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Leland Yee - Busted!
Posted on Thursday, July 2 2015 @ 17:55:33 Eastern

Leland Yee, famous for being the version of Jack Thompson with the ability to create law and not merely the rescinded ability to practice it, has pled guilty to racketeering.

The San Jose Mercury News has the scoop.  One could spout off at length about the temptations of power, how tyrants are the worst hypocrites and so on, but what's most salient to me is the sheer scale and audacity of it.  While calling for gun control he smuggled firearms.  While calling for government control on video games for their alleged corrupting influences he himself was living a lifestyle straight out of Grand Theft Auto though at least most of Grand Theft Auto's protagonists wouldn't have been so brazen about it.

There's not much more to say.  A Jimbo Bakker of the left, that one.  Not to be missed nor remembered except as the punch line to a joke which goes something like 'hypocrisy thy name is'.

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A Revised List of Cautionary Notes and Concerns About Fallout 4; a Jeremiad
Posted on Monday, June 22 2015 @ 20:26:38 Eastern

Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that.  It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece.  I strongly recommend anyone interested in why anyone would be less than entranced with Fallout 4 (or anything else Bethesda does) to give it a good read.  You won't go unrewarded.

Preamble: Fallout 4 has drawn a great deal of uncritical enthusiasm from the first announcement on even from those ostensibly in full possession of the available facts.  This perplexes me for a number of reasons, listed below.
1 - Its Engine is Modified Skyrim
    Without more details handy it's impossible to say whether or not it will carry over all of Skyrim's technical problems but it's already confirmed to be the same engine and it shows some of the same quirks.  There is an upside.  The staggering gaps in due diligence by Bethesda will get cleaned up quickly by modders, which Bethesda will promptly break with patches which fix less than they break anew, which will force modders to refix what they already fixed and so on until Bethesda stops 'supporting' the game officially and the community can form a consensus around unofficial patches which actually work as in Fallout 3, New Vegas, and Skyrim.  Basically, expect a very buggy game which will be borderline unplayable at launch.  People who complained vociferously about glitches in The Witcher 3 will be reminded once again what a Bethesda game feels like and in a moment of clarity may say to themselves, "I can't believe I ever complained about CDProjektRED."
2 - Bethesda Plainly Never 'Got' Fallout
    If one started playing Fallout with 3 one could be forgiven for thinking the kitschy '50s Americana was nothing more than window dressing.  A conceptual backdrop into which a post-apocalyptic setting was dropped.  Eclecticism for eclecticism's sake.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Fallout was never meant to strictly reflect America as it was at any point in time.  It was meant to reflect on, and deconstruct, an image America had of its own historical importance and the possibilities of the future.  Futurism, in turn, plays a major role in informing the aesthetics of pre-war technology.     It's not well-remembered today but early Futurists were deeply enamored with totalitarianism and it wasn't until World War 2 that the love affair ended and searching criticism of illiberal politics by 'conservative' liberal futurists like Bertrand De Jouvenel took prominence in the movement.  Fallout imagines a world where critics like De Jouvenel never were.  Their ideas never caught hold (even in reality De Jouvenel is a name only likely to come up in obscure libertarian mailing lists and book catalogs like The Liberty Fund) and so the naive affinity for 'Our friend the Atom' and the maximum state as a solution to all problems never ended.  The grand cultural, scientific and technological transformations which started in the late 50s were perpetually arrested for more than a century and by the time they finally started it was too little, too late.
    In summary Fallout's premise, as distinct from the rest of its narrative and conceptual elements, serves as a cautionary tale about the danger of naive optimism and boundless exhuberance.  The bleak tone of the first game is a vivid though uplifting counterpoint; the world is terrible but not irredeemable.  Alongside all that are explorations of identity, culture, nationalism, history, philosophy, the possibility and desireability of peace, human nature and the meaning of violence.  It was never there for the sake of having it.  It was not conceptualized as a kitchen sink of marketable tropes which would move product.  It all served a purpose.
    Perhaps the most obvious, egregious, and offensive aspect was Bethesda's insistence on 'post-apocalyptic' when the series never was any such thing.  It's such a common misconception that it bears illustration.  Mad Max and The Road are post-apocalyptic media.  In both the possibility of civilization is not even on the table and mere survival is a continuous ordeal.  The Road goes much further than most post-apocalyptic stories in that it depicts a biosphere in the final stages of dying while Mad Max suggests that the collapse of civilization and its never-incipient rebirth is a product of basic human failing.  Fallout was inspired more by A Canticle for Liebowitz than Mad Max and the first game predates the publication of The Road by nearly a decade.  It is preoccupied not with survival amid irradiated ash just after the hellfire has cooled enough for men to walk on the Earth again but something beyond that.  It considers civilization rebuilding.  A consistent trajectory is found from Fallout 1, 2 and New Vegas which leaves 3 as something of a black sheep.  In 1 we see communities coming together and the return of law and order on a small scale.  In 2 a nation is forming and in New Vegas it is already dangerously along the imperial stage.
