Re-reading the Belgariad …

June 2, 2017

So, this comment in this post from Shamus Young resonated with me:

It has been bugging me for years: maybe the problem isn’t the games. Maybe it’s me.

Now, I never really had this for games, because with games I was generally able to like some and dislike some of both old and new games, and also because with games I was usually able to figure out and outline exactly where I felt the new games were going wrong and where the old games had gone right, leading to the conclusion that a lot of modern games really weren’t as good as older games, for all of their technical wizardry. I felt the same way about TV shows and movies, although I was a bit concerned about the fact that I rarely laughed out loud anymore, even at comedies (this was clearly broken when it came to “WKRP in Cincinnati”).

But after doing the Hugo Award Assessment, , and noting that the only books I really read were movie and TV show tie-ins, it did get me wondering if it was just nostalgia, or if the older books really were better than the newer ones. That was a reason to re-read “The Status Civilization”, after having already re-read Zelazny’s Amber series because I needed to remind myself of what happened in it for an Amber Diceless game that I was running. But in David Eddings’ “The Belgariad”, I faced my greatest test yet. Of the three series that he had completed when I started reading them — along with all of my friends in high school — the “Elenium” was my favourite. I also recalled trying to re-read it a year or so ago and finding it a bit clunky. So I was prepared for frustration when I read it, but needed stuff to read and wanted to go through all of the Eddings books — including “Belgarath the Sorcerer” and “Polgara the Sorceress”, which I definitely liked — to both keep my reading time occupied and to, well, re-read those series that I recalled liking at some point. So with trepidation I started reading it and …

… came to the conclusion that it was just really entertaining.

I’m not sure what changed. Maybe it just was my mind having that comparison to works that were incredibly clunky and boring that the minor issues with the “Belgariad” faded away. But, at any rate, it was far more enjoyable and worked so much better than any of the “Hugo Award” nominees, including the ones that the anti-Puppies really liked. And as far as I can tell it didn’t actually win any awards.

And it’s not like the series is male-dominated. One of the most powerful beings in the world is a woman, Polgara, and she’s actually presented as being more competent than Belgarath, even if he’s more powerful and more tricky. There tends to be a bit of a give and take between men and women in the series, even if men often take more than they probably should. So it’s not really male power fantasy either. It seems like a series that even the Social Justice side in fantasy could enjoy, so it’s not like I enjoy it because it avoids or rejects those lines.

So what’s good about it? The characters are entertaining, and the history is detailed and told in an interesting way. The plot is a little shaky, but the links to that deep history make up for that. The plot, then, fades into the background and instead is replaced by interesting characters walking their way through the history and, in fact, creating history themselves by fulfilling the prophecy. The world is properly detailed and we find out things about it when we need to and in interesting and compelling ways rather than it being a complete info dump for no reason. Sure, the introductory prologues could be seen as that, but that’s why it’s a prologue: it gives you the information you need to know in an interesting format if you like history.

So, so far, I’m pleasantly surprised. I’m enjoying reading it much more than I expected. And since I liked “The Mallorean” better — or, at least, remember it more fondly — this bodes well for my reading of everything Eddings did that I liked.

My Thought Process on Choosing the Next Game To Play

May 31, 2017

So, as I said while talking about my second playthrough of Persona 5, I need to choose a different game to play because while I could play Persona 5 again, the time I have to play games is shrinking and I’m not convinced that I could play Persona 5 for 5 months without either getting distracted by something else or else having Persona 5 take over those times when I really should do something else. So, I’ve been musing about that off and on while things compile and install for the past days, and my thought process seemed fairly … unique. So since I’ll need a post anyway I thought it might be nice to let you guys into my head for a bit to show you my thought process on this.

Note that I very much hope to have decided this by the time you see this post, since my time to play video games is Thursday and this is set to come out on Wednesday. So comments here might or might not influence my decision.

Anyway, I have a block of about 3 – 4 hours once a week to play video games. I really don’t want to extend or be terribly tempted to extend those hours for at least the next 3 – 5 months or so, because there are many, many other things that I want and need to do that I’ve put off for too long. I should have started this back in January, but as usual got distracted and was aware that Persona 5 was going to show up in April which, well, was going to throw everything out of whack. So I definitely don’t want to distract myself again with something else that will take up that time, especially since I’m facing work pressures and won’t have the time to waste. Which ironically means that I probably don’t want the game to be too good, since I’ll want to play it when I shouldn’t be.

