Thursday, October 31, 2013

Prediction on Georges St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks in UFC 167

I'm going to make my prediction for Georges St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks in UFC 167.  I think Hendricks is going to lose and do so pretty badly.  Bearing in mind that fighters lie, I believe Hendricks when he says he's going to try to wade through GSP's punches.  It . . . is his style.  To the extent that he has a plan B, it will be ground and pound.

People mention the tough fight that Carlos Condit put on against GSP as evidence that Hendricks, who beat Condit, has a chance.  Of course he has a chance.  The guy throws with power.  But Condit isn't Hendricks.  One of the incredible advantages that Condit had that Hendricks doesn't have is the fact that Condit's coach, Greg Jackson, was also one of GSP's coaches for years.  Condit trained with guys who helped train GSP.  It is also worth mentioning that Condit was GSP's first opponent after his knee surgery and even then, well, despite Condit's spirited effort, on the majority of cards, Condit lost every round - even the one where he almost knocked out GSP.  Most significantly, though, is that Condit's weakness - wrestling - is Hendricks' strength.

Hendricks doesn't have Greg Jackson in his corner to give specific, detailed advice about GSP.  GSP will have no ring rust.

I also don't like Hendricks' camp, Team Takedown.  He seems to be the camp king and I don't think someone who is so much a prima donna in his own camp really has what it takes to beat GSP.  There's no one at Hendricks camp that will really push him because he's the big star, he's the chief guy.  Tristar, where GSP trains, would be one of the best camps in the world regardless of GSP.  They just have too many top guys.  Rory MacDonald, John Makdessi, Ivan Menjivar, Francis Carmont, Mark Bocek and Mike Ricci are a probably incomplete list of Tristar fighters currently in the UFC, not counting GSP.  They've also got people in pretty much every major promotion, including Rick Hawn who has won a couple of tournaments in Bellator.  Not only can I find no evidence that any of Team Takedown's fighters are in the UFC, I can't find any evidence of them in Bellator.  Maybe they are, but . . . it is far to say that the level of training that Hendricks is getting at Team Takedown isn't really up there with what GSP gets with dudes like Rory MacDonald and Francis Carmont.

Additionally, well, let us look at his record.  None of this is to say that Hendricks has fought cans, he hasn't, but here's my brief analysis of his most recent fights:

He got a decision win over Condit, who has a weakness for wrestling (one that GSP also exploited).  He knocked out Martin Kampmann in shortly in the first . . . I said before the fight that Kampmann chokes and I think that was part of it.  Kampmann is also a slow starter.  Hendricks got a split decision against the fading Josh Koscheck.  He knocked out Jon Fitch, who was fading even faster - Fitch never really recovered from his shoulder separation.  He had a split decision against Mike Pierce, knocked out the unremarkable TJ Waldburger and lost to Rick Story.

Yeah, lost to Rick Story.

I know it was three years ago and Hendricks isn't the same fighter as he was, but let's face it - when Hendricks fights dudes who can wrestle, his record isn't quite as impressive.  The loss to Story, a split decision over Mike Pierce, a split decision over Koscheck.  Sure, he knocked out an injured Fitch, who was already on the down side of his career, but take out that flash knockout, and Hendricks' record against skilled wrestlers is one loss and two split decisions in the past three years.  His dominate fighting style fades with guys who can resist the takedown or threaten him with a takedown, and even then he struggled really hard with Carlos Condit.

Georges St-Pierre is widely regarded to be the best MMA wrestler in the sport.  No, that's not right.  He is considered to be the best MMA wrestler to have thus far been in the sport.  But wait, that's not all!  He's also a quite talented striker!  He's a much better striker than, say, Josh Koscheck or Mike Pierce or Rick Story - in the same range as Carlos Condit, actually.

Which is where the whole "wade through the jab" particularly falls apart.  Wading through GSP's jab generally ends up with a guy looking like he's been hit with a truck.  It was what Koscheck tried to do in the first and GSP literally broke his skull - his orbital bone, to be precise.  It's what Fitch tried to do, back when Fitch was regarded a top ten pound-per-pound fighter.

