The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim - title

Skyrim is one of the biggest names of this console generation. It's already earned the status of "classic" in some circles. It's over three years old now, and I've been playing it (and its DLC) on my PS3 off and on for much of that time. I've been wanting to write a review, but I just never felt that I had progressed far enough into the game to have a full idea of its overall quality. Considering how long the game's been out, and how successful it's been both critically and commercially, this is more of a retrospective than a true review, since I'm not going to influence anybody's purchase decision. All I can do at this point is talk about what I think he game did right, and what it did wrong, so that future games can hopefully improve on the formula.

After years of playing, I've finally made enough progress with various characters to feel comfortable writing a review. With the recent rumors that Fallout 4 may reuse Skyrim's engine, I feel that this review actually has some relevance still.

The game also includes DLC, which I have reviewed separately in a another post.

The engine finally works! … Mostly …

It seems like Bethesda’s open-world game engine is finally maturing. It’s still a little rough around the edges and has its fair share of bugs and glitches (particularly pertaining to companion characters and home customization), but I was amazed when I realized that, for the first time with a Bethesda RPG, I had been playing the game for weeks without needing to consult the online wiki to find a work-around for a glitch that rendered any characters missing, quests inaccessible, or items missing! With Oblivion and the two Fallout games, it didn’t take more than a few hours of gameplay to start running into such glitches.

Skyrim - world size
The large, open world is finally stable enough to be more fun than frustrating.

My roommate actually had a game-breaking glitch that prevented him from saving after the initial character creation (including auto-saves), so he lost a whole Saturday afternoon’s worth of progress and had to restart the game. That one was a doozy, and admittedly the worst bug that I've experienced so far in any Bethesda game! But these problems have been the exception rather than the norm.

So that’s one big check mark in Skyrim’s favor compared to previous Bethesda games!

Removing level-scaling makes leveling a reward rather than a punishment

Believe it or not, it wasn't the frequency of glitches that deterred me from finishing Oblivion; it was the level-scaling system. On paper it seemed like a good idea. Leveling up the enemies, quests, and loot so that the game is consistently challenging and rewards are consistently worthwhile sure sounded like a good idea!

Oblivion - overleveled bandits
Oblivion's level-scaling resulted in a world overrun by trolls, glass-armored bandits, and Daedra.

But in practice, it turned out to be completely ruinous. Leveling felt more like a punishment than a reward, as everything in the world also became progressively harder. This issue was compounded by the poor balance between different classes. If you weren't leveling your combat skills, and had created a class built around - say - Mercantile, Athletics, and Acrobatics then you could easily over-level early in the game simply by walking around and talking to NPCs, only to get slaughtered in the first Oblivion gate because the enemies were stronger than you and you couldn't talk your way out of the fight.

Skyrim fortunately, does not retain Oblivion's strict level-scaling feature.

Some quests, enemies, and loot are scaled, but most things are not (or they're only slightly scaled). Now, bandits are always just bandits, overpowering enemies start the game overpowered, and the world does not suddenly become exclusively populated by trolls and Daedra halfway through the game. "Dungeon bosses" do seem to scale with the character’s level. As you start going up in levels, you’ll start to notice that the grunts in the dungeons are trivial to fight and leave worthless loot. You’ll actually feel like all that leveling has paid off! Then you get to the "boss" at the end of the dungeon and might get your ass handed to you and have to reload several times.

Hard areas should be hard, and easy areas should be easy. It's just mildly annoying that this game gives you no indication which it’s going to be until you’re already a mile underground, and the difficulty varies wildly - even within a single dungeon crawl.

Skyrim - bandits
Most ambient encounters aren't scaled to the player's level, so bandits always remain just bandits.

Removing the class skills frees up the player to develop whatever skills he or she needs without the compulsion to micro-manage leveling class skills versus non-class skills. Character development feels much more natural and organic, and you can change your specialization at any time if circumstances change ...

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NASA's New Horizons spacecraft set a major milestone for human space exploration earlier this week. Its approach of Pluto means that every solar body that is now - or ever has been - considered a "planet" has been visited by at least one NASA space probe. The probe was launched in January of 2006 (back when Pluto was still a "planet"), and it will continue out beyond Pluto and into the mysterious Kuiper Belt to continue its exploration of the solar system.

