Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Dumb Commercials Series: Unilever

Posted in commercials, entertainment by commorancy on July 6, 2021

Here’s a brand awareness campaign. I don’t really understand the need to create this brand awareness, but here it is in all of its highly annoying glory. Let’s watch… then discuss.

What went wrong?

As you may notice, this is ad #7. Apparently, Unilever has created a whole passel of these things. I’ve watched a few of them, but this version is the one that’s being heavily played on the channels I’ve watched. Like the GrubHub delivery dance before it, it’s now being played in exceedingly heavy rotation. Whenever this commercial comes on, I turn it off.

What’s wrong with it? The pseudo rap segment in the middle of this advertising is as annoying as fingernails on a chalkboard (i.e. equal to GrubHub’s delivery dance music). If you’re planning on adding a rap segment, at least hire someone who can actually rap. In fact, this commercial is so annoying that it completely undermines the message of “good” that Unilever is actually claiming that it is doing for nebulous “communities”. Statements like these can be easily made, but which don’t need to be backed up.

In advertising, annoying advertising is fruitless and undermines the message. Clever is what bring in customers, what people remember and reinforces the message. This commercial is not clever, not unique, annoying and, most of all, completely forgettable.

I’m not even sure what the point is to this brand awareness campaign? In fact, I’d suggest that it’s actually better to advertise Dove, Suave and Hellmann‘s brands separately in their own commercial ads, then attach a small Unilever portion discussing the “good”. This brand awareness advertisement makes me want to avoid all of these brands when shopping. I don’t really care how much “good” you claim to be doing, I don’t want to hear about it in what may be the most annoying “brand awareness” commercial advertisement of 2021.

Rating: 1 of 5 (annoying, undermining, lame)

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Dumb Commercials Series: Grubhub Delivery Dance

Posted in commercials, entertainment by commorancy on July 5, 2021

Here’s a commercial that, on its surface, seems like a great idea. It’s got cutesy computer animation, a potentially decent premise, but it’s all ruined in an instant by selecting the most annoying and craptastic soundtrack imaginable. The question, though, what does it ultimately have to do with food delivery? Let’s watch…

What went wrong?

Obviously, the music. That, and Grubhub paid to put this commercial into exceedingly heavy rotation. Nearly every other commercial was this ad when it played. Worse, it was played at every single commercial break everywhere including on TV, on streaming services and even on YouTube. This commercial received so much saturation that it became sickening.

Word to the wise. If you’re planning on this heavy of a rotation for a commercial, produce three different commercials with three different songs and three different dances. That strategy wouldn’t necessarily make this specific commercial less annoying, but having three would at least reduce the need to complain about this specific ad.

Note, Grubhub has now disabled comments on YouTube for this ad. I don’t blame them. When comments were still live, most comments were not at all kind. Almost every comment seemed to complain how annoying this ad is. Thankfully, Grubhub listened and this ad is no longer in rotation, yet the comments drove the need to disable the comments.

The problem is, just like Uber Eat’s disconnected ads about its food delivery service, Grubhub’s disconnected ad is oddly cut from the same mold. This ad is not clever, it’s not unique and the music is, well, crappy and annoying. This ad is pretty straightforward and family friendly when compared to Uber Eat’s oddly stalkerish concept with Simone Biles.

Rating: 2 of 5 (annoying, overplayed, cutesy, amazingly bad music) — one extra star for the animation

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Brilliant Commercials Series: Doritos Ultrasound

Posted in commercials, entertainment by commorancy on July 3, 2021

Here’s a Doritos commercial, though not starring Ms. Morris this time. This commercial is both funny and brilliant, though just a touch dumb. Obviously, you have to suspend disbelief to find this setup humorous as this scenario is really not possible. However, it is rather funny and clever. Let’s watch…

Well, she did say, “Any day now”.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (brilliant, clever, but a bit dumb all at the same time).

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Brilliant Commercials Series: Yoplait (2008)

Posted in commercials, entertainment by commorancy on July 3, 2021

This commercial is a bit older, but again stars Jennifer R. Morris (noticing a trend yet?) This commercial is humorous, clever and brilliant. The seamstress is, well, kind of out of it. She never really catches on. Jennifer’s character keeps trying, nevertheless. Let’s watch…

Rating: 5 out of 5 (clever, brilliant, humorous)

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Brilliant Commercials Series: Verizon Wireless ‘Dead Zone’

Posted in commercials, entertainment by commorancy on July 3, 2021

This somewhat older commercial is, like Spectrum’s more recent commercial, brilliant and funny and sells the product in a subtle, yet clever way. The musical score completely sells what’s going on here in just a few notes. The commercial depicts a typical sort of horror setup where a couple moves into a home not knowing what horrors lurk within, but then it’s all debunked in an instant because of Verizon Wireless. The creepy neighbor is perfectly cast. The atmosphere which is set up here is brilliant and amazing, underscored by that brilliant soundtrack. It all comes together in just a few seconds and falls apart to instant humorous effect.

This one also stars Jennifer R. Morris as the ‘wife’. Jennifer can certainly pick these brilliant commercials. Though, her work in Spectrum’s more recent commercial shows exactly how great of an actress she really is.

Rating: 5 of 5 (perfect atmosphere, scary brilliant with a touch of perfect humor)

Brilliant Commercials Series: Spectrum Mobile

Posted in commercials, entertainment by commorancy on July 3, 2021

Here’s a commercial that is both funny and clever. The humor is spot on. It advertises the Spectrum product in a clever and unique way. The casting is perfect and the humor is timed perfectly. There’s nothing annoying about this commercial. The “genius scientist” (actress Jennifer R. Morris) is brilliant here. Jennifer has done a fair number of commercials in the past, but her work on this commercial is outstanding.

Rating: 5 out of 5 (brilliant and clever)

Part of the Dumb Commercials Series

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Fallout 76: Let’s review Wastelanders

Posted in entertainment, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on April 19, 2020

NPCsNPCs are now in the game and so are duping exploits. Let’s review.

[Update for 5/4/2020] It seems that Bethesda has released a hotfix to prevent losing your weapon to an NPC if that NPC kills your character and loots the body. However, all other vending bugs have not yet been patched. We’re still waiting, Bethesda.

[Update for 4/27/2020] Serious Bugs! Bethesda appears to have introduced several new very serious bugs related to player vending in Wastelanders! These bugs can see you lose not only your weapons and armor, they will be taken directly from your stash! You may want to reconsider playing the game until they’ve fixed these showstopper issues. If you need more details or examples, please visit this Reddit thread. Bethesda is aware of these and are in the process of a hotfix for at least Bug 2, but there’s no date set when these fixes may arrive.

Bug 1: Player vending machines appear to be selling random unlisted items from your stash at random prices. This means any legendary weapon, rare armor, ammo or outfit in your Stashbox could be up for grabs for as little as 0 caps. Some buyers report having purchased extremely rare outfits and legendary weapons for 50 caps. Players hadn’t listed these items in their vendor. There is no rhyme or reason why this one is occurring.

Bug 2: Players report having their equipped weapon looted from their dead body by an NPC after character death. This bug seems to occur both in and out of events. If you’re fighting NPCs anywhere in the game and they kill your character, that NPC can apparently loot your body for your equipped weapon before you respawn. This one is a showstopper.

Workaround for bug #1 — Store ALL of your player vending machines in your workshop until this one is resolved. I also suggest storing ALL other player vending items such as Nuka-Cola vending machines, beer kegs, punch bowls or any other vendors that allow players to interact with items from your stash. Display cases should be safe from looting by players, but to be safe it might be worth storing them too.

Alternatively, play in a Private World where no other players can buy from your vendors until this issue is resolved. If you invite friends into your Private World with your vendors out, make sure you trust them fully and explain not to buy anything from your machines.

Workaround for bug #2 — Other than not playing the game, I don’t know of any way to avoid this situation other than making sure your characters don’t die around NPCs.

[Update for 4/22/2020] Bethesda has re-enabled vending and displays after rolling out a hot fix designed to solve the duping problem. However, knowing Bethesda’s track record at performing updates around duping exploits, they likely didn’t solve this problem. I fully expect these items to be disabled again within a week after duping resumes… with yet another patch forthcoming.

Bethesda’s Bad Coding

We all know that Bethesda’s ability to code a great game isn’t the best. Bethesda’s games are always chock full of bugs, particularly day one releases. Well, Wastelanders has arrived (on April 14th) and like all new releases, it is once again chock full of bugs… some fairly severe, like duping.

Before you run out and attempt to dupe your items, let’s talk about the ramifications of these actions first. I’d also recommend that if you don’t own Fallout 76 that you hold off running out to buy a copy before reading this article.