This is a bad stylistic match-up for Hendricks.  I suspect the fight will expose Hendricks' limitations as a fighter, too.  While he absolutely, no doubt in my mind deserves a title shot, he's got flaws in his game.  His striking is crude.  He has no jujitsu to speak of.  He's a good wrestler with a good power shot - like Koscheck before him.  His training camp doesn't provide Hendricks with the best possible training - it's mediocre with one guy who's really good and it's been a while since a guy in a mediocre camp won a UFC strap.

I think it's going to be a hard night for Johny.  I think the cage door is going to close and he's going to realize he's trapped in there with GSP.  I hope Hendricks brings it hard.  But I suspect that he'll start to wilt, sooner rather than later.  He hasn't really ever fought anyone with a good, stiff jab combined with a superlative takedown defense - much less someone as good at sweeps as GSP.  Like . . . a number of fighters before him, he'll find that nothing he does works.  Most fighters, when this happens, start to turtle up and just try to survive.  Even Nick Diaz did it!  There is something so . . . crushing about GSP's fighting style that even Nick Diaz fought primarily to survive, particularly in ground fighting.  I don't know if Hendricks has the gumption to persevere in the face of that kind of style.  I hope so but suspect not, particularly because of his camp.  Mediocre camps don't do well with great fighters, they're not equipped to handle them on a lot of different levels and one of those levels is that they have no leverage with which to push the fighter.

Here's how I think the fight will go.

I think the most likely scenario is that GSP strikes from the outside with Hendricks and then when Hendricks tries to jump in to land a bomb, GSP takes him down where he will try to pass the guard.  GSP will almost certainly pursue a reactive shot - he won't want to be caught coming in by a counter left, as Hendricks did to Fitch.  He'll wait for Hendricks to throw bombs - which he always does - and then, when Hendricks is off-balance, hit the power double.  This will make Hendricks timid with striking, I should note, if he doesn't walk into the cage timid because he fears GSP's takedown.

(The defense against this is a more technical style of striking, one that won't put Hendricks off-balance when he uses it.  He has not been developing such a style and trying it in the cage with the champ is a bad place to start pursuing technical striking.  Even if that has been a priority in his camp, in the cage, what generally happens is they keep it tight for a round or so and then, when they start to get a little tired, their technique falls apart and leaves them vulnerable.)

If GSP passes the guard, he'll try to submit Hendricks with either a kimura at any time or an armbar late in the round.  I think if Hendricks tries to shrimp out, there's a very good chance that GSP will take his back and pursue the rear naked choke.  If GSP can't pass, he won't worry about Hendrinks' submission game and will use G&P in the guard.  If Hendricks can get up, wash, rinse, repeat.  GSP will confuse Hendricks by mixing up strikes and takedowns in that way he does that can lead to the total collapse of a fighter's offense.

Second most likely scenario, GSP commits to an outside striking game.  He's got a lot of reach on Hendricks and Hendricks striking is very Hendo-esque.  But GSP has such good headwork and footwork, the odds of Hendricks catching GSP are slight, especially fighting against what I think is an eight inch reach disadvantage.  When GSP gets the better of Hendricks in the striking, Hendricks will pursue the takedown, like he did with Condit.  He'll find that GSP has a very substantial takedown defense - even if he gets it, it will be hard and rare and he won't hold it.  Indeed, he might discover GSP's sweeps - but if GSP commits to striking, expect him to simply get up.  If it does get to the ground with Hendricks on top, GSP has such great wrist control that it wouldn't be wise to expect ground and pound from Hendricks, not in a serious sense.

In either case, expect head kicks.  GSP is a little taller than Hendricks - an advantage he hasn't had over another fighter in quite some time - so he'll try to pass over Hendricks shoulder with high kicks and even spinning high kicks.

So, really, I see GSP winning this fight everywhere.  I think that Hendricks one chance for victory is a lucky punch, like he got with Kampmann.  There, I said it.  Kampmann, who chokes and starts slow, got clobbered by a lucky punch from Hendricks.  GSP does neither and has better footwork and head motion than Kampmann, regardless.

