Millennial Communication Issues: They’re Universal

If you’re looking for a hot take on Coronavirus, go elsewhere.
If you’re looking for a hot take on the death of George Floyd, go elsewhere.
If you’re looking for a hot take on the 2020 election, go elsewhere.

Sorry not sorry, I’m not discussing those topics on this blog. They’ve been discussed and re-discussed everywhere; everything I have to say has been said a hundred times over, and since this is neither Fox nor MSNBC, you’ll probably disagree with at least half of it anyway.

 

With that all being said, let’s discuss this video; crass language warning:

Millennials in Japan Aren't F**king

Jim heads to Japan on a f**king investigation to find out why the millennials there aren't f**king. Is your country the next unf**kable place?

Posted by The Jim Jefferies Show on Tuesday, October 8, 2019

 

I’ll put aside some of the cultural differences; while I admit that I’d be somewhere between confused and creeped out if I were to ever frequent a maid cafe, there are no shortage of cultural differences that go the other way. I don’t think that’s the issue here.

No, I think that what’s at play here is something that is consistent between the US and Japan. We see in the video that both the men and the women seem to be unable to actually communicate with each other. One man indicates that women scare him, while a woman says that men don’t say what’s on their mind. The other man tries to wiggle out of having to attempt to ask a woman on a date, while the other woman seems to dodge the question entirely. 

Now, the video continues by trying to say that the problem is that the absence of car ownership means that young people aren’t heading to some secluded spot to have sex in a car. I mean, that seems simplistic to me. I’m certainly no expert in Japanese culture, but following this line of thinking, I’d expect that ‘bringing a condom to Lover’s Point being a mutual expectation’ would be equally as plausible as there being a conveniently placed vending machine providing them. Even so, Jim Jefferies seems to be looking for a simple answer to a complex question, and does so with merely the appearance of research: there is an entire industry of Love Hotels in Japan, and they’ve been there for a generation. You don’t have an industry with thousands of sites that nobody is using.

Either way, I think the video puts dating, having sex, and having children into a blender, and does so to its own detriment. It seemed that only one person of its panel of four people had been on a date recently. Even if that date led to sex (which it likely didn’t) which in turn led to having a child (which it definitely didn’t), we’ve still got three non-parents on this panel, and four people that seem to perceive the idea of talking to a person of the opposite sex for any length of time to be an idea met with something between ambivalence and fear. 

How did we get here?

Well, I think the issues are pretty similar. Now yes, there’s at least something to be said about having so many things vying for our time and attention, whether it be social media and Netflix to simply working long hours on schedules that make it difficult to find a mutually available time for a date. At the same time, the prevalence of the matchmaking services offered by the gentleman toward the end of the video lends credence to the notion that the desire to be able to meet individuals of the opposite sex hasn’t gone anywhere, it’s just more complicated. The fact that the four people in the video have gone on very few dates doesn’t speak to the problem being ‘bad dates’, but that communication in general is something they all found difficult in one way or another.

So, how can we resolve this sort of thing? Well, I’d probably start out by reintroducing both grace and respect into our interactions with others. Whether a matter of platonic relationships, professional relationships, or romantic relationships, there’s some space between “responding only to perfect expressions of ideas” “tolerating disrespect”, in which grace can and should be shown. I think there also needs to be a greater tolerance for awkwardness; overall I would submit that a renaissance in our willingness to engage in situations that are awkward and prone to conflict would help get past the initial hump our Japanese bachelors and bachelorettes reference. Finally, I think that there probably are some socioeconomic things that probably factor in, itself a topic of in-depth study that goes well beyond a clip from a late-night talk show host and a blog post I paradoxically spent way too much time writing and researching as it is…but I’ll at least point out that countries having more access to education for women has a very consistent trend of lower birth rates and higher ages for marriage

There’s plenty of social issues to address, not the least of which is our overall ability to communicate with each other at a depth that actually matters. But follow the data a bit, Jim: you talked to people in their twenties. Go back and find two men and two women in their thirties – they’re millennials, and they’re probably f**king.

My Favorite Mass Effect Quotes

So, most people who know me, know I’m a fan of the video game series Mass Effect…something I’ve discussed on this blog before as well.

Since it requires a good amount of time and dedication to enjoy the game, I thought I’d make a list of my favorite Mass Effect quotes for those who have never played it, and likely never will. Its story driven narrative make it compelling to the point where there are shirts indicating one’s preferred romance interest. Here’s a list of some of my favorite quotes, in no particular order. Also, some spoilers ahead…but it’s been ten years; having not-played it yet is your own fault.

 

Legion: “Human history is a litany of bloodshed over different ideals of rulership and afterlife.”