Duping, Exploits and Consequences

Before I get into the meat of this article, which are my actual thoughts about the Wastelanders addition and general review of the new content, I need to talk about duping and exploits first. This is something that some gamers seem to live for in Bethesda’s games, particularly it seems, when they are playing Fallout 76.

But, “Hold your horses there, Mac”. Don’t run out and begin looking for the duping exploits lest you get your account permanently banned from Bethesda.net. Many players see in-game exploitation as some kind of game within a game. To be fair, I see their point. However, Bethesda doesn’t agree with it.

In fact, Bethesda has made their stance on venturing outside of the bounds of the game to be very much a ban-worthy offense. Not only is it ban-worthy, it’s permaban worthy. What I mean is that if you choose to exploit the in-game world by doing things not intended by Bethesda, expect to see your account banned. I don’t mean a few days of ban here either. These bans are likely to be so severe, you may never get your account back… and, you will lose all Atom you carry, all items you’ve bought in the Atomic shop and lose any remaining portion of Fallout 1st you may have left, in addition to never being able to play the game again.

If Bethesda finds what you’ve done severe enough, they may even contact Sony to have your PSN account banned at the console level. Yes, Bethesda can do this.

This section should be seen as a warning to those of you gamers who wish to tread on the very tenuous ground of duping and exploitation in the Fallout 76 world. If you wish to play a Bethesda online game, you need to keep your character’s feet firmly on the ground and away from all in-game exploits. Anything that feels like cheating in the game world is very likely to get your Bethesda.net account banned!

How Will Bethesda Know?

I know this game is played by a lot of naïve minors under the age of 18. Many may even be under the age of 12. Being of this younger age, it’s easy to fail to understand that there are such things as logs. Bethesda has been logging and monitoring Fallout 76 on their servers for months. They began this monitoring process when the last duping flare-up occurred early in 2019.

Since then, all of this monitoring has improved and, in fact, is likely being actively reviewed and monitored daily through reports and other condensed information. This means that someone at Bethesda has the job of actively looking for players using suspect behavior and/or carrying suspect stacks of items.

If you carry a stack of 1 million pieces of ammo, or a 100k stimpaks or 50k Large Holiday Presents or any unnecessarily large stack of items, your account is likely to be found and flagged for duping. The numbers of items you can reasonably carry range from 1-10000 depending on item. Even then, the 10k amount only applies to ammo where it is feasible you can find that much in the game world. While Bethesda will overlook 10k in ammo, they will NOT overlook 10k or 100k in Large Handmade Holiday Gifts or a million pieces of ammo… particularly if they all have the same object ID.

Once they see a large stack of suspect items, they will begin investigating the account for how it obtained this many of the item. The Bethesda staff person will then find if the account performed duping to obtain that item. Bethesda’s duping detection system isn’t perfect. Even if you didn’t dupe the items, but carry them on your account, your account may still be flagged. If your friend hands you 10k Holiday Gifts, be cautious and open them up quick or drop them. Don’t leave them lying around in your stash or in your character’s inventory. Simply holding onto a large suspect stack of items is enough to have your account banned… even if YOU didn’t dupe them.

I can’t stress the above enough. If you value all of the work you’ve put into Fallout 76 and your Bethesda.net account, then don’t dupe and don’t accept large duped stacks of items.

This is why we can’t have nice things!

When push comes to shove, Bethesda is king at punishing (and retaliating against) exploiters and, by extension, all other users of their games in general. Bethesda has continually proven, at least with Fallout 76, that they don’t really care whose toes they step on to solve gamer exploits in their games. If that means deleting game world items from every Stashbox, regardless of whether it was legitimately obtained or not, so be it.

That means that a small minority of gamers can run amok within Fallout 76 exploiting duping bugs which forces Bethesda to take their ire out on the entire Fallout 76 gaming community as whole. Bethesda will willfully modify their game in negative ways, regardless of whom it affects.

Additionally, with exploiters who Bethesda can identify were specifically participating in the exploits, they will outright ban these gamers from Fallout 76 and, potentially, Bethesda.net on the whole. What this means to exploiters is not only the loss of access to Fallout 76, but it also means loss of access to every game you’ve ever purchased from Bethesda’s store. Yes, this punishment is hard. But, some people need to learn lessons the hard way. Life’s lessons aren’t always wrapped in pretty bows… which is a life lesson in and of itself.

Though, I’m not at all saying that being banned from the game isn’t the right choice to make for Bethesda. If gamers choose not to play the game as written and instead insist on playing outside of those boundaries by exploiting bugs, then you take what’s coming to you. Bethesda’s Terms of Service are crystal clear as follows:

You agree not to access, receive, play or use any Service to:

  • Promote, upload, transmit, encourage or take part in any activity involving hacking, cracking, phishing, taking advantage of exploits or cheats and/or distribution of counterfeit software and/or Virtual Currency or virtual items. In an effort to continuously improve the Services, You and other players discovering exploits, cheats, cracks or other inconsistencies are required to report them to ZeniMax;

If you participate in this or any other activity listed in Bethesda’s Terms of Service, Bethesda’s remedies are clearly defined here:

In response to a violation of these Terms of Service, ZeniMax may issue You a warning, suspend or restrict certain features of Your Account (including, but not limited to, user names), selectively modify or remove or revoke Downloadable Content at an Account and/or device level, immediately terminate any and all Accounts that You have established and/or temporarily or permanently ban Your Account, device, and/or machine from accessing, receiving, playing or using all or certain Services.

ZeniMax may terminate Your access to and/or receipt, play or use of the Services (i) for violating these Terms of Service; (ii) if ZeniMax, in its sole discretion, deems that Your information is untrue, inaccurate, not complete or incomplete; (iii) if Your access to or receipt, play or use of such Services infringes on or is suspected of infringing on another’s rights or any intellectual property; or (iv) if You or Your Account reflects inappropriate Content and/or violates these Terms of Service. Any and all Content (including, but not limited to, Software, Content, and Downloadable Content) will be considered forfeit immediately in the event of any cancellation, closure, or termination of Your Account by ZeniMax.

This means that, yes, you can lose access to a portion or all of your content for the game involved or, indeed, you can lose your entire account at Bethesda. Basically, you will forfeit your access to the software involved and potentially everything else you own from Bethesda. When you exploit Bethesda’s software, eventually you will pay the price and that price is fairly steep.

One additional problem that can arise is that Bethesda can also report your account to PlayStation or Xbox if you have also violated those service’s terms and conditions. Bethesda’s report can see your entire PlayStation or Xbox blocked entirely from online services. Not only can you not use any Bethesda games you own, you could lose your entire Xbox Live or PlayStation Network access for all other games. It all depends on how Bethesda plays it against you. Bethesda can most certainly play hardball if you press the point.

With all of that behind us, let’s move into the meat and potatoes of this review…

Wastelanders Add-On

With the addition of Wastelanders, the Appalachia wasteland has changed. How has it changed? It now has NPCs all over the place. This addition is a mixed bag, however.

While some of the portions of the game have been somewhat rewritten, the fundamental original game is still under there. The NPCs will help you get a handle a bit quicker because they can aid you in getting your character to where it needs to go. When you first exited Vault 76 before this update, you had to fend for yourself alone without much of any help.

Now there are NPCs to greet you just outside the vault who not only give you various information, they help you get a handle on what’s going on in Appalachia. That’s not to say these helpers outside of the vault are necessary, but now Appalachia doesn’t feel so barren.

The question is, does this addition really help the game out? As I said, that’s mixed bag. Nearly all of the original underlying quests are still in the game including the boring holotapes and terminal text lore. Some quests are somewhat altered with the presence of the new walking, talking NPCs.

Allies

Also with the Wastelanders addition, Bethesda has added on the concept of an ally. Think of this as effectively a named settler. If you’ve played Fallout 4, it’s similar to a companion with the exception that these allies don’t follow you around and aid you in combat. They live at your C.A.M.P. and help protect your camp. They also issue you quests that lead to a final 3 star legendary drop at the end.

Two of these allies include Beckett and Sofia. To entice them to come to your base, you must place down something that they need. Beckett wants a bar stand. Sofia needs a computer console. Once you plop down their requirement in your camp, they will join you there.

However, you can only have 1 ally present in your camp at a time. This also means you can only run one ally quest line at a time. These allies don’t leave your camp. They stay there and interact with whatever you place around them, such as musical instruments. Be careful with musical instruments, though. Sofia can, for example, sit and play the guitar for 20 minutes or longer constantly. That would be okay if they had given Sofia some actual guitar music to play. Instead, just like a player character, the guitar plays snippets and chopped together riffs that, after a while, become annoying as all get out. It’s fun to know that NPCs will play the instruments, but it’s torture to listen to them playing the same thing over and over for 20-30 minutes continuously.

