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Remembering the 80s: Moonlighting

Posted in botch, entertainment, TV Shows by commorancy on July 24, 2018

MoonlightingIn 1985, Moonlighting began as a show TV viewers seemed to both love and hate. I personally became very fond of this show at the time. Today, it is simply a product of its time period. Let’s explore.

80s TV

After coming out of the 70s, where crime dramas tended to rule the roost, the 80s spawned more lighthearted comedy to balance out those 70s serials. In fact, the 80s spawned a lot of TV shows that are fondly remembered. One of these is the screwball romantic comedy Moonlighting produced by Glenn Gordon Caron.

Moonlighting hearkens back to screwball comedies of the 40s with a straight man (or woman) character Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd) to the cuckoo character David Addison (Bruce Willis). At the time, Willis was an unknown. I’m sure the TV executives weren’t sure he could pull off the role at the time, but once the chemistry between Bruce and Cybill became palpable, all executive misgivings evaporated.

Moonlighting and Chemistry

Like Charlie’s Angels before Moonlighting, this cast was as tight on chemistry as they come. The on-screen chemistry between these two actors was amazing to behold. Unfortunately, what made the show a winner would also see to its demise. The quick and witty repartee between Maddie and David would become deeply symbolic of what went on behind the scenes. After the second season, the apparently deep and constant bickering between the two actors would ultimately end up in tabloids, tarnishing this series irrevocably. However, what ultimately did this series in was its writing, production in-fighting and Cybill’s pregnancy.

Biting off more…

The witty rapid fire repartee of the Moonlighting character dialogue wasn’t without peril. Oh, it was most certainly fun to watch. Apparently, each script required double the amount of written exposition found in a similar series. This meant writing double the amount of pages in a script. Effectively, each episode was two episodes worth of material. Instead of cranking out several episodes rapidly, writers were only able to produce half the number in the same period. Because of the quick witty interrupting repartee, sometimes with Maddie and David talking over one another simultaneously, this would only serve to delay how quickly an episode could be shot.

At the time, it was said that it took upwards of sometimes 10-14 days to complete one episode of Moonlighting when most series with half the dialogue took about 5-7 days.

For both filming and writing reasons, trying to reliably release one episode per week was a chore for the Moonlighting team. This meant that episodes didn’t reliably show up every week. Usually there was a rerun in between new episodes. This also meant you’d never know if the show that week would be a rerun or a new episode until it showed up in TV Guide. This didn’t happen during season one and two because these seasons had many episodes in the can by the time the show aired. However, once the series airings caught up to the currently filmed episode, they never could get ahead again.

For a viewer, this unknown led to a lot of disappointment after finding out that this week’s episode was a three or more weeks old rerun. That’s not to say that those episodes weren’t funny, but they were way too recent to rewatch. This problem stagnated the series and was Moonlighting’s first blemish. More blemishes would show as time progressed. Though, the reruns were helpful if you missed that episode.

First Two Seasons

For the first two seasons of this series, which encompassed a total of 24 episodes (6 in season one and 18 in season two), the series kept its chemistry entirely on track. The writers kept Maddie and David in check and at just the proper distance from one another as Maddie constantly played hard to get. The constant keeping-David-at-arms-length premise kept the sexual tension at just the right level. It’s what kept people coming back week after week to see if Maddie finally gets together with David. Between the magic of the witty repartee and keeping David and Maddie at arm’s length, this was the show’s mojo. However, the witty rapid dialog and sexual tension began to wear a little thin by season three. Viewers wanted to finally see David and Maddie get together. Careful what you wish for.

Season Three

In Season three, when Maddie and David finally hook up in the episode I am curious… Maddie, the series deflates like a balloon. That episode singlehandedly took the wind out of the sails of Moonlighting. Not only did the sexual tension vanish, the constant rumors of the on-set fighting between Cybill and Bruce began appearing in tabloids and only served as a major distraction to the series. This coupled with Cybill’s real life pregnancy and Bruce’s leave to be in Die Hard left the series in a quandary:

  • Incorporate the pregnancy into the show or go on without her
  • Go on with or without Bruce

This is also where the actor’s real lives intruded into the production of this fine series. This season also marks when the series ran off the rails.

Season Four

At this point in the series, had I been the producer, I might have opted to create episodes with other characters while Cybill takes maternity leave if Bruce had been available. However, because both lead actors were otherwise tied up with outside commitments, the choice should have been to delay any further production of the series. The network apparently didn’t want this which led to a bad decision.

After the series introduced Agnes DiPesto (Allyce Beasley) as more than just a charming rhyming receptionist and brought in Herbert Viola (Curtis Armstrong) as her love interest, the series tried expanding on these two characters in their own episodes while waiting on Bruce and Cybill to be available. This really didn’t work. Beasley and Armstrong had very little on-screen chemistry leaving the episodes flat and boring. Beasley was charming as the rhyming receptionist role, but she wasn’t in any way able to carry the series in an expanded role. Neither could Armstrong. Together, they simply had no chemistry together nor were the characters leading character material. They simply could not carry this series.

By this point, I felt that the series was way offtrack. At the time, I knew it was only a matter of time before Moonlighting was cancelled. Not only was the sexual tension lost, the series began focusing on forgettable side character arcs that didn’t matter. This all happened simply because the two lead actors were unavailable. You can’t run a series when your leads are missing in action. While I understand Cybill’s pregnancy, I can’t understand why the series allowed Bruce Willis to sign a contract to be in Die Hard while the series was still in production. This just makes no sense.

Without its leads, the series should have taken a hiatus. Coupled with the slow shooting schedule, the longer than typical scripts, the show just couldn’t make any headway. If this had had a normal filming schedule, they could have put a few (or many) episodes in the can in advance of both Cybill’s and Bruce’s departure and then had them to fill out the time slots when the actors were unavailable. Because of the size of the scripts, this was impossible. Though, they did get pre-work from Cybill before her maternity leave and before season four began. But, this pre-work was filmed before the full episodes were fully scripted or shot.

By the time Cybill went on leave with her pregnancy and Bruce was tied up with Die Hard, this meant that a lot of season four was created by the actors phoning in their parts. As stated above, Cybill had pre-shot her dialogue scenes separately which had to be worked into as yet uncreated episodes. Because the leads were never seen together in scenes, the series ratings continued to decline. You can’t exactly create sexual tension between two characters when they’re talking to each other over the phone and not in the same room.

The ratings didn’t improve when the series tried focusing on DiPesto and Viola in an attempt to carry the series. In season three, not only had Maddie and David come together and split, the series introduced Sam Crawford (Mark Harmon) as Maddie’s new love interest. By season four, Maddie gets pregnant (assumed to be by Sam, but could have been David), thus integrating her pregnancy (and the unnecessary Sam character) into season four. It was a horrible plot choice, particularly the ambiguity of the father of the baby.

There’s no way faster to lose the hot model image than by knocking up your main character, particularly if by a transient and unnecessary character. This third character also transformed the series from a twosome into a threesome, which also didn’t work. The chemistry between these three did not work at all. This further served to degrade this series into a train wreck about to crash. Not only had Maddie and David gotten together and split forever, Maddie takes on a new boyfriend which is assumed she consummates that relationship with a baby. It was the wrong play. It added a new character dynamic at the wrong time into a series that least needed it. It also implied that Sam, not David, was the father of the baby. As well, having characters phoning in their parts didn’t make the episodes great. It would have been a better choice not to incorporate the pregnancy or Sam at all. The best choice was hiatus.

