Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Amazon’s “Not Helpful” Button Missing?

Posted in Amazon, business, politics, reviews, shopping by commorancy on April 13, 2019

A Reddit user posts that the “Not Helpful” button is missing from Amazon’s reviews. Several other commenters had stated that the button was still there for them. Let’s explore.

Not Helpful is actually not helpful

Amazon has been undergoing changes to their older review system. The first was to remove their discussion boards. Because Reddit really does discussion boards better, there was really no need for Amazon to keep their own. As a result, Amazon Discussions disappeared.

In addition to the removal of Amazon Discussions, Amazon decided to revamp their review system to be more useful. I’d personally complained several times about the “Not Helpful” button.

Why is the “Not Helpful” button not helpful? Because the only thing that button ever did is “downvote” a review in Amazon’s relevance sort. This means that those reviews that received the most helpful votes with the least not helpful bubbled to the top of their relevance sort. Effectively, the “Not Helpful” button was only used as a way for users to move reviews down in the relevance sort.

What ultimately came out of that was…

Abuse

With every system built, someone (or many someones) will find a way to abuse and game the system. The “Not Helpful” button became a target for abuse on Amazon. Instead of being used for the intended purpose of marking a review as not helpful, it became a target to screw with Amazon’s relevance sort and its “recommended” reviews for the product. For example, Amazon has two reviews it places into the top of its review area:

  1. Most Helpful
  2. Most Critical

These two reviews are at the very top above all other reviews. These are coveted positions. People want their review in that spot. To get another reviewer’s review out of either spot, a person (or many persons) would need to mark the review as “Not Helpful” (thus asking their friends to do this too). Over time, salty reviewers learned they could knock these reviews not only out of these two coveted spots, they could also lower their relevance scores and raise their own reviews up, potentially into these coveted positions.

As I said above, if there’s a way to game a system, people will find it and abuse it… and abuse the “Not Helpful” button they did. It took Amazon years to realize this problem, but it seems that Amazon finally understands this problem and has now removed “Not Helpful” from its interface.

Complaints

I’ve complained to Amazon several times over the years regarding the “Not Helpful” button. Not only did it not provide any actual helpful information to those reading reviews, the only thing it did is send high quality reviews to the bottom of the relevance list because of salty Amazon reviewers… people who just couldn’t stand to see a high quality review shown above their lower quality review. People figured out they could game the review system by getting their friends and coworkers to mark certain reviews “Not Helpful” and knock them down in the relevance list.

There was only one situation where “Not Helpful” didn’t have much of an effect. That was on Amazon Vine reviews. For whatever reason, if you’re part of Amazon Vine, pressing “Not Helpful” on Amazon Vine reviews didn’t do very much. I believe that Amazon intentionally weights Amazon Vine reviews much, much higher than a standard review. These reviews don’t get as much of a “ding” against them if someone presses “Not Helpful”. The Vine reviews always seem to get top placement in the relevance sort no matter what other people mark or say against them.

With regular reviews, the “Not Helpful” button just didn’t achieve what it was intended to achieve. It also didn’t give a review reader any useful information about that review. This button was only intended to help sort reviews with, supposedly, the most helpful at the top of the relevance sort. In fact, because users ended up gaming the “Not Helpful” button, the relevance sort actually ended up pointless as many of the best reviews actually ended up way down the relevance list.

I also complained about this problem to Amazon, but that complaint was also summarily ignored.

Amazon has Awoken

It’s taken years, but Amazon has finally realized the error of the “Not Helpful” button. Not only does Amazon no longer show “301 people out of 455 found this helpful”. Now Amazon simply shows “301 people found this helpful”. There was no reason to show the “Not Helpful” clickers… especially now that the “Not Helpful” button is gone.

If Amazon had forced the “Not Helpful” clickers to justify their click by requiring a comment on the review, that that would have actually been much more helpful. As review readers, we need to understand valid reasons why someone clicked “Not Helpful”. The only way to do that is by writing a comment. If a “Not Helpful” clicker chooses not to write a comment, then they don’t get their “Not Helpful” click counted. It’s only fair.

Unfortunately, that opens a whole new can of worms. Even if Amazon forced the “Not Helpful” clickers to write a comment, they could have written a garbage response and then deleted it just to get past that requirement. That’s also “Not Helpful”. It’s also a can of worms that Amazon couldn’t easily solve. They’re a retailer, not a technology company. Some efforts like this simply go over Amazon dev’s heads.

Instead, Amazon awoke and realized that it was simpler to remove the “Not Helpful” button and avoid the entire relevance engine gaming problem. It’s a very late fix in coming, but it’s still a much welcomed change. Gaming a review system is not the reason for that button’s existence. Reviews exist to inform potential buyers of problems they might encounter by purchasing that “thing” (whatever it is).

Review Snobs & Trolls

In any system that you create, there will be those “snobs” (and trolls) who believe that they know better about that system than anyone else. In reality, Amazon’s reviews are fair game in any way that they’re written. This includes pricing problems, listing problems, seller problems, shipping problems, customer service problems, packaging problems, purchasing problems and, yes, it also includes actual product problems.

A review should be about ANYTHING product related including Amazon’s handling of that product to you. Amazon doesn’t like reviewers (and it is now against Amazon’s terms and conditions) to write disparaging remarks against how Amazon handled the shipping, packaging and so forth of the items you purchase. Instead, if there’s a problem in the Amazon area, they don’t want that information in the review. Amazon wants you to contact their customer support team and lodge that complaint there, not write it in the review.