(This is in contradistinction to Chris Weidman.  I thought Weidman had a good chance against Anderson Silva because Weidman has everything Hendricks has and then everything Hendricks doesn't have.  Weidman has a top rank camp lead by Ray Longo and Matt Serra but also including John Danaher and Renzo Gracie - top guys.  Weidman is also a much better striker than Hendricks and has excellent jujitsu to accompany his wrestling.  Chris Weidman isn't just a left hook and takedown, he's a well-rounded fighter who, as Anderson Silva learned, can't get you one way will catch you in another.  He's the total package.  He's the kind of guy who beats top talent because he is top talent.  Johny Hendricks is not a one trick pony, he's a two trick pony . . .  but let's be honest, that's not a lot of tricks.  Avoiding the left and stuffing the takedown isn't really advanced combat planning for people at GSP's level of the sport.  Johny Hendricks is no Chris Weidman.)

I'm curious to see what happens after the fight, win or lose, for GSP.  The truth is it's Rory MacDonald's time.  If MacDonald gets a good win, he's the obvious candidate for title shot and the two have said they will not fight.  People keep saying that GSP needs to move up in weight but I never liked that plan.  If anything, GSP has been growing progressively smaller relative to other fighters over the course of his career.  He would be downright tiny to modern middleweights.

When GSP started, he was quite a bit bigger than average, but now he's merely average in size and shrinking as weight cutting gets more and more extreme in MMA.  It has been said that he could get down to lightweight, which is quite possible.  He is about 185 and a lot of lightweights, nowadays, cut down from that much . . . and there isn't anyone at lightweight that GSP wouldn't really fight, whereas welterweight has MacDonald and middleweight has Weidman.

My prediction is GSP by unanimous and clear decision.  It think that somewhere in the late first or early second, Hendricks will have tried everything he's got - which isn't a long list - and find himself shut down, offensively.  Then he'll go almost totally on defense and lose badly.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Ronda Rousey and fake nice vs. real mean - or why I stopped watching this season of The Ultimate Fighter

Over on, Ben Fowkles wrote a bit on the realness of Ronda Rousey.  He rightly noticed that it's absurd to give Rousey's mean-spiritedness and pettiness a pass because it's "real".  It's a false dilemma between fake nice and real mean.  I would not take either.  How about real nice?

I don't even think that Rousey is "real mean".  That term, itself, actually elevates her behavior.  It's petty.  It's not even mean in an overly aggressive way, but mean in spirit.  Watching it, I am struck by what a spiritually small person she is.  It's quite marked.

In particular, Rousey has an inability to understand normal human social behavior.  Things that stood out in the episodes I saw, though not limited to them, are:

  • Saying that Miesha Tate was celebrating Shayna Baszler's pain after Baszler lost to Juliana Pena.  That Rousey didn't understand that Tate was celebrating Pena's victory, not Baszler's loss, after Rousey's more than fifteen years of experience with competitive martial arts is baffling.  (And, of course, Rousey freely celebrates her own and her team's victories, even when someone is badly hurt.)

  • Rousey telling Dennis Hallman that he shouldn't fight Edmond Tarverdyan while the show was filming - not that they shouldn't fight at all.  But that Tarverdyan, who challenged Hallman, should not suffer the consequences of his bad actions and that Hallman should be the one who backs down.  That's the bizarre part.  That Rousey was telling Hallman to back down after Tarverdyan challenged him, rather than trying to stop her coaching staff from challenging visitors to fights.

  • Calling Tate a racist because of a couple of practical jokes that made fun of Tarverdyan's uni-brow - especially because these practical jokes were after Tarverdyan challenged Tate's friend Dennis Hallman to a fight.

  • Rousey's inability to grasp that when Tate is nominally polite to Rousey in public, it isn't being two-faced.  Tate has been very clear, very directly to Rousey about the bad blood between them.  But because Tate maintains a small modicum of courtesy in necessary professional contact, Rousey creates the chimera of Tate being "fake nice".