Dialog Choices

With NPCs, comes dialog. Here’s a screenshot of how that looks:

Dialog

Much of the dialog, as one would expect, is pointless. But, some of it does lead to adding map markers or other interesting actions. With some dialog choices, you can use your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. points which will lead to unlocking other dialog.

New Main Quests

WaywardIn addition to the long ally quest lines, there are new main quests. This main quest begins at The Wayward, just across from the Overseer’s camp. Pretty much it seems the Overseer’s camp has now been discarded in lieu of beginning the game at The Wayward. The Wayward is a house that doubles as a bar. It’s a new addition to the world, along with many other new locations. Some original locations have also been converted into NPC communities.

If you’re used to how the wasteland looked before Wastelanders, many of the locations have changed. For example, the Isolated Cabin which was inhabited by mongrels has been converted into a settler settlement. These NPCs are generically named ‘Settler’. The dogs may or may not appear with the addition of the settlers. The settlers can be killed, however.

New Bosses

Of course, the addition of Wastelanders wouldn’t be complete without a new boss location to nuke. Instead of nuking Fissure Prime to get the Scorchbeast Queen to appear, there is a new location which now spawns the Wendigo Colossus. Don’t think that this boss looks anything like the long slender Wendigo, however. The Colossus looks like a Grafton Monster with tall skinny legs. This particular monster design was, in fact, far too lazily designed. It seems Bethesda did as little as possible to make a functional workable monster.

This boss also has a new attack. It throws goop at you that sees you literally run away screaming. There’s no way to counter, stop or in any way halt this animation effect. You are forced to let it play out. It’s a stupid effect and it completely gets in the way. I’m sure someone at Bethesda thought it was hilarious, but I find it extremely frustrating and stupid. You fight bosses to fight, not run away screaming. If Bethesda had given us a new perk card, food stuff or chem (i.e., Calmex) to negate this attack for a period of time, I’d be less harsh on Bethesda for this addition. This attack needs to disappear or we need to be given a way to negate the attack. It’s frustrating when you’re attempting to kill this beast and you’re constantly being forced to run away.

Updated Locations

Some locations have been updated and rebuilt to support NPC settlers. One of these is the crashed space station. Here’s a picture:

SpaceStation

I’ve included the border because the original space station as it was is seen in the upper left corner. Compare this to the reworked and updated Wastelanders image. I realize the image is kind of drab, but the in-game world had a rainstorm going at the time. I also thought it would be important to Factions-smshow the rain storm look in this review.

This location introduces one of two new factions: Raiders. The other faction is the Settlers. You can view your acceptance level in these factions by checking your social menu.

Negating the Scorchbeast Queen

With the newly added Wendigo Colossus, few people are going to run over and start up the Queen event anymore. Because this is a type of Wendigo, all of the Zealots, Ultracite and Prime perks are useless against this boss. In fact, there really isn’t a Legendary effect that actually works against a Wendigo. You just have to be long and steady with your weapons. This usually means using heavy automatic weapons. Weapons that don’t necessarily do lots of damage per hit, but that cumulatively add up to lots of damage over time.

This is where Bethesda didn’t really plan ahead much. If you’re planning to add an entirely new boss into the game, you also need to add in perk cards and legendary effects to help defeat this boss, just like we had with Zealots and Prime against the Scorched. We have half of the equation with this boss addition, but we don’t have the other half of this in the weapons to help defeat or armor to protect against this boss.

This is where Wastelanders becomes a mixed bag. Yes, we do get a new boss in Wastelanders. No, we don’t get any new legendary effects, perk cards or chems that help us kill that new boss. Don’t think that you can grab your Zealots and have these legendary weapons be more effective against the Wendigo Colossus, like they were against the Scorchbeast Queen. It doesn’t work that way. You’re better off using basic legendary effects like Bloodied or Berzerker’s with a proper character build.

Perk Card Changes and New Weapon

ArcherWith Wastelanders, a new set of perk cards has been added in support of the new bow and arrow weapon. The perk cards are standard 3 damage multiplier Archer cards in addition to Bow Before Me, an anti-armor card which applies to bows and crossbows. The bow itself is a decently powered weapon at level 50, offering up to 350 damage when sneaking. That’s not bad all things considered. However, it’s an exceedingly slow loading and slow firing weapon. Once a horde of enemies finds you, you better switch to a different weapon or you’ll want to pair it with the Sneak card and hope the enemies don’t find you.

New Power Armor

The newest power armor set is the T-65 power armor. This armor requires collecting gold bullion (yet another new currency). To get this bullion, you’ll need to complete as many of the new main and faction quests as you can. One you complete the main and faction quests, you will be able to visit Regs (another new NPC) who is located at Vault 79 (a new vault) where you can spend your bullion to buy the plans to build this armor.

Whether this armor is effective against the Colossus is as yet unknown. Though, I will say that power armor in Fallout 76 has been, in general, a joke. For example, 5.56 equipped Colonel Gutsy robots can shred your HP in just a few shots in or out of power armor. In fact, I haven’t seen any difference between being in or out of power armor when facing a 5.56 equipped Gutsy or Super Mutant.

Worse, while Fallout 4 offered legendary effects on power armor, these PA legendary pieces have never made it into Fallout 76. Even though regular armor regularly drops with legendary effects, power armor has never had any legendary effects in Fallout 76. This drastically reduces the effectiveness of power armor in Fallout 76. Why am I bringing this up here? Because Wastelanders didn’t fix this problem. It still exists just as it did before Wastelanders.

New Challenges?

Actually, no. Even though the Wastelanders update has added NPCs, no additional combat challenges have been added… such as Kill Blood Eagles with a Combat Rifle (0/1000). While NPCs have been added, Bethesda just didn’t work out these small details that would have added much more value to the game.

Lighting System Changes

WhitespringStationPrior to Wastelanders, the lighting in the game was brighter and more dynamic. With the introduction of Wastelanders, the game has taken a questionable backward step toward darker lighting levels (see Whitespring Station image), including the elimination of many areas of ambient lighting. Walking into some buildings which were formerly well lit, we now see portions of the room exceedingly dark with a single bright light in the middle of the room.

CharlestonStationThe Charleston station, left, is exceedingly dark where before the interior was very bright. This is in the middle of the day in-game time. Even the daylight outdoors lighting model has changed seeing shadows on the ground as much darker. This lighting model change is unusual and unnecessary. The original lighting system actually looked better, particularly inside of buildings. This absence of ambient lighting thus makes many rooms, like the interior of Charleston Station, overly dark.

BeforeAfter

As you can see above, the before is brighter, lighter and more vibrant. The shadows are less intense. The before was taken about a month ago, perhaps. The After image is darker, less colorful, drab and is more difficult to read the signs. The whites were easier to see in the before.

…. Where does Wastelanders not work so well?

Changes, Not Changes

This is where I find Wastelanders to be basically a facelift, primarily on the surface. The underlying problems from Fallout 76 all remain. The bugs, the problems, the glitching, the crashing, the difficulties, the getting hung up on rocks while running, the getting stuck in a hole, the broken texture maps, the lack of responsiveness from button presses on down to the whole less than stellar way the interface is built and works. None of these basic day-one problems have been addressed. We’re still working on game foundation that wasn’t perfected from the beginning. So now we have NPCs plopped right on top of all of these still existing bugs.

Many people say that Fallout 76 has greatly improved since its launch. I’ve yet to see that. The game is still just as glitchy and broken as it was on release day. Sure, some problems have been addressed, but the majority of the underlying bugs are all still there. Wastelanders did little to solve these fundamental game engine problems. The problem here is that these bugs and glitches are mainly inconvenient. They are typically not showstoppers. However, some are more inconvenient than others.

For example, dead enemies can sometimes despawn moments after death. If you aren’t super quick to grab the loot from the body, you won’t get it. This includes legendary enemies. This is a bug that has existed from launch day.

Another bug is when you fast travel. You can land inside of rocks, under a building wedged, wedged between two walls or in other places that don’t allow you to move. You are forced to travel again.

You can still find enemies sliding around on the ground either standing up in a T position or in a lying or seated position. This glitch has been in the game since day one.

This next one I’ve seen so many times is one I can’t believe hasn’t yet been fixed. When you’re fighting a boss and your character dies, the game forces you to choose a respawn point. The problem here is that on character death, the game immediately recalculates your carry weight far below your in-game carry weight. This forces you to become severely overencumbered immediately after your character dies. This then forces you to respawn back at Vault 76 (all the way across the map).

Once your character has respawned fully and the game has recalculated your carry weight back to normal, you can then travel back to that death location and pick up your dropped loot. In my case, the game wouldn’t even let me respawn back at my Fallout 1st tent! I was forced to fast travel twice. Once to Vault 76, then once again back to my tent. It’s like, shit, just let me travel to my tent first. If I hadn’t had my tent there, I’d have had to pay caps to get back across the map. This problem has existed since day one.

