Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Rant Time: Pinterest

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

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

Search Interests

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

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

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

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

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

Pinterest’s Targeting Engine

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

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

[RANT ON]

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

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

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

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

It Gets Worse

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

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

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

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

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

Pinterest Janitor

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

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

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

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

When Blocking Doesn’t Work

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

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

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

Following Accounts

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

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

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

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

The Pinterest Idea

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

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

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

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

The Pinterest Dilemma

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

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

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

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

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

[RANT OFF]

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

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

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Game Review: Assassin’s Creed Origins

Posted in reviews, video game by commorancy on May 14, 2018

Assassin’s Creed Origins is an attempt by Ubisoft to milk this tired franchise for more money. With each new iteration, they are making more and more mistakes and the games make less and less sense. This game’s sole purpose to exist seems to be a money grab. Let’s explore.

Bayek and Aya

In Assassin’s Creed Origins, you play as the Medjay (pronounced madge-eye) hero Bayek. He’s a nobody really, but the game makes you think he’s somebody. Unlike Altair and Ezio, who were at least well respected for who they were in their respective communities, Bayek is a small-town-kid… kind of like Connor in Assassin’s Creed 3. Unfortunately, this plot device has already worn thin by this franchise. At least come up with something different.

Bayek’s wife is Aya. She only appears in the game in tiny sections and you do get to play as her (sort of) during a boat mission and a handful of other smaller end missions. In fact, Aya takes on a crucial role in one of the final assassinations taking away that pleasure from Bayek unnecessarily. However, you don’t get to do something truly unique and switch between (or choose to play as) either of the characters. Come on Ubisoft, get with the program.
Bayek-ACO

Bayek is conflicted all throughout the game because his kid was killed by who really knows for whatever unnecessary reason. This is intended to give Bayek motivation to become an assassin and kill for revenge (among other reasons).

Storylines

This is as good a time as any to talk about the stories presented. Bayek must find and kill 8 (or so) different individuals along the main quest. Most of them are temple priests who’ve done wrong… or at least, so the game tells us. Aya kills one of the primary baddies as well.

The side quests consist of fetch quests as well as a few side assassination quests, occasionally taking the time out to do racing or fighting. Unlike the original Assassin’s Creed, there is no run-climb racing. The stories are average and uninspired for an Assassin’s Creed title. The ending is forced and really explains nothing. The stories can be fun the first few times doing a task, but ultimately it’s the same things over and over… especially if you’ve already played the Desmond versions. It would be great if Ubisoft could figure out a way to make the stories more dynamic, fresh, less fetch-questy or fighty and do something different. Yes, it does have assassin in the name of the game, but that doesn’t mean everything in the game needs to be a fight. The majority of the stories have nothing to do with assassinations or being stealthy. The ones that do are so weakly written, they might as well just tell you who to kill and put a map pointer. Why bother with the crap setup? Let’s just get to the activity and be done with it.

Taking it to the Next Level

To revitalize this Assassin’s Creed, Ubisoft needs to take this franchise to the next level by extending Assassin’s Creed into a full blown RPG. It’s nearly there, but it needs so much more. First, it needs to abandon the idea of a specific character’s look. Instead, let us choose our character’s look through various presets (head, body, body shape, height, facial features, etc). Second, let the player choose a class and focus on it (fighter, seer, magic user, etc).

While the main quest can be primarily about assassinations and then seeing the bad guys one last time in the Duat (the place between life and death) to give them their final send off, the second part of the primary quest should be about present day and the importance of the animus experience to the present day (something lost in this version). The rest of the time the stories should focus on assassinations. It can be side quests or it can be quests that are required to give you an item that let you finish the main quest. There are so many ways to improve the game into a full blown RPG.

After this, they will need to add auto-generating / regenerating dungeons to dive into with random loot. This gives the possibility of finding some really great weapons and armor during the game.

The game would need functional armor, not just costumes that look pretty when worn. In Origins, you can effectively wear nothing or steel armor and it doesn’t reduce your ability to take damage. Armor needs to protect the player character from damage in increasing amounts when worn.

