Archive for the ‘Off-topic’ Category

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If you read my past Discovery article, you are probably aware I was in the “really hoping Lt. Tyler was not evil” camp. If you’ve been watching Discovery for the past 3 weeks, you know I am heartbroken. Unfortunately though, IMDB spoiled it for me and potentially anyone else who visited the site between when episode 11 was announced and actually available on CBS’ app.

You see, when Discovery initially aired its pilot, Voq (the villain) was credited as Javid Iqbal and we had to wonder who the heck this awesome nobody was. Well it happens to be because the same actor showed up as another character 3 episodes later and that isn’t his real name (must be pulling a Clifton Collins Jr). As soon as episode 11 was announced however, IMDB updated Shazad Latif’s (so sexy) credit on the show to “Ash Tyler/Voq” making it pretty clear that some Manchurian Candidate stuff was about to go down.

Now don’t get me wrong, seeing a favorite hero become a villain is a trope that I adore. Star Wars may have botched it in reverse, but it can be done well. I’m still an episode behind, so he may already be dead, but here’s hoping I get to see him as the villain for at least another season.

Still though, shame IMDB. That was a crude reveal and clumsily ruined a great plot twist. Shame.

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I’ve written quite a few articles in the past about how to make good choices when researching new devices online. I often recommend to consult forums and get opinions from other users, rather than just reading reviews of new owners. A number of people have mentioned to me though, how hard it can be to tell the difference between good and bad advice online.

This may sound familiar: You go to a forum or subReddit about a new thing you want to get into. It could be drones, or small board computers, or smart dishwashers, doesn’t matter. Every single person there seems to know way more than you had imagined there was to learn. You have no freakin’ clue who is an expert and who is not, because your own experience is so fresh you don’t know what to look for. So you end up just trusting the people who seem the most confident. There’s a whole fallacy about how confidence can be inversely proportionate to competence (look up the Dunning-Kruger Effect), but let’s just say this isn’t always the best idea.

So as Luke Skywalker once asked Obi-Wan Kenobi, how will you know the good from the bad? Allow me to offer you a slightly better response than “You will know.”

No matter what the topic is, you can identify bad advice by the way it is delivered. Regardless of what the opinion is, if the reasoning behind it is not logical, you can’t trust it. That’s really the simple version that this entire article boils down to: How to identify opinions that are based on bias and emotion, then disregard them.

 

People or opinions to just avoid entirely.

There are a few camps of thought that are just plain useless to you as a person living in the real world. The people representing them are so far outside the objective reality that we average consumers live in, that you pretty much have to toss out whatever they say. Here are a few you will commonly find in any discussion online.

 

The Fanboy/girl

“You should just always go with ________, because it is just better and always will be.”

These people are, in my opinion, one step up from members of crazy cults. They sit there with a demented gleam in their eye, rubbing the company logo on their device for luck. Then they go online and blast anyone and everyone who ever looked at the competitor product.

For a frame of reference, let’s use cars. Any forum about American cars is bound to have GM people, Ford people and Dodge people. All of them will insist their chosen brand is the best. For any objective buyer, these three brands are very similar and they all release models that are generally well received. What’s also true objectively is that all of them have released terrible cars, that show that they give absolutely no craps about those fans. Let’s just mention the Nova II, Pinto and the Aries and leave it at that.

So if you have any sensibility and a memory longer than a few months, you probably realize that no large company is perfect. Even a company like Apple that has a pretty solid track record over 40 years, has released quite a few duds. You don’t want to be stuck with one of those (especially if it’s as pricey as an Apple product). So whenever someone advises you to blindly trust one logo over the others, you should ignore most of what they say.

 

High school debate champions.

“Everything that person just said is wrong and all my opinions are absolutely fact.”

These asshats are probably some of my least favorite people on the internet. They aren’t exactly trolls per se, because they are in it for their satisfaction rather than others suffering. That doesn’t really excuse it. The point is that they are probably not even that interested in the topic at hand, they just cruise the forums looking for people to argue with.

What is most maddening, is that sometimes these people won’t even own the thing being discussed. They’ll just Google the popular opinions and construct bogus arguments just for fun. The good news is they are easy to identify. They will almost always narrow in on one specific person who seems game to argue with them. Regardless of where the topic goes, they will keep trying to argue with that person. It can become very clear cut when everyone else is just sharing experiences and two people are having their own argument. If possible, just hide their posts or block them. These people have nothing useful to offer you.

 

Actual Trolls

“Really you’re all just Hitler.”

