Hack Bait


Not that I want to be hacked, but I just made a post on my newly revitalized home page discussing the most recent episode of Game of Thrones, High Sparrow, and why the execution Jon Snow performed wasn’t murder. The reason I might get hacked or attacked has to do with Kit Harington’s comparison of the execution his character performed to the beheading murders that ISIS has been performing. If I disappear off the web, at least you know why…

Daredevil and Powers: Good Versus… Not So Bad?


With the upcoming release of Marvel’s Avengers 2, Ant Man, and Fantastic Four this year, and a cubic fuck-load of them coming up in the subsequent years, television, one way or another, has begun to embrace superheroes again. There’s been Smallville, is The Flash and Arrow, and both Gotham and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have built up very loyal, very large fan bases not only for the universes in which they take place, but for the quality of their writing and productions. Hell, I find myself seeking out every little tidbit of information I can find on what’s going on in Agents so I can try to glean some insight into the upcoming films. But… That’s not what I’m here to write about.

What I am here to write about are two newcomers to the scene, Daredevil and Powers. The former, as I’m sure you’re aware, is based on the Marvel comic of the same name, of which a certain Affleck sort of disgraced a dozen years ago. Actually, I take that back, that film wasn’t his fault. He’s an actor, there’s only so much you can do with the shit you’re handed. As the trailer for Batman Versus Superman: The Dawn of Justice just dropped today, it’s not getting my blood pumping, and I’m hoping that very same Affleck can pull it off. If he doesn’t, then maybe it is him after all; then again, the premise for it seems a bit weak to me, but it remains to be seen exactly how it develops… I’m getting off topic again… Similarly, Powers is based on an Image comic of the same name developed by [Sony] PlayStation Originals,  and is a fundamentally different sort of superhero story.

Because it’s much more fresh in my mind and simpler to explain, I’m going to start with Daredevil. To sum up Daredevil in the most simplistic of terms and as quickly as possible, Daredevil is essentially Batman with a couple of key and important differences. Difference #1, Matt Murdock is not rich (at least here in this Netflix Originals series), doesn’t have a warehouse full of gadgets or a secret lair other than his home. Difference #2, while Bruce Wayne doesn’t have any super powers, Murdock does; albeit it’s kind of a lame power in the spectrum of super powers. His power is, essentially, the ability to see. How is that a super power? Well, it is when you’ve been blind since you were a kid…  I’m not going into the details, but that’s his super power, and I know I’m vastly oversimplifying everything about the differences between Murdock and Wayne, but in all honesty, those are the big differences. They’re both vigilantes that stalk the bad guys, doing whatever it takes to put them out of commission, and both have rules against killing. (Though frankly, that hasn’t been the case in the Batman films since Tim Burton’s original 89 film, the comic still sticks to it.)

I’m going to go slightly off topic for a moment to explain my background with Daredevil. It’s at least tangentially related, I promise. Many years ago, in my late teens and early twenties, I had a pretty good friend that I played role playing games with as part of a group of friends. Most of us attended Martin L. King, Jr, Senior High School here in Detroit together, though a few were from other schools. This particular friend went by the name Dizzy, and he was the biggest fan of Daredevil I have ever met. I still don’t know any one that liked Daredevil as much as he did, and he would talk to us about him as we’d discuss the Avengers, the X-Men, Fantastic Four and a whole host of other characters in and out of the Marvel Universe. Despite all our protestations that this character was the best, or that one was awesome, Dizzy stuck to his guns that Daredevil was the best.

I lost touch with him around 95 or 96, and only saw him once during that time when I happened to run into him at Fairlane Town Center while I was skipping a class at the nearby Henry Ford Community College. He’s a good guy and I’m sure he’s out there, holding the faith even after the Affleck film. Honestly, after watching the complete first season of Daredevil in the last 26 hours or so, I’m much more inclined to agree with him now than I was those twenty something years ago.

I went into this Daredevil series a little wary and certainly little positive expectations. While I respect Netflix’s production value on House of Cards and what little I’ve seen of Orange Is The New Black, I wasn’t sure they were going to put the same effort into a superhero series about a character that — in my opinion — wasn’t an A-list top draw character. Well, I was fucking wrong. Everything that I’ve seen in these episodes was extremely well crafted, and aside from two moments that kind of irritated me, I was very satisfied with it. (One of the two moments really isn’t the show’s fault; I was watching while doing my job, and I missed the message of an extended conversation in a foreign language because I was too busy focusing on work to read the subtitles. The other was Murdock peeking at what was under his bandage when he damn well should’ve known what was under it.) The attention to detail was on par with all the other Marvel Studios productions, and even the fight scenes came off as being very realistic and visceral. Nothing was particularly over the top as you sometimes see in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (don’t get me wrong, I love those moments) or Black Widow’s combat in any of the Marvel films thus far; in fact, I’d go so far as to say they were about as good as you can expect a normal man to do. And believe it or not… I really appreciated that authenticity. Daredevil isn’t shown as a godlike character, all capable, all knowing, but as a man that is struggling just as much as you or me. And it’s not just him. All the characters seem to have their flaws and faults, and are seen to be struggling with them, including the villain, Wilson Fisk (The Kingpin). To be brutally honest, I think I liked him and his right hand man, Wesley, the best of all. (I’m a sucker for a villain that knows he’s the villain, and loves his job. Heath Ledger’s Joker is probably my all time favorite villain for that portrayal and reason.)

All of these things come together to build a very compelling story and television series that I would gladly watch again.

Powers… not so much.

I had no expectations going into Powers at all, because I wasn’t familiar with the comic in the least. The only thing I took with me going in was that it was a Sony produced series and I had seen a preview or two that made it look kind of interesting. As I watched the first episode, I cringed at a few badly done things, and got a feel for the overall plot, which I’m going to more or less ruin here, and the shockingly low production value. The basic premise of Powers is that there’s a downside to a world full of superheroes; they too have their faults, addictions, self-confidence issues, and cross the lines; sometimes not even realizing that they’re causing as much damage and death as the supervillains (and not so super villains) they seek to stop. The show follows Christian Walker, a superhero who lost his powers, and his partner Deena Pilgrim as they work for the Los Angeles Police Department’s “Powers” division which is responsible for bringing in super powered villains mostly without the help of superheroes. Frankly I love the concept. As my buddy put it in a conversation with me yesterday, the big picture looks great, but it’s when you start looking closer, at the day to day stuff, that it starts to look bad.