Because I have so limited a time to play during the week, I also don’t really want to play a really, really long game either, because it will take too long for me to finish at that rate. Persona 5 fails both this and the “too good a game” criteria, because at 4 hours a session for a roughly 80 hour game it would take me 20 sessions or 5 months to finish, which is a long time for me. I’ve been musing that three months is probably the limit, and even that is shaky (but I’m willing to give it a try).

But another consideration is that if I can only play for 3 – 4 hours a week, I have to be able to feel like I did something in each session. It’s fine to only grind to get to the next couple of levels or open up missions if I’m going to play it again tomorrow, but if I’m going to stop for a week I really want to have had a lot of fun doing it and/or have really accomplished something. Plus, since that 3 – 4 hour time span is both a bit variable — I may have slightly less time one week and slightly more the next, depending on work and what I need to do when I get home — and is a fairly hard limit — I have to stop at a certain point to do other things like going to sleep — the game has to both get somewhere in that time period and can’t have really long sections where I won’t be able to save the game and stop for the night … or, at least, it has to let me know what those are so that I can prepare and, well, stop for the night before getting into it and leave the long section for the next week.

Another factor is that I’m going to go home, eat, and then play the game, because that’s already my Thursday schedule and the gaming is going there mostly because right after eating a large meal I usually don’t want to do anything that requires walking around. And since I tend to pace while writing, that includes writing on the blog. Thus, console games work well in that slot because I can — and have, with Persona 5 — eat and then immediately sit down and play the game, gaining anywhere from a half-hour to an hour in the process. This also means that console games are slightly preferred because I game on my sofa and that’s a really good place to be right after eating. But that’s not that major a factor.

Another minor factor is that I keep thinking that if I’m going to pick a game to play here, it should be one of the games that I have lying around that I want to finish. Like one of the games on the “List of Games to Finish”. This is counter-balanced by my whims and distractions, which I’ll get to in a minute when I go through some of the games I’m thinking about. These are minor, but ultimately will have an impact on how I feel about the game and so how long I manage to stick to that game.

So, I considered starting over with Persona, which I played for a while but never finished. It’s a bit more reasonable in terms of length — 50 hours average main story plus extras — and then I could go on and replay all of the games again, which I really do want to do. But to do all of them would take me over a year to finish, probably even if I cheated. Even with there being five different games to play, that’s probably too big a commitment to make right now, and Persona itself doesn’t interest me enough to just play it for itself. If I was going to do that, I’d just play Persona 3 or 4 … but those are 80 hour games as well.

I’ve mused about playing Shadow Hearts or Shadow Hearts: Covenant again. They fit neatly into the time frame and are games that I really liked playing. I’m a bit worried about some sections and not being able to either stop in time or get something done, though, and I’ve already played both, so it’s not a game that I would be finishing.

From the list, I’m definitely thinking about playing Fatal Frame and then the two that I didn’t finish. The biggest problem with this is that I’ve very walkthrough dependent with these games, which means I’d have to run the computer, too, and I’m not sure that I’ll always be able to save when I want to. The same thing applies to the Silent Hill games.

Record of Agarest War and Conception II are games that, are. of course, ruled out for being too grindy.

I was originally thinking about playing Saint’s Row The Third, but I’ve never played it before, don’t know how long the missions take, and am not good at more FPS and action-focused games. There’s just too much risk of this being a disaster, so I think I’ll save it for some time when I’m on vacation.

I’m considering Bloodlines again, although it gets a slight knock for being a PC game. But it has “Save anywhere”, which is good … but I haven’t played it in so long that I’m thinking of starting over, which means that I’d have to do the warehouse again, which is very, very bad.

I also recently re-watched a lot of the video game videos at SF Debris, which has gotten me feeling like I want to play some of those games again. I’ve considered Knights of the Old Republic, but I recently replayed the first one and when I tried playing Sith Lords right after I found that it dragged. So I’m considering resubscribing to TOR and going through one of the story missions again, as I can finish a planet — or at least a few areas of one — in about the right time now and it would only take me about three months to finish one run through Corellia. I’ve also been tempted to play Dragon Age: Origins again, but if I did I’d want to play Dragon Age 2 again, and then maybe Inquisition again to finish out the series … and, as you all know, I definitely don’t want to do that. Fortunately, I feel no real reason to play Mass Effect again, at least not yet.