Legion is a great character, and I could probably make this list solely based on Legion quotes alone. While a gross oversimplification, this single-sentence summary of most of human history is sadly more accurate than not.

 

Tali: “Tali Zorah vas Normandy, reporting for duty.”

Like a number of other quotes here, there’s plenty of backstory required for this. Tali is a Quarian, a nomadic race who live on a flotilla after being exiled from their home planet. Their names reflect which ship of the flotilla on which they live and serve. Part of entering adulthood in their culture is to go on a pilgrimage, where they leave the safety of the flotilla and explore the galaxy on their own, looking for a contribution to bring back to the flotilla, usually a skill or technology or material the flotilla can use to trade with allies. When we first meet Tali, her name is “Tali Z’orah nar Rayya“, the ‘nar’ indicating that she hasn’t yet gone through her pilgrimage.
In the second game, she is accused of treason. You, the player, go on a mission with her and you act as her advocate in her trial. If you defend her successfully, and her reputation is restored, she chooses to leave the flotilla and, in her first decision of adulthood, becomes a member of your crew.

 

Javik: “My people would never let such monsters walk among them.”
Liara: “They didn’t care for the competition?”

There’s plenty of context to this one…but wow, this is probably the most savage line in the game.
Javik is a Prothean. Specifically, the last Prothean. He remained in stasis, and through a lot of luck and implausibility, survived cryogenically frozen for 50,000 years. We meet him in the third game.
Liara is Asari. She had a particular fascination with the protheans, and we first meet her on an archaeological dig where she is looking for prothean artifacts. She meets Javik along with the rest of the crew, and is a bit starstruck. However, that quickly fades, as Javik has her seriously reconsidering her concept of what the protheans were like. While she starts believing that they were technologically advanced and had a solid amount of culture behind them, Javik quickly fills in the blanks and made it clear that the protheans were apex predators who ruled primarily through conquest and subjugation – essentially the polar opposite of the Asari’s culture focused on philosophy and harmony.
The Ardat-Yakshi are a genetic aberration, a small group of deadly sociopaths who are both very powerful, and have zero remorse as well as an instinctive compulsion to violently kill. The Asari, being enlightened as they are, don’t kill them; instead there is a monastery on a remote part of their home planet, where, while they are forced to live there, they are not treated poorly otherwise.
So, put all that together – Liara, having learned that Protheans being a race whose culture is based upon conquest and militant colonialism, not only calls Javik out on his hypocrisy, but implies that, if he were to go toe-to-toe with an Ardak-Yakshi, would lose. Wow Liara, that’s definitely the comeback line of the game.

 

Mordin: “Had to be me. Somebody else might have gotten it wrong.”

Oh, this one is one of the more famous quotes, and it’s a tear jerker. I’m getting misty-eyed just remembering this scene…but again, lots of context.
The Krogan are a race of brute fighters with a thousand year lifespan. In the past, they were limited to their own planet, and going to war with each other. The Salarians watched from afar, and when a war broke out that they couldn’t win, they introduced the Krogan to space travel and pew-pew guns and a bunch of other stuff they weren’t ready for…but, desperate times called for desperate measures, so if the Salarians had a Prime Directive before that war, they threw it away. The Krogan won the war for them, and kept the space ships and advanced weapons…leaving the galaxy with a bit of a problem. Their answer was the genophage, a disease that made 99% of female Krogan sterile, keeping the population in check as a result.
The Salarians are a highly-pragmatic race that opts to resolve conflicts with stealth and science, rather than straightforward conflict. We meet Mordin, our first Salarian crew member in the second game, where he’s running a clinic in a sketchy back-alley medical facility on the Omega space station (think the Cantina in Star Wars or Tortuga from Pirates of the Caribbean, now run a Stat Health there). As the game progresses, we learn that the Krogan were beginning to develop a resistance to the genophage, and Mordin worked with a team of operatives to release ‘genophage 2.0’…and that they were successful.
At first, Mordin defends his work – a galaxy full of Krogan would be bad for everyone, he wasn’t killing them with weapons of war, their culture adapted to it, it wasn’t straight-up genocide…everyone wins. Over the course of the game, he comes to realize that he crossed the line between pragmatism and playing god. His story arc usually (though not always) ends with him looking to right his wrong.
The player has an opportunity to work with Mordin to cure the genophage. In doing so, Mordin chooses to sacrifice his own life to ensure that the cure is released and the Krogan are cured. Depending on one’s perspective, one could take the quote as Mordin acting as God up until the very end…but my takeaway of it was Mordin saying that he was committed to doing the right thing, and doing it correctly, as his penance and intent to undo the damage for which he was responsible.

