Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Rant Time: What is a Public Safety Power Shutoff?

Posted in bankruptcy, botch, business, california by commorancy on October 10, 2019

candlelightHere’s where jurisprudence meets our every day lives (and safety) and here is also where PG&E is severely deluded and fast becoming a menace. There is actually no hope for this company. Let’s explore.

California Fire Danger Forecasting

“Officials” in California (not sure exactly to which specific organization is referred here) predicted the possibility of high winds, which could spark wildfires. This happened earlier the week of October 7 (or possibly earlier). As I said, these are “predictions”. Yet, as far as I can see, no strong winds have come to pass… a completely separate issue, but it is heavily tied to this story.

Yet, PG&E has taken it upon themselves to begin powering off areas of Northern California in “preparation” for these “predictions”… not because of an actual wind event. If the high winds had begun to materialize, then yes, perhaps mobilize and begin the power shut offs. Did PG&E wait for this? No, they did it anyway.

What exactly is Public Safety?

In the context of modern society, pretty much everything today relies on electric power generation to operate our public safety infrastructure. This infrastructure includes the likes of traffic lights to street lights to hospitals to medical equipment to refrigeration. All of these need power to function and keep the public safe. To date, we have come to rely on monopoly services like PG&E to provide these energy delivery services. Yet, what happens when the one and only one thing that PG&E is supposed to do and they can’t even do it?

Granted, what PG&E has done is intentional, but the argument is, “Are the PG&E power outages in the best interest of public safety?” Let’s explore this even further.

PG&E claims that these power outages will reduce the possibility of a wildfire. Well, that might be true from a self-centered perspective of PG&E as a corporation. After all, they’ve been tapped several times for legal liability over recent wildfire events. They’ve even had to declare bankruptcy to cover those costs incurred as a result. We’ll come to the reason behind this issue a little bit later. However, let’s stay focused on the Public Safety aspect for the moment.

PG&E claims it is in the best public safety interest to shut down its power grid. Yet, let’s explore that thought rationale. Sure, this outage action might reduce the possibility of sparking from a power line, but what it doesn’t take into account is the reduction in and lack of public safety from all of the other normal-everyday-public-safety mechanisms which have also had their power cut. As I said, street lights, traffic lights, hospitals, medical equipment, 911 services, airports and refrigeration.

The short term effect of shutting the power off might save some lives (based on a fire prediction that might not even come true), but then there are other lives which might be lost as a result of the power being shut off for days. Keep in mind that PG&E claims it might take up to 5 days to restore power after this scheduled power off event. That’s a long time to be without standard regular public safety mechanisms (simply ignoring the high wind advisory).

If PG&E has been found responsible for wildfires, then why aren’t they responsible for these incidental deaths that wouldn’t have occurred if the power had remained on. Worse, what about medical equipment and refrigeration? For people who rely on medical equipment to sustain their lives, what about these folks? How many of these could die from this outage? If it truly takes 5 days to get the power back on, what about the foods being sold at restaurants and grocery stores? If you do trust it, you might get sick… very, very sick… as in food poisoning sick. Who is responsible for that? The retailer or the restaurant?

Sure, I guess to some degree it is the retailer / restaurant. They should have thrown the food out and replaced it with fresh foods. Even then, perhaps the distributors were also affected by the outage. We can’t really know how far the food spoilage chain might go. At the root of all of this, though, it is PG&E who chose to cut the power. How many people might die as a result of PG&E force shutting off the power grid versus how many might potentially die if a wildfire ignites?

I’ve already heard there have been a number of traffic accidents because the power has been cut to traffic lights. It’s not a common occurrence to have the power out on intersections. When it does happen, many motorists don’t know the rules… and worse, they simply don’t pay attention to follow them. They just blast on through the intersection. Again, who is responsible for this? The city? No. In this case, it is truly PG&E’s responsibility. The same for food poisoning as a result of the lack of refrigeration. What about the death of someone because their medicine spoiled without refrigeration?

Trading One Evil For Another

Truly, PG&E is playing with fire. They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The reality is, either way, shutting off electricity or leaving it on, PG&E risks the public’s safety. They are simply trading one set of public safety for another. Basically, they are “Robbing Peter to pay Paul.” By trying to thwart the possibility of setting an accidental wildfire, the outage can cause traffic accidents, deaths in hospitals, create food poisoning circumstances and this list goes on and on. When there is no power, this is real danger. Sometimes immediate danger, sometimes latent danger (food poisoning) which may present weeks later.

The reality is, it is PG&E who is responsible for this. PG&E “thinks” (and this is the key word here) that they are being proactive to prevent forest fires. In reality, they’re creating even more public safety issues by cutting the power off indiscriminately.

Cutting Power Off Sanely?

The first problem was in warning the public. PG&E came up with this plan with too short of a notice. The public was not properly notified in advance. If this outage scenario were on the table of options for PG&E to pursue during the wildfire season, this information should have been disseminated early in the summer. People could have had several months to prepare for this eventuality. Instead of notifying months ahead, they chose to notify at a moment’s notice forcing a cram situation when everyone floods the stores and gas stations trying to keep their homes in power and prepare. At the bare minimum, PG&E should be held responsible for inciting public frenzy. Instead, with proper planning and notification, people could have had several months notice to buy generators, stock up on water, buy a propane fridge, buy a propane stove, prep their fridges and freezers, and so on.

With a propane fridge, many people can still have refrigeration in their home during an extended (up to 7 day) power outage. This prevents both spoilage of foods and of medicines. Unfortunately, when it comes to crunch time notices, supplies and products run out quick. Manufacturers don’t build products for crunch time. They build for limited people to buy over a short period of time. Over several months, these manufacturers could have ramped up production for such a situation, but that can’t happen overnight. PG&E was entirely remiss with this notification. For such drastic knee-jerk actions to public safety, it needs to notify the public months in advance of this possibility. This is public menace situation #1.

Indiscriminate Power Outages

Here’s a second big problem with PG&E’s outage strategy. PG&E can’t pick and choose its outages. Instead, its substations cover whole swatches of areas which may include such major public safety issues as traffic lights and hospitals, let alone restaurants and grocery stores whose food is likely to spoil.

If PG&E could sanely turn off power to only specific businesses and residences without risking the power to hospitals, cell phone infrastructure, 911 and traffic infrastructure, then perhaps PG&E’s plan might be in a better shape. Unfortunately, PG&E’s outage strategy is a sledgehammer approach. “Let’s just shut it all down.”, I can almost hear them say. Dangerous! Perhaps even more long term dangerous than the possibility of not setting a wildfire. Who’s to say? This creates public menace situation #2.

Sad Infrastructure

Unfortunately, this whole situation seems less about public safety and more about CYA. PG&E has been burned (literally) several times over the last few wildfire seasons. In fact, they were both literally and monetarily burned so hard that this is less about actual public safety and more about covering PG&E’s legal butt. Even then, as I said above, PG&E isn’t without legal liability simply because they decided to cut the power to thwart a wildfire. In fact, while the legal liability might not be for causing a wildfire, instead it might be for incidental deaths created by outages at intersections, by deaths created in hospitals and in homes due to medical equipment failure, by deaths created via food spoilage in restaurants and grocery stores… and even food spoilage or lack of medical care in the home.

The reality behind PG&E’s woes is not tied to its supposedly proactive power outage measures, it is actually tied to its aging infrastructure. Instead of being proactive and replacing its wires to be less prone to sparking (what it should have been doing for the last 10 years or more), it has done almost nothing in this area. Instead of cutting back brush around its equipment, it has resorted to turning the power off. Its liability in wildfires is almost directly attributable to relying on infrastructure created and installed decades ago by the likes of Hetch Hetchy (and other early electric infrastructure builders) back in the early 1900s. I’m not saying that every piece of this infrastructure is nearly 100 years old, but some of it is. That’s something to think about right there.

PG&E does carry power from Hetch Hetchy to its end users via Hetch Hetchy generation facilities, but more importantly, through PG&E’s monopoly electric lines to its end users. PG&E also generates its own electricity from its own facilities. It also carries power from other generation providers like SVCE. The difficulty with PG&E is its monopoly in end user delivery. No other company is able to deliver power to PG&E’s end user territory, leaving consumers with only ONE commercial choice to power their home. End users can opt to install their own in-home energy generation systems such as solar, wind or even diesel generators (when the city allows), but that’s not a “commercial” provider like PG&E.

Because PG&E has the market sewn up, everyone who uses PG&E is at their mercy to provide solid continuous power… that is, until they don’t. This is public menace situation #3.

Legal Troubles

I’m surprised that PG&E has even decided to use this strategy considering its risky nature. To me, this forced power outage strategy seems as big a liability in and of itself as it does against wildfires.

PG&E is assigned one task: Deliver Power. If it can’t do this, then PG&E needs to step aside and let another company more experienced in to replace PG&E’s dominance in power delivery. If PG&E can’t even be bothered to update its aging equipment, which is at the heart of this entire problem, then it definitely needs to step aside and let a new company start over. Sure, a new company will take time to set it all up, but once it’s going, PG&E can quietly wind down and go away… which may happen anyway considering both its current legal troubles and its bankruptcy.

The state should, likewise, allow parties significantly impacted by this forced power outage (i.e., death or injury) to bring lawsuits against PG&E for its improperly planned and indiscriminately executed power outage. Except, because PG&E is still in bankruptcy court, consumers who are wronged by this outage must stand in line behind all of those who are already in line at PG&E’s bankruptcy court. I’m not even sure why the bankruptcy judge would have even allowed this action by PG&E while still in bankruptcy. Considering the possibility of significant additional legal liabilities incurred by this forced outage, the bankruptcy judge should have foreseen this and denied its action. It’s almost like PG&E execs are all, “F-it, we’ll just turn it all off and if they want to sue us, they’ll have to get in line.” This malicious level of callous disregard for public safety needs much more state and legal scrutiny. The bankruptcy judge should have had a say over this action by PG&E. That they didn’t, this makes public menace situation number 4, thus truly making PG&E an official public safety menace and a nuisance.

Updated 10/11/2019 — Clarification

I’ve realized that while one point was made in the article, it wasn’t explicitly called out.  To clarify this point, let’s explore. Because PG&E acted solely on a predicted forecast and didn’t wait for the wind event to actually begin, PG&E’s actions egregiously disregarded public safety. As I said in the main body of the article above, PG&E traded one “predicted” public safety event for actual real incurred public safety events. By proceeding to shut down the power WITHOUT the predicted wind event manifesting, PG&E acted recklessly towards public safety. As a power company, their sole reason to exist is to provide power and maintain that public safety. By summarily shutting down power, not only did they fail to provide the one thing they are in business to do, they shut the power down for reasons other than for fire safety. As I stated above, this point is the entire reason that PG&E is now an official menace to the public.

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One Year Later: Has Fallout 76 improved?

Posted in botch, business, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on October 1, 2019

12-7-2018_5-55-03_AM-iujn21rsSeeing that Fallout 76 is an online multiplayer game and that Bethesda heavily enjoys its revisionist tendencies, this question arises about not only this game, but about revisionism in video games in general. It’s ironic then that this simple brown paper bag has come to represent everything wrong with Fallout 76. Has Fallout 76 gotten any better in nearly one year since its release? Let’s explore.

Revisionism in Entertainment

There’s something to be said for revisionism. As many entertainment products today are delivered digitally and are now also being created digitally these days, this opens the door to revisionism. The difficulty with changing stuff is that what we initially purchased is not what that thing is today. Whether it be a movie, a book, TV series or even a video game. I’m actually surprised it hasn’t happened in the music industry so far.

Throughout the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, visual and literary entertainment was always set in stone. Heck, this idea goes back into the renaissance with such works as the Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Though, even then there were controversies with some clergy deciding that fig leaves needed to be added to certain artworks, thus forcing a revision. These instances were rare and usually happened while the work was in progress. However, sometimes a second artist might be commissioned later to paint fig leaves. What that usually meant was, what you saw when it first arrived is the same thing you’ll still see today. Unfortunately, too many entertainment makers see revisionism as something to make their product better, but does it? Can changing the content of a book, movie or video game a year or two later actually make it better?

This is up for debate. What it does is make the entertainment become a cloudy and murky experience. What you fondly remember about the product and experience could be completely invalidated because a creator later decides to completely rework large portions and change what you remembered most.

In fact, many people remember works for certain specific things that happened within. If revisionist changes remove or alter those specific sections so that they are no longer in the work, you may have modified what people remembered about your product. And this is the fundamental problem. Such revisionism can actually make a product worse. Fallout 76 is a poster child for this problem.

Editing for Correction

Now, I’m not against basic editing. In a written work, if you misspell a word, need to correct grammatical errors or word omissions, these are perfectly acceptable changes. If the dialog in a film is misspoken or acted in a less than professional and convincing way, I’m fine with a reshoot and reedit so long as the dialog and scene remains functionally equivalent. These are all edits that make sense in the context of a body of work. They don’t substantially alter the work, they simply polish it. Polishing a work to make at work the most professional it can be is perfectly acceptable.

However, changing a work by adding substantial content, altering the story, changing the outcome, changing the setups, changing the rules and so on, these are not simple corrections. These change the fundamental story outcome. These substantial changes are considered revisionism and are way outside the bounds of simple corrections. That would be like someone deciding to change the Mona Lisa’s smile on the original painting simply because they think it is too vague. You just don’t do this to the original work. Sure, you can create a derivation of that work and publish it separately, but you should never alter the original work by substantially changing its content.

For this reason in the art community, there’s a lot of controversy about “cleaning up” historical works of art that have layers of dirt, dust and debris on the surface. The “clean up” process could amount to changing the fundamental work rather than being a simple cleanup. The chemicals used might even long term damage the work. It means someone has to take liquids to the work, clean off the “dirty” layers and expose the “clean fresh” layers. The difficulty is, by doing this it may remove original content intended to be there by the original artist. With older works where the artist is no longer living, we cannot consult them for how to best “clean” their works. It’s all best guess. Modifying and cleaning these works may make them look better, but does it fundamentally alter the content? This is the contentious and controversial part… and it is exactly this controversial part that applies to ALL works when they are revised.

Reuse of Assets in Video Games

Video games are both entertainment and works of art. In fact, it takes a lot of graphical art content created by teams of artists to release a video game. Such art includes texture maps which get layered onto 3D objects. These maps make the objects appear naturalistic and real. Granted, some of the art is scanned from actual nature… such as tree leaves scanned in from real trees to create realistic trees in a 3D landscape. Even skin surfaces are likely scanned from actual human skin. However, some texture maps are hand crafted, stylistic art. These are the truest art in every sense of the word.

Revisionism in texture map art isn’t really a big problem in the video game world. In fact, once these “assets” have been created, it’s more likely a video game publisher will overuse these assets rather than modify them. By ‘overuse’ I mean reuse them not only in the original game, but future games also. I’m sure the devs think, “Why recreate the wheel with every new game?” Instead, reusing assets that already exist makes sense in some limited cases. Reuse also costs less development money.

On the other hand, reusing too many assets from a previous work makes your current work seem less than original. That would be tantamount to an author taking whole passages from a novel and copying and pasting them into a new novel. After all, if they worked in the old novel, why wouldn’t they work in the new novel? At least, that’s the thinking. The problem that creators overlook is that consumers can easily spot these reuses. Consumers can overlook small reuses of words and phrases in a novel, particularly if a specific character has a peculiar speech idiosyncrasy when using those words and phrases. In this specific case, it adds to character development. However, there’s a fine line between reusing words and phrases to make a character development point and plagiarizing your own past works. Consumers do recognize large plagiaristic reuses and judge the work’s merit accordingly.

Fallout 76

Here is where we come to the crux of this article and Fallout 76. Fallout 76 is a completely hosted, online video game world. It is also a world almost entirely derived from Fallout 4 with only the terrain, cities and landscape being different, but at the same time entirely reusing nearly every Fallout 4 asset and even the game engine itself.

Fallout 76 is also a world where nothing except assets and visual and audio data exists on your computer device. It is a game where only the rendering occurs on your device. The actual game world itself resides remotely on servers that Bethesda owns and operates. Even your character and saved game exists not on your computer, but on Bethesda’s server. If Bethesda shuts down the Fallout 76 service, so too does your character disappear along with all of the time you spent creating that character. Unlike Fallout 4 where your saved games live on your device and you can reload and play the game years later, Fallout 76 is beholden to Bethesda to remain in business for this game service to continue to exist. If Bethesda were to fold or shut the game down, Fallout 76 would cease to exist along with all of the work and time you spent with your character. All you’ll have left is a bulky game client on your device with no where to connect. Only videos or screen shots you may have of your game progress saved on your local device will be there to remember what that game was. I should point out that in Fallout 4, if you use mods, you should also make sure you have a saved game without mods. If Bethesda shuts down entirely, so too does Bethesda.net. This means that you will not be able to unload or remove mods as long as Bethesda.net remains down. So, make sure you have a vanilla save of your character without any mods loaded in case this eventuality occurs (side note). While Fallout 4 is playable without Internet, Fallout 76 is entirely dependent on it.