  • Rousey's inability to grasp that even if Tate is being fake nice that doesn't rationalize Rousey's bad behavior.

  • Rousey giving Tate the bird after Rousey's fighter won and Tate attempted to congratulate her.  Rousey is graceless in both defeat and victory, particularly confounding given Rousey's long association with competitive martial arts.

It just goes on and on!  Rousey clearly has trouble grasping normal human social behaviors.  (I am biting my tongue to stop opinion as to the reasons why because armchair psychology is fraught with dangers.)  She acts strange and surrounds herself with people who validate her bad behavior, like Edmond Tarverdyan.

This is not to say that, for instance, her feelings aren't real.  I'm sure they are.  So what?  Part of growing up is learning the social rituals that grease the wheels of society.  You learn that it's uncool to challenge people to fights, even if you don't like them.  You learn that when someone is polite to you during work, it isn't treachery.  You learn that just because someone is mean to you doesn't justify bad behavior on your part.  When you're in the fight game, you also learn (or, rather, know, for Rousey certainly knows) that to celebrate in victory does not imply that they're celebrating the suffering of the loser.  You learn how to accept the accolades of the coaching staff that loses to you as being a sign of respect and not some kind of false emotion.

It doesn't mean that Rousey is not a charming person in the right circumstances.  I do not doubt she's loyal to her friends or a contentious coach.  But there are so many examples in just this one show where she has repeatedly demonstrated a lack of understanding of normal social human situations.  It's petty and mean of spirit, even moreso than other rivalries on TUF, including Ken Shamrock and Tito Ortiz.  Justifying Rousey's own bad behavior by turning Tate into a bugbear just rubs salt into the wounds of bad behavior.

Rousey isn't "real mean".  She just petty and nasty.  I don't think that the show's portrayal is particularly biased, I don't think that they're taking things out of context.  It's hard to take flipping someone off out of context.  It's hard to take defending your thug friend's attempted assault on a visitor.  She's full of spite and bile.  Saying she's mean is too nice, I think, too big a term for Rousey's behavior.

Grasping why people like some games and not others

One of the things that truly, really baffles me is how video games are judged.  Not by reviews and magazines - I understand those people are chosen, in part, because they are shills.  But by the public.  So, Bioshock Infinity is a greatly beloved game.  I didn't see it.  Bad shooter mechanics combined with having to comb an area for freaking apples and candy bars to restore health is simply bad game design.

I've had the experience, before.  Assassin's Creed III, Grand Theft Auto IV, among others.  People kept telling me these games were great and I just didn't see it.  On the other hand, games I thought were splendid, like The Saboteur and Alpha Protocol, didn't do very well . . . even if they had gameplay that was the same as or better than other, similar, games that did very well, indeed.

To me, comparisons between GTA 4 and The Saboteur are pretty clear.  The shooting mechanics in The Saboteur were crisper than in GTA 4 - the protagonist would just take cover if near cover without prompting, you could blind fire over cover and do aimed fire.  The driving mechanics were just about the same, too, with the exception that The Saboteur had more tanks, which was awesome, and fewer sloppy, unresponsive vehicles (?!).  So, in shooting and driving, the games were quite a bit alike except The Saboteur had somewhat cleaner and intuitive mechanics and driving around was more fun.  Which . . . you would think would make it a wildly popular game, especially give that you get to kill a bunch of Nazis.

But that's not all The Saboteur was.  Every building could be climbed.  You could use stealth.  You could adopt disguises.  It did everything GTA 4 did and then it added a freerunning stealth game on top of it.  Not a bad one, either.

You couldn't fault The Saboteur for being an insufficiently visually impressive game.  It was a very visually impressive game.  It was a well-rounded, well-designed, good looking game.

Yet, The Saboteur did poorly and GTA 4 was lauded.

With Alpha Protocol, well, the game comparison is really with Deus Ex Human Revolution.  Shooting and stealth were handled about the same in both games, with Alpha Protocol having a more cinematic flair than Human Revolution.  Both had different skill trees that could be developed over the course of the game.  In addition, though, Alpha Protocol had honest-to-god role-playing moments - tricking interrogators by getting under their skins, banging boots with spies (both foreign and domestic, if you get what I mean), actions bearing consequences stuff.  Which Human Revolution was supposed to have but really didn't.