 

Shepard: “That doesn’t explain why you used my armor to fix yourself.”
Legion: “…There was a hole.”
Shepard: “But why didn’t you fix it sooner? Or with something else?”
Legion: “……No data available.”

Earlier in this discussion with Legion, we learn that Legion is over a thousand different artificial intelligence entities, occupying a single physical ‘platform’. We also learn that Legion processes thoughts at speeds well in excess of organic beings. Finally, this discussion takes place toward the end of the second game, and we are told that Legion has been watching Commander Shepard, from a distance, since the events of the first.
So, Legion ends up with a hole as a result of a blaster shooting right through him. Legion ignores it for a bit, until a piece of Commander Shepard’s armor is available and fits nicely over it. Legion uses that piece of armor for a cosmetic fix, and Shepard calls Legion out on it, but Legion doesn’t have a good answer. This is funny, interesting, and mind blowing at the same time. Given what we’re told, in the 3-4 seconds Legion pauses before responding (the only instance of this happening in the game), 1,183 distinct AIs compared their data and deliberated to try and find an answer to this question. The answer, obvious to organic life, is that Legion admires and adores Shepard. Since this doesn’t make any logical sense to the Geth programs, however, they realize that there is…no data available.

 

Captain Kirrahe: “You all know the mission, and what is at stake. I have come to trust each of you with my life. But I have also heard murmurs of discontent. I share your concerns. We are trained for espionage. We would be legends, but the records are sealed. Glory in battle is not our way. Think of our heroes: the Silent Step, who defeated a nation with a single shot, or the Ever Alert, who kept armies at bay with hidden facts. These giants do not seem to give us solace here, but they are not all that we are. Before the network, there was the Fleet! Before diplomacy, there were SOLDIERS! Our influence stopped the Rachni, but before that, we held the line! Our influence stopped the Krogan, but before that, we held the line! Our influence will stop Saren! In the battle today, we will hold the line!”

This speech, given just before Kirrahe and his troops go on a suicide mission to stop Saren in the first game, is not done justice by the transcript; you have to watch the video. This particular speech is referenced by Mordin in the second game, and if Kirrahe survives, he ends up as an NPC on a mission in the third.

 

Jack: “I never had a family…and these guys…if anyone messes with my students, I will tear them apart!”

When we first meet Jack, she is a pent up ball of rage that is so dangerous, even the guards in the prison she’s kept in are terrified of her, and the end of her recruitment mission ends with the whole prison getting blown up. In her loyalty mission, we learn that Jack was referred to as ‘subject zero’ by Cerberus growing up; they wouldn’t even give her the human dignity of giving her a name. She was poked and prodded throughout her childhood by Cerberus to become the most powerful human biotic ever, and trained to fight using narcotics as motivation. It’s an incredibly sad story. Over the course of her time with Shepard, she rediscovers the concept of self-worth and purpose. Even so, when Jack says “I will tear them apart”, she’s being very, very literal.
The mission in which Jack says this takes place in the third game. A set of students who are learning to be biotics themselves are being taught and trained by her to improve their abilities. We see Jack with a pony tail and…wearing something that resembles a uniform. She has a certain maternal connection to these students and shows that she genuinely cares about them; an incredible contrast to her ME2 character that didn’t even care about herself.

 

Commander Shepard: “Nobody ever fell in love without being a little brave.”

Self explanatory.

Happy New Decade!

Hey everyone,

 

The months since Bermuda have been rather busy for me, as I’m sure you’ve figured out by now. I have a few different topics for blog entries coming this month, some tech, some faith, and I’m finally putting a recipe or two online for the first time.

Thanks for reading. 

Unpopular opinion: EA needs to keep Anthem, not cancel it

For the unitiated, Anthem is Bioware’s most recent video game release, a “live service” model that’s a new franchise and…went over like a Hawaiian pig roast at a bar mitzvah. They indicated that there was a “10 year roadmap”, and this week it came to light that many of the game’s senior managers had been reshuffled or reassigned.

But, I submit that EA needs to stick to the roadmap.

They probably won’t – the only number lower than the earnings from the game is the metacritic score. At the rate things are going, it is unlikely to ever break even. It doesn’t make business sense to continue developing content for Anthem from the looks of things. Just to get it out of the way, I’m not saying this as someone who bought Anthem and is now upset at the lack of content. Anthem is an anathema to the sort of video games I like – single player with solid mechanics and a progression method which encourages discovery and exploration. Crysis, Sol Survivor, Star Trek Elite Force, Osmos, Kirby’s Adventure, Bioshock, Trine, and of course Mass Effect are all amongst my list of favorites.

The reason I say this is not for my benefit, but for EA’s.