Bugs, bugs and more bugs

These above are but a few examples. There are plenty of others that still plague this mediocre game. That doesn’t mean there aren’t new bugs. Oh, no no no. There are plenty of new bugs in this update. Duping is, as I mentioned above, back with a vengeance. It seems that many gamers were just waiting to pounce all over duping again, and dupe they have. In response, Bethesda has stopped display cases from functioning and halted player vending.

It’s clear that unless you (as a company) are absolutely stellar at programming, you shouldn’t attempt to have an in-game economy. This shows exactly how amateur Bethesda is at producing online games with any semblance of an economy. If you can’t lock down such basic things as duping, you can’t have an in-game economy.

At this point, it’s probably best were Bethesda to dismantle player vending entirely, disable dropping any items from inventory, stop player trading and halt all ability to transfer items from one player to another. If the devs can’t handle keeping these bugs from surfacing and resurfacing, then they must stop the underlying reason why duping continues to exist. If players can’t sell, trade or transfer items from one player to another, there’s little reason to dupe items. Items like Holiday Gifts should be removed from the game entirely and never see a return. Nothing should produce caps upon consuming the item, not even Nuka-Cola drinks. The only things that should give caps are in-game vending bots, cap stashes, dead enemies, containers and quests. Basically, items that cannot possibly be duplicated.

Additionally, vending bots should mark an object ID which has been previously sold as unsellable. This means that should another player show up with that same object ID attempting to sell it, the vendor bot will not only refuse to buy it, it will then confiscate it from the player’s inventory. Vendor bots that buy items never relist an already used ID. Instead, they will always relist the item with a new ID. This means that a duped item can’t be sold by a bot. If you can’t sell a dupe with an added double whammy of losing it, players will think twice not only about duping, but attempting to sell those dupes to vendors. It also means they can’t sell them to players either. This means duping is a dead end.

This is tough way to handle duping, but we’re at the crossroads with this game. If Bethesda can’t prevent duping, then it needs to be stopped using another more permanent method… and that way is to halt all further player-to-player sales and trading. Halting the ability for players to trade goods with one another is the only way to stop duping.

Player Vending is Broken

I’m singling out duping here because it keeps coming back over and over and over. Duping has not gone away and it is, once again, back. It will also keep coming back so long as player-to-player trading remains in the game. Instead of Bethesda playing this never ending game of “catch the duping mouse”, the answer is to simply halt player trading entirely. Only allow players to interact and trade with game controlled vendor bots. It’s long past time for Bethesda to have solved this problem and this is the ONLY solution.

Changing this fundamental aspect of this multiplayer game will have some ramifications. Yes, it will make traders exceedingly angry. At the same time, it will also stop all real money eBay listings, it will halt scammers and it will halt the third party trading marketplaces. This will force players to legitimately earn caps in the game through normal in-game means.

If Bethesda wants to better control these exploits and continue to allow selling, they need to do away with vending machines at each camp and place a vending machine at each train station (see next section for additional thoughts). A vending machine will always re-ID every object it receives to sell. This means there is no possibility a player could receive a dupe from a vendor bot. When a player lists an item, the item is checked for a duped ID. If this object’s ID has already been purchased by a vendor bot once before, the weapon is confiscated and the player is then notified the duped item has been confiscated. A notification should also be sent to someone at Bethesda that a vendor bot has confiscated a duped item and which account presented it.

Player to player vending can be implemented in the following way and should be limited to a centralized system. This system will list the item along with the player’s name. The item (after being validated as not duped) will go up for sale at the player’s specified price. The item remains listed for a period of time (i.e., 3 days) and will remain listed regardless of whether the player is online. After 3 days without purchase, the item is returned to the player’s inventory. If purchased, the caps will be placed into a centralized bank to which the player can withdraw those caps via the vending machine. Players should be limited to no more than 5-10 listings at a time and a max amount of caps in the bank.

Other bugs which were recently added include the rogue turret bug. If one turret is damaged in a workshop, the other turrets in the area begin shooting at friendly camp or workshop items. This is such a stupid bug. I can’t believe it has been allowed to persist across multiple releases in a row. Bethesda is well aware of this issue, yet they choose to do nothing to fix it. In fact, it seems that now a rogue turret in a camp can actually damage other workshop equipment. I shake my head that Bethesda can’t even fix what should be simple bugs, yet they spend massive amounts of time working on add-ons that really don’t add that much value to the game.

End of Player Trading?

At this point and strictly due to duping, I’d personally like to see player-to-player trading end. This won’t be a popular opinion among traders, but it’s definitely needed to stop all of these duplication problems. Trading is not really very useful, it causes bad behavior among players, it invites duping and it doesn’t really solve a problem for the game. Since Fallout 76 is pretty much a single player game with a multiplayer component, there’s no need for player vending at all. It simply gets in the way of the enjoyment of the game. With the advent of Purveyor Murmrgh and the ability to buy 1, 2 and 3 star legendary weapons and armor, player-to-player trading is now unnecessary.

I’m sure a lot of traders will disagree. Were Bethesda to make this change, it would stop the need for most duping. The primary reason most players dupe is to sell weapons to other players for high amounts of caps. The secondary reason is to dupe items that instantly produce caps for the player. Both of these problems need to be stopped. The way to handle it is to stop player-to-player trading and implement a duped ID checking + confiscation system when attempting to sell duped items to vendors. Further, stop giving away items that instantly produce caps upon consuming it. Instead, drop only objects into the player’s inventory. They can then sell the item to a vendor for caps. Keep caps issuance only from vendor bots, from world containers and at the end of quests.

Additionally, items can no longer be dropped into the world. This should also include stopping the drop of junk items upon character death. Further, like many of the newer items, if you attempt to drop any item, you’re then notified the item will be destroyed. With this change, you won’t be able to drop loot bags any more… which of course negates the idea of custom loot bags sold in the Atomic Shop. A small price to pay to get rid of player trading.

Halting all player trading means the player must rely on the game to produce caps and provide the player with weapons and armor. This change is actually in keeping with the way that Fallout 4 worked in single player campaign. Because Fallout 4 doesn’t allow multiplayer, the player had to rely solely on themselves to obtain caps and obtain the best weapons in the game. Moving Fallout 76 to this more stringent and similar model would actually heighten the gameplay, make it more challenging and more in keeping with Fallout 4’s model. No longer can gamers rely on others to give them “the best weapon”, a form of cheating. Instead, they must grind in the normal way, earn their keep individually and spend the money they legitimately earned to buy weapons from the Purveyor or, alternatively, find a legendary enemy and take their chances to get a better weapon or armor.

Moving Fallout 76 to a more-or-less closed single player system with limited multiplayer support, this stops players from wanting to exploit the game in an attempt to gain more caps, better weapons and better armor via cheating. Yes, I do consider player-to-player trading a form of cheating. You didn’t earn that weapon, you bought it. You didn’t earn that armor, you bought it. There’s no difference between pay-to-play with Atomic shop items and player-to-player for-pay trading. It’s all a form of pay-to-win. I’m most definitely for ending all forms of pay-to-win whether by Bethesda or via player trading.

Overall

The addition of NPCs to Fallout 76 is a long time coming. Unfortunately, it’s probably too little, too late. This should have been the way the game was released on day one, not a year and a half later. Will this make Fallout 76 a great game? With NPCs added, it’s better in some ways, but it’s worse in others. This is why it’s a mixed bag.

Can I recommend this update? For curiosity sake, sure. Download it and explore. If you’ve already played Fallout 76 through to completion, it doesn’t change the original game so much that it makes a huge difference. The changes to the original quests are relatively minor… just enough to introduce NPCs so they make sense.

The best part of Wastelanders is the addition of allies. This C.A.M.P. addition is probably the single best part of Wastelanders. You can now have an NPC at your base permanently. Your character can even have a relationship with them. While they cannot become companions that follow you around, they can help defend your base while you’re not there.

On the flip side, because this is a fluid multiplayer game without the ability to create saved game files, your character’s choices are permanent. If you wish to redo a portion of an NPC’s quest, you can’t do that. If you make a mistake which has specific unknown consequences, your only choice is to start a new character and try again on that new character. I might even suggest starting a new character so you can use this character to determine where these quest pitfalls are. You can then play the quests through a second time on your primary character and know the best choices possible while avoiding such pitfalls.

Is Wastelanders a great game? Hardly. Is it better than it was? In some ways, yes. In other ways, it’s much the same as it was. If you’ve already played the game through to completion, it does add on a few quest lines that you can explore. Unfortunately, the quests mostly consist of fetch this thing, kill this person or do this thing for me. For the allies, there are many of these before you get to the end. Though, I’d say that the game’s Wastelanders addition probably adds, at most, a month’s worth of additional play value if you play it through slowly.