I am without a clue why one did well and the other did not (though in this case, I liked both games).

The only thing that makes sense to me is that video game audiences basically do what they're told . . . though this should not be surprising, they do the same thing with movies, too.  (Talking about The Avengers movie is hard for me, because people will agree on all the things I think make it a bad movie and then conclude they don't matter.  Wooden performances, uneven characterization, frequently absurd characterization, lack of plot . . . I mean, these aren't minor issues.  If you agree that much of the acting was wooden, that characterization was bad and the plot both contrived and full of holes . . . and then go on to conclude that a few laughs make up for this?  Wow.)  This is the only thing that makes sense when considering Bioshock Infinite.  The game mechanics would have been considered uninspiring in 1995.  They were the game mechanics that made a bunch of people predict the death of FPS games as being tired and predictable.  "Go down this rail and shoot everyone you see."  The addition of some superpowers?  Please.  Go play Psi-Ops.  A cover-based third person shooter with stealth and psychic powers.  Three years before Bioshock came out there was a game with a similar game mechanics system just better.  But six years after Bioshock, Bioshock Infinite still plays like a game from the 90s.  A mediocre game from the 90s.

Yet, almost no one says this and few think it's important.  It's bizarre.  Sure, the game is pretty, but it's also downright crude with play . . . not very different from Doom.  But the game is fabulously lauded despite its mediocre and dated gameplay.

For me, the real fuss is . . . trying to find games I like.  There are no reliable narrators!  People tend to follow aggressive ad copy rather than trying to evaluate the game absent the corporate scripted message.  But that makes it hard to find games like The Saboteur, which does everything I want a video game to do and does it well.  When the waters are so hopelessly muddied that you can't tell good reviews from bad ones, how does one accurately find games you want to play?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Bioshock Infinity sucks

Everyone loved this game and I can't see why.  The game is downright crude in its implementation, really.  Here's a partial list of its crude implementations.

First person.  Really?  The continuation of first person shooters baffles me.  When Gears of War came out, this smooth shooting experience of moving from cover to cover in tactical situations, I thought, "This is the end of first person."  Even before then, first person had become . . . limited.  The lack of any hint of peripheral vision made it frustrating, especially when the game contained a melee component (as Bioshock Infinite does).

Health packs.  Really?  When Halo's - the original Halo - had a shooting game that was as thrilling as could be without a single health pack, I thought health packs were gone.  As opposed to first person perspective, this one is mostly gone from other games.  At no point did I have to look for a health pack when playing Tomb Raider.

Can't fire from cover.  Really?  You can't lean over or fire over low cover.  That's just . . . baffling to me.  Even most first person shooters have this one.

"The spas defense."  In first person games with a melee component, one of the truly stupid, awful things that happens is enemies in melee combat will step out of the character's line of sight.  If you see it happen, it is often accompanied by a spas as they hop to one side.  What this does is take advantage of the limitations of the first person perspective to aid in their defense.  It's just an awful gameplay element, really highlighting the fact that characters in first person games can only turn around slowly and can't move their goddamn heads.  It highlights the weaknesses in perspective of the first person format, which is bad on its own but also draws attention to a weakness in the interface to gain advantage over the player.  Ugh.

The game also lacks any radar or other mechanism so you can keep track of what's going on around you.  Again, this really highlights that the first person perspective has a very limited range of vision.  This is doubly so because game levels are getting downright enormous.  Characters can attack you from such a range that I struggled - with a sixty inch television! - to find their muzzle flashes to determine their location.  (Of course, they never have any problem finding you.  They know exactly where you are at all times, even when you hide.)

Lack of aimed shots.  This one, like so many others, just amazes me that it doesn't have it.  They animated that when you shoot someone in the fucking face their hat falls off but not the little tidbit about how when you shoot someone in the fucking face three or four times they tend to die.