EA wants the “Live Service” model to succeed. Loathe it as I do, I am able to at least understand the business need to have something beyond one-off $60 game sales as a business model. However, as has been exhaustively covered by dozens of Youtube commentators, Anthem embodies most of the worst aspects of the live service model.

Notable in this list is the “roadmap” concept itself – the promise of new content over the life cycle of the game. In the days of yore, content had to be on a cartridge or CD, otherwise it didn’t get shipped. Then, we got expansion packs and downloadable content (DLC) which provided additional content to a complete game. DLC kept creeping in; Mass Effect 3 had approximately $55 of DLC released over the course of its lifetime, it’s hardly the worst offender. The Roadmap concept is essentially a game publisher requesting that players invest in a game for which content will be released over time. This might be acceptable for games intended for some sort of episodic format, but Telltale and Valve both had issues trying to do video games in an episodic format, and I don’t think Anthem or its premise lends itself to it any better.

There are a few reasons I think having a roadmap for Anthem is worth the losses EA will incur. First, Bioware’s issues with the Frostbite engine are well documented. It is clear that getting RPG elements into a game using Frostbite is incredibly challenging for the team there. Using Anthem as a development and de facto UAT platform for those elements may help streamline things for other RPG games required to use the engine. Second, several other live service games with bumpy starts ended up maturing over time and earning themselves a stable fan base. Certainly, it is unlikely that Anthem will unseat Fortnite in the next year or two, but it’s possible that the game will find its footing over time. The capability of a game to adapt to what players are looking for is one of the selling points of live service games. Shifting the focus a bit to single player for the moment might not be what EA and Bioware want long term, but the low number of players aren’t endearing anyone to missions requiring other people to play.

The biggest reason, however, that I think Anthem should stay true to the roadmap is because it is a canary in the coal mine for live service games. If EA abandons the roadmap, EA makes the statement that roadmaps are ‘suggestions’ or ‘nice-to-haves’, rather than commitments. If players stop trusting roadmaps, they’ll hold off their purchases until the first or second phase of the roadmap is in place…which, depending on the roadmap, can be months or years after initial release. This is dangerous because it dilutes the ability for companies to make financial reports based on first-week sales. There may well be pent up demand for an already-released game, but whose prospective players are keeping a wait-and-see approach for the first steps of the roadmap. This makes it a gamble for the publishers as to whether it’s worth spending the money to develop the additional content. Moreover, making those decisions can easily become even more difficult when dealing with competing studios. If Blizzard withheld content for Destiny 2 due to the Anthem roadmap, it would look like an almost laughable decision in retrospect. Conversely, if a game’s roadmap listed a particular release date, and right around that time another super popular game caused a measurable dip in player engagement, it might make sense to delay it until the fervor dies down, but it would then cast doubt on the validity of the roadmap.

Finally, Anthem’s roadmap promised ten years of content. Given how little it’s actually being played, and how little revenue it’s making (relatively), there’s a whole lot of speculation that the game won’t make it until the end of the year. If a roadmap is something that’s actually promised, EA may have to either refund players (i.e. lose every dime they spent developing the game), or roll the dice that none of the players have the time or disdain for EA to file a lawsuit for false advertising. If such a lawsuit happens, it may cause roadmaps to be legally binding. If that happens, it puts EA in a terrible position for future live service games, since those roadmaps will have to go through their legal department to ensure they are only making promises the company can fulfill.

If EA keeps to their Anthem roadmap, it will be a signal to everyone that EA’s roadmaps can be trusted. That trust is critical for any live service game they plan to release. Providing content for Anthem is expensive. Not providing content for Anthem is even more expensive.

What you have to hide

I bought a new phone this weekend: an LG Stylo 4. I need to return it because I can’t root it. I thought about just finally calling it quits with my insistence on being able to root and just using the phone as it ships. After all, millions of people have various amounts of data uploaded to the Googlesphere every day, and no massive problem has happened. Besides, the reason they collect that data is just to deliver more targeted ads, so maybe I really just need to turn a new leaf and deem that beneficial?

Except, I do have something to hide. And so do you.

See, there is actually a career called “advertising psychology”. That entire field consists of people whose job it is to create ads which exploit things in your psyche to make an ad more effective to you. I’m not kidding. Your Facebook and Instagram likes (and other emotive reacts), how long you stay on a page, what things you comment on, what apps are on your phone, what pages outside of Facebook and Google you visit, and plenty of other information all feeds into this profile about which emotions appeal best to get you to act in a particular way. Then, advertisers use that profile.

The profile being built is basically a means by which to determine how to best manipulate you to purchase a particular product. Once that profile is built, how will you combat it? Shadow profiles will continue to be built even if you cancel your Google and Facebook accounts. You’re ultimately powerless, and studies have shown that facts are unlikely to change your mind.

