Random Thoughts – Randocity!

How to complete the Fallout 76 Legendary Run

Posted in botch, business, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on August 29, 2020

While this is intended to be a how-to guide, it also offers my take on whether or not this new rewards system is worth it. This article also serves as a review. Let’s explore.

[Updated for 9/29/2020]

The new ‘Legendary Run’ has started with a new game board. This game board is completely different from the images shown in this first Legendary Run. The rewards are similarly spaced and similar in style. However, as of the update needed to install this new ‘Legendary Run’ game board, Bethesda also made some very big (and unnecessary) changes to the game, shattering the already faltering game balance. As of this update and second legendary run, Fallout 76 is officially an unmitigated disaster. There is officially no game balance in Fallout 76.

Effectively, no matter what level you are, Bethesda has excessively nerfed ALL weapons and over-powered ALL enemies. A level 50 (max level) Bloodied Lever Action Rifle, which could pretty much one-hit and kill any enemy in the game and 3 hit and kill some of the hardest enemies (other than a Scorchbeast Queen), is now no better than a level 10 weapon of any kind. Any remaining balance that had been in Fallout 76 has been utterly destroyed by this latest update. To be honest, Bethesda has destroyed any remaining reason to play Fallout 76 in one update. There is absolutely nothing at all fun about Fallout 76 at this point… no, not even to play this updated second Legendary Run game board.

If I had even the tiniest of cravings to play this newest game board in Fallout 76, that craving has been totally and completely squashed by Bethesda’s ruining of the game balance.

The Legendary Run

What is it? As stated above, it’s a new rewards system for Fallout 76. It somewhat replaces the daily Atom rewards with a new type of currency called S.C.O.R.E. (another insipid acronym). For this article, I’m simply going to call it Score. Score points are given when you complete daily or weekly challenges.

By ‘somewhat’, I mean that the older Atom challenge system was designed as a loose, non-competitive system. You did these challenges at your leisure with no ramifications. This new system, on the other hand, sees a competition between you and a foe, forcing you to complete the game board ahead of the foe. Okay, so maybe ‘force’ is a strong word. However, it has the same effect as force because of the urgency required in keeping up with Zorbo’s game piece. Skipping a day of challenges can see you lose. Zorbo’s ship is the little teal ship where the gamer’s is a bright orange ship. See full game board image below:

TheLegendaryRun-GameBoard.-3084

What does ‘lose’ mean, exactly?

By ‘lose’, this is not yet clearly defined by Bethesda. It is currently believed that Bethesda will reset the board to start over with a new ‘season’ of The Legendary Run including all new rewards… after Doctor Zorbo (foe) reaches the final position on the game board. It has been confirmed as of September 1st that The Legendary Run ends September 8th (see image at right) at 12 noon Eastern / 9am Pacific. Additionally, not only is Bethesda offering double Score points until that time, they have added extra challenges to the board to help those who wish to get to the finish line and need a bit more effort. Still, it doesn’t absolve Bethesda from the OCD and anxiety issues that this challenge system brings.

If you haven’t completed the board, the clock is ticking on whether you will be able to complete it and get all of the remaining rewards. Remember when I said ‘force’ was too strong of a word above? Well, here is exactly where Bethesda applies the pressure. The assumption is that if you don’t complete the board by the time the foe reaches the end, you will not be able to finish the game board at all or receive any remaining rewards. You may even lose any unclaimed rewards (see CAUTION below).

For anyone not very far along, this means that to complete the board before the timer ticks down to zero, you’ll need to pay your way through the board using Atom (see the Pay to Win section below for more details) before Zorbo reaches the end and the board closes. In other words, if you’re still in Chapter 1 when reading this article, you’re going to be required to pay a LOT of Atom to fully open up the game board to the end.

CAUTION: As a warning, I strongly recommend that you claim every reward you are given. Don’t be lazy about this. Don’t leave any rewards unclaimed. Once the game board closes for the next season, you will likely not be able to go back and claim any unclaimed rewards. In fact, the board may be entirely wiped and reset losing any unclaimed rewards. Be extremely cautious as Bethesda is not likely to be forgiving about this at all.

Score Points

Score points are accumulated into a progress bar that’s either at the bottom or top of the screen depending on which screen you are in.

The Legendary Run also has a game board (see above) with individual rewards in each spot. As you progress and gain Score, your game marker moves to the next spot after you accumulate enough Score points for that specific place on the board. Each new game place increases the amount of accumulated Score it requires to move to the next game board section.

Under each game board section, you will find a specific reward. The rewards sometimes include currency like Atom, Legendary Scrip or Gold Bouillon. Other rewards include digital cosmetic items like Ghillie Suit paint jobs or Atomic Onslaught paint. You can even get consumables like Scrap Kits, Repair Kits and Perk Card packs. It also includes CAMP cosmetic items like a tree, a door or wallpaper.

Each spot on the board is already pre-marked with its reward. You only simply need to hover over the game board spot to view its reward. You can even click on it to get more details. There is no mystery involved. You know exactly what you’re getting all throughout the game board.

What I’ve LearnedThe OCD Run WARNING

Playing through and completing this game board, I’ve come to learn a few highly negative things about this system. As a result, I’m not a fan of this new system at all.

The first thing I noticed about this new system is that it is not at all forgiving. If you miss a day of challenges, you’re probably okay and can make it up. If you miss a week of challenges, you’re likely to be so far behind you can’t complete the board. Because of this primary problem, this system can easily trigger anxiety and obsessive compulsion to complete this challenge system in gamers. Gaming is supposed to be recreational, not something to become OCD over.

If you’re easily triggered by OCD, then you should completely avoid participating in this reward system. In fact, this game mechanism is so heavily tied to reinforcing obsessive compulsive behaviors, it should be outlawed in games. To me, a system like this is just as bad as for-pay mystery boxes. Hear me, Bethesda.

Obsessive compulsive disorder is not something we need to be indoctrinating into children using video games. Something like this is bad enough for adults, but training kids for obsessive compulsion early is a recipe for problems later in life. In fact, I’d suggest that a game board system like this is just as bad for children as are for-pay mystery loot systems which train those portions of the brain about gambling. Both gambling and OCD are equally damaging to growing and developing children.

I have a lot to say on this topic, but I’ll forgo that for now and focus on how to complete this game board. Suffice it to say, if your OCD is easily triggered, stay far away from this challenge system and focus entirely on just Fallout 76’s main activities.

How To Complete The Legendary Run

The bottom line in completing this run is not missing a day or week of challenges. You can skip one or two daily challenges per day, but you will need to complete every weekly challenge.

For example, I skipped every daily Nuclear Winter challenge (I despise that game mode and refuse to play it) and I was still able to complete the run. However, it did require hitting every weekly and as many daily challenges as I could complete. Yes, you will need to play through every daily challenge that you can. This means playing every single day’s challenges, seven days a week.

Yeah, that’s why I wrote the above warning. If you can’t commit to playing this game every single day, then you likely cannot complete the run through challenges alone.