By halfway through the season, I’d grown tired of seeing stories about DiPesto and Viola and Maddie and Sam. The series was originally about the detective agency and the relationship between Maddie and David. We lost that when the series began focusing stories away from Maddie and David and more on other characters. The magic, at this point, was irreparably lost and the ratings continued to reflect that change in creative direction.

As for Maddie’s baby, just think what would have happened to the Charlie’s Angels ratings had one of the main characters gotten pregnant on Charlie’s Angels? That series would have tanked harder than when Farrah Fawcett left the series. The Charlie’s Angels story is about hot female detectives performing detective work. Not about rearing children or getting knocked up. Same for Moonlighting. Moonlighting was about a hot model owning a detective agency. It’s not about getting knocked up and rearing babies.

By season four, the writers had lost their way with the plots. This was in part because, according to the tabloids, the actors were not only fighting with each other, they were also fighting over what they were being paid. It was also in part because of the lack of their lead actor’s availability to film episodes.  It was also in part due to the writers strike. This led to poor story choices and a swirl of tabloid gossip.

Season Five

By this season and after the writers strike concluded, which cut short the final episode of season four, the writers and producers seemed to have realized the error of their ways with Maddie’s pregnancy and penned a season opener that sees Maddie miscarry and lose the baby. It was too little, too late. It was also a bad idea overall. Setting Maddie up to have a baby, see her carry it and then miscarry? This isn’t a topic for a comedy show. This topic on this show misfired. This is a detective show, not a home and family show. The damage was already done.

By season five, the show couldn’t get its mojo back for a number of reasons. The first reason is because of the lack of enthusiasm by the show’s stars. Bruce had further created a successful new franchise in Die Hard. Cybill now had twins and wanted out of the long working hours to be with them. The second reason is that the writing failed to go back to Blue Moon cases with Maddie and David in the office trying to rekindle the sexual tension spark with witty repartee instead of dealing with Maddie’s personal life. This change in show direction was due to Glenn Gordon Caron’s departure. The creative team was gutted. The episode that attempted to reignite the sexual tension spark failed and tanked the ratings further. Ultimately, season three showed it had entirely spent its mojo capital when it got Maddie and David together. Everything after that point couldn’t save the series from cancellation. If season four was the purchase of the coffin, season five nailed it shut.

Aresto Momentum…

Even still, the show did reach two more seasons after David and Maddie got together.  That’s respectable, but not necessarily unexpected. Some of the episodes in seasons four and five were okay, if not a little tired. However, the show still had a lot of momentum going into into the fourth season if only the actors had been available to shoot every episode and keep that momentum going. Unfortunately, Moonlighting just couldn’t withstand the turmoil, chaos and the cast unavailability. The series eventually succumbed to its ratings slump and the eventual loss of Glenn Gordon Caron, the series creator by season five due to a rift between Cybill and Glenn. That change in the creative team didn’t help the stories in any way.

The Fourth Wall

By the third season, the shows regularly opened with David and Maddie staring directly at the camera offering some kind of message. Usually the message existed simply because the show ran short on time and they needed to fill it. These messages made no bones about it. These show opening messages would become the first salvo in fourth wall breaking that the series would begin exploring.

Personally, while I didn’t mind the show openers, I didn’t want to see fourth wall breaks within an episode. It is what it is. The show would take this to the extreme in the final episode. The series ending in season 5 shows the crew breaking down the entire set while David and Maddie are still trying to play their detective character roles while the producer states that the show has been cancelled. It was somewhat funny to watch, but it really dissed the show. Sure, it’s fun for shows to poke fun at themselves, but this went way beyond what I thought was appropriate for a professional series.

Everything that went wrong with the series was pretty much summed up in the series closing episode by breaking down that set.

A product of its time

Moonlighting was cute, funny and endearing when at its best. It was a hot mess when at its worst. However, it was also a product of the 80s in which it was spawned. Time has not been kind to this series. Producers today reference this series as something to avoid when creating new productions. They simply don’t want to revisit what happened when Maddie and David finally got together. That single episode is now considered the poster child of what not to do with characters in a TV series.

Because Moonlighting never went into syndication in the traditional way, it simply hasn’t had the power of reruns on its side. I don’t think syndication would have helped this series much, anyway. Unlike I Love Lucy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch, which saw continual and never ending reruns, Moonlighting never got that chance. It’s probably a good thing.

The series was fun to watch during its era, but today the show’s comedy and antics seem antiquated and pretentious. Where I Love Lucy is mostly timeless, Moonlighting is a time capsule out of time when watched today. This show was definitely a product of the 80s with its shoulder pads and dated hair styles and clothing. If you like 80s TV, it’s a must watch. However, if you’re looking for something modern and relevant, you won’t find that in Moonlighting. The stories are definitely dated to its era.

If you really want to watch this series at its absolute best, I suggest watching seasons one and two and season three up to I am curious… Maddie and stop there. The last episode of season 5 is fun to watch if for no other reason than to watch the cast break through the fourth wall. Though, you can watch season four and five, don’t expect much from these two final seasons. Season three is ultimately where the series should have ended.

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Game Review: Defiance MMO on Xbox

Posted in video game, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on April 29, 2013

Defiance While I really want to like Trion’s Defiance on the Xbox 360 and in some ways I do like it, it also has some highly annoying design ideas, features, levels and quirks. Before I begin, you need to know that Defiance is an online multiplayer game only and requires a subscription to Xbox Live Gold. Don’t buy this game unless you plan to buy or already have a subscription to Xbox Live (which, of course, requires broadband Internet access). Additionally, this game is completely dependent on Trion’s servers being continually available. If Trion’s servers go down (and they do regularly), you cannot play the game AT ALL. Anyway, grab a cup of coffee and let’s get going.

Disclaimer: Be careful buying used copies of Defiance. If Trion folds or they shut down the Defiance servers, the game disk will become a coaster. The game disk has no standalone content. The Defiance game relies 100% on Trion to operate the servers and stay in business. The business of gaming is fickle. If this game doesn’t last longer than a year in operation or the TV series is cancelled, don’t be surprised if you can’t play the game. If you are reading this review a year (or later) since it has been written, do some research before investing in a used copy of the game. 

What is an MMO?

MMO stands for massive mutiplayer online. Basically, it’s a multiplayer game. It isn’t really a single player campaign game. Basically, what Defiance is to 3D gaming, a MUSH is to text-based gaming. Basically, it’s a large map environment with a load of players from all over all playing the game together.

What’s good about Defiance?

Defiance is not your standard third-person 3D Campaign based shooter or even a standard 3D death match style multiplayer game. Defiance mixes both single player campaign with multiplayer coop seemlessly.  In fact, it’s really the first game I’ve played to do so. Granted, I have not played World of Warcraft, so this game may offer that level of play, also. Basically, you and your friends can join in and all defeat an enemy or boss together… at least, sometimes. Yes, there are missions where coop is not possible. It really is a pretty cool idea. The trouble is, the idea of it is pretty much where the coolness ends.  The way it’s designed could be way better.

What’s bad about Defiance?

It’s highly repetitive.  

As you’re driving around, you see a whole bunch of different missions on the roads.  But, you’ll see the same drive-by road side missions time and time again. These drive-by missions are distinctly different from those that appear on your map as an exclamation point in a diamond. Once you’ve played several of those drive by missions, you don’t really want to do it again… and again.. and again. It’s not cool. Also, it’s the same enemies over and over. So, even though it’s a new mission, it’s the same enemies with all of the same tactics.  Tactics, I might add, which can be highly boring after defeating them several times. It’s okay when you’re doing it for the first time. But, after you’ve played the same enemies and tactics about 5 times or more, it gets old really fast.