Armor needs to be broken into pieces (chest, legs, arms, head, feet, etc). You should also be able to find or forge armor for your steed. This not only lets you increase your armor in levels, you can mix and match armor to create your own unique costumes. Right now, it’s a look-pretty situation. The costumes look great, but they’re not functional in the game. Also, whatever happened to dying the costumes? Where did that feature go? There is a dye shop in the game, but it can’t be used.

Weapons do have individual strength, but are leveled. That’s fine for the first pass. This method can be carried over. But, I’d like to see a way to craft and improve weapons from in-game materials (brass, copper, etc). The raw materials are in the game, but you can’t really do anything with them. Crafting is only in ACO in a tiny little way. It needs to be fully expanded. Also, having weapons break and wear out allows you to overpower an enemy and wear their weapons, shields and armor out, thus disarming them and gaining the advantage.

The side quests are fine, but lose the fetch quest idea as much as possible. I really tire of having to “go get” something for an NPC. They have legs and can get access to a horse, let them go get it. If it’s a fetch quest type that ends as the item in payment for my service, then I’m okay with that.. particularly if the item is a worthy weapon or piece of armor. But, I don’t want to have to carry it all the way back only to get a piece of food or some silly trinket. Let me keep the stuff I find or let me get it back in some way.

Co-op and group dungeons should be added. Let’s get back to the idea of multiplayer in an RPG. This means I can find and assemble a team to go into a group dungeon to take on a swarm of enemies that can’t be taken alone. This encourages team play.

Item and building interactions must be more complete. Instead of these facades that sit on the ground and do nothing (other than as obstacles to climb), the buildings need to allow for entry into new dungeons to master. Items on the ground should offer much more interactivity. There are so many containers that can’t be opened or checked. Instead, let the game choose which container types to fill with random loot.

This is by no means to be taken as an exhaustive list of ideas for turning Assassin’s Creed into an RPG. It’s nearly there already, it just needs to take the next step. This is exactly what the AC series needs take it to the next level and let it rival that of Bethesda RPG games. However, it’s going to need an entirely new exact game save system by abandoning the current checkpoint save system in Origins.

Random NPC Banter

This just needs to go away. The NPCs have, at most, 3-5 phrases they can say when you pass by them and using the same voices over and over. Don’t do this. Unless you plan to spend the time to create hundreds of different audio clips that can be randomly said by NPCs, just leave them silent. Hearing the same phrases over and over is just plain annoying and unnecessary.

Fighting

Unfortunately, this is probably the worst part of the game. While Assassin’s Creed 2 practically got the fighting aspect 100% right, Assassin’s Creed Origin gets it almost 100% wrong. The fights are not in any way fun. Let me just make this clear. Fighting should be extremely fun in a game like this, but no. There are two tactics the enemies use that just drive me absolutely crazy. It doesn’t matter if it’s an animal or an NPC, they both use this tactic.

Backing Up as an AI combat strategy

While I realize walking backward could be used occasionally by an enemy, it is entirely overused in this game. This tactic always has the enemy moving just out of reach of even your longest weapon. There’s absolutely no point in this AI tactic. It wasn’t in any other AC game, why is it here? It just wastes time and serves to frustrate. This crap tactic is at the top of my least favorite AI fighting tactics in a video game. I’ve never played any other game where this tactic is used by enemy AI. I don’t even know how to rant enough on this particular tactic, but it drives me bat shit crazy.

Note, I’ve seen this tactic employed with human NPCs, lions, tigers, hyenas and practically any other ground combat. Ubisoft, get rid of this tactic. It doesn’t make the game fun, it only makes the combat incredible shite.

Shields

While I realize some NPC’s have shields, the only tactic to get around the bigger shields is try and flank the enemy (almost impossible because they turn around instantaneously) or try to press and hold with a large sword (power attack). The problem I have with these two suggested combat tactics is that they rarely ever work. Yes, the game gives them to you, but by the time you attempt a power attack, the enemy has either stabbed you repeatedly several times or knocked you on the ground and stabbed you. Press and hold attacks are worthless.

Worse, it’s almost impossible to break through a shield on an enemy. The strategy I end up using is climbing and performing a top down assassination over trying to do a break on a shield. Again, Ubisoft got this part totally wrong. Let me at least pull that stupid shield out of their hands and disarm them. Nope, no such feature in the game. Disarming an NPC is just a basic maneuver in any fighting simulator, why is it not here Ubisoft? How about letting me me break their shield in half? Nope, not here either. Shields don’t take damage.