    One could focus on other elements and elaborate (misguided culture-mining of the 40s and 50s to no particular effect, lack of any core thematic elements at all, retcons, inane plot, etc.) but the basic point is clear enough already that Bethesda's previous Fallout showed almost no substantive understanding of the setting.
3 - Needless Distractions Won't Fix That
    Building settlements and protecting caravans and fighting off waves of nondescript vague enemies sounds fun and all but it also completely ignores setting (this is more than 200 years after the bombs dropped, this phase of reorganization should have passed ages ago as it did in every region but the ones built by Bethesda) and sounds like little more than a massive, pointless distraction in the form of Hearthfire 2.0 - Hearthfire Harder With a Vengeance: The Return of the Son of Killer Hearthfire: Electric Boogaloo.  Something to fill in the numbers on that '400 Hours!' figure without any of that pesky 'writing' or 'quest design' to worry about.  Boasts about Radiant AI and quests have, since they started selling the idea with Oblivion, boiled down to simple rote actions for NPCs and barebones procedurally-generatable fetch quests which are often broken.  Which is not to say that this is entirely Bethesda's fault.  Severe memory caps in the seventh gen prevented them from implementing such systems as designed and even finished to a degree.  Skyrim certainly fell prey to those problems.  Having to develop for seventh generation hardware had significant effects not only on systems but also the game's plot.  The civil war over Skyrim was intended to be the 'A' plot with most quests focusing on it, including what was to have been the most ambitious application of Bethesda's radiant system to date.  Entire quest chains were to generate and change dynamically based on player choices and actions.  While a particularly ambitious modder was able to reconstruct it based on leftover assets and notes it still rather severely changed the game's flow.
4 - Dialogue Wheels, and Assorted Obscenities
    To go along with voice acting is homeopathically watered-down dialogue mechanics in the form of the dialogue wheel.  Acknowledging a dialogue wheel wouldn't have damaged Fallout 3 much, given the paucity of its writing, that's no excuse.  One does not cover a bad thing with another bad thing and hope somehow the good bits in the two bad things come together to form a less bad thing.  That's degenerate design.  If Obsidian could make scrolling through and even listening to seemingly boilerplate dialogue compelling then Bethesda can too.  It's not some magical gift which is bestowed by divine will - storytelling is an artform like any other with known techniques and agreed-upon methods of effective composition for expressing a point with concision.
    As if that were not bad enough the entire skill system has apparently been overhauled.  By overhauled I mean removed.  Replaced with a Skyrim-lite perk system (though likely even simpler, somehow) which will remove any sort of fine-grains to decision making and probabilistic skill checks are back in, making choices of perks largely absolute.  Building atop or refining New Vegas' interpretation of SPECIAL would have been a good idea but they very likely won't.
5 - New Vegas Has Not Been Mentioned Once
    Which is easily the most worrying sign of all.  Fallout 4 may ostensibly be a sequel to Fallout 3 and not New Vegas and Bethesda may have had big plans quietly laid out for Obsidian to continue developing the 'core' region to their heart's content as follow-on projects (we'll get to the possibility of that below) but there is really only one way in which Fallout 3 objectively compares favorably with New Vegas and that's in map design, and only in the most formalistic sense.  The layout of structures and of world geometry is better-attuned to their three dimensional nature (which is not a surprise, at least one of the map designers was the creator of the Desert Crisis mod for Half Life and it had a similarly strong sense of vertical space) but beyond that even in this New Vegas is better.  New Vegas' setting, while somewhat bland, possesses the virtue of making sense through and through while 3 possesses the vice of making no sense at all.  The world is irradiated to an extreme (and absurd) degree in 3 but crops somehow grow.  Crops grow but grass doesn't because of that same radiation.  Little Lamplight exists.  Anyone who played Fallout 3 needs no elaboration.  New Vegas skillfully integrated player agency with intelligent narrative construction while 3 gave the player no meaningful choices at all and had one of the worst stories ever recorded in any medium since scholars first pressed cuneiform wedges into clay.  Fallout 3 was superficially charming but even the slightest mental grasp of it was like a razorblade taken to wet tissue paper; it tore it to pieces and left a godawful mess.  New Vegas is the polar opposite; superficially ugly but on the slow burn yields increasing rewards via contemplation.
6 - There Won't Be an Obsidian Follow-Up
    The critical talent at Obsidian responsible for most of what set New Vegas apart from 3 are long gone.  None of the core writing team remain, almost none of the core designers and content builders are there.  It's possible that if Bethesda were to come calling with an offer Feargus Urquhart could get the band back together quickly but that's unlikely.  The only thing even remotely on the horizon from Obsidian of any interest at all is additional content for Pillars of Eternity.  Everything else they're working on is shovelware for mail.ru.  That's not a joke.  They really are a shovelware company now.  After Fallout 4 ships a side-game might get shopped out to some studio but the constellation of talent which produced New Vegas won't be behind it.  I hate to be saying this but if Bethesda's smart they'll never let Obsidian touch it again if they cannot guarantee that same group of key personnel in those same posts.  If Bethesda ever did have plans for Obsidian to continuously make Fallout spinoff games appealing to older series fans they very likely started to go up in smoke not long after New Vegas shipped.

