The Mandalorian - title

One of my biggest complaints with Disney's Star Wars movies has been their complete lack of original ideas, and their complete unwillingness to move the Star Wars narrative forward. That's actually why I didn't think The Last Jedi was as bad as most people said it was. I mean, it wasn't "good" by any stretch of the imagination. The script was messy, the tone was uneven, and a lot of the movie's logic was fundamentally flawed. But I appreciated much of the bold thematic elements. The Last Jedi wanted desperately to move the franchise in new directions, and it actively mocked the previous film(s) (and the fanbase) for being too trapped in the past.

The rest of Disney's Star Wars movies haven't been so bold. The Force Awakens was a rehash of the original movie. Rogue One and Solo were both prequels that nobody asked for that both attempted to explain minutia that never needed explaining to begin with. I haven't seen Rise of Skywalker yet, but I'm hearing that it's an exceedingly dumb rehash of Return of the Jedi, and possibly the worst Star Wars movie since The Pantom Menace. And that's the "gentle" criticism that I'm hearing from people who were generally favorable towards Disney's treatment of Star Wars!

Suffice it to say, outside of the X-Wing and Armada tabletop games (which I love and still regularly play), I have become so jaded and sick of Star Wars that I didn't bat an eye at Disney's announcement of The Mandalorian. I just assumed that it was a prequel series about young Boba Fett that would continue the Star Wars trend of fixating on its past. I had no interest in watching the series, and I sure as hell was not going to pay a monthly subscription to Disney to watch it.

But I guess a free subscription to Disney Plus came with our Verizon phone plan, and my girlfriend was hearing some good word-of-mouth in the week after the first episode premiered, so we've been having stay-in date nights to watch it. I want to say, by the way, that I like this approach of releasing episodes of a streaming series on a fixed schedule, rather than dumping a whole season all at once. It facilitates water-cooler talk because everybody else is at the same point in the narrative that you are. You have time to digest the events of each episode and talk about them, and you are able to speculate with friends over what's going to happen next, because your friends don't know either! You'd think that streaming services like Netflix and Hulu would have figured this out with the success of HBO's Game of Thrones weekly release schedule, but they didn't. Disney learned. (and so did CBS).

The Mandalorian feels like it's actually pushing the Star Wars narrative forward.

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Wednesday, January 1, 2020 12:01 AM

"Contact" link not working

in General by MegaBearsFan

Hi readers,

It has been brought to my attention that the "Contact page is not working properly, and I am not receiving emails sent through that page. I migrated the blog over to a new hosting server a couple years ago, so the problem may have begun then -- even though I tested it, and it worked at the time. I'm not sure. If you've tried using the "Contact" page to send me an email in the past year or two, I did not receive the message. I was not ignoring you, and I hope you do not take it personally.

I'm going to investigate this issue when I have the time and hopefully fix it soon. I apologize for the inconvenience.

In the meantime, if you need to get a hold of me, I recommend that you do one of the following:

UPDATE I've tried testing the Contact page, and it seems to work sometimes. Some emails go through; others do not. I have yet to be able to determine why that is the case. Emails from actual readers have not been received, but I have a spam box loaded with advertisements and solicitations from French companies. I'll continue investigating as time permits, and will update my readers once I have the Contact page working reliably. In the meantime, I encourage you to continue posting comments, or use the contact methods listed above.

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Death Stranding - title

I had no clue what to expect from Death Stranding. I probably would have bought it regardless because I usually enjoy Kojima's games. I was also curious if Death Stranding would be, in some way, representative of what the canceled Silent Hills might have been. Most of all, Kojima is a bold, and usually innovative creator, and I felt compelled to support his new studio -- if for nothing else than to give a middle finger to Konami.

After spending several dozen hours with it, I'm still not really sure what to think of Death Stranding. Much like with Final Fantasy XV, Death Stranding is loaded with novel ideas and messages that I find personally interesting or compelling. But just like Final Fantasy XV, those novel ideas take a back seat to time-wasting filler quests. Death Stranding can be hypnotically beautiful, zen-like, and maybe even emotionally moving, but it's also big, bloated, and convoluted, and it takes far too long to get where it's going.