Leveling up is very s l o w.

As you level up, you get more and bigger weapons and perks. So, at least you do get stronger weapons as time progresses. But, expect that progression to go very s l o w l y. Don’t expect to get the biggest weapons really quick unless you play the game non-stop. However, even getting to Level 650 doesn’t seem much different than being at level 200 or even level 0 in terms of health or shield. You character still becomes incapacitated just easily. So, effectively all you are really getting out of leveling up is somewhat stronger weapons, maybe.

Boss Levels have no checkpoints

Single player boss levels have no save points during battle. If your character becomes incapacitated, you start the entire boss over from scratch just outside of the room.  In other words, you could lose up to 30 minutes of play time whittling the boss’ health down only for one missile to incapacitate you and you have to completely redo the whole thing again and again and again. This is entirely frustrating and time wasting. Basically, you are forced to play the boss level on the game designer’s terms, not yours. If you decide that you want to use stealth and sniper tactics, you can’t. The only strategy given is the one forced upon you by the designers… which usually entails running away from the enemy in hopes you can strike them with enough to kill them before they incapacitate you. It’s all trial and error and timing. There’s no strategy involved.

No way to change weapon load out quickly

Due to the frustrating menu system, you cannot change your weapon load out while in the middle of any battle, let alone a boss battle. Otherwise, you will be incapacitated. If you don’t load out correctly before going in, expect your character to die early and often.

Scrip and other currency types

Scrip is one type money in this game.  There are vendors that sell cars, weapons, weapon mods, shields and lock boxes.  Unfortunately, there are other forms of currency in this game which include bits, resources, reputation and keys.

  • Scrip is obtained by completing any mission or selling goods at vendors
  • Bits are obtained by buying them with Microsoft points (i.e., real money).
  • Resources are obtained by completing missions or by breaking down objects into resources
  • Keys are obtained by completing arkfalls and other missions
    • Unfortunately, there is a severe limit on how many keys you can hold (my limit is 75)
  • Reputation is obtained by completing multiplayer co-op missions (requires 4 players to participate)

Some items for purchase require a mixture of the above currencies to obtain that item from a vendor. So, some specialized weapons may require 200 reputation plus some Scrip to get that item. Getting that many reputation points requires participating in many 4 player coop missions.

Main Missions

The main missions consist of a story that seems to be leading someplace, but I’ve not yet figured out exactly where. Sure, your character is being ‘groomed’ for something big, but who knows really what. At a point early in the game, you meet a character that looks very similar to a Borg (and sounds like one, actually) named Nim Shondu. Later on, you have to kill him. Believe me, this boss level is nearly impossible to beat unless you come into it with the correct weapons dealing a high amount of damage combined with overcharge.  Even then, expect to spend loads of time with this room. There’s no hiding place in the room, so you can’t get away from his sword and special attacks or his EGO moves. He moves so fast that you can’t block his attacks. So, the best you can do is try to stay away from his attacks just long enough to kill him. Worse, you have to kill him 3 times. Good luck with that unless you are equipped correctly. Worse, you won’t know his tactics until you enter the room.  And, by then it’s too late to go find the right weapon let alone equip it. Even worse than all of this, the game still charges you an extraction fee each time you die and can’t self-revive. Truly, a poorly designed level

So far, this story has been about rag tag missions that seem to just open up more missions and more side missions. I don’t really see where the story is going at this point.  So, let’s hope the writers have a cohesive story arc in mind.

Weapons and Shields, but no Armor

Unlike other military games which allow you to level up and find weapons, armor, shields and clothing modifiers, Defiance only offers shields and weapons, which isn’t really enough for this type of game.  Of the shields you can find, they are all weak. Basically, there are two types of shields you can find:

  1. A shield with a low threshold for damage (1000 points or less) and recovers fast (1-3 seconds)
  2. A shield with a high threshold for damage (1500 points or higher) and recovers very slowly (delay 7-9 seconds)

Some shields are augmented with other traits (like better protection from fire damage, your own weapon damage, biodamage, etc).  I’ve yet to find a shield that has offers a high threshold for damage and recovers quickly. There might be one in the game somewhere, but I’ve yet to see it or find it.  Even still, it only takes about two Dark Matter troops firing their weapons at you to completely wipe out your shield with about 5 shots and another 5 will wipe out your health and incapacitate you. Worse, you cannot augment shields with any mods at all, even though the game lets you mod weapons.

Arkfalls and Side Missions

There are basically three types of side missions. Random encounters, marked side missions and Arkfalls.

Random Encounters

Random encounters are basically roadside missions.  That is, you drive by and see something blocking the road.  It might be Raiders, 99ers, Dark Matter, Scrappers or Hellbugs.  That’s basically the list of enemies in the game.  So, it will be one of these enemies that pops out of a road side mission. In fact, it’s the only type of enemies that will pop out of any of the missions including Arkfalls.

Side Missions

These mission types are marked on your map with an exclamation point in a diamond shape. These give small amounts of scrip (money) and small amounts of experience points.  They usually ask you to locate and obtain something and sometimes drop it off.  It might ask you to plant explosives.  It might ask you to clear out a Hellbug nest or kill all of the Raiders in a camp.

Arkfalls

Other than multiplayer coop maps, these are the truly massively multiplayer exeperiences in this game. When an ‘ark’ falls and hits the ground, ark hunters swoop in and scour it for parts to be sold.  In the game, when an ark falls, it’s just a mechanism to create a huge Hellbug or Scrapper to kill.  Each Arkfall starts off small (destroying crystals in two or three waves) or killing the enemies in an area.  As the smaller arkfall crystals are destroyed, this leads up to the big boss arkfall. You might have to do two or three small arkfalls before the big boss appears. Once the boss appears, all of the online players congregate and use whatever weapons they have to whittle the health down of the boss until it’s destroyed.  At the end of the arkfall, a panel appears showing who did the most damage in an ordered list.

These usually give about 6500XP experience. So, if you want to gain experience and scrip fast, join arkfalls regularly. Also, do the main missions. These gain you a lot of scrip.

Incapacitation

This is one of the sore spots in this game and is poorly designed.  I understand what they were trying to achieve with this part of the game, but it just doesn’t really work. So, you’ve lost all your shield and your health is now drained.  Once this happens, you fall to the ground and become incapacitated. Sometimes you get two options (self-revive or extraction).  Self-revive is as it states, you revive in place and pick up right where you left off.  Extraction means you start over at the extraction point. Self-revive only becomes available after 5 minutes or so of playtime after the last self-revive was used.  So, if you fall quickly after a self-revive, you have to pay scrip to get extracted.

When you’re in the world, extraction is generally cool (other than you lose a percentage of your ‘Scrip’ for being extracted).. except when your closest extraction point happens to be halfway across the map.  I’ll discuss extraction points next. However, when you’re at the boss level in a dungeon, it’s not fine. In fact, it’s damn right annoying and frustrating.  Worse, when you’re on a boss level, the game doesn’t even give you the option of using self-revive. You are forced to defeat the boss in one complete perfectly executed go or you fail and start over. There’s no help, no reviving, no one there to help you revive.  In the case of the Borg, you’re have to completely kill him in one single go with the weapons you have in hand or you start the boss level over again.  Worse, if you abandon the mission, you have to completely replay the entire intro of the level over again to get back to the boss level inside the dungeon. That may involve 20 minutes of lead-up to get into the dungeon again.

