No Man's Sky

After experiencing some annoying performance issues on the PS4 version of Dark Souls III (including a framerate capped at 30 fps), I decided that I'd hold out the extra three days for the PC version of No Man's Sky. I assumed that the keyboard and mouse controls would be more comfortable, since the game is half shooter, half flight-sim. I assumed that the PC version would perform better and look better. And I figure that the game will eventually enjoy a vibrant modding community that is likely impossible to spring up on the PS4, since (as far as I know) the PS4 does not support modding in any way. I, once again, may have been wrong in my choice of platform

In addition to having to wait three extra days for the game to release on PC, I've read a lot of reports of severe problems with the PC version of the game at launch. It simply won't run on certain machines with certain graphics cards. Many rigs have consistent performance issues. My PC is a few years old, but it more than meets the system requirements for the game, yet I've been stuck having to run it on medium graphics settings. Upping the settings to high only results in the game becoming unplayably slow whenever I step into the cockpit of my ship. I'm talking, like half a frame per second, and the game dropping all my inputs. The final insult is that the game breaks when you alt-tab out of it, which prevents you from alt-tabbing back into it. If you alt-tab out, you'll have to kill the process in task manager and restart the app - which, of course, will cause a loss of any progress since the last autosave. So despite having a dual-monitor set-up, I can't alt-tab out to open up podcasts or play some tunes while I warp around the galaxy.

Most of these problems will likely get fixed at some point (and some of them already have), and hopefully I'll be able to run the game at high graphics settings. But in the meantime, if you're interested in playing the game, then the PS4 version is probably the technically superior one right now. Apparently, the PS4 version also has numerous performance issues, including crashes.

Sadly, technical problems are only the beginning of my complaints with this game.

Betraying the naturalist within

Instead of being a game about exploring strange new worlds and discovering exotic wildlife and natural wonders of the universe (as I'd hoped), No Man's Sky turns out to be quite the opposite: a game about conspicuous consumption. The core game loop does not consist of landing on an alien world to explore and catalog the local flora and fauna. Instead, you land your ship in a vibrantly-colored patch of minerals and plants, and you begin strip-mining the site clean. You harvest the raw materials that you'll use to refuel your space ship so that you can warp to the next planet to strip its resources for more fuel.

No Man's Sky - cataloging alien life
The incentives to catalog alien life feel extrinsicly-imposed and not a natural part of the core game experience.

Actually seeking out and cataloging the local wildlife takes a backseat - if you even bother to do it at all. The game isn't about that. There's nothing in the core gameplay loop or narrative that actually sets the game up to be about cataloging alien life. The only reason that the player has to even bother with scanning and analyzing is because you're rewarded with in-game currency for scanning stuff, even though there's no in-game reason (that I could discern) for why you would be getting paid to catalog alien life or who it is that's putting the money in your account. It all feels so thoroughly divorced from the rest of the game, and the money feels like an extrinsic incentive that is imposed from outside the scope of actual gameplay. In fact, I don't know why the game would have an in-game reason for why you would get paid to catalog stuff. After all, these planets are all already known by somebody in the game universe - they have space stations in every star systems and colony modules and trading posts on every planet long before you ever get there to "discover" them. So not only does cataloging life feel like an extrinsically-imposed mechanic, even this process of "discovering" feels completely fake and artificial...

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I haven't had a good rant on this blog for a long while. At least, not one that isn't part of tearing apart a terrible game in a review. But I have something that's been really grinding my gears throughout all of 2016, and I need to say something about it: I really dislike advertising. I have an especially intense dislike of internet advertising practices. It's not the ads themselves that get on my nerves; it's the ways in which websites and advertisers chose to deliver them. So many websites are crammed full of ugly, intrusive, and obnoxious ads that really hurt the experience of the user trying to actually view and navigate the website.

Streaming services like Comedy Central insist on crashing the video in the event that there's even the remotest hiccup in loading one of the five advertisements that it must play during the four advertising breaks that it includes in its half-hour episodes. I routinely run into issues in which the pre-episode ads fail to load, and so the whole episode refuses to load, and I have to ctrl-F5 to reload the page until it selects a set of five advertisements that actually work. But then it gets to one of the mid-episode commercial breaks, and even if the advertisements do load and play, the actual episode refuses to continue. Sometimes, I can hit the "rewind 10 seconds" button to fix the problem. Other times, I once again have to ctrl-F5 to reload the page, sit through the pre-episode ads again (hoping they don't cause yet another failure), then skip past the ad break in the timeline, watch the mid-episode ads (and hope that they don't also fail), and then maybe I can continue watching the content. This is why I haven't seen an episode of The Daily Show in a couple months and have no idea if new host Trevor Noah has finally hit a stride yet. I have similar issues with CBS steaming, which is why I also haven't been able to watch much of Stephen Colbert's new late night talk show. Sorry Stephen, I love you, but CBS apparently doesn't want me to watch you.

