The Last of Us 2 - title

Perspective shifts were used effectively in The Last of Us.

I'm a fairly outspoken critic of the first Last of Us. I felt that the gameplay was fairly shallow (though very well-produced), and focused too strongly on the zombie apocalypse plot at the expense of the surrogate father-daughter story that was being told. The best and most memorable moments were the opening scene in which you play as the scared 10-year-old girl as the zombie apocalypse breaks out, and the part where Joel and Ellie pet the giraffe. And maybe the very end where Joel confronts the doctors in the operating room, for those 40% of us who actually completed the game. And the only enemy encounter that was actually good and meaningful was the one-on-one cat-and-mouse boss fight with the cannibal David in the burning restaurant. Those sequences make up the emotional linchpins of the game and are genuinely moving moments of humanity [or inhumanity], and the perspective shifts that reinforce or contextualize those moments are -- dare I say -- artistic! But then 90% of the actual game that you play is rote cover-based shooting separated by stealth-lite and the occasional "puzzle" that never gets much more complicated than propping a ladder up against a wall.

For being a game about a grieving father eventually finding meaning in a surrogate daughter, it never really let the player act out the interactions between the characters. She was invisible to enemies in stealth and mostly took care of herself in combat. She lacked an upgrade tree and didn't really improve her combat or stealth abilities much over the course of the game, so there was also no ludic development of her character, and the player never feels like you are teaching her how to survive, or doing any of the surrogate father stuff that the game is supposed to be about.

So yeah ... overrated... Still good! But like a 7 instead of a 10 out of 10. "Sacrilege!" I know.

The companion isn't the sole focus of the narrative this time around.

This time, however, the relation between the player character and your NPC companion(s) is not the core of the story. This game is not about the character interactions that the player has no control over; this game is about the violence that the player absolutely has total control over! Ellie and Dina's relationship is the B plot behind the revenge plot, and gets further relegated to a C or D plot in the second half of the game. They're already friends/lovers before the game even begins, so there isn't much in the way of building a relationship. In fact, Ellie's story this time around seems to be more about how being a moody, self-absorbed teenager just pushes Ellie away from the people who care about her. It's more a game about being anti-social, which fits much better with both games' core gameplay.

Cycle of Violence

Now, I cannot talk about the artistic merit of the game without talking about the back half of the campaign. Naughty Dog may have embargoed publications from reviewing the second half of the game, but I'm not going to let that stop me from talking about it. Naughty Dog has no place telling critics or reviewers what they can and cannot tell consumers about the game. I'm personally not offended by the second half of the game like some other people are (I think it's the better half of the game, and Naughty Dog is lucky that I'm going to talk about it, because otherwise the game is a D-). I am, however, offended by Naughty Dog thinking they can impose a muzzle order on reviewers, even if it genuinely was in the interest of "not spoiling the game" (as opposed to just trying to hide a controversial element of design that might turn off some consumers). So yeah, I'm going to try to avoid specific spoilers of major plot developments, but this review will contain minor or moderate spoilers about the overall structure of the game.

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Madden NFL - title

I had previously written about how the Madden NFL video game series from Electronic Arts has failed to simulate football by using a shortened quarter length to keep games around 30 minutes long. These shortened games lead to a rushed pace of play, fundamentally change the strategy of football, and also affect other aspects of balance and game design that are not easily fixed by simply setting the game to 15-minute quarters.

This time, I'm going to move away from the rules of the game, and look at more specific game mechanics that fail to simulate how real football players actually play football. This installment, and the next, will look at how real NFL quarterbacks make reads and go through progressions, and then at how defensive pressure packages are used to disrupt those reads and progressions to force the quarterback to make bad decisions. Then we'll look at how Madden completely fails to model these aspects of football, and the various ways that EA and Tiburon have tried to fix or cover up these problems over the years. Some have worked; others have been little more than band-aid solutions.

The companion isn't the sole focus of the narrative this time around.