If you do place such a remark in the product review, your review is not likely to be published. Even Amazon is getting its own snobbery into its own review system. However, so long as you follow Amazon’s own snobbery rules regarding its review system, you’ll be fine.

That doesn’t mean you’ll be fine against the Amazon review trolls…er, snobs. These are the folks who feel the need to either report the review or leave a nasty comment regarding the content of the review. I’ve read many reviews that are not only articulate, but also have quite valid comments regarding the product. The reviews are quite apropos and definitely relevant. Yet, there’s inevitably some review snob who believes the review didn’t live up to their own snobby ideas about what a review should contain. To those folks I ask, “Didn’t your mother ever teach you that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all?”

Too many of these review snobs still exist on Amazon. As a blog writer, I typically write long, but concise reviews of products I purchase from Amazon. Many people don’t seem to like my longish reviews. Instead of refuting any of what I’m saying, they pick out one tiny little thing (a thing that makes no sense when taken out of context) and then write a complaint comment (and when the “Not Helpful” button existed, they would also press it). I could even swear that there were the same people trolling my reviews and intentionally marking them as “Not Helpful” so they can keep their reviews high in the relevance area.

Considering the length of my reviews, the depth and detail at which I discuss the product(s), how it works and my dissatisfaction with whatever parts didn’t work, they ignored all of that and focused on their own out-of-context remark. These are the very definition of “Review Snobs”. These are the folks who do not belong on Amazon and definitely need to have their review comment ability revoked. If Amazon offered a user blocking system, I’d have blocked these folks ages ago. If I could delete their comments from my review, I’d have done so. In fact, I have intentionally deleted my review and reposted it to get rid of some awkward and stupid comments.

It’s entirely a waste of my time to justify what I wrote in my review to some random “review snob” just because they feel the need to intentionally take something out of context. The review is there. Read it, understand it, learn from it. Don’t argue with me about some perceived injustice in my review that simply isn’t there.

Fan Boys & Girls

Unfortunately, far too many people are fans.. well, “fanatic” is more the correct word. And with fanatics comes fanatical behavior. That’s exactly what you get on Amazon. If I review the latest Britney Spears album and give it two stars and a rather scathing review, I guarantee some of these fanatical fans will come out of the woodwork to justify how “great” that album is… and how could I give it two stars?

Don’t question someone else’s opinion. With music and movie reviews, it’s all subjective opinion. You either like it or you don’t. Don’t come to someone else’s review and try to sway them to your belief system. That’s not how Amazon’s reviews work. Amazon’s reviews are always intended to be a mix of both high rated and low rated reviews. The intent is to allow people to state the things they liked and didn’t like about that “thing”. Trying to sway everyone to raise their rating isn’t the point of the review system. In fact, I’d like it if Amazon would let reviewers disable comments on reviews.

I should also mention that, in the case of Britney, instead of just talking about the beats or her singing abilities, I also discuss the production quality, the recording quality and even how the music was mastered. These fall under what I consider objective criteria. An album is professionally produced or it isn’t. An album is professionally mixed and mastered or it isn’t. An album is cohesive track to track or it isn’t. There’s lots of objective criteria about an album that can be heard in the tracks. Sure, the songs themselves are subjective, but the production of the album is most definitely chock full of objective criteria which is easily described.

With other products, like foods or kitchen gadgets or even toys, you can judge these by objective standards, also. For a gadget like a can opener, you have to ask, “Does it open a can?” Then you ask, “Was it easy to open the can?” Some can openers just work, others are a hassle. If the can opener breaks after the second use, then objectively the product was poorly constructed. These are all bits of information that should make its way into a product review. With a kitchen gadget, you have fewer fanboys and fangirls waiting out there for your review. For the latest Britney Spears album or the latest EA video game, you have lots of fanboys and fangirls waiting with baited-breath for those reviews to appear so they can be torn down.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a one star or five star review, these fanboys and fangirls will tear down anything. If it’s a one star review, it’ll be torn down because “nothing they like is ever one star”. If it’s a five star review, it’ll be torn down as “Fake”. Even something as simple as not having the “Verified Purchase” next to it is enough to mark a review as fake.

Verified Purchase

Amazon marks purchases made directly with Amazon as “Verified Purchase”. This signifies that the purchase was made through Amazon. Yet, Amazon allows you to review any product without having purchased it from Amazon.

For example, you can purchase the Amazon Dot, Amazon Kindle and other Amazon electronics from Best Buy, Target and other retailers. Yet, if you leave a review on Amazon having purchased these from a brick-and-mortar store (other than Amazon), you won’t get the “Verified Purchase” label. However, the review snobs come out of the woodwork without this label making it one of the first comments on a review. They claim you didn’t actually purchase the item at all. So then you’re reviewing without having purchased? I call BS on that. Are these people so stupid to think that Amazon is the only place where you can buy an Echo Dot or Kindle?

I’ve purchased many items from retail stores, including Echo Dots without purchasing it through Amazon. That doesn’t make my purchase or review any less valid. Sure, I should leave a comment on Best Buy’s site if I buy it there, but I also have an obligation to leave a comment on Amazon’s site for any Amazon-made product I purchase. Even if it’s not an Amazon product, Amazon purchasers need to know what they might be in for if they purchase the product through Amazon and it’s particularly bad.