What that also means is that because the Fallout 76 engine runs remotely, it means Bethesda can roll out wholesale changes to the product at will and at any time. And, unfortunately, they perform this revisionism regularly. However, they’re not performing this revisionism in a way that makes ‘editing’ sense.

Earlier I discussed simple editing that allows for polishing a product. Unfortunately, that’s not what Bethesda is doing with its Fallout 76 revisionism. Instead of polishing Fallout 76 to fix basic bugs, glitches and improve the basic performance and fundamental user experience, Bethesda is adding large new sections of content and changing the rules of the game. The added content is over and above (and outside) of the context of the original game story as it was released. In fact, most of the additional content that Bethesda has so far added has not impacted the base original game. Even though this is still a form of revisionism, it revises the work by adding new stuff, but at the expense of not correcting basic problems within the original game… and not expanding the game in actually meaningful Fallout-themed ways.

“Where is the game today?”, you ask. Great question. Fallout 76’s original “Adventure Mode’s” fundamental game experience is still the same as it was when it launched (as lackluster as it is), bugs and all. Unfortunately, to add many of the new additions to the game, Bethesda has had to tinker with some of the fundamental game mechanics and rules that operate the base game. What that has meant to the game is broken, changed and altered base game playability. This means that for Bethesda to add these inconsequential new features, it has broken even more pieces of a game which where formerly fully working… in addition to the broken features that have not yet been fixed. They’ve even introduced newly broken features.

And here is where Fallout 76 is today. Instead of Bethesda focusing on simple basic editing to correct fundamental and original game flaws to make the original gaming experience better, it has decided to focus almost solely on adding new content to the game in an attempt to attract new consumers. In that process it has broken even more of the game rather than fixing original broken functionality. It is an entirely flawed rationale.

While Bethesda’s changes may seem to bring in new players for the short term, the difficulty is that these newly added game additions have severely limited play value. In fact, these additions have such limited play value, I’d expect gamers to get tired of playing them within 1-2 weeks at most. Most give up on them in only a few days. The original game might take you a month or two to get through. Yet, these newest additions might hold someone’s interest for a week (usually less) if you’re lucky! Yeah, that’s a lot of work for such a tiny payoff. Worse, these additions do not extend or modify the original story. These are effectively “mods” that add something new, but add no value to the original game’s story or content or, indeed, expand Fallout in consequential ways. These additions are effectively end-game content. They’re tiny and almost entirely inconsequential.

Backpack

I won’t go into discussing every addition, but I will discuss this one because it offers us insight into Bethesda’s thinking. This add-on item gives the player a backpack that offers a little more carry weight based on the character’s level. A level 10 character, for example, would get fractionally more carry weight (10 points). For each 10 levels, your character will get maybe 10 more carry weight, but you’re required to toss the old backpack and recreate a new one to get the updated carry weight, thus applying all new mods again to get your new backpack back to look like your old backpack’s setup.

It’s a lot of work doing this at each 10 levels. This is one of the fundamental design problems with this game. Instead of directly allowing leveling up of existing armor and weapons, you must scrap it and recreate it anew… or find it again. If it’s Legendary, then it is stuck at whatever level it is. Most weapons and armor top out at level 50 and the perk benefits stop there. This effectively means that even if your character is level 150 or 300, you’re still wearing level 50 armor…. which effectively caps the player’s level at 50. The level cap is not based on what your character’s level is, but the maximum of your armor and your weapons. When these max out at level 50, being a level 300 player doesn’t really in any way help you. The only thing it does is means you’ve been playing the game for a long time. But, effectively your level is capped by the highest level armor and weapons you have on you.

The small backpack, I believe, tops out also at level 50 with a maximum of 60 carry weight. You can’t infinitely keep leveling up the backpack. Though, there is a large backpack that doubles this carry weight, but requires even more grinding to achieve. This means that once you reach level 50 and can craft a level 50 backpack, that’s as far as the small backpack perk goes. Sure, you can add on additions like the cooler and other perks, but all of that is still capped at the maximum level of that backpack.

Unfortunately, for the backpack, the situation gets worse. When it was first introduced, the way to get the small backpack was through a series of convoluted quest lines involving a “Boy Scout” badge-like approach. You had to get “badges”. To get these badges, you had to perform any number of varying activities. You only had to have three of a larger number of badges. Once you had three badges, you then presented yourself with your badges and a successfully completed test and you were issued the small backpack plans. So then you graduated to the Possum rank only to start this whole process all over again for a second series of grinds to get the large backpack plans.

However, later, Bethesda in its infinite revisionist tendencies decided that you could simply go find the small backpack plans in a container. No longer did you need to jump through all of the convoluted lengthy tadpole badge hoop quests. Quests, I might add that could be difficult to accomplish without a teammate. For example, to complete one of the quests, you had to “revive an ally”. What that meant is staging it with a teammate. It’s not super easy to die in Fallout 76. Even then, there are two death types. One type is an incapacitated death where a player can stimpak and revive you. The other death type offers no hope of revival. The player simply has to respawn somewhere and start over.

Staging an incapacitated death can be difficult at the best of times. Getting this specific badge meant either grinding until you ‘accidentally’ found someone in that state or staging it to get it done sooner. Staging this is harder than you might think. I’m not even sure why this was required for the badge, yet there we are. Like using liquid flux to create fusion cores, reviving an ally is a questionable requirement for this quest line. I’m not even sure what Bethesda was thinking. Some of these requirements make no sense.

The point is, Bethesda invalidated the need to go to through the long “Boy Scout” quest line allowing you to bypass all of that by simply grabbing the plans, as long as you know where the container is (which is incidentally located in Morgantown Airport in the Overseer’s Cache). Though, if you wanted the backpack extras, you still had to go through the badge quests to earn scout credits to buy these additions (yet another currency type in the game)… as if caps, scrip and atom were not yet enough.

Bugs, Bugs and more Bugs

I’m not talking about the flying kind here. Worse, because Bethesda has chosen to prioritize the addition of new content over pretty much everything else, it likewise means Bethesda’s team has completely ignored fixing even the most basic of flaws in the original base game.

For example, in a video game that relies on shooting mechanics and melee attacks to function, you’d think a AAA developer could at least make these mechanics sound and “just work”. Unfortunately, even in the base game which was released a year ago, these fundamental basics have never functioned correctly. You can literally shoot directly at enemies and the bullets simply won’t connect. Not just once, but many times in a row. Even button presses on the controller aren’t reliable. Press, press, press… and nothing. It might take 5 successive presses for even one press to be registered by the game. This is a actually first in the video game industry. No other game have I ever played where a game’s control is this unresponsive and unreliable. If, as a video game developer, you can’t even register a button press from a controller, perhaps you shouldn’t be in the video game business?

Anyway, while the game consumes the ammo and shows the animation of the gun doing its thing, the game doesn’t recognize the collision on the enemy, even when you’re standing less than arm’s-length next to the enemy.

Oh, but it gets worse. When you spawn into a game world, there’s a huge time delay between the time when your character appears in the game world and when the visual part of the game releases control to you to begin playing. This time discrepancy is not insignificant. It could be upwards of 1-2 minutes before your game is handed control and the world is fully rendered. What that means is that if you spawn into a “hot zone” of enemies, your character could be dead before the loading screen has even disappeared.

Fallout 76 has even more basic problems. For example, when you spawn into a new game world, your character can spawn into a “blast zone”. A blast zone is a zone where another player has set off a nuke and irradiated the area. Irradiated areas in Fallout 76 last for at least 30 minutes to an hour real time, maybe longer. Because you’re spawned into the “last place” where your character formerly was and because you’re not given a choice where to spawn on load in, you could load into an irradiated zone unprepared. This, of course once again, means your player is dead upon spawning in. Worse, because the game force drops all of your junk upon character death, you’ve lost all of the junk you were carrying with little hope of getting it back. If your character does not have the preparation to handle a nuke zone (Hazmat suit or similar), you can’t venture in and get your stuff back. If you choose to hop servers to get out of that blast zone, you definitely can’t get your junk back. Junk drops exist in only one server. If your character dies in one game world and you are forced to hop game servers, your junk is forever gone. One of Todd Howard’s promises of Fallout 76 was that we shouldn’t need worry about ‘servers’. Yet, in this case, we very much do.

These are bugs that shouldn’t exist. These are bugs that should have been solved before the game was ever released. Yet, here we are a year later and they still exist. These are, by no means, the only problems / bugs in this game. In fact, there are so many bugs, I could write a book and still miss some. Anyway, let’s make a small-ish list:

  • Looping “stuck” audio out of one or both audio channels
  • Random server disconnects
  • Random inventory lost
  • Random character deaths
  • Getting stuck in power armor
  • The “wendigo” character problem (character has stretched elongated limbs)
  • Getting stuck on scenery (forced to fast travel)
  • Spawning inside of objects (stuck)
  • VATs doesn’t calculate accuracy correctly
  • VATs not working correctly
  • Perk cards not working (Storm Chaser almost never works when it’s raining)
  • Lack of perk cards for certain basic features (no weight reduction for rifle class?)
  • Too many perk cards for some functions (how many rifleman cards do we need?)
  • The Scorchbeast Queen event only appears IF another player decides to nuke that area. If not, the event never appears… and it’s the biggest multiplayer event in the game! … and yes, I do consider this a bug.
  • Losing junk after character death because of “server disconnect”
  • Stupid crafting recipes:
    • Fusion Cores — Crafting a fusion core requires only every single version of stable flux? Wait..what? You’re making a nuclear battery. It should require aluminum, copper, nuclear waste, plastic and silver. You can’t make a battery from liquid flux alone! Where does the case come from? The properties of flux, while irradiated, cannot produce an electric current in its liquid form when simply combined, let alone produce a hard shell case that approximates the shape of a fusion core.
    • Tick Blood Tequila — This one requires pure crimson flux. What? It’s not named Irradiated Tick Blood Tequila, it’s named Tick Blood Tequila. It shouldn’t require ANY flux.
    • Stable Flux — Making stable flux requires components that are only available in nuke zones and, more specifically, only available in very specific nuked zones. And even more specifically, are only dropped from very specific killed enemies in these very specific nuked zones. To craft stable flux requires 10 “raw” flux and 1 each of glowing mass, high radiation fluids and hardened mass. You cannot find raw flux, glowing mass, high radiation fluids or hardened mass on ANY other enemy in the game, in any other containers or in any other non-irradiated locations. The additional components can only be found in irradiated zones on very specific enemies after a kill. Even then, these drops are not guaranteed.. which means you need to kill A LOT of them to find all three of these “extra” components. Stable flux is easily the rarest required item in the game… not including cosmetic outfits (Red Asylum Outfit, Witch’s Costume, White Powder Jumpsuit, etc).  Not only are they rare, but they weigh a ton. Each Stable Flux weighs 1 unless you have the perk Pack Rat card which reduces the weight of all junk items.
    • Raw Flux — Separate but related to the above, raw flux is only found in nuke zones. It cannot be found anywhere else in the game. This means that every player in the game is beholden to other players to “create” a nuke zone to enable obtaining of not only raw flux, but high radiation fluid, glowing mass and hardened mass. You can obtain flux from the Queen event when it closes, but only if it just happens to drop it at the end and only if the event closes successfully. Raw flux (when refined to stable) is a required component for certain quests and crafting as well (Tick Blood Tequila and Fusion Cores).  Note that raw flux is considered ‘Aid’ not ‘Junk’. You’ll have to apply Thru-Hiker to reduce the weight for these.
    • Why Raw Flux is Aid and Stable Flux is Junk, I’ve no idea. But, inconsistency abounds in this otherwise mediocre game… thus one big reason why it IS mediocre.
    • Any other recipes that require “stable” flux
    • There’s not a single recipe that requires “raw” flux. Yet, it’s a huge component in the game. Raw flux is not even worth much anymore (revisionism at its finest).
    • Food Recipes — Most food recipes only provide food and nothing else. Sure, you can go find other more fancy recipes, yet they also only provide food. I’m not sure what Bethesda was thinking here, but if you spend the time to go track down a specific advanced recipe, that recipe should provide more than simple food. It should provide a perk increase, such as added luck or agility or improved health or AP regeneration. Yet, most advanced recipes offer none of this. What’s the incentive to find and craft advanced recipes when it provides nothing more than what a basic recipe provides? Sometimes even the most basic recipes offer better perks than the “advanced” recipes.
    • DLC — The add-ons that Bethesda has offered beyond the base game have excluded the use of perk cards entirely. For example, the distillery added to the game during a spring DLC addition gave us the ability to craft alcohol using a newly added crafting table. The problem is, none of the existing base game perk cards apply to this new crafting table. And no new perk cards were introduced, either. For example, Super Duper is one of the most widely used base game cards. This card offers the chance to double whatever you craft on crafting tables… except, this card does not apply to the distillery crafting table. While you can sometimes double your output while crafting stimpaks or radaway or when crafting ammo, you cannot double the output when crafting beer, wine or whiskey. It makes no sense, if Super Duper applies to all other crafting tables, it should apply to the distiller crafting table. That Bethesda selectively declines to apply known perk cards to its add-ons is just a jerk move… and, in my opinion, makes the game worse.

And here we come to even more issues:

  • Gun ammo is unloaded at every game load-in — Instead of the game remembering which gun was currently being held and how much ammo it has, the game unloads the gun of ammo on login. This means that if the game crashes or you quit and come back later, you must reload your weapon immediately upon login. If you fail to remember to do this MANUALLY, you will ‘click’ and nothing happens.
  • Quests fail to progress for nonsensical reasons — Quests can get stuck simply because the game won’t recognize the most basic of things. Some quests requires that you be drunk to complete them. In some cases, the game simply won’t progress even though the UI shows the effect is active. The quest simply chooses to ignore it and not progress.
  • Quests disappear — You can be questing along, then have the game crash only to load in and find that quest is no longer part of your quest inventory.
  • Quests cannot be abandoned — In previous Bethesda games, you could quit a quest and restart it by going back to the source. That is not possible in Fallout 76. If you pick up a quest, it stays in your quest inventory forever (or until it randomly disappears on its own). This is particularly problematic for quests that reload with incredibly loud voice overs (Grafton and Rose).
  • Quest markers do not always appear in the HUD — Quests put up markers in the compass HUD. Yet, at times, these markers are simply not there. Not all quest progressions are easy to locate. Perhaps it’s a specific computer terminal in a building with perhaps 20 terminals. Without a marker, you would have to run to every single terminal in the building and try them all. It’s one thing if a game is based on having no markers. It’s entirely another if the game has quest markers that fail to work reliably… and this is where Fallout 76 lives.
  • Music that can’t be muted — There is certain environmental music that cannot be muted. Even though I’ve turned off music in settings, the game insists on still playing music at certain events.
  • Paper Bags Drops — For a long while, dropping items into the environment was fraught with peril. You could drop something that should appear in a paper bag, yet no bag would ever appear and your item was entirely lost. While it seems that this issue may have been mostly solved, it still exists occasionally. I have dropped paper bags which never appeared even after it was claimed to have been fixed.

So now, let’s discuss C.A.M.P. bugs. I’d rather not because there’s a huge laundry list of items here, but let’s do it anyway.

  • Camp Circumference — When you drop your camp down, a circle is created that outlines the border of your camp’s buildable areas. You can’t see this circle in full. You are limited by seeing this circle from a ground perspective. This mean you must guess as to exactly how this circle fits onto the ground. If you get it wrong, you must pay to move your camp again. Each time you move your camp, you lose more caps. You can’t adjust or fine tune your camp’s circle. It is where it lands. Bethesda could have raised the camera off the ground to show us the circle from above, yet nope.
  • Randomly disappearing objects — I’ve had a number of camp objects that I’ve built simply disappear. Sure, someone reading might think, “Oh, it was just damaged and needs to be repaired”. Nope, I’ve checked that. The object is simply gone. I’ve had this bug happen a month after the game launched and I’ve had it happen as recently as a week before writing this article. This is a long standing bug that has basically existed since the game launched… and it still exists today. Worse, when these objects disappear, they still contribute to the camp’s budget. Even deleting everything in your camp will not free up these lost objects. Writing Bethesda support won’t lead to anything fruitful. The Bethesda support team actually does nothing other than write emails about how they can do nothing to help you.
  • Camp Budget — Bethesda has increased the camp budget exactly once… when they introduced the Distiller crafting table. Even then, you can’t build much with the allotted camp budget. It’s large enough to create a small structure, but if you want to defend that structure with turrets, expect to make your camp buildings much, much smaller. Turrets still cost a whopping amount of camp budget simply to create a single turret. If you want 5 turrets, expect at least 1/4 of your camp budget gone (perhaps even more than this).
  • 24 players per server — It’s crystal clear, this number of players is too many for the way they’ve built their servers. Half this number would make the servers much less laggy, much faster and overall perform much better. Yet, we’re forced to deal with 24 players on a server where even just one player can bring the server to its knees when spamming a crafting table at their camp.
  • Portions of objects disappear — If you’ve ever set up a fertilizer resource (a Brahmin Pen) or the new Scavenger Bot (Atom shop item), you can find portions of the object become invisible. I’ve had the hay on the Brahmin resource vanish. I’ve had the scavenger hatch become invisible. And again, no, it wasn’t damaged. When I open the workshop, the only thing that appears is a vibrant green untextured object. It’s most definitely a bug.