But, if you didn’t enter the level equipped with the correct shield or weapon load out, don’t bother trying to do that in combat.  We’ll discuss weapon load outs shortly.

Extraction points

This game ‘binds’ your character to an extraction point that are post-like markers with a purple light (and an ammo dispenser near it). Once you get close to one of these markers, your character will become bound to it. If you extract, your character will end up back at one of these markers.  As you drive by the markers, your character will become bound to them.  Note, however, that these markers only appear on major roads. So, if you drive off-road all of the time or fast travel, you could leave yourself vulnerable to an extraction point that is a very long way away from where you presently are. So, if you’re doing an arkfall and you extract, you’re going to end up a very long way away from that arkfall and will have to spend the time to drive all the way back over there.

This is really one of the sore points of this game.  There should be twice as many extraction points as there are.  In fact, when an arkfall goes up, an extraction point should appear for the duration of the arkfall. So, if you have to extract, you end up somewhere close to the arkfall again. Better, if you’re in an arkfall, it should bind you to the arkfall until it’s done. Just extract me into the arkfall location where I previously was.  Why force me to drive a huge distance just to get back to it? Not very well thought out.

Weapon Load Outs from the Menu

The menu system in this game is also poorly designed. In most games like this, you would have a weapon wheel where you can assign your favorite weapons for easy access during active combat. Not in this game. You have to open a menu (which can take 10-20 seconds to completely draw), then you have to select the slot and dig through a scrolling list of weapons to place into the weapon slot (another 5-10 seconds).  The entire screen is completely covered with the menu so you cannot see any live actoin at all. Yet, everything remains live. There is no pause. So, your character is completely vulnerable while you diddle in the menu.

Bad bad BAD. This is one of the worst combat menu systems I’ve seen in a game like this. If you need access to weapons/grenades and shields easily and quickly, you NEED a selection wheel that pops up right inside the game over the top of the live gameplay. Sure, let us fill this wheel with our own weapons of choice, but after that, we can easily choose the weapon we want to use.  Instead, you have a completely cumbersome menu system that completely obscures live combat and that takes 30 seconds (or longer) to walk through. Even then, you can only get easy access to two weapons at a time.

The game offers alternative weapon load outs by pressing Y in the menu and will cycle through 3 different loadout presets, but even that isn’t fast enough to work. This game desperately needs a weapon wheel preset overlay.

Inventory and Menu

Menu System

The menu includes everything to manage your weapons, weapon features, and everything in your inventory. The menu system is really overloaded. Once you get into the menu, you have the base menu which is what appears when you press the start button.  But, there’s even another menu when you press the left trigger.  That pops up a wheel that contains more submenus to get to things like the Defiance Store, Social, Stats, etc.  Then there are the RB and LB sub menus of the main menu which cycles you through weapon modification, EGO powers, and more stats. Why they needed both the wheel menu and the RB menu system, I don’t know. It’s not intuitive and it’s confusing.

One thing, though, is that even with all of these menus, once you have created the look of your character, you’re stuck.  You can’t easily change that look if you don’t like it.  If it’s in the menu system somewhere, it’s well hidden. Suffice it to say that I’ve not found it.

Inventory

Inventory is severely limited.  When you first start out, you get something like 12 slots which you quickly fill. Note, anything you hold takes an inventory slot (shield, weapon or mod). I don’t understand why there’s even a limit in this game. But, it’s here and it severely limits what you can pick up. I’m forever destroying objects to be able to pick up something that’s fallen from an enemy. It’s highly frustrating and highly annoying to constantly have to destroy things to get new things.

Additionally, there is no lock box, locker or any kind of storage system for extra stuff. You constantly have to carry everything with you. You can’t offload your stuff into something you own (a house or a locker or any kind of personal offline storage). The closest you get is the ‘Claim Items’ in the Defiance Store. But, that only holds stuff that won’t fit into your inventory at the time that some quest tries to give it to you. You can’t place anything into the claims item area. It only takes overflow items so you don’t lose it.

No Armor, Only Shields (and they’re limited at that)

This game has no concept of armor.  Only shields.  Once your shields are drained, your health starts draining and then you become incapacitated. With any combat game, armor and armor rating should be a huge part of this game. Even at level 650, your character incapacitates as easily as a level 1 character. The shields you find just really do nothing.  Worse, you cannot modify shields by augmenting their protection levels. This game completely fails for character protection. There’s nothing you can do to help fortify your character’s health or protection. You’re completely at the mercy of the game to provide this protection which it does not do.

Multiplayer and Chat

Don’t bother to try and text chat in this world. The chat window is complete junk. The chat system in this game is never used by anyone because you simply can’t use it. To bring up the chat, you press the D-Pad to the right which opens a small menu, then you have to select the chat window which takes over the whole screen. Then you have to use the Xbox controller chat pad (if you have it) to enter your text. Otherwise, you’re limited to that horrible move-the-cursor-and-press-letters-thing (which is even worse).

If you do decide to chat in the Xbox version, get the controller chat pad. Even that is not enough to make this system work. Instead, grab a headset and plug that in. Voice chat is the only way to do this game. Even still, there aren’t that many people using that. So, what you end up with is most people doing their own things without discussions (except where clans are involved).

TV Show Defiance Tie-In

After the shows air, the game is supposed to change its play in-world to accommodate the changes to the series. So far, I’ve seen none of this. Granted, we’re only 2 episodes in as of this writing, still I see no changes in the world or in any of the missions. So, I’m still waiting for these changes to show. Personally, it looks like hype to me.

Audio and Graphics

The graphics are reasonably decent in most cases but there are a few brilliant places. Mostly, the graphics are average.  The lighting is adequate, but not spectacular. The surface textures are good, but could be better.  The graphics can be glitchy, especially where other online players are concerned.  Players disappear, jump from place to place or just don’t work correctly when other online players are doing their thing. The graphics are mostly smooth when it comes to your player, but it can be glitchy and jumpy at times even then.

The audio soundtrack works quite well. The audio voiceovers are mostly well done, but there are some bugs.  For example, EGO says ‘Shoot it in its hideous Moths’ (you know, those white things that fly around at night) when it specifically means the word Mouth (which is printed on the screen). Trion has not yet corrected this audio track. When dealing with side missions, EGO’s phrases are so generic they sometimes don’t make sense.  EGO also pops in at very inopportune times to say things. Sometimes, I wish she’d just shut up. Also, there are audio drop outs where EGO is supposed to chime in and doesn’t, but the audio volume lowers for up to 5 minutes until something else brings the volume back up. You also get these audio dropouts when entering and leaving buildings.

Overall

Defiance on the Xbox 360 is fun to a point, but is a bit too clumsy and has too many quirks and problems.  After you’ve played it for about a day, it gets old and repetitive really fast. The terrain is small and there’s really very little to do other than arkfalls which also become repetitive and boring. The menu system is cumbersome and annoying. The inventory system is overblown and convoluted, but doesn’t hold nearly enough. There are no long term storage lockers, so you have to destroy items frequently. The lack of a weapon menu wheel severely hampers the combat playability in Defiance. The lack of checkpoints makes playing the game a chore in places, especially boss levels.

I’m giving this game 4.5 stars out of 10.  It needed a whole lot more careful design treatment with playability testing and didn’t get it.

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3D Television: Eye candy or eye strain?