Look, I’m not opposed to advertising in the abstract. There is a need to be able to find out what things are available so I can make an informed choice. However, these profiles are basically the most reliable means by which to manipulate you into making a decision – be it a purchase or a vote – that you wouldn’t have done otherwise, and without recourse or conclusive evidence that it was ever done.

The list of particular strings you are most responsive to is something that *everyone* should want to hide.

My Contacts: An odd thing to get philosophical about

I got my first cell phone for Christmas in 2003. It was a Nokia 3585i, a relic of a bygone era for a number of reasons. At the same time, I am certain there are features that very few Simple Mobile customers utilized. Despite being a prepaid phone, it supported the Nokia PC Suite. I purchased a DKU-5 cable off eBay and did things on my first cell phone that only became commonplace a decade later. I found packs of mobile Java applets around the internet, and would upload them to see which ones worked. Few did, but I did manage to get a handful working. I had custom ringtones I made out of MIDI files I found around the internet, edited using the copy of Cakewalk Plasma I can’t part with. Of course, the cable allowed me to use the phone as a dial-up modem as well. Though I used the Nokia suite natively for my first phone or two, I ultimately ended up using its capabilities to sync my contacts with Outlook – and later still, with ActiveSync.

I am one of very, very few people who can say that I have never lost my contacts, I have never had to type a contact into my phone twice, and I have copied my contacts over to every phone I have ever owned – fifteen of them, if my memory is completely accurate.

Taking a step back, I am perplexed at my own behavior with respect to my contacts. My contacts list is closely guarded – I stopped syncing them with Facebook over five years ago, I have not synced them with Google (actively defending against them using Xprivacy) or iCloud, and only one or two mobile apps get access to my contacts list. They are synced with an Exchange server and are stored locally. I fiercely protect the contact information of my friends.

And yet, it is a set of data I refuse to maintain.

I have 309 contacts. I stopped counting after my 100th person from whom I am estranged for one reason or another. I cannot identify or describe eight of them. Nearly two dozen are for women who have since been married, yet I have not replaced their maiden names. Four are dead. Another four might be. Nearly half likely contain outdated numbers which do not correspond with the individual to whom the number is assigned. On the flip side, I very rarely add numbers to my contacts anymore. I am far more apt to do a search in my text messages or rely on remembering a few digits of the number, leaving my call log to fill in the blanks. Even my own mother’s phone number remains a member of the call log.

 

And in writing this, it’s possible I have figured out why.

 

My contacts list is not terribly useful as a list of people I contact. It is a list of people who had a small part in my life – enough to commit their number to my phone, but not enough to remove the awkwardness of the conversation that would undoubtedly transpire. Perhaps it is a different person entirely, and I could simply write it off as a ‘wrong number’. Perhaps it is the very person specified in the Contacts entry, and the conversation would be a minute long as I realize those people probably do not miss me. Darrell and Gabby will never answer me back, and it’s been three years since I’ve had any contact with Zoe. Maybe it’s a feeling that removing them from my Contacts is like removing the last reminder of them. Maybe I don’t add contacts anymore because I have developed a severe issue with permanence. Even the people who have stuck around for a few years and have long since warranted being added as a contact are still difficult for me.

Then again, maybe it’s because the people that really stick around get their numbers recorded where they need to be. Acquaintances and clients get contacts. The people in my life I call so often I can recite their numbers off the top of my head? They don’t need one.

10 lines to annoy annoying parents

So, I’m not a parent. I have no intrinsic desire to become a parent. I applaud those who become parents, and my heart goes out to those who wish to become parents but are unable to do so.

That being said, a whole lot of people don’t seem to understand why I feel the way I do. I have thus compiled this list of things to say, which generally help even the score.

“I have only seen Frozen twice. I have only seen Moana once. Also, I do not know the theme song to Doc McStuffins, Paw Patrol, Sofia the First, or My Little Pony. Did I miss the show your child is into? Sorry, it’s been a few months since I’ve watched Nick Jr.”

“I had seven uninterrupted hours of sleep last night.”

“Know who was responsible for the last five spills in my house? Me. Also, three of them happened during the Obama administration.”

“Sure, I can cover lunch. I’ll take it out of my nonexistent diaper budget.”

“If I’m amidst an argument that defies any logic, it’s probably with a client…who pay me hundreds of dollars an hour to tolerate their drama.”

“Sure, it’s possible I’ll change my mind. It doesn’t happen multiple times daily, though.”

“I haven’t done laundry yet this week.”

“My carpet is stain-free.”

“I had exactly what I wanted for breakfast, after waking up when I wanted.”

“I woke up to a bunch of noise this morning as well. The construction crew across the street will be done in about a month, though.”