A lot of internet users don’t seem to understand the word ‘troll’ and think it just means anyone who isn’t nice to them online. Troll is actually a very literal term that describes someone doing what trolls do in stories; they wait under bridges and harass passersby with stupid riddles or dismemberment. That is what a troll actually is. Someone who just lurks on internet social spaces, with no goal besides to cause others annoyance and grief.

Trolls aren’t people who have stupid opinions that they actually believe. Those are just stupid people. Trolls have no beliefs, no creed, no axe to grind. They have no reason to be on the internet besides to wreck your day. They get satisfaction from that alone.

The best way to identify honest-to-badness trolls is that they have no actual information to offer. Unlike the debater, they won’t even look up cursory facts, they just go straight to calling people offensive terms or bringing up politically incorrect issues without provocation. Trolls will fall back on the sort of logic used in primary school to get a rise out of anyone thin-skinned enough to bite.

It’s actually really tragic to come into some of these exchanges. You’ll have some poor farmer from Bumtarket, who is just trying to fix their dryer and on the other side you have internet troll genericus. Farmer Jedidina has never been called a “sheep-f*#king prairie c^$t” before and has no social tools whatsoever to respond to this besides justified outrage. Everyone’s time is wasted but the troll, who chalks up a victory and goes back to their soul-crushing job in customer service. Identify these jerks early and ignore them to avoid a lot of wasted time and anger.

 

People with limited experience and unlimited enthusiasm.

“I bought my first  ______ and have been using it for 2 days. I love it! Buy one now!”

These folks are the only ones on this list that I actually like and feel great compassion for. As a tech enthusiast, nothing is better than seeing that joy for the first time in another. An unfortunate byproduct is that this initial success can fill you with an extreme overconfidence that can cause you to act like one of the other people on this list. While these newcomers to whatever the thing is mean well and want you to be as happy as they are, you still need to take their views with a grain of salt.

I run into this a lot with laptops especially. You get a student or professional who has just bought their first real, somewhat expensive system that is good for more than just term papers. They are absolutely blown away by what it’s like to have a system with a modern screen, any kind of SSD and a processor that runs on more than 7 watts. To them, it’s like a revelation of power and fidelity. So they naturally go on whatever forums they can find about that device and spread that love around.

There is no shame in this at all, in fact everyone should get to experience that feeling of having a laptop that doesn’t suck. The problem is that they get involved with conversations advising others and will blanket recommend that brand based on their very limited experience. I absolutely hate having to cite experience to shut someone up, because I feel like a debater, but sometimes I just have to unload a bit and say something like: “I have fixed hundreds of laptops for decades. I have watched the designs of each brand evolve over time and I have seen what things are skimped on in one line vs. another. It is simply not accurate to recommend this brand universally as all of their models are not on par.”

So never hesitate to ask about time of ownership and number of products they have owned by that brand. You should respect everyone’s experiences, but naturally those with more familiarity will have more insight. Unfortunately the most experienced people have often learned not to get involved with these discussions. You may need to send them private messages to ask for more info. Don’t hesitate though, because they would probably love to help, they just don’t want to waste anymore of their life getting involved with online arguments.

 

Embittered Consumers

“_______ brand will just screw you over. They don’t care about customers at all and just want to make bad products.”

If you do fall victim to any of this or other bad advice, you may find yourself with one of those products that is a dud. Regardless of what the overall products by that brand are like, you got screwed and your money is gone. It’s quite easy to be bitter in this situation and look for a way to get revenge. One way people do this is by going beyond giving that one product a bad review and looking for ways to hurt the company’s overall reputation on social media and forums.

Like the above group, these folks have a very valid viewpoint. You should definitely be aware of them as part of the consumer reality, but not necessarily follow them down their rabbit hole of negativity. Again using the example of computers, Apple and Dell are both brands I recommend based on my experience with them over many years. On the other hand, both brands have made many bad computers and I have one of each in my home right now. The trick is to separate one bad model from a company that has an overall track record that is better than its competitors. While Apple, Dell, Microsoft and Asus are not without failures, their overall quality has been proven over time to be better than Toshiba, Acer and HP. So that is the general opinion I share with people before going into specific series and models.

So if someone seems extremely negative and embittered, try to separate their experience from their emotions. If this is just based on a bad experience with one phone rep or having to wait too long at a store not owned by the device manufacturer, be wary. Even if the person is describing a genuinely failed product, remember that even the best products have a failure rate and when enough have sold that equals a real person with a bad unit. Even devices like the Bose Wave Radio or Kitchenaid Mixer, which have legendary reliability rates, still have defective units sent out to consumers.