Posted in entertainment, technologies by commorancy on March 12, 2010

For whatever reason, movie producers have decided that 3D is where it’s at.  The entertainment industry has tried 3D technologies in film throughout the last 40 years and, to date, none have been all that successful.  The simple reason, side effects that include eye strain and headaches.  These are fairly hefty side effects to overcome.  Yet, here we are again with a barrage of new 3D films hitting the big screen.

In answer to all of those new films actually filmed in 3D, television makers have decided to try their hand at producing home 3D technologies.  The problem with any current 3D technology is that it’s based on a simplistic view of how 3D works.  That being, each eye sees a different image.  Yes, that’s true.  However, it’s hard to provide a quality 3D experience using a flat screen with each eye getting a different image.  There’s more to 3D then that.  So, while the each-eye-sees-a-different-image 3D technology does work, it does not seem realistic and, in a lot of other ways, it doesn’t really work.

IMAX

Over the years, IMAX has had its fair share of 3D features.  Part of the appeal of IMAX is its very large screen.  You would think that watching 3D on that very large screen would be an astounding experience.  The reality is far different.  Once you don the special polarized 3D glasses, that huge screen is seemingly cut down to the size of a small TV.  The 3D imagery takes care of that effect.  I’m not sure why that effect happens, but 3D definitely makes very large screen seem quite small.  So, even though the screen is huge, were you watching the imagery as flat the 3D kills the scale of the screen.  Effectively, the screen seems about half or a quarter the size that it is when watching the same feature as flat.

Worse, transitions that work when the film is flat no longer work in 3D.  For example, fades from one scene to another are actually very difficult to watch when in 3D.  The reason is that while this transition is very natural in a flat film, this is a very unnatural type of transition in 3D.  Part of the reason for this transition problem is that the 3D depth changes confuse the senses and worsen the strain.  Basically, you’re wanting to watch 3D to make the entire film seem more real, but some creative elements don’t function properly when watching in 3D. So, that fade I mentioned makes the film appear strange and hard to watch.  While that fade would work perfectly when flat, it just doesn’t work at all in 3D.  Film makers need to take into account these subtle, but important differences.

Just like filmmakers have had to make some concessions to the HD format (every blemish and crease on clothing is seen), the same must be said of 3D features.

Velvet Elvis

Unfortunately, 3D features haven’t really come much farther along than the early adopters, like Jaws 3D.  So, the film maker employs such unnecessary tactics as poking spears at the camera or having flying objects come towards the camera or hovering things close near the camera.  It’s all playing to the 3D and not to the story.  These such tactics are trite and cliched… much like a velvet Elvis painting.  Film producers need to understand not to employ these silly and trite tactics to ‘take advantage’ of 3D film making.  There is no need for any extra planning. Let the chips fall where they may and let the film’s 3D do the talking.  You don’t need to add flying spears or having things thrown towards the camera.  If you didn’t need to do this in 2D, you don’t need to do it in 3D.

Emerging technologies

Television manufacturers are now trying their hand at producing 3D TVs.  So far, the technologies are limited to polarized screens or wearing glasses.  While this does work to produce a 3D effect, it has the same drawbacks as the big screen: eye strain and headaches.  So, I can’t see these technologies becoming common place in the home until a new technology emerges that requires no glasses and produces no eye strain.  So, for now, these television makers are likely to end up sitting on many of these novelty devices.  Worse, for the same reason the IMAX screen seems half the size, this effect is also present on Televisions.  So, while you may have that 60″ TV in your living room, donning a pair of 3D glasses and watching a 3D feature will effectively turn that huge screen into about half (or less) of its current size.  So, you may feel like you’re watching that 3D feature on a 20″ screen.

Going forward, we need a brand new paradigm shifting 3D technology.  A new technology that does not rely on glasses or polarization.  A new technology that can actually create 3D images in space rather than forcing the eyes to see something that isn’t really there.  It would be preferable to actually create 3D imagery in space.  Something that appears real and tangible, but isn’t.  Holograms come to mind, but we haven’t been able to perfect that technology yet… especially not projected holograms.  Once we have a technology on par with Star Trek’s Holodeck, then we might begin to have emersive 3D experiences that feel and seem real.

Overall

For me, the present state of 3D is novelty and produces too many negative effects.  However, because it is new, it is something that will win some support, but overall I think that people will still prefer to watch flat TV and movies because it causes far less eyestrain. So, I fully expect that this resurgence of 3D will dwindle to nothing within the next 2 years.  In fact, in 5 years time, I’d be surprised to see if any TV makers are still producing the current 3D TVs and film makers will have dropped back to flat features keying off of lack of support. Effectively, I see this 3D resurgence as similar to the failed quadrophonic technologies of 70s.

The reality behind Reality TV: Hell’s Kitchen Edition

Posted in food and dining, reality tv, TV Shows by commorancy on October 15, 2009

[Updated: August 2, 2018 Jessica Vogel, Season 12 contestant dead at age 34.]
[Previous update: February 10, 2018 — Seasons 14 thru 17 and Where are they now?]

Hell’s Kitchen

For those of you who like Reality TV shows like Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and Hell’s Kitchen, realize there is even more reality than what you see on the tube. For example, in the first two seasons of Hell’s Kitchen, the winners didn’t actually win what the show promised during the seasons. The first season winner, Michael Wray, was to win his own restaurant, but the show didn’t deliver on that award. Instead, he was awarded kitchen equipment and a trip to the UK to study under Ramsay. He first accepted and then later declined the trip. The second season winner, Heather West, was promised a newly built restaurant in Las Vegas in which she would have an investment stake and help design it.  This prize also never materialized. Instead, she signed a one year contract to be Senior Chef at Terra Rossa (an existing restaurant) in Las Vegas. After her contract terminated, she left and became Sous Chef on Hell’s Kitchen during Season 6.  Still, not the prize she had won.

It wasn’t until the third season that Hell’s Kitchen actually awarded the prize to Rock Harper that it had announced all season. He became Head Chef of Green Valley Ranch’s Terra Verde. Of course, the question remains, was it just a limited stint for Rock like it was for Heather?  Only time will tell. Fast Forward… The award for Season 6 was to be ‘Head Chef’ at the Araxi in British Columbia. Unfortunately, the restaurant began to get cold feet at the start of Season 6 after seeing the contestants. So, Ramsay apparently had to talk with the owner to quell any fears that there would be a competent winner. Unfortunately, Araxi had already made up its mind. The winner of Season 6 (Dave) will simply become an ’employee’ and not ‘Head Chef’. So, once again, Hell’s Kitchen has not delivered on its announced award.

I also have to wonder about those other award winners (see updates below). Did they only somewhat win or slightly win? At least Hell’s Kitchen should award cash and tangible prizes. As long as the sponsorship remains, the prizes will be there. Top Chef got that one right at least.