These are, I think, fairly objective reasons to conclude that the game is crude.  Things like the inability to fire over or around cover and lack of headshot quick kills is just preposterous.

Then there's the platforming elements.  I . . . have few words.  You can jump from hook to hook but . . . so fucking what?  Is this supposed to somehow impress me?  Characters of superhuman athletic prowess are commonplace in video games.  Compare swinging from hook to hook to the last Tomb Raider offering, or Drake's Fortune, or - and this becomes cruel - Assassin's Creed or Splinter Cell.  Jesus, this is your exciting mechanism to get around a floating city?  Like the shooting, this is just crude.  It's visually uninspiring after the displays of awesome athletic prowess we see even in other shooters.

Sure, I get it that the art direction is slick.  I wholly approve of getting away from those dystopian grays and browns, putting a game in the sunshine.  Great.  Okay.  I've heard the story is good but . . . it didn't grab me from the onset, something about saving a girl, who I then gathers becomes your sidekick.  Great, another girl sidekick.  Jesus.  Can we get past that, already?  Really, guys.  While I appreciate art direction in a game, you don't play art direction.  If stuff like art direction and music is what your game has going for it, you should probably be in movies, not games.

Anyway, the game sucks.  People who like it are wrong.  Nuff said.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Some Fnords - Government vs. Business

A fnord is, to quote Wikipedia, "typographic representation of disinformation or irrelevant information intending to misdirect, with the implication of a worldwide conspiracy."  There are a lot of fnords in the world, often bound up with double standards.  Let's start.

First, go look at this xkcd about women and math.   That is also the relationship of government and business to failure.  Everything else I say is elaboration.

When a business does something poorly, it is taken as simple poor choice by that particular company in that particular instance.  Even when a company makes a series of grievous mistakes, it is taken, generally, as being about that one company.  A few people like me aside, it is never taken as an indictment of the capitalist system of economics.  So, if Windows 8 sucks - and bearing in mind that Windows has a very hit and miss legacy with its software - that, at worst, indicts Microsoft.  No one ever goes, "Golly, it really sucks our business is almost entirely dependent on the whims of a capitalism.  Wouldn't it be nice if we could all just keep using Windows NT SP 2 without having new and dubious software constantly shoved down our throats."  Or how you've got to constantly rebuy your software because, hey, they keep changing the goddamn format to reflect "improvements", often unnecessary for the majority of users?  Seriously, how many people use all the functions in Office?  For most people, an ancient copy of Word Perfect would be identically efficient.

On the other hand, whenever the government does something wrong, a bunch of people come out of the woodwork to indict the entire system of government.  So, the launch problems with the US federal healthcare site aren't simply, y'know, that it's a big project and launch problems are common with any large, complex website, not to mention that immediately preceding the launch the government was laid off for a couple of weeks - so rather than putting the finishing touches on the site, those people were at home . . . no.  It is an indictment against the government doing anything.  Government is inherently inefficient.  It is repeated ad nauseum and, generally, by both big parties.

It goes the other way, too.  Any time a business succeeds at doing something, it is hailed as definitive proof of the capitalist way of life.  When a government succeeds, it's still a failure - so the popularity of Medicare (the most popular insurance company in the US whose administration is around 3% of its budget, as opposed to 15% for private insurance companies) is still seen as a failure.  Business, we are told, could do it better and is held back from doing it better because, I dunno, Medicare exists?  Even though Medicare is the most popular insurance company in the US with the lowest administration costs, the narrative is still that big business could do it better!  Which is what happens when you count only government's failures and only business success.

More viciously, the same is true of retirement insurance.  Even after the Great Recession when millions of elderly people saw their private equity and retirement portfolios evaporate - even then, there are a lot o people who attack federally funded retirement programs like Social Security.  Facts do not matter when discussing the efficiency of either business or government.  One is efficient, the other is not, regardless of performance.

To me, that's a fnord.  When the government succeeds, it fails.  When private business fails, it's the government's failure.  This is repeated over and over, again, and is the reason the US government nearly defaulted on its debts.