Pay to Win

There is a way to get to the end without playing at all. You can rank up fully by paying 150 atoms for each board space. In fact, you can pay your way through the entire game board if you want. If you’re willing to run to the PlayStation, Xbox or Bethesda’s store and buy Atom, you can use that Atom to pay your way through each game board spot.

This can help you if you need to catch up. But, you can also simply avoid the daily grind and pay your way to the end.

The choices you have then are as follows:

  1. Grind your way through the daily and weekly challenges every day
  2. Pay your way through the board entirely with Atom
  3. Combine some grinding and paying some Atom to get you through to the end.

In fact, I believe most players will end up falling into category 3… which is exactly what Bethesda hopes. That means you’ll have to pay for Atom (or get it through other Atom challenges which are still available) to make your way through The Legendary Run. Though, Bethesda is also enamored with gamers who fall into category 2.

The one thing to realize about The Legendary Run is that you must forgo playing the game to solely focus on completing the challenges. This means spending most of your time working through the challenges and, you know, not playing the actual game itself. In other words, these challenges waste a LOT of time doing inconsequential things instead of completing the main quest line. This is such an unnecessary diversion, it actually undermines the game.

Design Failure

In fact, this entire challenge system runs 180º counter to what the design goals for this board were stated to be. It was claimed that this new challenge system would work in concert with gamer’s actual game play. In reality, it’s just the opposite of that. To complete this board, you have to focus on the challenge tasks 100% at the expense of all else. Many of the challenges are esoteric. You don’t naturally go looking to kill 3 Deathclaws unless it’s part of a quest line. Even then, I don’t know of a single quest line in Fallout 76 that requires you to kill 3 Deathclaws as part of the quest.

You might find yourself near Deathclaws as a result of a quest line leading you there, but you don’t need to kill them to progress the quest. The most famous of these main quests is the Enclave quest which leads you to the Abandoned Waste Dump to begin this quest line in a bunker inside of a cave, with the cave infested by Deathclaws. Naturally, Bethesda assumed you might kill those Deathclaws being in close proximity. However, you can sneaky sneak your way through that cave and avoid killing those Deathclaws entirely. You can even flat out run through the cave to the elevator and be on your way. In other words, killing these Deathclaws is not naturally part of your game play activities.

That’s just one example. There are many other such useless challenge examples, such as taking over workshops. You don’t do this as a natural part of any quest line or as a natural part of game play. If you take a workshop, it’s entirely your choice and you must go out of your way to do it. To take a workshop comes with its own game baggage, the least of which is paying for the workshop in caps, the immediate Defend Event and any PVP activities assuming you do it in a public world.

As a final example, if you never play Nuclear Winter, you are now forced to enter that game mode to do whatever is required to pick up the NW challenges. That’s the very definition of unnatural game play.

While there may be a handful of activities that are considered ‘natural gameplay’ such as chewing bubblegum or collecting water, there are just as many that require you to spend time doing things you don’t normally do.

The Legendary Run forces unnatural game play onto the gamer (in addition to the anxiety and obsessive compulsion to complete the board). You must first find out what the challenges are for that day and then explicitly spend time completeing them. I ended up spending most of my play time grinding the challenges and not progressing quest lines. The Legendary Run is not a natural game play system and diverts attention away from playing the actual game.

Atom and Rewards

Another negative about this new system is that we have lost our most basic way to gain Atom. Yes, there are spots on the board that occasionally award 150 Atom, but that’s ultimately way less than the amount of Atom we were getting before this system launched.

Before The Legendary Run, we were getting around 50 Atom for daily challenges and up to 1000 Atom for weekly challenges. At 7 days, that would be 350 + 1000 = 1350 Atom per week. With this new game board, that dropped to around 150 Atom per week. That’s way, way less Atom than we were formerly getting by completing daily and weekly challenges.

Yes, in somewhat of an exchange, we are now getting some exclusive board rewards, but at the expense of not being able to buy much stuff in the Atomic Shop.

Bethesda’s Greed

I get it. I really do. Bethesda wasn’t making enough money off of selling Atom in the digital stores. I guess they thought they were giving too much Atom away. They felt they had to cut down on the amount of Atom being given out by challenges to force more sales of Atom. As I said, I get it. Greed rules.

Unfortunately, because of Bethesda’s greed, they have now saddled everyone with a system that so highly triggers OCD in gamers and wastes so much in-game time that it’s actually a huge loss for the game.

I mean, Bethesda’s systems get worse every single time they release and The Legendary Run is no exception. This is truly one of the worst ideas that Bethesda could have implemented in Fallout 76. Not only is The Legendary Run unforgiving, not only does it completely trigger OCD, not only does it force gamers to pay real money for Atom, not only does divert the gamer away from questing and towards spending time question for Score, the rewards offered are mostly inconsequential and the run itself is completely unfulfilling.

Worse, everyone gets the SAME rewards, so they are not at all unique. I preferred shopping at the Atomic shop directly. Everyone can pick and choose the things they want, so not every gamer has the same things. When it’s all cookie cutter, there’s nothing unique about what’s being given away. Everyone who reaches a specific game board spot gets a Ghillie suit paint, big whoop. So now, everyone who completes that spot has it?

What happens when you complete the board?

Good question and one Bethesda should have solved before rolling this system out. Yet, they didn’t. When you complete the game board and there’s nothing else to be had, the daily challenges still issue Score. Score that has no place to go and nothing to win. Once you complete the game board, there’s no reason to complete the daily or weekly challenges as it’s simply a waste of time and effort.

Instead, Bethesda should have planned for this eventuality and converted the system back to the older Atom system after the board is completed. This would allow gamers to still continue to get SOMETHING after completing the game board. We did just complete the game board. Shouldn’t we get some kind of continued reward for completion? Where’s the incentive to continue? There isn’t any. Crap design in my book.

Repeat?

Will I do it again? No. It’s a waste of time and effort. It diverts away from completing game world quests. Seriously, these daily challenges can sometimes take over 2 hours to complete. That’s 2 hours I could have spent finishing up quests. That’s 2 hours I could have been having fun taking over and building workshops. That’s 2 hours I could have spent hanging out with a few friends. That’s 2 hours I could have spent building out my camp. That’s 2 hours lost to challenges that get me what, yet another Ghillie or Onslaught paint? Heck, that’s 2 hours I could have spent writing a blog article.

Yet, if you really want that Fireplace secret door, you’re going to spend a massive amount of time enduring challenges and fighting OCD compulsions.

Triggering OCD behaviors in video games is not something we should be encouraging in video games. Bethesda shouldn’t be rewarded for creating this system. They should be scolded. Better, these kinds of OCD compulsion inducing systems should be outlawed in video games for the same reason that mystery loot boxes have been outlawed by triggering gambling compulsions.

↩︎

Game Review: GTA Online

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

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

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

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

GTA Online Missions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mission Vehicles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is where Rockstar has pretty much failed this game.

Glitching and Loopholes

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

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

Yeah, it’s that bad.