Worse, when I try to use a shield, it’s not nearly as strong as when an NPC uses it. This is the dreaded one-sided fighting behavior that I absolutely abhor in games. If you’re going to make a fighting game, at least have the decency to make it a fair fight. When you tilt the fighting towards the NPC and away from the player, that’s just a shit tactic, Ubisoft.

Finally, shields should eventually break. If I keep hammering on it with my sword, the NPC shield should eventually disintegrate. Nope, these NPC shields are entirely invincible. I shake my head at this crap design.

Combat Mode

In this game, it’s way too easy to trigger combat mode and almost impossible to shut it down short of running far, far away… and even then that doesn’t work if the enemy is on a horse or in a chariot. For whatever reason, an enemy’s horse is always about 25% faster than yours. This is yet another unfair cheat tactic on the part of the game. Horses should either be of equal speed or … what the hell Ubisoft? … let us upgrade our horses to be faster than theirs. Yet another craptacular design failure.

Can’t break out of animations

This should be self-explanatory, but I’ll go ahead and explain it anyway. When you’re in the middle of combat, if you attempt to do certain moves, you can’t do anything else until the animation plays out in full. I’ve had enemies desync the game because I inadvertently triggered a long combat animation sequence that you cannot stop. Because there is no way to break out of an animation sequence, you always have to let it play out in full, enemies can come in and stab or hammer or poke you.

This is even more commonly frustrating because sometimes if you’ve got two or three enemies, they can gang up on you and prevent you from getting out of their fighting tactics. If they hit you in just the right order, even dodging is impossible because the taking wounds animations have to completely play out and cannot be broken out of.

This is crap game design. The player character should always be able to regain control over the situation without waiting for a long-ish animation to complete. All animations need to be broken out of and stopped.

Leveled Characters

So I get that Ubisoft finally added numbers and character levels to the NPC’s in the game. It’s been a long time coming. But, the way this is implemented is entirely and complete garbage… especially for an assassin.

Some enemies are, for all intents and purposes, invincible. These appear with a skull in a red shield above their head. I shake my head at this crap. To simulate real people, the hero should be able to assassinate anyone at any level. Knives don’t discriminate based on level. Assassination is assassination. Level doesn’t matter to a knife. Levels should only matter for melee combat where skill is involved. A stealth assassination from behind or above should always kill the enemy regardless of level. I should rain down from above, knock them down then assassinate any NPC in the game regardless of level. This is how a knife works, Ubisoft. Unfortunately, Ubisoft sets it up so that whenever an enemy is ‘too strong’ (or too high a level), they are invincible from either weapon’s attacks or knife assassination. In fact, a sword that might kill someone at your same level, an invincible enemy might take at most 90 damage.

Again, this crap drives me absolutely bat shit crazy. It’s such a crap design. Ubisoft, stop, learn and listen… and STOP playing these stupid games with your franchises. If you can’t do leveled characters right, then don’t do them at all.

Worse, there’s a preference that allows you to set NPCs to fight at or around your level. Yet, when you turn this setting on, it does absolutely nothing. Characters who were weaker are always weaker. Characters who are leveled way above you stay leveled way above you. If you’re going to add this setting to the menu, Ubisoft can you at least make it work?

Can’t Kill Citizens

In past games, you could kill civilians, but if you killed more than 5, the game would desync. In this game, you can rarely do this. They are simply unkillable in many cases. He’s an assassin. Blades should work equally well on enemies and on civilians alike. Go back to desyncing if you don’t want us doing it. Don’t just prevent the blades from working at all. Though I have found places in the game where civilians can be killed, I’ve also found places where they cannot. This was an unnecessary addition to the game engine.