The next fnord is, once again, about the differences between government and business.  In this case, the idea that taxation limits economic development against the idea that intellectual property laws do not.

Anyone who reads the news hears, at great length, about how taxation is the bane of business.  If only we would eliminate taxation, business would take off and we would be even richer than before!  Yay!  Taxation crushes businesses, particularly small businesses, we are told, underfoot, never allowing the fresh shoots of innovation - an oft repeated word - to take root.

No one talks about how intellectual property laws do the same thing.

I realized this when reading a BBC article about the guy who invented the grill that doner kebabs - we mostly call them gyros or shawarma in the US - didn't patent it.  The article says that the grill's inventor isn't bitter . . .

Which made me pull up a bit.  Why would anyone assume that he's bitter?  It's ingrained.  Clearly, if you've built something that other people then use and don't make a bunch of money off of it, you should be bitter!  Right, Linux guys?  I bet you're all fuckin' bitter.  Anyway . . .

The article goes on to talk about the 16,000 doner kebab joints in Germany.  I couldn't help think that if the dude who had invented the vertical grill upon which those kebabs are cooked had patented it, there wouldn't be 16,000 doner kebab joints in Germany.  After all, at best, the inventor would have collected a cut from every place - creating an additional expense and limiting innovation.  And, quite possibly, the inventor could just refuse to sell the grills to anyone outside of his own business, keeping it as a special trade secret for his chain of kebab stands.

Such proprietary selfishness happens all the time.  Microsoft has worked quite hard to keep its code secret because it doesn't want people innovating off of its invention, for instance.  Just try to publish a story using Star Wars characters and see what happens.  And woe be to you if you've incorporated, even accidentally (through parallel invention), some element of a patented product belonging to a big corporation.  They will sue you right out of existence.

To me, that's a fnord . . . sorta related to the one above, actually, right?

While it is true that excessive taxation is bad, and limits the growth of business, no one wants to seem to talk about the extent to which patents and IP laws also limit business innovations - preventing entrepreneurs from experimenting with things that "belong" to another person, potentially improving them and "stealing" the market that the other person "created".  (There are so many quotes, there, because big businesses, themselves, often exploit people on their way up and continue to do so at the top.  By and large, the people who control all of those patents and IPs didn't really make very much, much less something as amorphous as a market.)

Paradoxically, limiting people's access to patents and IPs is supposed to somehow improve innovation.  That's the business and government's line, right?  This ignores the extent to which people can't innovate, either technologically or organizationally, when IPs because they can't afford to do so or are simply kept out of that market by the corporations who own the IPs.  But . . . that's real, right?

They're feeling the pinch, already, in some sciences - particularly biology.  Genetics is probably the first science to be dominated by corporations, which is why there are so many patented genes.  (Which is about as fucked up an idea as one can imagine.  It isn't like they invented them, they just found them.  It's like saying that because you found a particular species of plant in the Amazon that you therefore own all uses of that plant.  It's actually a really bizarre idea.  That the courts even partially validated patents on genes is creepy - and buys into the idea that just because someone spent money that they to have a return on their investment.  Which is equally creepy as patenting genes, to me, and also about as anti-capitalist an idea as exists.)  And as a result, biologists find themselves restricted in research opportunities because of patents.  The free exchange of ideas that once typified science is becoming dominated by corporate interests who don't care if the next guy's research is limited by existing IPs, slowing the rate of development of the field.  So long as they get their money.  It is starting to happen to other sciences, too, as research costs are externalized to universities - more and more barriers to research are being erected by a corporate need to control profit.

No one talks about that.  That's a fnord, too, and another example of how everything business does is good, by definition, and everything government does is bad, also by definition, without any reference whatsoever to external situations.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Integration of writing and gameplay in video games

One of the biggest problems with video games, structurally  is just plain awful writing in the gameplay parts. Sometimes games can have quite brisk acting and quality writing in the cutscenes, but it's like no one wants to apply any real critical thinking to the game elements.  I might be bitching about this one for a while, because it's really hard to miss when you think about it. Woe is me for thinking about it!