And he’s right. I told him a couple weeks ago that Walker looks like he was carefully crafted to look like David Tennant in Broadchurch. My guess is they wanted to make him look haggard and hung-over at all times as he struggles to deal with the loss of his powers, the loss of his relationship with his his one time super powered love, Retro Girl (who, according to Wikipedia, is actually supposed to be dead as that was the first case he investigates in the comic), loss of essentially all of his friends except his partner prior to Pilgrim, who, by the way, dies stupidly in the first few minutes of the first episode. The “Downtrodden Song” by Denis Leary pretty much sums up Walker’s life.

Sharlto Copley as Powers' Christian Walker

Sharlto Copley as Powers’ Christian Walker.

The sad thing is, I actually don’t mind Walker all that much. He’s pretty much completely unlikable, but stepping back, resisting the urge to just slap the labels “cliche” and “rip-off” on him, you can respect what he’s been through. I can’t say that he is a rip off of Broadchurch’s Alec Hardy (Tennant) because the comic has existed for 15 years, and I don’t think Broadchurch was a comic or book prior to become a BBC television series a few years ago. So technically, this crap that has affected Walker is original, and he just happens to look a hell of a lot like Hardy. But you can definitely see the design influences from Broadchurch on Walker regardless of whether anyone at Sony/PlayStation Originals wants to admit that fact.

David Tennant as Alec Hardy in Broadchurch

David Tennant as Alec Hardy in Broadchurch

Putting characters aside for a moment, I’d like to talk about something that really bothers me in Powers. Although it’s trailed off, the first episode looks like a commercial for Sony products as they’re all over the place, clearly displayed. Yes, Sony is a major brand name, and I’ve had more Sony products than I care to count at the moment, but everywhere you look, people were using Sony smartphones and tablets and Vaio computers and PlayStation 4s and televisions. I get it, it’s a Sony production and it’s smart to self promote, but that level of representation is not realistic nor representative of the real world. I am very much an Android device user and developer, but throw a fucking iPad or iPhone in there, because we all know those are way more common than Sony’s phones and tablets. Product placement is important, there’s no question about it, but the ubiquity of a single brand in a film or television series is not only unrealistic, but it’s jarring and becomes a point of focus in a bad way.

Back to characters and plot… Perhaps the biggest problem for me with regards to the series thus far, is that I don’t have a sense of who the real villain really is. That would be good if this were a mystery, but we have two very obvious bad guys: Johnny Royalle (played by Noah Taylor) and Wolfe (played by Eddie Izzard). While it’s made very clear that Wolfe is the overall major villain, and he’s played well by Izzard (but then I’m biased, I love the guy), there’s the question of Royalle. Royalle has been teleporting in and out of, I kid you not, “The Shaft” prison to harvest blood or something else from the regenerating Wolfe to make into a drug called Sway. (Let me comment on something completely unimportant for a second; when I imagine characters teleporting in or out of a room, I imagine an aggressive popping sound or a boom of some sort, or hell, even just silence, not the adorable little Snapple-lid-just-popped-up-as-you-open-it sound. Thanks guys, well done.) Royalle has been doing his cutesy teleporting thing for  a while to make the drug, and it’s spreading among the “Powers Kids” that either have low level powers or are groupies of those kids, and gives them an enhancement to their abilities or kills them. Depending on which of the two they are. An unforeseen side effect is that anyone that takes Sway is apparently getting linked to Wolfe which will undoubtedly play out in some horrifically written way in an upcoming episode, as they’ve already forewarned us in at least two episodes by episode 8. Naturally, desperate to get his powers back from Wolfe without knowing how it was made or the side effects, Walker took Sway to put Wolfe back in his cell.

You would think that the drug alone would be enough to cement Royalle as the primary villain, and even though he taunts his former best friend, Walker, repeatedly through the first few episodes, he ultimately still cares about him and knows he’s in over his head. Frankly, Royalle is more wishy washy than a soaked wash clothe. He can’t decide if he’s really a bad guy or a champion of the under privileged Powers Kids as he keeps flip flopping all over the place, then begs Walker to help him fix his mistake, extracting whatever from Wolfe, by killing their former mentor. Yeah, that’s right, Wolfe was their mentor back in the 90’s on how “Powers” (as super powered individuals are called in case you haven’t gotten the drift) get their abilities, refine them, and should act. Then he ate a bunch of people, freaked them out, and they gave him The Shaft. Sorry, couldn’t resist. I wonder if it was throbbing… Anyway, Walker, the fine upstanding good cop that he is has agreed to help Royalle put Wolfe down…  Note that in earlier in the exact same episode, Royalle first teleported Walker into a sealed room then teleported out with all the air, then later teleported them to the edge of a balcony, and pushed him off; rescuing him in both cases. Naturally, these kinds of actions engender friendship and trust, right?

As if all of this wasn’t bad enough, there’s the the production itself. Everyone is pretty damned well dressed, even the poor people. All of the women’s hair and make-up are perfect at all times. While most of the powers’ visible effects are decent, those characters that can fly look like ABSOLUTE SHIT while doing it. It almost emphasizes the wire-rigging frequently used to demonstrate flight; in particular Walker during his fight with Wolfe in the Shaft; he looked a thin version of Fat Bastard from Goldmember hanging in mid-air. It looked terrible. It still looks terrible.

Here’s the thing,while PlayStation Originals undoubtedly is a separate production entity from Sony Motion Pictures, there absolutely positively has to be some cross-talk between the two houses. There’s undoubtedly a sharing of resources, crew, equipment, editors, special effects, make-up, costuming, and production teams. Correction, PlayStation Originals would be absolutely stupid if they weren’t trying to take advantage of essentially in-house resources, advice, and expertise, even if they had to pay for them. I don’t expect that Sony Motion Pictures would try to charge [Sony] PlayStation Originals the going rate for their help; actual cost maybe. Even if they did have to charge full price for it, it would be a steal for PlayStation Originals. Sadly, to me, it looks like they’re going it alone, trying to prove that they don’t need any help at all, not even from their bigger, more experienced brothers and sisters.