Amazon Reviews

To come full circle, I’m happy to see that Amazon has finally done away with the useless, unnecessary and abuse-worthy “Not Helpful” button. It had no place in Amazon’s review system and served no purpose other than to allow review snobs to game the review system. That’s not a user’s call. Amazon should be the call of which reviews get moved to the top of the pile and which don’t. The “Helpful” button should only be one in many metrics used to move a review to the top of the relevance list.

If you don’t like a review, leave a comment and leave it at that. Not marking a review as “Helpful” is the same as formerly marking a review as “Not Helpful”. Simply avoid the review entirely if you don’t like what was written or leave a constructive comment on why you think the review is misguided.

Review systems, including the one at Amazon, are there to let you read a user’s experience and make a determination whether that product fits with your needs. It’s not there for you to argue with the review author over some perceived injustice. If you don’t like what was said, write your own review… or write a blog article.. or report the review to Amazon. Amazon doesn’t need review snobs running around trying to sway review authors into someone else’s way of thinking. Simply give that idea up. You can’t sway a review author’s mind with a few sentences in a comment.

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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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Rant: Google Ethics Board?

Posted in botch, business, california by commorancy on March 28, 2019

PadlockGoogle has chosen to put together an “Ethics Board” to evaluate the “Morality” of Google’s uses of AI in its products. Will this be enough? Do we trust the people chosen for this task? Personally, I don’t. This one is short and sweet. Let’s explore.

Ethics Board

While it’s commendable that Google sees the need for such a board (particularly after its privacy encroaching devices), the difficulty is in knowing if this move is simply window dressing for Google or if this board actually has teeth. My guess is that this board is simply there to take money from Google and place it into each Ethics Board Member’s pocket… and Google is still allowed to get away with its prying privacy-encroaching technologies, more now than ever. This is actually a typical sly corporate tactic regularly used in California to “look good” (specifically to regulators) rather than actually performing.

The reality is, putting random people on a board from seeming positions of trust is completely questionable. I don’t know any of the people chosen, so how can I possibly trust any of them to make the right decision for Google, let alone the consumer? Additionally, are these people versed enough in Google’s technology initiatives to even have a practical say in the matter? Likely not. Will they even be given access to Google’s upcoming technologies? Likely not.

Window Dressing

Unfortunately, many companies do see the need for such oversight, but they set it all up in the wrong way and for all the wrong reasons. This is a prime example. Hiring random folks from colleges to “oversee” Google is akin to McDonald’s hiring random folks from non-food industries to oversee its food quality. Seriously, what are these people really going to do?

I can’t even imagine that this board will have any teeth to actually steer Google away from its privacy-encroaching unsavory-uses of its always-on listening devices. Even Amazon has not put together such a “committee”. The only thing this board will likely end up being is a patsy for when Google is found to have violated its own business ethics. They can then look to this board and say, “Well, you approved it” and then point the finger at the board for failing to “foresee” a problem. It’s a way to make shit run down hill and land on these unsuspecting folks on this board.

If I were considered for this board, I’d be highly skeptical of taking that position. It’s simply going to be a shitstorm for that board after Google does something questionable… and believe me, Google will.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions

This saying is very apt in this situation. I can’t possibly see anything good coming from the decision to put together this board internally. The only way to possibly oversee a company like Google is from without, not within. There’s no way Google can watch itself ethically. If you’re paying people to watch your business ethics a**, there’s already an ethical dilemma. Because they’re on your payroll, they can’t exactly be ethically impartial. If some board member actually does try to “steer” Google away from some ethical problem, Google can simply replace the board member with someone more amenable to Google’s “new” strategy.

This is a no-win situation for Google, ethics or privacy. The only way this works is if an oversight committee is created by the US Congress (and other governing bodies) to oversee Google, Amazon and other AI offerings the size of Google. Only a third party government committee who is not on a company’s payroll can possibly (and legally) steer companies away from unethical consumer situations.

Unfortunately, the US is far too pro-business and far too anti-consumer privacy to offer up such an oversight committee. There is absolutely no way the government would put the brakes on Google or Amazon or any other company of this size even if what they are doing is ethically questionable.

Privacy Encroaching Devices

As a consumer, you need to consider long and hard about putting such devices into your home. Other than Google Chrome, I do not use have or use Google devices in my home. I already know Google can’t be trusted with this data. Google is an advertising company. It is designed to advertise to you. It’s designed to take what it learns about you and then feed ads to you that “fit” with your needs. In short, it is designed to watch what you do (invade your privacy) and then tailor advertisements based on the data it learned when it eavesdropped. Google is the very opposite definition of privacy. They want to know everything about you so they can “better” target you with ads. Amazon is a much smaller scale version of this. They only do this in relation to the Amazon.com web site.

Google has tentacles pretty much everywhere including within Chrome, Chromebooks, Google Home devices, ChromeCast and, yes, even in Android smart phones… especially in Android smart phones. The biggest problem is “Okay, Google” always on listening devices. There’s no way to know exactly what Google can listen to when it’s always listening… or exactly how that information might be used by Google.