I’ve also recently re-watched .hack//Sign and Liminality, which then gets me wanting to play the games again (I managed to get part-way into the fourth game). It’d be a console game and each game is about 20 hours if I recall correctly so it fits into the timeline, so it’s definitely a possibility. I’m just not all that fond of its gameplay.

I’ve considered playing another full season of baseball again, but the season is so long that it falls into another 5 month plus commitment.

I’ve considered just playing Pinball Arcade again for a while, but that’s more a time waster than an actual game. It thus risks grabbing me too much so I don’t quit in time, and also I really want to, well, actually kinda play something where I make progress, which doesn’t happen that much with that game.

I’ve thought about playing Star Wars: Rebellion again, but that is a game that definitely and absolutely makes me forget about time, so I’d waver between not feeling like playing it and getting so caught up in it that I don’t go to sleep on time.

I’ve considered the Hearts of Iron games, but there seems to be a lot to learn with them from what little I’ve played with them and I’m not really up for that at the moment, especially for a game that I’m mostly interested in seeing how things might change rather than in playing out the strategic parts.

I’ve actually thought about playing the Gold Box D&D games again, as they should be short enough and I should get somewhere in a couple of hours.

There are also a number of other games that I’ve bought from GOG.com that I think might work, like some of the Star Trek adventure games. And probably a few on consoles or the Vita to consider. I hope to decide very, very soon, and will tell you when I do.

NHL Playoff Predictions: Stanley Cup Finals

May 29, 2017

So, in this round, I went 2 – 0, leaving me at 10 – 4. And the “home ice advantage” track went 1 – 1, leaving that at 8 – 6.

So, all that’s left are the Stanley Cup Finals:

Nashville vs Pittsburgh: Nashville has been playing incredibly well, behind great goaltending by Pekka Rinne and great play by their defense corps. On the flip side, Pittsburgh is banged up and hasn’t been able to deal with the teams they’ve faced as handily. However, they do have a lot of experience with the finals and a number of really, really good players, and they are the defending champs. So this is a close one, but I’m going to go with … Nashville. Yes, their forwards are banged up, but they’ve been relatively handily beating far better teams than them the entire playoffs, and there’s no reason to think they can’t do that again.

Prediction: Nashville

Summary

Nashville vs Pittsburgh Incorrect

Overall Record: 10 – 5
Home Ice Advantage Team Record: 9 – 6

Thoughts on Persona 5 After Playing it Twice

May 26, 2017

I’ve played Persona 5 on “Easy” and finished it twice. I have already put almost 150 hours into the game in the two months since I got it. And yet … I could start a third game, right now, and the only reason I’m not doing that is that I need my weekends and weekend afternoons back to handle mounting work pressure and other projects that I really need to start working on, and so only have about four hours a week to play video games, which would mean that it would take me five months to finish. Which either means that I’d have to keep interested in the game for that long and not want to play anything else or, more likely, that I’d decide to play Persona 5 in the times when I really, really should be doing something else. So, I have to put it away for a while.

But that, to me, is the beauty and wonder of the Persona games. No other game series has had that quality, where I can simply restart the game and keep playing it for hours and hours and hours. I have easily put over 1000 hours into Persona 3 and Persona 4 combined, and almost certainly will play them again at some point in the future. I will indeed play Persona 5 again. If they release a P5 Golden or FES or whatever version of this game, I will buy it and play it. I am quite likely to, at some point, play it with a main character based on Phil Coulson from “Agents of SHIELD”, which is the big temptation I have right now. For whatever reason, the combination of the life/dating simulation where S-links balance with the main plot — and impact it — and also balance with a relatively easy and painless battle system — on “Easy” — that you still have to think about if you want to be at all efficient and so isn’t generally simple “Just hit them until they go away” really, really resonates with me. And the Persona series does this better than any other game series I’ve ever played, including Conception II and even Trails of Cold Steel, which I tried but ended up stopping because the second class trip paired me up with characters and conflicts that I didn’t care for. And it’s social aspects aren’t as strong as Persona’s either.