Walker and Royalle talked, among other things, about pride being the problem in dealing with Wolfe, that it was pride that was letting him control them. Maybe it’s pride that’s also ruining this golden opportunity for PlayStation Originals… If so, then that, like Powers, is just too bad…

Or Is Disney Pulling Revisionist Tricks?


Just the other day I was commenting on how I was beginning to be cautiously optimistic about the new Star Wars, but I may have spoken too soon. On MoviePilot.com, there’s an article called Star Wars Episode 7: Kylo Ren and the New Empire in which the author discusses the 20 or so new novels, comic books, etc., that are scheduled to be released to fill in the 30 year gap between Jedi and The Force Awakens. Why does this sound as if all the novels and comics that already exist in this period are simply being swept away? This sounds an awful lot like what Lucas was doing for the Clone Wars cartoon, making the Mandalorians pacifists.
I’m suddenly no longer optimistic.
It could be argued that all the expanded universe work (which has now been rebranded as “legends”) was never canon, that all of this new work will be. I’d be fine with that if Lucas had licensed everything then was hands off with the outcome all these years. But that’s not the case. When Timothy Zahn was writing Heir to the Empire way back in the early 90s, he wanted to use Obiwan’s clone in the role he named Joruus C’Baoth, but he said in an interview that “Lucas had other plans for him.” Later, when R.A. Salvatore was writing the inaugural novel in The New Jedi Order series, Vector Prime, he was explicitly told to kill off a major character by Lucas. The sometimes silly, sometimes convoluted plots of the game The Force Unleashed also lend credence to the Lucas is overseeing everything argument I’m making here. 20+ years of creativity does not get spawned and set free without some specific guiding force (oddly, no pun intended). The expanded universe was even blessed by references to some of it in the films, such as the presence at the pod races of Aurra Sing in the Phantom Menace. Therefore I would say that the expanded universe was as canon as the films, because even Lucas is contradicting himself. (“Always two, there are, a master and an apprentice” yet Count Dooku, Darth Maul, and Darth Sidious/Palpatine running around more or less at the same time; yeah, I know, Yoda could’ve been wrong.)

I don’t know… I just have a very bad feeling about this.

A New Star Wars


It’s been several months since the release of the trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and I’ve been relatively quiet about it. In fact, I’ve only talked it over with friends and family as I still wasn’t sure what to think of it, and I didn’t want to ramble on without having an opinion on it. It should be clear, by now, that I have a very emotional attachment to Star Wars; if not, take a bit of time to read my other posts:

Back? Great! By my rough estimate, I’ve read around 80 Star Wars books. My favorite author, for comparison’s sake, has written approximately 60 (including two Star Wars books), most of which I’ve read. So you might say, I am more fully invested in the Star Wars universe than any short of the one in which we live. I know its character very well, I know much of it’s legends and mythology, I have a feel for the ebb and flow of its stories despite the myriad authors that have taken turns at shaping it. Star Wars has always been very near and dear to my heart, and even as an adult, I wish I could stowaway on board the Falcon, or grab the controls of a X-Wing and make the jump to light speed to escape the realities of this world. I honestly think that if the opportunity to do so suddenly presented itself before I could finish writing this post, I’d be gone in an instant and never look back.

So ever since it was announced that Disney bought the Star Wars franchise and would be producing new films, I’ve been dreading the outcome. Yes, I also saw it as an opportunity for the reduced Lucas influenced (LucasLite™) films to potentially get back to what we originally loved, but it’s also a great opportunity for them to ruin everything we (“I” really) ever loved about them. Given that I’ve liked much of J. J. Abrams’ work, I was (and still am) cautiously optimistic about the new main storyline films. I think there’s much to be hopeful about them, yet I can’t help but be nervous about them as well; after all, not everything that Abrams’ has touched has turned to gold nor have I loved all of his work.

That said, the trailer for The Force Awakens was released several months ago, and it looks amazing. The sound of the X-Wings give me chills, and while the radar dish on the Falcon has changed shape, the ship as whole does appear to be amazingly detailed and accurate enough to pass muster.

You of course know all this, and, by my own admission, I’m late to the party on writing about it. So why write about it now? After I finished my shift at work this evening, I wandered into the den to find my sister watching the Star Wars: A New Hope (Special Edition) on VHS. (Long story short, lets just say that due to a cable dispute and on-going renovations, her options for cinematic entertainment this evening were rather limited; my original non-SE VHS copies are inaccessible as are my DVDs.) Still, watching the Falcon maneuver and the X-Wings fly in formation to the Death Star… It gives me chills as much as it did 30 years ago, and the sound of those engines drew me back to the The Force Awakened trailer which faithfully recreated them.

There is still much to be nervous about with regards to this new film, and it’s still 9 months away from release, but I have to admit that I’m growing cautiously optimistic and excited about it.

LFRD: Looking for Religious Discussion


In the interest of self-education and enlightenment, I’d like to open a private discussion via email with people of other faiths. I identify as a Baptist Christian, primarily due to the religious beliefs I inherited from my parents, however I’ve adopted a viewpoint and certain beliefs that I think some Christian sects would consider heretical and/or blasphemous. Nonetheless, I have been curious about Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Shinto, and other religions and would like to learn more about them. I’m not looking to convert to another religion, or attempt to convert anyone else. This is for my own selfish educational purposes, and I’m willing to help provide insights into Christianity as I see it in exchange. This shall be an intellectual, judgement free discussion; I’m not a very judgmental person to begin with and I have no desire or interest to  offend anyone. A few years ago, as part of my undergraduate studies, I took a class on interreligious discussions, and would like to follow up on it by actually participating in some. As I said before, these discussions will be private, one on one, and will not be shared with anyone without your express permission.

The religions I’m most interested in learning more about are Islam, Judaism, Shinto, and Native American religions, though it wouldn’t hurt to learn more about Catholicism and other Christian sects as well. Frankly, I’m interested in learning a bit more about just about all religions, so if I didn’t expressly mention yours above and you’re interested, feel free to drop me a line.