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Issues with Comedy Central's ad-delivery abound: ads play over the actual content, their failure to load
prevents the content from playing, they have multiple ad breaks and not enough unique ads to fill them, etc.

To make matters worse, Comedy Central and CBS often doesn't even have enough distinct ads to fill up all these advertising breaks. I often see the same three or four ads in every ad break. Sometimes, the same exact ad will play back-to-back during the same advertising break!

Is this supposed to be punishment for not watching the show on cable TV? I actually do (at the time of this writing) have an active cable subscription, and that subscription does include Comedy Central and CBS. I could easily just DVR episodes of The Daily Show or Late Show with Stephen Colbert and watch them at home, but I prefer to watch them during my sit-in lunch breaks at work because it's just a more efficient use of time. Or at least, it would be, if it ever actually worked. Heck, on the DVR, I can just skip past the damned ads. I can't do that when streaming on the internet.

Comedy Central is far from unique in this regard. I've already pointed a finger at CBS as well, and this is one of the reasons that I'm not happy about Star Trek: Discovery being exclusive to CBS All-Access. I really don't want to pay for a streaming service to watch one show! Especially if it's still going to contain content-breaking advertisements that prevent me from even watching the show that I'm paying to watch...

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Suicide Squad - poster
Suicide Squad

I wasn't sure what to think when I walked out of Suicide Squad this past weekend. I desperately wanted this to be the movie in which DC finally gets its ducks in a row and makes a fully competent movie (instead of just half a competent movie). I wanted to find things to like about the movie. I wanted to see some brilliant artistic vision that was realized in the film. But I just couldn't. The whole movie was just off-putting.

I feel like the original creative vision revolved around showing a sense of nobility and honor among villains, while also highlighting that supposed "good guys" can actually be very evil. You know, real Watchmen-level kind of stuff. This would have mirrored some of the more enjoyable elements in the first half of Dawn of Justice (in which Superman and Batman's actions are viewed from different perspectives) and would have offered a pretty solid artistic message. This possible original intent is most apparent with Deadshot and Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), whose behavior is inverse of their perception within society. Deadshot is a vigilante and murderer who is locked up in prison, but he is the most noble and compassionate character in the film. Waller, on the other hand, is a national security adviser responsible for protecting the lives of hundreds of millions of people, but she is a merciless, cynical bitch who will shoot her entire staff in the heads because they apparently didn't have clearance to participate in ... the operation that she enlisted them into?

It's all so ham-fisted. Despite being the most likable, relatable, and heroic character in the movie, Deadshot's sense of honor just gets obnoxious. Waller, on the other hand, is obnoxiously vile. The result is that neither character really works for me, and that underlying theme about "who are the real bad guys?" just kind of gets lost in the meaninglessness of the individual characters' actions.

Deadshot and Amanda Waller seem to be ham-fisted attempts at subverting the "bad guys" and "good guys" tropes.

The fact that none of the other characters besides Harley and El Diablo (who ended up being my favorite character in the film) get any development at all certainly doesn't help. A two-hour runtime is pretty standard for a movie, but I simultaneously feel as though half the movie is cut out, and that half of what is present drags on...

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You know, I haven't talked much about the Bears on this blog lately. In fact, I don't think I talked about them at all in 2015, despite a lot of shake-ups in the organization. But then again, those shake-ups are kind of the reason that I didn't talk about the team. I wasn't really sure what to think about it all - let alone what to say (publicly, over the internet) about it!

Another factor in my silence about the team was a lingering sense of disillusionment with the organization. By 2015, the Bears were no longer the same team that I had grown up loving. Lovie Smith was gone, replaced by an offensive-minded head coach who failed to turn Jay Cutler into a superstar. My favorite players, Brian Urlacher and Devin Hester were gone. Even other players that I had liked, such as Charles Tillman, were gone.

Chicago Bears coach John Fox
John Fox is responsible for rebuilding the Bears into a respectable team.