These are but many of Fallout 76’s most basic fundamental mechanic flaws and these are not anywhere close to all of them. These problems have existed in the base game… long before Bethesda added their newest add-ons. These are fundamental problems that, for a AAA game title and for an AAA developer like Bethesda, shouldn’t even exist. That these basic fundamental flaws, problems and, yes, bugs, exist means that Bethesda shouldn’t even be in this business.

But, wait there are even more problems afoot.

Graphics

Not only does Fallout 76 add an annoying haze overlay effect onto bright light sources, the graphics of Fallout 76 are actually much, much worse than Fallout 4. The shadows are incredibly low res by comparison. Some images don’t resolve to high res until you’re within arm’s length of the image. You can literally see the 8 bit sized pixels. For example, the GNN poster is a lighted decoration you can put up on your camp. When you approach it from a distance, you can see a very pixelated image. When you move within arm’s length, the pixelated image stays for a moment, then loads to higher res right before your eyes. You can even see the image load in. Sometimes textures will randomly toggle between low res and high res even while standing still.

In Fallout 4, this low res image loading problem never existed. The images were loaded at high res the moment you were within gunshot range. That Fallout 76’s graphics engine is this piss poor tells me Bethesda has no idea how to run a quality MMORPG (massive multiplayer online role playing game). Though, I’d debate that 24 players constitutes an MMORPG. Perhaps MORPG (multiplayer online role playing game) more accurately describes Fallout 76. I digress.

Worse, it’s not limited to image loading.12-7-2018_5-55-00_AM-ztlpzw1g There are many problems with Fallout 76’s graphics including, but not limited to, seeing god rays through rocks, seeing image artifacts on trees when looking downhill, low res textures, poor quality lighting and this list goes on and on. Comparing Fallout 4’s graphics to Fallout 76, there really is no comparison. Fallout 4 looks sharp and crystal clear. Its sun and effects look realistic.

In Fallout 76, the sun disc used to have a horizontal lens flare effect. This was early when the game first released. In later releases, this lens flare effect was inexplicably removed and has never been added back. It’s still not back. The distance effects look bad and I mean really, really bad. The distance effects in Fallout 4 were fair, but looked mostly okay. There are definitely better graphics engines, like Ubisoft’s AnvilNext, but Fallout 4 did a decently respectable job for its engine.

In Fallout 76, the whole graphics system has taken a huge step backwards. The rendering is worse, overall. Some of this I get. The devs needed to reduce how much is required to download over the network. Otherwise, the network chatter would be too overloaded and the game wouldn’t function, particularly with gamers on slower networks. I get that. But, at the same time, it makes the game look amateur. This is one of those times where a AAA developer should have withheld the game and decided not to release it.

You can release junk or you can release nothing. Junk turns your brand sour. Releasing nothing increases expectation of the next product. Bethesda should stick to what they do best. Single player offline video games. Stay way from these online games where not only does Bethesda clearly have no experience, they have learned nothing since launching The Elder Scrolls online. At least use that MMORPG as a learning experience. Nope, they started over from scratch and had to relearn everything they already learned from ESO. Even then, Fallout 76 is still stumbling through mistake after mistake… mistakes that had already been corrected long ago in ESO.

Grinding and more Grinding

Grinding has always been a thing in most MMOs. Grinding is the way for the game developer to keep gamers interested in the game. Developers must ask themselves, “How much grinding is too much?” Bethesda, unfortunately, hasn’t asked itself that question and has firmly led Fallout 76 into the territory of too much grinding.

In fact, in Fallout 76, you’ll spend more time grinding for resources than doing just about any other activity in the game. Even going into final battles is less about the combat and more about grinding for XP, eating food and the loot drops. No one goes into the Queen battle to actually kill the Queen. They go into it because of what they’ll get from her in the end and what they’ll get from when the quest closes successfully. It’s not about the combat, it’s about what drops you get.

That’s not good game design. That’s crap design. You want to design a game for gamers to want to engage in the combat because of the combat, not because of loot drops. Unfortunately, because the combat in Fallout 76 is so exceedingly bad, the only thing we can look forward to at the end of a Queen event is the drops. In fact, I believe all of the loot the Queen drops should stop being dropped period. No more random queen loot drops. Instead, she should drop only caps and scrip (the newest currency you get when you sell Legendary items). This currency can then be redeemed at a vendor in the game world, such as at the legendary vendor Purveyor Murmrgh. This currency can then be obtained in other ways throughout the game. This means that if you choose not to do the Queen event, you can still get the same loot in alternative ways and using alternative means. You’re not beholden to join a combat event simply to obtain flux, legendary items or plans or whatever other things the Queen usually drops. Instead, no matter which role playing choice you choose to follow in the world, you still have equal chance of getting choice weapons, armor and loot drops. An open world RPG should allow for multiple paths to get to the same point.

Open World RPG

An open world RPG is about being able to do things in whatever way the gamer chooses. If the gamer wants to focus on crafting, they should be able to skill-tree up through a crafting system. If the gamer wants to focus on combat, there should be a combat skill-tree. No one skill-tree should become THE skill-tree. In Fallout 76, if you choose not to adopt combat as your skill-tree choice, you really can’t get much from the game. Further, loot drops in the world should not be unique to a specific triggered event. All loot drops should be equally available throughout the world to all skill-trees… perhaps, as I suggested above, by dropping currency rather than weapons and armor. The currency can then be exchanged for weapons and armor.

However, certain “main quest” quests may be required for all players and these required drops should allow all players to access and use certain fundamental items necessary for later main quests. However, all tertiary quest loot drops should be available in differing ways to all player types.

Stable Flux is a good example of this. This resource should be available in ways other than by visiting nuke zones. You should be able to buy this resource in the world from at least one in-game-world vendor. Grahm is a wandering Super Mutant vendor and is a very capable and shrewd vendor. Because he’s constantly traveling the wasteland, he’s the perfect vendor to sell stable flux. Not only does it make sense that he can wander into nuke zones and gather and refine flux, he can then sell it to us. Perhaps not in large quantities, but he should at least always have it on him to buy.

Flux shouldn’t be the one and only one needed resource in the game where the gamer is required to gather it under very limited and specific conditions that rarely occur. This part of the game was entirely a mishandled by Bethesda. Bethesda also needs to recognize that there is more than one play style that can be had in an RPG world. It needs to recognize that not all gamers go into Fallout 76 for the gun combat. Many do, but not everyone does. For those who choose not to go for the combat, the game itself penalizes this style of gamer by not allowing easy access to the rarer items in the game. In other words, you are forced into Fallout 76 for the combat if you want to gain access to the rarest items in the game. To be more balanced with all gamer types, Bethesda needs to rethink this stance.

Power Armor

12-9-2018_9-41-56_PM-3ra4ojsuOne of the biggest introductions into the Fallout franchise was the addition of power armor. This is heavy armor powered by a fusion core. When you enter the armor, the character is encased entirely in a metal shell covered over by pieces of armor. These armors have specific ratings and have specific attributes.

In Fallout 4, Power Armor was considered the strongest armor in the game, particularly if you wore Legendary pieces. If you had a certain set of power armor, you were practically invincible under most conditions. However, the armor did take damage and break. In Fallout 4, power armor breaks relatively quickly… particularly the legs. While it protects you well, it also damages quickly. The legs were the weakest parts of the whole set.

Unfortunately, in Fallout 76, Power Armor has actually become a joke. It’s easily the weakest armor set in the game. It’s weaker than its corresponding sets in Fallout 4. It’s weaker than even Marine armor found in the game. For example, wearing power armor in Fallout 76 sees absolutely zero protection against a level 52 Colonel Gutsy shooting 5.56 ammo… even if your character is level 150 or 300. A single bullet from a Colonel Gutzy with 5.56 eats straight through the armor and damages at least 1/10th of the HP bar. It might even damage more than this per shot. This is entirely bugged. Certainly, in Fallout 4, 5.56 loaded Gutsy did eat through health rapidly, it’s not nearly as rapid as it is in Fallout 76. The two tertiary benefits to power armor is its radiation protection benefit and its ability to fall from any height without sustaining HP damage. Yet, its armor protection levels are exceedingly weak.

This power armor problem has only gotten worse, not better. Power Armor is now even harder to maintain. When Fusion Core generators used to offer 100% charged fusion cores, Bethesda has changed the rules of the game and they now only provide 50% charged fusion cores. This means you now have to carry double the amount of fusion cores that you formerly had to carry when they were 100% charged. Now if you want 100% charged fusion cores, you need to make them with Flux or hope that the energy power plants still provide 100% charged cores in those workshop generators. Admittedly, those power plant generators used to offer 100% charged cores every 7 minutes, but with Bethesda’s revisionist tendencies, I haven’t tested this to find out if they still do. My guess is that they now provide 50% charged fusion cores.

Worse, most fusion cores randomly found sitting around in the game outside of a generator have a 25% or less charge. I don’t even get this change. Bethesda, do you want us to use Power Armor or not? It clearly seems that by making these silly reductions that Bethesda doesn’t want us to actually use Power Armor. So then, why even include Power Armor in the game? If they want to restrict the use of power armor, simply raise the weight of the fusion cores. Leave them at 100%, but raising the weight means carrying less.

One last thing about Fallout 76 and Power Armor is the lack of legendary armor pieces. While Fallout 4 had multiple legendary pieces of Power Armor (chest, legs, arms, etc), there is not a single piece of legendary power armor in Fallout 76. Not a single piece. Yet there is every type of regular armor in a one, two and three star legendary format. Even worse, for PVP purposes, Power Armor is weaker than level 5 regular armor when the combatant has perk card Tank Killer equipped at maximum. What’s the point in having and wearing Power Armor when a card like Tank Killer is available? Talk about overpowered and needing a rebalance. Tank Killer is one card that needs to go.

It’s crystal clear, Bethesda devs don’t want us using Power Armor. It has no legendary effects, it’s weak overall and the game offers up such stupid perk cards as Tank Killer that bypass armor ratings. So then, what’s the point? Even regular armor is stronger than this. It’s okay to provide a card like Tank Killer if an equal and opposite perk card is available to counteract Tank Killer and strengthen the Power Armor. But, there is no equal and opposing card. Yet another design miss that has never been corrected. In fact, none of these power armor issues have ever been addressed in Fallout 76.

Characters, Loot and Caps and Requested Features

This is another issue that has not ever been discussed or addressed and has existed since release. Fallout 76 allows players to create up to 5 different characters to use in Fallout 76. How we choose to use those characters is up to us. If one of our players has progressed well beyond level 15, yet still has a level 15 set of power armor, it’s stuck in that character’s inventory. How about letting us share the wealth between our characters? What if I want to transfer scrip, caps or pioneer scout credit between characters. Atom is a global currency available to all characters. Why not scrip, caps and pioneer scout credit?

Bethesda has yet to address or even offer a system for transfer of caps, loot, weapons or armor between our 5 characters. Instead, we have to rely on a third party to temporarily hold and then hand back our loot, caps, armor and weapons. I mean, seriously. Why do I have to make friends with a random on Fallout 76 just to impose on them and have them hold my stuff simply to transfer between characters?

Instead of giving gamers what we want from this game, like the above suggested feature, Bethesda spends time creating Biv and Distillers (unnecessary), the backpack (pointless), Fasnacht (stupid), Meat Week (lame), Scrip (really?), Nuclear Winter (not needed), Survival mode (minimally even used) and Atom Shop items (expensive). All of these developments so far are definitely inconsequential and meaningless to the overall Fallout 76 base story.

How about overhauling the perk system and give us perk card load outs? Let us, at one click, rearrange our perk cards without having to go into the perk card system and manually, one-by-one switch them in and out. Note, this feature is heavily needed after reaching level 50 when SPECIAL points are capped. You can’t add or rearrange your SPECIAL points, but you can rearrange perk cards at will. So, why not add something we want, like 5 perk card preset load-outs? This allows us to set our character up for a bloodied build or a shotgun build or an explosives build or even eating food build with one click? Why don’t we have this feature? Why carry around a bunch of equipped random useless perk cards when they’re not needed. Only equip them when they need to be used… like equipping camp cards when in camp or crafting cards when crafting. It’s insane to expect us to spend time rearranging our cards for 5-10 minutes before we can begin an activity. You certainly cannot spend time in the middle of combat doing this. But you could easily single click a favorite perk card load out to load while in the middle of combat… particularly if a gun breaks and you need to switch weapons and combat tactics.

In fact, why aren’t there armor load outs? Why do I have to manually go and load each armor piece manually. Why can’t I create an armor load out and then favorite it? Then, when I need it, simply select the load-out favorite and that set of armor is immediately worn. It makes no sense what Bethesda is doing with this game. How about giving us requested features rather than these mostly stupid additions? How about fixing long standing bugs? How about giving us gamers some love rather than a bunch of hate (banning tons of gamers for duping without actually knowing if they did).

Rebalancing and Revisionism

A revisit to Fallout 76 a year later wouldn’t be complete without discussing Bethesda’s constant and incessant meddling with Fallout 76’s rules. With any game, be it a board game or a video game, a set of established rules must exist when a game launches. These rules govern how the game is to be played. You’ll understand why I bring up board games in just a moment.

With video games, particularly with MORPG games like Fallout 76, the game developer seems to think they can randomly change the rules like they can their hat or their clothes or shoes. It doesn’t work that way. Establishing and maintaining a set of consistent and constant rules in which a game operates is fundamental to learning how to play a game.

Yet, Bethesda has invalidated rules, changed rules, reduced rules, increased rules and mucked with the innards of the rules with each and every release under the guise of “balancing”. Let’s circle back around to board games. If Hasbro decided to rewrite Monopoly’s rules based on the way “many” play Monopoly at home, many people would be rightly angry. The official rules have been established to play the game in a specific “official” way. Sure, some people personally change the official rules for expediency. For example, following every Monopoly rule exactly to the letter could mean an extremely long drawn out game. Therefore, people have changed and simplified the rules to reduce the duration of such a long game. Some people aren’t in it for the long haul, they simply want to play the game in 20 or 30 minutes and end it. There are a number of board games that have alternative rule sets that lead to shorter play times. These alternative rule sets are not official, but they exist to allow players to enjoy the game without all of the minutiae required when using the official rules.

With Fallout 76, a video game, it’s still a game… not unlike a board game. Much of the game is automated, interactive and visual, but it’s still nonetheless a game… a game with an established set of rules. We learn these rules quickly.

However, when a game developer decides to alter the rules continually, it’s difficult to keep up with an ever changing set of new rules. This is why establishing a single set of rules and maintaining that set consistently is the answer. Modifying the rules every month means no one can know what the rules are today, tomorrow or in a month. You can’t adequately play a video game if the official rules are constantly changing. This is why revisionism in video games is ultimately detrimental to a video game and to the video game industry as a whole. Consistency in a video game is the key to success. Variability leads to failure… particularly in a role playing game where rules define what makes an RPG an RPG.

Improvements?

Has Fallout 76 improved since its release? No, it hasn’t. Certainly, Bethesda has added new, but mostly inconsequential features such as backpacks, limited duration events offering cosmetic item drops, liquor that’s worse than the original already in the game,  money making cosmetics to its store and a few pay-to-win features (scrap and repair kits). But there is little here that offers solid well crafted, thoughtful additions that make that game world a more compelling play experience. These additions have been weak, shallow experiences lasting short amounts of time and, frankly, leave a bad taste in the mouth. Many of them are not even in keeping in the Fallout universe… I’m looking at you Nuclear Winter.