    So there.  I'm not excited or hyped or whatever.  If I hear good news down the road I'm willing to change my mind but until then I stand by an earlier statement about the game - I feel nothing but contempt for it until otherwise indicated.

Edit: Revision to reinsert some missing text.

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The Burst of the Narcissistic Hipster Indie Bubble
Posted on Sunday, June 21 2015 @ 13:57:26 Eastern

In the 'art-game' feeding frenzy of the post-millenial years one name stood out above Blow, Fish, Cage, and even the Chinese Room for unmitigated egotism, pretention and vacuousness.  Work devoid of original ideas or meaning, work which was all glitz and self-righteous stridence and no actual substance whatsoever.  I speak of Tale of Tales.

Their most recent 'game' was a title called Sunset, which sold something 4,000 copies including the Kickstarter backers.  It's another entry in the vapid walking sim genre so actually talking about it is kind of pointless.  What isn't pointless is mentioning that it's the sort of game with no chance of profitability in the age of Steam's refund policy.  Their announcement post (Github mirror link) was a curious mixture of self-congratulation and misguided excuse.

"In its 12 year existence Tale of Tales has always teetered on the edge of sustainability, combining art grants and commercial revenue to fund our exploration of video games as an expressive medium. We considered it spreading our dependencies. And that was fine, because we assumed this situation to be stable. All we really wanted was the opportunity to create."

Translation: We never once produced a single commercially viable product.  We have no idea how this relates to our current predicament.

"Our desire to reach a wider audience was not motivated by a need for money but by a feeling of moral obligation."

Translation: A moral obligation to pay our creditors.

"The drying up of funding for artistic videogames in Belgium (an issue beyond the scope of this article) did make satisfying this desire more urgent."

Translation: The government stopped handing out free money for things no one wanted.  This meant we had to learn how to do business for once.  We failed.

"No problem, we thought."

Translation: We're screwed.

"Nevertheless, even within Sunset’s carefully constructed context of conventional controls, three-act story and well defined activities, we deeply enjoyed the exploration of themes, the creation of atmosphere, the development of characters, and so on."

Translation: We did the same thing as every time before, but with the additional pretense that it was worth something.

"Abandoning some of our more extreme artistic ambitions actually made work easier and more enjoyable. And that’s when we should have realized that we were on the wrong path.Because whatever we enjoy is never, ever, what the gaming masses enjoy."

Translation: If we created something approximating actual gameplay we thought we would make something idiots would buy on word of paid-for mouth.  But creating compelling gameplay is hard work and we've never gone in for that. We're so special and precious and perfect.  It's everyone else's fault we don't know what we're doing!  Those dirty peasants should have done what their betters in the media that we hired to advance our efforts told them to, bought our not-game in droves and gone back to tending their turnips!