Last year saw John Fox take over for the failing Marc Trestman, and the Bears have been in rebuilding mode. Management hasn't been afraid to shake up personnel. The Bears traded away veteran workhorse Matt Forte to the Jets, and (surprinsingly) traded star tight end Martellus Bennett to the Patriots this offseason. Both moves make sense. Forte's age is a concern, especially for the demanding role as a workhorse running back. Bennett had also been vocal about displeasure with the team. The Bears had even given up on linebacker project Shea McClellin, and released him. He was later picked up by the Patriots as well. I'm sure that both Bennett and McClellin will probably thrive under Bill Belichick's tutelage. Still can't get rid of Cutler though. It seems like each new coach or coordinator comes in and thinks they're going to turn Cutler into a start. So far, they've all failed.

So yeah. I haven't really known what to think about all this, and have been at a loss for words. John Fox has a track record of turning teams around, so the hope is that he'll do the same for Chicago. He also has a record for being a more defensive-minded coach, which leads to the promise that the Bears will start to exhibit the smash-mouth personality that fans (like me) love and admire about the franchise's history. But now Fox has had a full year to work on this team, and it's time to start expecting some improvement. Unfortunately, we didn't see any improvement in the Bears' opening preseason game against the Denver Broncos...

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Stranger Things

After P.T. took the PlayStation Network by storm two years ago (geez, has it already been that long?), I set up my Google news feed with a subcategory specifically for Silent Hill news. I wanted to keep up with the progress of the game, since it looked like the most promising project the series had seen in a decade. After the traumatic cancellation of Silent Hills, that news feed has been mostly populated with articles mourning the loss, or with conspiracy theories about the game's return. Lately, however, a new story has been repeatedly populating that news feed: reviews and interpretations of the Netflix original series "Stranger Things".

With the internet's insistence that Stranger Things is "the show that Silent Hill fans have been waiting for", and some recommendations from co-workers and friends, I decided to give Netflix's new horror thriller a chance. So while House of Cards and Daredevil still sit unwatched in my Netflix queue, my girlfriend and I powered through all eight episodes of Stranger Things within a week.

Stranger Things reminded me a lot less of Silent Hill, and a lot more of Twin Peaks and E.T., but I loved the series nonetheless. I found myself amazed by just how much the show looks and feels like something from the late eighties or early nineties, and by how well it manages to capture a sense of nostalgia for its sources of inspiration without having to license them outright. Hollywood could learn a thing or two from this show. The insistence on reviving franchises like Star Trek, Star Wars, Ghostbusters, Transformers, Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, The X-Files, etc., is starting to wear very thin. At best, these films feel like high-budget fan fiction. At worst, they feel like cynical attempts to play off of nostalgia for a quick cash-grab. Very rarely do they feel like genuinely inspired works of creative art. This reliance on adaptation instead of inspiration has created a dearth of creativity that in many cases has tarnished once-venerable intellectual properties.

Stranger Things - the Upside Down
The internet claims that Stranger Things is "the Silent Hill show that fans have been waiting for".

Stranger Things doesn't stoop so low. It wears its influences proudly on its sleeves, but it also remains, thankfully, it's own entity. It never feels derivative; it never feels stale; and it never feels creatively bankrupt. It's not exactly original (as it blatantly incorporates elements of its inspirations into its plots and characters), but it also manages to occasionally surprise with its clever subversions of genre tropes. It never feels like the shallow fan service that I've gotten so used to seeing from Hollywood blockbusters, and (most importantly) I could enjoy it without the baggage of expectations from a recognized namesake.

Much of this is due to the characters and performances, all of which are great...

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A gamer's life...

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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Open world maps as checklists instead of game spacesOpen world maps as checklists instead of game spaces07/18/2016 I wrote a lengthy blog late last year about the stagnant, "limbo"-like feel of most open world games' narratives. I had written that blog mostly before I played Metal Gear Solid V, and so I wasn't able to incorporate my thoughts regarding that game into the blog. But I did come to a new realization about open world gaming while...

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'Dark Souls: Artorias of the Abyss' DLC offers more "Jolly Cooperation" and "Jolly PvP"!'Dark Souls: Artorias of the Abyss' DLC offers more "Jolly Cooperation" and "Jolly PvP"!04/15/2014 I may have been a bit hard on Dark Souls in my original review (despite spending like six months playing it before I reviewed it). I guess - despite my best efforts - I just couldn't get over my love for Demon's Souls (which I still think was a better game for its time). But Dark Souls ended up eating up a lot of my time, and...