Just try to keep in proportion the views of that consumer vs. the vast majority of consumers. No matter how horrible their story is and how afraid you are of that being you, the odds are the odds. If a product has sold millions of units and has overwhelmingly positive reviews, your odds are good. If it’s somewhere in the middle, you will really have to weigh how bad and how numerous these complaints are. Also be aware of what they are complaining about. What is a deal-breaking detail to one may be irrelevant to another.

 

 

What to look for.

So beyond just what to avoid, I should also tell you what details and trends in opinions you should look for as useful.

 

Experience

This is almost too obvious to state, but of course experience matters. Unless it is overly clouded by long-formed opinions or biases, experience is pretty much the most important factor in giving good advice.

So no matter what it is you are trying to learn about, weigh much heavier the opinions of someone who has actually worked in that industry for a long time. Unless they are literally a rep from that company, experience with as many versions and models of a thing as possible will give you the best objective view. Also I would credit professional, licensed experience over ‘street smarts’ in most cases. I’m not saying that backyard handyfolk don’t know their stuff, but they rely on natural talent and unique tricks they learned over a lifetime more than science, so taking their advice may just get you into trouble if you lack the same.

More important in my opinion than length of experience, is breadth of experience. Someone may have worked in an industry for decades, but if their company always used the same model of tools, they don’t have any experience with other models. The best kind of advice you can usually get is from someone who fixes multiple brands of the same thing. A lawnmower repairperson at a generic shop has worked on many models by every brand. They don’t just work at a John Deere shop that scorns other brands and they don’t just work at a dealership that only services newer models. So they will be able to tell you exactly how many of the cheaper line of mowers break down vs. the more expensive one. It won’t just be their opinion (hopefully) or experience with one mower, it’s an aggregate of thousands of machines.

Look for the person who deals with the thing every day, but is posting online privately, not as a company rep. They will usually give you a straight up opinion, because they get paid by the hour and would rather just see less angry people at their parts counter. They want to talk about their industry, but not to brag up one brand or product. They just care about what they do and are happy to give you the same free advice they would any of their customers.

 

Calm Sincerity

This goes beyond just online advice to a general life tip. The people who seem really worked up over something are usually the last people you want to consult about practical matters. If it’s politics or football, sure, get all worked up. If we’re talking about what brand of tires to buy, there is absolutely no reason not to have a calm and reasonable discussion based on facts.

As a general rule, pay more attention to the people that have absolutely nothing to gain or lose by your decision. I don’t just mean financially, like if they work for the company, this also includes pride or competitiveness. If someone seems to be really worked up over you agreeing with them, you have to wonder what is going on in their head. After all, at the end of the day if you buy a bad thing when I tried to advise you not to, I’m just going to move on with my life and wish you luck. Any moderately sane person should have the same outlook with complete strangers on the internet.

The people that are the most helpful just want to share their experiences, in the hope that it informs your decision. They don’t usually push their views too hard and mostly stick to their own practical experience, rather than attacking any other viewpoints. Most of all they will be concerned about the facts and will usually provide links and even pictures and videos of their own usage. They just want to share what they know, not show you how much more they know. Any good enthusiast just wants you to join the club and get up to speed as soon as possible. The really good ones don’t even care if you join the other club and will still invite you to visit theirs.

 

Unconventional Knowledge… sometimes.

A really important thing to know is when the official answer isn’t good enough. I have to once again mention Apple, because the official answers on their forums are never good enough. Apple moderators are so obtuse, they will actually refuse to tell you about a feature of their own products, because they don’t trust your ability to use it properly. I’ve definitely called the bulk of humanity stupid on multiple occasions, but that is downright ridiculous. The short version is you just cannot always trust the mainstream opinion on something. Sometimes you have to go to the alternate sources that think “outside the box” to get the complete picture.

While this is a very important avenue of research, it carries a lot of risk as well. When I say unconventional, we’re talking about enthusiasts and crazy YouTube posters that do not do things the way official support recommends, by a long shot. These are the Nikola Teslas of the world, who are too smart and too wild to actually work at the company, but know more than the people that designed the thing. While these sort of enthusiasts have by far the most knowledge, they often have trouble visualizing things from the point of an average consumer.