Thank you!

The Game I’m Dying to Tell You About…


Whether you’ve gotten the idea from this page or not, the fact is that I love movies, books, games, and writing. Not necessarily in that order, but that’s the order my fingers demanded I write them in. So there’s that. I’ve played a LOT of games, I’ve written about a few here, and I talk about them frequently with my friends. Hell, I’ve been streaming quite a bit on Twitch since I got my PS4 a bit more than a year ago. (I still find it strange mostly talking to myself, so I don’t often broadcast with my microphone on.) If you’ve been paying any attention to my Twitch page recently, then you know I’ve been playing a LOT of Dying Light.

A few things you need to know about me and my relationship with horror, the undead, and the horror-survival videogame genre. I don’t generally write in horror; it doesn’t interest me much, and never really has. On the whole, I find horror films silly and mostly going for over the top gore and cheap theatrical tricks to scare the audience. I find suspense much more appealing; what you see on screen in a horror film is make up and faked. What is done in suspense films is almost purely mental, and almost certainly possible; what one can do with such tools… Well, lets just say that I’ve taken pleasure in plying psychological warfare in a few stories. But I don’t write much about the undead… In my opinion, the old stories, legends and mythology are the best. What they don’t cover, Dungeons & Dragons covered to my satisfaction, so with the rare exception, I don’t write about them. They’re fine as they are.

While my bias against horror films can’t really be carried over to videogames (the characters, while perhaps photorealistic and carrying verisimilitude, are completely fictional and you don’t identify with them in the same way as actors on screen) I just haven’t been interested in the gore factor for the most part. I played the original Resident Evil on the first generation PlayStation, along with its sequel, but as I write this, I’m finding myself hard pressed to name a single horror genre game that I played since that time until the release of Left 4 Dead and its sequel. Truth be told, I played those two for the social interactions with some friends I rarely get to see, though I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t enjoy them.

A few years ago, Dead Island came out to rave reviews and I considered picking the game up. A few friends raved about it but I wasn’t in any hurry to play it. It just wasn’t my thing, though I was admittedly curious. A couple years passed, I got engrossed in The Last of Us, which while technically a horror game was, I’d say, far more of a suspenseful game than horror. But then (to get to the point)… Techland released Dying Light. My buddy, looking to use a Sony supplied weekend coupon accidentally purchased it after watching some streams of it being played by some reviewers. Upon release, he immediately got sucked into the game and ranted and raved about it. But he’s far more into horror than I am, I thought. It’s right up his alley.

And it is. He suggested I check it out but acknowledged that it might not be all that interesting to me, so using SharePlay over PSN, I played for a couple hours on release day. I’m not going to say it was the best experience of my life, but I found it very engrossing. I did get slightly motion sick, which I attributed at the time (and apparently correctly) to the disconnect between my PS4, the approximately 2,000 miles between us, and uncounted miles that the digital video traveled from his home in the Seattle area and mine in Detroit, and for the control signals I sent back to have effect. Mind you, everything was nearly instantaneous,  with no noticeable lag, but there was something that caused me to develop a headache in that short time I played. Nonetheless, I played for another 3 hours over SharePlay two days later. The next day, my payday, I bought the game, and I’ve played almost nothing but Dying Light ever since.

Though it is indeed a horror survival game, it’s like saying Grand Theft Auto is a driving game. There’s so much more to the game than simply surviving. There are tons of side missions to be performed, and when you don’t feel like doing a mission,  you can roam and explore the open world environment, fighting and killing the various types of zombies for fun and profit. There’s a distinct role playing game element to it as well, as you don’t just look for weapons to kill all these monsters, but you learn new skills to fight and evade them, not to mention learn how to craft new tools and weapons along the way. Unlike Destiny, not all of the missions are “go here, kill that”; more than one has been to find and recover something for some one, or to go save someone in trouble. One of my favorite missions… Well, you’ll just have to play it yourself…! Get bored just running around? Play with a friend! The game supports at least 4 players in co-op mode, though they only recently fixed a bug that kept me crashing back to the PlayStation home screen.

To make it even better, I don’t know how many hours I’ve put into it thus far, but I’m only just now reaching the 50% completion mark. I don’t mean to pile on to Ready at Dawn’s problems and join a bandwagon bashing the apparent 5-10 hour length of The Order: 1886, but if you get into Dying Light, you will be playing it for a very long time. Techland did a kick-ass job on Dying Light, in my opinion, and it makes me wonder what I missed with Dead Island.

The game isn’t perfect, however. There are the occasional bug that you’ll hit, like the co-op crash I mentioned above, and there was an easy way to exploit another bug (a race condition I do believe) to duplicate items but it was patched. Though that particular duplication bug is history, there’s another one that’s slightly more difficult, but just as reliable. It’s only a matter of time until it’s patched too, but as you can see, there are both positive and negative bugs in the game. I’m sure Techland is hammering away on them even as I write this, but aside from the now dead co-op crash, I haven’t encountered any show stoppers.

So what do I think of Dying Light? If you like killing zombies, you will probably love the game. If you like parkour, you’ll probably have a hell of a lot of fun in the game as well. Is it worth the $60? I personally say hell yes, and I’m definitely considering the season pass to get any expansions that might be released. Should you buy it? That’s up to you. Take a few of my broadcasts for a drive and decide for yourself.

Destiny or FUCK THIS GAME!


From the title alone, you should get the gist of how I feel about Destiny, but it isn’t the whole story. Honestly, when I’m not getting pissed off by the random number generator (RNG) driven reward system and the fact that I’ve done everything in the game (except the Vault of Glass) multiple times because there’s only a limited amount of things to do at this time and nothing new has popped up in the weeks since its release, I actually enjoy the game.

If you read up on Destiny on Reddit and a thousand other sites, you will find one common thread: the game uses a random number generator to decide what “drops” during the game, whether in combat or at the conclusion of a strike or mission. Sometimes it’s useful, frequently it’s not, usually because you have something better already. Sometimes you’ll be the biggest badass in the game during a strike and get nothing; other times you’ll really suck and get something exotic as a reward. It doesn’t make any sense, but that’s the nature of randomness. Worse, you can go to a vendor, Xur for instance, spend your hard earned Strange Coins and Motes of Light to get a piece of exotic equipment and come away with something completely unusable by your class.