The basic problem around this data collection is that Google stores that information about you on their servers. Servers which can be hacked. Data which can be leaked. Information that can be lost. It’s happened. It will happen again. Such an “Ethics Committee” put together by Google is, by it’s very design, strictly “window dressing”… and nothing more. They can’t stop leaks. They can’t stop data loss. They certainly can’t stop Google’s technology advancements.

Consumers Suffer the Consequences

Unfortunately, this means that consumers must suffer these insufferable consequences from companies like Google. The only way to steer a company like Google is through the courts, lawsuits and eventually the passing of laws. The only way to stop the likes of Google from breaching these unwritten ethical contracts is by holding Google, Amazon and others accountable to the courts of law when they break laws and/or when they go well beyond ethical boundaries. No board of ethics on Google’s dole is likely to stop that.

Having Google set up such an internal committee ultimately means, again, that this move is simply window dressing. These chosen board members, while they might have good intentions, are on the payroll of Google. This, by design, already means there’s an ethical dilemma. Taking Google’s money means you ultimately answer to Google. It also means that when something “bad” happens, that ethics board will end up being Google’s “fall guy”. So then, who watches the watcher?

There’s just no way that this situation ends well for either that ethics board or Google or ultimately, the consumer.

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Update Review: Wild Appalachia – Fallout 76

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

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

Fallout 76

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

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

Wild Appalachia

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

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

Some negative additions include:

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

Fasnacht Parade Event

As of March 19th, the Fasnacht Parade event was released in the town of Helvetia in the game. This is a limited seasonal event very similar in style to Distinguished Guests at Bolton Greens, where you need to first go find the robots, then do things for the robots. With Distinguished Guests, after finding all of the robots and getting them back to the house, you need to go find both place settings and table centerpieces. In the Fasnacht Parade, you must help each robot individually with things they want.

In this event, there are the following Robots:

  • The Butcher
  • The Baker
  • The Candlestick Maker
  • The Beekeeper
  • The Historian
  • The Decorator
  • The Frog Egg Collector
  • The Woodchopper

This is a seasonal event that will run for about 1 week, we assume. So, if you want to participate in this event and potentially win Fasnacht masks, you’ll want to do so quickly.

There is only a chance you’ll win a mask at the end of the event. If you want to be sure to win a mask, you’ll need to participate in this event as often as you can. You’ll probably get a bunch of duplicate masks doing this.

Anyway, the game randomly selects 5 of the above robots to participate in the parade. You’ll need to read the quest requirements along the way to know which robots have been selected. Once you perform the requirements for each robot, for example, collecting frog eggs for the Frog Egg robot or collect beeswax for the Candlestick maker, each robot will make its way to the road (slowly) and get in line.

Once you have all 5 robots in line, the Master of Ceremonies robot will head to the line and begin the parade.

Along the way these robots will be attacked by different creatures in 3 different waves. First frogs, then Supermutants than finally by wolves, Stingwings and a legendary Sloth. After killing all of the interruptions in the parade (and protecting the robots), the MC will officiate a bonfire and the event concludes. It usually takes about 10-15 minutes for the entire parade to make its rounds. Just gotta make sure to protect those robots. As of 3/26, this event has closed.

Lemonade Stand

I debated about even discussing this as it’s nearly inconsequential, but here it is. In separate addition to the distillery, Bethesda has added a lemonade stand to the game. It’s a randomly spawned vendor who sells only, get this, two recipes: Lemonade and Hard Lemonade. That’s it. That’s the sole reason for this vendor’s existence. This vendor spawns at various locations around Appalachia complete with wooden stand adorned with blue and yellow balloons. I’ve found him not far from the Charleston train station and not far from the big Teapot under one of the high tension towers. The recipes aren’t that expensive, but at the same time they’re not that useful. It’s not even really lemonade.

The ingredients for “lemonade” include acid and boiled water. Not exactly lemonade. Perhaps Bethesda should have included a lemon plant (or even lemon grass) into the game first? Then had us go pick this plant to make lemonade? I don’t know, maybe that would have worked better? Hard lemonade is made by mixing Vodka with Lemonade. Note that I discuss the effects of the Hard Lemonade below.

Survival Mode vs Adventure Mode

As of 3/26, Bethesda has introduced the somewhat anticipated new PVP area entitled ‘Survival Mode’. This new server has fewer restrictions on PVP. For example when you load in to a Survival mode server, you’re automatically in PVP with anyone who comes along. No longer do you need to initiate PVP through the old (and stupid) “shoot at someone, then they must shoot back” system. Additionally, here are a few more rules:

  • Upon player death, you must respawn at train stations, friendly CAMPs or Vault 76.
  • Cap rewards for player kills are doubled
  • Drop all junk and some aid items on death
  • Only “Wanted” players and the Top 3 are visible on the map
  • All XP gained increased by 20% (possibly temporary)

ServerModeAs far as I can tell, the same rules on the Adventure Servers still apply and nothing has changed. If someone tries to initiate PVP, they can. If they want to grief or harass you or your base, they are still free to do so. No rules around PVP have apparently changed in the Adventure mode servers. You choose which environment you wish to enter at the load-in screen right after pressing “PLAY”.

What went wrong?

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

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

Talking to Biv at his bar is as much fun as talking to Rose at Top of the World. This robot is not only as tedious as it comes, he’s just not at all a fun addition to the game. Worse, not only are the quests offered only once per day, you’re likely to get duplicate awards at the end of each quest (or nothing at all). I’m still waiting for Biv to give me the recipe for Lead Champagne. Like the Fasnacht festival drops below, they’re far too random to be of real use.