When seeking information from these sources, always keep a clear view of your own reality and abilities. This person on youtube may have improved their gas mileage by removing their rear window, but do you really want to drive to work every day with wind whistling through your car? These are the kinds of things to keep in mind when going down this rabbit hole. Most of these people are a little unhinged and will do some things that most of us might not in our everyday use. Always remember to picture yourself following their advice in your normal life before going too crazy with aftermarket fixes and tweaking.

With that awareness though, do not hesitate to seek info from people outside the normal expert community. Sometimes you really can get twice the performance out of a cheap thing by adding a paperclip and a rubber band. This can sometimes save you a lot of money and time, as long as you are smart about which advice to take.

 

 

At the moment, this is most of the what to look for/avoid I can think of. As always there is endless nuance to learn over time, but these are the big ones to avoid going down the rabbit hole of someone else’s delusion. If I were to boil it down to one easy to remember concept, it would be to avoid people with an axe to grind, while seeking out people with a lot of experience to share. Hopefully the two are not the same.

What you are ultimately doing is separating the people who socialize on the internet for their own gain and your potential loss, from those who genuinely want you to succeed. The good ones are usually friendly and neighborly, while the bad ones get nasty in a hurry. This is not always true though, as many a grouchy old expert can come off rude, but have the best of intentions. Learn to infer people’s motives to be sure they aren’t just hopping on your topic to continue their crusade against whatever. If you can avoid that, you are most of the way there. If you keep in mind the things I said above, you should have a pretty good idea of how to do that in at least most internet forums and Reddit.

Good luck, because no matter how good some of the help out there is, you’re going to need it. When one uses the internet, the last thing one wants to do is actually ASK for opinions. When that is what you have to do however, steel yourself and keep your wits about you.

 

 

 

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When you have a bad script, a bad cast and no hope of matching the prequel’s profits, you can call me baby. I’ll give you that one scene the critics will say didn’t totally suck.

Now although this is a satire article, I don’t want you to think for one minute it reflects negatively on the man above. Oded Fehr has rightfully earned credibility as a beloved actor playing roles like Jafar on Once Upon a Time and his many, many well received voice roles in television and video games. This farsiferous award is for his now decades-long career as a saver of bad sequel plots. Whether it’s The Mummy Returns or the recently released video game expansion, Destiny 2: Curse of Osiris (where he plays the titular character), you can count on Oded Fehr to read that script like it isn’t absolute garbage.

I am bashing Destiny 2’s expansion here a bit, because it continues a long-standing Bungie tradition: taking popular tropes from the last 4 decades of popular sci fi, putting it in a blender and firing it at the player rapid-fire while they are also being shot literally. I’ve bashed their scripts at great length before, Curse of Osiris is nothing new. Unlike many of the live action films Mr. Fehr has worked on though, in the Destiny games he is also joined by a stellar cast throughout, who have to read equally awful scripts.

This article though, is about the glorious contrast brought to bad stories by Oded Fehr. I don’t want to waste any more of it reliving the pain surrounding him in those projects.

I like to cite examples going all the way back to the second Resident Evil film, which shall not be named. Mr. Fehr is inexplicably playing a Latino American soldier named Carlos, although the actor’s accent is still unmistakably Israeli. Somehow he manages to look Milla Jovovich in the eye and deliver his lines with at least some dignity. The scenes where either those two actors are talking, or one of them is talking to Jared Harris, are seriously the only not-awful scenes in the movie. It’s amazing.

We can go back a few years farther, to The Mummy Returns, where Mr. Fehr is literally the only person working on the entire film who cares. Bravo.

A few nights ago, when I was finishing the plot of Curse of Osiris, when Oded Fehr started talking I was immediately like “Whoa, whoa, good delivery, what is happening here?” At a point where even the legendary Gina Torres seems to be struggling with a powerful bad script, in swoops Oded Fehr to give a crap. You would think he was playing the ancient god Osiris, instead of just some dude we heard about a couple of times in the first game. The gravitas was simply excellent.

 

While this is definitely a humorous article, there is no shame in doing such a dirty job well and that is serious. I would liken Oded Fehr’s performances in these roles to the latter days of Orson Welles, but in totally different context. Orson Welles would come in after a night of hard drinking and eating, to a film he hated and a script he hadn’t even read and bust out an amazing voice performance. Whether he was a giant planet-eating head/moon in Transformers or some ridiculous looking monster in a Scooby Doo TV movie, Welles delivered every time.

The major difference is obviously that Fehr is not at the bitter end of his career and doing it to support compulsive eating and drinking, in the hopes it will kill him. He just treats it like his job and takes it really seriously, whether it’s an Emmy award winning show, or something that everyone knows is going to suck. Also I’m pretty sure he reads the scripts most of the time and takes the job anyway.