So, the Persona series has an embarrassment of riches at this point: a game built around three aspects that all generally work and where a significant number of gamers will really like at least one of them, and where all of these elements improve from game to game. But this, it seems to me, is potentially causing issues for the series, since the improvements end up making each aspect more complicated and more prominent in each game. If you really like or can at least tolerate all three aspects, these improvements are good for you across the board; you’ll just like the game better because everything in it got better. But if you don’t like one of the aspects, then the increasing complexity and prominence and importance of the elements will likely bore and annoy you. For me, the combat and dungeons are the least interesting parts of the game, and so often, especially on my second run, I found myself slogging through and generally dreading the palaces, to say nothing of Mementos, which I found incredibly boring. But I liked the S-links and even the other activities, and both wish there were more of them and that I could focus on them earlier (especially the activities) because at the end I was looking forward to finishing the game — I needed to finish it on the long weekend to, again, be ready to do all of the other things — and so ended up deciding that it wasn’t really worth trying to learn them and take extra time that I might need to finish the final fight. Which, BTW, I remember being a slog but which was much easier this time, especially considering that I managed to figure out that you can attack the final boss’ extra arms. The first time through, I focused on the main boss and then had to keep taking all the extra attacks, but here I managed to let Ann and Makoto kill off most of the arms to prevent that.

But, any way, back on topic. The thing is, as the combat and bosses and dungeons get more complicated, people who were willing to put up with it to get back to the things that really interest them might not be so willing anymore. One of the reasons that I don’t go back to Persona 3 as often is because the dungeons are, in general, more about grinding than anything else, and the grinding is, in general, very boring for me. But in reading around on this game, there are a number of people complaining about the life simulator and S-link portions. As these get more prominent and more detailed, these divides are going to get even sharper, as more and more people find at least one part of the game that annoys them but that they are forced to go through if they want to go through the parts they, well, actually like. The worst case scenario is that everyone really likes one part of the game and hates the other parts, making the game feel mediocre at best. That’s not going to ensure the long-term success of the series.

The best way to counter this would be to make the other elements far more optional, where there is limited need to delve into them if you don’t want to. However, Persona 5 makes things more integrated, as the S-links provide great benefits for dungeon crawling and Mementos is required for S-links, for example. If this continues — and it seems likely to — then the exact opposite will happen; each element will be more integrated and so more necessary to do in order to complete the game. So either the game will have to make each element be more interesting to people in general or people will feel that they have to or at least are encouraged to do those other elements that they dislike in order to advance in the game. Or, as I call it, grinding. The former risks losing what made some people like them in the first place, and the latter is generally boring and annoying.

Persona 5 is a good game, but it doesn’t seem to me to have the same feel as the other games. It often feels like it’s merely emulating features and storylines from the previous games rather than adding to them or using them properly. Makoto is a shallower version of Mitsuru, for the most part (and note, before anyone complains, I really like Makoto as a character, and romanced her exclusively my second time through and enjoyed every bit of it. But her role in the game and in her S-link is very much a simpler and shallower version of Mitsuru, without the arranged marriage part that appeared in Haru’s). Sojiro, Futaba, and your becoming a member of the family is a less emotional version of Dojima and Nanako from Persona 4. The negotiation, brought back from Person and/or Persona 2, is more shallow and less fun (I have played both Persona and Persona 2: Innocent Sin, albeit briefly). There are a lot of plot and S-link and gameplay references to previous games, but they don’t really seem to capture what was great about them. I guess there was a push for some of this because of the anniversary (20th, I believe) but I don’t think it really did this game a favour by failing to capture the spirit of what made those parts memorable and demanded by the audience.

Still, Persona 5 is a worthy Persona game. I look forward to putting over 500 hours into it over the course of the next few years, like I did for the previous games. This game, itself, will make buying the PS4 worth the price.

Thoughts on “WKRP in Cincinnati”

May 24, 2017

So, as I’ve already mentioned, I’ve been watching “WKRP in Cincinnati”. I had seen the complete series DVDs before in a number of places, and was always tempted to buy and watch them, but in the end was worried that I wouldn’t enjoy watching it. Finally, though, the price was right and I figured that I’d finally give it a shot.

And in the first season my fears were proven baseless. I laughed at loud at times, which is rare for me, and in general the show was enjoyable. That … didn’t hold up for the second and third seasons, which I found much less humorous and far more boring. The issue, it seems to me, is that they tried to put far too serious plots into the show, but the plots weren’t monumental enough to carry the load. They had done it previous for “The Concert”, where they talked about an incident where someone was killed because of a rush to get non-reserved seating, but that episode worked because the structure was a funny first part and then a very serious second part. While that wouldn’t be one of my favourite episodes, it worked well for what they were trying. The episode where Venus had to turn himself in for deserting from the Army also worked well. But in the second and third seasons the plots didn’t seem strong enough to catch the interest, but were too prominent to ignore and focus on the humour. That made for some very dull episodes.