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

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

Even worse, the new liquors have very bad “hangover” effects. For example, Nukashine randomly fast travels you to some location in the world when the hangover starts. Rad Ant Lager gives you +50 carry weight for a limited period of time and then penalizes you with a -50 carry weight “hangover” for around 1 minute. The Hard Lemonade gives you super fast AP regeneration at the cost of the exact opposite effect during the 1 minute hangover. In fact, because AP regeneration comes to a halt and doesn’t regenerate, this leaves you with no AP at all when you run out. These effects are WAY overkill. No other “standard” liquors in Fallout 76 have such bad negative effects. Additionally, there are perk cards there to help out those liquors. Yet, with these new liquors, there are no perk cards at all to reduce or eliminate the negative effects of Rad Ant Lager or Nukashine or Hard Lemonade… making consuming these new liquors useless. Just stick with the “regular” beers and spirits with no such negative effects.

As for Fasnacht, it’s okay. Just okay. The parade is effectively a remake of Distinguished Guests at Bolton Greens. If Bethesda could have designed something new here, I might be a bit more kind. Unfortunately, redoing something that’s already been done in the game is, well, boring. Additionally, the mask drops at the end are tedious. So far, I’ve amassed nearly 4 duplicates of every common mask. I’ve yet to get any of the rare masks, like the Jester. Bethesda needs to award masks every single play through and while they are awarded randomly, they shouldn’t make some masks more rare than others. Make the weight of all mask drops equal. This way everyone gets a chance at every mask possible. Additionally, lose the extra stuff. It’s great that plans drop for festival decorations, but no one really wants these. Instead, just place these plans around the Fasnacht festival (and around the rest of the world) for people to find. No need to award these more-or-less useless items.

This is the example of how Bethesda continues to go wrong with this game. They only half think through these ideas and then they half-assed implement them. Worse, the Distillery may have seemed like a great idea on paper, it’s pretty much worthless in practice. If they had given us a new liquor that drastically increases damage output of weapons or drastically increase damage resistance against certain types of foes without the negative effects, that would be a useful addition. Because none of this exists, brewing liquor is pointless.

Mask Drop Rate Controversy

It has come to the attention of many gamers that certain “rare” masks never dropped during the Fasnacht event. These masks included the Skull, Goblin, Old Man Winter, Sun and Jester masks. The masks that dropped most frequently included Giant, Witch and Soldier. The masks which dropped a little less frequently are the Toothy Man and the Owl.

A gamer claims to have received the Sun mask, but it is unclear if the user actually got the mask at the completion of a Fasnacht event or through the Dev room. According to a poll on Reddit, no other masks dropped for anyone besides that one mask for that one user.

It has been estimated at a .03% chance of receiving the Sun, Skull, Jester, Old Man Winter or Goblin at the end of any given event. That means you’d need to play over 3000 events to actually have a chance at receiving one of these masks. Considering that only 24 events exist on any one server in a 24 hour period and considering this event only ran for 7 days, it was almost impossible to receive any masks other than those that did drop.

Why Bethesda decided to dropped these specific masks at that low of a rate is as yet unknown. It’s also very unlikely Bethesda’s devs would ever be forthcoming about their own failures. The reality is, the devs probably screwed up on the math and those masks just didn’t drop.

Bethesda could make it up to us by offering a limited time duplicate exchange. Let us exchange some of our duplicate Witch, Soldier, Toothy Man, Owl or Giant masks for the “rare” masks which we should have gotten had the drop percentages been programmed correctly. Bethesda, you made a mistake, just be straightforward with us and give us an even swap of our duplicates.

The difficulty I have with these masks isn’t the drop rate or the rarity level. It’s the fact that the event only ran for 7 days. For an indefinite and ongoing game, setting extremely low drop rates is fine because you have infinite amounts of time to quest for these items. For an event that runs for only 7 days, Bethesda should have increased the drop rate. The drop rate should have been increased commensurate with the limited length of the Fasnacht event. Instead, Bethesda kept the drop rates at the same levels as events that would operate continually throughout the year.

By prominently showing the masks in promo materials to rope users in to play the event and then promise the hope of obtaining one of the masks, this sets an expectation that these masks would drop with more frequency than zero (0) during those 7 days. If even 10 players got them, that would at least show some effort by Bethesda. Yet, with a .03% chance of obtaining one of those masks in those 7 days, Bethesda seems intent to defraud its users… particularly any gamer who bought the game with the intent of getting one of those masks. Bethesda needs to be more careful with these limited time events when considering the promo materials they are using. Promo materials promise things, but when those things don’t deliver, that’s when a legal problem exists. It’s called fraud.

Crafting Stations

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

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

Recipes and Nukashine

Bethesda typically gives you a handful of recipes right off the bat with any workbench. The Brewing Station is no different. You get the crafting basics which include beer, wine, vodka, rum, bourbon, whiskey and the new Nukashine. If you want any other recipes, you have to go find them. Of course, you can’t make any specialty beers (without a recipe) like Old Possum, Pickaxe Pilsner or Old Holler Lager. You can only make ‘Beer’ once you get your station. Biv may award you recipes for these beers later. Still, some of these specialty beers will require more esoteric ingredients to be located and farmed… typically requiring ingredients you can’t grow at your base.

