Stuck

I was scrolling through today’s Instagram stories from the handful of people I follow. Nothing surprising; my hairstylist friends posted hair styles, half of them posted photos of their kids, the one getting married posted a photo with her fiancee, my politically-oriented friends posted their political memes, and my DJ friends posted their decks and their crowds.

What struck me, however, was how basically everyone had some sort of effect. There was glitter, there were song lyrics, there were animated stickers and skin smoothing makeup filters. I’ve never used any of these. Part of the reason is that many of these functions are only available on the “stories” interface. I’ve already established that I have trouble with transient photo taking…as far as I’m concerned, if it’s worth photographing, it’s worth keeping the photo for longer than a day.

But that’s what hit me: how few photo-deserving things I do anymore. There are eleven photos between my most recent one and the one I posted from Bermuda nearly two years ago. Only a dozen more before the first photo of my most recent Origin laptop; itself nearly four years old.

Now, I’m not saying that one’s life should be defined by one’s Instagram…far from it. I’m not saying that I’m basing any level of my happiness with my life on a comparison with people who have more photos. Some people have lifestyles that naturally lend themselves to photographing, and I’m happy for them. No, the point of this blog post is me lamenting the fact that I’ve never used the fun toys in Instagram or Snapchat because I’ve never been there. I’ve never been in the sort of situation where I felt like the situation justified trying those things out.

There are a handful of photos on my Instagram that have been edited, but that’s from when photo editing on Instagram was limited to a handful of color filters (“Valencia”, anyone?), while more elaborate effects remained the purview of Pixlr and PicSay. Perhaps this is the result of spending my adolescence in an era when cameras, computers, and sharing solutions were three different things. Maybe I can place the blame on the applications who limit these functions. Maybe I can split the difference and chalk it up to these features catering to those who perceive transient photo sharing as a hobby in itself, while I’m still hopelessly stuck viewing photography as documentation.

Perhaps, instead, the issue isn’t technical. Maybe I don’t post Snaps on Snapchat or Stories on Facebook or Instagram because I feel a need to be sufficiently entertaining to my followers, as if I am tasked with being entertaining for my dozen friends on Snapchat or 130ish Instagram followers, failing if I make merely a “meh” post. I can simultaneously have the awareness that “likes” aren’t reflective of social acceptance and also remember feeling negative emotions when I tried the “ask me a question” box and got zero responses. My noggin is aware that there are zero instances where Instagram is a positive basis for anything, yet “lizard brain” seems to distort all of it.

As I sit at an airport right now, waiting for a passenger to arrive, I wonder what would happen if I made the most random transient photos – Wiz Kalifah thumping over a photo of the tarmac and concrete barricades, maybe a close-up of the carpet I vacuumed today with an animated sticker, or a mirror selfie that focuses on my hand holding up a towel with ooglie eyes until I can fool the facial recognition to let me make the towel look like a sheep. Maybe this is the way to handle the lizard brain – intentionally mess with people’s stories until they either get the joke or unfollow me, rinse and repeat until lizard brain figures out that the entire point of such an exercise is self-awareness, rather than self-centeredness.

Everyplate: What I like and what I don’t

About two months ago, a Facebook friend said they had a voucher to get a free box from EveryPlate. I took him up on it, and I’ve stuck with it thus far. Every Friday, I get a box with enough ingredients to make three different meals, with approximately two servings per meal. I pay about $38 per box, shipped.

It’s important to know what one is paying for, and what one isn’t. If you’re looking at it as a replacement for grocery shopping or grocery deliveries…yeah, you’re going to be unhappy, because there is maybe $12 in groceries each box. By that metric, it’s definitely overpriced and you won’t be happy. If you’re looking for something that’s one step above TV Dinners, where the instructions are “throw this half in a pot, wait ten minutes, throw that half into the pot, wait two minutes and eat”, yeah, you’re not going to like it, either. You’ll still be washing and peeling, dicing and mixing: vegetables are delivered whole. So, with those disclaimers in mind, here’s what I like, and what I don’t…

Like: New Recipes.