An example of this is the episode where Jennifer buys a house. There’s a lot of room here for simple jokes and oddities, but the episode ruins that by lumping way too much on Jennifer. Her mere presence causes her neighbours to divorce after a lot of time is spent on the wife complaining about her husband, Jennifer’s piano is lost and takes out a car, Les goes on about how her house is likely haunted, there’s a visit from someone from the phone company who ends up being some kind of stalker or something, and as it turns out the block is going to be taken over for office buildings or something anyway. At the end, Jennifer is simply devastated. Now, if Jennifer was the typical rich and popular woman that everything always goes right for and who acts like it, this could work … but in general she’s nice and cares about her fellow employees. So we don’t really get a comeuppance from the plot, but the plot is so serious it tends to drown out the humour. Even the very end, where Jennifer pays back Les for the ghost stories, doesn’t seem to make sense. She does an excellent job of playing up the ghost story and scaring Les, but the problem is that it doesn’t work for Les’ character. What she did would be justifiable if Les was deliberately making up a story to try to scare her, but that doesn’t seem like something that Les would do. It’s much more reasonable that his quirky nature includes his believing that there really are ghosts in the house and going on about that a bit more effusively than he really should. But if that’s the case, then what Jennifer did to him is just her being mean, which is out of character for her. So, in general, someone is being excessively mean there, and that doesn’t work given what we know of them.

Which brings me to why and when WKRP really works: when it focuses on the characters and their natural interactions. A lot of the time in seasons two and three the characters were inconsistent. Bailey was treated the worst; it seemed that they had no idea what to do with her character and so she flip-flopped a lot between differing personality types. But Les was another victim of this, wavering between being mean-spirited and quirky. The plots also were, in general, more than ways to get the characters to interact, and that really hurt what made the show good in the first place.

However, in season four they returned to the previous model and the episodes were much, much better. I enjoyed season four as much as I enjoyed season one, despite going into it wondering if I’d even finish watching the series. So, in short, seasons one and four were great, and seasons two and three were very weak. Overall, it was worth watching.

Thoughts on “Mindswap”

May 22, 2017

So the last of Sheckley’s books that I have and will talk about is “Mindswap”. Unfortunately, here we’re going from one of Sheckley’s best to what may well be Sheckley’s worst.

The problem here is that there’s just too much packed into it to make Sheckley’s normal quick pacing work. The book starts from the idea of people using “mind swaps” to travel, by getting their minds transferred into the bodies of other beings. And those are definitely other beings, because the galaxy, at least, has been explored and we’ve run into a number of alien species, including Martians. These two ideas, in and of themselves, offer a wealth of avenues to explore. But Sheckley doesn’t stop there. He adds in a plot where a young person — of around 30 years — wants to explore, and ends up getting swindled and losing his body, and so needed to find some other body within 6 days, which he does by offering to work for it, which is another idea that’s worthy of exploration. So the main character has to try to find a way back to Earth and recover his body, while exploring a number of different planets, cultures, and alien bodies, with the help of an eccentric detective who pops in every so often to remind us that he’s there. Oh, and there’s a bit of a twist ending that needs to be set-up, on top of that. Along with a semi-romance.

There’s just way too much here for this to work. Because there’s so much, the little details can’t all pay off like they did in “Immortality, Inc”, and so most of them are merely interesting asides. But there’s so much plot and drama and strange cultural explorations happening that we can’t just follow the main character’s life like we could in “The Status Civilization”. You can argue that this was meant to be more a humourous exploration of those different cultures, but that could have been achieved easily just by using the main character’s wanderlust instead of adding on the “Recover my own body!” plot.

In the end, reading the book made me feel that things were unfocused. The exploration parts seemed extraneous while he was supposed to be looking for a way home, the main plot gets resolved in a very shallow manner, the twist ending comes out of nowhere (even though it was foreshadowed), and the romance goes nowhere. There’s really nothing in the book that’s worth paying attention to or watching. It both drags and moves too quickly. There are some interesting scenes, but beyond that every other book of Sheckley’s that I’ve talked about is far, far better than this one.