Multiplayer

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

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

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

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

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

Actions and Consequences

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

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

Glitching Part 2

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

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

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

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

Online Missions

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

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

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

Relaxed Restrictions

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

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

Mission Types: A History

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

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

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

History Lesson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freebies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Banning

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

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

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

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

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

Overall

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

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

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

↩︎

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.

↩︎

 

 

 

Rant Time: Netflix’s Stupid Ideas

Posted in botch, business, california, entertainment by commorancy on August 29, 2018

NetflixApp-smNetflix has had made some questionable product decisions recently. That is, since it has begun buying its own original content. At the same time, it has made some platform changes that don’t make any sense whatsoever. Seriously Netflix, WTH? Let’s explore.

Original Content

Netflix has been having a hard time as of late. It has been heavily dipping its collective toes into original programming. However, much of the movie programming content has turned out to be bombs. Not just everyday bombs, but you know the movie kind that make you cringe so hard, you want to throw something at the TV. Programs like the oh-so-forgettable The Cloverfield Paradox, Bright, Extinction, The Beyond and Tau. With these questionable movies, Netflix seems to be missing its mark so much of the time. So much, in fact, that I’m contemplating cancelling my membership with this service. I’m beginning to think that Redbox streaming might be a better alternative.

Until recently, the only way to find out exactly how crap the movies actually were was to read the Netflix movie reviews. This is not possible any longer.

Netflix Deletes and Closes Review System

In its infinitely stupid wisdom, Netflix has decided to close down its review system (deleting over 10 years worth of reviews in a day), citing that it is not being used by its subscribers. I call bullshit on that excuse, Netflix management team. I, and clearly many others, regularly used the review system all of the time to steer clear of these recent Netflix bombs.

Unfortunately, we can no longer do this thanks to Netflix flipping us subscribers the collective bird after not only closing the review system down, but dumping all of that user review content. If Netflix’s management team is trying to tear the company apart, they’re doing a bang up job at it.

A review system says that service cares about its users’ opinions and it values its users. It allows users to make their views known to the larger community. Unfortunately, Netflix has now deprived its user base of that valuable resource by dumping all of the reviews and no longer supporting a review system at all. In fact, removing the movie review system says Netflix no longer cares about its users.

Worse, Netflix has dumped its 5 star rating system in lieu of a stupidly simple thumbs up and thumbs down approach. This overly simplistic system which, in reality, does nothing at all to influence anything. What this change says to us members is that Netflix solely wants to be the entire wielder of content power. No longer can any content be influenced by external user opinion… or so Netflix management mistakenly thinks. Nope, that is absolutely not important to Netflix. Netflix wants to be able to target its crap content to us with impunity and without those pesky user reviews getting in the way… even if the Netflix original content is the dreckiest dreck ever to have been conceived, which most of it is.

Netflix’s Agenda

I’m really tired of businesses like Netflix always feeling that they need to get the upper hand in every situation. In fact, even with the review system, they already had an upper hand. Netflix’s ultimate agenda to remove the review system isn’t what they stated on the surface. They claimed that people weren’t using the system. False. New reviews were being written every day. People were reading them every single day.

If people weren’t using the system, they wouldn’t write reviews… and yes, people were actively writing reviews. In fact, if the the review system was being used less, it’s because of Netflix’s design choices. It’s not because users weren’t interested in using the review feature. It’s because Netflix kept burying the review system deeper and deeper under menus, making it difficult to find. If reviews were on the decline, it wasn’t that people didn’t want to use it, it was because your UI team made it hard to find. Even with that said, people were STILL finding it and using it. That’s tenacity. That means your valuable subscribers actually WANTED to use it and did.

This means that Netflix intentionally caused the decline of the system. They set the review system up to fail and then blamed it on lack of use by the users. No, it wasn’t for lack of use, it was that it was too hard to find and too hard to navigate. That’s not failure to use by the users, that’s failure of your UX design team. People will use features when they are easily available and front and center. Bury it under layers of menus and it’s certain that usage will decline.

The real agenda is that Netflix no longer wants users to influence content such its The Cloverfield Paradox and the rest of its poor quality original content. Netflix mistakenly believes that if people can’t see the reviews or write them that more people will watch its crap. False. Netflix was likely also reeling over the horrible user reviews being left on its own site. Netflix wanted to stop that problem and the only way they could do that is step 1) bury the feature so it’s hard to find forcing many users to stop using it and then step 2) remove the feature claiming no one used it. Not only is that a lie, Netflix’s UX team is actually responsible for its lack of use.

Review systems work when they’re well designed and placed in conspicuous, well trafficked locations. They don’t work well when they’re buried under layers of unnecessary UI clicking. That’s proven. In fact, if Netflix’s user experience team doesn’t understand this fundamental UX 101 concept, they should all be fired!

Crap on a Stick

Netflix needs to get their crap together. They need to fix their horrible UI system and provide a much more streamlined system. They also need to bring back the user review system and place it into a much more prominent front and center position. A place where people can find it right up front, not buried under many UI layers.

Movies and Reviews

Movies and reviews go together like a pea in a pod, coke and hot dogs and hamburgers and fries. They simply belong together. You don’t get one without the other. Netflix thinking that they can change this fundamentally ingrained concept is a huge misstep. This misstep is as huge as when Netflix renamed its DVD service to Qwickster. That naming and concept failed miserably. This one will too… and it will backfire on Netflix.

I don’t even understand how a movie site like Netflix can even think they get away with not having a review system. By their very nature, movies require reviews. A movie is not 3 minutes long like a pop song. No one will spend 2 hours of their life watching trite, predictable, boring, poorly written garbage. Storytelling is an art form that when done right can take us to places we cannot even imagine. Yet, when storytelling is done wrong (i.e., too many of Netflix’s crap originals), it wastes hours of valuable time. The review system is there to prevent that loss of time.

Sorry Netflix, if reviews actually give you that much butthurt, you either need to grow a pair and get over it, or you need to shut down Netflix. Perhaps Netflix should stop its purchase of its crap original programming and this will no longer be a problem.

↩︎

Rant Time: Snapchat’s update failure

Posted in best practices, botch, california by commorancy on February 14, 2018

In business, the quest is always to provide the best most consistent user interface (UI) and the easiest user experience (UX) possible. Sometimes, that doesn’t always work as planned. Sometimes, it outright fails and backfires. Let’s explore.

Flickr

Before 2014, Flickr had a very useful grid layout. Sometime during 2013/2014 Marissa’s then team decided to “reinvent” Flickr. They gave it a facelift and then rolled it out to much user ire. While it’s every company’s right to make design changes to their application as they see fit, it can also spell doom to an application. Flickr was no exception. After Flickr updated their app in 2014, this drastic UI change immediately drew the anger of thousands of Flickr users. Yet, Flickr still hasn’t changed anything substantial in spite of the massive number complaints. The UI is still the disaster it was designed to be and does not in any way offer what it formerly did.