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

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

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

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

Rad Ant Lager and Biv’s Daily Quest

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

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

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

Overall

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

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

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

The distillery is interesting for about 5 minutes. However, adding vending machines, a bank, a way to transfer items between characters and decorating the camp via found world items is much more important to this longevity of this game. Please, stop with the time wasting additions and fix the problems that actually matter and add the features that are useful and that people actually want. When adding something new like the brewing stations, it’s also important to think through ALL of the supporting pieces, like perk cards. For example, should Super Duper apply? In this case, yes, it should. Yet, it doesn’t.

Wild Appalachia is a half-designed add-on added intended to recoup lost players. It’s a shallow and hollow add-on that overall adds little to the game. It’s also not likely to bring back lost players… at least, not for longer than for a day’s worth of play. DLC should keep players interested for weeks, not days. If the brewing station had been part of the game’s original release, it would have been useful for the questing. However, because many gamers are at Fallout 76’s endgame at this point, the brewing station adds little value to the game as the brews aren’t needed… even as hard as Bethesda is pushing players to use these new brews.

The Fasnacht event in Helvetia would have been a whole lot more fun with more variety. Because every play through is nearly identical, including where the enemies are likely to spawn, it makes playing this parade event boring after about the third time. Helvetia needs at least 3 different events that are randomly chosen and run at more frequent intervals. Doing the same event over and over is an exercise in tedium, particularly because you get duplicate rewards over and over… tedium much like talking to Biv at Big Al’s Tattoo Parlor. If you’re going to enforce a cool down timer when we can run another Biv quest, just show us this timer on the screen so we don’t waste our time (and caps) going over there trying to get Biv to give us a new quest. Even better, just have Biv issue the quest to us from afar.

Banned Users and Fallout 76

As a result of the object duping that occurred in several releases earlier, Bethesda created a bot to ‘detect’ possible duping on accounts. As a result, Bethesda banned a bunch of gamer accounts it suspected of having duped in-game items. For example, some of the ways in which it detected this was by seeing over 100,000 items amassed in a single account over a 30 day period. There were other markers it also used to make this determination.

Anyway, Bethesda had banned a number of gamers from Fallout 76 after its bot detected unusual activity on the account. As has been the case, Bethesda may or may not send out email to users it has banned from the game. When they do provide a message, it’s terse, generic and not always applicable to the gamer’s situation.

Here’s the rub. After the release of Wild Appalachia, many formerly banned gamers surprisingly found their accounts had been unbanned. Many took this as a sign that the ban was over. Yet, Bethesda had stated nothing of this situation. After 3-4 days of being able to enter and play Fallout 76 again, these same banned gamers found their accounts banned once again. Bethesda is entirely silent for why these accounts were both unbanned at the release of Wild Appalachia and why they were rebanned 3-4 days later. Bethesda is not forthcoming.

This company can’t really seem to get a break from all of these snafus, yet these problems are all of Bethesda’s own making. If their PR is tanking again, it’s simply because Bethesda doesn’t really seem to be a trustworthy company any longer. Personally, I think Bethesda should stick to offline single player worlds and give up this fantasy of producing MMORPGs which they are clearly ill prepared to manage.

Patch 9 — May 7

While I haven’t been updating this article for each individual patch, patch 9 needs to be discussed. While previous patches introduced one of the stupidest and most pointless items yet included in this game (the camera), patch 9 introduces an overly grindy new questline to obtain a simple and stupid item, the backpack. However, that’s not the reason I’m writing this update.

If you want to find all of the new stuff (which have, so far, all been very pointless), I suggest you play the game. But, before you run off to find the stupid that’s been included, please read on. The updated “new” stuff isn’t really even worth my time describing here, let alone finding it in the game. Yes, these updates are actually pointless and stupid, so there is no point writing about it here.

What is worth describing is exactly how broken Fallout 76, as a game, has become. We thought the Beta was bad, but now the game is entirely broken in so many more new ways. For example, VATs was questionable when the game launched, now it is entirely broken. At least 80-90% of the time, VATs won’t work on Melee weapons… AT ALL. When it does work. it doesn’t work as expected. When I say it doesn’t work, what I mean is… when you click to enable VATs, the percentage meter shows 0%, even when the enemy is standing an inch in front of you. Yes, well closer than needed for a melee weapon to connect and you STILL see 0%. As I said, entirely broken.

With ranged weapons, the VATs percent meter toggles between 0% and some random number between 0% and 90% every microsecond. This means that when you’re ready to release the trigger, it’s likely to be at a moment when the meter read 0% and you’ve wasted your ammo. This happens continuously in VATs. Even weapons that used to formerly offer extreme levels of accuracy (i.e., scoped weapons) can now show 35, 45 or 50% accuracy. Bethesda has ENTIRELY broken VATs in this release and the guns that rely on it.

AND… this is the bigger point I’m trying to make. With every single new patch, Bethesda makes Fallout 76 WORSE, never better. Sure, adding DLC might seem like a positive, but it is FAR overshadowed by all of the stupid fundamental bugs constantly being introduced into the required game engine features, like combat. Maybe Bethesda thinks this makes the game challenging, but in fact it makes the game absolute dogshit… to the point that there’s no point in playing Fallout 76.