Horrible combat button placement

For whatever reason, Ubisoft has decided to muck with all of the previous combat button placement. In past games, attack was always on the ABXY or X⃝△▢ buttons in some manner. In Origins, Ubisoft decided to move them to the trigger buttons by default. Wait… what crap is this? Who ever designs games with attack on shoulder or trigger buttons? Thankfully, they offer an alternative mapping that at least puts them on X and Y. No, it’s not optimal placement, but it’s at least it’s on these buttons. Why would you put combat on X and Y over A and B? These combat moves should always be on A and B buttons (Xbox) or X and O buttons (PS4)… like every other game on the planet.

This is always called messing with a good thing and Ubisoft is now firmly guilty of screwing with this game just to screw with it and for no other reason. Bad design.

Smoke Bombs

In past games, you had the ability to get and drop smoke bombs at will. In this game, smoke bombs are tied to combat. To drop a smoke bomb in this game, you now have to perform some kind of combat maneuver, then following that maneuver, press the A button quickly to drop a smoke bomb. No No No NO NO! Dropping a smoke bomb should be a button on its own. Never tie it to a combat move. If I just want to drop a smoke bomb for no reason, that’s my choice. Stupid design.

Perfect Aim

This is one of those complaints I’ve had for a very long time and it keeps coming back time and time again. Every enemy has perfect aim and infinite line of sight. No one ever misses hitting you unless you’re overly good at dodging. Even then, arrows still seem to make their target even after dodging. Yes, you can use your shield to protect yourself, but if that works 50% of the time, you’re lucky. Some enemy is always knocking you back and typically enemies swarm making it impossible to use the shield effectively.

Swarming and moving out of range

Enemies in this game always want to come in swarms. When you climb to avoid the swarms, the NPCs (animals or humans) move just out of range of your ranged weapons if they can’t reach you. This means you can’t shoot arrows at them. This is plain out cheating by the developers. Don’t move NPCs just out of range because they can’t get to you. I’ve seen this tactic in other games and it is entirely unnecessary. Once again, stupid design.

Boat Battles

This is easily the weakest and most unnecessary parts of this game. Several times you’re on board a ship with Aya and random NPC schmoes who don’t make a difference to the story (other than Cleopatra in one battle). You’re tasked to sink ever increasing sized warships. These activities are stupid, unnecessary and overly hard to control. I didn’t find this part of the game at all fun. In fact, I would have preferred skipping this entire section of the game and have the game take me to the final destination. In fact, I almost abandoned the game entirely at this point. I managed to get through this lame, unskippable section of the game through some unnecessary tactics. If you can’t do boat battles right, don’t do them at all… or, at least let us skip the entire activity.

Seriously, what does a boat battle have to do with being an assassin?

Climbing Activities

As with other Assassin’s Creed games, climbing was the gimmick that made Assassin’s Creed work. It’s still in this game as well, but not explained as to how this character does it. He just does. As with other AC titles, climbing sometimes works, but sometimes doesn’t. It depends on what you’re trying to do.

In most cases, the camera gets in the way. Because climbing direction is heavily dependent on which way the camera is facing, when the camera randomly moves, you’ll end up careening off in the wrong direction and setting off a bunch of guards in the process. This is, in fact, one of THE most frustrating aspects of this game (and really, any AC game).

For utilitarian purposes, climbing works fine. For stealthy assassinations, I could swear that the game cheats and sends me careening right in the middle of a load of guards simply to alert them. I’ve learned never to use climbing as an assassination strategy unless there’s plenty of room to maneuver. Even then, it can all go horribly wrong.

Ignoring all of the combat problems, this is one of the games top problems. Though, I’ve had this complaint with just about every Assassin’s Creed game ever made. Though, this game seems to be worse about it than others.

Senu

In lieu of the previous semi-magical “Eagle Vision” that simply just existed, they replaced it with, you know, a pun. They give you “Senu”, a flying Eagle with ‘Vision’. It circles overhead like a vulture. When you activate Senu, you can control him to fly around and over various encampments to identify enemies, loot chests and various other identifiers.

Senu was an unnecessary addition to the game and does nothing to explain the other version of “Eagle Vision”. Instead, they should have simply used the tried-and-true Eagle Vision that had been long established in every prior game. It needed no explaining. Adding this eagle served no purpose other than to make a pun, which wasn’t funny. Senu could have been a great help if it could have not only stunned enemies, but actually damaged them by dive bombing them and/or pecking / scratching them. If you’re going to give us a companion (and since you’re already making this world completely unrealistic anyway), then while you’re at it, let us use Senu as a weapon against enemies right from the start. Such a waste.