The formerly well spaced grid layout was convenient and easy to use in that it showed how many views of each photo at a glance. With the new tight grid interface of random sized images, you now have to drill into each and every photo separately to find the views of that specific photo. Sure, you can use the statistics page to see which photos are most popular or most interesting, but that’s of little concession when you simply want to see how well your most recent photos are doing at a glance. In short, the latest Flickr interface introduced in 2014 still sucks and Yahoo has done nothing to right this wrong. I’d venture to guess there are fewer users using Flickr now than ever, particularly with newer apps such as Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook… and speaking of Snapchat…

Snapchat’s Update

As of February 10, 2018 and taking a page from Flickr’s playbook, Snapchat decided to roll out a brand new interface to its app. An update that has, just like Flickr, drawn the ire of many of its app users. Some users are lamenting this new interface so much, they are seriously contemplating app deletion. Because of the app’s unannounced surprise layout, some Snapchat users were unable figure out how to post causing them to lose their streaks (a way to measure how many consecutive days a user has posted). Some users streaks have been running for several hundred days. Others are just ranting about what they don’t like about it. Here’s what some Twitter users are saying:

What a disaster. Do these companies even perform basic usability testing before a release?

Design Fails

The old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Literally, what problems was Snapchat trying to solve with this update? If you’re planning on a UI and UX redesign, you better throw in some bones for the users to go with it. Give people a reason to want to use the interface and they’re willing to overlook other minor inconveniences. Without such bones, it ends up as merely a change for change’s sake without offering up any useful new features. Burying UI components in ever deeper layers is not more UI efficient and does not offer up a better user experience. I’m not even sure what Snapchat was thinking when they decided to roll out this UI update.

Test, test and more testing

Here’s where the rubber meets the road. If you make a UI/UX change without adding anything useful into the app for the end user, what have you accomplished as a designer? The answer is, nothing. As a designer, you have failed. Changing a UI design requires careful consideration, even more careful planning and product usability testing. This means actually giving your app to your primary target demographic and letting them use it for a few days. Let them tell you what’s wrong with it, what they like and what they dislike. Do this long before putting the new update in the app store for general release. If you do this, you can avoid the problems that Flickr and Snapchat faced with their UI and UX redesigns. If you don’t do this, you end up in the news. Failure is not an option, but so many companies fall into this trap not really knowing how to get out of it.

Rollback Plan

If the Tweet above is true regarding that support team reponse stating that there is no way to roll back, then that’s a failure on the part of the application’s designers. You should always design a rollback plan into your releases. You can’t know what may fail as a result of a release, so offering a rollback plan should always be part of a release.

If you fail to test and fail to include a rollback plan, you’ll end up just like Snapchat (and Flickr) … that is, in the news for all the wrong reasons. What this says is that the Snapchat design team should be fired and replaced. Failure is not something any company needs to endure, especially when that failure is so visible and makes your company look inept…. and it was all preventable. In this day and age, there is absolutely no reason why companies release software into the wild that angers its user base in this way. Seriously, that is such an amateur move, it’s a wonder such companies even remains in business. Worse, after such a seriously amateur move and after the dust settles, you may not have much of a business left. Your app is your lifeblood. Screw it up and you’re done.

Overconfidence

Snapchat clearly doesn’t understand its audience. Teens are some of the most finicky users on the planet. It doesn’t take much for them to dump something and move onto the next better thing. Changing a UI interface that angers so many of them is the quickest way to lose the userbase you’ve spent so much time and effort attracting. Perhaps Snapchat will realize its mistake and correct it pronto? Perhaps it will pull a Flickr and let users suffer through with the horrible new design and not change it. With Flickr, Yahoo at least had some leverage because of all of the professional photographers entrenched in the service. Where would they go? With Snapchat, the company does not have this luxury. Snapchat isn’t a required service like Flickr is to professional photographers. This fail could easily lead to the demise of Snapchat.

It’s time for Snapchat to seriously consider all of its options here, but let’s hope they come to the right decision and rollback the interface and rethink it’s UI and UX design. Best of all, maybe they have learned a valuable lesson in software design… test your interface on your primary demographic before you ever consider a release.

Rant Time: iOS 9.1 and iCloud Backup == Fail

Posted in Apple, botch, business by commorancy on October 27, 2015

icloud_icon_brokenThis rant will be relatively short and sweet. I recently upgraded my iPhone to iOS 9.1. Not only were there some stupid issues around their new and improved upgrade process, iCloud backup is entirely broken. Let’s explore.

Pre-upgrade problems

Apple has introduced an upgrade after-hours process. What that means is that you need to agree to some terms and then the iPhone will upgrade between 2AM and 4AM as long as your phone is plugged in. I thought, “yay” until I got the agreement screen at which time I promptly yelled, “what the hell?”. Let me explain…

Apple forces on top of all else this automated upgrade agreement screen. It even disables the home button so you can’t get out of that screen by accidentally pressing the home button (like that would ever happen). That means you’re firmly planted on that screen (or so it seems). Anyway, on the agreement screen, you have to type in your Apple login credentials to verify you and to help you with that process, the iPhone conveniently pops up an on-screen keyboard like it typically does. Except, the Apple developers forgot one crucial detail. They forgot to give you a way to get rid of the keyboard when you’re done. Pressing the Enter button at the bottom right of the keyboard does absolutely nothing. The keyboard remains firmly planted on top of, you guessed it, the submit button. This means you cannot press the submit button… and, you can’t press the home button… and, you can’t do anything else.

So, now you’re literally stuck. You can’t press the submit button to complete the action and you can’t get out of this screen, or so it seems. I decided to take matters into my own hands. I pressed and held the power button until the Slide to Power Off slider appeared. Lo and behold, doing this actually made that screen go away. This entire debacle should have been my warning. But noooo. I didn’t listen to that little voice saying not to upgrade now.

Can’t use Automated Update

So now that I forced my way out of that screen with the power button, there is no way to go back in and resume the process. You’re probably wondering why I might want to do that? I had planned on hooking up a bluetooth keyboard to the phone so that on screen keyboard would not present. This would allow me to enter the data and then have access to the submit button, but noooo. Can’t make it that easy now can we Apple? So, I performed the upgrade in the normal way, by going into Settings=>General=>Software Update and used the standard method.

iCloud backup and 9.1 fail

Turn Off & DeleteTo a lesser degree, I had this same problem in 9.0.4 (or whatever the last 9.0 version was). When I attempted to backup my phone to iCloud, for whatever reason the iPhone decides to back up every app on your phone by default. Mind you, I have several gigs worth of apps on my phone on top of the 15G or so of images/videos in my library. I spent a good day working on getting my iCloud backup working on 9.0.x. It took me the better part of several hours working through stupid Settings app bugs just to get all of my apps excluded from backups. Let’s understand that Apple requires you to manually disable each and every app separately from being backed up. Let’s also understand that in order to do so, each time you click to green slider to the OFF position, you have confirm a popup that asks ‘Turn Off and Delete’ for every single app separately. Let’s consider that my phone has hundreds of apps installed. So many apps, in fact, that Settings crashes about 1/4 of the way through the ‘Turn Off and Delete’ confirmation banners. It’s an arduous task at best and it’s frustrating and aggravating at worst.