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FX TV Series Review: Devs

Posted in botch, california, entertainment, Uncategorized by commorancy on March 7, 2020

devsDevs is a new “limited” series from FX, also being streamed on Hulu. Let’s explore everything that went wrong here.

Silicon Valley Startups

Having worked in Silicon Valley for several tech companies, I can confirm exactly how unrealistic this show is. Let’s start by discussing all of the major flaws within the pilot. I should also point out that the pilot is what sets the tone of a series. Unfortunately, the writers cut so many corners setting up the pilot’s plot, the rest of the series will suffer for it.

As a result of the sloppy writing for the pilot, the writers will now be required to retcon many plot elements into the series as the need arises. Retconning story wouldn’t have been needed had they simply set up this series properly. Unfortunately, they rushed the pilot story.

Slow Paced

While you might be thinking, “Well, I thought the pacing of the series was extremely slow.” The dialog and scene pacing is slow. But, the story itself moves along so rapidly, if you blink you’ll miss it.

What’s it about?

A girlfriend and boyfriend pair work for the same fictional tech company named “Amaya”. It is located in a redwood forested area near San Francisco, apparently. It doesn’t specifically state where it exists, but it’s somewhere located in a wooded area.

The female lead, Lily, and the male lead, Sergei, are in a relationship. She’s of Chinese-American heritage and he’s of Russian descent. She works on the crytography team at Amaya and he works in the AI division at Amaya (at least in the pilot of the show).

Things Go Awry

Almost immediately, the series takes a bad turn. Sergei shows off his project to the ‘Devs’ team leader, another team in the company. We later come to find that this unkempt leader is actually the founder of the company and Amaya was his daughter who died. He also apparently heads up a part of the company that we come to find is named ‘Devs’. Unfortunately, because there’s no setup around what ‘Devs’ exactly is, this leaves the viewer firmly lost over the magnitude of what’s going on at this meeting. Clearly, it isn’t lost on Sergei as he’s extremely nervous about the meeting, but he still goes in reasonably confident of his project. As viewers, though, we’re mostly lost until much later in the episode.

Sergei demonstrates his project to this not-explained team and they seem suitably impressed with Sergei’s project’s results… that is until the end of the meeting when the results begin failing due to insufficient amounts of processing power.

Still, Sergei’s results are impressive enough that he is invited (not the rest of his team) to join ‘Devs’ right then and there.

And then we hear the sound of a record needle being ripped across a record…

Not how Silicon Valley works

You don’t get invited to join some kind of “elite coveted” team at the drop of a hat like that. Managers have paperwork, transfer requests have to be made and budgets have to be allotted. There are lots of HR related things that must result when transferring a person from one department to another, even at the request of the CEO. It’s not a “You’re now on my team effectively immediately” kind of thing. That doesn’t occur and is horribly unrealistic.

Ignoring the lack of realism of this transfer, the actor playing Sergei is either not that great of an actor or was directed poorly. Whatever the reason, he didn’t properly convey the elation required upon being invited and accepted into “the most prestigious” department at Amaya. If he were actually trying to get into ‘Devs’, his emotions should have consisted of at least some moment of joy. In fact, the moment he’s accepted into ‘Devs’, it almost seems like fear or confusion blankets him. That’s not a normal emotion one would experience having just stepped into a “dream job”.

This is where the writers failed. The writers failed to properly explain that this was Sergei’s dream job. This is also where the writers failed to properly set up the ‘Devs’ team as the “Holy Grail” of Amaya.

Clearly, the writers were attempting to set this fictional Amaya company up to mirror a company of a similar size of Google or Apple.

Location

Ignoring the meeting that sets up the whole opening (and which also fails to do so properly), Sergei heads home to explain to Lily his change in company status and his transfer into ‘Devs’. They have a conversation about the closed nature of that team and that they won’t be able to discuss his new job in ‘Devs’.

The next day, Sergei heads over to the head of Amaya security to be ‘vetted’ for the ‘Devs’ team. Apparently, there’s some kind of security formality where the security team must interview and vet out any potential problems. The security manager even points out that because Sergei is native Russian and because Lily is Chinese that there’s strong concern over his transfer. If this security person is so concerned over his background, then he should rescind his transfer effective immediately.

Instead, he sends Sergei on his way to meet with the ‘Devs’ manager who then escorts him through a heavily wooded area into what amounts to an isolated fortress.

Record needle rips across again… “Hold it right there”

While it’s certainly possible a tech startup might attempt to locate its headquarters deep in a wooded area, it’s completely unrealistic. California is full of tree huggers. There are, in fact, way too many tree huggers in California. There is no way a company like Google or Apple could buy a heavily forested area and then plop down a huge fortress in the middle of it. No, not possible. In fact, an organization like “Open Space Trust” would see to it that they would block such a land purchase request. There is no way a private company could set this up.

A governmental organization could do it simply through annexation via eminent domain, but not a private company. Let’s ignore this straight up California fact and continue onward with this show. Though, it would have made more sense if Amaya had been government sanctioned and funded.

Sergei’s First (and Last) Day

Ignoring the improbable setup of this entire show, Sergei is escorted by his new boss, who remarkably looks like Grizzly Adams… but more dirty, homeless and unkempt. Typically, Silicon Valley companies won’t allow men who look like this into managerial roles. Because we come to find later that he is apparently the “founder” of Amaya, the rest of the company lets his unkempt look slide. His look is made worse by the long hair wig they’ve glued onto this actor. If you want a guy to look like Grizzly Adams, at least have him grow his hair out to some length so a lacefront wig looks at least somewhat realistic.

Anyway, let’s move on. Sergei is escorted through a heavily wooded area (complete with a monstrously huge and exceedingly ugly statue of a child in a creepy pose) and onto his new work location… the aforementioned fortress I described earlier. His boss explains how well secured the location is by pointing out its security features including an “unbroken vacuum seal” to which Sergei ponders aloud before being shown how it works. Sergei is then told that there is only one rule. That rule being that no personal effects go into the building and nothing else comes out of it. Yet, this rule is already broken when they head inside. Even the “manager” breaks this rule.

Once they enter the building and get past the entry area, Mr. Grizzly explains that nothing inside the building is passworded. It’s all open access to everything. He is then shown his workspace and left to his own devices. Grizzly explains he’ll figure it out on his own by “reading the code”.

Unrealistic. No company does this.

Last Day

Here’s where everything turns sour. We are left to assume that only one day has passed since Sergei has been been escorted into the building. Sergei then stares at his terminal screen not doing anything for about 5 minutes. He gets up, goes to the bathroom, barfs and then fiddles with his watch.

He then attempts to leave the building, yet somehow it’s night time. It was probably morning when he entered. Here’s where the storytellers failed again. There was no explanation of time passage. The same screen he was looking at when he entered is the same screen that was on his terminal when he attempts to leave. Yet, now it’s night time?

His manager assumes that Sergei has absconded with the code (remember the open access?) from the facility and that he is attempting to leave with it on his “James Bond Watch”. Sergei is jumped by the head of Amaya security and is seemingly suffocated by this same head of security no less.

And so the retcon begins…

The writers have now killed the person they needed to explain this story. So now, they have to rely on Lily to unravel what happened (as a newly minted detective). Here’s where the show goes from being a possible uplifting story to an implausible detective horror story.

To enable Lily to even get the first clue what has happened to her boyfriend, the ‘Devs’ and the security teams collude to fabricate footage to make it appear as if Sergei is acting oddly while walking around the campus.

Instead of the writers creating actual story, they rely on fake security footage to retell the story. They even go so far as to fabricate a person setting themselves on fire with Sergei’s face attached… to make it appear as some kind of suicide. Yeah, I doubt Lily is buying any of it. Unfortunately, the writers leave too much unsaid. So, we have no idea what Lily is really thinking.

Instead, Lily heads off to find her ex-boyfriend and ask him for help… who he then summarily tells her to “fuck off”. This whole ex-boyfriend premise is so contrived and unrealistic it actually tops the list of unrealistic tropes in this show.

Questions without Answers

Would a Silicon Valley company stoop to murder to protect its intellectual property? I guess it could happen, but it is very unlikely. Would they allow a thug to head up its security team? Exceedingly doubtful. If a company were to need to protect its property through acts of violence, it would hire out for that.

Though, really, Amaya is actually very naive. If they didn’t trust Sergei, they shouldn’t have hired him. Worse, they allowed their one rule to be broken… allowing personal effects inside the building. Both Sergei and Grizzly wear watches into the building. If no personal effects are to be carried in or out, then that includes ALL forms of technology including wrist watches of any form. In fact, they should require everyone to change their clothes before entering the building, forcing ALL personal effects into a locker with no access to that locker until shift end. The staff would then wear issued wardrobe for the duration of their work shift.

