October 2012

Some of my Steam friends have wondered why I play a lot of Gotham City Impostors, especially since you have to play with (shudder) pubbies.

Well, part of it is because I’ve now got some skillz.

Police lineup or burlesque?  It’s both!

Despite years of TF2 experience, I was doing horribly at first.  Now I know the maps and the game mechanics, and I can do pretty well.  (Except when I don’t.  The skill level ranges from clueless noob to ragequit-inducing predator.)

Where in TF2 you have to learn classes, in Impostors you have to learn weapons plus body types.  The body types range from wiry to massive, and as you gain in HP you lose speed and make a bigger target.  The biggest size has obvious advantages, like the TF2 Heavy– and like the Heavy they’re often easy kills as the players understimate their vulnerability.  I usually play the Nimble type (the girl), which is a lot like playing Scout in TF2.  You’re easy to kill, but also faster than most players.  Ideally you move around fast and sneak in to do damage.  (My k/d ratio is still grim, but I get a load of kill assists.)

My main weapon is the rocket launcher– as in TF2, the splash damage compensates for not having sniperish aiming skills.  I quickly learned, however, to switch to the Chaperone submachine gun for close quarters.

For gadgets, I’m addicted to the shuriken.  You can throw three in quick succession; at 40 damage a pop this is often enough for a kill, even more so if you can throw in some weapon damage.  Even better, it aims itself at any visible enemy; and when you ready it, visible targets get a big red X on the screen.  This is intensely valuable since (unlike TF2) finding the enemy is a big challenge in Impostors.  There are targeting goggles which will show enemy silhouettes, but the shuriken is almost as good.

For movement gadgets I like the grapple gun, which not only allows climbing to high surfaces but allows very fast movement.  You can even grapple into enemies to damage them, though this is risky for Nimbles as it’s rarely a kill.  On the whole the Impostors maps, though not large, offer a wide range of paths, and sometimes I can go catch a group of enemies from behind.

Another essential skill is the knife, which comes in when someone is right next to you.  You can one-hit-kill anyone of your own size or less; a lot of noobs don’t realize this, so it can be very effective.  (But of course you have to be very careful about bigger enemies.)

Never mind the ugly mug, look at that point total

So, basically, it has a lot of the humor of TF2, it’s aimed at non-pros but does have strategy and tactics, and it’s just novel enough to keep my interest.

If the developers keep working at it, I think it could get even better.   But I don’t know if it’ll get the chance.  Sometimes there’s not enough players to try some of the game modes; plus the fact that “parties” don’t work means you can’t play with your friends, which is insanely broken.  It’s also a minus that the servers are all hosted by the developer, which means it’s all random pubbies all the time.  In TF2 you have private servers, so you can get to know a group of players and actually apply some team tactics.

Speaking of tactics, though I like Fumigation mode, I’ve come to appreciate Bounty Hunter, where players drop a coin when they die, and you win based on coins collected.  It adds an interesting additional mechanic to deathmatch, becuase you don’t just have to kill someone, you have to collect the coin.  So e.g. long-distance sniping, or killing someone in the middle of a knot of friends, are pretty much a waste since you won’t be able to collect the coin.  As a result you tend to get a higher level of play in this mode.

I wish they’d add more costumes, though.  I have over 11000 coins and nothing worth spending them on.

Interesting results from a new Gallup survey of 121,000 Americans on sexual preference.  The overall number: 3.4% identify as lesbian, gay, bi, or transgender.  (The poll specifically asked about identification, rather than experience.)

But the bigger news is further on in the story: people under 30 identified as LGBT at a rate nearly twice as high: 6.4%.  (Less than 2% of seniors do.)  This surely relates to society’s increasing acceptance, and suggests that the number could be higher yet in a completely accepting society.

By a small margin, more women than men identify that way (which is opposite what some earlier surveys found).  But this effect is far stronger for under-30’s: women 8.3%, men 4.6%.

4.4% didn’t know or wouldn’t say.  We shouldn’t overinterpret that, but I’d say if you don’t know your sexual orientation, you’re probably not a Kinsey 0.

Intriguingly, there are also strong correlations by race: the overall number is 4.6% for blacks, 4.5% for Latinos, and 4.3% for Asians.  I would have expected the opposite.  The rate also goes down with income level.

If you found this place in a video game you’d say “That’s pretty, but it sure doesn’t look realistic.”

Time to mow the lawn again?

This is the island of Elliðaey off Iceland.  It’s uninhabited– the house is used for puffin hunting.

It seems like a great place to weather the zombie apocalypse.

A couple more pages relevant to my page on why plutocracy sucks.