Slowly and at the same time, Bethesda is gutting the game of its original rules and methodically replacing them with a new rule set. These new rules are intended to slow the player’s progression down, make the game even more grindy, keep the gamer playing longer to potentially visit the Atom store and actually buy something, you know, with real money.

Unfortunately, the actual base game has not improved. It is still the same mess it was when it was released nearly one year ago. The same bugs that existed then still exist today. Sure, a few have been fixed, but far too many are still active. Worse, in Bethesda’s zeal to add new content, they have broken more mechanics than they have fixed. What this means is that while the game has added new content, it’s come with a steep price of even more bugs on top of the existing bugs. It’s a never ending bugfest compounded by even more bugs created by each add-on.

Worse, Bethesda is clearly not using standard code practices. There have been many instances where bugs fixed in one release reappear in the next release. This regression behavior isn’t possible if a company is using industry standard coding, code storage and release practices. Regression bugs are not possible when code is properly documented, when it’s checked in properly and when one person can’t overwrite a previous coder’s changes. It’s crystal clear, Bethesda’s code and release practices for Fallout 76 are an unmitigated disaster. Not only is the game itself a disaster, so are Bethesda’s coding practices. It’s clear, Bethesda hasn’t the first clue how to write and maintain a 24/7 always on service, let alone a video game… let alone software.

As an example of this horrible coding, Bethesda introduced a new bug that caused all red headlamps found in the game world to inexplicably become Atom Shop restricted items. When an in-game item is marked with the Atom Shop symbol, it cannot be dropped or sold to other players. This meant you could no longer sell red headlamps mods or helmets with a red headlamp found or created in the game because the red headlamps became restricted. This meant that you, likewise, couldn’t at all sell power armor sets containing a red headlamp that, you know, you have found in the game world while this bug was active. Bethesda was extremely slow to respond to fix this bug. It took them about 1 month before it was finally addressed… even though they roll patches weekly.

Another bug they introduced in July saw to it that gamers with a large number of power armor sets had to spend a large amount of time reassembling all of these sets of armor. In July, Bethesda separated all of the power armor pieces from their corresponding power armor frames. This meant spending not only the time to reassemble all of the power armor sets one-by-one, it meant being heavily overencumbered. For example, I had at least 10 sets of power armor on my player. Some were also in my stash. When they separated all of the power armor pieces, they all dropped all armor pieces separately into my player’s inventory… even from those that were in the stash box. This meant that my character ended up carrying about 500-600 more in carry weight after that patch. Because my character was not in camp when this occurred, I couldn’t fast travel back there. To reassemble power armor, you have two options. Deploy the power armor and reinsert all of the pieces wherever you are in the world or do it on a power armor station. The former method can be done anywhere, but you’re easily and frequently interrupted by combat. Because the power armor frame only remains out for a maximum of 60 seconds, you don’t have much time to do this… and it’s easy to run out of time. Doing it on a power armor station, there is no 60 second timer as long as you’re crafting.

Because a bunch of my frames were in the stash, I couldn’t get access to those except either at a train station or at my base. Because my base was closer than a train station, I had to spend time hoofing my overencumbered character back to the base so I could reassemble. This probably took 30 minutes because of the AP problem and enemies. Then, when I got there, I had to drop each and every frame down, reassemble and then do it over and over until all were reassembled. All told, this issue took close to 1.5 hours. All so that Bethesda could “rework” the Power Armor which, by the way, is still just as broken as it was before the patch. Whatever they did didn’t do anything to fix the underlying problems. Worse, instead of you know, actually playing the game, I was messing about with fixing up something that I shouldn’t have had to fix. When patches encroach on the user experience, you REALLY need to think long and hard about releasing these patches. Bethesda’s patch could have easily auto-reassembled all of the armors after the patch so that the users didn’t have to spend time doing this. They have access to all of this on their system internally. There’s absolutely no reason why I (and so many other players) had to spend our gaming time screwing about with reassembling power armor sets when we could have been, you know, actually questing… the reason we actually bought this game in the first place.

In short, the game has not improved. In fact, it is pretty much the same exact disaster it was when it released almost one year ago. In many ways, it’s actually worse. The base game has not improved at all.

What has been added to the game is inconsequential and, for the most part, unnecessary. The backpacks are, in fact, entirely pointless and even moreso once they released the plans into the overseer’s cache without the need to go through the convoluted Boy Scout quests. Instead of the backpack, the devs could have simply raised the carry weight on our characters. No, backpack needed. The backpack was simply an Atom shop marketing gimmick to get people to buy into their expensive ‘skins’ to make the backpack more “visually pleasing”. Does it really matter if your backpack looks like a Nuka Cola cooler or a piece of luggage? In fact, most of the Atom Shop skins that have been crafted are actually quite ugly. The basic backpack is functional looking and at least looks like a backpack. The other backpacks are horrendously ugly contraptions strapped to your back. The Nuka Cola cooler could have looked cool if it weren’t completely covered up by a bunch of horrendously ugly straps obscuring most of the Nuka Cola logo. If it had simply been a Nuka Cola branded cooler backpack with no straps at all, that would have been fine. This skin needs a major rework.

Game Modes

As of this article, there three game modes available:

  • Adventure Mode — This is the original game mode that was introduced upon release. It still contains nearly all of the same bugs it did when it was released.
  • Survival Mode — This game mode has been retired as of October 1st, 2019. This mode was introduced early in 2019 and offers what Bethesda claimed to be a more challenging experience. Well, it wasn’t. It’s was simply an annoying experience. It was intended as a PVP environment, but was nothing more than a way for PVP players to run around shooting one another other in a Death Match style playground. In fact, if you tried to actually quest in a Survival Mode server, you wouldn’t get very far before being killed by another player. It was actually worse than that, too. In this PVP environment, there’s was no level based combat. A level 300 player can hang out in newbie territory picking off level 2 players solely for fun. At least Nuclear Winter has leveled the playing field so that level 300 users and level 5 users have similar odds of winning because it’s not about the level, it’s about the strategy.
  • Nuclear Winter Mode — This game mode is a Battle Royale game (aka, Last Man Standing). Ever user starts out with a new level based on this game mode. Levels, abilities and weapons from Adventure do not work in Nuclear Winter. You must find all of this stuff when playing Nuclear Winter and it only lasts as long as the tournament lasts. Nuclear Winter was introduced entirely to placate Fortnite and Apex Legends players and attempt to attract those same gamers into Fallout. It hasn’t worked. It’s a game mode that does not in any way belong in the Fallout universe. This game mode is not exactly fun, but it is tedious. It’s all about who can find the biggest weapons, best armor, kill the most and hide the best. There’s nothing really challenging here. Fallout needs to drop following industry gaming trends and innovate. Come up with new gaming ideas instead of rehashing old ideas in tired and uninspired ways. Worse, this game mode does not at all fit into the idea of Fallout. If Bethesda wants to create these derivative games, at least create them separately using a newly created franchise with new characters and abilities. Don’t tack it onto Fallout simply because you can.

Overall

Fallout 76’s play value and bugs are very much the same as they were on release day. The exception is, of course, that in Bethesda’s zeal to add a bunch of new stuff, they have broken even more in the process. In fact, I’d say Bethesda has broken at least half as much more stuff than was already broken. Worse, they have broken previously functional and working features. An example is when they added the distillery. For the distillery to work, they added a new mechanic to “spoil” the fermentable liquors to turn them into drinkable liquors. What that meant was a spoil bar on the item that timed down until the liquor was fully fermented and drinkable. Unfortunately, when the devs touched this part of the game code, they screwed up the speed of spoilage for the rest of the food items (and even fusion cores) within the game. This meant that while ‘fermentable beer’ fermented faster, it also meant that meat, veggies and even fusion cores, spoiled at a much faster rate. Whoops. Big bug.

Did Bethesda correct this problem quickly (or at all)? No. Once that bug was introduced it was here to stay. Food and drink still spoils much faster than it did before that game addition. Even fusion cores run out far, far faster than they did before that addition. Does Bethesda care? No. Do they intend fixing the problem? No.

This is why revisionism in the video game industry has no place. This is why a simple brown paper bag, a simplistic container, still barely works properly. When developers don’t care to fix even the most basic bugs let alone new bugs, then why should I (or any other consumer) care to spend money on these lackluster games? Once Bethesda begins to care about its gamer audience again, I might consider returning. Until then, Bethesda, you’re on your own without my money.

Update — Survival Mode

As of October 1st, Survival Mode Beta ironically didn’t survive. Bethesda has removed this mode from the game entirely. Clearly, its adoption rate was minimal and limited. This is an unfortunate turn of events for Adventure Mode players. What that means is that Bethesda is likely to revisit enabling even more PVP activities in Adventure Mode since the disappearance of Survival Mode. That means ganging up what was Survival mode into Adventure Mode again. This is something I’m not anxious to see return to Adventure Mode.

In fact, I wanted Bethesda to remove all PVP elements from Adventure Mode and make Survival Mode 100% PVP. However, since the introduction of Nuclear Winter, it seems they no longer want to focus on Survival Mode considering its lackluster adoption rate. Still, I’m not say to see it go as it did nothing for me. I’m not an active PVP player, so the point to Survival Mode had weak play value. Nuclear Winter is the ‘hot new thing’. If anything, what this shows is the fickleness of the demographic who currently plays Fallout 76. Once players have had their fill of the Nuclear Winter experience, I’d fully expect Bethesda to wind down that game mode also as users stop playing it.

10:50PM Oct. 1st — Updated to reflect that Bethesda has retired Survival Mode.

While this article endeavors to answer what happened to Fallout 76, it hasn’t in any way addressed why it happened. I may consider delving into this topic in the future if there’s enough reader interest. Please comment below if you’d like to see this additional topic explored.

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Can I use my Xbox One or PS4 controller on my iPhone?

Posted in Apple, botch, california, game controller, gaming, video game by commorancy on September 16, 2019

XboxOneEliteController-smThis is a common question regarding the two most popular game controllers to have ever existed. Let’s explore.

MFi Certification

Let’s start with a little history behind why game controllers have been a continual problem for Apple’s iOS devices. The difficulty comes down to Apple’s MFi controller certification program. Since MFi’s developer specification release, not many controller developers have chosen to adopt it. The one notable exception is the SteelSeries Nimbus controller. It’s a fair controller, it holds well enough in the hand, has an okay battery life, but it’s not that well made. It does sport a lightning port so you can charge it with your iPhone’s charger, however. That’s of little concession, though, when you actually want to use an Xbox One or PS4 controller instead.

Because Apple chose to rely on its own MFi specification and certification system, manufacturers would need to build a controller that satisfies that MFi certification. Satisfying the requirements of MFi and getting certified likely requires licensing technology built by Apple. As we know, licenses typically cost money paid to Apple for the privilege of using that technology. That’s great for Apple, not so great for the consumer.

Even though the SteelSeries Nimbus is by no means perfect, it really has become the de facto MFi controller simply because no other manufacturers have chosen to adopt Apple’s MFi system. And why would they?

Sony and Microsoft

Both Sony and Microsoft have held (and continue to hold) the market as the dominant game controllers. While the SteelSeries Nimbus may have become the de facto controller for Apple’s devices, simply because there is nothing else really available, the DualShock and the Xbox One controllers are far and away better controllers for gaming. Apple hasn’t yet been able to break into the console market, even as much as they have tried with the Apple TV. Game developers just haven’t embraced the Apple TV in the same way they have of the Xbox One and the PS4. That’s obvious as to why. The Apple TV, while reasonable for some games, simply does not offer the same level of graphics and game power as an Xbox One or PS4. It also doesn’t have a controller built by Apple.

Until Apple gets its head into the game properly with a more suitably named game system actually intended for gaming, rather than general purpose entertainment, Apple simply can’t become a third console. Apple seems to try these roundabout methods of introducing hardware to try and usurp, or at least insert itself into certain markets. Because of this subtle roundabout method Apple chooses, it just never works out. In the case of MFi, that hasn’t worked out too well for Apple.

Without a controller that Apple has built themselves, few people see the Apple TV as anything more than a TV entertainment system with built-in apps… even if it can run limited games. The Apple TV is simply not seen as a gaming console. It doesn’t ship with a controller. It isn’t named appropriately. Thus, it is simply not seen as a gaming console.

With that said, the PS4 and the Xbox One are fully seen as gaming consoles and prove that with every new game release. Sony and Microsoft also chose to design and build their own controllers based on their own specifications; specifications that are intended for use on their consoles. Neither Sony, nor will Microsoft go down the path to MFi certification. That’s just not in the cards. Again, why would they? These controllers are intended to be used on devices Sony and Microsoft make. They aren’t intended to be used with Apple devices. Hence, there is absolutely zero incentive for Microsoft or Sony to retool their respective game controllers to cater to Apple’s MFi certification whims. To date, this has yet to happen… and it likely never will.

Apple is (or was) too caught up in itself to understand this fundamental problem. If Apple wanted Sony or Microsoft to bend to the will of Apple, Apple would have to pay Sony and Microsoft to spend their time, effort and engineering to retool their console controllers to fit within the MFi certification. In other words, not only would Apple have to entice Sony and Microsoft to retool their controllers, they’d likely have to pay them for that privilege. And so, here we are… neither the DualShock nor does the Xbox One controller support iOS via MFi certification.

iOS 12 and Below

To answer the above question, we have to observe Apple’s stance on iOS. As of iOS 12 and below, Apple chose to rely solely on its MFi certification system to certify controllers for use with iOS. That left few consumer choices. I’m guessing that Apple somehow thought that Microsoft and Sony would cave to their so-called MFi pressure and release updated controllers to satisfy Apple’s whims.

Again, why would either Sony or Microsoft choose to do this? Would they do it out of the goodness of their own heart? Doubtful. Sony and Microsoft would ask the question, “What’s in it for me?” Clearly, for iOS, not much. Sony doesn’t release games on iOS and neither does Microsoft. There’s no incentive to produce MFi certified controllers. In fact, Sony and Microsoft both have enough on their plates supporting their own consoles, let alone spending extra time screwing around with Apple’s problems.

That Apple chose to deny the use of the DualShock 4 and the Xbox One controllers on iOS was clearly an Apple problem. Sony and Microsoft couldn’t care less about Apple’s dilemmas. Additionally, because both of these controllers dominate the gaming market, even on PCs, Apple has simply lost out when sticking to their well-intentioned, but misguided MFi certification program. The handwriting was on the wall when they built the MFi developer system, but Apple is always blinded by its own arrogance. I could see that MFi would create more problems than it would solve for iOS when I first heard about it several years ago.

And so we come to…

iOS 13 and iPhone 11

With the release of iOS 13, it seems Apple has finally seen the light. They have also realized both Sony and Microsoft’s positions in gaming. There is simply no way that the two most dominant game controllers on the market will bow to Apple’s pressures. If Apple wants these controllers certified under its MFi program, it will need to take steps to make that a reality… OR, they’ll need to relax this requirement and allow these two controllers to “just work”… and the latter is exactly what Apple has done.

As of the release of iOS 13, you will be able to use both the Xbox One (bluetooth version) and the PS4’s DualShock 4 controller on iOS. Apple has realized its certification system was simply a pipe dream, one that never got realized. Sure, MFi still exists. Sure, iOS will likely support it for several more releases, but eventually Apple will obsolete it entirely or morph it into something that includes Sony and Microsoft’s controllers.

What that means for the consumer is great news. As of iOS 13, you can now grab your PS4 or Xbox One controller, pair it to iOS and begin gaming. However, it is uncertain exactly how compatible this will be for iOS. It could be that some games may not recognize these controllers until they are updated for iOS 13. This could mean that older games that only supported MFi may not work until they are updated for iOS 13. The problem here is that many projects have become abandoned over the years and their respective developers are no longer updating apps. That means that you could find your favorite game doesn’t work with the PS4 or Xbox One controller if it is now abandoned.

Even though iOS 13 will support the controllers, it doesn’t mean that older games will. There’s still that problem to be solved. Apple could solve that by folding the controllers under the MFi certification system internally to make them appear as though they are MFi certified. I’m pretty sure Apple won’t do that. Instead, they’ll likely offer a separate system that identifies “third party” controllers separately from MFi certified controllers. This means that developers will likely have to go out of their way to recognize and use Sony and Microsoft’s controllers. Though, we’ll have to wait and see how this all plays out in practice.

Great News

Even still, this change is welcome news to iOS and tvOS users. This means that you don’t have to go out and buy some lesser controller and hope it will feel and work right. Instead, you can now grab a familiar controller that’s sitting right next to you, pair it up and begin playing on your iPad.