At a very reductionist level, Death Stranding could be accurately characterized as "side quest: the game" or "Amazon courier: the game". But that characterization would be overlooking the nuance behind the game, and what it has to say about modern gaming and society in general. That makes it a very difficult game to review without giving one's self some time to let it soak in ... which is part of the reason why I've been mulling it over for more than a month now...

Rebuilding America, one Amazon delivery at a time

Carrying cargo is, in fact, the entire game! Our protagonist, Sam, is unwittingly tasked with delivering cargo across this post-apocalyptic America in an attempt to get in the good graces of the settlements dotting the land, and connect them all up to a vast information network to restore a semblance of civilization. On the way, you can literally build roads and bridges as you go -- rebuilding the American infrastructure little by little.

Online players will leave guideposts and infrastructure to help each other out.

This infrastructure is actually a clever implementation of the Demon's Souls / Dark Souls style of asynchronous multiplayer. In principle.

Instead of the ghostly visages of other player warning you of traps or ambushes or pitfalls, online players can build bridges, roads, vehicle charging stations, storage boxes, and other helpful infrastructure that will make your trek through the world legitimately easier. They aren't just cluing you in about what dangers to expect, or what course of action to take, the other players are actively helping you (and everyone else) without ever needing to set a digital foot in your game. Just like in FromSoft's Souls games, you can also leave little notes that take the form of emoticons, and which combine the function of the Souls player messages with avatar gestures.

When you first step out into the world, there's a sense of desolation and loneliness about the landscape. It reminds me a lot of Shadow of the Colossus, except our only company is a crying fetus instead of Aggro (who's such a good horsey!). The scenery itself is more evocative of Iceland, and doesn't look like any part of the United States that I've ever been. But then again, this is the same game designer who put a tropical rainforest in the middle of Soviet Russia, so... It's beautiful and serene, and figuring out how you're going to navigate the environment can be a legitimate zen-like puzzle.

Trekking through the map reminded me of the beautifully desolate environments of Shadow of the Colossus.

This game requires very precise and deliberate inputs from the player, and it can sometimes be very unforgiving of small mistakes. If you turn too quickly, Sam may lose his balance and fall over, possibly damaging or destroying the packages that you are carrying. Walk to quickly down a steep slope, and you'll risk loosing your footing and face-planting. You can hold one or both trigger buttons to try to stabilize yourself or catch your balance -- and there's no real reason to not hold both triggers the entire game, since balancing your load doesn't make Sam walk noticeably slower. And you'll have to manage Sam's stamina, the battery supply of vehicles or certain tools, and so forth. You might even find your hands cramping from holding down the triggers after a particularly long or strenuous journey over rough terrain, providing you with a small degree of physical discomfort to go along with Sam's physical exhaustion. And you'll be pushed along by occasional rainfall that will cumulatively damage your cargo and equipment.

Even though Sam will progressively get stronger and better able to keep himself balanced, and even though the game will gradually unlock new mechanics for making it easier to traverse the landscape, you can never get sloppy, and the game will punish you for impatience! It reminds me a lot of Dark Souls, except instead of getting killed by a hollow undead sword flurry because I thought I could sprint through a return trip through an early area of the game, I'm instead tripping over my own two feet because I tried to run down a mossy slope to get this delivery done faster.

Simply navigating the open world terrain without tripping and falling is a primary gameplay mechanic.

The terrain is important and relevant, and navigating it safely and efficiently is the game's core gameplay. You aren't simply holding the stick forward and walking a straight line to a point on the mini-map or radar, as you might do in, say, Skyrim or Far Cry. This is how you design an open world game! You make the traversal of the space into the operant challenge. Or, at the very least, make the space between landmarks -- and the act of traversing that space -- feel meaningful. I feel like game designers are really starting to vindicate all those blogs that I wrote years ago about the failings of open world design. The destinations aren't important in Death Stranding. It's the space in between (the open world itself) that is important.

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Cities: Skylines - game title

In my last post, I pitched an idea for a new Cities Skylines expansion pack based off of an idea that Colossal Order had posted on its Twitter account. Today, I want to look at a couple of older tweets from Colossal Order that were intended to gauge player interest in some other mechanics and ideas. Those ideas are car wrecks and urban decay.