First, this fascinating NYT article about Venice, one of the first capitalist states.  The basics, in case you’re run down your free NYT quota: Venice created the biggest trade network in the medieval Mediterranean.  The trading expeditions were handled by colleganze, essentially one-off joint-stock enterprises.  They were open to anyone who had the money to invest.

Until 1315, when Venice’s upper class– its 1%– instituted a change known as La Serrata, the closing.  Desiring to preserve their privileges, they created a formal list of who was in the oligarchy and banned new additions.  The power monopoly was soon extended to economic matters; the colleganze were banned.

The result was economic decline.  By 1500 the city was smaller than it had been in 1330, and it continued to shrink.  Meanwhile other cities overtook it in economic influence.  What the 1% think is good for them is usually a lousy idea for the general population, and ultimately even for themselves.

The other article is David Stockman’s devastating takedown of Mitt Romney’s “business experience”.

Except Mitt Romney was not a businessman; he was a master financial speculator who bought, sold, flipped, and stripped businesses. He did not build enterprises the old-fashioned way—out of inspiration, perspiration, and a long slog in the free market fostering a new product, service, or process of production. Instead, he spent his 15 years raising debt in prodigious amounts on Wall Street so that Bain could purchase the pots and pans and castoffs of corporate America, leverage them to the hilt, gussy them up as reborn “roll-ups,” and then deliver them back to Wall Street for resale—the faster the better.

That is the modus operandi of the leveraged-buyout business, and in an honest free-market economy, there wouldn’t be much scope for it because it creates little of economic value. But we have a rigged system—a regime of crony capitalism—where the tax code heavily favors debt and capital gains, and the central bank purposefully enables rampant speculation by propping up the price of financial assets and battering down the cost of leveraged finance….

In truth, LBOs are capitalism’s natural undertakers—vulture investors who feed on failing businesses. Due to bad policy, however, they have now become monsters of the financial midway that strip-mine cash from healthy businesses and recycle it mostly to the top 1 percent.

I wonder how the Randians convince themselves that Romney’s way of making money– mining companies, firing workers, leaving them highly indebted and letting them go bankrupt– is “making” rather than “taking”.

I was just reading this page which starts with an Obsidian dev comparing Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas, and then devolves into a bunch of fanboys arguing which one sucks and which one rules.

The two dumbest recurring comments:

  • That FNV had better game mechanics.  Of course it did; it came later.  It inherited the engine, and the devs could consider what worked and what didn’t, and add interesting stuff like iron sights, ammo reprocessing, much more item creation, and more guns.
  • That the games have lots of “cut and paste” areas.  That’s the dirty little secret of all level design.  Texturing and modelling takes time, an enormous amount of time.  Of course it’s going to be re-used extensively.

Jacket’s got style, if only it had AR

A lot of game preferences come down to what you’ve already played.  Fallout 3 blew me away, but I’d never played Fallout 1 & 2, so there was nothing to spoil for me.  FNV had a lot to live up to, and it could never re-create the thrill of (say) that moment you exit the Vault in F3, the brightness blinds you a moment, and then you see that wide, desolated, yet beautiful wilderness for the first time.

A lot of the commenters on that page obviously feel that FNV is much better written than F3, and I just don’t see it.  I played through F3 twice, and I haven’t been able to finish FNV, though I still might go back to it (if nothing else, I want to try the DLC).  Partly it’s just RPG fatigue.  But partly I think it’s way too linear, and that doesn’t mesh with what seems to be an open world.

The F3 manual pointed you at Liam Neeson, but suggested that you could ignore the main quest entirely.  And you could!  You could do stuff (and live) in Megaton, go mess with (or help) the slavers, interfere with the politics of the Republic of Dave, palaver with the pseudo-vampires.  I centered my second playthrough on the quixotic goal of finding all the bobbleheads.  FNV seems to have much, much less of this.  It has side quests (the ghouls and their rocket, for instance), but it seems to be organized around a very specific trek, the one that takes you on Benny’s trail up to New Vegas.

And twice, I’ve gotten bogged down once I got rid of Benny.  There’s a long stretch where you’re just talking to people, and if there’s a choice at all, it’s usually between being helpful and being nasty.  An example: there’s a quest where you can help or hinder a gang from embracing cannibalism.  Um.. I guess that’s post-apocalyptic and all, but it feels completely unreal.  It doesn’t tell us anything about the world or ourselves, and the only gain for choosing the evil path is to hear whatever dialog they came up with.  Compare a choice in Saints Row 3: you (as a crime boss) steal a bunch of prostitutes from a rival gang, and you can either add them to your organization, or sell them back to your rivals.  There’s no option to give them jobs as secretaries or something.  Now that’s an interesting choice, because it feels real.   It’s not a choice between good and evil, but between doing something squeamish and being more of a bastard.