Mass Effect Andromeda: One(ish) Year Later

Youtube content creator Raycevick has made a number of videos discussing video games and how they have aged. Unsurprisingly, his entry on Mass Effect and its sequels have been watched by me several times. He hasn’t done one on the Andromeda entry yet, which is unsurprising given how little time has passed relative to the titles he has already reviewed. 

What caused me to do it, however, is the fact that I finished a second play through a few months ago. To my recollection, it’s the first time I played through a Mass Effect game twice in the same year. In retrospect, I found that strange for a game I felt so mixed about at the beginning. Conversely, I considered the possibility that my opinion may well have been swayed by the familiarity I had with the original trilogy, thus causing me to believe it would be worth giving it a fresh review. Sorry not sorry, some spoilers are present.

 

I think it was the combat which drew me back for a second round. Really, it had to have been. Having gotten used to the “profile” system and the research and development mechanics, I was able to more effectively utilize them this time. My new mouse didn’t hurt, either. Combat was so different from the original trilogy; it took quite a bit of time to acclimate to its differences. The lack of a pausing mechanic, the ability to mix tech and biotic powers, and the jump jets allowing for dodging and hovering in conjunction with true freedom of weapon choice culminates in a far more compelling form of combat than earlier instances. The XP point spending has been polished to perfection, there are plenty of sequences that bring tension with varied enemies requiring a variety of tactics, and the ability to carry both ammo-based and energy-based weapons gives lots of player agency. It’s unsurprising that Frostbite, the game engine originally built for the Battlefield and Medal of Honor franchises, provided the developers with the tools to get the combat aspect of the game right.

Raycevick describes Mass Effect as “a trinity of combat, conversation, and exploration”. Though I’ve lauded the combat component, it’s amazing how much the exploration side falls flat. In my earlier review, I criticized the volume of fetch quests and how much of a time suck they were. It didn’t help that the exploration aspects were a function performed by the player, rather than the character. In virtually every situation, we land where there are already people – not just the baddies, but colonists. How is my avatar boldly going where plenty of people have been before? It’s being revealed to me as a player, but isn’t truly blazing a trail. Now admittedly, I’m having trouble coming up with a better way of making it seem like “exploration” is happening as much to my character, but I’m hard pressed to come up with a worse way to do it than to make me feel like I’m the cluster’s UPS service. I was annoyed by this even further as a result of the fact that I can send strike teams to complete “Apex Missions”…but I can’t delegate side quests to them?

The conversation side is lackluster as well. I’ll emphatically reaffirm the fact that the in-vehicle banter between characters is the highlight of the dialogue. In fact, I was thrilled to find a mod that disabled the AI voiceovers which had a maddening habit of cutting off banter I wanted to hear in order to inform me of something I already knew. However, in-person dialog is rife with shortcomings. The oft-maligned facial animations never bothered me, but it’s the nature of the dialog itself. A handful of characters are voiced by talented individuals who give life and expression to those characters, but most sound like they’re not invested in what they’re actually saying. The different responses themselves tend to be almost pointless to pick. Most players would likely admit that since every major decision had some sort of contingency plan in place (e.g. Wreav if the player kills Wrex, a new council [same as the old council] if you don’t save them, etc.), it was just the illusion of choice if you really got down to it. Even so, dialogue options still had impacts. In Andromeda, I literally can’t recall a single discussion I had with anyone that made a difference about anything other than the NPC’s responses within the conversations. In its defense, the final push had a nice ensemble of radio chatter which reflected the assistance from a number of allies met along the way; it was indeed a highlight of the game to have a “come together” moment with far more cohesion than ME3 provided. That one event, however, does not forgive a game’s worth of ignoring the decisions I spent making when the one of the series’ highlights was how decisions more deeply impacted gameplay.

As far as characters go, Ryder never seems to come into her own, and spends the game being the lowest common denominator. She never seems to truly settle into either being ruthless or compassionate, rank-respecting or insubordinate, diplomatic or a fan of “bigger gun diplomacy”, mission oriented or “no squadmate left behind”. She has assorted moments of trying to get something to shine through, but it’s never coherent enough to truly define the character in the same way Shepard did. I can understand wanting to avoid turning Ryder into “just another Shepard”, but going to the other extreme of having virtually no charisma at all is an uninspiring solution.

It’s entirely possible that I’m biased as a result of watching Youtuber Ruskie’s video on the game recently, but I don’t think he’s wrong on his story assessment, either. The Archon is a one-note, imposing but uninteresting villain. There is little motivation to fight the Kett or the Remnant other than “because they’re evil”. We can’t attempt diplomacy with them, and they don’t have motives besides “exalt everyone”. They’re just cannon fodder with a lust for power. This was forgivable in Doom or Goldeneye:007, but for a game with three prior installments that did a pretty good job giving motivations to the antagonists (admittedly, the Reapers being a major exception), the Archon falls flat as a villain. 