"In the end, we spent more money than we had on the production of Sunset."

Translation: What's book keeping?

"A small group of people clearly deeply appreciates what we do and we curse the economic system that doesn’t allow us to be pleased with that."

Translation: Damn capitalism!  Damn it for not letting us make something practically no one wanted and paying us to do it!  Damn capitalism in its most unregulated form for making this entire industry possible in the first place!

"Being wrong will set you free"

Translation: Last one out turns off the lights and has to explain the situation to our auditors.  Ta!

"We studied successful games and applied our findings to the design of Sunset."

Translation: We learned all the wrong lessons and refuse to admit error.

"We spent a lot of money on a PR company who got us plenty of press, took some work and worries off our shoulders, and found us other marketing opportunities. But it didn’t help sales one bit."

Translation: Hiring a drunken lout like Leigh Alexander to shill for us was not the best idea.  Also the hipster press is nowhere near as relevant as their delusions of grandeur would lead them to believe.

"We even took out an advertisement on Rock, Paper, Shotgun, where we figured the people most interested in Sunset would be gathered."

Translation: We did no research whatsoever on our audience, didn't bother to find out where they went, what other media they consumed, etc.  We went with a very shallow narrative of how advertising and capitalism works and hoped for the best.

"They must all use AdBlock because that had no effect whatsoever."

Translation: It's everyone else's fault!  Not ours!

"We worked hard on presenting a gentler Tale of Tales to the public. Which basically meant that Michaël was forbidden to talk in public and Auriea often just smiled at the camera, parroting words whispered in her ears by communication coaches. Didn’t make a difference."

Translation: The few people who actually cared about our work hadn't quite forgotten what utter fools we'd made of ourselves.

"So now we are free. We don’t have to take advice from anybody anymore."

Translation: We're flat broke and our business is ruined.

Sadly this is as close to humility as they will ever get.  The people who wrote this don't do humble.  There's enough irrelevant has-beens and primadonnas out there already so if they really are on their way good for the industry.  Maybe Clifford the Liar can join them.

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A Feast of Crow Part I: Fallout 4
Posted on Friday, June 19 2015 @ 15:45:45 Eastern

A Feast of Crow

    So I've made some ostentatious claims about Fallout's development over the past few years here on GR.  In the "Why Has Bethesda not Made an Announcement?" piece I presented seve...   read more...

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The Witcher 3 Patch 1.06 Out Now
Posted on Monday, June 15 2015 @ 18:32:31 Eastern

The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt has seen the release of a new patch, 1.06.  It contains five bug fixes listed below.  For GoG users the new patch is a cumulative 1.02-1.06 patch instead of the smaller individual patches released until 1.05.&nb...   read more...

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Obsidian Entertainment Cofounder Departs
Posted on Tuesday, June 9 2015 @ 10:04:00 Eastern

On June 9, at 7:08 AM Chris Avellone announced his departure from Obsidian via his Twitter account.  The departure comes suddenly and is unexpected.  His writing was instrumental in lifting Obsidian's games above their technically troub...   read more...

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I Shouldn't, But I Will
Posted on Thursday, June 4 2015 @ 13:37:34 Eastern

Music: Kid Charlemagne - Cover by Kyle Bronsdon

One can complain about one's least favorite news outlets for good reason.  The New York Times still hasn't repudiated Walter Duranty, The Washington Post hasn't done anyt...   read more...

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I'm not Looking Forward to Fallout 4
Posted on Tuesday, June 2 2015 @ 13:01:39 Eastern

So Fallout 4 was sorta announced. I'm honestly not looking forward to it.  On the one hand more Fallout.  On the other it's almost certain to be more Bethesda Fallout.  Fallout 3 was, for what it was, a competently executed if ...   read more...

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The Age of Mutual Bottlenecks or: The Downgrade Story
Posted on Thursday, May 21 2015 @ 03:04:53 Eastern



    In all the talk of graphical downgrades no one seems much preoccupied with 'why?'.  Why build something and then proceed to tear it down, piece by piece, in the hope that ever more diminished expectatio...   read more...

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Old Before Their Time
Posted on Monday, April 13 2015 @ 13:49:44 Eastern



Bloodborne's apparently successful launch (see note below) has yielded two interesting points, for me.  One is that it's being hailed as the PS4's savior (see note below) and the other is that it seems to have serious...   read more...

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