I’ve been cooking for quite some time, and while I can do a good amount of cooking, I like being exposed to new recipes. I’ve got a folder full of things I’ve saved from Facebook that seem amazing, but I’ve never tried them. I haven’t loved, ehm, every plate, but being exposed to different food combinations is already a positive experience. The fact that I have a box full of stuff that will spoil if I don’t cook them gives me a reason to prioritize cooking them.

Dislike: Recipes are a bit confusing.

This may well be a personal preference, but I am not a fan of how the recipes are written. Now, to be fair, after doing a few, I see that they are indeed written to optimize for all components of the meal to be finished cooking at the same time. This is very understandable as an outcome, but the process ends up being very confusing. This makes it difficult to assess what things to substitute.

For example, one recipe had me preheating my oven to 425F…to toast two rolls. I could have done this in the toaster oven, but it wasn’t clear until three steps later that that’s all I was doing.

In another scenario, a single step involved mixing two separate things in two separate bowls…but the fact that it was two bowls was super unclear until several steps later when only a subset of the ingredients was referenced.

Overall, the recipes are clearly written in such a way that they fit in a very specific amount of space, as the recipe cards are attractively designed and obviously intended to be kept. I can appreciate wanting an attractive layout, but the number of times I had to read the same paragraph four times to figure out all six actions in that single ‘step’ is the sort of thing that makes it clear that EveryPlate optimizes for form over function.

Like: Variety

EveryPlate gives me the ability to order three new recipes every week. I can re-order things I’ve had already if I want, but the ability to try new things is part of the draw. While there are premium ‘plates’ that have more expensive cuts of beef or some such, there are always enough bundled options to ensure that my box always has something new.

Dislike: Portion Sizes

I’m one dude. This works out well, because I can almost finish both servings of a meal by myself. Some have this issue more egregious than others; some I’ve genuinely had to come back to in order to finish everything, others I’ve eaten something else after I’ve eaten all the EvetyPlate things. Perhaps it’s a bit healthier to eat a bit less each meal, and that’s fine…but I feel like there’s a happy medium between what EveryPlate ships and “the appetizers at Applebee’s which are two meals by themselves”.

Like: What Ships

The boxes come with insulating wrap and three ice packs, all of which are reusable. If you have a cat, I am certain the box is the perfect size for your cat. I’ve had the box sit outside for six hours and the ice is still solid. It’s a well done shipping solution.

Likewise, the produce is always fresh. Every pepper is clean, every tomato is perfectly red. Meat and poultry is shipped in thick, vacuum-packed plastic. It lasts for days in the refrigerator, and is always cleaned beforehand.

Dislike: Sometimes…What Ships

If you grew up in a similar household to me, you know that garlic is measured with your heart, not your measuring cup. If two recipes call for half a bulb of garlic, I get one bulb of garlic. My dude…first off, not every clove is fit to cut and chop; you can’t assume that. Second, if a recipe calls for three cloves of finely chopped garlic, it needs five. I have run out of garlic every single time I get a box. It’s cheap, but if you’re going to be that way about it, at least give me the option to add an extra bulb the way I can add extra chicken.

One recipe I had gave me the option to pickle an onion using lime juice. This seemed interesting, but I got a single, tiny lime whose juice could barely wet the bottom of the bowl. I made it work, but again, I feel like a second lime could have been helpful since not every lime juices the same.

Like I said in the beginning, it’s maybe $12 in groceries. I feel like ‘just a bit extra’ would make me feel far happier with what I receive every Friday.

Like: Habits

This certainly isn’t the sort of thing that EveryPlate explicitly sells, but EveryPlate has given me motivation to cook instead of grabbing Chipotle on the way home. Even assuming I eat both ‘servings’ and the amount ends up being $12/meal, it’s not out of line with what a barbacoa bowl ends up costing. I have done other shopping in terms of making things a bit differently than I used to, and recognize more things I can potentially make. This is helping me improve some overall habits I’ve had for some time.