IMG_1821Yet, rolling into 9.1, Apple promptly reverts everything I spent 1-2 hours doing and now defaults back to turning every app ON (see left image) for backup yet again. How do I know? I get that very annoying ‘Not Enough Storage’ notification on my lock screen. I spent valuable time setting all of that up and Apple promptly forgets my settings. The very definition of bad user experience (UX). Instead, this time I can’t even stop the backups of any apps. Apple only gives 5GB of data storage for free. I had all of my devices comfortably making backups on iCloud using maybe 3.1GB total (4 devices), after the excruciatingly aggravating task of finally excluding all of the unnecessary crap that Apple insists on including. Perfect… until 9.1.

Now, I’m in a catch 22. I can’t make a successful backup because iOS continually resets all of my apps and forces me to back up everything to the iCloud the first time. Yet, iOS won’t allow me to change settings to deselect the apps because it must have a successful backup first. FAIL. You can go try to deselect apps, but that’s all for show. It doesn’t actually work. Oh sure, the green ON buttons turn OFF, but it’s not as if that actually works. It doesn’t respect that those apps are now OFF and the backup fails. Once it fails, all of those buttons you’ve spent tons of times clicking to OFF will all be automatically reenabled after the backup failure.

I have no idea what Apple was thinking here, but they clearly had their heads in the iClouds. This problem has gotten progressively worse with each release and has culminated in iCloud backup being entirely unusable unless you feel the urge to spend at least $1/mo for 50GB of storage so you can work around Apple’s stupid bugs. I have no intention of working around any developers bugs by spending money. Either provide workable functionality or don’t. But, there is no way I will ever spend money to a company to work around bugs in software. Apple, if you really want to force us to pay you to get more than 5GB, then just charge us up front for any space issued. Don’t beat around the bush by introducing bugs that make the freebie you’ve given become worthless. Let’s just be honest here.

If this is about spending yet more money with you to get people to buy into your iCloud storage, then just tell us that’s what you want. Don’t force us to go buy more because you want to force everything on our phones to back up. That’s not how you do it. Just change the terms and send everyone a notice that the 5GB storage you’ve issued us is no longer free and at the end of the month you lose it or you pay for it. Just tell the consumers what you want. You don’t need to do it by introduction of bugs that forces phone owners to backup everything on their phone.

Seriously… 5GB?

In this day and age when Google is giving practically terabytes of storage for free, Apple can only afford 5GB a month? Really? How much money does Apple make off of their products and they’re going to be that stingy with storage? On top of that, they force you to backup your entire 16/32/64GB phone over to iCloud. Not only is that stupid from the 5GB free perspective, it’s just asinine that I can’t control my bandwidth to this service. Seriously, I don’t want to send over 10-20GB of data across my network bandwidth. I want to control what I send and how much I send. Since I can no longer do that…

Buh Bye iCloud Backup.. it was nice knowing ya!

I’m done with iCloud backup. Not only is it stupidly designed, what real purpose does it serve at 5GB? I can backup my entire phone’s contents on iTunes on my local machine(s) as many times as I wish. There are no bandwidth constraints or disk space issues. Yet, I can barely backup my contacts on iCloud at 5GB. I have no intention of dropping $1/mo to get to 50GB, which is still only a pittance, let alone $10/mo for 1TB. Who knows how secure the data really is in iCloud? One breach and Apple will be run out of town on a rail.

I’m tired of dealing with Apple’s stupid developers who can no longer code their way out of a paper bag. I’m tired of dealing with bugs that shouldn’t even exist on a device that used to be the most intuitive device built. Now it’s a device that is merely following behind Android’s, ahem, innovation. So, I’ll happily head back to the time before iCloud existed. I’m done with that service for backups. I prefer to keep my backups local anyway. Buh Bye iCloud backups.

Apple, figure it out !

Tagged with: , , , , ,

Why Nintendo’s Miiverse is already dead

Posted in video game, video gaming by commorancy on March 17, 2013

Miiverse is Nintendo’s newest gaming social network only available on the Wii U console.  While it has some benefits, it also has many drawbacks. These drawbacks will become Miiverse’s ultimate failing and why it will ultimately fail to gain traction as a lasting social network.

What exactly is Miiverse?

Miiverse is a gaming social twitter-like network available exclusively through the Nintendo Wii U console and only available by using a Nintendo Network ID (which is also created exclusively on the Wii U console). The Nintendo Network ID (NNID) is much like an Xbox Live ID used on the Xbox.  However, unlike Xbox, you cannot access your Nintendo Network ID from the Internet.  It is only and exclusively available strictly through the Wii U console.  This is one of the major failings of this network and only one of the major reasons why this social network will ultimately fail.

No Internet access to content?

[Update: Miiverse is now available on the Internet in a limited fashion. However, at the time of this article’s publish date, it was not yet available. You can now visit the Miiverse Web Site and see your posts. The below paragraph is here for historical reasons.]

Nope.  There is no web access or any other external access to any of the content placed in Miiverse or, indeed, anything else related to your NNID. So, you cannot review anything about your NNID until you have access to your Wii U console again. This is one of Nintendo’s bright ideas that is ultimately a bad idea. Even Microsoft has learned that you have to allow access to at least pieces of your Xbox Live ID content on the Internet so you can at minimum login and get some information about your Xbox Live account. So, while you can’t get access to the exclusive content on the Xbox, you can at least see your gamer points and profile and set up things about your Xbox Live ID.

This exclusive access via the Wii U console will ultimately be the failing of this network. Basically, if you don’t buy a Wii U, you can’t have access to Miiverse content.  If your console breaks, you have to buy another one to gain access again. There is no way to get access to this content from the web or in any other way than through a Nintendo device. Even Apple produced iTunes so you could at least buy things on the iTunes store without owning an iDevice. Nintendo just doesn’t get it.

Miiverse is limited

Instead of Nintendo providing something more useful like game Achievements, they thought that having a half-baked social network would take the place of this.  Well, as a gamer, I’m here to say that this is not an adequate replacement. Being able to post for help and gain access to it quickly is cool, but you can easily get help by using Google and posting to open forums available on the Internet.  I don’t need Miiverse for this.  Yes, the screen shot feature is cool, but it is limited and the Nintendo admins are strictly fascist with reports of content problems.

Worse, you can’t even edit your posts.  So, if you forget to mark something as a ‘spoiler’, then you cannot fix that. You can only delete your post and start over.  Worse, there’s a 5 minute timer on posts, so if you delete a post and want to repost, you have to wait 5 minutes to fix it.  So, even if the admins mark a problem with your post later, you can’t correct the problem as there’s no way to edit it.  Seriously, if you’re going to flag posts as problems, at least have the decency to add editing tools to modify and correct the problem.