I at least really appreciate that. Because I’m that fan that goes to see all 32 awful Resident Evil movies, or has actually viewed The Mummy Returns more than once. I also have a really sweet headset that clearly reproduces video game voice acting if I don’t turn it off. So I personally really appreciate the work of Oded Fehr.

Extremely Off-Topic: The NFL just changed last night.

Posted: October 30, 2017 by ryanlecocq in Off-topic

Even if you have been reading this blog for the past 7 years, or even know me personally, you may have no idea I’m an NFL fan. I don’t consider myself an expert, don’t play fantasy leagues and only follow the Seahawks of my native Washington state on a weekly basis. So I was naturally watching the Houston Texans’ better-than-The-Wrath-of-Khan defeat to the Seahawks on 10/29/2017.

While the dust is still currently settling and everyone is debating the final play calls, I just want to use my dedicated soapbox to air an opinion before it becomes the media line:

Last night’s game changed the NFL for at least the next decade.

That may seem like a bold statement, but it’s actually pretty plain when the shock of the game wears off. The Houston Texans just put up 38 points and over 500 yards against the Legion of Boom. Whether you’re a 12 or not, you’ve probably heard that this just doesn’t happen very often. Scoring 2 touchdowns on the LoB in the final quarter is almost unheard of.

Now there may be some debate about how well Seattle’s defense actually played and whether or not Deshaun Watson will play that well again this season. I’m not arguing that for a moment. What’s pretty obvious though is that in a year or two, Houston is going to do this any given Sunday. On every week that isn’t their worst week, the Texans are going to put 35+ points on the board, even against the best defenses the league has to offer.

Russell Wilson had to play the best game of his career to beat them and he was already a legend with his old stats! If you are any team but Philadelphia, New England, New Orleans or Green Bay (talking about Rodgers when healthy), you have to seriously ask yourself if your QB even has that to pull out of his hat, on the best day of his life. If they don’t, you can look at this season as the last time you have much chance of beating Houston.

 

It may seem like I’m jumping on the Deshaun Watson bandwagon and becoming a Texans fan, but that is not the case at all. I love my ‘Hawks and you better believe that I’m kissing my lucky hats that my QB is the 5th on that list. Seattle may have a lot of work to do in other areas, but we do have a captain who will be able to play in the NFL of the next decade.

Realistically though, I have to accept that this is not a fluke. Quarterbacks like Watson, Wilson and Wentz are what every single football team is going to need in the very near future, or viewer numbers are going to get even uglier in a hurry. It’s no secret that the Patriots, Saints and Packers are going to need someone who can continue to execute at this level once their legendary QBs retire. Once again, this is the new normal. Every great rookie QB is going to be coming out of the Deshaun Watson mold now and every single one of them is going to be dropping laser-guided strikes from across the field. If you’re a team like Carolina that has a QB playing the way the NFL did 20 years ago, you should be seriously considering your playbook and options.

Because really, there is no other answer to these new paradigm young quarterbacks. Sports press used to talk about Russell Wilson like he was some kind of mutant back in 2012, but I think we’re starting to see that QBs with a new set of skills are becoming the norm. Sure they have good arms, sure they’re tough and can take a hit. What really makes them different though, is that they are showing up out of college with the poise and execution of an older player. To be able to field a QB who has the arm of a 25 year old, with the mind of a 35 year old, gives a team a ridiculous advantage over teams in the old mold. They can do things you never expect them to do, because they’re doing things nobody their age has ever done before.

So that leaves you with very few answers, besides an equally impressive QB, until the rest of the positions are similarly reinvented to compensate. For the next few seasons, I think we’re going to see more and more young quarterbacks making good defenses look bad, because they’re going to keep doing the impossible. If a rookie can make a ball do gymnastics around Richard Sherman’s body, who the hell else is going to do anything about it? You’re definitely not going to stop him with a few sacks, he’s too young and healthy for that. We saw Russell Wilson play to the very end of the season last year with both ankles wrapped and some sort of erector set around his knee, you definitely aren’t going to wear these young QBs out. It may not seem like it if you only watched the videos of Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas picking Watson off, but it wasn’t exactly easy to bamboozle him either. The LoB pretty much had to come up with a few plays, to make him look like anything less than the human form of Apollo.

 

So where does that leave you as any team but the Eagles or the Seahawks? In the market for a young QB that already plays like a hall of famer at his peak, I would hope.