Winners List Seasons 1 through 4

Season 1 winner
Michael Wray
Prize: Tatou in Los Angeles
Status: Not Awarded
Alternate: Study under Ramsay in London + Kitchen Equipment

Season 2 winner
Heather West
Prize: Her own custom designed restaurant in Las Vegas.
Status: Not Awarded
Alternate: Terra Rossa at Red Rock Resort Spa and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada

Season 3 winner
Rahman “Rock” Harper
Prize: Terra Verde at Green Valley Ranch in Henderson, Nevada
Status: Prize Awarded

Season 4 winner
Christina Machamer
Prize: London West Hollywood in Los Angeles (Chef Ramsay owned) + $250k yearly salary
Status: Prize Awarded

Kitchen Nightmares

Kitchen Nightmares, on the other hand, is its own nightmare.  Of course, it doesn’t help that Ramsay attempts to save restaurants on the brink of collapse.  Needless to say, in the first 2 US seasons of this show and of the 13 he’s tried saving in New York, only 5 are still in business. Sebastian’s in LA has also closed. Most of the failed restaurant owners blame Ramsay and Ramsay blames the owners for not following his advice. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle combined with the economy. The downturn has taken its toll on lots of places, including restaurants. Fine dining is quite expensive. People are cutting back and eating more frugally. It doesn’t help that most of these ailing turned failing restaurants really had no regulars anyway. So, giving it a coat of paint and a new menu is probably not enough. Their reputation was already tarnished.

Of course, Kitchen Nightmares also pays to have people dine at the restaurant so that it appears as though it might succeed. The reality, of course, is far different. This is all Hollywood smoke and mirrors. After the cameras stop rolling and the production is no longer paying diners, the restaurant goes back to its old dismal self (bad sales and all). Basically, polishing poop doesn’t make it better. Kitchen Nightmares is now moving into its fifth season and counting.

Update for Kitchen Nightmares – 2010 Edition

Joseph Cerniglia found dead in Hudson River. According to witnesses, they saw someone jump from a bridge. Joseph was the owner of Campania restaurant that was featured on Kitchen Nightmares. At the time when Ramsay stepped in, Joseph’s restaurant was in debt by more than $80,000 to his suppliers. Ramsay tried to get Campania back on track, but we know how this works. After the cameras stop rolling and the paid diners stop, as stated above, the restaurant goes back to is old dismal money-losing self and falls back into the death spiral. Whether or not KN is responsible, in any way, for his apparent suicide has yet to be determined, but this is definitely a shocker.

Campania Episode on Hulu [Defunct Link: Here for historical purposes only]

Warning: Contains explicit language

Update for Kitchen Nightmares — June 2014

As of June 2014, Daily Mail UK reports that the Kitchen Nightmares series has officially ended. I’d say, it’s really about time. In it’s run, KN has tried to help many restaurants survive, recover and prosper. KN was primarily smoke and mirrors, TV cameras and paid diners. The truth is, more than 60% (and counting) of the restaurants Kitchen Nightmares has tried to save have folded. That’s not a particularly spectacular track record and just points to the fact that not all is a perfect shade of deep fried golden brown in Gordon Ramsay’s world.

Makes You Wonder

I have to wonder just how many more reality game or fix-it shows really work after the dust settles and the cameras are gone. With shows like Trading Spaces and Bridezilla, is it only about the cameras and drama? Does the ‘reality’ really mean anything. After the cameras stop, it’s really not that exciting. In fact, when the cameras are rolling, it’s not that exciting. That’s why they hire excellent editors to take random shots and intercut them together. For that reason alone, that’s how Tek, who was eliminated much earlier in Hell’s Kitchen, can reappear in an episode where she shouldn’t have been.

Smoke and Mirrors

Remember, Hollywood is all about appearances. Appearance is the only thing that matters. As long as its glitzy and offers some drama, Hollywood assumes people will watch. To some degree, I guess that thinking is valid. But, once you realize that it’s only smoke and mirrors, then it becomes just fluff. For me, that’s not really enough to keep watching.

Hell’s Kitchen Updates

Season 5

Winner: Danny Veltri
Prize: Head Chef at Borgata’s Fornalletto in Atlantic City
Status: Not Awarded
Offered: Sous Chef position

Danny Veltri was to have won the head chef position at the Borgata’s Fornelletto restaurant in Atlantic City and, unfortunately, ended up as sous chef at the restaurant under head chef Stephen Kalt. Danny didn’t immediately appear disappointed in the change according to this NY Daily News story and wanted to learn from Kalt. Apparently, Danny stayed for only several months and then, after frustration set in, departed back to Florida to work at Flip Flops, his own and previously operating restaurant. So, once again, HK didn’t deliver its announced prize fully as described.

Season 6

Winner: Dave Levey
Prize: Araxi in Whistler BC for the Olympics
Status: Not Awarded
Offered: Line Cook

Dave Levey didn’t stay long at the Araxi in Whistler, BC. After not receiving the head chef position that he was promised, he apparently only stayed just long enough to help with the 2010 Olympics. After that, Dave packed up and has returned to his native New Jersey to work at the Il Giardino restaurant where he had been previously employed prior to HK.

[Update 2013] Dave has since left Il Giardino and has moved to The Publick House as Executive Chef which is located in Chester, New Jersey or visit their direct web page at The Publick House Tavern and Inn. Apparently, both Il Giardino and The Publick House Tavern and Inn are owned by the Lubrano family according to this 2009 nj.com article. Apparently, this family also owns a third restaurant named Provesi in Morristown. Effectively, Dave is still working for the same restaurant family.

Season 7

Winner: Holli Ugalde
Prize: Savoy Grill in London
Status: Not Awarded
Offered: Undisclosed sum of money

[Updated: 11/30/2013] Reader Morten writes in saying that, according to this Daily Mail UK article, Holli was not awarded the Savoy Grill position and apparently she’s ‘fuming’ and feeling ‘betrayed’ by Ramsay. Not sure what’s going on between these two, but whatever it is doesn’t seem appetizing.

The finals came down to Holli and Jay. Drum roll please… Holli Ugalde wins. This time the prize is likely something that can actually be awarded as this is a restaurant owned by Ramsay himself. Hell’s Kitchen always seemed to get in trouble when awarding jobs to contestants where Ramsay had no ownership stake in the restaurant. This season, the prize is a head chef position at Ramsay’s newly opened (reoponed?) Savoy Grill restaurant in London. Because Ramsay will own and operate this restaurant, HK will likely be able to actually award the prize fully.

Of course, that depends on the Savoy’s successful reopening launch to work. We’ll have to see, though, if that promise holds true for Holli. Of course, Ramsay may end up hiring both Holli and Jay should the Australian trip turn out better than expected. I’m quite sure Ramsay considered this in his decision when not only picking the winner, but also when he picked the two finalists this season. Pulling Holli and Jay together through an Australian trip may mean Ramsay will get 2 chefs for the price of one if the relationship holds and they both move to London together. It’s a long shot for Ramsay, but if it works, it will work out great. If it doesn’t work out, he still gets Holli.

But wait, there is now speculation that Holli is a lesbian. I’m not specifically seeing it in the photos from this web site. But, you can visit and be the judge. Is she or isn’t she? If so, then the Jay and Holli romance thing was all a sham as Ramsay (and HK) would likely have known this fact. You might also want check out Holli’s MySpace page which may have more details about this.

Oh, and if you didn’t watch the final episode closely, you might want to watch it again. Dave Levey makes a cameo complete with chef’s outfit, knit cap and arm cast. Although, if his arm hasn’t healed in 12 months, he needs to see a specialist.