Leveling Up

Yes, there is the ability to level up, but it’s so limited as to really not be helpful. You get enough experience points to level up timely enough, but it really doesn’t help make you stronger or better or faster most of the time. The majority of the perks are worthless. There are a few that help (poison darts, smoke bombs), but most don’t do anything to help make Bayek stronger, better or faster. In other words, the majority of the perks do nothing, with only a few having any real purpose. The few that do have purpose are so buried behind the ones that do nothing, you waste a ton perk points just to get to them.

Photo Mode

The photo mode in this game is nice enough, but doesn’t have near enough filters to make it worthwhile with depth of field being the best of the effects. Overall, it’s a nice enough feature, but it’s not worth playing this game just to use it.

Frame Rates, Audio Problems, Crashing, Lost Quests

Frame Rate Problems

One of the things I’ll say about the Xbox 360 versions of this game is that the frame rates were always consistent, particularly with climbing a synchronization point. When you get to the top, the camera circles the player character. This has always been a particularly smooth animation. Not in Assassin’s Creed Origins. Every single synchronization point animation is herky jerky and choppy… and this is at 1080p. I’m not even trying to run this game at 4K. I can’t even imagine what this animation looks like in 4K.

I only recently started playing this game because of a backlog of games I wanted to play first. I also thought that waiting would give Ubisoft enough time to patch stupid bugs. Well, they haven’t. This game is chock full of bugs and problems.

Lost Quests

This is a problem that also drives me insane. I’m playing along, select a quest and I’m on the way there to pick it up or finish it. There are two ways quests are lost here. The first way is I’m traveling a road and an invincible enemy appears and immediately spots me. Invincible enemies are an entirely stupid concept (see above), but they are also on horses that run far faster than mine does… which doesn’t make sense. So, they inevitably catch Bayek and desync. BTW, a single arrow shot or sword swing from an invincible enemy is nearly enough to desync. A second swing or shot and the game always desyncs. Upon respawning, the quest is gone. No where to be found. You can’t find it and you don’t know where it went.

The second place where quests get lost is when the game locks up and/or crashes. Upon restarting the game, the quest is gone. This one is just insanely stupid. It’s not like the game doesn’t have autosaves turned on all throughout. Even if the game just saved seconds before, the quest is gone. Worse, when you respawn, you can end up a long ways away from where you were.

I don’t know how many quests I’ve lost as a result of either of these two problems. Probably 15 to 20. This problem stems from the way this game chooses to save games (see below).

Audio Problems

This is a known problem. Ubisoft has had many reports of this problem going to late 2017. Yet, Ubisoft still hasn’t fixed this issue. I’ve run into it several times. After I’m done playing the game, I then sleep the Xbox One for a period of time. When I wake up the console, there’s no sound at all. When I attempt to change any audio settings in the game to bring it back, I only get an audio chirp about every 5 seconds. Note, the console itself has no problems producing sound as I get that from the Home screen and Cortana and other apps. This problem is entirely a bug in Assassin’s Creed Origins.

Crashing

Most games today crash occasionally. However, this game is well more buggy, crashing way more frequently than average. I’ve had hangs that turn into crashes. I’ve had hangs that recover. I’ve had random crashes with no hang. Since I’ve started playing, I’ve had at least one crash every 1-2 days. This game is not at all stable. Thankfully, the game saves frequently enough that you don’t lose what you’ve already collected. But, you may lose your active quest.

Game Saves

This game chooses to checkpoint save randomly. It makes a noise whenever it saves. I could really do without that noise. If you want to save a game, leave the noises off. Just save the game and put a visual notification. That’s all that’s needed.

You’d think that the game saves would do you a favor. In fact, they don’t. If you desync for any reason, you have to start whatever it was you are doing over from the beginning. The only thing that seems to be saved is chests you may have looted. These seem to remain looted after a desync. Other than that, your character respawns usually far away from the location where you were. This is annoyingly frustrating.