As someone that first learned to program more than thirty years ago and an avid gamer, I understand the attraction to using a random number generator and a look up table (LUT) to determine a player’s loot. It keeps things from getting stale. Is a special reward really special when everyone knows you’re going to get it for completing a particular mission? Not to knock World of Warcraft (which I also play), but that gets boring and predictable. (In fairness, World of Warcraft has had random drops in game for a very long time though most mission rewards are fixed. In the recent Warlords of Draenor expansion, some missions (and/or follower missions) award you a generic item that becomes something specialized for your class’ specialization. So Blizzard has obviously thought about that.) The problem with RNG+LUT is just that unpredictability, especially when you have no ability to trade or sell items that aren’t important to you. In Destiny, that means if you get an item on your Warlock that is only usable by the Titan class, you have two choices: put it in your vault and use it on a Titan character you also created or disassemble it for parts. And hopefully those parts will be useful to you; unfortunately, some items will break down into parts that are only usable by the class the item was intended for, leaving you with parts you can’t use unless you move them to another class. You can’t even sell the parts, at this time, just to try to turn a buck.

Speaking of money… For a game that has no economy whatsoever, there’s a shit load of currencies in it. The primary form of money is called glimmer, which is described as a form of programmable matter. While the concept is interesting, the fact is that the concept is totally wasted because you don’t actually do anything with it other than pay for things, such as weapons, ammo, and upgrades. If you could use it to customize your appearance, make unique equipment or even just put it in your character’s hair to change the style and color, then it would be something neat to play with, and something more than just a currency. Given that it does nothing of the sort, they may as well call it dollars or pesos or gold coins. Want to know something extraordinarily silly? You can only carry a maximum of 25,000 glimmer at a time. Considering a 32 bit integer takes 4 bytes and offers a range of 4 billion numbers (unsigned in this case would be most useful), I really don’t know why Bungie chose to use less than a 16 bit/2 byte number as the maximum amount of cash you can carry. Maybe it’s a practical limit… After all, while you can’t always count on getting precisely what you wanted to buy thanks to the RNG+LUT, you can still buy almost everything that costs strictly glimmer with little effort because you accumulate a lot and many of the enemies, especially the “majors”, drop items that help you earn more glimmer just by killing members of their species. Still, I think the 25k limit is awfully arbitrary, pointless, and oddly specific. I’m pretty sure Bungie isn’t saving a lot of memory by limiting it to a 16 bit integer.

If that was the extent of my money gripes, I’d be fine with it. But, as I hinted at before, there are other forms of currency: Motes of Light, Strange Coins, Vanguard Marks, Ascendant Shards, Ascendant Energy, Crucible Marks, and the recently added Exotic Shards. Aside from the Vanguard and Crucible Marks and Exotic Shards, all of those are obtained RANDOMLY throughout the game, either as drops in combat, mission rewards, upgrades mailed to you for public events or reaching new reputation levels, bounty rewards, decrypting engrams, or disassembling things. And like all other drops, they’re random enough that you can’t count on getting them on any regular basis. Well with a caveat: certain daily and weekly strikes and story missions award Notes and Strange Coins the first time you complete them for their respective periods. The Vanguard and Crucible Marks are earned, however, by either completing strikes and missions or fighting it out in the PvP Crucible. Strange Coins and Motes of Light are used to buy equipment from the NPC Xur; the various shards and energy are used to upgrade equipment when combined with the various resources you harvest on each of the worlds, glimmer, and parts you scavenge from equipment like I mentioned earlier. The Marks are used to buy equipment from the Vanguard and Crucible quartermasters. For a game that is based around combat, there’s a whole lot of economics going on even if you can’t sell your unwanted equipment.

Now, I started this review some weeks ago, and I’m only just now working towards finishing it the day after the first DLC pack was released. While I’ve been playing Destiny regularly since it’s release and still have only stuck my proverbial toe into the Vault of Glass, I have mostly enjoyed the game. My frustrations are illustrated above, and led by the striking lack of content to keep the game fresh for a long time after the initial play through. And that continues in The Dark Below; three new missions, more bounties making you play through things you’ve already mastered, a new strike and raid, and new equipment for $20… (Or $35 or $17.50 depending on your perspective if you purchased the “season” pass.) I can’t say the DLC is worth that much, honestly. Wait for it to go on sale if you can; sooner or later it will be offered for about $10 in some special deal. The missions are tough and interesting story wise, but I find the lack of Peter Dinklage’s narration a bit disturbing even though it was replaced by the new NPC’s. I never thought that I’d miss “Dinkelbot.” (Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of Dinklage!)

The bottom line of both Destiny’s main storyline and the DLC is that there are a lot of brilliant scraps of story that are laid out on the table, but there’s so much missing from the bigger picture that you’re not really sure what’s going on. Just like with Watch Dogs, I keep saying that we’re still early in the game’s lifespan, but that is sounding more and more hollow to me. It’s becoming more obvious that Activision, Electronic Arts and other major publishers, distributors and, yes, developers have decided to push DLC as the next big thing in their efforts to make themselves rich. Rather than focusing on making the best damned game they can, they strip out whatever they can get away with to sell as an add-on later, thereby securing their own destiny. While I like Destiny, I think it could have been so much more had this money grubbing scheme hadn’t been a factor.

Watch Dogs: The Good, the Bad, and the Annoying


(Note that I started writing this review on July 22, 2014, but was distracted by editing video, The Last of US (PS4), and Destiny and didn’t get around to finishing it until November 1, 2014 when I decided to finish it.)

By the time I finish writing this post and make it public, Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs will have been out months, so you aren’t going to be hurting for a review. There are tons out there, and I really don’t expect this one  to stand out or garner any more attention than any of the countless others, still, I want to add my two cents to the mix for the hell of it.