Phantom Thieves in Cincinnati …

May 19, 2017

So, at one point in Persona 5 they ask you to enter a name, and point out that this name is what people will see online. I had no intention of going online, and so didn’t really care about it, and didn’t have any idea that this would come up, and so didn’t have any name prepared. But I was musing about watching the show WKRP in Cincinnati, and so decided that, meh, that would do. So I entered “WKRP”, and went on with the game.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that that would also be what your team was named. And thus, when sending the calling cards, I would get things like “We are going to change your heart and reveal your horrible crimes! Signed, WKRP” and on the TV I would get things like “The police are being asked to pushed to deal with the terrible criminal organization WKRP!”. Which, of course, I found rather hilarious knowing what WKRP really was (a small time radio station full of utterly bizarre characters). So, on my second playthrough, I decided to keep that name.

And since I have indeed been watching the show — I plan to post about my impressions of it once I finish it — I was musing about whether I could actually map the characters from the game onto the characters in the show. This sounded amusing to me, but there’s an issue: there are nine Phantom Thieves — not counting Akechi — and only eight employees of WKRP. And Herb is too unsympathetic to fit with a lot of the characters. But I still kinda wanted to try it, and noticed that for some of the Phantom Thieves there’s more than one character that fits, and some WKRP characters fit more than one person. So I then thought that maybe if I did two WKRP characters per Phantom Thief, I could reuse characters and so could fill out all nine Phantom Thieves and even include Akechi. So, I’m going to try that. I make no promises that these will actually work out in any real interesting way, but it might be kinda fun.

So lets start:

Joker: 1 – Andy Travis: If play Joker as the one who is cool, confident, and who generally knows what’s going on, then Andy fits. Andy is also known as quite the ladies man but isn’t incredibly aggressive about it, which also fits the vast number of Confidants Joker can date. About the only difference here is that Joker is pretty much the official leader of the Phantom Thieves, while that role technically belongs to Arthur Carlson at WKRP. And speaking of which …

2 – Arthur Carlson: On the other hand, if you play Joker as generally well-meaning but mostly clueless — and since you get to choose your reactions, you can — then Arthur Carlson, the nice, well-meaning, but somewhat clueless leader who wants things to succeed but doesn’t really know how to do that fits. And as he was very happily married throughout the series, he best fits a Joker that is a one-woman man.

Skull: 1 – Dr. Johnny Fever: Brash and loud, marches to the beat of his own drummer, but generally a good guy at heart. Can be abrasive and rub people the wrong way, but is generally entertaining enough that most people like him.

2 – Herb Tarlek: However, if you find Ryuji annoying and someone who too many people don’t like very much, Herb fits well. And the fact that Herb would hit on every woman he encountered in a pretty sleazy way fits Ryuji a lot of the time.

Panther: Jennifer Marlowe: Jennifer is very attractive, is treated as such by everyone, and has access to a fairly luxurious lifestyle, like Ann. She’s also, however, very kind and cares about everyone, and is willing to help everyone out whenever she can. She also almost had a “nude incident” as well.

2 – Jennifer Marlowe: Okay, this is kinda cheating, but Jennifer and Ann really are a pretty much perfect mapping.

Morgana: 1 – Venus Flytrap: Because they’re both cool cats! And both were often used to explain things that someone needed to know but that it didn’t make sense for anyone else to know, like the episode where Venus reveals that he was a teacher and explains atoms to the cleaning lady’s son, or financial planning to Johnny.

2 – Andy Travis: He can also be seen as the competent and informed member of the party who knows things and does the planning if Joker doesn’t step up to the line. Also, he often tells Joker what to do and what not to do which is what Andy tried to do for the DJs as programming directory.

Fox: 1 – Les Nessman: Exceptionally serious and naive, eccentric, and excessively passionately attached to their chosen field (art for Yusuke, news for Les). Yusuke is just in general actually good at art, but Les, when he gets past his own peculiarities, can pull off the news, too.

2 – Venus Flytrap: This fits mostly because Venus is serious, has a unique — and yet culturally appropriate — wardrobe, and is generally popular with the ladies, like Yusuke.

Queen: Bailey Quarters: Bailey is smart, responsible, dedicated, ambitious, attractive, knowledgeable, generally and genuinely cares for the others, and although she’s shy and often slow to speak up for herself she has quite the temper when she finally gets riled up.

2 – Andy Travis: You can also see her as the competent and intelligent one who turns the team around once she joins by supposedly making them actually have plans.