Miiverse administration is stupidly designed and poorly operated

If your content is reported, you can expect that you are always in the wrong. It doesn’t matter whether or not you really are, it matters what the admins say.  And clearly, the admins always side with the person who reports the content and not with the person who created the post.  So, be warned that if someone reports your content, you are always marked as being at fault.  Worse, the whole administration piece is stupidly designed.

There is a ‘Messages’ area where if your content is reported, you will receive a canned response from some anonymous moderator stating that you have violated Miiverse ‘terms and conditions’.  If you want to dispute the process, you can’t.  Your options for response are limited to about 6 different canned responses, none of which are at all appropriate to getting a proper response back from the admins.  No, you cannot write an email or send a text response to someone to ask a question or get clarification.  In fact, if you do need to contact someone in person regarding an issue, you have to go to Nintendo.com, submit their general web form case and then wait for them to provide you with a pin number and the phone number to call in.  That phone number being 1-877-803-3676.  But, don’t try to call it blind.  You will need the pin code provided by a Nintendo staffer to call in. Note, they don’t tell you this anywhere in any documentation or even on the Wii U in Miiverse. You have to somehow just ‘know’ this.

Worse, there is little the admins can really do short of removing the post which they should really be doing anyway. If they delete your NNID, you can simply create another one.  Sure, you might lose all your content associated with the old ID, but it’s not like you had achievement points associated with it anyway. You will lose any posts you made, but no big deal there either.  It’d basically be like losing a private twitter feed that no one but Wii U users have access to. It would not be like losing your Twitter account which would be a much bigger deal.  Although, you might lose money you’ve built up in the Nintendo store, but that’s something I’m not sure of yet.

Yeahs vs Spoilers

There is a ‘Spoilers’ flag that can be set on a post.  Unfortunately, you cannot mark something as a spoiler after the fact and it only takes one report by some random schmo for your post to be thrown into question as being a spoiler. This then throws the content into some random admin’s queue who really doesn’t care and will always side with the person who reported.  You can’t dispute this process at all.  So, your only action left is to delete the post which the admins could have done anyway.

Posts can be marked with a ‘Yeah’ (which is akin to Facebook’s Like feature), but these have no bearing on whether or not it’s a spoiler. With spoilers, you have to report it through a form.  Once reported, an anonymous moderator makes the decision whether it violates terms.  But, it doesn’t matter if it does or doesn’t.  You’re already guilty and you will always be in the wrong. Nintendo is not taking any chances, so the poster of the content will always be dinged on the content. So, how exactly does any of this in any way incent any gamer to want to participate in this network knowing they’re going to have run-ins with admins? Nintendo, you’re biting the hand that’s feeding you.

With any game, any still image is considered a spoiler.  If you’re showing game content, that’s a spoiler for someone. So, it doesn’t matter what image you’ve posted, if someone reports it as a spoiler, it is a spoiler (at least according to Nintendo). This is the wrong approach for a social network. Nintendo shouldn’t be making the decisions about spoilers. Social networks need to operate on likes or thumbs down features.  Instead of taking the word of only one person (which is currently what it takes for Miiverse), it should be self-policed by the software based on the consensus of a number of people participating in the social network.  If a number of people tag something as a spoiler, then mark it as a spoiler automatically. Problem solved with no personnel intervention involved.  Don’t flag an account as in ‘violation of terms’ with this silly and stupid canned response system.  Just automatically take action by allowing the users to self-police the content.  Again, if more people mark it as not a spoiler than those who do, it remains visible as not a spoiler.  Social networks should be governed by those participating in the social network, not by Nintendo employees. Nintendo clearly doesn’t understand the concept of a social network or how it should operate.

Deleting Content

If you decide to delete all of your Miiverse posts, you might as well just go delete your entire NNID.  It’s a whole lot faster.  Trying to weed through your old posts on Miiverse is like watching paint dry. This entire process is majorly botched, hugely time consuming and barely works.  I had about 170 posts and it took me nearly 2 hours to delete most of them. Suffice it to say that you have to refresh the entire list of posts each time you want to get to the next post to delete.  And, because they only load a screen at a time, you have to wait when you pull the screen up for it to load more posts in. Worse, you have to basically unfriend and unfollow everyone in your list to limit this list to just your posts so you’re not scrolling through tons of other people’s posts to get to your own.  Worse, there’s no way to see, at a glance, who you’ve friended or followed.  So, you have to just weed through the ‘Activity Feed’ to find the people you’ve friended and followed. Note, I’m not even filling in half of the details here for deleting content, but suffice it to say that Miiverse was not designed to delete your old content.

No opt-out

If you don’t want to participate in Miiverse, there is no way to do this on the Wii U console.  Basically, you have to disconnect your Wii U from the network to not participate in Miiverse. There is no option on the Wii U console to turn it off or in any other way opt-out.  Note that as long as you have an NNID associated with your Wii U, your console will log into the Miiverse service and show you content on the carousel screen even if you don’t want to participate.

Overall, Miiverse seems like a good idea, but it’s badly designed, poorly implemented and poorly operated.  Yes, the one thing that it does is allow for quick access to help, but that one feature is completely overshadowed by how poorly the entire software is conceived and implemented. I personally cannot recommend this social network for any use other than for a quick ‘Help I’m stuck’ kind of question. Even then, I would suggest using Google first as it will likely be faster.

If you are a parent and don’t want your child participating in this social network, you have no option to turn it off from within the Wii U console.  So, if you’re thinking of buying a Wii U console for your child, you should be well aware of this fact before you consider that purchase. If you would prefer your child to not participate in this poorly run social network, then you should probably consider a different console purchase.  Additionally, considering that Nintendo is having major troubles even roping in developers to put their AA titles on the Wii U, I’d say purchasing (or, rather, not purchasing) the Wii U is pretty much a no-brainer.

Done with Miiverse

I’ve given Miiverse a fair shake and have come to conclusion that because of its limited usefulness and Nintendo’s fascist moderators and ‘terms and conditions’ coupled with bad software design, I can’t be part of that community. This is the reason I deleted all of my content on there. I may yet delete my NNID and just be done with it.

Until Nintendo can figure out that this social network design is crap and until they redesign it from the ground up, my suggestion is to avoid using Miiverse as its sole value is extremely limited and may actually cause more harm than good for some people.  Nintendo, you need to figure this out fast.

iPad mini: Smaller? Yes. Worth it? No.

Posted in Apple, botch, cloud computing by commorancy on November 5, 2012

With all the hype over Apple’s new brainchild, the iPad mini, I’m just not so hopeful about this tablet model at all. Apple has definitely taken a step backwards in this one, which is quite an unusual step for Apple. Typically, Apple always retains previous technology standards it has already set in new products. Usually, it even improves upon those standards. Not so with the iPad mini.

What exactly is the iPad mini?