How Madden succeeds at simulating football: pre-snap reads

Let's start with some good faith towards EA and Madden and talk about the things that the game actually does get fairly right: pre-snap reads. As a QB in Madden, you'll be looking at whether the middle of the field is open or closed before the snap, and this will give you a reasonably accurate idea of whether the route concept that you called will be successful. If you call a cover 2-beating post or dagger concept, but the defense comes out in a Cover-3 look, with a safety in the middle third, then you will be well-served to either adjust the routes using hot routes, audible out of the play entirely, or call a timeout to regroup and come up with another play.

Madden players can make sure
that a blitzing Mike LB is blocked.

Over the past few years, Madden has also gradually introduced concepts such as reading the Mike linebacker. This determines who the blockers will prioritize blocking, which can be important if the defense sends multiple blitzers. Identifying the most dangerous blitzer as the "Mike" ensures that someone on your offensive line will try to block him. Usually, this will be the inside-most blitzer (the one lined up closest to the center). You can also slide pass protection left or right to deal with an overload blitz, and can also assign a double team in order to neutralize a particularly dangerous pass rusher.

To Madden's credit, it gets most of this stuff right. Hopefully all the mechanics that I just mentioned are still in the game by the time you're reading this, and they haven't been stripped out by Tiburon in order to make room for some new gimmicky feature...

A Madden user can make many of the same reads that a real NFL quarterback would. The game will even highlight the key reads before the snap on certain plays to remind the user how to execute the selected play. Good stuff. I don't have many complaints here. Defenses can even disguise coverages, can fake blitzes, and use other similar tactics to try to fool the human user and force a bad read. Again, good stuff. The problems begin when a CPU QB steps on the field, and only get worse when the ball is snapped.

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In the last post, I talked about how the COVID-19 pandemic affected me personally -- which [thankfully] was not much. This time, I want to present some of my thoughts and opinions on the response to the pandemic from a policy and societal perspective, as well as what I perceive to be the lessons that we (as a society) should have learned.

Some of the most essential workers in our economy are the ones who are paid the least. Health care workers, delivery persons, postal workers, grocery clerks, warehouse workers, restaurant workers, and so forth were the people who had to keep going to work because our economy and lifestyles would grind to a complete halt without them. The median wages among employed individuals in the United States is around $49k per year. Yet according to Salary.com, the average salary for a professional truck driver is only around $42k. Contract or gig drivers (such as Amazon couriers) make far, far less.

Restaurant and grocery store workers also make far less than delivery drivers, often earning minimum wage (or less than minimum wage if you also make tips). Those who maybe kept their jobs, but were reliant on tips were especially hurt during the lockdowns, due to a lack of business and in-person contact.

Low-paid delivery persons and fast food workers were essential,
and had to keep working while the rest of us stayed home and safe.

And then there's the healthcare workers, who were literally putting their lives on the line every day, helping to take care of sick people and possibly exposing themselves to infection on a daily basis. Registered nurses (usually employed in hospitals) make decent pay, but the majority of support staff in private clinics are not necessarily registered nurses. This includes receptionists, phlebotomist, clerical staff, and other assistants. As of 2018, medical support staff earned an average of less than $40k per year!

Remember, these are the people who, during a pandemic, were considered "essential" workers who had to keep working (while everyone else stayed home) in order to keep a bare minimum economy running, and to allow the rest of us to continue to go about our daily lives. When shit hit the fan, we didn't look to lawyers, or corporate CEOs, or hedge fund managers, or brokers, or realtors, or movie stars, or athletes. Aside from doctors, we didn't need any of the traditionally highest-paid classes of workers. We needed truck drivers, postal workers, warehouse workers, grocery clerks, and food service workers, and of course medical staff. So I hope you remember this next time you hear someone say that these workers deserve higher pay, or that minimum wage should be increased.

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As we all know, the world has been gripped by a pandemic since the winter / early spring of 2020. The high infection and mortality rates of the novel caronavirus and its associated disease, COVID-19, lead to a mass panic that resulted in governments all over the world completely shutting down economies and recommending social distancing measures intended to mitigate the spread of the disease long enough to get it under control. This seemed to work up through April, when declining cases and general public boredness and frustration lead to the premature re-opening of businesses, and a few weeks later we started seeing huge increases in cases. As a society, we put money before the life and dignity of people, and tens of thousands of people have unnecessarily died because people couldn't wait three more weeks before going to the hair solon or the beach.