What is the point in a game save if not to recover exactly where you left off? Ubisoft, checkpoint saves are stupid. Get rid of them. Let us save exactly where we are and let us save at will. Let us start right back where we left off… in the middle of battle if necessary. Don’t throw us a long distance away and make us start that activity completely over. Stupid design

Graphics and Sound

While the cities and NPCs are ironically unrealistic in their actions, the visual world itself, particularly the sand dunes, the deserts and the oases are look reasonably realistic. Bayek’s character model is particularly well done. The same for the anime character seen in “Gift from the Gods” quest. I’m not even sure what that quest was about, but the character was straight out of a game like Final Fantasy. For less than 5 minutes on the screen, someone spent an inordinate amount of time modeling that character for the game.

The underwater action is well done and the water movement is better than most games of this type. As with most games today, these hyper-realistic game engines fall down in many small ways… specifically, low res models. While the lighting is well done, the statues and other models are just too low poly. Worse, the flags at the top of the temples are downright horrid. They fly and flap fine, but the edges of the flags look like something out of an 8-bit SuperMario game.

There is one sound thing that drives me insane in this game. It’s when Bayek has to constantly prompt the gamer to go do whatever urgent task is at hand. I don’t need or want that prompting. At least let me turn it off from the settings menu. Additionally, the enemies constantly taunt that the player’s imminent demise. I don’t want to hear this either. Let me shut off those taunting remarks from the enemies. These audio comments are entirely worthless. Either that or turnabout is fair play. If they NPCs can taunt, then let me taunt back with Bayek. Either that, or shut that stupid and repetitive taunting off.

DLC and Season Passes

As if I haven’t railed enough on this game already. Well, let me rail just a little bit more. The season pass costs $40, in addition to the $60 you’ve already paid. Yes, the Season Pass offers the following:

  • The Hidden Ones (Land add-on)
  • The Curse of the Pharaohs (Land add-on)
  • The worthless Calamity blade
  • The Horus Pack (outfit)
  • The Roman Centurion Pack (outfit)
  • 500 Helix credits

Questionably, Ubisoft has excluded certain DLC from this season pass (see below). This is where I begin my rant. What the hell, Ubisoft? First, you add critical game features (levels 41-45) as add-on content instead of actually, you know, patching the game where we already paid $60. I argue features such as increasing character level caps of the original game a critical game patch… not a DLC add-on. At least raise the level cap for everyone in any game version as prep for DLC add-ons. Tying this patch to a DLC is just asinine.

Second, you exclude certain DLC (e.g., the Deluxe Pack) from the season pass entirely? Why is this? All DLC world add-ons should be part of the season pass eventually, including whatever is in release day Deluxe Packs. Excluding these is just an unnecessary money grab. Sure, you can make a deluxe pack be exclusive for a month or two, but they should eventually make their way into season pass holder content. Shit, that’s an extra $10 on top of the $30 we’re expected to spend? Season passes are already questionable enough investments considering it’s possible that no further content will release for that $40 season pass price. Season passes are already a gamble for the gamer as there’s no guarantee of content quality, availability or indeed anything purchasing a season pass on game release day.

Present Day

As with most Assassin’s Creed games, Ubisoft throws in the animus portion as an afterthought. In fact, the story line almost identically follows the Lucy story line in the Desmond stories. Can you guys not think up anything original? The first time through it was fine, but a second time is pointless.

Perhaps it’s finally time to switch the roles around? Make the in-animus games as the afterthought and the out-of-animus present day the actual assassination area. I’d like to see an assassin scale a 50 story building and jump off into a dumpster below or use a parachute. I’d like to see then use the present day as a means to an end. It is fun to see these time period pieces, but let’s not lose sight of the story goal here. If you’re trying to tell a story about Abstergo, then let’s do that.

The in-game ancient temples were almost entirely worthless quest lines in the game as they never come full circle back to the present with Layla. Ubisoft, you guys have a lot of work ahead to actually turn Origins into something better than it currently is.

Overall

The game play mechanics are average. When the mechanics work, they work okay, but occasionally the collision detection is intensely bad. I can see the weapon connect with the enemy, yet nothing. This means extra work just to kill an enemy because the game didn’t detect it. Sometimes it means desync and forced restarting. The enemies who use the back up tactic just drive me absolutely insane. This tactic needs to be removed from the NPC combat AI. It doesn’t serve any purpose other than to frustrate. It doesn’t make the combat harder, it’s just plain stupid.