I've started Hitman: Redemption. First, the title. I don't think anyone really considered what redemption means because, apparently, it's compatible with killing cops. Let's lay that one straight out. To protect an abused young woman the character somehow rationalizes killing cops. Not even corrupt cops, just any old, plain, ordinary in-your-way police officer is likely to get his throat slit – in the tutorial of the game, you're required to do this.  You can't avoid it.

Here's another example of baffling bad writing for the purpose of creating gameplay. Your character was KO'd and framed for a murder, and the hotel room was set on fire. Somehow, in the tiny number of minutes that it takes for a fire to spread, a detective was dispatched to the scene . . . and outside is a helicopter that seems to know YOU'RE THE GUILTY PARTY. That's okay, because in all the building surrounding the hotel, there are squads – multiple – of cops in them, including an abandoned library and then a maze-like, I dunno, drug bust?

It's the sort of thing that doesn't hold up to a moment's thought. When a murder is called in, yes, police are sent. Like, one or two. I know because I have, personally, reported a shooting. Cops take the description of the shooter, in this case, and drive around the neighborhood looking for the guy. This often works. Most people are not, after all, experts at disguise and stealth.

There was no helicopter. No police occupied deserted buildings nearby. A shooting is a very serious crime, right?  And there was actual evidence of a crime - the shot man.

Of course, sometimes police do surround a building with armored dudes with assault rifles. Absolutely. But generally as a planned raid or as a developing armed stalemate. That was not this situation.

Indeed, the fire would have vastly complicated any potential murder investigation. The person's throat was slit and then you set them on fire?  Are you a fucking moron? And then, because it's a video game and must be ridiculous, the building explodes. It would take days for the fire department to uncover any bodies at all, much less determine how they died . . . assuming it was possible, assuming the fire and explosions and collapsing building didn't destroy the corpse past the point of useful examination. At most, the protagonist would be a person of interest in the investigation because it would take some time – days – to determine if a crime had been committed at all.

After all, all the cops I had to kill to escape, well, I hide their bodies and no one saw me. What does the word "redemption" mean?

In subsequent play, too, there are cops everywhere who are still, apparently, looking solely for you. They are located in tunnels underneath abandoned buildings, they are on the rickety top floors of other abandoned buildings. There is literally no place where the police are not looking for you.

This is stupid. I understand what they're doing. It's a stealth game. You need people looking for you for there to be any, well, stealth. I think, though, that if you have to have people behave stupidly in order to put them in your game, you're not trying very hard. And, really, this one is just a goddamn gimmee. Have the missions be about infiltrating the dens of drug lords and crime bosses, or military bases, or whatever. Places that it is reasonable for there to be armed, alert security. But to imagine a world where every police officer in Chicago is looking for you, specifically for you, in places that it is both unlikely that your character – or anyone – would be, not to mention dangerous to be in, don't do that.

I think it will be some years, yet, before most games integrate story and play together. Some of the more successful games along this line has been done by Bioware, going back to The Knights of the Old Republic and straight on through to the Mass Effect and Dragon Age games. Though not done as seamlessly, the Bethesda – Skyrim and Fallout – seem to be trying the same thing. And for years, often with shockingly poor implementation, Japanese role-playing games have tried that, too.  But, right now, not even most computer role-playing games work to actually write the action scenes as much as the cutscenes.

But I long for a day when there it is routine to have guys at the office saying, “Why did the building explode? Did someone have a collection of oil soaked rags in there? Perhaps a collection of half-full gasoline cans and det cord?” There is no excuse for it, regardless of the type of game. If you want exploding buildings, put the action in a place where one might believe the building would explode – a chemical factory or fuel depot, the kind of places where explosions occur. Or make sure that the building being rigged with explosives is part of the plot. Something. It's not that hard. Or all the things that happen in video games, writing is among the absolute cheapest. You don't need buildings full of machines rendering 3D graphics, you don't need a hundred interns doing motion tracking or anything like that, it's just a few guys in a room with caffeine and laptops. It's even cheaper than music in video games. The cost would be superficial to the end cost of the game and you would produce a superior product.