If Amaya had simply followed its own rules by setting the whole system up correctly, there wouldn’t have been the possibility of any code theft or the need to murder an employee. Yet, Sergei is allowed to wear his watch into the building? It is then assumed that Sergei has managed to copy all (?) of the code onto his watch? Setting up such a secure system would have forced Sergei to thwart this system in some way creating more drama and enforcing the fact that Sergei is, indeed, a spy. By killing Sergei off so quickly, the writers were requires to take many shortcuts to get this story told.

Clearly, corporate espionage does exist, but would anyone attempt corporate espionage on their first day on a new team? On their second day? I think not. In fact, this setup is so contrived and blatantly stupid, it treats not only Sergei, but the audience as if we haven’t a brain in our heads. That the writers also assume that Russian espionage is this stupid is also insane.

No. If Sergei were being handled as a spy, he would only attempt espionage after having been in the position for a long time… perhaps even years. Definitely well enough time to be considered “trusted”. No company fully trusts a new employee on the first day. No company gives full access to all data to a new employee on the first day, either. There is no way that “first day” Sergei could have ever been put in the position of having access to everything.

Further, a new employee needs to fully understand exactly what’s going on in the new department, where everything is and get accustomed to the new work area and new co-workers. There is no way Sergei would have attempted to abscond any the code when he barely understands what that code is even doing. Preposterous.

Episode 2

The writers then again further insult us with the passworded Soduku app that Lily finds on Sergei’s phone. Lily enlists her ex-boyfriend again (whom she hadn’t talked to in years) to help unlock the app. Amazingly, this second time he agrees. He then explains to Lily that it’s a Russian messaging app and that Sergei was a spy.

Here’s the insulting part. After her ex-boyfriend unlocks the app, all of the messages are in English. Seriously? No, I don’t think so. Every message would have been in Russian, not English. If it’s a Russian app, they would communicate using the Russian language. But then the next part wouldn’t have made any sense.

Lily then decides to text whomever is on the other end. If the text had been in Russian, she would have had to learn enough Russian to message the other party. By making the text app English, it avoids this problem. That’s called “lazy writing”.

Inexplicably, the other end decides to meet with Lily. Needle rips again… No, I don’t think so. If it were really Sergei’s handler with the power to delete the app, the app would have been deleted immediately after Lily made contact. No questions asked. If they wanted to meet with Lily, they likely would have abducted her separately much, much later.

Still, it all conveniently happens. Worse, when the meeting takes place, the head of Amaya’s security is somehow there eavesdropping on the whole conversation. Yeah, I don’t think so. If the head of Amaya’s security is there, that either means he’s spying on Sergei’s apps (which are likely encrypted, so there’s no real way) or Amaya’s future prediction algorithm is already fully functional.

Basically, everything is way too convenient. Worse, if Amaya does manage to crack the prediction algorithm, the show’s writers have a huge problem on their hands. There’s no way for them to write any fresh stories in that universe without it all turning out contrived. With a prediction algorithm fully functional, Amaya can predict future events with 100% accuracy. This means they can then thwart anything negative that might hinder Amaya’s business. The whole concept is entirely far fetched, but it’s actually made worse by the idea of an omniscient computer system that Amaya is attempting to build. But really, would a company actually kill an exceedingly bright software engineer who is just about to give your computer full future omniscience? I don’t think so.

Omniscience is actually the bane of storytelling. If you have an omniscient being (or anything) available to see the future, then a company could effectively rule the world by manipulating historical events to their own benefit. This situation is a huge predicament for the writers and show runners.

In fact, I would make sure that Amaya’s computer is firmly destroyed within the first 4 episodes. Amaya’s omniscience can’t come to exist or the show will jump the shark. The show should remain focused on Sergei’s death and Lily uncovering it, rather than on creating Amaya’s omniscient computer. That computer becoming fully functional will actually be the downfall of the show. The espionage doesn’t need to succeed. In fact, it shouldn’t succeed. Instead, one of Amaya’s existing internal staff should be enlightened to the of danger Amaya’s management once the actual reality of Sergei’s death becomes widely known. The now enlightened staff should turn on Amaya and subvert the soon-to-be “omniscient” computer, now comprehending the magnitude of just how far their bosses are willing to take everything. That computer is not only a danger to the show, it’s a danger to that entire fictional world. Worse, though, are murderous bosses who are the real travesty here.

Any person working at a company with management willing to commit murder of its staff should at best seek to leave the company immediately (fearing for their own safety)… alternatively, some of these employees might subversively see to that company’s demise before exiting the organization. In fact, Devs should become a cautionary tale.

Technical staff always hold all of the cards at any tech company. Trusted coders and technical staff leave companies extremely vulnerable. These staff can insert damaging code at any time… code that can, in fact, take down a company from within. This is the real danger. This is where this show should head. Let’s forget all about the silly omniscience gimmick and focus on the dangers of what can happen to a company when trusted technical staff become personally threatened by their own employer. This is the real point. This is the real horror. The omniscience gimmick is weak and subverts the show. Instead, bring the staff back to reality by having them take a stand against an employer who is willing to commit murder merely to protect company secrets.

[Updated: 7/11/2020]

About a week after I wrote this article, the next episode arrived. The term “Jump the Shark” immediately pop out at me about halfway into this episode.

There’s a scene where the Devs manager, Katie (Alison Pill), walks into the room and observes two of her team watching what is effectively porn on the company’s core technology. In fact, it’s not just any porn, but famous celebrities from the past “doing it”.

I can most definitely certify that while Silicon Valley’s hiring practices are dominated by males, no manager would allow this behavior in a conference room, let alone by using the company’s primary technology. They could have been watching literally anything and this is what they chose?

I can guarantee you that any manager who found out that an employee was watching such things on a work computer would, at best, require a stern talking to and a reprimand goes into the employee file. At worst, that person is fired. Katie just shrugs it off and makes a somewhat off-handed comment as she leaves the room. That’s completely unrealistic for Silicon Valley companies. Legal issues abound in the Bay Area. There’s no way any company would risk their own existence to let that behavior slide by any employee.

Of course, having a security manager running around and offing employees isn’t something companies in SV do either.

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Netflix: Lost in Space Season 2

Posted in entertainment, netflix, reviews by commorancy on January 5, 2020

LostInSpace.jpgOn the whole, I enjoyed season 1 of Lost in Space on Netflix. The premise stayed fairly true to the original Irwin Allen idea. The actors chosen are not bad for a TV series. However, by Season 2, the series veers way off course. Let’s explore.

Spoilers

This review contains spoilers. If you wish to watch this series for yourself, I’d suggest that you stop reading here. The spoilers won’t be huge, but this review must reveal certain plot elements to critically discuss how this series goes so off course.

Additionally, because Netflix has dumped their ability to leave reviews directly on its site, I feel that it is important that someone reviews Netflix original series somewhere. I’ll begin this one as a new series of reviews as I watch various Netflix efforts. The posts will always be prefixed with ‘Netflix:’ when it is a review of a Netflix original series.

Lost, Lost and more Lost

The original premise of Lost in Space is that the Jupiter 2 gets, you guessed it, lost on its maiden voyage. The original 60s series starring June Lockhart and Bill Mumy kept to this premise all throughout the run of the series, changing format only to move the Robinsons around, but not disband the “alone” premise.

However, this Netflix original series sticks to the original plot only for the first season. The second season sees only one episode that holds true to that original plot. In fact, after inexplicably resolving their “stranded” predicament in pretty much “Lost in Space” form, the whole series takes a turn for the worse and it goes downhill from there. Let’s get into it.

Robot Lost

The first problem is that the Robot has disappeared and is lost. This is supposed to be about the family lost, not the robot. However, in an attempt to escape the planet they find themselves on, one with inexplicable lightning events that traverse across the planet at a specific location and in flashing sequence no less…(a location they can see from shore), they shrug it all off as a natural event. Before they can leave, they first need to understand that there’s absolutely nothing natural about that lightning event. Yet, Maureen, the “mother with a head on her shoulders” shrugs it off as “part of the planet”. There’s nothing at all natural about a clock work lightning event on a planet. She, of course, gives some nonsensical explanation citing a location somewhere on Earth that seems to have a similar kind of storm activity. A lame justification at best.

Worse, Maureen then concocts a plan to turn the Jupiter 2 into a sailboat to “sail” out to the lightning storm to recharge the Jupiter 2’s batteries. I guess that’s one way. Yeah, lightning is, at best, unpredictable. Predictable lightning events are even more unpredictable. At worse, it could fry every electrical system on the Jupiter 2. Yet, Maureen mentions nothing of that danger. Instead, she goads John into turning the Jupiter 2 into a sailboat by attaching rigging and a mast. Yeah, its fairly far fetched.