Let me start off by saying that despite all the hype around this game, I actually had no desire to buy it until the week before it was released. Frankly, I just wasn’t interested. But between some streaming IGN was doing before the release and the fact that I wanted another PS4 game to play, I decided to invest in it because it seemed to have some pretty cool features and game play. While I’ve purchased open world games before, I frequently gotten bored with them before I ever even got halfway through the single player campaign; in truth, they were purchased for the pleasure of screwing around in multiplayer with my friends. That includes everything that I’ve played from Rockstar Games… Even GTA V mainly sits in my Xbox 360 unplayed most days. So Watch Dogs had several advantages: I got the PS4 version because I was always more comfortable with the Sony controllers than the Microsoft ones, better graphical quality than 360 and PS3 at the very least, and it was more relate-able to me given I work and have worked for many years in the computer industry.

Contrary to how I usually do things, I’m not going to comment on the single player campaign; while I think it’s enticing and interesting to an extent, really it’s completely expendable from the game. It’s a token story intended to make your occasional murderous rampages and other misdeeds seem justified. Considering the game was marketed along the lines of Infamous with regards to you having the freedom to choose whether you’re a hero or villain, the fact that the single player game suggests you follow a hero-ish (really more antihero) path seems a bit heavy handed.

But to cut to the chase, here are the things I really liked about the game:

A large play setting; it’s not Los Santos of GTA V, but the City of Chicago in Watch Dogs is a pretty large place.

Great attention to details on many things; where Ubisoft thought to pay attention, they did a kick ass job. Sadly, they didn’t pay enough attention… More on that later.

Things I really, really like about the game include the graphical quality, the handling and feel of most the in-game vehicles, and the idea that a nerd can be a bad-ass.

The bad…

Where Ubisoft didn’t pay attention or simply give a fuck, there are significant flaws in the game, the game play, and fun factor. My biggest complaint, particularly once a lot of people really started playing Watch Dogs was and is the fact that you can’t just start playing and not worry about getting hacked by other random players. Initially, I thought there was some triggering event, such as you pissed off the cops or did something major that triggered the notoriety kharma factor that meant the game was going to try to get you hacked. But now, as demonstrated a moment ago when I logged in for the first time in months, I got into a hacking situation as soon as my virtual boots hit the ground in the game. Fortunately, I’ve found a pretty good and effective place from which to deal with hacks but it’s irritating that I have to worry about it as soon as I start it up. There’s only one way to avoid it: go into the Online game settings and turn off “Online Invasions”. Simple right? Well, the problem with that is that it will reset any and all progress you’ve made in the online modes… So, if you participate in the online aspects on a regular basis but just want a quiet evening trying to complete the various missions, you’re just screwed unless you don’t mind losing your progress.

For the bad stuff, I kept saying this is Ubisoft’s first open world game and that this was damned good for a first attempt. But it isn’t really their first attempt, and frankly the problems really start to show after you get comfortable with the game. Until August or so, there was no cooperative mode in the game at all, and, while you could challenge your friends through the mobile app on your phone or tablet, there was no way to  hack your friends. The best you could do is get in a free roam match with them and screw around either doing things together or, with adversarial mode enabled, killing one another. I have yet to do any of the cooperative missions introduced in August/September, but it’s something that was a long time coming.

Another major issue that has now been addressed was that once you get done with the missions — story missions, privacy invasions, gang hideouts, and criminal convoys — you were completely out of things to do other than hack random people going down the street and initiate (and respond to) online races and hacking. And frankly, those things get boring after a while. It’s now possible to do the gang hideouts and criminal convoys again, though the methodology behind doing them is counter-intuitive. In fact, it’s ass backwards. Rather than just selecting the mission to play again, you have to go into the Gameplay options menu and reset the side missions. While this may get the job done, why not just make them directly playable again? Is it really that difficult to fix?

While I stated the play area is pretty large, it isn’t infinite. More interestingly, it’s rather limited on the Lake Michigan side of Chicago, as you’ll notice in the “issues” video I’m attaching to this review: there’s apparently an invisible wall preventing you from going past a certain point out onto the lake.  Although I didn’t highlight it the video, all roads, rivers and train tracks that would otherwise leave the Chicago area seem to curve into other parts of the city. The latter makes a certain amount of sense, I admit, but it’s still so… artificial.


Another particularly aggravating thing is the enforcement of law and order. If you kill a person on  the street, you can expect to be hunted down by the police and killed. I’d like to say arrested, because sometimes you don’t commit major crimes, and so you should be arrested, right? But, as in the GTA series, if you cross the line in too negative a way, you are hunted down and killed by the police. Hello Ferguson! But sometimes, Watch Dogs’ police decide that you are guilty by proximity and execute you. Throughout the game, you will be given the opportunity to spoil petty (and sometimes not so petty) crimes that occur randomly  nearby which have nothing to do with the story campaign or side missions (gang hideout, criminal convoy, etc). If you kill the criminal, say by shooting them and, I’m quite positive, running them down with a car, you may end up in a police chase even if you saved the intended target of the crime. You’re a fucking vigilante, who just took out a bad guy; why are you getting gunned down? Even if you take them down in a nonlethal way (there’s a melee attack that is only available on enemy targets), if there were gunshots fired, you will end up getting chased by the police. Not the actual criminal. You. Even though your character starts off as this anonymous anti-hero, you eventually end up well enough known that police are immediately after you for crimes you had nothing to do with. What. The. Fuck?

So the bottom line…?

The bottom line is that the game can be a lot of fun and very interesting, but it’s flawed. In July when I started this review, I was going to say that it’s early in the game’s lifespan, and it still is. There’s lots of time for Ubisoft to iron out the problems. But don’t be mistaken, there are lots of problems, and there are rumors that the primary development team has already moved on to Watch Dogs 2, so these problems may not get resolved. Time will tell… My original rating for the game was about an 8. At the time that I started writing the review I’d have put it at about 6.5. Now… maybe a solid 7.5 for resolving some of the problems that it had. But that doesn’t matter; what matters is whether you enjoy the game or not. So, make that assessment for yourself.

Simple Mobile: What’s Up?


Short Story:

My Simple Mobile service is barely functional at the moment: phone calls drop, SMS/MMS partially works, no LTE/4G/3G/2G service at all. Get in touch with me with answers and/or a fix.