Dislike: Dishes

Many of the things I cook are optimized for a single pan, a cutting board, and maybe three utensils. I hate dishes. EveryPlate meals seem to assume I have a dishwasher, apparently. It’s common for a meal to involve a frying pan, a pot, a baking pan, a cutting board, two bowls, and five utensils, in addition to the actual forks and plates used for consumption. There’s a sink full of dishes after I finish, and it’d be far easier to not-mind them if the recipes had time for simmering or something similar where I could wash dishes in between…but alas, they do not.

So, that’s my summary of being an EveryPlate subscriber. Will I keep it for now? Yeah, probably. Will I keep it for a year? Ehhh…jury’s out. We’ll see.

Parenting

Tonight, I had trouble sleeping. Partially because I had four cups of coffee today, the most recent was around 9. It’s almost 2, and I’m still up. I just finished watching this week’s episode of The Rookie. The protagonist had his son going into open heart surgery.

A client at work called me today. Their server has just enough extra CPU activity to cause more noise than they’re used to. Everything looks fine, but I just checked it again to see if there were any signs of ransomware.

I’ve joked around in the past that “my networks are my children”. Maybe I’m just oversensitive, but I’m worried. Irrationally so, most likely. Somewhat like a parent has that underlying worry about the well-being of their children.

If this is what being a parent is like, even a little bit, then I seem to have a hard time believing it’s something I would want. I wish it wasn’t so terrifying.

Journeyman: My headcanon for the remainder of the series

Journeyman was a series that debuted alongside Chuck and Heroes back in 2007 on NBC. Its late time slot, low marketing push, and coincidental timing with the WGA strike of 2007 meant that the show was destined to be canceled after just thirteen episodes. However, having re-watched the series, I thought through how I would make the series continue, had it been up to me. If you haven’t seen the show, go watch it, because reading this blog post won’t make much sense.

 

Creator Kevin Falls indicated that the ‘back nine’ episodes of Season 1 would include a few notable things: Katie and Zach living elsewhere for a while, and Dan and Jack becoming roommates. Olivia was going to die in episode 20, with Dan bringing her back in episode 21. This would, however, mean that Dan lost Katie and Zach, with no idea how to get them back. Since he’s the creator of the series, we’ll go with that, and pick up with that in Season 2.

We start Season 2 with Dan hitting the bottle, hard. Jack tries to give him some moral support, but is simply unable to console him – he doesn’t even remember Katie. Olivia travels forward in time again, and joins Dan in being upset, as she has found out that Henry died storming the beaches of Normandy. They read Evan’s journal and read how many things could have happened, had Evan not intervened…and they decide to work through their grief and continue traveling. They end up traveling together to the past to help someone, and end up being successful, and they part ways and go back to their own time.

The next episode involves Dan getting let go from the paper. Hugh feels bad about it, but more cuts means that it’s just been impossible for Hugh to keep covering for him. Dan travels to the past, and his job is to win the lottery…just enough money to sit in a bank and compound some interest, so that he can spend the rest of the show living off the interest of his winnings when he returns to the present. In this episode, Theresa has her baby. The episode ends with Dan running into an elderly Olivia.

In Episode 3, Dan and elderly Olivia interact for a bit. She tells him a few stories regarding what else she learned over the course of her life, though she laments that the last time she and Dan interacted before then was the time she needed to go on. However, on this visit, the two of them go on one last mission together to get Katie back. They are successful, but they both return to the present. Katie and Zach are back, remembering everything. Katie and Olivia see each other and speak briefly, but then, Olivia dies.

Episode 4 begins with Olivia’s funeral, where Dan meets one of Olivia’s siblings. Dan then tells him about Olivia’s life and her traveling to the future and so forth; he shares details about Olivia’s life in the past. Dan travels back to help somebody and does his thing. The episode ends with Theresa traveling for the first time.

In an echo to Olivia’s direction of travel, Theresa only travels to the future. In an inverse symmetry to Dan and Olivia who only interact when Olivia is on a mission, Dan and Theresa only interact between missions, giving her advice for the next one. In episode 5, Jack and Katie bond over their feelings of helplessness while their respective spouses are on-mission, while Dan and Theresa get closer over their experiences as time travelers. Nobody cheats on anybody, but throughout the series these dynamics come up from time to time. We don’t see Theresa’s missions to the future; we only hear about them through dialog.