After doing all of this modding to the J2, they push the J2 into the sea and head out to where the lightning occurs. After a few mishaps on the ocean (to be expected), they find the need to let Dr. Smith out of her confinement to help the sailing process. It seems that Dr. Smith is some sort of a jack of all trades. She can do everything and she always does it exceptionally well, even though she also happens to be a ruthless, conniving, cold psychopathic killer. We all must shrug her behavior off and let her become “friends” every time the family needs her. This whole story premise is so badly concocted, I’d have stopped right here. But, I decide to press on and boy does this series go from bad to worse.

The Resolute

After finding an inexplicable structure that rings the planet creating a huge waterfall in the middle of the ocean (yeah, how is that supposed to work exactly?), they find writing on the bottom of this trough and some huge spikes that “they don’t know what they do”. Um, Maureen, are you all right there? Clearly, the spikes attract the lightning. For what reason the builders want to attract lighting isn’t exactly made clear. But, use some logic here, hon.

One thing is clear, the spikes are likely collecting electrical storm energy for capture. More specifically, if the trough is man made to capture the lightning, then it’s crystal clear that someone or something is harnessing that lightning for energy use purposes. Yet, Maureen’s head is clearly not in the game here. It’s like she’s taken a dumb pill or something.

The short of it is, after a few struggles and silly setups, lightning strikes “The Chariot”. That lightning is then miraculously captured by the J2 which then gives it all the power it needs to lift off and fly away immediately. No waiting on charging up couplers or anything.

After getting into space, they locate and land on the Resolute, a floating ring station that allows docking of multiple Jupiter crafts. After a few moments on the Resolute, they find an abandoned child with the rest of the station not having been inhabited for seemingly weeks or months (it’s never made clear). It also seems that those who formerly lived on the Resolute left in a hurry as food is all still sitting out in the mess hall.

While Maureen, John and the rest of the Robinson family wander the empty halls of the Resolute, Dr. Smith does her own nefarious thing of managing to hack her way into the Resolute’s security computers. She then changes her identity to Dr. Smith, implants her wrist with a new RFID sensor that she’s conveniently ripped out of the real Dr. Smith, whom she happens to find on board in suspended sleep (convenient!), which allows her to gain access to higher classified areas. Oh, so she’s implausibly good at medical implantation too? Yeah, so…. let’s skip the rest of the Dr. Smith stuff here. This part is incredibly badly written. Eventually, the family simply uses Smith as a tool to get what they need from the now returning Resolute crew. I can’t even believe that such a conniving person as Dr. Smith would allow themselves to be so easily manipulated by the Robinson family, after having gone to the trouble of “becoming legitimate”. Let’s move on.

Robot Found

Here is where the series takes it biggest sour turn. Inexplicably the abandoned Resolute crew “hear a signal” coming from the Resolute and fly their Jupiter back up to the Resolute to find out what’s going on. In doing so, they find the newly minted Dr. Smith and the Robinson family wandering its halls.

In fact, there’s apparently a rogue robot of some form wandering the halls loose on the Resolute. After a few moments, Maureen concocts a plan to capture the loose robot and she does it so quickly and efficiently that you’d think Maureen is some kind of miracle worker! After her lapse in judgement on how capturing lightning works, I guess she’s trying to make up for that here?

Inexplicably, the rest of the Resolute staff decides its time to return to the Resolute (with no explanation). Now that Jupiter 2 is back, I guess that means “everything is okay” and they can all return to the abandoned Resolute station. Oh, but there’s one catch. The Resolute’s jump engine has been taken by a robot. Sad face. Maureen again concocts a plan to take the jump drive from the Jupiter 2 and place it back into the Resolute so they can get to Alpha Centauri. The only problem is, no Robot as it’s still lost… somewhere.

Without Robot, they can’t use the jump drive. Suffice it to say that after some toiling and a lot of fill time, they discover Robot (and other similar, but hostile, Robots) on the planet just below the Resolute (convenient). They bring Robot back, but he refuses to help because of “family” issues. After doing things for Robot, he decides to help but not before…

Hastings Interferes

Hastings is a security officer over the Resolute, but clearly seems to be in command over the whole thing. Even the captain seems to take orders from Hastings. Additionally, Hastings seems to also be psychotic… willing to strand the vast majority of the “colonists” on the planet below simply to get the Resolute to Alpha Centauri.

Let’s just stop here to understand exactly how badly written this is as a story concept. If this is supposed to be the best and the brightest sent into space, how does a man like Hastings, with clear psychological problems, get a job aboard a critical mission like the Resolute? Wouldn’t mission protocols enforce subduing potentially psychotic individuals to prevent further damage to the mission? How is a person like Hastings left to roam free on the ship to do whatever he pleases?

The captain of the Resolute should have seen to Hastings removal the moment his intentions to abandon 500 people became known. That’s not the mission. Anyone with a brain could easily see Hastings mental faculties have been compromised. Whether that’s from a pathogen or from space sickness, it’s clear that Hastings is not in his right mind. Yet, no one even questions this man’s mental state.

Any organization putting together a space mission would have not only clear mission objectives, but also personnel sanity protocols in place. If a person gets beyond their ability to lead, then someone else needs to assume command of that role. Hastings was clearly compromised. Both he (and anyone loyal to him) should have been relieved and brigged. Yet, Hastings remains free to not only abandon 500 colonists, but also endanger with intent to kill Maureen and John and anyone else who stands in his way. Hastings is not rational. Yet, even after that, no one sees it. No one acts on it. No one even mentions it. The biggest danger to the Resolute is not John and Maureen, it’s Hastings. While Maureen’s stunt to capture ammonia from a gas giant to clear out the water supply of a foreign contaminant borders on insanity, at least her idea was born out of good intent to save ALL colonists. Hastings has no good intentions. Hastings isn’t at all rational and shows all of the signs of space sickness. Being in a position of security, that should have immediately thrown up red flags throughout not only the rest of the Resolute’s crew, but also to John and Maureen. Yet, everyone seems to blindly overlook Hastings’s delusional behavior.

Gone Astray

This season’s story flaws and woes go way deeper than the above. Lost in Space is a show about the Space Family Robinson who, through no fault of their own, become lost and on their own. This show is not about finding other backstabbing humans. They have already enough of a backstabber in their midst with Dr. Smith. They don’t need another one in Hastings. Hastings was an unnecessary antagonist. In fact, everything that transpires between the Robinson family and Hastings could have been handled by Dr. Smith. In fact, all of that story should have been given to Dr. Smith. We’re still trying to come to terms with our trust levels of Smith. Keeping not only the Robinson family on their toes with her treachery (along with the audience), giving this arc to Smith would have cemented her two-faced personality.

That this arc was given to an extraneous character, Hastings, who is effectively wasted and a throw-away, is in fact a pointless exercise. We as an audience learned nothing. The Robinsons also learned nothing. Dr. Smith gained nothing. It’s better to give these kinds of story arcs to characters who will remain with the show season upon season, building their character arc. Giving such deep story arcs to effectively throw-away characters shows just how amateur this show’s writers really are. Think, writers, think. Give important story arcs to the recurring characters, not to characters we don’t know and don’t care about.

If all of what Hastings had done had been given to Dr. Smith, this would have nailed down Smith’s treacherous nature. Instead, we are treated to John and Smith colluding to determine what the Resolute staff is actually planning. Why? What point did this serve? It showed us that Dr. Smith wasn’t beyond manipulation by John Robinson. John also didn’t need to really know the Resolute’s details. However, if John can manipulate a character like Dr. Smith, then John Robinson is way beyond the amateur status of Dr. Smith. Instead, by giving Hastings’s arc to Dr. Smith, this would have shown us that while Dr. Smith appears to be nice and good on the outside, she’s as treacherous as they come… something that the show dearly needs to prove to us.

Instead, we get a watered down Dr. Smith who is about as strong willed as a turtle.

Overall

Season 2 is definitely a sophomore effort in all senses of the word. The writing is convoluted, logically bad and in places asinine. The music is top notch, but that’s not enough to carry the weak and silly plot lines. Molly Parker, as an actress, needs to let go of using her smirk at the wrong times. It seems to clog up the character and makes her seem silly and less serious than she should appear.

Overall, the show was decently okay, but there were plenty of times where I wanted to tune out and go watch something else. Unfortunately, it’s 20 far too long episodes. If you’re really a die-hard Lost in Space fan, then you might like parts of season 2. I was hoping for far better with season 2, but it delivered much, much less than it should have.

In fact, the writers need to ditch the Resolute quick in season 3 and go back to the Robinsons on their own flying around in the Jupiter 2. Let the story focus on the Jupiter 2 rather than a ship we care nothing about. If the Resolute must make a reappearance, it should only be one or, at most, two episodes in length and then move on. Oh, and let’s not lose Robot again, m’kay?