Season 8

Winner: Nona Sivley
Prize: Head Chef at L.A. Market
Status: Awarded

Season 8 has now been over for quite some time, but I’ve been lax on updating this article.  The winner is… drum ro.. nevermind, this season is not worth getting excited over.  Between Russell and Nona, Nona wins, for whatever that’s worth. This season was an unmitigated disaster. The professionalism of this show dropped tremendously. The drama went way up and the fighting was at a boiling point nearly every episode. Yet, there was little actually boiling in the kitchen, other than Ramsay. Anyway, I guess Nona gets the position at L.A. Market, even though there’s was no clear executive chef material in any of the contestants. Good luck Nona, you’re gonna need it. With that said, between Jillian, Russell and Nona, Jillian was the most consistent cook of the bunch. Russell had a big mouth and liked to run it, but when it came down to meals, he just couldn’t cut it (or, in this case, cook it). We’ll see if Nona hangs around long at L.A. Market.  My guess is that, like past HK winners, she’ll do a couple months there as a token prize and then be off back home. Note that Nona apparently started work at the L.A. Market on January 1, 2011 January 25th, 2011.  So, Nona should now be working there as of this [latest] update.

Season 9

Winner: Paul Niedermann
Prize: Head Chef at BLT Steak in Manhattan
Status: Awarded

Season 9 has now concluded. The winner turns out to be Paul Niedermann who began his career flame broiling burgers at Burger King.  He has won the spot as Head Chef at the BLT Steak located in Manhattan. According to this ‘About Us‘ web page for BLT Steak, it does actually appear that Paul Niedermann did get the gig at BLT Steak. Mind you, this particular restaurant doesn’t appear to be any kind of super upscale establishment, but it at least appears to offer reasonable quality food.  Definitely a step up from Burger King, but perhaps not by that much. Yelp gives NY BLT Steak 3.5 stars.

Yelp consensus for BLT Steak NY — overpriced for the quality.

A quote from the BLT Steak’s About Us page:

Paul Niedermann

Head Chef, BLT Steak New York

As the Season 9 winner of Fox’s hit reality show, Hell’s Kitchen, Paul Niedermann recently traded Florida sunshine for the glittering lights of New York City. As Head Chef of BLT Steak New York, Paul brings Italian and Mediterranean influences to the kitchen, his culinary palette pairing light fresh food together with citrus and other influences from his time spent in southern Florida. He also brings, of course, a killer competitive edge.

Watch Paul talk about his experience in New York City and working at BLT Steak. [Below]

With that said, the runners up were Will Lustberg and Elise Wims. While I would like to discuss this specific show’s qualities, it has gone way too far down in recent years to really get excited by it anymore. So, for sheer informational purposes, here is the winner information.

Season 10

Winner: Christina Wilson
Prize: Head Chef at Paris, Las Vegas
Status: Awarded

Season 10 is now over and the winner is …. Christina Wilson. She takes her place among the other Hell’s Kitchen winners. The runner up, Justin Antiorio.  You can find out more details about this season at this Los Angeles Times article. Basically, it as a play between palette and passion.  I’m guessing that Ramsay is more a fan of passion than palette, but that’s a bit unusual considering that taste in food is everything. Passion is great, but if you can’t make creative foods that taste great, then you’re not likely to do that well as a successful chef. I guess Ramsay will have to deal with that now since Christina Wilson wins her spot at Gordon Ramsay Steak in the Las Vegas Paris hotel.

Yelp’s rating for Gordon Ramsay Steak Las Vegas is a solid 4 stars. A large number of the most recent reviews (as of 9/25/2012) are 5 stars with many people saying the steak is outstanding. Of course, in the restaurant biz, quality can change on a dime. That’s why there are sites like Yelp. So, there you have it. If you like steak, this is probably a great place to try. Albeit, it’s a bit pricey with the average price per guest around $85.

Season 11

Winner: Ja’Nel Witt
Prize: Head Chef position at Gordon Ramsay’s Pub and Grill in Las Vegas
Status: Not Awarded — failed required drug test

I’d been lax in updating this page, but there’s been some actual real-life drama involving the winner of HK season 11. So, the winner is Ja’Nel Witt. I won’t really get into how she won HK (it doesn’t really matter at this point). Instead, let’s get into the real-life drama. Keep in mind that I’ve been waiting for a story like this to break for 10 seasons.

According to TMZ, Ms. Witt failed her drug test that Caesars Palace required her to take upon assuming her winning position at Gordon Ramsay’s Pub and Grill in Las Vegas. After going through all of that hassle for an entire season (granted, it’s really just a couple of weeks time in real-life when they film the whole season), she was allegedly stupid enough to run some rails. Now she’s being run out of town on a rail. Yes, some things don’t stay in Vegas and it appears Ms. Witt won’t be one of those things. Yes, this also means Ms. Witt won’t be assuming the role at Ramsay’s restaurant.

Although, Ms. Witt won against Mary Poehnelt (the runner up). I’m hoping that Mary Poehnelt will end up taking the position and getting the money as it doesn’t bode well to give that to someone suspected of being a drug addict. Not the right role model to be endorsing here. Although, again according to TMZ, Gordon Ramsay still believes in Ja’Nel and he says his ‘door is always open’ once she ‘sorts out her personal issues’.

Maybe Gordon Ramsay has learned his own life lesson: even though it’s consumable, it’s not always about food. You’ve got to know that as cranky as Ramsay gets at raw scallops or an underdone Wellington, he’s got to be fuming over this. I think it’s time for HK to start doing drug tests all throughout the seasons to make sure the contestants aren’t coking while cooking.

Season 12 (Spring 2014)

Winner: Scott Commings
Prize: Head Chef at Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill in Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The prize was carried over from the previous season from Ja’Nel Witt’s drug test failure and awarded this season. Not sure why the show didn’t award it to the Season 11 runner up. Isn’t that why there’s runner up?
Status: Awarded
Runner Up: Jason Zepaltas

Season 13 (Fall 2014)

WinnerLa Tasha McCutchen
Prize: Head Chef at Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill in Caesars Atlantic City (thanks go to reader Kenny)
Status: Awarded. She served her time, but has since left to go back to 3030 Ocean (a previous restaurant) several times. She wants to become a private chef.
Runner UpBryant Gallaher

Season 14 (Spring 2015)

Winner: Meghan Gill
Prize: Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill at Caesars Atlantic City
Status: Apparently awarded, but she waited over a year to start in 2015 and appears to no longer be there. According to the restaurant’s web site, the current chef is “Georgeann Leaming”.
Runner Up: Torrece Gregoire

Season 15 (Spring 2016)

Winner: Ariel Malone
Prize: BLT Steak at Bally’s Las Vegas
Status: Awarded, but she’s no longer there.
Runner Up: Kristin Barone

Season 16 (Winter 2017)

Winner: Kimberly-Ann Ryan
Prize: Yardbird Southern Table & Bar at The Venetian Las Vegas
Status: Apparently awarded, but the chef listed for this restaurant is currently “John Kunkel”. Not sure what’s going on here.
Runner Up: Heather Williams

Season 17 (Early 2018)

Winner: Michelle Tribble
Prize: Hell’s Kitchen Restaurant at Caesars Palace
Status: Not Yet Known
Runner Up: Benjamin Knack

Commentary

Chalk this next commentary all up to TV smoke and mirrors. These winner “head chef” jobs seem just a tad strange. They claim to win a head chef position, but I rarely ever see the name of the winner listed on the web page for the restaurant. Then, inexplicably after a few months, the winner has already left the restaurant. It almost seems like the restaurant is embarrassed to state that they have a Hell’s Kitchen winner in the kitchen. It seems to me that the restaurants would want that publicity instead of shying away from it. It’s so odd.