Throughout the rest of the season, those are the major ingredients that drive the plot: Dan goes on his missions,  Theresa on hers, sometimes they are linked and Dan’s job is to give info to Theresa or vice versa, Katie and Jack decide that the six of them should share living space to help each other out during mission times. Over the next several episodes, this all settles in, but toward the end, Olivia’s sibling tries to go public with his sister’s story, which garners the sort of attention Elliot Langley warns them about. Langley meets up with Dan to give him a flash drive with all of the information he’s compiled, and burns everything else. Langley dies enabling Dan to escape. The season finale ends with Dan, Katie, and Zach huddled together, and Jack, Theresa, and the baby huddled as well. Dan’s family all travels to the past, while Jack’s family moves to the future.

Season 3 involves the usual set of missions, but with a ‘new present’ to which they return. Each side works to deal with the shift; Zach grows up as an 80’s kid while Jack’s child ends up beginning her life in 2030. A few attempts are made to make contact between the families, but Dan isn’t terribly successful. A slightly-younger Langley runs into Dan, who in turn helps him try to communicate with his brother. Through something reminiscent of Frequency, Langley conjures up a radio device that allows Jack and Dan to communicate through time – one of Dan’s eventual missions involves getting the plans to a protege of Langley’s who will eventually meet up with Jack and make this possible. Between the two of them, they are able to figure out a way to find enough leverage to keep the ‘powerful people’ at bay, at which point both return home to the present. One idea I had for this was that they demonstrate the power to cause some sort of tragedy and they deal with the possibility of having to become de facto terrorists to survive. Another idea would be a full-blown underground/off-grid lifestyle, though the need for money and resources to research their mission targets becomes a problem.

Season 4 is the last season, and Dan and Theresa continue their missions as usual, in their ‘new normal’ of a house of six, living off Dan’s lottery winnings, helping people here-and-there. In some cases, they run into people who were mission subjects in the past who remember them. The season ends with Dan and Theresa meeting God, as played by Morgan Freeman, who informs them that this is a calling, and that it is all orchestrated in this way because our lives are a matter of one interaction – one missed elevator or one bad day at work is all it takes to alter someone’s life, and they are proof of that. Dan and Theresa, and Olivia and Evan (both of whom are present, along with a number of extras from earlier points in time) are God’s way of helping humanity be its best.

So, that’s how I’m figuring Journeyman would go.

Am I insulating myself?

I continue to use my phone without Google services, and I like it. I finally feel free. But now I’ve started to wonder.

I remember watching “The Matrix” for the first time back when I was 15 or so…and I remember thinking about the nature of what motivated the characters and why. “Freedom” is a word that gets thrown around alot, but there is a part of me that, even back then, seemed to resonate with Cypher, the one who negotiated with Agent Smith to get plugged back into The Matrix in exchange for giving up Morpheus. Now sure, the betrayal part wasn’t cool, but wanting to get plugged back into The Matrix? That made a whole lot of sense to me.

Cypher was having a steak dinner. Not really, but it was real to him. What was everyone else having? One nutritional supplement. That’s it. For the rest of your life. Neo found love in Trinity, but Morpheus never did. If Cypher was looking for female companionship, there were no options on the ship after Switch died. They spent their days constantly on the run from the Sentinels, they never saw daylight, there was nothing they got to truly own…the list of drawbacks continues, while the list of advantages of not-being in The Matrix doesn’t. We root for Morpheus and Neo and Trinity because they’re fighting the good fight…but in practice, was Cypher really so off base for wanting to live out his life back in The Matrix? I don’t think so.

It’s been about a month since I’ve been using this phone completely Google-free. I can take pictures, but not nearly as good as the photos I can get using the Camera app from OnePlus. SwiftKey is still inferior to Swype. Visual Voicemail barely works. Frost, my Facebook replacement, acts strange and has trouble loading pictures sometimes. I can’t be sure that it’s truly software related, but my 5G performance is generally worse than LTE…and that’s just the things I know.

I don’t use TikTok.
I don’t use Craigslist.
I don’t use Snapchat.
I don’t use  Youtube (except in a browser).
I don’t use SoundCloud.
I don’t use Twitch.
I don’t use Office.
I don’t use a Fitbit or other fitness band.
I don’t use Teams or Slack or Monday.
I don’t use CashApp or Zelle…though I do use Venmo and it works.
I dont use Discord.
I dont use Spotify.
I don’t use Pinterest.
I don’t use Walmart or Target or pretty much any shopping apps.
I don’t use Google Docs or do much in the way of document editing on my phone, unless you count this blog.
I don’t use Uber Eats or Doordash or pretty much any food ordering app.
I don’t use Alexa or Google Assistant or Siri.
I don’t use Ring or a security DVR.
I don’t use Neighborhood or Next door or Everyblock.


The list goes on and on…and I’m starting to wonder if the experiences I eschew to spend my days on a command line on my desktop are worth it. People are finding things they like, buying and selling things amongst local people, ordering new foods, chatting with the people it’s been a social taboo to meet, and I’m sure there are hundreds of other things that mobile apps are doing, but I’m not.


There is most definitely a part of me that feels a bit like Ariel… Wanting to be where the people are and finding myself  wondering if my aversion to echo chambers and endless online accounts means that I have simply made an echo chamber of my own. I sit, wondering whether the nuance of the liberty I feel is a technicality in that I spent a massive amount of time and effort to simply custom build my own prison.

Google collects a metric truckton of data from everyone, and yet, the world turns. Nobody else gets concerned if Google has all their contacts; nobody in my contacts list isn’t in someone else’s phone that is uploaded. My texts are synced on someone else’s phone, and even if my location is only partially traceable based on the amount of disabling I have implemented, my work phone remains on my person with far fewer limitations.

Why am I fighting this battle? What am I fighting for? “because I can”? Because I’m somehow sticking it to “Big Tech”? Because I’m worried about my data being accumulated and monetized while also using Facebook and doing nearly all my shopping with a credit card?

Maybe all of this effort is just me spiting myself. If Google turns on the billion people that already have Android phones and somewhat-consensually sync all their data, then I’m very unlikely to be “spared” from whatever happens. I’ve got friends who expressly opt into giving Google data in pretty much every possible way… And they seem happy.

Betrayal aside, maybe Cypher was right: the steak he ate wasn’t real, but the experience of eating it was, and it was an experience he could have inside The Matrix that he would never experience as long as he was “free”. Maybe my quest for a Google-free phone is little more than a quixotic waste of time, and I’d achieve greater happiness by going back to the phone’s original software from the manufacturer, leaving my phone modding days in the golden age of the HTC HD2 or Galaxy S3.

Or maybe, freedom is ownership…and even if “freedom” boils down to constructing my own prison, at least it’s mine.

Why “Among Us” doesn’t appeal to me

Yes, I visited my family for Thanksgiving. 

 

My niece and nephew enjoy the game “Among Us“, as do millions of other people around the world. I bought a copy of the game trying to give it a shot, but the game doesn’t have a single player mode or a training mode where you play against bots…so, it sat for a bit until my niblings asked to play it with me, so I did.

Now, having watched a Youtube video or two on the topic, I knew the rules and such so it wasn’t an issue at all to play with them. I’ve played a few rounds, and while it’s enjoyable enough to do with them, it’s far from something I look forward to doing once I get home. This got me thinking: why do these young kids enjoy the game, along with no shortage of people my age and older, but I find it the sort of thing I’m not looking forward to playing at all?

 

I think the biggest reason is because the skill in the game stems from being able to either lie effectively, or figure out who’s lying to you. If I’m the impostor, I win by lying to people. If not, I accuse people who may well not be the impostor.

 

This sort of difficulty happens a lot in life. A game with such scenarios as a central mechanic don’t strike me as the sort of thing that draws me in.

Who knows; maybe next year they’ll be ready for Civilization.

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.