Oracle: 1 – Les Nessman: You can go with the extreme eccentricity that Futaba and Les both display, with incredibly odd thoughts and fixations that permeate pretty much every interaction with them …

2 – Bailey Quarters: … or you can go with the extreme social awkwardness coupled with being very good at what they do, and better than anyone would expect them to be, at least originally.

Noir: 1 – Bailey Quarters: A shy and sweet girl who when she can escape that role has deep passions that she can let run wild.

2 – Jennifer Marlowe: Or the classy, wealthy woman who despite all that genuinely cares for other people.

Crow: Herb Tarlek: When he joins the team, no one really likes him at all, but they kinda warm up to him as things go long. He aims for flash over substance most of the time, and wants to prove himself and succeed almost no matter who it hurts. Herb’s quite a bit less of a villain, but they have both the same underlying desires and similar methods for achieving them, which leads to very similar reactions from everyone else.

2 – Mother Carlson: Going off the main board here, just for the fact that both of them provide critical aid and support to the team supposedly to help them, while in reality they were hoping and planning for the team to fail in the end.

Persona 5 vs Dragon Age: Inquisition

May 17, 2017

So, my first run of Persona 5 took me about 80 hours, and when it was done I immediately started playing it again (and am now just over half-way through). I also put about that much time into my first run of Dragon Age: Inquisition, and yet said that if I never play it again, it will be too soon. So what explains the difference here? Why is it that I can get through two 80 hour runs of Persona 5 without feeling incredibly bored and frustrated, but couldn’t make it through one of DA:I without feeling that way?

One of the big issues is what I was doing that dragged out that time. In Persona 5, in general I’m following the story and building S-links. In DA:I, I was generally doing the area quests to ensure that I had enough experience and enough levels to be able to continue the story, while stopping occasionally to talk to people and run War Council missions. Thus, DA:I felt like grinding to me: doing things that I didn’t find fun just to be able to do the main story content, which greatly spread out the story content, which meant that the story content always felt like a bit of an aside; it was important and definitely prominent, but I spent so much more of my game not doing it than doing it. About the only things that I had to grind were the personal stats, which I didn’t need to do at all in the replay because they carried over. For the dungeons, on “Easy” going through the story missions killing everything in sight and then going into Mementos and wandering through it only to finish the requests gave me enough XP to beat the game relatively comfortably. So I never felt the need to actually grind.

The other thing is that there’s just so much to do in Persona 5. Even grinding out your stats can be done in varied and more or less interesting ways, from direct working out or reading to S-links to fun activities. Sure, you want to focus on the most bang for your buck, but there’s still a lot of choice and a lot of ways to get things done. In DA:I, while there are a number of things to do the big ones are simple non-story-related quests, where you go out and kill and find things until you have enough and then do it over again until there are no missions left. So there’s not all that much choice over what you want to do, and you can’t really decide to skip the things you really dislike and focus on things you like more unless you’re sure that you don’t need them for XP, influence, or items.

Ultimately, when I play Persona 5 it is very easy to just keep playing because I always want to do something else, either advance an S-link, advance an ability, clear a story dungeon, complete Mementos requests, or whatever. In DA:I, most of the time I had one goal: clear the quests out of that area. That goal, in general, took long enough to feel like grinding and didn’t really seem to give any kind of closure or satisfaction when it was completed. Instead, I just moved on to the next one or on to the story mission as appropriate. In Persona 5, the goals tended to be shorter, and gave me a sense of completion when I finished it. That’s why DA:I felt like grinding and Persona 5 doesn’t.

Thoughts on “The Status Civilization”

May 15, 2017

This is the book that I remembered and which got me to read the other Sheckley works that I’ve looked at. Will it hold up on re-reading? There may be spoilers, so I’ll continue below the fold:

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The Improbability Trap

May 12, 2017

So, over at Tippling Philosopher, Jonathan MS Pearce posted about doubts about the Easter story, and specifically in this post about naturalistic explanations for the supernatural happenings around Easter. He quotes Bart Ehrman talking about a completely made up explanation where some followers moved the body, got caught by soldiers, attacked, and were killed by them. Ehrman finishes with this:

Is this scenario likely? Not at all. Am I proposing this is what really happened? Absolutely not. Is it more probable that something like this happened than that a miracle happened and Jesus left the tomb to ascend to heaven? Absolutely! From a purely historical point of view, a highly unlikely event is far more probable than a virtually impossible one…

But this is more than “highly unlikely”. There is, in fact, absolutely no reason, even historically, to think that this actually happened other than that it was possible. There are no accounts — at least as far as I know and there is no suggestion that there were in the quote or in the post — that suggest this happened. There are no legends of this happening. There is nothing to suggest that this actually happened. In essence, Ehrman simply made this explanation up. And yet, somehow, he wants us to believe that this completely made up explanation, with nothing to suggest it, is still more probable than what the accounts that we are using to determine that there’s even an event to consider are saying. So you can invent a story that doesn’t align with and is not informed by any of the actual accounts, and if you consider the explanation in the accounts sufficiently improbable you can declare that yours is more probable.