How Not to End Your Videogame

Posted: October 19, 2017 by ryanlecocq in Off-topic

 

I recently played The Evil Within 2 and it followed an unfortunate trend that’s been bothering me a lot recently. The majority of the game was pretty enjoyable, but the last couple hours of the game were basically a rehash of all the earlier mechanics with increasing challenge. This is something we were used to in the days of the original Mega Man games, but doesn’t fly so well today. Recent games like Prey (2017) and Mass Effect Andromeda were just as guilty. In a post The Last of Us and Tomb Raider (2013) world of gaming, an ending to an action game that is anything less than mind-blowing just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Recently I’ve been calling this the “Colonial Marines” fallacy. Many will remember Aliens: Colonial Marines as the game that dramatically under-delivered on years of hype and fan expectations. Objectively, the first 3/4 of the game is just a mediocre shooter that isn’t even the worst among Alien games. It’s the excruciating final 2 hours that leave such an awful taste in your mouth after playing it. That game is probably one of the worst examples of developers just throwing waves of enemies at you, mixed with mini-bosses and cheap deaths, just to add length to the game. It isn’t fun and it’s obviously not something they intended in the planning stage. It’s just a clear cop-out when developers can’t come up with a fun way to ratchet up the challenge, so they just reuse all the work they’ve already done until it’s hard enough.

The Evil Within 2 and Prey are serious offenders in my opinion, because they start out so good. Prey made me feel like I was playing a Bioshock game, right up until the end where it suddenly felt like one of the bad Call of Duty games (or Colonial Marines, ouch). The Evil Within 2 starts out with open environments that encourage creative play, not unlike The Last of Us. Right when you’re feeling like this is the Silent Hill/Resident Evil game you’ve been missing for years, a really cheap and Mega Man like boss battle is the first sign the fun is about to end. After that point, the end of the game is just the developers forcing you to do the same things you’ve been doing, just in extremely narrow and arbitrary circumstances, removing all of the freedom that made it fun before.

Seriously guys, do not do this.

It would be better to put a good ol’ endless tower full of boss battles in the game than this. Hell, even turning the parts of the game you couldn’t finish into low-budget cinematics ala Xenogears is better than this. There is nothing that ruins a game that would be good (or even average) more quickly than taking everything that made it fun and ruining it. There’s no quicker way to do that than by making the player endlessly reuse their cool upgrades and powers in a series of repetitive rooms, with no options for creative play.

It’s especially bad if this is the last few hours of the game. You see, there’s this funny effect on review scores I like to call the glow. People usually sit down to put the conclusion in their review right after finishing the game. So the bottom line opinions about it, from both players and critics, is going to be heavily influenced by how they felt right after finishing it. If the end of your game makes people hate the things they liked about it, the word of mouth is not going to be good. It doesn’t even matter if the first 35 hours of your game were excellent (here’s looking at you Mass Effect 3), if your ending sucks you will get blasted critically.

 

My hope is that the negative response to these endings will give developers ammunition when negotiating more time and money from publishers. It’s not hard to imagine that a lot of these “cookie-cutter” endings are the result of men in suits saying “just ship it”. As we’ve seen with these games though, it can make a big difference in how the game is perceived. The early press for Prey was all very good. I myself was ready to call it the spiritual successor to Bioshock. Then we all got to the super lame ending and badly paced plot twist and the metacritic plunged below 90. Not enough to make it considered a bad game by any means, but immediately removing it from any comparison to better games like Bioshock. That’s the sort of difference that can make or break a franchise. Bioshock was a good game, but it was the dramatic ending that made it so legendary.

Sombrero_john

I think I stand with pretty much everyone when I say there is really only one XB360/PS3 era Rockstar game that we want on current consoles. If you aren’t thinking Red Dead Redemption, you must not have played it (go fix that). I could join the chorus of people asking why, but I would rather try to answer why RDR was so much better than L.A. Noire. Both were period games, built with the Rage engine and each was based on a currently unpopular genre of movies. Besides preferences for the characters, soundtrack or specific gameplay mechanics, Red Dead Redemption was just a magical game in a way that L.A. Noire never achieved. What was it that made them feel so different?

 

Watch your Tone

One thing that everyone can agree about RDR, was that it was like an endless snapshot of the cover of a Western novel. No matter where you looked or what you did, every moment kept the tone of a slightly romantic version of the American West. Every character was a clearly fictional version of a Western trope, but with just enough real personality to make the world feel alive.