This news is actually more than welcome, it’s a necessity. I think Apple finally realizes this. There is no way Sony or Microsoft would ever cave to Apple’s pressures. In fact, there was no pressure at all really. Ultimately, Apple shot themselves in the foot by not supporting these two controllers. Worse, by not supporting these controllers, it kept the Apple TV from becoming the hopeful gaming system that Apple had wanted. Instead, it’s simply a set-top box that provides movies, music and limited live streaming services. Without an adequate controller, it simply couldn’t become a gaming system.

Even the iPad and iPhone have been suffering without good solid controllers. Though, I’m still surprised that Apple itself hasn’t jumped in and built their own Apple game controller. You’d think that if they set out to create an MFi certification system that they’d have taken it to the next step and actually built a controller themselves. Nope.

Because Apple relied on third parties to fulfill its controller needs, it only really ever got one controller out of the deal. A controller that’s fair, but not great. It’s expensive, but not that well made. As I said above, it’s the SteelSeries Nimbus. It’s a mid-grade controller that works fine in most cases, but cannot hold a candle to the PS4’s or the Xbox One’s controller for usability. Personally, I always thought of the Nimbus controller as a “tide me over” controller until something better came along. That never happened. Unfortunately, it has taken Apple years to own up to this mistake. A mistake that they’ve finally decided to rectify in iOS 13.

A little late, yes, but well done Apple!

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Did Toys “R” Us have to fail?

Posted in bankruptcy, botch, business, ethics, fail by commorancy on September 9, 2019

If you’ve read various articles including this Bloomberg article, you might come away thinking that all of what happened to Toys “R” Us began a decade ago (i.e., the early 00s). In fact, you would be so wrong… and so would Bloomberg. Let’s explore.

The 80s

Around 1981 or 1982, I worked at Toys “R” Us. Even at that time, Toys “R” Us ran a questionable business model. A business model that, I might add, even store managers recognized and thought was unsustainable. In fact, after having discussions with store managers at my store, I got an earful about how they thought that the chain would likely fail within a decade if they kept on using that business model. This was the early 80s.

What business model?

Toys “R” Us sowed the seeds of its own destruction at least beginning in the 80s, perhaps as early as the 70s. What questionable business model is this? The model chosen was to operate the stores in the red (otherwise known as losing money) through 80-90% of the year (aka, “90 in the red”). Then, the management hoped to recoup those losses in the final 1-2 months of the year during holiday season sales. It didn’t always work out.

While this model seemed to work to keep most Toys “R” Us stores afloat through the 80s and 90s, it served to keep the company from really turning a solid profit and, ultimately, led to the company’s massive debt load. What that model meant to the stores is fully stocked shelves every day of the year. This was readily apparent walking into any Toys “R” Us store. The stores were not only full, they were positively brimming over with the latest toys. This also meant putting itself into massive debt each year in inventory and then hoping to pay off that debt at the end of the year when most of the stores finally ran “in the black” (read, turning a profit for the year).

Keep in mind that many of the stores didn’t turn a profit, but so long as enough stores did, they could cover for the debt they had been incurred company wide, or at least so that was the idea. Even the store manager at my Toys “R” Us location could see the handwriting on the wall in the early 80s. This store’s business model was not sustainable and I was, even as an standard employee, told this by various managers. These managers didn’t hold back their thoughts.

Bloomberg, Fads and Sustainability

What Bloomberg got right was that even a decade ago, TRU’s debt load had put them underwater. What Bloomberg didn’t address was that this debt began almost 2 decades earlier of overbuying, followed by hoping that a “hit toy” would kick them over the profit line at the end of every year.

“Hit Toys” were Toys “R” Us’s hopeful thing. They needed that Tickle Me Elmo or Nintendo Wii or Lazer Tag or Cabbage Patch Kid fad toy to carry the chain into the new year with profit on the books. Throughout the 80s and 90s, there were a string of these hit toys practically every year. Fad toys which flew off the shelves and brought Toys “R” Us to profitability each year. It was a risky move for Toys “R” Us to bank on a hot fad each year, but there it is.

Unfortunately, relying on this kind of yearly toy fad to sustain a business every year was not only risky, it began to burn Toys “R” Us as these yearly fads began to die off by the late 90s. Even during mid-late 90s, these fads were much less intense than they had been just a few years earlier. By the mid-00s, these fads were practically non-existent. Sure, there were hot toys, but no where near the levels of sales that Tickle Me Elmo or the Cabbage Patch Kid fads offered to Toys “R” Us’s bottom line… particularly when Best Buy, Walmart and Amazon concurrently began diluting the toy profits of TRU.

These fading fads were responsible for killing other toy stores chains as well, such as Kay Bee Toys and even the once high flying, high end FAO Schwarz. These fading fads also left Toys “R” Us holding a huge mound of debt.

Walmart

While Walmart did usurp the title of top toy seller from Toys “R” Us, that’s primarily because Toys “R” Us prices were always on the higher side. Walmart did carry toys, but not all toys. If you wanted something you couldn’t find at Walmart, you went to Toys “R” Us and it was pretty much guaranteed they would carry it (even though it might be out of stock). Walmart didn’t even stock many of these. The toy section in Walmart was always small by comparison. Sure, you could find better deals at Walmart, but only from the toys that they chose to carry.

Walmart was also not very kind to collectors in the 90s. If a collector showed up to buy toys, Walmart would try to do everything to keep that toy item away from the collectors… sometimes even going so far as to banning them from the store simply for buying toys. Does it really matter whose dollars are buying an item? Granted, I wasn’t particularly happy that a collector had gone to Walmart to buy out all of the “good” stock leaving tons of “peg warmers” sitting around that no one wanted. But, that’s how toy collecting worked in the 90s.

The whole collector market kind of died off with the advent of places where collectors could buy case packs, like Entertainment Earth. Instead of having to rummage around Walmart at 3AM (when they stocked new merchandise), you could order a full case of figures, guaranteeing that you’ll get at least one “rare” figure. This meant that the once Walmart and Toys “R” Us shopping locations for collectors became a thing of the past. Collectors took their money online to buy cases and stopped buying at Toys “R” Us. Buying case packs is easier, more convenient and doesn’t require the hassles of dealing with surly underpaid Walmart workers.

Toys “R” Us Kids Grew Up

Kids of the 80s became collectors in the 90s and became families on the 00s. The once popular collector market throughout the 90s fell apart into the 00s because the collector market changed and Toys “R” Us failed to understand this important change. The collector market is (or at least was) also a huge market that kept Toys “R” Us afloat in addition to the end-of-year-fads. However, brands like Hasbro and Mattel didn’t grow with the collector market. Sure, Hasbro tried, but the toys they made were tiny improvements over their (sub)standard toys. Mattel also tried with its collector Barbies, but, again they failed to understand the critical quality needed for what collectors really yearned.

In essence, the toy brands themselves didn’t grow to provide what collectors wanted… which left Toys “R” Us mostly without collector money. However, collector brands did grow up for the collector market outside of Toys “R” Us, including Sideshow and Hot Toys brands. These brands are now considered the premiere collector “toy” brands for adult collectors. These “action figures” are some of the highest end, most expensive, most collectable toys out there, yet these are not sold at Walmart, Target or even Toys “R” Us (before they closed). Though, you can find them on Amazon via third party sellers. This is where Toys “R” Us failed to keep up with the kid-turned-adult collectors. Hot Toys figures cost anywhere between $150-350 per figure; a price point that collectors are more than willing to pay to get that level of craftsmanship. A price point that Toys “R” Us never carried. A quality that not Toys “R” Us nor Walmart nor Target ever carried.

While Toys “R” Us continued to sell these low-end toy products to kids, it failed to grow up and to sell high end collectibles to adults. Ironically, this runs counter to their jingle. The most prestigious type of collectibles that Toys “R” Us sold were the collector Barbies and McFarlane figures, offering price points at  $15-40. A price tag that cannot provide the levels of detail, paint jobs and overall craftsmanship that goes into a Hot Toys or Sideshow figure. Adult collectors want high end figures and Sideshow and Hot Toys fill that niche. Toys “R” Us management never recognized this growing trend.

“I don’t want to grow up, I want to be a Toys “R” Us kid”

This jingle is ultimately the rationale that appears to have led Toys “R” Us management down the wrong path. Instead of singing the praises of not growing up, the toy store should have realized that kids grow into adults; adults who still want to buy collectible toys, but who don’t want the junky, low priced Hasbro and Mattel versions. They want premiere brands like Hot Toys offering highly detailed, highly realistic, meticulously crafted and painted figures… not Hasbro’s now antiquated, poorly painted, robot-style 12 inch figures. You might give these cheap toys to your kids, but you wouldn’t display them in a display case.

This collectible market began with highly detailed military figures, but branched out into licenses with Marvel, DC, Star Wars, Warner Brothers and various other large movie franchise brands. Toys “R” Us failed to latch onto this market and, thus, failed to capture the once Toys “R” Us kid who had grown into an adult and now desires these highly detailed collectible toys. As kids grow into adults, tastes change and people want more sophisticated products. Hot Toys and Sideshow found that niche for sophisticated adult tastes. Yet, Toys “R” Us failed to recognize this niche.

If Toys “R” Us had realized this mistake and had added brands like Hot Toys to its shelves, it might have been able to entice the collector’s market back into its stores and pay down some of its debt. Every discount retailer has, so far, failed to realize the adult collectible toy market. However, this lack of foresight hurt Toys “R” Us the most.

Kid Tastes

Additionally, kids tastes have also changed as a result of brands like Hot Toys and products like the iPad. Kids don’t want want to buy Leap or other “toy” or “fake” tablets when they can ask their parents for the real thing. Kids also want the higher end Hot Toys than the poorly crafted Hasbro Ironman figures. While Toys “R” Us did begin carrying Apple products, the stores really thought of these more as a toy rather than treating them as something useful. Best Buy always treated their Apple section with the best possible displays. Toys “R” Us displayed its Apple tablets right next to random other tablets as though they weren’t anything special. I’m not even sure that I’d have felt comfortable buying an Apple tablet from Toys “R” Us. Not only did they have no one versed in this technology on staff, what they carried could have been 2 or even 3 generations old. Toys “R” Us just didn’t treat these products with the respect that they deserved.

As a result of kids changing tastes and higher levels of sophistication, kids really didn’t want much of what was in that toy store after a certain age. This meant that Toys “R” Us was primarily for kids of a certain age and below (probably 8-9 or younger). Even still, these ages were growing up faster.

Toys “R” Us Closure

Did Toys “R” Us have to close? Yes, it did. Without a management team capable of fully understanding the downsides of running its stores using the “90 in the red” model throughout the year (and failing to accommodate the changing tastes of adult collectors), the stores ultimately succumbed to closure. It was inevitable.

What tipped the scale, though, was 2005’s $6.6 billion leveraged buyout of Toys “R” Us by the KKR, Bain Capital, and Vornado Realty Trust; a purchase that saddled the corporation with at least $5 billion in debt, in addition to its already mounting toy inventory debt each operating year. There was simply no way Toys “R” Us could recover from and pay down that debt considering its interest each month.

In fact, it was this very same leveraged buyout that not only trashed Toys “R” Us, it also lost its original private equity investors at least $1.28 billion. Even these private equity firms were ignorant of Toys “R” Us’s “90 in the red” model. You’d think that between three different private equity firms, one would have had brain among them. I guess not. Toys “R” Us was not worth buying strictly because of that business model… and it was especially true when considering saddling an already debt overburdened company with even more debt. It was an insanely stupid buyout made more stupid because of the lack performing even the most basic of fiduciary responsibility. Those private equity firms got exactly what they deserved out of that deal. Make the wrong deal, get the wrong results.

If I had been sitting in the room when this buyout deal was being considered, I would have put the kibosh on that deal pronto. If managers of stores could recognize how badly Toys “R” Us was operating in the 80s, why couldn’t a bunch of suits at three different private equity firms see this before plopping down $6.6 billion?

Overvaluation

If anything, 2005’s TRU sale is a cautionary tale. There are way too many buyouts that are purchased at way too high a value. I’ve seen it happen time and time again. Companies worth maybe $500 million sell for $3 billion? It’s just insane the money that’s being overspent. Would you walk into Walmart and offer to pay $25 for a $5 tube of toothpaste? I don’t think so. So, why do these investors think it’s okay to spend $6.6 billion on a company worth maybe $1 billion at its best… and it was then likely actually worth much less considering the debt that it already carried. Its insane business model should have further reduced its value.

Could Toys “R” Us have been saved?

Probably not. At least, not with its status quo business model. But, it might have been saved IF Toys “R” Us had adopted a more balanced approach to its store sales and more sane merchandise ordering in combination with letting managers actually handle full store merchandising instead of relying on nice looking, but misguided corporate-standard planograms.

Only stock enough merchandise in a specific store that that store can actually sell. Let managers move stock around on shelves and place the merchandise in their store where it’s most likely to sell. Additionally, don’t send stock to a store where the buying demographic isn’t buying that type of merchandise. If Barbies aren’t popular in a particular store’s demographic region, send limited amounts of Barbies there. It’s a waste of money and effort to stock merchandise that doesn’t sell. One of Toys “R” Us’s biggest foibles was its cookie-cutter store approach. That meant it was sending the same stock to all stores regardless of popularity in that local store’s area. It also meant that it way overspent on toys that would never sell at certain stores. Eventually, they simply had to clearance out those toys. Each store’s inventory should have been customized based on buying habits of local consumers and by the local manager. Only the local store team knows what’s the “hot sellers” in their store.

Clearance merchandise is actually a red flag in the retail business. It means that, as a store, you way overspent on merchandise that you couldn’t sell. If you have excessive clearance merchandise, then your merchandise spends are way off. It also means that your buyer is overbuying stuff that isn’t selling. It means you need to rethink your buyer and it means your new buyer needs to rethink how much to spend on similar types of products.

One of Toys “R” Us’s other foibles was its inability to recognize and stock the “hottest toys” rapidly. If you send 5 of something to a store and it sells out in 10 minutes, you need to stock more of it and you need to do it pronto. Yet, it might take Toys “R” Us 30 or more days to get that merchandise back in stock. That’s 30 days of zero sales… sales that could have been had the next day and the day after that. Missed sales were one of TRU’s biggest problems. Having merchandise in stock that you can sell day after day is a huge win. Yet, if the corporate buyers don’t even know to reorder this thing again, the store is blind. This is why the next part was so important to improving TRU.

Instead, this toy chain should have let the local managers have autonomy via cutting merchandise from their store that isn’t selling and placing rush orders on the hottest toys. By letting the managers, you know, actually manage the store’s inventory properly, the stores could have cut costs and raised profits. The managers could have done this by buying more of popular hot sellers in that area, shuffling cold merchandise to other stores that can sell it and cutting non-sellers from the inventory. In fact, managers should have actually had access to every store’s inventory throughout the chain and when that item last sold there. If a particular item is selling hot in one store, but is completely dead in other stores, the hot item store manager should be able to request stock moved from the cold stores to their store. This way, managers could have directly moved inventory from store to store instead of placing orders for more stock, thus causing more debt. Only after the existing in-store inventory was exhausted should a new order need to be placed. The buyers from the chain should have endorsed this manager autonomy.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t a priority for the very rigid corporate run TRU. I could walk into a store in Texas and find specific toys always out of stock. Then walk into a TRU in St. Louis a week later and find twenty of them sitting on the shelf with dust on the top. If stores had been able to request the hottest toys moved from other stores, the chain could have saved a lot of money on new stock orders.

This change in business model could have drastically improved Toys “R” Us’s profitability throughout the year. It probably would have cut down on orders to toy sellers, but something’s got to give when you’re running a retail store chain. If the toy manufacturers had to suffer a little to let Toys “R” Us recover and be a whole lot more profitable, then so be it.

Unfortunately, TRU’s status quo model endured. Even if the leveraged buyout hadn’t occurred in 2005, Toys “R” Us’s fate was pretty much sealed strictly by is “90 in the red” (cookie cutter) mentality. It was only a matter of time before it succumbed to its own debt burden even if it hadn’t incurred a ton more debt after that poor sale. The 2005 unwise sale simply accelerated Toys “R” Us’s already looming demise.

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What’s wrong with Quora?

Posted in botch, business, california, rant by commorancy on July 28, 2019

QuoraYou might be asking, “What is Quora?” We’ll get into that soon enough. Let’s explore the problems with Quora.

Questions and Answers

Before we get into Quora, let’s start by talking about Google. Many people seek answers from Google for many different questions. In fact, questions are the number one use for Google. You don’t go to Google to seek answers you already know. You go there to search (or question) things you don’t know. Such questions might include:

  • Where can I buy a toaster?
  • How long do I bake a chicken?
  • How do I make Quesadillas?
  • What’s the value of my 1974 Pontiac T-Bird?