 

Long Story:

I heard about Simple Mobile about 18 months ago when I was looking for a contract free phone service. I’m not writing this article to complain about other networks, or my previous cell phone problems, though I would love to rant on that. I loved the option to provide my own phone rather than having to pay for it as part of a monthly bill. In August, 2013, I bought a LG/Google Nexus 4 to give Simple a try, and I liked what I saw: the service was consistently available everywhere in the Detroit area, unlimited text messaging and minutes, and reliable 4G service for about $50/month, literally half of what I had been paying. So I decided that once my contract terminated at the start of this year, I would make the switch official, and I did.

Porting my phone number over was flawless and quick, and I eventually purchased a nice new LG/Google Nexus 5 from the Google Play Store, and I have been happy ever since.

Until this weekend.

On Friday, I paid for my monthly service a couple days before my service would have expired, and I noticed on Saturday that my internet status indicator was flickering between 4G, 3G, H and just the phone signal strength bars which indicate no internet connection. As I was out and about, I didn’t think anything of it: I don’t expect perfect coverage everywhere, even on T-Mobile’s network. (For the uninformed, Simple Mobile operates on T-Mobile’s networks.) On Sunday, while out shopping, I needed to make a call to confirm some items on my shopping list, and the call dropped. Two attempts to call back failed; the call would drop within a few seconds of the ring tones, and the person I had been speaking with was only able to get to voice mail. I again noticed that the internet connection indicators were flickering at best, more frequently than not, the phone was indicating no service at all.

When I got home, I decided to try a live chat with Simple Mobile’s technical support department to see if there was a local problem. Although it’s rare, cell phone networks do occasionally have outages that could be caused by any number of things. The representative that I was chatting with confirmed that there were outages in several other states, but that there were none in Michigan at the time. Initially, the chat was courteous enough that I wasn’t particularly bothered by he implication that it was either a network capacity problem or a problem with my phone. Perhaps my phone needed to be restarted, I decided. The rep asked for a moment while he took a look at something; I have no idea what he might have been looking at because about 30 seconds later, he sent a canned answer that suggested that the problem was either network capacity at the time, my phone, or that there could be a problem with my service plan and that I should contact customer service. Before I could even read through the text, the rep left the chat so I didn’t even have the opportunity to ask any additional questions or provide any more information after I restarted my phone.

Being a technical support representative myself, I cut the guy some slack, didn’t get pissed off, and just restarted my phone, seeing that the problem didn’t go away. I decided that I would give it another day or two to see if the problem corrects itself, and kept an eye on my phone for the next 36 hours without complaint.

This morning, Tuesday, October 7, 2014, when the problem still wasn’t resolved, I called Simple Mobile to get some assistance *AFTER* going through the Simple Mobile Programming Guide and configuring the APN as instructed, just in case. My last attempt at fixing the issue myself failed, and I advised the telephone rep of the situation and that I had attempted to reprogram the APN without success. Despite my own impatience and hatred of following a scripted procedure to troubleshoot and fix technical problems, I listened to what she told me to do, and performed the steps as she requested them.  As my Nexus 5 is on Android 4.4.4 and the Simple Mobile instructions only cover up to Android 4.2, there were some minor differences in labeling of menu items, but we got through them, and I presume I was giving her the correct responses, even though my service continued to not function properly. Finally, it got to a point where she sent some commands to my phone, telling me that they should come in as SMS messages with instructions.

The problem is, as I originally mentioned, my SMS messages aren’t working 100% properly; I didn’t receive the first message or the second when she resent it. When I informed her that I still didn’t receive them, she grew a bit frustrated and told me that I should put my SIM in another phone to see if it works, and/or to buy a new SIM and have my service and number transferred over to it. She was completely out of troubleshooting steps and advice.

As I had loaned my Nexus 4 to a family member to see if she wanted to move into a smartphone (she’s been a hold-out for years), it was unavailable for me to test with, so I followed the latter advice and purchased a new SIM, and called to have my service moved over to it.

In the 5 hours since purchasing and activating that new SIM, I’ve continued to experience the exact same problem, even after turning the phone off and on multiple times, and checking the settings repeatedly. So, problem solved? It’s my Nexus 5, right? Wrong. A short time ago, I caught up with that family member and put the new SIM into the Nexus 4 and got the exact same thing with it: although the Nexus 4 doesn’t support LTE, it does support HSPA+ 4G, 3G, and 2G service, so if the SIM and service were in perfect condition, I should have had internet service on it even if the Nexus 5 was damaged. But I didn’t. This means that both phones are in proper working order; the problem is with either the SIMs, or more likely, the service.

Now, considering that I have ruled out the phone and the SIM (by purchasing a new SIM and getting the same result), I need Simple Mobile to get this fixed. I need answers, people. I’ve been patient, I’ve been open, and I need a working phone. If I can’t get that from Simple Mobile, and I really do want to stick with Simple, then I’m going to have to move on to another service, possibly back into a contract service. If I have to move on, Simple, I’m going to need a refund of the $53 dollars or so I paid last week for my service.

The ball is in your court, Simple Mobile. I’m following @SimpleMobile on Twitter, so send me a direct message if you’re interested in helping get this resolved,  AND SOON.

End of the Story (November 1, 2014):

Roughly two weeks ago, I called their tech support line yet again after calling them out on Twitter met with limited success. I got their attention enough to get a tech to pay more attention to my situation than they previously had, and the guy determined that there was “something” suspended on my account and he was going to email his supervisor about it and I should hear back within 24-48 hours, the same fucking thing I’d been told again and again. I said “fine,” and when I got done with the call, filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau about this whole situation. The 48 hour window elapsed without so much as a call and I called back again, and got the same party line, but this time I had additional information for them… I’ve had a mobile hotspot since roughly May of this year, and I used my original SIM that I experimented with Simple Mobile with it; I paid for 30 days worth of service on it, and confirmed that it was getting internet service, then I put that SIM in my phone. Voila! Internet access, though it was the wrong phone number, so I couldn’t just leave it that way. So when I told them about that, I again got the 24-48 hour party answer. After that period went by, I received a call from a woman named Heather stating that she’d received my BBB complaint and would be handling the situation; I responded to her voice mail with one of my own, giving her all the various tracking numbers  I’d been assigned.