This tablet is effectively a smaller version of the iPad 2 with a better camera. That pretty much describes it. Many people even go so far as to call it the iPad touch. Actually, the degrades the iPod touch. The iPod touch at least has a market in small handheld touch devices. The iPod touch has a form factor that’s actually useful when you don’t want the expensive 3G data cost tether, that and having access to the rich set of applications available in IOS. So, you can buy into pretty much what an iPhone is without that monthly data tether. Unless you’re on the go 90% of the time or you travel 100% of the time, having a data plan on a phone is pretty much a waste when you are also buying internet at home.

Yet, Apple hasn’t yet to introduce the 3G version of the iPad mini, but it is apparently on the way. That said, what is it about the iPad mini that makes it a compelling device? Well, frankly not much. For me, Apple botched it. Shrinking an iPad 2 into a smaller form factor while adding a better camera just isn’t enough. This is not what Apple is known for, but it is what the NEW Tim Cook Apple will become known for. That is, rehashing old devices into new form factors. The Steve Jobs’s Apple was never about rehashing old technology in new ways. Steve Jobs was always about pushing the envelope to make technology better, easier and faster for the users.

So, the question is, how does the iPad mini fit into that Steve Jobs’ vision? It doesn’t. This is the reason Steve was against releasing a smaller form factor tablet. The iPad mini is everything Steve Jobs didn’t want in a tablet and it is the reason it has not existed until now. It took Steve Jobs departing this earth to undo that vision. That’s why Steve could make Apple better with each and every device and why Tim Cook will begin struggling to keep Apple alive.

Is there a market?

Probably, for people who simply don’t want to carry around multiple devices (i.e., Kindle, iPod touch, iPad and camera), the size of it the iPad mini might work. For me, the 1024×768 screen is just too much of a step backwards. The iPad 3 is a compelling device with its retina display. Why did Apple skimp in this department on the iPad mini? I don’t get it. They’re not known for taking step backwards in technology. This is something I’d expect from Samsung, Asus, Dell or pretty much any other PC maker. I would never expect this level of technological concession from Apple. On the other hand, if Apple had made a phone out of the iPad mini, that might be worth considering.  In fact, turning the iPad 3 into a phone, I’d be all over that.  I’m rather tired of carrying around a phone and the iPad.  Just let me carry one device and let that device be an iPad. With wired and Bluetooth headsets, you don’t need to hold a phone to your face any longer. So, let’s consolidate the devices. That change would definitely make the iPad mini much more attractive as a device.

Weight and Size vs Price

Yes, it’s smaller and lighter, but at what a technology cost? You get a smaller technologically inferior device from what Apple has previously produced in the Retina iPad 3, but at a substantially higher price than is expected for such an inferior device. At $329, you’re effectively buying what exactly? An expensive 1024×768 tablet. Granted, it runs IOS that has previously been known for its stability. Unfortunately, that has changed with IOS 6. What has originally been considered base stability is now gone with IOS 6. Apps like Mail, Safari and even iTunes are unstable. You’ll get a notice for an email in a banner, click on it and the Mail app crashes. Definitely not stable. I’ve also had regular crashes with Safari and iTunes.

So, what Apple had going for itself in stability of IOS is pretty much gone. IOS has now lost its standing as the ultimate goto tablet OS. It’s just a matter of time before the quality of Apple’s products degrades to the point where it’s not even worth discussing. Note, we’re already on the downward side of the Apple quality bell curve. So, unless Tim Cook can manage to crack the whip and right this ship, Apple’s ship is already listing. It’s just a matter of time before it capsizes.

Apple’s Botched Rollout Plan

The whole roll out plan for the iPad mini was just convoluted with its staggered late announcement a month or so after its fall release announcement and then the staggered roll out of the device itself with the WiFi version releasing first. Definitely not something Jobs would have ever allowed. The parts also leaked on the Internet early, so many people already knew the form factor before ever hearing the announcement. Apple needs to lock down its supply chain much more tightly than it has. Again, this is something Jobs would have gone on a tirade as well. Secrecy was critically important to Steve Jobs.

Worth it?

Depends on what you want to do with an iPad mini? While I can definitely see a use and the usefulness for the iPad 3 with its multi-core processor and Retina display, taking this much of a step back for the iPad mini is not the answer. If you really must have this form factor, then perhaps. As a gift, if you really want to spend that level of cash on someone, perhaps. But, even as a gift, it could be seen as ‘cheaping out’.  That is, giving them a Toyota when they wanted the Ferrari (iPad 3).  Be careful with this one as a gift. For people who won’t use the pixels on the screen, it might be ok.

So, is it worth the price? No. This device would only be compelling if it were about $100 cheaper at each model price point or if it contained a phone. At $329, it’s too costly for such a huge step backwards technologically. The size does not make up for that. At $229, it would definitely be getting much closer to the right price. At $199 for a 16GB WiFi model, the iPad mini would be truly at the right price for that level of 2 year old technology. Asking people to pay $130 more for a 2 year old device is just price gouging, or as some people call it, the Apple tax. In this case, the Apple tax is most definitely not worth it.

Resident Evil 6: Complete disappointment

Posted in video game, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on October 6, 2012

As you may or may not know, I also like gaming.  Specifically, RPG and first and third person shooters.  Well, at least some first and third person shooters, anyway.  Whether I like it depends on how it’s done.  In this case Resident Evil 6 is not done well at all.

Resident Evil Franchise

Even though this game series has turned into a fairly hefty cash cow for both Milla Jovovich (and hubby) in the celluloid format, the games have been relatively uninspired for the last several years.  The last really good Resident Evil game was RE4 and that was years ago.  Well, I’m sad to say that Resident Evil 6 is a complete and total disappointment in the gaming department. Capcom just can’t figure this out.  For whatever reasons, the developers over at Capcom Japan just aren’t with the program.

The absolute best game of this franchise is still, bar none, Resident Evil 4.  This game had all the makings of turning the franchise into a smash hit.  Unfortunately, the game developers decided to try something new with whole tag-along partner thing in RE5 which failed miserably, by the way.  That game was an unmitigated disaster.  It had no depth, the story was boring, the fights were stupid and the fact that you had to keep your partner alive in the middle of the fights was asinine.  There was no fun to be had with that game at all.

You’d think Capcom could have figured out that the reason Resident Evil 5 flopped so badly was that it was just so poorly done.  Yet, here we are with Resident Evil 6 bringing in much of the boring and silly storylines from 5 even though Leon is heading this chapter up.  It’s unfortunate, too.  This could have been such a great addition if Capcom had even minimally listened to its fanbase. No, they did their own thing again and assumed this is what we wanted in a game. They could not have been more wrong.

Seriously, Resident Evil 6 doesn’t even have a pause button!?!?  You can’t even pause the effing game.  I mean, seriously?  Why not?  Every other game on the planet has figured out how to pause, why is Resident Evil 6 the exception?  You can’t even step away to go take a pee without some zombies nailing you.  What fun is there in that?

Worse, when you restart the game, it takes you back almost an entire chapter just to begin again.  You can’t even start at the point where you left off.  Seriously, this is one extremely badly designed game.  On top of just these stupid design issues, the gameplay is sluggish, awkward and the collision detection is some of the worst I’ve seen in a game in a very long time.