These are full text questions. And yes, Google does support asking questions in long form such as these above. You can also search Google by using short key words, such as “toastmaster toaster” or “pontiac t-bird” (no, you don’t even need to use the proper case).

These short form questions are solely for use at search engines. When seeking answers to long form questions both Google and other sites can offer responses to your questions. One such site is Quora. Another is Yahoo Answers (a much older platform). Even Google got in on this action with Google Questions and Answers.

Quora

Quora is a recent incarnation of the older Yahoo Answers platform. Even before Yahoo Answers, there was Ask Jeeves. Even Epinions, a product review site (defunct as of 2018), had many answers to many questions. Epinions, in fact, opens a bigger discussion around site closures and content… but that’s a discussion for another article.

The real question (ahem) is whether sites like Yahoo Answers and Quora provide valuable answers or whether they simply usurp Google’s ability to answer questions in more trusted ways. I’m on the fence as to this question’s answer. Let me explain more about Quora to understand why I feel this way.

Quora is a crowdsourced product. By that I mean that both questions and answers are driven by crowds of subscribers. Not by Quora staff or, indeed, Quora at all. Unlike Wikipedia which has many volunteers who constantly proof, correct and improve articles to make Wikipedia a trustworthy information source, Quora offers nothing but the weakest of moderation. In fact, the only moderation Quora offers is both removal of answers and banning of accounts.

Quora has no live people out there reviewing questions and answers for either grammar and mechanics, nor trustworthiness. No one questions whether an answer is valid, useful or indeed even correct. Quora doesn’t even require its answer authors to cite sources or in any way validate what they have written. In fact, Quora’s moderation system is so broken that when answer authors do cite sources, their answer might be flagged and removed as ‘spam’. Yes, the very inclusion of web site links can and will cause answers to be marked as spam and removed from the site. Quora’s insane rationale is that if there’s a web link, it must be pointing to a site owned by the answer author and in which the answer author is attempting to advertise. This stupid and undermining rationale is applied by bots who neither read the content they review nor do they understand that the answer author can’t possibly own Wikipedia.com, Amazon.com or eBay.com.

Indeed, Quora’s moderation is so bare bones basic and broken, it undermines Quora’s own trustworthiness so much so that when you read an answer on Quora, you must always question the answer author’s reputation. Even then, because Quora’s verification and reputation system is non-existent, you can never know if the person is who they say they are. But, this is just the tip of the troubles at Quora.

Quora’s Real Problems

Trustworthiness is something every information site must address. It must address it in concrete and useful ways, ways that subscribers can easily get really fast. Wikipedia has addressed its trust issues by a fleet of moderators who constantly comb Wikipedia and who question every article and every statement in each article. Even with a fleet of moderators, incorrect information can creep in. Within a day or two, that information will either be corrected or removed. Wikipedia has very stringent rules around the addition and verification of information.

Twitter offers a verification system so that celebrities and people of note can send information to Twitter to verify who they say they are to Twitter staff. You’ll notice these as little blue check mark’s by the Twitter subscriber’s name. These check marks validate the person as legitimate and not a fake.

Quora, on the other hand, has no such rules or validation systems at all. In fact, Quora’s terms of service are all primarily designed around “behaving nicely” with no rules around validation of content or of authors. Indeed, Quora offers no terms that address trust or truth of the information provided. Far too many times, authors use Quora as a way of writing fanciful fiction. Worse, Quora does nothing to address this problem. They’re too worried about “spam” links than about whether an answer to a question is valid or trustworthy.

Yet, Quora continually usurps Google’s search by placing its questions (and answers implicitly) at the top of the search results. I question the value in Quora for this. It’s fine if Quora’s answers appear in search towards the bottom of the page, but they should NEVER appear at the number 1 position. This is primarily a Google problem. That Google chooses to promote untrustworthy sites at the top of its search results is something that Google most definitely needs to address. Sure, it is a problem for Quora, but it’s likewise a problem for Google.

Google purports to want to maintain “safety” and “trustworthiness” in its search by not leading you to malicious sites and by, instead, leading you to trustworthy sites. Yet, it plops Quora’s sometimes malicious answers at the top of its search results. Google needs to begin rating sites for trustworthiness and it should then push search results to appropriate levels based on that level of trust. Google needs to insist that sites like Quora, which provide consumers with actionable information, must maintain a certain level of trust to maintain high search rankings. Quora having its question results appear in the top 3 positions of the first page of Google search based entirely on weak trustworthiness is completely problematic.

Wikipedia strives to make its site trustworthy… that what you read is, indeed, valuable, valid and truthful information. Quora, on the other hand, makes absolutely no effort to ensure its answers are valid, trustworthy or, indeed, even truthful. You could ask Google for the answer to a question. You might see Quora’s results at the top of Google’s results and click it. Google placing such sites in the top 3 positions implies an automatic level of trust. That the sites that appear in the first 3 results are there because they ARE trustworthy. This implicit trust is entirely misplaced. Google doesn’t, in fact, place sites in the top of its search because they are trustworthy. It places them there because of “popularity”.

You simply can’t jump to this “trustworthiness” conclusion when viewing Google search results. The only thing you can glean from a site appearing in Google results is that it is not going to infect your computer with a virus. Otherwise, Google places any site at the top of its ranking when Google decides to rank in that position. As I said, you should never read any implicit level of trust into sites which appear in the first 3 positions of Google search. Quora proves this out. Quora’s entire lack of trustworthiness of information means that Google is not, in any way, looking out for your best interests. They are looking out for Quora, not you. Quora’s questions sometimes even rank higher than Wikipedia.

Quora’s Answers

With that said, let’s delve deeper into the problem with Quora’s answers. If you’ve ever written an answer on Quora, then you’ll fully understand what I’m about to say. Quora’s terms of service are, in fact, counter to producing trustworthy answers. Unlike news sites like CNN, The Washington Post and the L.A. Times, where journalistic integrity is the key driving force, Quora ensures none of this. Sure, Quora’s answer editor tool does offer the ability to insert quotes and references, but doing so can easily mark your answer as ‘spam’.

In fact, I’ve had 2 or 3 year old Quora answers marked as ‘spam’ and removed from view because of the inclusion of a link to an external and reputable web site. Quora cites violation of terms for this when, in fact, no such violation exists. The author is then required to spend time appealing this “decision”.

Instead, its bots will remove reviews from its site based entirely upon reports by users. If a user doesn’t like the answer, they can report the review and the review bot will then take the answer down and place it under moderation appeal. There is no manual review by actual Quora staff to check the bot’s work. This work is all done by robots. Robots that can be gamed and sabotaged by irate, irrational, upset users who have a vendetta against other Quorans.

The answer takedowns are never in the interest of trust or making Quora more trustworthy, but are always in the interest of siding with the reporting user who has a vendetta or is simply insane. Users have even learned that they can game Quora’s robots to have answers removed without valid reasons or, indeed, no reasons at all. There’s no check and balance with the moderation robots or takedown requests. Quora receives a report, the answer is summarily removed.

Unfortunately, this is the tip of a much larger Quora iceberg. Let’s continue.

Which is more important, the question or the answer?

All of the above leads to an even bigger problem. Instead of Quora spending its development time attempting to shore up its level of site trust, it instead spends its time creating questionable programs like the Partner Program. A program that, in one idea, sums up everything wrong with Quora.

What is the Partner Program? I’ll get to that in a moment. What the Partner Program ultimately is to Quora is an albatross. Or, more specifically, it will likely become Quora’s downfall. This program solidifies everything I’ve said above and, simultaneously, illustrates Quora’s lack of understanding of its very own platform. Quora doesn’t “get” why a question and answer platform is important.

Which is more important to Quora? They answered this question (ha, see what I did there?) by making the question more important than the answer.

That’s right. The Partner Program rewards people monetarily who ask questions, NOT by rewarding the people who spend the lion’s share of their time writing thoughtful, truthful, trustworthy answers. In effect, Quora has told answer authors that their answers don’t matter. You can write a two sentence answer and it would make no difference. Yes, let’s reward the people who spend 5 minutes writing a 5-10 word sentence… not the people who spend an hour or two crafting trustworthy answers. And this is Quora’s problem in a nutshell.

Worse, it’s not the questions that draw people in to Quora. Yes, the question may be the ‘search terms’, but it’s not why people end up on Quora. The question leads people in, it’s the ANSWER that keeps them there. It’s the answers that people spend their time reading, not the questions.

This is the iceberg that Quora doesn’t get nor do they even understand. The questions are stubs. The questions are merely the arrow pointing the way. It’s not the end, it’s the beginning. The questions are not the reason people visit Quora.

By producing the Partner Program, Quora has flipped the answer authors the proverbial middle finger.finger-512If you’re a Quora answer author, you should definitely consider the Partner Program as insulting. Quora has effectively told the answer authors, “Your answers are worthless. Only questions have monetary value.” Yes, let’s reward the question writers who’ve spent perhaps less than 5 minutes devising a sentence. Let’s completely ignore the answer authors who have spent sometimes hours or days crafting their words, researching those words for clarity and truthfulness and ensuring trust in each detailed answer.

It’s not the questions that draw people in, Quora staff. People visit Quora for the answers. Without thoughtful answers, there is absolutely no reason to visit Quora.

Indeed, Quora’s thinking is completely backasswards, foolish and clownish. It shows just how much a clown outfit Quora really is. Seriously, placing value on the questions at the expense of answer authors who spend hours crafting detailed answers is the very definition of clownish. That situation would be synonymous to The Washington Post or The New York Times valuing and paying readers to leave comments and then asking their journalists to spend their own time and money writing and researching their articles, only to give the article to the newspaper for free. How many journalists would have ever become journalists knowing this business model?

Qlowns

Whomever at Quora dreamed up this clownish idea should be summarily walked to the door. Dissing and dismissing the very lifeblood of your site, the actual question authors, is just intensely one of the most stupid and insane things I’ve seen a site do in its life.

Not only is the very concept of the partner program qlownish, not only does it completely dissuade authors from participating in Quora, not only does is it completely backwards thinking, not only does it reward question authors (which honestly makes no sense at all), this program does nothing to establish trust or indeed, does nothing to put forth any journalistic integrity.

Instead, Quora needs to ditch the question Partner Program and fast. It needs to quickly establish a system that not only rewards the best answer authors, it needs to enforce journalistic integrity on EVERY ANSWER. It needs to implement a validation system to ensure that authors are who they say they are. It needs to make certain that every answer author understands that they are in every real sense a ‘journalist’. And, as a journalist, they should uphold journalistic integrity. That integrity means properly researching sources and properly citing those sources. Yes, it’s a hassle, but it means that Quora’s answers will become trustworthy sources of information.

Right now, the answer authors are mostly random and low quality. In fact, most answers are of such low quality that you simply can’t trust anything found on Quora. Since Quora does not enforce any level of journalistic standards on the answers, there is no way anyone reading Quora should trust what any answer author writes. An answer may seem detailed, but in some cases they are pure fiction. No one at Quora ensures that answers in any way uphold any level of journalistic integrity (there’s that phrase again). It’s an important phrase when you’re writing something that people rely on.

Making a statement of fact for something that seems questionable needs to be cited with a source of reference. Show that at least one other reputable source agrees with your “facts”. That doesn’t mean that that “fact” is true. It’s easy for other reputable sites to be fooled by tricksters. This is why it’s important to cite several reputable sources which agree with your facts. I don’t want to dive deep into the topic of journalistic integrity or what it takes to validate sources, so I’ll leave this one here. This article is about Quora’s inability to uphold journalistic integrity.

Quora’s Backward Thinking

Indeed, the Partner Program’s existence confirms that Quora’s site importance is the opposite of journalistic integrity. Quora’s team values only the questions and the question writers. They do not, in any way, value the journalistic integrity required to write a solid, trustworthy answer. Questions are mere tools. They do not at all imply any level of trust. Here’s another analogy that might make more sense.

A question is simply the key to open a lock. A key is a tool and nothing more. You pay for the lock and key together. You don’t pay only for a key. Paying for a key without a lock means you don’t value (or indeed) even need a lock. You can’t lock anything with only a key. The two are a pair and they both go hand-in-hand. If you lose the key, you can’t open the lock. If you lose the lock, they key has no value. However, it’s easier and cheaper to replace a key than it is to replace the lock. This shows you the value of a ‘key’ alone.

Because Quora chooses to place value only the key and not on the lock, they have entirely lost the ability to protect Quora’s reputation and credibility. Indeed, Quora’s credibility was already in jeopardy before the Partner Program was even a twinkle in someone’s eye. With the Partner Program, Quora has solidified its lack of credibility. Quora has officially demonstrated that it is committed to valuing and paying only for keys and never paying for locks to go with those keys. That means the locks will be the weakest, most flimsiest pieces of junk to ever exist… indeed, the locks won’t even exist.

When you’re trying to secure something, you want the strongest, most durable, most rugged, most secure lock you can afford. You don’t care about the key other than as a the means of opening and securing a lock. Sure, you want the key to be durable and rugged, but a key is a key. There’s nothing so magical about a key that you’d be willing the shell out big bucks solely for a key. You always expect a lock and key to go together. You expect to buy both and you expect them both to work as a cohesive whole. If the key fails, the lock is worthless. If the lock is breakable, then the key is worthless. A lock and key are the very definition of a synergistic relationship. In the lock and key relationship, both have equal importance to the relationship. However, the lock itself is viewed by most people as the most important piece. Locks, however, become unimportant if they can’t secure the belongings they are entrusted to protect. Yes, you do need both the key and the lock for the system to function as a whole.

Likewise, Quora needs both the question and answer to function as a cohesive whole. In the synergistic relationship between the question and an answer, neither is more important in this synergy. Of the two, however, like the lock mechanism, the answer is the most important to the end user because it is what imparts the most information to the reader. It is what must be trustworthy. It is what must contain the information needed to answer the question. The question then holds the same functionality as a key. In fact, it is very much considered a key to Google. That’s why they’re called ‘keywords’ or ‘key phrases’. Using the word ‘key’ when in relation to a search engine is intended to be very much synonymous with a real life key you attach to a key ring. A keyword unlocks the data you need.

Valuing both the Lock and Key

Quora needs a rethink. If there’s any value to be held on data, both the key and the lock, or more specifically the question and answer, need to be valued as a cohesive whole. If you value the question, then you must also value the answer(s). This means revenue sharing. The question author will then receive the equivalent % of revenue that each answer author receives based on work involved. Since a sentence might take you 5 minutes to write and requires no trustworthiness at all, the maximum value a question author might receive would be no more than 10%. The remaining 90% of the revenue would be issued to the answer authors based on traffic driven to the site.

Let’s say that $100 in revenue is driven to that Q&A for the first month. $10 is given to the question asker… always 10% of total revenue. That’s probably a little on the high side, but the question asker did kick the whole process off.

Now, let’s say 3 answers are submitted for the question. Let’s assume all 3 answer authors are participating in the revenue program. The remaining $90 is then spread among the 3 answer authors based on total views. Likes might pump up the percentage by a small percentage. If one answer is fully detailed and receives 2.5k views in 30 days and the remaining two answers receive 500 views each, then the 2.5k views answer author would receive at least 72% of the remaining revenue (2.5k + 1k = 3.5k). 2.5k is ~72% of 3.5k. This means this author would receive 72% of the remaining $90 or a total of $65. The remaining $15 would be split between the other two authors. The more participating authors, the less money to go around per answer. Questions that receive perhaps 200 answers might see only a few dollars of revenue per author.

There must also be some guidelines around answers for this to work. Answer authors must be invited to participate in the program. If the answer author isn’t invited and hasn’t agreed to terms, no revenue is shared. Also, one word, one sentence and off-topic answers disqualify the answer from sharing in revenue. Additionally, to remain in the revenue program, the answer author must agree to write solid, on-topic, properly structured, fully researched and cited answers. If an invited author attempts to game the system by producing inappropriate answers to gain revenue, the author will be disqualified from the program with any further ability to participate. Basically, you risk involvement in the revenue sharing by attempting to game it.

This math incentivizes not only quality questions, but also quality answers. The better an answer is, the more views it is likely to receive. More views means more revenue. The better and clearer the answer, the more likely the author is to not only be asked to participate in the revenue sharing program, the more likely they are to receive a higher share of that revenue. The best answers should always be awarded the highest amounts of revenue possible.

Google vs Quora

As I postulated early in the article, does Quora actually hold any value as a site or does it merely usurp Google’s search results? This is a very good question, one that doesn’t have a definitive answer. For me, I find that Quora’s current answers range from occasionally and rarely very high quality to, mostly, junky worthless answers. This junky aspect of Quora leads me towards Quora being a Google usurper. In other words, most of Quora’s results in Google are trash clogging up the search results. They shouldn’t be there.

