’s age now, they’ll have to age forward the new series to have it make sense with Stewart’s current age… which means this new series must occur over 100 years in Discovery’s future. It will then be difficult to have a crossover without time travel. However, they can engineer dual episodes which causes something to happen in Discovery that impacts the Picard series 100 years later. This is akin to a crossover and would establish both series being in the same universe; the CBS universe.

Personally, I’d rather the two series remain entirely independent. No crossovers. No incidental references to prior events in Discovery. This means that Discovery can officially be announced as operating in its own CBS universe and that the Picard series will be set in the Roddenberry universe and no crossovers will be possible.

Kelvin Universe

When J.J. Abrams became part of Paramount’s efforts to reboot the Star Trek movie franchise, he decided to create an entirely new and separate universe. In that effort, he had elder Spock (from the Roddenberry universe) fall through a time hole and land in an alternate universe much earlier in its unfolding life. Elder Spock then meets up with his much younger alternate version of Spock along with younger versions of Kirk, Sulu, Chekov, Uhura, Bones and so on. Basically, these alternate versions of these main characters set the tone of this alternate universe’s ‘Five Year Mission’, set in an alternate Enterprise, set in an alternate timeline known as Kelvin. It’s named after the USS Kelvin, the ship which fell through the time hole with elder Spock. Why is this important?

It’s important to understand this Kelvin alternate universe idea because it appears CBS has done the same exact thing with the Discovery TV series. Instead of trying to disturb and hold true to the Roddenberry universe canon, it’s far easier to create a brand new offshoot universe set in its own time line. This then means the writers can write anything they wish, on any ship they wish, with any technology they wish. Because Paramount has already established their own playground universe for the movies to live in, it appears CBS is also running with this idea and has done the exact same thing with Discovery. Even the name ‘Discovery’ hints at the existence of this alternate universe.

In fact, I believe that this alternate universe will reveal itself and will likely become a big part of Discovery’s future stories. I’m assuming that the writers are holding this point back until just the exact moment when they can reveal a character like Picar… er Spock falling through a time distortion and we can clearly see that Discovery is not set in the Roddenberry universe. It makes for a good plot twist, don’t you think? Holding this point back allows the Discovery writers to craft and unfold an entire season long story arc about this new CBS universe (or whatever name they decide to give it). For now, I’m calling it the CBS universe, but it will likely be named differently after someone from the Roddenberry universe falls into it.

I’d suspect it might be a TNG character who falls through this time. Perhaps Q created this universe? I’d steer clear of Q as using this character always feels like a cop-out. Because Wesley had become a kind of universe traveler, I’d like to see him return a bit older so we can finish out his story arc that never really closed properly in TNG. I might also like to see Kess show up as she also didn’t get proper closure in Voyager. Seeing a new Dax might also be a good way to handle this reveal also. Dax’s immense knowledge and age would allow for some very good stories. Even Guinan might be a good choice to land in Discovery’s alternate universe.

For this reason, I believe that Discovery’s writers and creators are holding back on this idea, but will eventually reveal it. For this reason, the show runners can say that Discovery is canon, because it is, in its own universe. They just haven’t revealed this alternate universe point in the TV series yet. They can string the fans along making them think it’s in the Roddenberry universe when they haven’t yet unveiled the story. It’s still too early in this TV series to reveal a story point this big.

Canon or not?

Because I surmise that Discovery is set in its own CBS universe, which is entirely separate from the Roddenberry and the Kelvin universes, Discovery can be its own bubble show and do whatever it wants with its stories. It doesn’t need to follow any Trek lore or, indeed, anything to do with Trek. It can feel free to “make shit up” however it wishes. I’m fine with that as long as the show runners finally fess up to this. As it is now, trying to shoehorn Discovery into the Roddenberry universe where it doesn’t belong is just stupid.

To answer this Blog’s ultimate question, Discovery is not canon for Roddenberry’s universe. It is canon for its newly created CBS universe. It’s possible that Discovery exists in the Kelvin universe (doubtful) where it may or may not be canon. The difficulty is that, as I said above, the motion picture canon is operated by Paramount. The TV series canon is operated by CBS. This means that never the twain shall meet. This fracturing of intellectual property rights was a horribly bad idea for Star Trek. It has now left this franchise with a fracture right down the middle of its canon. Show producers for Discovery can now claim canon when what they’re doing clearly isn’t canon and cannot possibly be unless the show is set in its own CBS universe (which the CBS universe ultimately has no canon except for what Discovery has created so far).

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