L.A. Noire fails at this on a fundamental level. It’s like they wanted to pay homage to both the cheeseball dime novels like Dick Tracy, but also the proud heritage of gritty noir that drew influences from classics like Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. This results in a very disjointed experience that sometimes feels like Serpico and sometimes feels like Rush Hour.

A big part of this is the characters. Cole Phelps, his superiors and most of the suspects are these larger-than-life cartoon detective characters. Jack Kelso, most of Cole’s partners and many of the supporting cast on the other hand, belong in the latter category of gritty noir stories. While Cole’s backstory is like a scene from Full Metal Jacket and his police career is like a Brian DePalma movie, playing as Kelso is almost too down to Earth by comparison. Jack Kelso actually cares about other human beings, so he wouldn’t do something like beating up a suspect in front of their family. This suddenly grounds the game in a real world that had been largely ignored up until that point and is a little jarring to the player. Am I playing The Untouchables or Road to Perdition? Make up your mind L.A. Noire.

 

The Journey vs. the Destination

The biggest gameplay difference between the two games has to be how enjoyable the open world is. In RDR, wandering the Wild West is at least as exciting as doing story missions. Sometimes just going on a hunting trip with your horse is the best gameplay experience you have all day. Part of it is definitely the authenticity I already mentioned, but it also comes down to how much fun stuff there is to do. RDR is a game where you can barely walk 50 paces without encountering something fun and Western-y to do.

In L.A. Noire I would be kind to say that the open world is just a chore between the much more exciting interrogations and chases. If I were to be fully honest I would have to say that the open world of L.A. Noire is lifeless and boring, more fitting of a “me too” game like True Crime or Watch Dogs than a game published by Rockstar. Most of the side quests are just less interesting iterations of the things you do on story missions, just without the amazing facial capturing that makes the plot so compelling.

Even the detail of the world is pretty marginal outside of areas where missions take place. While RDR makes sure that every single canyon is epic enough looking that you aren’t taken out of your John Wayne fantasy, you will often find yourself tackling perps in L.A. Noire in front of cut-and-paste 1940s buildings.

 

Balance in Everything

The part about just wanting to get to each interrogation is a good way to describe the whole experience of playing L.A. Noire. I’m not sure if the rest of the game is actually boring, or if the fully motion captured interrogation scenes captured from real actors are just so compelling by comparison. Whatever it is, you will spend most of your time in L.A. Noire doing everything you can to advance to the next conversation, just so you can see the amazing performances.

This really hurts the game overall. In RDR, the cutscenes were cinematic and exciting and all that, but the most memorable moments were created by emergent gameplay. The moments that felt the most out of a Western movie were often just the result of me attacking a bandit town under the right lighting and weather conditions. This meant that at any time I could experience one of the best parts of the game. This constant stream of fun surprises was what really made the game great, not the scripted moments in the main story.

The best moments in L.A. Noire were scripted by the writers, performed by actors and carefully tested over and over. The only unscripted moment I can recall as truly amazing was when I was driving with my partner and suddenly drove off a bridge, landing the car perfectly on a pair of power lines and riding them across a river and landed on the other side. He interrupted his story to scream “COOOOOOOOOOOOLE!” before resuming as if nothing had happened when we ended up safely on the other side. It was magic, but unfortunately it was a rare moment.

 

These are the same things you will find in most reviews of these two games, I just wanted to put them side by side. When you really compare how RDR did some of the things best that L.A. Noire did worst, it shows how two games that are solidly constructed can be so different to play.

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A casual observer might look at someone playing Elite Dangerous and mistake it for a more action-y space game like No Man’s Sky or Starlancer. While Elite puts you right in the cockpit and is more up-close and personal than games like Eve Online, at its core the Elite series has always been a deep simulation of galactic life and politics. Frontier Developments have spent over 30 years putting sci fi situations out in an open galaxy and seeing what players do with it. Elite Dangerous finally realizes the possibility of uniting the worldwide player base online and truly allowing a simulation of how humans would behave with a bigger sandbox.

If you aren’t aware, the title of this article is referencing the 1938 live broadcast of H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds.” At the time, the book was new and not widely known and the broadcast was designed to sound like news reports in parts, so some people really believed aliens were attacking. In Elite Dangerous, we know it’s a video game, because we are sitting in front of our PCs and game consoles, so the structure of the experiment is quite different. We have encountered the hostile Thargoids in the past Elite games, so we know they are a real threat. What’s interesting though, is how the playerbase is responding and how it gives me hope for humanity so far.