The stories are twice told tales that don’t really lead anywhere of any specific nature. The only story that ties it all in is when you exit the animus with Layla… Layla being a cheap knockoff of Lucy from Assassin’s Creed. However, what is she really doing there in the first place? We’ve already established the animus as a commercial thing that people can buy and use at home. Why are we going back to these coffin shaped devices? The only storyline that seems to tie it all in are the too few and far between temples were Bayek enables a pedestal which talks of Desmond and the imminent world destruction… not that Bayek will understand any of that… nor does he ever make any comments under his breath afterwards.

Worse, all of that modern day gibberish was inserted into the genetic code replay by the animus as a bug/feature rather than being an actual genetic memory from Bayek’s original story. Yet, Ubisoft completely ignored this leaving the gamer to assume that Bayek actually encountered that information. Sure, I believe he may have visited those temples, but I don’t believe he actually encountered that information during the reign of the Pharaohs. Why should I believe this? The story gives me more reason to believe the animus added that story element than Bayek actually having encountered it for real.

As for multiplayer, what multiplayer? Past AC games have had multiplayer elements, but this game has no direct multiplayer aspects. The only hint of multiplayer are the revenge quests which have you examine a body of a multiplayer in your world. Then, take on a revenge against the in-game enemies who killed that other player in their game. This is of very little consolation for the lack of multiplayer. It’s not like Ubisoft hasn’t offered multiplayer in past AC games. So, I’m befuddled why it was not in Origins.

This game could have been much, much better.

Graphics: 8.9 out of 10
Sound: 6 out of 10
Game Saves: 1 out of 10
Gameplay: 4 out of 10
Controls: 4 out of 10
Combat: 3 out of 10
Stories: 5 out of 10
Multiplayer: 0 out of 10 (there is no direct multiplayer or co-op).
Stability: 2 out of 10

Final Rating: 4.5 stars out of 10
Buy this game at $20 or less from the bargain bin or, if possible, rent it.

Rant Time: Google Wallet Verification

Posted in best practices, botch, business, california, personal security by commorancy on March 22, 2014

So, I know how much everyone love my rants. Well, here’s another one. This falls under personal security and internet security common sense. Today, let’s explore the safety of Google Wallet and it’s so-called verification system.

What is Google Wallet?

Basically, it’s another type of payment system like Paypal or Amazon checkout. Effectively, it’s a way to pay for things or send money on the Internet using Google. That’s about as simple as it gets. Who uses it? I certainly don’t nor will I ever if Google doesn’t change its ways.

Verification of Identity

Like most other payment systems, they want to know who you are. Or, at least, that the person who is wanting to use the payment system owns the card or bank accounts added into their system. However, each one of these payment systems usually does verification in similar ways. For example, Paypal verifies you by requiring you to add a checking account (i.e., routing and account info) and then adding a small amount of money to your checking account. Later, you enter those two tiny amounts of money into their verification panel and you’re all set. That’s pretty much it for Paypal. This is similar to other financial institutions like E-Trade.

Google’s Verification = Stupid

And I thought Paypal’s verification was stupid. Leave it to Google to diverge and make it even more difficult. In the verification form, Google requires you to enter your social security number, your birth date, your home address, your phone number and various other information that could easily lead to identity theft. Then they require that you submit it. Information, I might incidentally add, that is not required for you to use an established credit card or bank account for payment. After all, banks are already required to identify you before opening an account. This is the whole reason why Paypal’s verification system is enough. Paypal merely hangs onto the coattails of the bank that has already previously verified your identity when you opened the account. I digress.

When their entry form doesn’t work, they require you to attach a PDF document of a government issued identification card. Not only is that stupidly manual, who the hell know what Google is going to do with that PDF file once you send it to them? Why would you want to do this anyway? Seriously, you’re not opening a bank account with Google. You’re not getting anything out of it by sending this to Google. And, you’re opening yourself up to huge personal risk by leaving PDF documents of your identification cards floating around on the Internet for hackers to find. Seriously, what is Google thinking here?