On the flip side, the Angara are solid choices for a species with whom to ally, but they (and the Kett) are the only ones met in the game. By contrast, I met people from half a dozen races in my first lap around the Citadel. There had to be more than two races in the cluster, but even if we want to argue that coming up with another race would have been prohibitive, at least give us more distinct Angara cultures. They’ve been fighting the Kett for centuries, they have different planets they inhabit, and they all have the same language and culture and religion? Exploration could have been done in this manner, by meeting several factions (including those at war with each other) and by putting Ryder in the uncomfortable position of attempting to stay in everyone’s good graces and preventing the Milky Way refugees from becoming the common enemy. It’s not just the planets that could be explored, but really, the people.

The family dynamics fail to have any weight. You have a twin, but they are woefully underutilized. It would have been far more interesting for them to have been a squadmate, with the fact that you were chosen to be pathfinder be a point of contention. The crew could on occasion express concern about whether blood runs thicker than water, with the player having to choose between family and crew. It could have been one of the “big choices” to have to kick your twin off the ship or something similar; Mass Effect hasn’t ever explored family in this way before and it could have really been great. Instead it’s a wasted opportunity because the times when family is involved, it feels more like a forced mechanic than something which can truly be explored by the player.

Other things add to its shortcomings. The variety of planets are not as great as they could be, with three of the six being basically deserts. Even if the desert motif was retained, gravity or sunlight could have been the particular management challenge of a given planet. Wildlife is invariably hostile; there’s no equivalent of the pyjak or the space cow which I can recall seeing. The scourge is purely an annoyance which adds literally nothing to the story or gameplay. I romanced Suvi the second time around, and I found it to be a waste – there were maybe four conversations involved, no real bonding or sense that she and Ryder were really falling for each other, and I found it a strange double standard that while Suvi’s climactic romance scene was a kiss and a dip-to-black, Peebee’s…wasn’t. I can appreciate the planets having descriptions, but I submit that it doesn’t fall into place for those descriptions to exist if I’m just discovering them for the first time. These are just a few of the minor annoyances which collectively become not-so-minor collectively.

In conclusion, I think I stand by my original musings – Andromeda is a pretty good game. It is not, however, a good Mass Effect game. The standard is simply higher for a game whose title is Mass Effect, and it was a standard which Andromeda failed to meet on a number of fronts. Andromeda‘s combat may well have been an improvement over the original trilogy to the point where I played Andromeda twice in one year, but it’s the story that keeps me coming back to the first Mass Effect game ten years after I played it the first time. Do I think I’ll have played Andromeda six times by 2027? Probably not.

Infinity War vs. Justice League, and DC’s Box Office Handicap

This past week, I saw The Avengers: Infinity War. I was also home sick and decided to re-watch Justice League. Minor spoilers of these and other Marvel and DC movies are sprinkled throughout, but nothing major.

It was Justice League that inspired this blog post. A generally held belief is that people are still waiting for the disappointing Marvel movie, while people are still waiting for the DC film that doesn’t disappoint. I think I’ve figured out a few reasons for the disparity. As a quick sidebar, I’ll admit my bias for being a bit more of a DC fan. Sure, ‘feature film’ isn’t their strongest medium, but virtually every TV series they’ve done in the past three decades, animated and acted, have been pretty solid. Also, while Batman: Arkham Asylum and its sequels are excellent games, the only Marvel games I can think of that were any good were their Street Fighter clones – nothing that had its own story to tell.

I am certain that the biggest challenge faced by both The Avengers and The Justice League is the same: they need a villain powerful enough to require more than one superhero to resolve the conflict, and a circumstance dire enough to warrant it. A villain that powerful, however, is nearly impossible to create without devolving into a one-note, insatiably power hungry, god-like being threatening the entire planet. There is basically no other story line which supports the heroes working together in such a manner.

A multi-superhero movie wouldn’t work if they were a villain like Khan. His appeal is the fact that he made the audience second guess whether there was some merit to his cause. Interesting as Khan was (and still is), Iron Man would make quick work of him. It’s similarly impossible to go for the unsettling nuance of a villain like Norman Bates. What made Bates such a memorable antagonist was the fact that he wasn’t some larger-than-life monster, it was precisely that he was so ordinary. That sort of nuance is unsettling when they are the antagonist of an equally ordinary person, but Norman Bates would not have enough time to creep everybody out before Wonder Woman took him out. Even a villain like Darth Vader, the textbook definition for “ominous” or “imposing”, would be a tough sell as an antagonist for The Hulk or J’onn J’onzz; there’s no possibility for a showdown to go his way. Thus, we are left with Thanos, or Steppenwolf, or some other villain who is equally impossible to assign any other personality quality than “more powerful than any two superheroes fighting them”. Any such quality would be subsumed by that power – a power that inherently isn’t human or held by a being that can be any real sort of reflection on the human condition.