 

The Faceless Enemy

The Thargoids were originally the generic evil space aliens. They are insect-like, with a hive mind, much like the generic bads of movies like Aliens or Starship Troopers. They would show up and immediately attack us, so there was no question what we were supposed to do. While it was interesting in a sense, it provided no depth to the simulation. The Thargoids were basically like the ghosts in Pac-Man, where they exist to create a threat, so you can’t just screw around all day.

At our current state in Elite Dangerous (a few days before patch 2.4 and presumably the start of an interstellar war), the Thargoids are still basically a faceless enemy. We know very little about them and they still appear to be universally hostile. Over the past several games though, Frontier has dropped hints that there may be more to the Thargoids and their culture and our conflict may have even been initiated by one of the human governments. I’ll go into this a bit more below, but whether or not this turns into “another bug hunt” or not may have a lot to do with the scientific relevance of this video game event.

 

Childhood’s End

I am starting to have a sinking suspicion that Frontier is trying to Arthur C. Clarke us. In the novel this section is named after, humans are invaded by aliens with a sinister appearance, that are actually wise and benevolent. Some of the hints dropped in the lore are making me question if Elite Dangerous is taking advantage of our exposure to the Alien franchise and trying to trick us.

There have been hints that there are at least two factions of Thargoids. There have also been rumors that one faction has been fighting a losing battle against another, possibly aided by a debilitating virus engineered and deployed against them by humans when we feared they would invade us. If this is the case, it’s quite possible that the fleeing Thargoid faction is hoping to use us as a shield against their pursuers. In that case, it could have been the first faction that attacked our ships, counting on us to counterattack their imminent pursuit, not realizing the two were different.

This is even held up by the footage from the 2.4 trailer. When the human ships approach the Thargoid cruiser to test their new weapons, the Thargoids do not initially attack as they had when they previously encountered military ships. They only attack once the human ships have inflicted damage on them. It also seems relevant that the Thargoids have interdicted and scanned multiple player ships without attacking, but have attacked numerous military targets.

This could all just be part of the slow tension build-up for the invasion, but Frontier has been pretty into using the game as a social simulation in the past.

 

The Sound of Inevitability, Mr. Anderson

Our species guilt has been prominent in the past 3 decades of pop culture. Starting with the late 80s and early 90s movies about how we were killing every beautiful and endangered thing. At this point, movies and television have pretty much convinced us that we are awful, destructive savages who can’t be trusted to encounter peaceful aliens, because we’ve ruined our own world. I imagine then, that Frontier Developments expected us to react to the return of the Thargoids by forming one big torch mob.

Except we didn’t. Now I want to be clear right off the bat, we were not able to damage Thargoid ships with our weapons previously, or even scan them properly. They were even able to disable our ships if we got close to them. So it’s not like there was really anything we could do before next week’s patch.

But the interesting thing was that players did not foolishly rage and gnash our teeth, like a bear in a trap. We did our best to gather information, we put in thousands of player hours into researching their technology and we debated on the forums if it was possible to make peace. Overall a very unexpected response for humans, especially trigger-happy gamers.

Don’t get me wrong, there has also been much discussion about new weapons and potential tactics if things go sideways. We aren’t fools and we haven’t forgotten that the Thargs were just evil bugs in the past 3 Elite games. The fact that the overwhelming desire of the community seems to be to have aliens to talk to, rather than shoot at, is very encouraging for the human race.

 

A Brighter Tomorrow

All of my common sense is telling me that Frontier is just giving us bugs to hunt. There is a lot of evidence in the game already that there are other species besides the Thargoids out there. Since the Thargoids have always been hostile in Elite lore, chances are pretty good that all we can do is fight them and benevolent races will appear in future patches.

My deeply held hope though, is that Frontier sees that we don’t just want to shoot up the galaxy. The development of Elite Dangerous has been largely driven by player desires. The things we show the most interest in tend to get patched in sooner. So here’s hoping that if we continue to seek understanding and communication with the Thargoids, Frontier will allow us some path to diplomacy.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t mind fighting some aliens. I was a big fan of Wing Commander though and I loved how in later games, the Kilrathi became your allies, much like the Klingons and the Federation in Star Trek. A lot of us grew up on the Star Trek concept of turning enemies into friends and seeking common ground to pursue a greater good.

 

Here’s hoping that Elite’s massive simulation of humans in space allows us to show our better nature. The broadcast of The War of the Worlds in 1938 nearly caused a national panic in the United States. I personally believe that we’ve come a long way in a relatively short time. In no small part thanks to shows like Star Trek. I guess we find out next week.