No awards for this turd

As much as Capcom seems to think this is some award winning thing, it’s a festering piece of feces covered in flies. It has no redeeming value at all.  This game is so bad, it’ll be in the bargain bin in 60 days.  Less, I’d venture. If you really want this game, just wait about 30 days and pick it up on the cheap.  Even then, why waste your time with this dreadful game?  Go pick up Skyrim or Fallout 3 or Portal or some other much better game than this and spend some time with a quality game.  If you really love Resident Evil, pick up Resident Evil 4.  It’s still far far outshines anything Capcom has ever done to date in this series.  RE4 is, in fact, so far ahead of every other RE game that I can’t even fathom that Capcom had a hand in writing it.  In fact, they probably didn’t.

It’s unfortunate that Capcom doesn’t quite get the gaming landscape today. Resident Evil 6 had so much it could have been and the developers just squandered away that opportunity.  This is and will be the last Resident Evil game I buy from Capcom.  No more throwing good money after bad.  Capcom get with the program.  As they say, once bitten, twice shy.  No more Capcom titles in my house.

[UPDATE 2012-10-24: Thanks Riko]

Apparently you can pause the game, but only if you turn off multiplayer (?) features.  Note, however, that I didn’t ‘turn on’ any multiplayer features when I played.  I just played the game with however the campaign started.  If that enables multiplayer features, I didn’t know it.  Worse, I wasn’t playing multiplayer at all, however.  I was playing the game in as though it were a single person campaign. That this game apparently turns on multiplayer features even though you are not using it (and worse, blocking the pause feature) is just stupid game design.  I have to agree with Riko.  This game is one big turd named starting with an s and ending with a t.

Stars: 1/2 out of 5 (Capcom gets the 1/2 star for effort).

Apple’s iPad: 10 inch iPod Touch or iDisaster?

Posted in Apple, ipod, itunes by commorancy on January 28, 2010

Recently, I wrote the article “What is it about tablets?”.  In that article, I discussed what Apple must do to make the newly announced iPad (tablet computer) successful.  Apple needs a paradigm shifting technology embedded in the iPad that would make the usability of such a tablet go leaps ahead of previous tablet attempts.  Unfortunately, that did not happen.

Failure to launch (and type!)

The iPad may look like a pad, but it functions nothing like a pad.  In fact, this device looks and acts like an iPod touch on steroids.  But, Apple failed this device on so many levels.  First, let’s start with the design.  The iPad back is not flat (which is just like the newest thin iPod touch).  The back is curved. So, laying the iPad on a flat surface leads to wobbly typing or surfing.  This forces you to put it on a soft surface or hold it in your hand.  Not an optimal or convenient design.

Typing input

On the touch, however, it was small enough to hold in one hand and type with the other.  In fact, you could hold it with two hands and thumb type.  With a 10 inch sized device, one hand typing isn’t really an option.  But, this whole typing issue just goes back to the fundamental input problem with tablets.  How do you reliably get input into a tablet computer?  The options are voice, handwriting recognition and touch typing.  None of these input styles make for a truly usable computer experience.  So, on this level, Apple has failed.  Funny too, because Apple is usually the leader when it comes to innovative ways to improve user interface experience.

Finger Friendly?

I’d like to point out another possible problem.  On the iPod Touch, the touch screen surface only works with an actual finger touch.  It doesn’t work with gloves on or by using your fingernail.  As a result, this makes the touch surface a problem in the winter or for women with long nails.  I do not presently know that the iPad uses this same touch screen technology, but it’s very probable.  Therefore, this could make the iPad not friendly for glove wearers or women with long nails.

Lack of ports

Most computers today need to support the latest in port technology.  More and more, however, Apple seems to shun standards and try for their own proprietary connectors.  Sometimes it works.  More often than not, it fails.  In this case with this device, it adds to the design failure.  With the iPad, Apple should have added standard ports like HDMI and a Secure Digital slot.  Unfortunately, they didn’t do this and this device suffers as a result.  This is especially bad considering most Netbooks offer most of these ports.  Yes, some Netbooks even offer HDMI ports.

iPod Touch Clone

Unfortunately for the iPad, it appears to be a 10 inch iPod touch.  The interface is, of course, 10 inches.  This means it uses the same interface that’s on the iPhone and iPod touch.  On a small handheld device, that interface works well.  On a 10 inch screen, the oddness of it all is quite apparent.  The resolution is higher on the 10 inch screen and, thus, the iPad scales up most apps to accommodate.  The problem is the scaling.  Some apps look fine scaled.  Some can actually take advantage of the larger screen (mapping softwares).  With low res apps, the iPad scales up the app window to fill the 10 inch screen which looks quite lame.  Granted, all of this can be fixed by developers reworking their apps.  But, for now, it makes this device all the more clumsy.

App Store Tie-In

This is yet another in a series of devices that Apple is requiring the user to use solely with iTunes and the App store.  Inevitably, the iPad will be jailbroken.  Until then, the audience is captive to the Apple store.  So, if you want apps or media, that’s where you must go.  Of course, you can import media into iTunes app and sync that, but you cannot load any apps other than those that come from Apple’s app store until it is jailbroken (probably the day after it gets released).

This also means that tried and tested apps you’ve come to know on Windows or even Mac OS X may never become available on the iPad due to iTunes App Store restrictions.

A must have? No.  Not yet anyway.

Apple has yet to convince me (and many others) of the necessity of this device.  There’s no wow-factor here or anything compelling to make the iPad stand out as must have.  There’s nothing here to say that it is even useful for anything beyond what a Netbook can accomplish for less money.  The iPod touch is still much more useful due to its size.  The iPad is sitting in a cost space near Netbook pricing (the iPad is more costly), but Netbooks still have much more functionality due to a real keyboard and better use of the screen (not to mention, full fledged apps).

At the entry level pricing of $499, which will mean a bare bones model, you’re sure to get as little as possible.   To get all the bells and whistles, you’re likely to pay well over $1000 for the equivalent of a large iPod touch.

In other words, Apple did not provide a paradigm shifting technology necessary to make the iPad absolutely compelling.  In fact, the whole big clumsy nature of this tablet is quite apparent even from the image of Steve Jobs holding it.

This is a 1.0 device that feels like a 0.5 device with poorly thought out software.  The iPod/iPhone interface and its apps were designed to be used on handheld small screen devices.  Putting this interface onto a 10 inch sized display and expecting full fledged computing out of portable apps is stretching this device to its limits.  Granted, Apple can generally get the kinks out of new devices.  But, the tablet has such a long history of failure going back to Grid Computers in the early 90s that Apple has a steep bank to climb to get out of this trench they’ve dug themselves into.

Overall, I’m still underwhelmed and I’ve seen nothing yet that screams, must have.  An iPod touch screams that due to its sheer size and portability.  The iPad definitely does not!

%d bloggers like this: