Archive for July, 2018

Thoughts on Rogue One …

July 30, 2018

So, I broke down and bought both Rogue One and The Last Jedi. I have watched both. I’m going to comment on both, but I’m going to start with Rogue One.

The overall summary of Rogue One is this: It’s an okay science-fiction movie, which is pretty much the most we could expect from it given its subject matter. But it would have been a better movie if it had been a standalone film and not a Star Wars movie.

Since this movie is relatively recent and I’m probably going to talk about things that are spoilers, I’ll continue below the fold:


Minimum and Living Wage and Economy

July 27, 2018

So, I’ve been reading things about the economy and the minimum wage and living wage and all of those standard and common arguments, and I came to this conclusion:

Conservatives — especially those who align with Trump and MAGA — are closer to being right about these things than liberals/progressives are.

First, let’s define the problem: there are too many people trying to live and raise a family on minimum wage salaries, and the minimum wage is too low to allow that. Thus, we have too many people working the best jobs that they can reasonably get and yet are still struggling desperately to make ends meet, with no real hope that this will ever change. I think we can all agree that this is heart of the issue, right?

Now, the typical way that the market is at least supposed to deal with this is that if we presume that those workers really, really want to get a job that pays more, then in general if any such job opens up they will immediately try to get it. If this happens to enough people, then the employers paying minimum wage won’t have enough people to staff their businesses, and so will have to raise wages to attract employees. If they don’t do this willingly, then this means that they have enough people willing to work for them so that if people leave for better jobs those positions will not go unfilled. Thus, the businesses that pay minimum wage can get enough employees and so have no need to raise wages.

Of course, we have to ask why that is. When the economy is good, what generally happens is that the people who are looking for “living wages” can find jobs that pay that without having to worry about minimum wage jobs. This reserves minimum wage jobs for people who don’t need a living wage, but who also might enjoy some of the fringe benefits of minimum wage jobs (generally flexible work hours). So you get more part-time workers working there, as well as students — both high school and college/university — and families using it as a second income. Thus, no one demands that the minimum wage be a “living” wage because few are actually trying to use that job to support a family, and those who are definitely plan on that being a short-term condition.

The problem here, though, is that due to the economy people who would really like to be paid more than minimum wage are forced to take minimum wage jobs because they can’t get anything better. And to them it doesn’t look like there are any better jobs on the horizon. And the reason for this is that we have lost a lot of the unskilled labour jobs — like manufacturing — that nevertheless paid enough for a family to live on. Many of them have gone overseas, where labour is, in fact, even cheaper, and so companies can make more money while paying their employees less without the fear that those employees will bail for better jobs, or at least jobs that are less strenuous. They can pay their employees the equivalent salaries that always had them attract the best unskilled labour and still pay less wages than they did in the more developed countries.

From this, those businesses providing mainly minimum wage jobs now have an absolute glut of potential employees, and most of them are far more desperate than they used to be. This gives the businesses pretty much all the power, and so they have no need to raise wages or, in fact, provide any real services to their employees. Add in that for most McJobs it is relatively easy to train new employees, and they really don’t have to care if their employees get unhappy and quit. But it is important to note that they also don’t really have any desire to have people supporting their families on their jobs; they were doing just fine when very few tried to do that. It’s just that now they have more power than ever … and are now facing public and political assault because too many of their employees can’t live on the salary they provide, even though they never promised anyone that they could.

So, what should the fix be? Since the underlying issue is that too many people are forced to take those minimum wage jobs because they have no other means to provide for their families, one solution is to increase or rely on social support programs to fill the gap. If these people are better off not working for minimum wage and instead by going on social assistance, then that will reduce the glut, and so reduce the power of the businesses. The problem with this solution is two-fold. First, the businesses were going along quite well with people who didn’t care if the minimum wage was a living wage, so it’s not going to encourage them to raise wages. Second, people on social assistance aren’t generally productive and get enough to live on — so not enough for luxuries — and so having more people on social assistance will do little to improve your economy, and thus do little to provide living wage jobs for those people. Without fixing the economy, those people might have to be on social assistance for a long time.

The conservative fix, embodied in MAGA, is to bring these jobs back. And if they can do so, then they would be, indeed, attacking the underlying problem by trying to fix the economy, and provide jobs that require unskilled labour but pay more than minimum wage. Thus, they’re aiming at the right problem. The issue with their solutions is indeed if they will work. The theory behind the tariffs is that the labour costs are lower overseas, and so if there are no tariffs multinational companies and manufacturing companies can relocate their manufacturing there and ship the products into the countries and still maintain their cost and therefore their profit advantages. Adding tariffs either forces those companies to increase their prices — and thus risk losing sales — or else reducing their profits, perhaps to a level where they don’t really gain by moving out of the country. Traditionally, this approach worked relatively well.

I don’t think, though, that it will work anymore. There are two reasons for this. First, a lot of the unskilled labour is getting replaced by automation anyway, and so even bringing the companies back won’t bring back as many jobs as it did in the past. Second, in the past the U.S. and other Western nations were big markets, and so even if the other countries slapped on retaliatory tariffs for the most part the companies were still most interested in selling to those countries. But China and India are now seen as the markets with the most potential for growth. In the past, if you tried to force companies to either sell to the U.S. or Europe (or even Canada) or alternatively sell to China and India, the choice was obvious: pick the Western nations. But now as China and India are emerging markets with massive populations, companies are wondering which side they’d make more money focusing on … and are increasing coming to the conclusion that China and India are the bigger markets with more potential. This is a factor that didn’t exist before, and so makes the tariffs strategy much more risky.

Another way to fix the economy is to get in on the ground floor of new technologies, something that Western nations were pretty good at in the past. The problem with this is that new technology generally requires skilled labour, not unskilled labour. This would leave a lot of unskilled labour that you need to do something with, and retraining takes time.

Okay, but I’m sure defenders of raising the minimum wage have been champing at the bit to proclaim that raising the minimum wage will fix the economy, as it provides more money for the working class — presuming, of course, that all wages rise along with it — and thus provide a boost the spending and the economy. First, the evidence that it does that isn’t at all clear. At best I’ve seen a number of cases where it is claimed that it doesn’t cost jobs, but those studies have major confounds. If the economy is bad, then it is likely that most companies are running at rock bottom employment levels as it is; they aren’t likely to lay more people off than they already have, although some might go under. When the economy is good, we don’t normally care that much about the minimum wage and so don’t raise it — because most people who need living wage jobs have them — and it’s hard to measure how much that raise might slow the growth of some companies. In general, the cost of labour is always going to be taken into consideration when hiring people and determining how many people you need, and so it will be a factor. And what we do see is that if the minimum wage — and wages in general — increase, so does the price of products. After a recent minimum wage hike here in Ontario, there was an almost immediate hike in prices at restaurants and grocery stores, two areas where a minimum wage increase will hit the hardest (I don’t know how it hit stores like Walmart because I don’t shop there enough to do price matching). In general, any cost increase that can be passed onto the customers will be passed on to the customers, and that will then increase the cost of living which will then eat into that salary increase. All in all, the main issue here is that it won’t provide steady, stable jobs that provide a living wage, because minimum wage jobs are not that kind of job, never have been that kind of job, and never will be that kind of job. Thus, it’s a lot like social assistance, except that the costs are borne directly by the businesses instead of by the government itself. But it will still provide no hope for something other than that minimum wage job, and will only encourage businesses to seek out alternatives if they can get it. Going overseas is not an option for direct service jobs — you can’t provide a Big Mac to someone in Canada from China — but it will encourage automation and online ordering, which will then cost jobs.

So the conservative strategy is closest to being right, because it is directly trying to fix the economy. The problem is that those fixes likely won’t work anymore. But it’s hard to see what can fix it without converting the workforce to a more skilled workforce, which is easier said than done.

Thoughts on “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”

July 25, 2018

So, I managed to finish a version of “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” by Edward Gibbon that was abridged by Hugh Trevor-Roper. I found that I really struggled to read the book, so much so that I ended up treating reading it like I was reading something for a course: I read about a chapter a day, and read other things in my more general reading time. This is not how I generally read history books. And all of this is despite the fact that I am in general interested in the Roman Empire. So what was it that so bored me about that book?

I think the main issue is that the books doesn’t really seem to have a focus. Gibbon uses lots of florid and evocative language and a lot of descriptive asides, which is not a bad thing, as long as we have a context for it. But Gibbon doesn’t seem to be just writing a descriptive narrative, telling us what happened in roughly chronological order, where we can see the asides as things that happen to come up in that discussion. He doesn’t even always follow a chronological order. However, he also doesn’t seem to have an overall thesis that he’s trying to convince us of, such as giving an explanation for why the Roman Empire fell that he is trying to prove, where we can see the asides as the details of things that we need to know to understand in order to see how the events fit into his thesis. So the descriptive asides are too long and detailed to be simply ignored as asides, but don’t seem to serve either the narrative of the events themselves or the overall thesis of the work. Because of that, I think I kept wondering why they were there and so felt that they were out of place and distracting from the book itself. If I was interested in what the asides were describing, it went better, but still the book really did seem to drag at times, which is why I enjoyed it more when I limited how much I was reading it.

My opinion is that the book would work well as a textbook, but not as a book that is just read. The descriptions and language mostly work, but what it lacks is the context to keep the descriptions interesting. As a textbook, the teacher/professor and the structure of the course would provide the context and allow the reader to skip over things that don’t add to the context they’re exploring. Trying to do this yourself for the entire work is far too difficult, especially since the events described might not fit what you’re interested in and so you’d be constantly struggling to find some meaning in what you’re reading, which is, well, pretty much what happened to me, actually.

I don’t regret reading the book, but I am very happy that I’ve finished it and am almost certainly never going to read it again.

And I Missed Last Night’s Dynasty!

July 23, 2018

So I’m still watching Dynasty, and right now I’m at the start of Season 5, so this is a good time to talk about how it changed after Joan Collins joined as Alexis. As I suspected, it quickly improved. She provides an actual strong villain, which was missing from the first season, because while Blake somewhat played the role, Krystal’s opinion of him and John Forsythe’s charisma caused Matt Bleisdel to be overwhelmed, and so we at least found Blake more compelling than Matt. Starting in Season 2, Blake shifts into more of a “hero” role and lets Alexis take over the role of the main villain. Since she has a rivalry with Krystal — at least potentially over Blake’s affections — this allows Krystal to at times take the lead in opposing Alexis, giving her something to do besides be conflicted. It also lets Blake shift into the role of someone who is overall good and someone we should cheer for, but who is both flawed and ruthless. This also allows for the more interesting — but, sadly, also overused — conflict between Blake and Krystal over how ruthless he can be, and over how badly he can treat Stephen. By the end of Season 4, this dynamic is established and carries the show along.

As an antagonist, Alexis is in a similar role to J.R. Ewing from Dallas, but is different from him. As a woman, it’s easier for her to use seduction to get her way, which provides an extra element to the character that J.R. didn’t really have. Yes, he seduced a lot of people, but he wasn’t really able to use that to get to the movers and shakers very often, for obvious reasons, while Alexis can. However, her plots tend to be shallow and not very interesting, while J.R. was a master manipulator. I blame that on the show’s writing being generally inferior to that of Dallas, though; none of the plots are as interesting or as well-written as Dallas’ were, and they often seem rushed.

Heather Locklear joins the show in Season 2 as Sammy Jo, and her plot is an example of this. The first impression we have of her from the show or from Krystal is that she’s a nice, relatively innocent girl with a less-than-successful but down-to-earth father who has remarried a grasping woman who doesn’t care for Sammy Jo at all, making her “vacation” to visit her aunt a good thing for her and something that was driven by her stepmother’s dislike. The problem is that very quickly Sammy Jo reveals herself to be extremely materialistic and manipulative. She didn’t start out innocent and get sucked into the manipulative, grasping nature of the rich and powerful, but instead pretty much started out wanting things and making plans to get it. She also ended up in a relationship with Stephen, who for a gay man certainly spends most of this time with women. First Claudia, then Sammy Jo, then Claudia again … I think at this point we at least have to call him bisexual [grin]. And the problem is that the show keeps bringing up that fact while continually throwing him into sexual relationships with women. So, no, the show is not at all politically correct.

Adam Carrington joins here as well, after a story where Fallon’s baby was kidnapped and it was revealed that Blake and Alexis’ first child was also kidnapped. As part of that storyline, Claudia was driven to utter insanity and committed to a sanitarium for a time, and Adam was revealed and returns to join the family after the death of the woman who kidnapped him, who he believed was his grandmother. Gordon Thomson does an excellent job with the part, as he has the overwrought and dramatic presentation that you need for a soap opera, and can pull it off without seeming like that’s what he’s doing. The problem is that the show starts him off as a villain, and as a moustache-twirling villain at that. He tries to poison Jeff, frames his mother for the deed when it is discovered, rapes and harasses Kirby, and in general pretty much acts evil for the sake of being evil. In the Season 4 timeframe, they start to give him a Heel-Face turn, which generally works, as they reveal that he had had a bad experience with drugs in his past that caused him to have a nervous breakdown that had an impact on him. After that, he becomes more like Blake — ruthless but generally on the side of the good guys — and so becomes more interesting.

I actually really liked Kirby. Not only was the actress very attractive, but she had a different inflection in how she read her lines that made her stand out. I liked how she interacted with Jeff and Fallon, where she was interested in Jeff — who was married to but estranged from Fallon at the time — but still wasn’t willing to just manipulate Fallon into dumping him, as she still cared about her childhood friend. After a number of bad things happen to her — her rape at the hands of Adam, discovering that her pregnancy was with his child, her father killing himself to hide a secret about her mother that Alexis was going to reveal, and divorcing Jeff — she decides to join up with Adam in order to get the prestige and wealth that she couldn’t get as a “downstairs girl”. This would have been the Sammy Jo plot done properly. Unfortunately, that happened at the same time as Adam was overgoing his Heel-Face turn, which made him less ruthless and directly ambitious, which then didn’t work because we needed the two of them to spur each other on, and that couldn’t happen at that point without undoing Adam’s development. Kirby leaves for Paris at the end of Season 4.

Michael Nader joins in Season 4ish as Dex Dexter, Joan Collins’ most frequent paramour and partner-in-crime. He plays the role well, again having the right sort of melodramatic presentation that works in a soap opera, and providing someone to side with Alexis when otherwise she’d be alienated from everyone, including her children.

Fallon also leaves at the end of Season 4, and when Fallon returns it will be Emma Samms playing the role. I think Pamela Sue Martin did a credible job of it despite my only remembering Emma Samms in the role, so it will be interesting to see what my opinion of Emma Samms is when she takes over the role.

So far, it’s interesting enough to watch, but not as good as Dallas because the writing isn’t as good. But John Forsythe outacts anyone on either show, and the cast, overall, does a good job with it, which helps to make it watchable.

Final Thoughts on Persona

July 20, 2018

Well, I’m going to say that I finished Persona, even though I didn’t manage to finish the final dungeon. What happened was that I sat down one Sunday to finish it, got pretty far, hit a save point, went through the dungeon for about an hour and got into a new area with new enemies, was doing okay … and then had a TPK. And then realized that I hadn’t saved for quite some time and so it was going to be a long way back. Quit and left it for the next weekend. Then I started playing it again on Saturday, went on for about an hour and … had the same thing happen, with a different set of enemies. This despite the fact that I had gone through a number of battles already in that area and hadn’t had those problems. Maybe I was underleveled. Maybe I didn’t fuse enough Personas. But for whatever reason there was a good chance of my ending up with a TPK and having to backtrack for an hour just to get back to where I was. I’m just not up for that sort of frustration.

So, I’m treating it like I treated X-Men: Legends the first time I played it, where I got to the ending, couldn’t beat the final boss, but called it a finish anyway. With Persona, I got to the point where the game could have ended if I hadn’t answered the questions properly, and so was actually past an ending, and probably got to the coolest part, which was where you meet yourself and he evaluates you based on your choices in the game. So I finished this game far more than I might have finished other games.

Eventually, I replayed X-Men: Legends and managed to finish the game. I don’t think that will be happening here.

Playing Persona makes me realize that, for all its eccentricities, the modern Persona series, starting from Persona 3, made a lot of improvements that made the game playable and less annoying than the original game. The original game’s gameplay is built, it seems, around being difficult, but on Easy I found it less difficult overall and more frustrating and annoying, which probably isn’t what they were aiming for.

First, they make it so that your choices in the game matter, but they never actually indicate any of these choices and what they mean. For the ones that impact the assessment at the end, that’s okay. For the ones that impact which ending you get, that’s not as good but isn’t as terrible. The worst, though, was when you recruit a character for your party in the SEBEC route. You can only get one character and so I ended up with Brown, because I let him out of jail and when he asked to join I figured “I need all the help I can get!” and recruited him. I would have much rathered have Eriko in the party for what is almost certainly going to be my one playthrough of this game. It would have been nice to let you change party members out if you came across a party member you wanted more later in the game.

Second, getting Personas is critically dependent on negotiations with demons. However, they never simply offer you their cards, and so you have to “win” the negotiation, by essentially making them enthusiastic with you. You have five party members who can negotiate and their options work at different times on different demons. So in order to figure out how they are likely to react it’s a lot of trial and error, and again it’s not merely a positive response that you are looking for, as making them happy will not allow you to recruit them. And if you make them angry enough to fail the negotiation they might intimidate you to start and so might end up getting the drop on you, so you want to avoid that, but once you’ve selected someone to negotiate with them you can’t change or, I think, end the negotiation, so if you find that the person you selected can’t do anything but make them angry you’re screwed. Also, sometimes based on random events popping up the reactions will change, sometimes positively but often negatively (meaning to anything except enthusiasm). Also, the negotiating member has to be of a certain level to get their card even if you succeed, and it’s not merely character level, and it’s their level, not yours. I think it’s Persona level, which is a separate stat that I could probably figure out if I tried but wasn’t obvious in the game. So you can go through the negotiation, finally succeed, and … not get the card anyway.

This wouldn’t be so bad, except that if you successfully win a negotiation you don’t get any experience for the fight itself. This means that, essentially, you have to choose between leveling up your characters and getting cards so that you can fuse new Personas that you can use in the game. Since you might have to negotiate a lot to get a sufficient stable of Personas to fuse to get good enough abilities, this could really hamper you since your level matters a lot, both for fights and for negotiations themselves. Or you can focus on getting some Personas you like and then going for the XP instead … which is what stood me in good stead for most of the game, but likely is what killed me in the end game. Maybe.

Making this even worse is that merging new Persona leaves them rather underpowered. They might have one good ability and you are expected to level them up to get them maxed out. Okay, that’s pretty standard Persona. Except that the only way to learn new abilities for them is to use their abilities. Yes, you have to specifically use their skills to get new ones, eating away at your often low SP. And if they don’t start with skills that are that useful, or aren’t that useful for the demons that you’re fighting, you are forced to either use the skills anyway to leave them underpowered, which made it pointless to fuse them in the first place. And since you can only fuse from cards and not from actual Personas, if you fuse them they’re yours, even if they didn’t turn out to be as useful as you hoped.

You could try to bring along a number of Persona and then switch to the one you can level up with based on the demons you meet … but a character switching a Persona can only do that in a turn, and so they’d spend their turn switching to a new Persona. With the right Personas/levels on the other characters, the enemies might be dead by the time their turn came around next time, and otherwise you are taking another turn of damage just to switch to a new Persona, making that an impractical strategy for leveling Persona abilities.

Also, XP distribution is odd, as it seems to relate to damage done, in part, but also to you using your abilities. My MC dominated all the XP gain once he learned Megidola and used that to clear out all the enemy parties, which meant that the rest of the party leveled up slower. But to avoid that would require me to be inefficient at attacking parties, which would mean taking more damage and using more SP and possibly taking another TPK when I’m nowhere near a save point.

But the big problem with the game is this: the dungeons are too big and too long and too devoid of story content to be interesting if you didn’t come to the game for the gameplay. I liked the story well-enough, but spent far too much time wandering around the dungeons aiming to get to the next story point for my liking. It seemed to me like over 95% of the game was walking around the dungeons and the last 5% was participating in the story, which includes boss fights. For a game that tried to make your choices matter, this leaves a surprisingly short amount of time to make choices and have them matter, or to explore the characters and the story in any detail. If you really like the tactical gameplay and the negotiation mechanism, you’ll love this game, but if you’re there for the story, it’s going to be boring. Persona 3 solved this by making the dungeons pretty much separate from the story sections (so it’s clear that it’s just grinding), while Persona 4 and Persona 5 made the dungeons far more integrated with the story itself, adding many more story sequences into the dungeons to make them feel more directly related to the story, except for — in both cases — the ones that were explicitly just for grinding. But Persona just felt like a grind, with a few story sections popping up at times to further the plot and remind you that there was one.

And as an old school dungeon game, I liked Dungeon Travelers 2 a lot better, mostly because you could relatively easily leave, rest and come back when you ran out of resources or were finding things too difficult. It’s even the case that they have dark areas and one way corridors and doors, but in Persona those things were incredible annoyances because I really just wanted to get through them to get to the next story part, while in Dungeon Travelers 2 if I didn’t feel like doing them or was too low on resources I could easily leave and come back later when I had more and was higher leveled.

So, that’s Persona. I’m now playing Persona 2: Innocent Sin, and it has one huge advantage over Persona: it seems that you can save anywhere. So I might actually finish that one [grin].

“What Do I Most Want to Rewatch” Ranking of the MCU movies

July 18, 2018

So, I’ve now mostly caught up to the MCU movies — at least the ones that are out on DVD — and so I thought it might be good to do a ranking of them from best to worst. Now, I’m going to steal a line from Chuck Sonnenberg and not try to rank them on the basis of which movie is objectively best. No, I’m going to rank them strictly on personal interest: which of them _I_ like the best. And, in fact, given that this is me and one of my main criteria for movies is whether or not I’d watch it again, I’m going to rank them with the primary criteria being which of them I most want to rewatch when it comes time for me to look for a movie to watch, with some other factors coming into play when the ranking is close.

Note that I’m only doing the MCU movies, and not Marvel movies as a whole, so this leaves out the X-Men movies and Spider-man movies, including Homecoming (because I haven’t seen it yet). I’m also not going to talk about “The Incredible Hulk”, because I haven’t seen it, either. If I was doing all of the Marvel movies, Deadpool would win by a landslide.

1 – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

As a movie, this is the one that I most want to rewatch, although the ending can drag a bit. It has good character dynamics, an interesting plot, a plot that ties into the overall plot of the MCU movies well, a plot that also has a strong personal connection to Cap, good new characters, and interesting revelations about some existing characters. It gives Maria Hill a chance to show off, Black Widow a chance to develop, and develops relationships between Cap and Falcon and Cap and Black Widow (the “Secure the engine room, then find me a date.” “I’m multitasking.” exchange is both funny and revealing) and even Cap and Fury. The action works well, the drama works well, and the movie hits the right notes with its humour, too, cracking the right jokes at the right times. Again, other than the ending dragging, it’s a good movie and one of the reasons that I think they actually managed to do Captain America right.

2 – Marvel’s The Avengers

Building off of the characters that were already established, this movie is just a plain fun movie to watch. The action works, the jokes work, the drama and interpersonal dynamics work. The plot is serviceable and Loki makes an interesting villain. One can nitpick over its flaws, but at the end of the day it’s really just entertaining.

3 – Captain America: Civil War

I don’t like it as much, and the ending drags even more than the ending to “The Winter Soldier”. But the action scenes are good and I really like the interaction between Vision and Wanda. It’s probably an average Avengers movie, which is how I consider it to be as opposed to a Captain America movie.

4 – Avengers: Age of Ultron

This carries on a lot of the themes from “The Avengers”, and so gets a boost from that. It’s also the bridge from “The Avengers” to “Civil War”, which makes it a movie that I rewatch when I want to watch those two movies again. But on its own it’s okay, decent, kinda entertaining. There are some good lines and scenes, but at the end of the day it just doesn’t do as much for me as the other three movies do.

5 – Guardians of the Galaxy

This movie is mostly a sci-fi comedy romp, which makes it entertaining to watch. But it is mostly disconnected from the greater MCU, which means I have no other reason to want to watch it, and the second movie isn’t as entertaining, so I have no reason to want to watch it as a precursor to watching that one. So I watch it when I’m in the mood for it, specifically, and it’s entertaining enough that that does indeed happen relatively frequently.

6 – Thor

I like the movie, but most importantly I also like “The Dark World”, which means that I get some push to watch it when I want to watch both. Unfortunately for it, I don’t care for either of those two movies as much as I like the other ones on this list, thus it has to be placed beneath them. It’s good, but not that good, and the movie that follows it is also good, but not that good.

7 – Captain America: The First Avenger

I found the movie okay the first time I watched it and liked it better the second time I watched it, but it has one major, fatal flaw: it’s not as good as “Winter Soldier” is. Well, okay, there’s another, probably more fatal flaw: I don’t need to watch it to follow “Winter Solider” or “Avengers”. Thus, watching it only makes me think about watching them instead, which means that I tend to think of that ahead of time and so go watch one of them instead. Good movie, but not as rewatchable as the others.

8 – Iron Man

Of the Iron Man movies, this is the one I like. However, the other movies appeal to me so little that not only do I generally not want to watch them, when I do think it might be nice to watch the entire trilogy having to watch the last two movies turns me off the idea. Which means that I rarely decide that I want to rewatch it, even though mentally I do think that it would be nice to rewatch it on occasion. It’s kinda like Mass Effect in that regard: I’d like to watch the first movie again, but that means watching the other two to watch the entire arc, and I don’t really want to watch the entire series just for what I liked about the first one.

9 – Ant-Man

I keep forgetting that I have this movie on DVD. The movie itself is good enough that it should probably be higher on this list — it should likely overtake “Iron Man” — except that it has no necessary link to any other movie that I own and anything else in the MCU. I just did rewatch it and it was fun, but that’s all it really is. It’s not good enough to be watched on its own and there is no reason to watch it to watch the better MCU movies. So, again, I keep forgetting it exists, which is why I don’t rewatch it. Duh.

10 – Thor: The Dark World

I like the movie, but it falls into the low end of “Good” just above “Meh”. That means that I don’t really have any reason to actually watch it specifically. So I only watch it when I watch “Thor”, and sometimes not even then. It doesn’t make me want to watch “Thor” again, and isn’t a movie that I need to watch if I myself decide to watch “Thor”, so it only comes into play when I want to sit down to watch “Thor” movies. And the third one is not appealing enough to make me do that.

11 – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

As I commented when I watched it, it tries to do way too much, and nothing from the first movie really pushes you to watch this one. In short, it’s “The First Avenger”, only not as good a movie. It’s a “Meh” movie with little link to the other movies I have.

12 – Thor: Ragnarok

The same thing applies to this as applies to “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”: it’s a “Meh” movie that you don’t really need to watch to understand any of the other movies right now, and the other two movies don’t provide enough of a lead-in to make me care about watching the entire “Thor” trilogy. My impression of this might change when I rewatch it to get the parts I slept through, but the fact that I haven’t done that yet is a pretty damning indictment of it as a movie that I want to rewatch [grin].

13 – Doctor Strange

This is a solid “Meh” movie that I don’t need to watch for any of the better movies, since it came after them. There are serious problems with it and it isn’t the Doctor Strange movie I was hoping for. Right now, I have no idea when I might watch it again.

14 – Iron Man 2

I have no interest in watching the last two Iron Man movies, but this one is higher on the list because it is the first appearance of Black Widow and that interests me enough to consider watching it again, even though when I do I usually regret it.

15 – Iron Man 3

Since Black Widow isn’t in this movie, I usually just regret it when I rewatch this movie. I don’t think either of the movies are bad, but they just don’t really interest me.

16 – Black Panther

This movie has the same issue that I have with “The Force Awakens”: the more I think about the movie, the less I like it … which is what generated my long thoughts on the movie (which don’t even mention that I found his suit being entirely bulletproof a detriment for a melee combatant). I didn’t enjoy the movie the first time I watched it, liked it less the more I thought about it, and so have almost no desire to ever watch it again. It’s also disconnected from the main MCU and has no initial movie to drive a desire to see the next stage in the arc. I am as likely to watch it again as I am to watch TFA … or, actually, less so, because I might watch that when I watch all of the Star Wars movies, and that is not going to happen for “Black Panther”.

Thoughts on Black Panther (Formed Around Naps)

July 16, 2018

The last time I fell asleep while watching a Marvel movie I called my commentary on those movies “shallow”, because I didn’t get the entire experience and so it was harder for me to do a fair analysis of how it worked overall. So, my first thought when the same thing happened while watching “Black Panther” — to be fair, it had been very hot that week and I had spent quite a bit of time running around doing things that morning — my first inclination was to title this commentary post the same thing. Except that my thoughts on “Black Panther” are actually fairly deep, about fairly fundamental storytelling techniques that I think the movie completely missed. So despite my not really having the full picture, my thoughts aren’t going to be shallow. Hence the altered title.

Also, my overall impression of the movie is: Meh. I didn’t care all that much for it, to tell you the truth. More on that below the fold:


Thoughts on my recent vacation …

July 13, 2018

So, I recently took a week’s vacation. Now, the interesting thing about this is that I took off one week in the summer. Why is that interesting? Because I don’t like to take only a week’s vacation, because I always feel like I’m just getting used to the fact that I’m on vacation when it’s time to go back. Moreover, I don’t like taking vacation in the summer. Additionally, the reason that I don’t like to take vacation in the summer is that I find that the heat of summer is at least if not more limiting than the cold of winter, but in summer I never get that feeling of looking out the window at the weather and thinking “Well, at least I don’t have to go to work today!”. I first time I took vacation in the summer from work — rather than from school — it was the hottest week of the year, and I didn’t have air conditioning at the time, and I mused about going back to work.

The week I took off was the hottest week of the year so far and broke heat records. At least I had air conditioning this time.

So why did I take the week off? Because it was convenient. I needed to burn a week to ensure that I didn’t leave too much for the last half of the year, and I needed an extra day to fill in around Christmas, and the week started with a holiday so it made it convenient. The last release had gone out and my manager didn’t have a new feature for me, and my few bugs weren’t due any time soon, so I was in a slow time anyway. Thus, from a logistics standpoint it was the perfect time to go, and of course there were a number of things that I wanted to catch up on if it wasn’t too hot.

As it turns out, I’d say that I had a productive vacation, if not necessarily a relaxing one (it was a bit too hot to really relax, even with the air conditioning). I made up a list of things that I wanted to do and didn’t expect to get through half of it. I probably got through over three quarters of it. The big things that I didn’t get done were little programming projects and those sorts of projects in general and a few small outdoor things that it was just too hot to get around to. I also learned that Persona is, in fact, a really annoying game, but I’m now on the last dungeon and almost past it, but a random encounter gave me a TPK and I quit out of frustration and haven’t gotten back to it yet. But I made really good progress on it nonetheless, and so will soon be moving on to another game, Persona 2. I got a number of errands done that I needed or wanted to do, including making a batch of spaghetti sauce. So that’s good.

Still, I think I’m less tired this week after working all week than I was after being off the previous week [grin].

So, a useful vacation. Now that I’m back to work and have a feature I’ll have to make sure I build out my schedule to get the things I need to get done done.

Character Blow-Up

July 11, 2018

So, recently, two Guild Wars 2 writers were fired over a blow-up on Twitter. While I first came across it in the comments section of two different sites — one each of left-wing and right-wing — I’m going to link to the Eurogamer article on it because it gives the most information and the links to the threads themselves. The topic of the Twitter thread that started this whole thing was about whether or not you can have memorable characters in an MMORPG or straight RPG, and how you need to write dialogue for characters in those genres. I’m going to talk about that, specifically, a little bit later in the post. However, my impression of what happened is that a Youtube content creator who happened to be a partner with ArenaNet — the company that makes Guild Wars 2 — to comment on how things are working replied to the Twitter thread with a comment that essentially said that it’s not about creating generic conversations, but is instead about making the conversations react to the character the player chooses. The writer — who happens to be a woman — then responded with a snarky comment about him telling her things she already knew, then created a separate thread basically suggesting that he only did that because he was a man and she was a woman despite her being experienced and an expert in the field, thus implying that it was sexism driving his response — specifically, mansplaining — and then responded to other comments on that topic with an even more snarky response that, again, seemed to be aimed precisely at taking exception because it was men who made the comments, and also that they were talking about something she already understood. Another employee defended her — mostly keying off of the argument that this was a personal account and so people shouldn’t reply to it for some reason — and then they were both fired.

So let me talk about that first. First, Denoir — the Youtuber — definitely had knowledge about the inner workings of games that the Price — the female writer — didn’t bother to check to see that he had. Second, he actually was someone that she kinda worked with, or at least someone who worked with her company, which she also didn’t bother to check on but did deny. Third, his comment was standard and the sort of comment that all sorts of people who talk about video games would make, including people like Shamus Young and even myself. Fourth, since she made it on a public forum and linked it back to a thread that was a discussion, it’s perfectly reasonable for people to respond to it. Fifth, just because she works in the industry doesn’t mean that she has that much more expertise than someone “rando”. After all, I personally have at least 20 years experience as a player of RPGs, and thus have quite a bit of knowledge and expertise on the experience of players playing the games. Thus, she can’t really ignore my experience just because she has 10 years experience as a writer, as I technically have more years of experience that is more directly related to player experience. Her appeal there would be nothing more than an invalid “Appeal to Authority” logical fallacy; even with her experience, she could be wrong, and even with my experience, I could be wrong, as well. Anyway, the summary is that someone replied to her Twitter thread disagreeing with her, she thought that it was something that was obvious, and replied angrily by, essentially, calling Denoir a mansplainer and thus at least implied that he was sexist, without being aware that he was officially associated with the company as well and without bothering to address his overall comment, on a forum where she could have expected public comment and feedback. I don’t think that Denoir was in the wrong here.

So, should she have been fired? Just for that, my comment would be “No”. If I was her boss, I would have said that if she is going to make comments like that she had better check to see how much experience the person she is replying to actually has, but that instead it would be far better for her to simply ignore any comments that she doesn’t think relevant, germane, or that she thinks she’s already covered or taken into consideration. There is really no cause for her to fire back multiple, snarky replies to a comment that, at its worst, is stating the obvious, even if it may not have been obvious that it was taken into account in her account. However, there might be other factors that are driving this that demanded the firing, but I can’t see what they are.

Okay, so let’s look at the debate itself. The originating Twitter thread is here, and Denoir’s reply is here. My summary of the debate is this: Price is saying that it is really hard to make the protagonists of MMORPGs, at least, memorable because the player is the one driving the character, and doing so more directly, and so you can’t really give them a set personality. I agree with this, as the main reason I couldn’t give a list of the top ten male characters like I did for female characters was because the male characters were the protagonists more often and so were more personalized, and thus weren’t really “characters” in that sense. She then goes on to talk about making them very generic, using Bella Swan as an example, and so making them what she calls a “blank space” so that the player can insert themselves into it. She then says that their lines have to be devoid of personality for the most part, because that would clash with the imagination of the player. Denoir’s response is that you don’t need to craft the conversations that way, but instead can make them reactive if you drop the idea that the conversations all have to lead to the same place (I presume meaning “response” in this case).

So let’s look at this in more detail. The first thing to note is that this is, well, a common question about RPGs in general, and not just MMORPGs (which Denoir points out). And it is interesting to note that, in general, this is a particular issue for Western-style RPGs, which have always been about character customization, which then leads to players being more attached to a specific character and so feeling that they should be able to act as they think that character would act. JRPGs, on the other hand, tend not to have as much character customization, and so have protagonists that have set personalities. There are some exceptions to this, though, where the protagonist doesn’t have much of a personality and the player can give some small set of responses to shape their personality. Persona 3 — and probably Persona 4 — are good examples of this, as the MCs themselves don’t seem to have a set personality and you can generally give snarky or serious responses to most situations, but in general those responses don’t have much impact on how things work out except for maybe the next response from the NPC, and so can be unsatisfying. This is one of the reasons why I prefer the female protagonist in P3P when I get the chance to play it, because she does seem to actually have a personality.

Now, of course, MMORPGs can’t really work the JRPG way, because it would be ridiculous to have an entire party of players who are all the exact same character. So everyone has to be different characters, and that leads to character customization. Given that starting point, the game is definitely going to move away from a defined character and more into a player-defined character. So, then, how is the game going to do that? Is it going to make every response simply generic in tone, or is it going to be more player-responsive?

The thing is that both Western RPGs and MMORPGs have actually gone for the “player-responsive” option. Bioware is the best example of that approach in both genres. The player gets to choose the options that their character says, and the dialogue is then shifted in tone to match what they were trying to say. The Witcher games, from what I’ve seen, do something similar, and yet actually manage to define a character despite the player having great input into what they do (and, as open-world games, are similar enough to MMORPGs so that the comparison works). And if you are going player-responsive, you don’t actually need to make the actual dialogue generic because you know what sort of personality the player is going for by what response they selected, and so can write the dialogue to reflect that. In fact, if you made it more generic it would hurt the dialogue, because it would feel like the dialogue isn’t actually taking your response into account.

Okay, but there are always going to be some cases where the player can’t choose what they say, such as with greetings and goodbyes and the like. Those have to be generic, right? Well, I’m not sure about that. If we just look at the Mass Effect games or The Old Republic, we can see that the use of a morality meter can, in fact, solve that problem, too. If the character over time is trending Dark Side or Renegade, you can make their initial lines more aggressive or gruff, while if they are going more Light Side or Paragon you can make them more kind and friendly. And you can even shift NPC reactions according to that reputation: if the character is more Dark Side or Renegade, the NPC can be more intimidated, frightened or disapproving depending on their own personal viewpoint, whereas if the character is more Light Side or Paragon you can have them do the opposite. If the character is Dark Side or Renegade, the NPCs can try to appeal to their self-interest, while if the character is Light Side or Paragon they can appeal to their desire to help others. Sure, all of this means recording more voice lines, but not overwhelmingly so, since the states are limited and some situations won’t need any different dialogue.

So it looks like a more player-responsive approach rather than a bland and generic one is doable, even for MMORPGs. Does Price realize this? Does she realize this and have a reason why it can’t be done as easily as I think it can? I have no idea, because she didn’t bother to actually respond to what Denoir said or find out what he was talking about, which is just another example of how Social Justice concerns can hurt game design and the discussion thereof.

Thoughts on Doctor Strange …

July 9, 2018

So, recently, I picked up a number of movies from the local Walmart. Among them was Doctor Strange, which is what I’m going to talk about in this post. I also finally broke down and picked up Rogue One and The Last Jedi, which I will watch and talk about at some point in the future. Maybe I shouldn’t have rewarded the Star Wars franchise that I now feel disconnected from with my dollars, especially since from all I’ve heard I am going to absolutely hate The Last Jedi. It’s not like it’s proven itself worthy of being given a second chance, especially since I’m pretty sure it blew its second chance, and deliberately so. At any rate, I’ll see if it’s as bad as I think it’s going to be.

So, onto Doctor Strange. Which, like most Marvel movies lately, turned out to be decidedly “Meh”.