As another quick aside, the last point, I believe, is amongst the reasons why Batman villains are as good as they are. Scarecrow’s power is to use people’s deepest fears as a weapon. Two-Face embodies internal conflict. Catwoman’s motivations are primarily self-serving but she’s helped Batman in isolated instances. The Joker is, essentially, Batman’s antithesis and turns Batman’s own moral code against him. An ensemble of enemies who are themselves relatable in conjunction with a flawed protagonist makes an excellent basis for a story, and the lack of one is what makes a superhero movie devolve into “two dudes punch each other until the movie decides one of them actually harms the recipient”.

So, why does DC have this problem more so than Marvel? I think there are a few reasons. First and foremost, I think DC’s biggest challenge is Superman. His laundry list of powers make him a team on his own, and thus no room for internal struggle or conflict – or, conversely, a need for teamwork. A fight between anybody and Superman has no stakes because his only weakness is a hard-to-find substance only billionaires seem to possess. It would have been particularly interesting if Superman’s weakness was something more common, like aluminum – easy enough for him to avoid, but suddenly evens the score as “the thing that can kill Superman costs $20 at Target”. Since it’s not, DC’s first hurdle is far higher – a being Superman can’t beat by himself. This multiplies the motivation and personality problems, because “more power for no reason” or “he’s just evil, okay?” is about the only way to justify an attack requiring more than Superman to resolve.

Second, One of the major issues with superhero groups is the classic question of “who watches the watchmen?”. Marvel handled this with Captain America: Civil War. This movie’s pitfall was that each side seemed to have its adherents split down the middle for the sake of keeping the things evenly matched during the fight scene. It would have been more interesting to have spent more time having the motives of each individual explored and explained, but at some level I’ll need to concede that Marvel’s 12 Angry Men would have a far more limited audience. DC tried tried to tackle the same theme with Batman v. Superman, and it was not nearly as well received. A major part of it was because of the almost nonsensical setup to the fight, along with the fact that the fight could have easily been avoided in a thirty second conversation where Superman just explained what was going on. However, I submit that even with that situation handled differently, the story still wouldn’t have held up. Batman isn’t well known for his unwavering accountability to commissioner Gordon, so for him to be the one having an issue with Superman’s lack of oversight is hypocritical and nonsensical.

Finally, I think there are the “less tangibles”. A few bullet-time shots can add some artistic flair, but over half of the slow motion shots in Justice League were pointless. I think director Zack Snyder uses hard lighting in excess as well. Using heavy contrast in lighting can illustrate a darker mood, but having 2/3 of the movie done that way is enough overkill to leave viewers with a sense of despair that Marvel’s brighter colors help avoid. While Marvel did the single-superhero stories well, DC only seemed to have solid success with Wonder Woman; only she and Superman had a standalone movie prior to Justice League. In practice, this meant that The Avengers could spend more time on the standalone story, while the first half of Justice League was the summarized origin story of The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg (and, dealing with the, ehm, “Superman Situation”).

I’ll close with this – DC truly shined in their early 2000s animated series Justice League: Unlimited. They did this by making it primarily a compendium of smaller stories. In most cases, one or two superheroes would address a particular foe or circumstance, rather than the Justice League battling in concert every time. These stories were excellent in their depth and complexity precisely because they avoided “the world almost ending on a weekly basis”. There were so many great episodes and scenes that I feel it’s a great counterargument to the Marvel movies – the series was done in such a way that it’s near impossible to retell its stories in a movie format.

Me vs. Everyone Else

Me:

Leave the crock pot on before work, setting a reminder with Siri to turn it off later. Attempt to VPN home, but find yourself able to do so on your laptop, but not on your phone. Meanwhile, the app which controls the smart plug into which the crock pot is plugged, only runs on the phone. Attempt to configure the VPN on the phone, spend time copy/pasting blocks of text to overcome OpenVPN errors in the Android app. Finally get to the point where the error received indicates that only “dev tun” mode works, rather than the “dev tap” mode the router currently uses. Attempt to change via SSH and lose laptop connectivity. Restore laptop connectivity, only to realize that it’s not meaningfully possible to reconfigure the VPN mode without the webUI, which isn’t accessible over the VPN. Download BlueStacks and the Android app, reconfigure the network stack to send traffic out the VPN interface, and finally get the crock pot turned off.

 

Everyone else:

Call next door neighbor who has a key.