Pearce echos this sort of analysis:

Now, you can claim that some of these interpretations or theories or claims are inherently improbable. They may even be utterly wildly improbable. But that still puts them in the category of being far more probable, and with higher prior probability through precedence, than a dying and rising incarnate god-figure, who prays to himself and sacrifices himself to sit on his own right hand which somehow pays for the sins of humankind, which he created and had ultimate control over, for all of time.

So, again, he can invent interpretations, theories and claims that are wildly improbable and yet are still more probable than the supernatural explanation given in the actual accounts. Given this, it’s hard to see how anyone could ever demonstrate that a “supernatural” explanation is the one that we should accept, even provisionally. After all, in response the naturalist can simply invent an explanation and declare it the winner, simply because it’s naturalistic and doesn’t contradict the evidence. Given that you can almost always come up with an alternative explanation that is consistent with the known facts, this means that the naturalist can always invent an explanation that they can use to claim that the supernatural explanation isn’t the most probable explanation.

Something has gone wrong here, and I blame David Hume.

Hume rather famously made an argument that if someone tells you that they’ve experienced a miracle, it is at least in general more reasonable to argue that the person is lying rather than accept that they really experienced a miracle, no matter how truthful you thought they were, because it was always more likely that they were lying than that they actually experienced a miracle. This was based on the idea that miracles, by definition, are wildly improbable events — that’s how we know that something ought to be called a “miracle” — and so pretty much any other explanation has to be more probable. If it isn’t, then it would be an actual miracle itself. Of course, the problem here is that while miracles are supposed to be wildly improbable for natural or even human agency, they aren’t improbable when interpreted as an act of God. So we have reason to think that God could and would do that, and no reason to think that the cause could be natural or human. Thus, if it happened, it is more probable that God did it than that anything else did. Thus, the improbability argument works against Hume: once we’ve established that the event occurred, any explanation other than God is, by definition, more improbable.

So Hume takes the first step towards denying the event itself using probability. But if you have no reason to think that the person is lying to you or hallucinating, then you have no reason to posit it just because you don’t like or don’t want to accept that that event actually happened. So by Hume’s argument, it is more reasonable to believe that someone you know doesn’t lie and who has no reason to lie to you about this event is lying because if you accept that the event occurred you’d have to accept the supernatural explanation that has consequences that you don’t like. It’s one thing to say that you need more than one person’s word to accept that it happened, or that you disagree with their interpretation of what that event implies, but quite another to say that you don’t think it happened simply on the basis that the consequences of it happening are things you don’t like.

And we can see this carried on in the comments in this post. They consider the supernatural explanation so unlikely that they can prefer any other explanation, but all of those explanations require first dismissing the event itself. In short, they argue that Jesus was never really resurrected, and all of their explanations are aimed at demonstrating that. Now, while it’s true that the evidence for the resurrection isn’t as solid as the account of someone who does not lie, has no reason to lie, and is in a situation where there is no reason to think they were hallucinating, that’s not the argument here. The argument isn’t that the evidence isn’t sufficient, but essentially that the event itself is so outlandish that any explanation other than that the event in question actually happened is to be preferred. And, again, since you can pretty much almost always come up with an explanation that will fit the known facts, this means that there is no way to demonstrate that the event actually happened. Just as Hume could dismiss all evidence up to and including direct testimony from an incredibly reliable source, so to can Ehrman and Pearce dismiss all possible evidence for the resurrection, based entirely on them not thinking that the resurrection happened.

This is what the “improbable” argument is hiding. It’s not an honest intellectual argument, but a way to dismiss and ignore conclusions that you don’t like. At the end of the day, they need to be able to say that there is a way that the supernatural explanation could be more probable than a naturalistic explanation. Given their reasoning in this post, it doesn’t seem like they can do so.