These concepts aren't as easy to "game-ify" and adapt to Cities Skylines current game mechanics when compared to the season and holiday ideas I pitched in the previous post. Car wrecks and urban decay are both going to require a bit more imagination to come up with ways that they would work within the game.

Colossal Order's Twitter account has apparently been fishing for new content ideas.

Car wrecks and road construction are a disaster!

One of the ideas that Colossal Order proposed in a tweet was the idea of car wrecks being a mechanic in Cities Skylines. Currently, the vehicle and pedestrian pathfinding systems will try to avoid collisions, but it's nowhere near perfect. If you zoom in close enough to any busy intersection and watch it for a while, you'll inevitably see a vehicle phase right through pedestrians or another vehicle. This is especially prominent when vehicles make a left-hand turn.

The game doesn't actually model collisions, however, so no matter how complicated, confusing, or difficult-to-navigate you might make an intersection or highway ramp, no one will ever get hurt or killed in a car wreck. This is a good thing, because if every collision did result in a wreck that would block traffic, traffic would simply never move in the game. I doubt that Colossal Order would ever implement such a feature, since it would probably be considered "in bad taste" by many people. It would also be very difficult to implement from a technical level, as it would require considerable changes to the pathfinding A.I., which would probably weaken the flow of traffic and/or completely tank the performance of the PC. Designing intersections that minimize wrecks would also need a lot more road customization tools!

Cars and pedestrians routinely pass through each other in any busy intersection of the game.

That being said, the idea of delays on the road got me thinking of another potential idea for the game: modeling road construction as a mechanic. I don't think I've ever played a city-building video game in which you had to wait for a road to be constructed before it can be used. Real road construction can often take months or years. Large highway projects can even take decades in real life. In the meantime, the city often has to designate detour routes and close off parts of roads at a time in order to allow access to businesses and homes.

This is a mechanic that seems like it would probably be too complicated to make work reliably, and be fun to play. You wouldn't get immediate feedback on whether your new highway would work, because you'd have to wait minutes or hours of real time (which would translate to weeks or months of simulated game time) for that highway to be constructed before your citizens would start using it. That would be terribly inconvenient.

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Cities: Skylines - game title

Here we are in December, and Colossal Order has yet to announce a second expansion for Cities Skylines since releasing the Campus expansion back in May. This will be the first year since the game's release that Colossal Order will only be releasing a single expansion. They have released some mini content packs, so there has been some new Skylines content -- just not a full-blown expansion.

Expansion titleOriginal release
After Dark coverAfter Dark24 September 2015
Snowfall coverSnowfall18 February 2016
Match DayMatch Day*9 June 2016
Natural Disasters coverNatural Disasters29 November 2016
Mass Transit coverMass Transit18 May 2017
ConcertsConcerts*17 August 2017
Green CitiesGreen Cities19 October 2017
ParklifeParklife24 May 2018
IndustriesIndustries23 October 2018
CampusCampus19 May 2019
* denotes a mini content pack, rather than full expansion.

But that doesn't mean that Colossal Order has abandoned the game. In fact, they've been very active on Twitter asking for people's opinions on what kind of new content we'd like to see. Most recently, they posted a tweet asking if we'd like to see buildings with seasonal holiday decorations (such as Christmas and Halloween). Earlier in the year, they also asked if we'd like to see mechanics for car wrecks or urban decay (among other propositions). Even though these ideas seem to have been positively received on Twitter, and lots of follow-up ideas were presented by commenters (including myself), no new expansion has been announced.

Colossal Order's Twitter account has apparently been fishing for new content ideas.

Though I wouldn't be surprised if Colossal Order announces an expansion before I'm able to finish writing and publish this blog post...

Personally, I've liked all the ideas that they've suggested, in principle. As you may know, I have some gripes with how Colossal Order has handled its expansions for Cities Skylines, so I would hope that any possible future expansion would try to resolve those lingering issues. So let's go through the ideas that Colossal Order has pitched on Twitter and see if they would be worthy of an expansion pack!

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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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