Overall Rating: 2.2 stars out of 5 (with music being the best part of this season)

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What went wrong with Disney’s Star Wars

Posted in botch, business, entertainment by commorancy on December 22, 2019

StarWarsLogoRoundedThis article is not intended to review The Rise of Skywalker, even though it is in the theaters as I write this. I will write a lengthy review of this final film later. No, this article is intended to explain what went wrong at Disney with Disney’s not-so-recently acquired Star Wars property. Let’s explore.


Star Wars as a Serial

When George Lucas envisioned Star Wars, he envisioned it as a new take on the Saturday morning “Damsel in Distress” story. In fact, he held true to that vision throughout the Star Wars Original Trilogy (Episodes 4, 5 and 6) and even into the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy (Episodes 1, 2 and 3). I’ll deep dive into how these two separate trilogies manifested this “Damsel in Distress” Saturday morning serial ideal.

Prequels

While George’s Prequel trilogy story idea was, for the most part, a snoozefest, George maintained and held true to his Saturday morning serial idea of the female heroine coming under constant distress. If you review Padmé Amadala’s role in films 1, 2 and 3, this idea is readily apparent. In the first film, Padmé’s planet of Naboo comes under fire requiring help… and she, with the help of two Jedi, makes her way to Coruscant to plead her case. Along the way, she runs into all sorts of treacherous situations where her new found Jedi colleagues have to bail her out. These situations are not necessarily of her own making, but they are situations that require rescuing her. In The Phantom Menace, however, there weren’t a lot of occasions where Padmé needed rescuing personally, but there were global situations that warranted her protection by the Jedi.

However, this constant motif of peril and rescue is an important story element in George’s Star Wars universe no matter the form it takes. This situation happens with more and more regularity as the prequels progress, putting Padmé in ever more and more perilous situations requiring rescue by someone… someone like Obi-Wan on Geonosis and again someone like Anakin. Further we see Anakin rescue her again and again once he becomes her lover. This peril and rescue story element sets up incredible tensions and keeps the story narrative flowing properly. It also breeds another story motif which I’ll describe shortly.

Even as much as the acting was stilted and wooden, this “Damsel in Distress” motif comes through clear as day.

Midquels

During Episodes 4, 5 and 6, Princess Leia is the damsel. In these films, once again, Leia is set into ever more and more perilous and precarious situations requiring rescue by Luke, Han, Chewy and on occasion, even Lando. It’s a never ending motif that lends credence to the story and helps the audience keep its eye on the ball.

I’ll point out a few of these. Leia’s rescue by Luke during the swing across in A New Hope. Leia’s rescue by Han from Hoth Base in The Empire Strikes Back. Leia’s rescue by Han at the end of Return of the Jedi after being injured. Leia’s rescue from being Jabba’s slave. There’s nothing more motivating to another character and satisfying from the audience than getting the damsel out of harm’s way. Such a situation allows a character to overcome insurmountable odds to achieve success to save the damsel. This one is yet another motif that is common in Star Wars… “Overcoming Insurmountable Odds”. This motif is in all of the films, even Disney’s versions. But, the two concepts of “Damsel in Distress” and “Overcoming Insurmountable Odds” go hand-in-hand. The characters need motivation to put themselves in very dangerous situations (and for the audience to believe it — eye on the ball). Thus, rescuing the a lead character, male or female, is just the motivation the character needs.

After all, Luke’s motivation for defeating the Death Star in Star Wars was predicated on saving Princess Leia (and the rest of the rebellion, of course). Luke, however, had personal stakes in this fight. Even Han’s last minute rescue of Luke was born out of both vying for Leia’s attentions. Both Luke and Han knew what they stood to lose (or gain). Luke then was able to overcome insurmountable odds by leveraging the force.

Disney’s Sequels

Here’s were things begin to go awry, but not right from the start. The Force Awakens manages to keep both the “Damsel in Distress” and the “Overcoming Insurmountable Odds” motifs mostly in-check throughout most of the film. In fact, The Force Awakens uses Finn as the agent to carry this motif along throughout most of this first Sequel film. Unfortunately, this motif remained relatively paper thin and Finn is unable to “save” Rey most of the time simply because Rey is not in danger. However, JJ is very good at copying ideas, but not at implementing them properly. For this first film in the final trilogy, these two important story motifs manage to maintain their place mostly within The Force Awakens, but only weakly. Although, by the end of The Force Awakens, these motifs begin to fail by seeing Rey become far too powerful and far too independent way before she should have. In fact, by the end of the film, Rey was so capable of managing to save herself, no other characters really needed to be there to help her.

By the second film, The Last Jedi, the “Damsel in Distress” motif was entirely tossed aside. No more saving Rey. It just wouldn’t be a motif in the film at all. Rey was such an independent and powerful “Mary Sue” that she could handle any situation with ease. No need to have Finn, Poe or any other character feel the need to “save Rey”. For as far as they were concerned, she didn’t need saving. The removal of the “Damsel in Distress” motif yanked out one of the core themes of this “Saturday Morning Serial”. It also left many fans disenchanted by this change in direction of Star Wars.

By The Rise of Skywalker, not only does the series entirely abandon the idea of “Damsel in Distress”, it throws the idea in the face of audience as entirely unnecessary. It states definitively that Rey is a “Mary Sue” of the highest order and is fully capable of rescuing herself without need of anyone else. No longer is Star Wars about being a team effort, it’s about a single person’s rise to power… something which the Jedi order actually forbid.

…. And here is where Disney’s Star Wars falters ….

By The Last Jedi, Rey is so capable of saving herself that there’s no need for anyone to “come save her”, not even when strapped into an interrogation chair when Kylo is laying the figurative thumbscrews to her.

When Leia is trapped in a cell on the Death Star in A New Hope, Luke and Han hatch a plan to save her against impossible odds… and they succeed, even if not for the garbage shoot. When Rey is trapped in a cell on Kylo’s carrier, no one hatches any plans to save Rey. She has to save herself. In The Rise of Skywalker, it goes way beyond that. Rey has become so powerful and self-sufficient, anyone trying to “save” her would look like an idiot. This is the reason why Disney’s Star Wars has more in common with fan fiction than it does actual canon. Disney has effectively turned Star Wars into a series about wish fulfillment.

Star Wars was not and has never been about empowering the female lead to become entirely self-sufficient and “save the galaxy” by herself (like Holdo). Star Wars was also not about wish fulfillment. Star Wars is about having a team of people save each other, but specifically still managing to afford the “Damsel in Distress” motif at times. Even still, it wasn’t always the damsel who always needs saving in Episodes 1 through 6, but Leia did need help relatively frequently. After all, Leia did have to rescue Han after being frozen in Carbonite and sent to Tattoine… an alternate form of “Damsel in Distress”. This motif is not always about rescuing a female. It’s about a team effort of rescuing each other against great odds.

While the “Damsel in Distress” motif may be considered a bit antiquated in these more female empowering times, it still has a place in storytelling… and in particular, it is a key element of Star Wars that simply can’t be discarded. Star Wars is, for better or worse, stories about the female ending up in situations needing assistance by her male cohorts. Though, setting up the reverse in today’s times might be perfectly acceptable.

Unfortunately, Disney has lost its way in this franchise. It sacrificed the core “Damsel in Distress” motif to its own sociopolitical ideals of “female independence and empowerment”. Female independence is not a central theme in the Star Wars cinematic universe and never has been. Star Wars is a story about working together as a “team” (male or female) to create a positive end result.

Listening to Leia’s speech on Hoth to her pilots right before battle sums up what Star Wars is about. I can hear some people saying, “Well it should be about female independence”. I counter with, look at how that turned out for both The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker… hint: not well. Even trying such shtick as “Role Reversal” (aka 2016’s Ghostbusters) is so obvious as to what it is, it’s almost impossible to avoid the backlash. The Star Wars universe has already overcome such petty squabbles such as “female” versus “male”. In Star Wars, the characters live in a universe where the most important thing is SURVIVAL, not which gender is most important.

While a Star Wars TV series may be able to expand on many different motifs, including delving into female empowerment, due its lengthy episodic nature, theatrical releases have only a few precious minutes to unfold a story that makes sense using the existing Star Wars motifs. Holding true to the Star Wars original story methodologies and ideals would have fared far better for Disney than what we were handed in Disney’s trilogy.

I liken this problem to the idea of “tossing out the baby with the bathwater”. It may solve a certain problem, but it creates more problems than it solves (aka JJ’s 2009’s Star Trek reboot). With Disney, that’s where we are… and that’s why Disney’s Star Wars films consistently draw fan ire, contempt and criticism.

This article is not intended to describe everything wrong with Disney’s Star Wars. Instead, it is intended to draw attention where Disney first went astray from what Star Wars is fundamentally designed to be. Clearly, there are many, many more story and situational problems within Episodes 7, 8 and 9. However, all of these other problems stemmed directly or indirectly from the primary problem described above.

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