I wanted to write about the pandemic back during the height of the lockdown in April, but I kept putting it off until it seemed like a resolution was in sight. I didn't want to publish my thoughts on the issue until I actually knew how it would all turn out, and whether or not I would be personally affected by it. But now it appears that we are nowhere near the end of this pandemic, and the general public and our political leaders have seemingly lost all will to take any meaningful steps to deal with it. I guess now is as good a time as any to start talking about it.

The Las Vegas Strip was shut down for over a month. Shortly after it re-opened, casino workers started getting sick.

I want to talk about the broader socio-political impacts of the pandemic, but I want to take more time to get my thoughts together and do the proper research to make sure I get the facts right. So I'll be writing later about the lessons that I think society (American society more specifically) should have learned from this pandemic (but apparently didn't). First, I'm going to write about the impacts that the pandemic had on me, personally -- which (admittedly) isn't particularly dramatic.

We had a couple of minor scares, but they all turned out to be false alarms. Early in the pandemic, a friend had cold or flu-like symptoms within a day of us having her husband over. Turned out, she just had tonsillitis. Though a regular cold seems to have gone around their house a couple times over the months of the pandemic. We had another friend who works in a local supermarket and had a co-worker test positive for COVID. Her and her roommates all had tests and all came back negative, thankfully. I also had a couple work colleagues who had direct business contacts who got sick and tested positive, though none of my colleagues ever showed symptoms. As I said, multiple close calls.

Commuting from the Bedroom to the Living Room

Unlike many people who were furloughed or laid off, I was fortunate enough to keep my job and be able to work from home during the lockdowns. We were scheduled to re-open the office in mid-July, but the resurgence in local cases prompted our boss to keep everyone working from home indefinitely until new cases drop again. It was a good call.

Many of my friends and family weren't as lucky. I had several friends get furloughed, and most of them ended up being permanently laid off. My mom was also furloughed, and she does not expect to go back to work. Well, I guess she gets an early retirement. My sister also works in a health clinic, so was an essential worker who was potentially at high risk. Her clinic shortened its hours and only takes patients by appointment, so it wasn't nearly as stressful or dangerous as it could have been if she had been working at a hospital, but she still had a very rough few months.

Thankfully, I had my partner and proxy-daughter to keep me company while locked down in work-from-home mode. As for my partner, she's a teacher and was doing the whole tele-education thing over Google classroom, phone calls, and emails for the few weeks that were left in the school year. Then she got the summer off anyway, so she was even less impacted than I was. She was going to have paid vacation for the whole summer anyway. As for what's going to happen when the 2020 school year starts ... that's still up in the air as of the time of this publication. Our local school district has a plan for re-opening, but it's not ideal. I don't think any plan would be ideal in this situation. It's just all different degrees of bad.

Public schools are the last thing we should be re-opening during a pandemic.
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A few days ago, I received an unusual comment on one of my posts on this blog. The comment claimed to be from a "certified illustrator" who claimed that I was using some of her copywritten images without credit. The comment included a link to a Google Drive document that supposedly contained a list of the offending images, and suggested that the illustrator would sue me if I did not promptly remove the images. The full message is duplicated in text below, and in screenshot form:

Hi there!

This is Melika and I am a certified illustrator.

I was baffled, frankly speaking, when I came across my images at your web-site. If you use a copyrighted image without my permission, you must be aware that you could be sued by the copyrigh owner.

It's not legal to use stolen images and it's so filthy!

Take a look at this document with the links to my images you used at www.megabearsfan.net and my earlier publications to get evidence of my copyrights.

Download it right now and check this out for yourself:

https://sites.google.com/site/case53703/googledrive/share/downloads/
file/storage?ID=6543774982793

If you don't delete the images mentioned in the document above within the next few days, I'll write a complaint against you to your hosting provider stating that my copyrights have been infringed and I am trying to protect my intellectual property.

And if it doesn't work, you may be pretty damn sure I am going to report and sue you! And I will not bother myself to let you know of it in advance.

This comment was posted on one of my blog posts, claiming that I would be used for the use of copywritten images.

I am reasonably certain that this message is a scam. If you see this message in your comments, or receive it in an email, do not open the link!

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A gamer's thoughts

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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