All of these unpredictable changes and tweaks that Bethesda keeps introducing is turning this game into an unplayable turd of epic proportions. No, the game isn’t entirely unplayable yet, but it is fast becoming unplayable. With basic systems like VATs completely broken, you have to rely on hip-firing, which is also becoming fast problematic. Just like all other combat, hip firing has also become worse and worse with each new release. In fact, not VATs, not scoped and not hip-firing can you actually hit your target most of the time. I’ve wasted so much ammo to this problem, it just makes me want to scream.

If the point is to make Fallout 76 even more grindy than it already is, then well done Bethesda. But, I won’t be coming back to this game without some MAJOR improvements in the basic game engine. Right now, Fallout 76 is entirely in turd territory and fast becoming barf. Bethesda, stop with the unnecessary and stupid additions and FOCUS on the basics. Make them work. You can come back and add Sheepsquatches and Cameras and Backpacks when the engine actually works properly.

Combat Engine

One of the sorest points of Fallout 76 is its combat engine. In fact, it’s probably one of the worst combat engines I’ve experienced in a game to date. Not only does the game completely miss controller button presses entirely (a separate problem not related to combat), there are times when you can aim dead onto an enemy with a scope and the bullet doesn’t connect. It can do this several times in a row. Worse, some guns like Gauss rifles, entirely misfire. By misfire, I mean you press the trigger, release and the gun makes a sad noise and does nothing. You have to press the trigger and try again. It can even do this several times in a row. This makes the Gauss rifle currently THE WORST rifle in the game. It’s the only rifle in the game that has this misfire problem. No other weapon in the game does this… not even its sister, the Tesla rifle. I digress.

Let’s get back to the combat problems. In any other game, you can see what the enemy’s stats are. Perhaps not right away, but after leveling up and gaining a few perks, you get to see what you’re up against. Not in Fallout 76. The only stat information you are given about an enemy is its level. That’s it. You don’t get to see its HP, it’s attack types (i.e., poison, sonic, etc). You have to find out its attack type by entering combat, even then you don’t really know.

For example, the Sheepsquatch (a newly introduced enemy) has an attack that temporarily poisons you and slows your movement speed… by a LOT. In fact, it slows movement speed by WAY too much. Its attack is so overpowered, in fact, it’s way out of balance. But, that’s not the half of it. There is no counter to this movement speed attack. No perk cards to apply, no liquors to drink, no foods to consume, nothing. Bethesda introduced an enemy with an attack and NO player countermeasure. THIS is why this game is nearly unplayable.

Worse, and this problem has existed since day one, certain enemies can attack you once, but land 4 or 5 hits successively (you can hear your character grunt 4 or 5 times and the HP meter moves that many times)… an impossibility for a single enemy hit. For example, Molerats, Bloodbugs, and Stingwings have this attack. And then there’s robots. Level 52 Colonel Gutsy robots utilize 5.56 ammo weapons, which bypasses 100% of any armor you’re wearing (possibly more). Literally, a level 52 Colonel Gutsy or 68 level Supermutant can, while wielding a 5.56 ammo weapon and even at my character’s level of 152, eat all of my HP in probably 20-30 shots. There is no other weapon + ammo in the game capable of this feat except for the highly broken 5.56 wielding characters. This makes power armor, which is supposed to be some of the strongest armor in the game, actually some of the weakest armor. Even Sentinel armor (non-power armor) is stronger against this ammo type than the higher damage resistant Power Armor. Literally, the damage resistance in Fallout 76 means NOTHING.

Other stupidity is distance of attack. For example, I’ve had melee hits by many enemies from way too far a distance. Even though I can’t even strike an enemy when it’s inches from my character, the enemies can melee strike at distances nearing two or three car lengths away… literally impossible distances. Again, not at all a proper combat system.

Even worse, many of the enemies in the game can traverse vast distances in a fraction of a second. Player characters have no such capabilities at all, yet enemies can be a football field away and then right next to your character attacking in less than 2 seconds. I realize this is supposed to be a mutated wasteland, but that attack pattern is still entirely ridiculous.

When it comes to collision detection of bullets, I ask, “What collision detection?” Seriously, there’s practically none. This means that far too many bullets entirely miss their targets no matter how carefully you aim. Worse, with each new release, Bethesda keeps reducing the damage output of weapons making the weapons useless and the game less and less fun to play. It started with the two shot explosive weapons as a countermeasure to the duping. Since then, Bethesda has kept reducing weapon output damage on each new patch. Sometimes they do this by reducing perk card damage bonuses, sometimes they reduce the damage output of the weapon itself.

With each reduction, the game is fast becoming even more broken. Bethesda can’t even be bothered to fix some of the basic combat problems of VATs and collision detection, yet they’re more than willing to reduce weapon output damage? Bethesda, you need to get your priorities straight.

It’s not as if Fallout 76 wasn’t already one big grindy mess from the beginning, but now it’s just a grind. If you really like spending hours and hours with weapons that do 10 hit point damage against an enemy with thousands of hit points, then Fallout 76 might be your game. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to kill an enemy in some timely manner. I don’t want to spend 45 minutes or an hour entangled in a single enemy engagement for a literal crap loot drop. If you’re going to make me spend at least 45 minutes in combat with a single enemy, you better give me something WORTH spending that time. They’re not. Because the drops are entirely random, you might get nothing (yes, the entire drop could be empty), you might get a level 5 item or, very, very rarely, you might get something worth the time. Most of the time, the loot isn’t even worth picking up from the dead enemy.