Unfortunately, Google returns all results in a search whether high or low quality. Google does offer some limited protection mechanisms to prevent malicious sites from appearing in results. But, Google’s definition of the word ‘malicious’ can be different than mine in many cases. Simply because someone can put up a web site with random information doesn’t automatically make that site valuable. Value comes from continually providing high quality information on an ongoing basis… the very definition of professional journalism. Now we’re back to journalistic integrity. We’ve come full circle.

Unfortunately, because of Quora’s lack of insistence on journalistic integrity, I find Quora to be nothing more than a mere novelty… no better than TMZ or the National Enquirer. I’m not saying TMZ doesn’t have journalists. They do. But, a rag is always a rag. Any newspaper dishing dirt on people I always consider the bottom feeders of journalism… the very dreckiest of tabloid journalism. This type of journalism is the kind of trash that has kept the National Enquirer and other tabloids in business for many, many years. It’s sensational journalism at its finest (or worst). Sure, these writers might aspire to be true journalists some day, but they’ll never find reputable journalistic employment dishing dirt on celebrities or fabricating fiction (unless they begin writing fiction novels).

Unfortunately, many of Quora’s answers fall well below even the standards established by the dreckiest of tabloids. The one and only one thing tabloids and Quora have in common is fiction. Unfortunately, the fiction on Quora isn’t even that entertaining. It’s occasionally amusing, but most of it is tedious and cliché at its most common. Think of the worst movie you’ve watched, then realize that most of these Quora fiction “stories” are even less entertaining than that. There may be a few gems here and there (probably written by professional writers simply exercising their chops on Quora), but most of it is not worth reading.

Worse, the trust level of what’s written is so low (regardless of purported “credentials”), there’s nothing on Quora worth extending a level of trust. Reading Quora for sheer entertainment value, perhaps that can be justified a little. Even then, most answers fall way short of having even entertainment value. Even the worst YouTube videos have more entertainment value. Full levels of trust? No way. Quora has in no way earned that.

Seeking Answers

Yes, we all need questions answered, occasionally. We all need to seek advice, occasionally. Yes, I’m even seeking to answer the question, “What’s wrong with Quora?” Of course, don’t expect to read any answers like THIS on Quora. Oh, no no no. Quora is very, very diligent at removing anything it deems to be anti-Quora in sentiment, such at this article. Anyway, if you choose to seek out Quora for this kind of information, Quora’s immediately problems become your problem. Considering all of the above, Quora is probably one of the worst ways of getting information. Not only can you be easily deceived by an answer author, you can be taken for a ride down Scam Lane. Trust advice from Quora with the same level of acceptance as you would from a 6 year old child. I’m not saying there are 6 year old children on Quora, but Quora certainly acts like one. Seeking Quora for advice means you could, in fact, be taking advice from 13 year old via a Barbie encrusted iPad.

Should I write for Quora?

I’m sure this is the question you are now contemplating after having read this article. This is a question that only you can answer. However, let me leave you with these thoughts. When you write answers for Quora under the current Partner Program, you are doing so for free. Yet, question authors are being paid for YOUR effort, answer and research. You spend the time, THEY get the dime. It’s an entirely unfair arrangement.

To answer this question more definitively… I personally won’t write any future answers for Quora. Quora currently relies on each answer author’s thoughtful, researched answers to make its a success (and bring in ad dollars). If you do not like this turn of events with the Partner Program, say, “NO” and do not write for Quora.

If enough answer authors stop 🛑 writing for Quora, the questions writers can’t and won’t be paid. This will have Quora scrambling for a new fairer equity system. If you are just as disgusted by Quora’s Partner Program as I am, then walk way from Quora and no longer write answers. I have stopped writing answers and will no longer write any further answers for the site until they come to their senses and compensate both question writers and answer writers equally in a profit sharing arrangement.

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Rant Time: Pinterest

Posted in botch, business, Random Thoughts, rant, reviews, social media by commorancy on June 30, 2019

pinterestPinterest is an image sharing platform using image ‘pins’, which should be interesting. After all, the word “interest” is in its name. You would think that before releasing a platform designed around relevance, the Pinterest team could actually design an engine capable of producing relevant and interesting images. NOT! Pinterest is one of the worst, if not THE worst platform, at displaying relevant ‘pins’ in your feed, not that Tumblr and Instagram are much better at this. Let’s explore.

Search Interests

One of the things that has vexed developers for a long time is how to show you stuff that’s actually interesting and, more importantly, relevant to you. Amazon and Google have done a decent, albeit not any anywhere near perfect, job of implementing such search heuristics, where the results actually offer some measure of interest and relevance to you based on the data they know about you.

This data collection, storage and mining issue is currently a point of privacy contention among many and is even in the news, but ‘search history’ is the primary means of showing you “stuff” that is actually of personal interest. The secondary method, which is less creepy and at least a bit more tolerable, is asking you directly for categories you’re interested in (i.e., sports, fashion, music, your age, single/married, kids, etc). Still, your search history actually contains the most relevant information about you as it’s recent and current. Unlike family relationships that can change (kids grow up, couples separate, graduate from college, move, get remarried, etc), search history implies a lot about your current situation and is way more up-to-date than explicitly given data that gets old even just a month or two after it’s given. Explicit offered data can even be based on lies, because some people roll that way.

As an example of recent search history, searching about baby related stuff (cribs, clothing, formula, diapers) might yield ads from Amazon, Target or Walmart selling baby goods. It only makes sense… and this is an example of ‘relevance targeting’. That is, targeting you with images or ads you have searched for in the recent past. Same for searching for wedding, bridal or other similar information. Same for searching for car buying. Search history is ‘in the now’ information that is clearly relevant to you “right now”. The “right now” portion of search relevance is key to a great relevance engine and to ad targeting.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work if you share a computer with multiple people; for example, you might have a family of four or have roommates in your dorm. In cases like these, your daughter might have searched for Barbie dolls and now you have a bunch of irrelevant (to you) stuff related to Barbie or toys or kid related items. The search engine simply can’t recognize who is at the keyboard. It currently can only attribute search results to a specific computer. Until search engines can identify who is at the keyboard with each search (i.e., facial or voice recognition), engines must identify based only on the computer itself (a limited recognition system). This is the reason voice assistants like “Ok, Google”, Alexa, Siri and Cortana are so important. Unfortunately, I don’t believe these assistants yet identify the voice itself. They only recognize the words spoken and translate that into text search.

Search relevance definitely isn’t perfect much of the time and doesn’t work at all when using a shared device. Using a shared device, I do get why ‘relevant ad targeting’ doesn’t work. However, if your device is solely used by you, then relevance targeting should work perfectly… or at least as perfectly as today’s targeting algorithms allow. Yet, for Pinterest, it doesn’t.

Pinterest’s Targeting Engine

Why discuss the above? Let’s illustrate exactly how Amazon and Google work ad targeting relevance. If you’ve searched for “men’s clothing” in the recent past, then Google and Amazon will insert these kinds of items into your ‘feed’. A feed is basically a place on the screen where ‘Recommended for you’ stuff appears.

Pinterest doesn’t use a ‘Recommended’ area, instead choosing to intermix it all together in one immediate and immense jumbled mess. If any dictionary needs an example for ‘cluttered’, Pinterest certainly works.

[RANT ON]

Like bread falling butter side down, so this rant begins. Pinterest has one of the worst designed, most sloppy, most cluttered, most inaccurate relevance engines in existence. In fact, I don’t even think Pinterest has a relevance engine. They seem to vomit up all random irrelevant garbage into your Pinterest feed based on who knows what criteria.

Worse, they then attribute that random spewed garbage to being ‘Inspired by’ (a form of ‘Recommend’) to a board you’ve created. I’m sorry. Wait.. what, Pinterest? How does a picture of a baby in a carryall at all relate to men’s fitness? Seriously, I’m a single guy. I am not currently in a relationship. How does a picture of a baby at all interest me or, more specifically, how does that picture of a baby relate to body fitness? Clearly, a baby is not the definition of ‘fitness’. That is, unless Pinterest is actually trying to promote pedophilia?!?

Worse, I also see pictures of fat hipped women that claim to be ‘Inspired By’ a board on men’s bodybuilding and fitness (no women in that board at all). I also see women’s hair styles flooding my feed claiming to be ‘Inspired by’ a board on men’s underwear. I see pins of women in wedding dresses. I see pins of women’s high heeled shoes. I see women wearing random fingernail polish and acrylic nails. These are entirely fashion related and I have not a single board or pin devoted to women, women’s fashion or, indeed, women’s anything. Not a single board. How can you possibly claim attribution of these completely random images to any board in my account?

I’m not against any of these topics. If I want to see them, I’ll go search for them and look at whatever pins are there by searching. However, I DON’T want them in my Pinterest feed. These pins have no place there.

It Gets Worse

From here, Pinterest’s relevance goes into the toilet (literally… yes, bathroom cleaners are there too). I get that Pinterest might think a single guy might have some interest in looking at the female form dressed or coiffed nicely. But, even if that’s true (and in my case it isn’t, at least I don’t want it in my feed), Pinterest insists on throwing all manner of completely irrelevant garbage into my feed.

It’s not simply limited to arbitrary women’s fashion, oh no no no, my reader friends. Pinterest insists on throwing Arabic writing into my feed… a language I not only cannot read, I also have no interest in. I’m sure that whatever is written there is fascinating, too bad it’s wasted on me by throwing it into my feed, an English speaking person.

It gets worse. For at least six months (maybe longer), my feed was entirely littered with page after page of all manner of tattooed body parts… just the parts. These included ankles, wrists, shoulders, backs, butts and torsos. Sometimes the tattooed body part is so close to the camera, I can’t even identify where it is. Worse, the tattoos are downright fugly. They looked like someone had done it themselves DIY at home. A few were professionally done, but many were so horrendous, who would even consider putting such a thing on their body? Anyway, I have no tattoos, have no interest in getting tattoos and don’t want to see tattooed body parts in my feed. I hadn’t searched for tattoos, so Pinterest didn’t get this ‘idea’ from my search history.

These tattoo body part pins were literally clogging up my feed. Nearly every image in my feed was of a body part. I might understand seeing a little of these images occasionally. As I said, it didn’t come from search. However, while I did have a fitness board that incidentally contained some men with tattoos, they were there because of their physique, not because of their tattoo. Pinterest doesn’t get it. It only saw a tattoo and then insisted that I might have some interest in tattooing my body… thus flooding my feed with body part after body part with UGLY tattoos. A completely wrong assumption, I might add.

Assumptions are, in fact, the prerequisite to search relevance. Unfortunately, Pinterest’s assumption engine is entirely wrong nearly 100% of the time. Just because an image contains a tattoo on someone’s shoulder, you can’t assume that to mean I want to tattoo my body and need help by flooding my feed with tattooed body parts. Wrong assumption, wrong results… or as the older computer adage goes, “Garbage In, Garbage Out!”

Pinterest Janitor

Here’s where it turns REALLY ugly. To clean up my feed, I had to play janitor. First, I had to spent valuable time going into all of my boards and clearing out ALL pins that had ANY tattoos in the image. Just gone… out of there. That helped a little, but only a tiny amount. It only helped a little because Pinterest’s engine had already ‘learned’ this ‘interest’ based on an incorrect assumption. Unfortunately, ‘unlearning’ learned stuff can he incredibly difficult… and, in Pinterest’s case, it is! Second, I had to spent time going through each new “tattooed body part” pin appearing in my feed, then following that pin through to the original account who pinned it… and then, you guessed it, block the account. That all sounds easy enough, but because of the way Pinterest works, it’s actually quite time consuming jumping from page to page and waiting for Pinterest to refresh each super long, image laden page.

I spent the better part of a week opening pins, going into accounts and blocking account after account after account. Blocking the account is the only way not to see these pins in the future (well, sort of… this is actually broken, too and I’ll discuss this next).

You’d think that a platform like Pinterest could figure out a way to wholesale remove an interest category from a feed… but you’d be wrong. Nope, there is no way to remove an interest (or should I say, exclude non-interests) from the feed. The only way to remove an interest is to, one by one, block the accounts producing the pins. It’s the only way. Even then, new accounts spawn all the time leading to brand new pins of the same old stuff recycled back into my feed… requiring even more blocking. It’s a never ending janitorial cycle.

Now, you might be asking, “Why not click the … (ellipsis) menu on the pin and report it?” I tried that. It doesn’t work. Reporting the pin as spam does nothing. The pins continue to show up. The only way to stop a pin is to block the account who pinned it. Even then, blocking an account has limited ability to even stop the problem…

When Blocking Doesn’t Work

You might think, once again, that blocking an account would block all pins by that account. Again, you’d be wrong. The only thing that blocking an account does is block pins created directly by that account. If a different unblocked account repins one of a blocked account’s pins, it can still end up in my feed. Repins via unblocked accounts allow pins through from accounts that are blocked. It’s not the pin that’s blocked, it’s the account. This is a huge heuristic mistake for a platform like Pinterest.

Even then, blocking an account doesn’t take effect immediately (or sometimes even at all). Pins that are already in your feed stay in your feed, even after you’ve blocked an account. I’ve blocked accounts and for several hours after continued to see that account’s pins in my feed after refreshing multiple times. A block seems to take up to 24 hours to actually take effect fully. Even then, I’m not entirely certain that blocking does much good because of repinning. Repinning is Pinterest’s version of Twitter’s retweet functionality. It allows any account to pin into their own account. Pinterest will then pull that pin out of that account and shove it into random people’s feed… even if the pin originated from a now blocked account.

Still, blocking an account doesn’t do anything to block Pinterest’s crap relevance engine. Even if I block account by account, Pinterest’s engine insists on filling my feed with all manner of random garbage similar to what was blocked.

Following Accounts

You would also think that by following other Pinterest accounts, Pinterest would be more inclined to show us pins by those accounts whom we follow. Again, you’d be wrong. While Pinterest does show pins by followed accounts in the feed, it also intermixes in accounts not being followed. In fact, I’d say that Pinterest tends to show more account pins not being followed than those who are being followed. Sometimes that may have to do with when those followed accounts are active.

For example, if your followed accounts haven’t been active in the last hour or two, then Pinterest still insists on filling your feed with pins (a feature that is entirely unnecessary). If those I’m following haven’t pinned recently, then show me a blank page. It’s fine if the page has no pins. I’d rather see no pins in my feed than a bunch of random garbage.

Anyway, when pins by accounts you are following don’t appear in the feed, it could simply mean they’re not pinning. Instead, your feed is being cluttered by extraneous random garbage. The trouble is, it is truly garbage and not at all relevant. The weird thing is, there is so much more relevant content on Pinterest that the engine never finds and places into my feed. I have to use Pinterest’s search panel to go find it. It’s this random irrelevant garbage that makes Pinterest completely worthless as a platform.

You’d assume that Pinterest would prioritize followed account pins over random pins, but again you’d be wrong. Pinterest has no interest in trying to make their engine more relevant. They’re simply interested in promoting random accounts’ pins into feeds, even when those pins make absolutely no sense for that particular user (i.e., image of babies shown to grown single men).

The Pinterest Idea

The idea behind the Pinterest platform has merit. Too bad Pinterest’s implementation is such absolute shit. Images can be incredibly powerful, particularly so when that image is actually of interest to the viewer. On the other hand, images shown to people who have absolutely no interest in that subject matter is a wasted opportunity to show much more relevant content.

Pinterest wastes its opportunities every single time you refresh the page. Instead of feeding me actual images of interest, I get images of high heel shoes, of wedding dresses, of women in wedding dresses, of women’s hair, of babies, of smokey eye makeup, of tattooed body parts. I even get images of dog food bowls, dog collars and of dogs. I don’t own a dog. I no have interests in any of that. Yet, image after image after image is shown. It’s entirely frustrating dealing with Pinterest’s garbage.

But, that’s not the problem. Pinterest gives us NO TOOLS to actually wholesale remove these uninteresting photos from our feed. We have to deal with them one by one. We have to block accounts one by one. Even after going through all of the hoop jumping of blocking and reporting and hiding, photos of similar content STILL appear in the feed… day after day. Sometimes even the same pin I’ve reported or hidden STILL appears.

Just when I think I’ve got a handle on my feed, Pinterest re-ups and I get a whole new wave of garbage in my feed. With Pinterest, you simply cannot win that battle of spam photos. It’s a trash platform designed to be trashy. I’m amazed that it even still exists. I’m even more amazed that anyone finds it useful.