For me, that’s a big red flag and a BIG FAT NO to Google. I have no intention of providing any physical paperwork to a private corporation. If you can’t figure out proper method to identify the user electronically, that’s not my problem.

Legal Compliance?

I know that Google claims that this is all in the name of Federal compliance, but I’m quite sure the compliance laws don’t require you to verify a user using any specific implementation techniques. Clearly, Paypal is able to comply with these laws without requiring a PDF version of physical government issued identification. The reality is that Google also does not need a copy of this. That they claim that this is required to fulfill legal obligations is smoke and mirrors.

No, it’s quite clear, Google’s verification system is broken and completely unnecessary. They can certainly comply with all identity verification laws without resorting to asking for a copy of your identification be submitted to them in PDF or any other format.

Merchant Requirements

In fact, while credit card issuers like Visa and Mastercard don’t forbid asking for identification when using a credit card, the merchant must still accept the card for payment as long as it’s properly signed without seeing an ID. Because Google wallet requires actually seeing your identification before using some services with your credit card, this violates card issuer rules regarding the requirement for seeing identification before purchases. On the other hand, unlike a retailer who has the physical card in hand, Google cannot see your card and whether it’s signed. But, the spirit of this rule remains. Using a method of charging a small charge to the card and asking you to check the statement, then supply that dollar amount should be enough to verify that you own that card and that you have access to statements… just like Paypal and E-Trade.

Because a lot of statements have now become e-statements online, the small charge method doesn’t necessarily verify your physical address. Though, if they need to verify your physical address, they can simply send a postcard with a code. Then, have you enter that code into a verification panel once you receive it. In fact, this is really the only method that will verify your physical address is valid.

Google Wallet’s Usefulness?

With all of that said, Google has failed to make any traction towards becoming a defacto wallet. In fact, there are so few merchants that actually use Google Wallet, it’s probably safer not to verify with Google. Being as unused as it is around the Internet and seeing as Paypal is the primary method of paying for things today, it’s too much of a personal risk to submit PDFs of your passport or drivers license to a random corporation. You have no idea where that PDF might end up. Though, it will likely end up on Google drive because Google likely requires its employees to eat Google’s own dogfood (i.e., uses its own services).

And since the risk of using Google drive is as yet unknown with all of the Facebook-like features that Google has added (and continues to add), it wouldn’t surprise me to find Google internal documents accidentally shared through a Google employee’s personal account via Google+. This would obviously be bad for Google, but it wouldn’t surprise me. That’s why you don’t upload PDF files to corporations like Google. In fact, I wouldn’t share PDF files of that type on any network drive unless it’s encrypted and passworded. Better, don’t put it there in the first place.

Companies requiring copy of a personal ID

Personally, I won’t do this type of ‘give me a copy’ verification for any company unless I’m opening a bank account, credit card or need to provide it for some specific financial transaction. Even then, I will only transact that business in person and allow the person long enough time to see the documents to get what they need from it. And no, they are not allowed to photocopy it unless there’s some specific requirement.

I especially won’t do this with companies as big as Google or Microsoft when no transaction is involved. As companies grow larger and larger, employees get more and more careless in document handling. Asking for photocopies of identification cards, social security cards, credit card faces or any other issued card is not cool and I have no intention of ever providing that to a company for any identification purposes unless I’m actually performing a transaction. I won’t do it for ‘just in case’ services that I may never use. Doing so stupidly leaves a financial time bomb out there ready to be exploited.

The most they need is the number off of the face. If a company cannot make do with what’s printed on the face of the card (by being typed in), they get nothing. Just like giving your check routing information to a company such as Paypal is like writing a blank check, giving copies of physical documents to corporations is tantamount to identity theft. I simply don’t trust corporations with access to copies of my physical documents.

Though, were Google to set up a storefront and I could walk in and hand my card to someone to visually inspect and then maybe have them swipe it (although, I’d prefer not), I’d be somewhat okay with that. But, knowing a PDF file is floating around on the internet somewhere with a copy of my physical card, that’s not in any way cool. I will never do that for any corporation sight unseen no matter who they are. Since there’s no way to transact business with Google in person, there’s no way I’ll ever verify my identity for Google Wallet.

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