As a chef, why would you put yourself through the grueling rundown of Ramsay’s tirades and not know if you’re actually going to win even if that door opens? This show has lost its steam. My guess is that all that steam is evaporating from Ramsay’s expletives rather than from the pots. Personally for me, this show has worn out its welcome. But, apparently, Fox keeps ordering more seasons… And, 2 HK seasons in one calendar year in 2014? What was that all about? At least they stopped that silly business during the 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 seasons. We’ll have to wait and see what happens with Michelle Tribble since her win was only just aired on February 2nd, 2018.


Where Are They Now?

Update for Previous Winners

Welcome to the “Where are they today?” section. I will attempt keep this information up to date as I locate information on each of the previous winners and other important contestant news. If you see a news article updating an HK’s winners whereabouts, please leave a comment below. Stay Tuned and Enjoy.

Michael Wray (Season 1 winner)

We know that Michael didn’t win the prize that he was promised. Instead, he was invited to study with Ramsay in the UK. He opted out because he stated it would be hard on his family at the time. Since then, he has been head chef in two Los Angeles restaurants (Tatou and the Standard), but ultimately didn’t stay. He left the Standard after stating that it was a good job, but the duties kept him out of the kitchen more than he liked. After leaving those restaurants, he moved to Arizona to be close to his family and, later, in hopes of opening his own restaurant named the HK1. In 2009, after failing to secure the funding for his restaurant venture then to be named HK1, he has apparently joined the staff of an Arizona College to teach cooking. However, scouring colleges and cooking schools in Tuscon and Sierra Vista Arizona areas, I’ve been unable to turn up which school, if any, where he is teaching. If you’re a reader in Arizona and know where he’s working, please comment. After this, I have not been able to locate information on what he’s doing.

Heather West (Season 2 winner)

Heather was to win her own restaurant in Vegas. She didn’t get this prize. Instead, she became Senior Chef at Terra Rossa at Red Rock Casino Resort Spa for one year. In 2009, she moved to Long Beach, New York where she became head chef of the Monterey Restaurant until September of 2010. From here, she’s moved around to various Executive Chef roles including at Jellyfish, Ciao Baby and R2 Events Corporation as a Corporate Executive Chef. She is now at Schafer’s in Port Jefferson, New York as Executive Chef where she’s been for 7 months.

Rock Harper (Season 3 winner)

Rock Harper is located in Virginia. He has a Twitter account and a blog site called Rock Solid Creative Food Group. He also apparently hosts a podcast called the Chef Rock Xperiment.

Christina Machamer (Season 4 winner)

Christina is located in or near Napa, California. Christina has a web site named ChefCMac.com. On this site she writes:

Today, I keep one foot firmly plated in the wine industry, consulting for Caldwell Vineyard and Eleven Eleven Winery, while working as a private chef for clients renting exclusive estates while visiting Napa Valley…. Click through to read more…

Danny Veltri (Season 5 winner)

Danny Veltri’s location is currently unknown, but he may still live in or near New Smyrna Beach, Florida. In 2012, he was arrested for a DUI. He started his own catering service named Back from Hell catering sometime around 2012. It is unknown if he still operates this service. He was also chef for Gnarly Surf Bar & Grill in Smyrna Beach, which he also helped open. While Gnarly Surf Bar and Grill still appears to be in business according to Yelp, it is unknown if Danny is still involved in it.

Dave Levy (Season 6 Winner)

Where’s Dave as of 2014? He was briefly in jail, but was released on bail pending a hearing, reports nj.com. According to the article, he was a back seat passenger during a routine traffic stop sometime in August that led to discovery of narcotics in the vehicle. Dave was arrested on suspicion of being under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance. Also, according to this same nj.com article, he was heading back to his restaurant job at Il Giardino ’86 (?.. eh, don’t think so.. see below). Of the bags that were consented to be searched, the officer found the bags to contain illicit prescription drugs (i.e., not prescribed to person in possession of them), a white powder substance suspected as a controlled substance, money and a ledger book which may have documented narcotic sales among other things. These bags were apparently not owned by Dave.

Purported by to this same nj.com article, Dave was apparently on his way back to Il Giardino ’86. I don’t know how that’s possible since Dave had moved to The Publick House quite a while back. Also according to this article and confirmed by Yelp, the Lubrano’s Il Giardino ’86 restaurant has now been 86ed (er.. closed). Its liquor license has been transferred to H2Ocean (not owned or operated by the Lubranos) now operating at the same location. Dave was likely on his way back to his executive chef position at The Publick House Inn and Tavern which is where he was as of 2013 and it is assumed it is where he still works unless this drug charge gets in the way.

Holli Ugalde (Season 7 winner)

I haven’t been able to locate Holli’s exact whereabouts, but I believe she may be near Redlands, California based on her Twitter account. However, her Twitter account hasn’t been updated since 2016. She also had a web which was located at and is now only available through the Internet Archive as www.chefholli.com. The http://www.chefholli.com site is no longer working and must have disappeared sometime in 2017.

Nona Johnson (Season 8 winner)

Nona went by her maiden name of Sivley when on Hell’s Kitchen Season 8. She has lost weight, gotten married and is known as Nona Johnson. She has a Twitter and a Facebook account. She has been operating the Sizzling Peach catering service for at least 4 years. She and her catering service are located in Norcross, Georgia. Here is Sizzling Peach’s Facebook page.

Paul Niedermann (Season 9 winner)

Paul Niedermann has left BLT Steak New York and is now located in Delray, Florida. Here’s a Delray Newspaper article talking to Paul from late 2017.

Christina Wilson (Season 10 Winner)

Where’s Christina now? In 2016, Christina moved to overseeing several of Ramsay’s restaurants both in Vegas and Atlantic city, she’s done a stint as Sous Chef on Hell’s Kitchen and she’s writing menus for Ramsay’s hotel rehab show, “Hotel Hell”. Since it’s now 2018, I’m not entirely sure what Ramsay has Christina doing. Apparently, she’s one of the rare HK winners. Apparently, she’s been able to milk the most out of her win on Hell’s Kitchen (and out of Ramsay) where most other winners have gone their separate ways in short order.

Ja’Nel Witt (Season 11 Winner)

After not being able to claim her prize due to a drug test failure, Ja’Nel has created her own web site and describes how she got started. She’s currently located in Houston, Texas. The site says:

Chef Ja’Nel found her passion for food helping her mom in the kitchen as a little girl. After college she realized she could take that passion and turn it into a career. She initially earned her Bachelors of Science in Health and Human Performance, but then quickly followed her heart into the kitchen and has not looked back since. Click through to read more

Scott Commings (Season 12 Winner)

As of 2018, Scott is located in Las Vegas. As of July 2017, he was located at The Las Vegas Room at the Downtown Grand. The Las Vegas Room is private rental dining room. It is presumed he is still operating this private dining restaurant. The Downtown Grand web site states:

This venue is available for private events and whether your preference is a romantic, 2 hour cocktail reception with heavy hors d’oeuvres or a formal sit down dinner, you’ll find a swanky, sophisticated scene in the Las Vegas Room. The Las Vegas Room is 1,700 square feet with a guest capacity of up to 100.

Scott is also working with The Freedom Beat also located in the Las Vegas Downtown Grand. On Feb 13th, 2018, he’s offering up a pre fixe menu with The Culinary Road trip, a monthly dinner he hosts. Cost is $38 or $48.

new Jessica Vogel (Season 12 Contestant)

Jessica Vogel competed along side Scott Commings in Season 12 of Hell’s Kitchen. She was eliminated from the show on episode 10 of season 12. On August 1, 2018, it was reported by USA Today that Jessica Vogel had died on July 30th, 2018 of heart complications after being treated for colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease. She was 34.

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