At this point, this game should be getting better, not worse. Yet, it has gone from bad to worse. No, I’m not kidding. At this point, this game’s combat system is literally so bad, I actually classify it as “shit on a stick”. If you’re considering the purchase of Fallout 76, I would recommend you to think twice… especially considering how old this game is at this point. I literally cannot recommend this game to anyone.

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Shopping Tip: Target App and Prices

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

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

Target App and Item Scanning

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

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

Scanning Items In-Store

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

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

Cost Savings

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

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

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

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

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

Cost Savings Tip

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

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

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

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

Proximity Pricing

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

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

Trick of the Eyes

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

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

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

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

Higher In-Store Pricing

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

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

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

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

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

Update for April 2019

I’ve run into yet another product with lower pricing away from the store versus inside Target. I didn’t intentionally check the pricing in the store first this time. I simply ordered the product online for pickup, only to run into difficulties later.

I ordered the item about an hour before Target opens. I expected to pick it up later in the day only to find that the item was “out of stock”, or so the order status said. With out of stock items, I’ve always found that it’s a good idea to recheck the store as the store staff aren’t always very diligent at checking and locating items. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if the staff doesn’t feel like picking the online orders, they’ll simply mark the item(s) out of stock without even checking. But, that’s a separate topic entirely.

I hadn’t even checked the order status when I stopped by the store. I naturally assumed it would be ready and waiting. Instead, after getting in line at the Customer Service desk, the order status in the app informs me that the item is “out of stock”. I think, that’s got to be BS. So, I cancelled the order right then (because that was the only option) and I walk back to the household area to check the stock myself. Lo and behold, it’s actually in stock just as the app told me (and still tells me).

What I find is another pricearoo switch. The item is Combat Max 8 large roach traps and online it was marked $7.89. In the store, it’s marked $9.19.

 

 

So long as I remained in proximity of the Cupertino Target store, even on LTE service, the $9.19 price remained. As soon as I left the area entirely, the price dropped to $7.89.

This one was a little more of a hassle than the first, primarily because the store refused to sell this one and instead marked it “out of stock”. I ended up grabbing the item in the store, heading up to the Customer Service desk and then proceeded to ask for the $7.89 price. They obliged and marked it down… but that’s only because I showed them the online order I had placed and then cancelled.

Target’s playing games here and it’s not making me very happy. If you’re going to show me a price in your app, then you better be willing to honor it.

Better Luck and Happy Shopping!

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Rant Time: Fallout 76

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

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

Game Development

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

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

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

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

Bad Coding Practices

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

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

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

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

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

Bethesda’s Coding Practices

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

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

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

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

Outsourcing

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

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

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

Chasing Abusers

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

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

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

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

Penalizing Players

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

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

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

On the Wrong Track

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

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

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

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

Dev Room

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

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

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

Fallout 76 is SaaS

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

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

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

Game Economy and Systems Design

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

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

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

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

Patch Upsides vs Downsides

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

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

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

Overall

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

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

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

Bethesda, figure it out quick or the game ends.

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Rant Time: Polaroid Zip and App

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

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

Polaroid Zip

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

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

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

The updated app is entirely junk!

The Dangers of Portable Devices with Apps

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

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

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

Polaroid as a Poster Child

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

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

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

Get With The Program, Polaroid

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

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

Class action lawsuit anyone?


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

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Top 25 reasons to hate Fallout 76

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

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


25. Map and Pins

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

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

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

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

24. Farming at your CAMP and in Blast Zones

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

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

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

23. Random Server Disconnects

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

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

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

22. The Wrong Gender

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

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

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

21. Changing Weapons and Applying Medicine

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

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

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

20. Pacifist Mode

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

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

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

19. Obtaining Caps

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

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

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

18. Fast Traveling

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

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

17. Eating, Drink and Diseases

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

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

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

16. Photo Mode

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

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

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

15b. Crafting

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

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

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

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

15a. Inventory

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

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

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

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

14. Power Armor

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

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

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

13. Collision detection

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

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

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

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

12. Leveling up doesn’t work as expected

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11. Crap enemy AI

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

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

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

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

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

10. Screen blur filters

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

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

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

9. Scorchbeasts and Loot

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

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

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

8. Non-existent non-player characters

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

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

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

7. Graphics

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

6. Multiplayer

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

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

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

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

5. CAMP and Plans

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

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

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

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

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

4. VATS

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

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

3. Story

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

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

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

2. Player Death and Dropped Loot

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

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

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

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

1. Glitches, bugs, quest bugs and client crashing

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

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

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

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

Commentary as of 12/21/2018

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

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

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

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

Overall

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

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

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


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

Should I buy an Xbox 360?

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

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

Design Flaws

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

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

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

Refurbishment Process

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

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

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

Buying Refurbished

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

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

Not Built to Last

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

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

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

Aging Hardware

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

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

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

Should I Buy?

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

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

Xbox One and Xbox 360 Compatibility

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

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

Xbox 360 Purchase Disclaimer

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

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How not to run a business — Case Study: Tumblr

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

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

Tumblr and Adult Content

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

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

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

Knee Jerk Reactions

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

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

Chasing Page Owners Away

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

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

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

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

Compensating Controls

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

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

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

Soooo…. Buh Bye, Tumblr.

Part 10 | Chapter Index | Part 11

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