I can’t say that she snapped her fingers and made the whole thing go away, though I also don’t want to say she was completely ineffective. The next day, while going through the troubleshooting procedures *YET AGAIN*, she decided that based on her information that the APN MMSC as seen on the Simple Mobile Phone Programming page was incorrect; her information listed “http://smpl.mms.msg.eng.t-mob…” (ellipsis included) as the URL, which I advised her appeared to be incomplete, but she insisted that it was correct. Because I was too irritated by the whole situation to argue, I complied and updated the MMSC to that and rebooted my phone. Suddenly, I had internet access on my phone again. Now, before you go changing your MMSC to match that, be aware that she had also had her people and the carrier digging into the situation again, and they were supposedly resetting things and sending signals to my phone. As you’ll see, it’s probably not the MMSC change that got things working. While I had LTE, 3G, and 2G internet on my phone again, my SMS and MMS messages weren’t working , and she and I decided that it might just be too soon after making the MMSC setting change (and other things going on) for it to have started working completely, so we decided to leave the BBB ticket open until this past Monday to see how things went.

Last Saturday, after still not being able to send or receive SMS and MMS messages, I received an email from Heather indicating that I was correct, the MMSC URL that she gave me was wrong, and the documentation throughout Simple Mobile’s site and Android app showed the correct MMSC. I immediately set the correct URL again and returned my “APN Type” field back to the setting I’d had it on since I switched to Simple Mobile: “default,supl,mms,admin”.  Suddenly, everything started working perfectly. So in summary, my phone’s configuration was right back to what it started out as when this whole situation began, and my service was once again working. So I told her as much.

I have just accepted the resolution of this matter with the BBB indicating that as long as the extension of my service is honored and this does not reoccur.

A Possible Sequel?

That remains to be seen. The bottom line is I switched to Simple Mobile to get the hell away from the carrier’s contracts, but at the same time, this kind of support makes me want to go running back to them. My last few cellphones have all been in the Google Nexus series, which just started doing pre-orders on the Nexus 6. As I intend to get that phone, I’m currently weighing spending $650-$700 for the unlocked phone, which is an exceptionally high cost for me, or going back to the carriers where I can probably get it for about $200 or so for a two year contract. If I do go back with the carriers, it’ll probably be with T-Mobile… I have no desire to go back to Verizon after the bullshit they pulled with the Galaxy Nexus, I don’t like AT&T, and I like the idea of GSM service enough to eliminate Sprint. I have issues with T-Mobile, but they seem to be the best option at this point… But we’ll see what happens later this month (November), and I’ll make my decision then.

Contrast…


It’s been a little while since I last made a blog post, anywhere, let alone here… It’s now 2014, and much has once again changed in the world. Detroit has entered bankruptcy, Iran is playing nice (for the moment at least), the economy has picked up… Of course, there are so many things that haven’t changed that I’m not even going to name a few… But what’s surprised me the most is a little game I never heard of before seeing a demo video of it running on a PlayStation 4 kiosk at a Game Stop in Port Huron back at the start of December… A game called Contrast.

The basic premise of the game is that the main character, Dawn, must use her ability to slip in and out of the shadows literally to solve puzzles and circumvent obstacles.Though that’s interesting enough in its own right, the reason behind her actions is a little, sometimes painfully annoying, girl named Didi.

Didi’s sole purpose in life seems to make you do stuff that makes her life better, and Dawn is always willing to comply. So, no, this isn’t a free will open world game but there are frequently multiple ways to accomplish most tasks. There’s also a series of sub-missions that involve memories played out as shadows on building walls, these shadows, when you become one, allow you to reach not so hidden but otherwise inaccessible collectibles called luminaries. The main reason to collect the luminaries is the sake of collecting them, however they are also used to power some devices in the game as well. All of those devices are necessary to manipulate shadows that will enable you to accomplish tasks and solve puzzles, but never fear: if you can’t do some of the memory wall puzzles, there’s usually enough luminaries that are easily obtained for you to continue moving forward.

Aside from some of the shadow puppet theater, there’s no actual violence in the game which makes a nice change of pace from many other games that use a 3d environment. Didi’s story is very much the focal point of the game, and it’s a very engrossing one at that. There’s a lot going on with just her family, but as interesting as it is, it doesn’t mask the question you’ll start asking from the very beginning… “Why…?”

I’m not going to state the full question, despite my normal spoiler heavy posts, because I admire and respect the game enough to keep my trap shut. But trust me, it’s an obvious and simple question, for which you only get close to having an answer for towards the end of the game. Still, the pieces of that proverbial puzzle are there for you to solve to your own mental satisfaction. But the highlights of the game for me are all of the little touches in the game honoring cultural icons, the dialog which occasionally have pauses that completely change the contextual meaning of what’s being said, and the overall film noir look and feel of the game.

Forgive the pun but I don’t know what compulsion the team felt to develop this game, but personally, I’d put it down as the second best game of 2013, which is really amazing for a core team of seven people. Not that I am any authority of anything in any field, but the only game to surpass it last year was Naughty Dog’s “The Last of Us”. Whole I’m a huge fan of their games and stories, the only reason I’m giving them the victory over Contrast is the length of the game. Not that Contrast is a particularly short game, it can indeed be completely experienced (I’d hate to say “beaten”) in just a couple hours, but “The Last of Us” has a lengthy, very involving story. Both games are great in my opinion, and I enjoyed both in different ways; TLoU got my heart pumping, but Contrast, to put it mildly, was fun. As much as I love the former, it was rarely a game that could be considered fun, it was a tense, drama filled experience and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Well that about concludes my spiel on Contrast, but I do want to say that if you have a PS4, get this game! You should be able to get it for free at this point in time, I don’t think you even have to be a PlayStation+ member. But even if you do have to pay for it, I feel you could do a lot worse for your money. There are some bugs in the game but those will get worked out with time.

There’s a bit more information at the PlayStation Blog about Contrast that you might find interesting, and if you don’t have our want a PS4, you can also buy it on PC through Steam.