The Pinterest Dilemma

And here we come to the point that matters most. This is why Pinterest fails. The platform fails because Pinterest attempts to ‘guess’ what it thinks you want to see. Instead of actually asking you explicitly for interest categories, it attempts to learn what you like by the pins you click on. Unfortunately, it goes even deeper than that. It learns what you like by what those whom you follow click on… and those whom they follow click on. It feeds crap to you based on the interests and clicks of others, not what you specifically click on. It assumes that because somewhere down the line, someone you follow clicks on pictures of babies, you must also want to see pictures of babies or a bridal dress. This “sixth degrees of separation” assumption is entirely wrong for a relevance engine and needs to be removed. Of course, Pinterest also makes wrong assumptions simply by reviewing your activity.

When reviewing your personal activity, Pinterest’s difficulty is, like the tattooed fitness guys, its engine guesses wrong nearly every time. Instead of Pinterest seeing a bodybuilder in a fitness pose with a great physique, Pinterest sees the image as simplistically as a “person with a tattoo”. It then makes the entirely wrong assumption that “tattoo in image = interest in tattoos”.  It’s a simplistic, unsophisticated kindergarten assumption. It’s such a basic assumption, only a child could actually jump to that conclusion. Even then, only a child would jump to that conclusion if the parent already had tattoos and invited over a bodybuilder with tattoos. Only then might a child associate tattoo interest.

Having a relevance platform make the wrong assumption and jump to the most wrong conclusion is actually the worst of all possible outcomes for a relevance engine. It then leads your entire results astray and leads to frustration by what’s presented… thus making the platform worthless. It also means that once your “learning” machine learns this entirely wrong data, it’s doubly difficult to “unlearn” it. As I said, “Garbage In, Garbage Out.” In fact, Pinterest has no way to correct these completely incorrect assumptions its engine has made.

Pinterest could fix this by asking direct questions about pins to understand if the assumptions it has made about a specific pin is correct. If the assumption is incorrect, it can “unlearn” a learned assumption. Better, simply ask us what we want to see in our feed and exclude all else. Also, give us exclusion features. See a pin, click to exclude all similar pins from the feed. Even then, Pinterest still needs to get rid of its association algorithm where it associates “women in bridal outfits” or “babies in bassinets” or “doggie treats” with “men’s bodybuilding”… which is probably entirely attributed to its completely incorrect “six degrees of separation” relevance idea.

With all of that said, Pinterest does offer a mechanism to stop seeing pins “Inspired by”, but that’s a sledgehammer approach. Using that feature is all or nothing. It will stop the garbage, but it will also stop relevant pins. This feature is poorly designed and implemented. It’s the wrong approach for a relevance engine. Instead, as I said, as Pinterest users, we need exclusionary features that look at the image and exclude all like-kind images from the feed. Unfortunately, Pinterest just doesn’t get it!

[RANT OFF]

Since this is not only a rant and also doubles as a review of the Pinterest service, I rate Pinterest a solid 1.5 ★ out of 5. Pinterest, you seriously need to get your act together.

If you enjoy reading Randocity articles, please follow, like and share the article on your social media feeds. If you have had similar experiences with Pinterest, I’d like to hear your feedback via a comment below.

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Careful what you say

Posted in botch, Employment, tips by commorancy on May 26, 2019

angryguy2This story is about a co-worker at a previous job. I won’t name any real names or the company or describe him in detail, but I will explain the situation, which is most important for this article. Let’s explore.

Flowery Explicit Language

I’ve worked at various Internet companies and occasionally I run into co-workers who choose to use flowery explicit language while at work. In most cases, that language is a form of expression, usually reserved for exasperating circumstances. You know, when something goes wrong and you might yell, “shit”.

Well, a particular co-worker, let’s call him ‘J’, used this language casually and at all times. I thought it a bit odd, because I’d never met someone who did it so often and so casually in a professional workplace, particularly as loudly as he did it.

Before I go any further, I’ll explain that J wasn’t a native English speaker. He also wasn’t American. I had personally attributed his tactlessness, loudness and language to his personal nature (read: upbringing). With that said, I’ve met many people of J’s nationality and many of this nationality worked at this particular company. By and large, most of the people I’ve met of his nationality were cool and collected. They didn’t use such language at all (or very, very rarely). However, J had a mouth on him like you might expect on, well let’s just say on someone “low class”. It was particularly surprising to hear this language from someone in his situation (no green card, needing sponsorship, here on a work visa) and position. His language was always a bit like “Throwing caution to the wind”, in other words, risky. I always felt that he should have been a bit more cautious considering his personal work circumstance and that the workplace staff didn’t often use this kind of language. It was an odd mix for J, but apparently he was set in his ways.

I even politely commented that he should reserve these colorful expressions to more appropriate times rather than using them all of the time. I even told him he should be careful when using these expressions around the office as it’s likely to get him into trouble… and so begins this story.

Reading Your Environment

I’ll take a brief detour before continuing on with my story. When you hire onto a workplace, you should always go into observation mode for at least a couple of weeks. This observation period allows you to “read” your environment and understand what is considered acceptable and what isn’t. You don’t come in with mouth ablazin’ shooting off all manner of colorful expressions. Instead, you learn to read the staff, the behaviors and the acceptability of that kind of expression.

Some businesses have managers who are very verbally expressive with expletives. Some businesses do not. Reading the environment is the only way to determine if such behavior is considered ‘normal’ at that place of business. In general, it’s not typically considered professional or acceptable language and you should always choose not to use colorful expressions at all. However, if you find your manager uses them at times, then it’s not off to use them yourself if you’re so inclined. Your manager probably won’t even care if he/she also uses expletives.

Unfortunately, certain employees don’t understand this concept of “reading your environment” when they begin new employment. J was one of these folks and remained completely oblivious. Let’s continue with this story…

Executive Bailout

Our company had had a particularly successful last 18 months. However, all good things must come to an end, and so it did. First, the CEO announces his departure. Then, a number of other executives also announce their departures. An interim CEO is named and he takes over as CEO immediately after the other CEO announces.

My team was led by an executive VP who, at the time, had been simply going through the motions for the last 12-18 months. At first, this executive was highly motivated, on-board, and extremely engaged with everything and everyone. By the last 18 months, he had more or less checked-out. He no longer kept up with the day-to-day operations, he didn’t really much care how the department operated (other than not wanting to see it melt down, of course) and he no longer took an interest in the team. He was simply disengaged and “going through the motions”. I saw it and so did everyone else. So, it wasn’t a surprise what happened next.

Mandatory Meeting

We were called, as a department, to a large open presenting space in the lobby of our company’s building. At the time, we had no idea as to the reason for this impromptu “all hands” meeting, but I had my suspicions as to what was coming as we had had many of these in the last few weeks. I didn’t make any snap judgements as we had also had some of these meetings that simply ended up new product announcements, rah-rah sessions or other random weird (and unnecessary) company “all hands” announcements.

As I showed up a bit early, I was able to get a seat. Unfortunately, not so with everyone who showed up later. In fact, by the time the presentation started, it was standing room only and many were standing around the entire perimeter of the room, including in front of the two main double doors. For an impromptu meeting, it was really the only large-ish space the company had and it was well overfilled.

Anyway, the room fell silent and the executive who was disengaged took the stage and began explaining that he would be departing. No surprise there. After a few rah-rah type statements from him to try and keep the team motivated, the interim CEO took the stage, announced this now-departing executive’s replacement and began well wishing and additional rah-rah messages.

After it is all over (about 15 minutes later), we exit the room and head back to our desks to continue with our day on that news. The meeting had convened early, around 9AM… so we had a full day of work ahead on that “exciting” news. On the way back to our desks, I spoke with J in the elevator. We had a quick conversation about this executive’s departure and he was, as usual, using his standard flowery expressions in the elevator. Since we all knew one another, nothing here was a surprise. I even had a few more conversations with J before the end of the day about meeting up tomorrow and at this week’s wine event. At this point, nothing seemed out of the ordinary (other than this latest executive’s departure news).

Surprising News

On the following day, I noticed that J was no where to be found. He wasn’t at his desk. I needed to talk to him about a project we had both been working on. Because my direct boss was also his boss, I asked my boss where he was. I was told he was no longer with the company. That was a surprise much more than the disengaged executive’s departure.

I was a little bit in shock. My boss offered no additional explanation other than he was no longer with the company. It was an abrupt change that I didn’t see coming… at least, not at that moment. Usually when staff are let go, there’s a process… typically involving a probationary period. I didn’t think that J was currently on any kind of probation or performance plan. Even though he did rub a lot of people the wrong way, it didn’t really much seem to affect his job. At least, the people in my department were tolerant of his behavior, and had grown accustomed to it. It was definitely a surprise at his departure.

In fact, my boss actually seemed surprised at the news when he told me. His voice and words implied to me that he had nothing to do with J’s departure. In other words, my boss’s tone and words told me he hadn’t fired J. Instead, something else had happened. This is where things get interesting…

The Full Story

We had a regularly scheduled after-hours wine event once every couple weeks where we could unwind, meet people from other departments, drink a little wine, snack and, of course, chat. This wine event was already scheduled a day or two after this disengaged executive departure announcement. This executive even attended briefly. In addition to consuming choice wines, obviously, we’d chat about whatever was on our minds (i.e., company gossip). As the wine took effect, so did the venting. Sometimes the conversation was about the office. Sometimes it was about world events. Today, we chatted about all of the departures, including J’s.

At this wine event, even though my boss had been extremely tight lipped, the beans were spilled as to exactly what happened with J by an attendee (not my boss). Here’s how the story went…

Let’s go back in time to the presentation…. As I was comfortably sitting in my seat awaiting the presentation to begin (probably working on my laptop), J was standing by the entry doors. He was apparently holding onto one of the door handles. The presentation starts and the disengaged executive begins his departure announcement.

At this point, someone opens the main entry doors where J is standing and holds the door open. Because there was some commotion outside in the echo-filled lobby preventing him from hearing the presentation, J, who gets irritated and triggered way too easily, chimes in and says, “Close the f*cking door, dumb*ss!” (or something very similar) rather loudly and without looking. He might have even said something more demeaning to the person, but this is what I had heard that he said.

Needless to say, the person holding the door open was none other than the brand spankin’ new interim CEO himself. At the time, the then CEO ignores the comment, enters the room, walks to the front and begins his speech. He finishes up and exits through the side door as if nothing happened.

Here’s where things get interesting. Immediately following the announcement, the CEO (and this is according to those at the wine event) walked over the HR to first identify J and then he requests J’s termination. J was gone the following day.

My boss told me none of this. Whether he knew the details, I have no idea. He wasn’t the one who told the story. This was from another person at this wine event who apparently had close ties to the HR person.

After speaking with J later, I had come to find J had no idea what went on or why he was fired. According to J, one day he was there, the next day he was gone. He doesn’t get it. Either he’s thick and can’t recall what he says or he’s feigning ignorance at what he did. I’ve spoken with J several times, even meeting at a restaurant for dinner, and he still doesn’t seem to get it. In fact, I’ve disclosed none of the details to him for fear he’d go do something stupid. He’s not only abrupt with his language, but he’s also a bit of a hothead with a temper. It’s also not really my place to tell him as I didn’t actually witness the event. I was sitting in my seat not watching the rest of the room. I’m getting this information from a third party. However, it does make perfect sense based on J’s personality.

The moral of this story is, if you’re at work, always use professional language at all times and …

Careful What You Say

If you’re thinking of using flowery explicit language (or you do already) at work, here’s an example where it can easily backfire. Everyone gets frustrated when things don’t go as planned. That’s to be expected.. and even a flowery phrase or two directed at the situation might even be expected, if not warranted. However, you should never direct flowery explicit expressions at anyone at your workplace, especially if you can’t see the person. You never know just whom you might have insulted.

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The Curious Case of Fallout 76: What went wrong?

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

NukaColaPA-f[Updated: May 17, 2019 for Battle Royale Mode]

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

Fallout History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game Design

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

=> Lack of NPCs

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

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

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

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

=> Short and Few Main Quests

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

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

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

=> Multiplayer vs Solitary Quest Completion

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

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

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

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

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

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

=> No Effect on the World

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

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

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

=> 24 Random Players

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

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

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

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

=> Bugs and Code Management

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

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

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

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

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

=> Limited World Events

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

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

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

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

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

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

=> Even more Grindy

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

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

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

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

=> Collision Detection, Guns and Bullets

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

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

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

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

=> DLC too early

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

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

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

=> Players Find the Fun

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

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

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

=> Half-Baked Patching

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

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

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

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

=> Player Bans

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

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

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

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

=> Most Recent Update

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

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

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

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

=> End Game

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

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

Ongoing Disaster (Battle Royale)

Here’s the part where I talk about DLC. As Bethesda continues to add questionable new game modes to Fallout 76, I have to wonder what’s going on over there. First, Bethesda adds the ‘Survival Mode’ server to its list of game play engines. This server basically enables PVP right from your character’s load-in. When you join ‘Survival Mode’, if you encounter another player, your character is pretty much dead. I’m uncertain the impetus behind adding this game mode other than to segregate PVP from the ‘Adventure Mode’ servers and put it into a different server. Yet, this segregation is not yet over.

Because Bethesda has been feeling the pinch from Battle Royale games like Fortnite and Apex Legends, Bethesda seems to feel left out. After introducing ‘Survival Mode’, Bethesda next introduces a new ‘Battle Royale’ game mode. Instead of trying to design a new Battle Royale game using an engine actually designed for that kind of game play, which would actually make the most sense, they instead grab the source code for Fallout 76‘s server and they wedge a Battle Royale mode into Fallout’s less than stellar game and combat engine.

Both of these game modes are questionable in and of themselves. For example, how do either of these game modes progress the Fallout story in any way? They don’t. The ‘Survival Mode’ server is designed to simply make the game more difficult. Instead, what it makes the game is pointless. You can’t quest, you can’t follow quest lines, you can’t even play normally…. for fear of losing not only all of your junk, but part of your aid.

With Battle Royale, there’s no point for its existence in the Fallout franchise. There’s not even a story basis for it to exist. Worse, it’s not even close to competing with games like Apex Legends or Fortnite. In fact, a battle royale mode would make a whole lot more sense to exist in The Elder Scrolls than in Fallout. Sure, Fallout is about gun fights, but it’s not about this silly and unnecessary concept being forced into the Fallout universe… a universe where battle royale actually makes no sense at all. The Elder Scrolls at least had an ‘Arena’ where a battle royale could feasibly take place within the story’s narrative… and make sense in the context of the larger Elder Scrolls story arc. Fallout has never had such a “battle” concept in its franchise. Adding this in now simply makes zero Fallout story sense, but makes sense only if Bethesda is trying to “cash in”.

Sure, Fallout survivors might need to do things to amuse themselves in a toxic nuclear wasteland… but, would they actually play in a Battle Royale themselves? No, I don’t think so. Bethesda is now adding stuff that’s so out entirely of character for the Fallout universe, they’re just adding stuff to “keep up with the Jones’s” instead of because it makes sense for Fallout. If you want to trash your franchise, this is a good way to go about it.

Let me also say that the implementation of Fallout 76’s Battle Royale mode is entirely trash and illogical to boot. You’re trapped in an ever condensing ring of fire. A ring of fire that actually makes no sense when you’re supposed to be tasked with rebuilding Appalachia. As contestants continue to kill one another (and the ring condenses to a tiny circle around them), the last man standing is the person who “wins”. In fact, the “winner” actually loses, because the condensing ring of fire would actually end up killing everybody. This is how logically stupid this concept really is. Effectively, it’s not really even Battle Royale, it’s a “Last Man Standing” game. I’ve also seen much better “Last Man Standing” multiplayer games.

If Bethesda wants to create DLC that’s in keeping within the Fallout universe, then they should tie these new game modes in with the existing lore that they spent all of that time creating. For example, how about implementing multiplayer dog fights? Or, how about actually using the ‘Animal Friend’ and/or ‘Wasteland Whisperer’ perk cards to tame beasts that can be used in a multiplayer arena? This would require the player to spend the time to locate and tame a beast (and level it up and equip it) for use in the arena. That kind of mode makes a lot of story sense… and makes sense to wrap new lore around all of this.

Since the world is dangerous and treacherous, use the existing lore as the basis for creating unique new multiplayer challenges. Don’t just grab the first unoriginal idea to come along (e.g., Fortnite) and slap it into a world server. You know, spend time actually putting some amount of thought and effort into tying the existing lore into the new multiplayer game modes. Give them a basis to exist in the universe. Don’t add game modes because you CAN… do it because it both makes actual sense, is logical and is entirely in keeping with the Fallout universe lore.

Overall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rant Time: Pizza Hut “Service Fee”?

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

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

Service Fee

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

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

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

Confused

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

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

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

Money Collected versus what?

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

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

High Percentage

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

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

Last Visit

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

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