You do get to decide who will ultimately run New Vegas, though personally I think the choice is way too easy.  There are two reasonable choices, but it feels like the game only really approves of one of them.  Where I’m at in the game, however, almost all there is to do is pursue one of the choices.  Which I guess is how most games work, after all (you can’t exactly go off on your own in Mass Effect either), but at their best the Bethesda games make you feel like you have a lot more options.

The Point Lookout DLC for F3 did this much better, I think, because there were two factions which were morally equivalent.  That’s better game design because it’s not dressing up a tired elves-vs-Sauron choice as a real moral decision.  The player can then bring their own morality and history to the choice.

It also affects my judgment that New Vegas itself just doesn’t work.  The casinos are big and fancy and yet almost completely dead; there’s no excitement or even a sense of sin.  Plus, given the almost complete social collapse depicted in the rest of the game,  it just doesn’t make sense that these enormous casinos could be making money, or even get all the electricity they’re wasting.

I’ve finished one playthrough of Borderlands 2 and I’m in the middle of a second.  (I previously gave some early impressions, and also discussed the game’s interesting partial embrace of immortality.)  I’m mostly doing it single-player as Ash is busy right now, which is fine because I can be a lot more leisurely in single-player mode, and appreciate the level design and dialog.

I read an interview where Randy Pitchford says they had three times the resources to spend on the game.  It shows– it’s really pretty:

At least we got off that glacier

For a shoot ‘n loot, BL2 has quite a lot of characters and story.  I sometimes wonder why the planet only has one to four persons who can actually accomplish anything, from delivering packages to taking out evil megaCEOs, but that’s common to almost all video games (with the notable exception of Stalker).

Initially I didn’t like demoting BL1’s player characters to NPCs.  Those folks were us, after all.  But thinking about it, I think it was a smart design move.  It avoids having to explain why your level 50+ character is suddenly a nothing, and it gives us some characters we care about.  (If we don’t get to play them, we at least want to know that they’re doing well.)

(Weirdest revelation, though: Mordecai is Latino??  I don’t recall anything along those lines.  Though he looks amazingly like a Peruvian friend of my wife’s, so that I usually named my Mordecais after Carlos.)

Strangely, it seems that they’ve greatly reduced the number of guns you find.  In BL1 there’d be crates all over the place; here they’re fairly rare, and enemies don’t drop as many either.

One big personal complaint: of the four player classes, I only like one, the Siren.  That’s one third as many as in BL1.  In BL1 I also liked Mordecai and his Bloodwing, and Brick’s fist berserker mode.  I tried Zer0 but a) his special skill seems really lame, at least at low levels, and b) he talks annoyingly when he does it.  I should try Gunzerker, but it sounds dumb– the rest of the game is all about guns, it’s better when the skills are not more guns.  In both games I found deploying a turret boring.  Well, there’s a new class coming later this month.

Many of the voices, the music, the dark anti-PC humor, as well as the general emphasis on guns and good times, give both games a kind of Southern atmosphere.  Or maybe Texas, given the harsh desert climate in most of the maps.

The last minutes of the game suggest that the sequels, if any, could explore a bunch of othet planets.  That sounds fun but awfully ambitious… it’s not going to feel like a galaxy exploration thing if there’s just, say, two levels on each planet.  We’ll see…

Here’s a fascinating article on how an NY high school turned itself around by teaching writing– intensively, and in every course except math.  The graduation rate went up from 63% to 80%; the pass rates for the English Regents test went from 67% to 80% in just two years.

The heart of the article is the discovery process, where the teachers kept analyzing why their students were unable to write simple paragraphs in English.  They discovered, among other things, that the kids didn’t understand words like although and despite.  Asked to write a sentence begining Although… many wrote something like Although George and Lenny were friends.

And that in turn meant they couldn’t write (or follow) complex sentences, and didn’t know the protocols for writing persuasively.

The article complains that many teachers had been following a method where writing was supposed to be “caught, not taught”.  The interesting discussion at MeFi suggests that this is a bit of a mischaracterization.  The creative writing approach, as one commenter put it, wasn’t invented by “hippie idiots”; it was based on empirical observation.  The problem was that the obervation was too narrow; it was based on independent-minded kids who came from reading-intensive households.

That would describe me.  I had some great English teachers, but I always loved reading, and I taught myself as much as I ever learned in school.  I probably wouldn’t have liked the method described in the article… too time-consuming when I’d rather be writing my own stuff.

Another commenter worries that this will spark one more fad… one problem with education is that methods and evaluations change seemingly capriciously every year or two.  Perhaps the real lesson is that this school and its teachers were allowed to figure out for themselves what was necessary and what would work. Motivated teachers really paying attention to what the kids are doing… that works.  It doesn’t mean it’d work if you packaged it up and sold it to or forced it on schools nationwide.

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