In the meantime, the probe has sent back months-worth of high-resolution images and scans for NASA scientists to study. The early results are already full of surprises.

New Horizon photo of Pluto
New Horizon's first, high-res photograph of Pluto (July 14, 2015).

Pluto - it turns out - is not the old, craggy, cratered world that many scientists expected it to be. In fact, it appears quite young, with tall, rocky mountains and nary a single impact crater. This is surprising considering the body's proximity to the Kuiper Belt, which contains numerous asteroids, and other small, rocky bodies left over from the formation of the solar system.

New Horizon photo of Pluto
Large mountains were found on Pluto.

The probe also found possible evidence of frozen water. Frozen nitrogen and methane were expected, but early photographs suggest that frozen water may also make up a large portion of Pluto's crust. This is exciting for scientists because the presence of water (even in frozen ice form) is a possible indicator of life. There doesn't appear to be any liquid water (at least not yet), so the prospects for life are much better on Jupiter's moon Europa (which may have underground liquid oceans warmed by subterranean vents), or Saturn's moon Titan (which has a dense atmosphere and possible liquid surface water). But it at least adds Pluto to the list of possible targets of further study.

New Horizons was actually making discoveries long before it reached Pluto. In 2007, it captured video of a massive volcanic eruption on Jupiter's moon Io. It was a pretty spectacular sight to behold.

New Horizon photo of Pluto
A five frame video of a massive volcanic plume on Jupiter's moon Io (taken in 2007).

As an interesting piece of trivia: the New Horizons craft also contains the cremated remains of Clyde Tombaugh, the man who first discovered Pluto in 1930. He had requested that his ashes be sent to space. Not only did NASA oblige, but they send his ashes to the very body that he became famous for discovering. He had died in 1997, and you'd be hard-pressed to come up with a more fitting interment for an astronomer.

More information about Pluto and the New Horizons mission can be found on NASA's official webpage at https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/newhorizons/main/index.html.

Pluto photographic history
A history of the images of Pluto.
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Back to the Future II - dates
"Back to the Future Day" is rapidly approaching.

This fall, expect to see an onslaught of social media posts about how scientists and engineers have failed us because they haven't invented hover boards, self-drying clothes, holographic sharks, or flying cars. These sorts of Back to the Future memes have been showing up on social media every October for the past few years, often with the dates misquoted. These posts also tend to lament the lack of the nifty technologies showcased in Back to the Future.

And it isn't just Back to the Future that makes people get all nostalgic for the science fiction technology of yesteryear. At the turn of the century, people also bemoaned the huge gap between the manned spaceflight program depicted in Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation of Arthur Clark's classic novel 2001: A Space Odyssey. We also don't have food in the form of pills, or robot butlers, or lightsabers, or holodecks, or wrist phones either. Oh wait, we do have wrist phones, so we can check that one off the list.

But maybe the tech that we do have is actually better than what is depicted in contemporary science fiction movies.

Here's what bothers me: the same people who use their smart phones to post these "Back to the Future Day" memes to Facebook, and demand that scientists get off their lazy butts and build a working hoverboard, often take the technology that we do have for granted...

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Civilization V - Sultan Suleiman of the Ottoman Empire

I've already covered strategies for the civilizations that have been added or explicitly changed in the Brave New World expansion and its major fall (2013) patch. Now I'm going to move on to other legacy civilizations that have not had explicit changes, but who may have had their strategies significantly altered by the expansions and other updates. The first such civilization that I am going to tackle is one that has been requested from readers on at least several occasions. So, by popular request, here is a strategy for Sultan Suleiman's Ottoman Empire.

The rise of the Ottoman empire coincided with the fall of the Byzantine empire that started in the late thirteenth century. Turkish immigrants lead by Osman I took control of a region of Anatolia and Osman declared himself the first Sultan of a new Islamic empire. The fledgling empire quickly began a cycle of conflicts with the Byzantine empire that culminated in the capture of Constantinople, which the Ottomans renamed Istanbul and made their imperial capital. With control of the valuable ports of Istanbul that linked the Mediterranean with the Black Sea, the Ottoman empire rapidly became a dominant force in the Middle East and Europe.

Civilization V - Sultan Suleiman

Sultan Suleiman The Magnificent ruled the Ottoman empire during the height of its power in the sixteenth century. His fleets dominated the seas of the Mediterranean - and extended its influence all the way to India and Indonesia - thanks in part to the successes of Hayreddin Barbarossa, who captured numerous ships on his way to becoming the Ottoman fleet admiral. In addition to military successes, Suleiman also personally initiated a series of sweeping social and legal reforms that contributed to the flourishing of the Ottoman arts and economy.

The Ottoman Empire would eventually become one of the most significant casualties of World War I. The empire was already starting to succumb to the stresses of internal strife and a weakening economy. Their defeat in World War I basically dissolved the Ottoman empire, and what was left of its holdings became the modern nation of Turkey.

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Jurassic World - the park is open

Jurassic Park is one of my earliest and strongest movie memories. I think I saw it at least four times in theaters when I was a kid. Even at that age, I rarely ever saw a movie more than once in a theater. Probably because I couldn't convince my parents to take me more than once, so if I wanted to go again, I'd have to go with a friend or a cousin. But that movie was good enough that I think even my mom and dad went multiple times.

I had a bunch of the Jurassic Park toys, including the character action figures, the large dinosaurs, the jeep, and even the compound playset with the fence and the gate. It was a very monumental movie in my youth that also shaped my perception of movies going forward, as well as helping to spark my interest in science. The awe and wonder of it captured my imagination and held very tightly for a very long time. Its scenes, images, dialogue, and music have all stuck with me to this day.

Perhaps because of this, my favorite parts of the newly-released Jurassic World were the brief scenes of the kids exploring the theme park. I enjoyed the brief clips of the petting zoo where kids fed the baby dinosaurs and rode on the backs of baby triceratops. I especially liked the little playground set where the kids would pretend to dig up dinosaur fossils. Seeing the kids on screen enjoying the awe and wonder of the animals sent me on a nostalgia trip to 20 years ago. The idea of people interacting with these animals is still just as captivating as it was then. There was a very addictive, light-hearted sense of joy and energy throughout these short-lived segments.

Jurassic Park toys
I had many Jurassic Park toys when I was a kid.

Even a more depressing mid-movie scene in which Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas-Howard try to comfort a dying dinosaur was a touching moment that I really liked. It reminded me of the triceratops scene from the first movie, and the dinosaur was surprisingly expressive.

I did think it was weird that the director chose to play John Williams' trademark Jurassic Park theme as fanfare for what was effectively just a scenic helicopter landing. I get that it was an homage to the first movie, but I feel that the first movie built up to the arrival in the park, and paid off the fanfare with the classic money shot of the brachiosaur grazing in the open field. In Jurassic World, it just kind of felt like going through the motions. Imitation for imitation's sake.

In any case, these fun scenes with the dinosaurs is definitely not the point of the movie, and these sorts of scenes and moments get shoved to the side in order to make room for the film's main plot.

Jurassic World - dino safari
My favorite scenes were the ones of people enjoying the park.

I was skeptical about Jurassic World from the very first trailers. I worried that it would surely miss the point.

Michael Crichton's novels and the first movie weren't about "science gone amok"; it wasn't a Frankenstein story about mad scientists creating monsters. It was about well-intentioned scientists who underestimated the complexities of nature...

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Gaming for 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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The Lakeview Hotel and SH2's subtler, more personal OtherworldThe Lakeview Hotel and SH2's subtler, more personal Otherworld04/02/2015 Years ago, I wrote a post regarding the nature of Silent Hill's Otherworld and how it is most likely not a parallel dimension. In it, I may have made a significant mistake. Uh oh. Everybody makes mistakes, and I'm definitely not an exception. But no, I haven't changed my mind and conceded to parallel dimensions :P Specifically,...

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'Civilization V' strategy: Beware Shaka's loincloth of DOOM!'Civilization V' strategy: Beware Shaka's loincloth of DOOM!06/18/2014 Rounding out my series of strategy posts about Brave New World's new civilizations, here is the Zulu. But first, I want to take a moment to thank the readers and everyone who has provided feedback and constructive criticism for these posts. When I first started with Assyria, I wasn't sure if I'd bother doing any other civs at...