Well I'll be damned. This winter, I was pleasantly surprised by The Mandalorian seeming to pull the Star Wars franchise back from the brink of the abyss. And now I'm also pleasantly surprised to see that perhaps Star Trek might be pulled out from circling the toilet bowl as well. The first episode of CBS All Access' new Picard series was surprisingly "not bad".

Now, I do still have some serious reservations about the directions that I think the show might be going later in the season. And I'll get to that later. But first, I want to sit and bask in the delight of having just watched a new piece of Star Trek media that I didn't hate. After slogging through the first season of Discovery (I have yet to watch the second season), I was left with zero faith in CBS's ability to re-capture the spirit and soul of Star Trek.

Picard shows some good faith right from the start by opening with a clip of the Enterprise-D. Not some re-designed Franken-ship monstrosity like the "original" Enterprise in the 2009 Trek reboot, or as seen in Discovery. But the honest-to-goodness Galaxy-class Enterprise-D, pretty much exactly as we remember and love her -- and looking mighty gorgeous, might I add! We then zoom into Ten Forward, where Picard is playing a hand of poker with an unconvincingly digitally de-aged Brent Spiner reprising the role of Data. This scene pays homage to the beautiful final scene of the Next Generation finale "All Good Things...", and Picard laments that he's stalling going all-in against Data's hand because he "doesn't want the game to end".

Picard is a return (and continuation) of Star Trek as fans knew it almost 20 years ago.

We didn't want the game to end either...

The first few scenes of the episode then go on to show Picard giving brief (but impassioned) speeches about the decline of Starfleet ideals, the civil rights of sentient androids, and the moral imperative to provide aid and relief to the Romulan refugees whose home planet was destroyed by the [somehow unexpected?] supernova of the Romulan sun. And he's also trying to do some social justice for pit bull dogs, which (as my choice of pets should suggest) is something that I approve very strongly of. It's respectful and faithful (and reverent) to what came before. "Holy shit", I thought, "this is actually looking and feeling like the Star Trek that I know and love."

For a moment, I thought the soul of Star Trek is there, in those early scenes, even though it is shallow and lacks the idealism that has always underpinned Trek.

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This week, I came across a video from Fox Sports outlining some of the "innovative" new rules being employed in the XFL for its [second] inaugural season. The rules are intended to make the game more exciting and streamlined. Some of them sound like generally good ideas. Others seem like poorly thought-out attempts to make the offenses' jobs easier, at the expense of defense and special teams.

The XFL released a video detailing its new rules.

Overtime shootout sounds dumber than college overtime

I am not surprised that the XFL is experimenting with a new overtime design. I am, however, surprised that they managed to come up with an overtime that is somehow even more divorced from football than college's overtime rules. Now, I've made my distaste for college overtime clear in the past. In summary, college overtime changes the rules of the game such that the teams' relative strengths or weaknesses may shift dramatically, in such a way that the outcome of the game may not be representative of the game as a whole. For one thing, special teams is almost completely removed from the game.

The XFL is going even further. Overtime games will be decided by what is essentially a two-point conversion shoot-out. Basically, the teams will take turns trying two-point conversions until one team scores and the other doesn't.

Devin Hester return TD
Special teams stars like Devin Hester will be
completely irrelevant in XFL overtime.

So now, not only are kick and punt returns eliminated from the game in overtime, but the field goal kicker has to sit on the bench knowing that he can't contribute either. Does your team have an elite kicker? Too bad! He doesn't get to see the field. How about an explosive kick returner? He also has to sit on the bench and watch without being able to use his talents to help his team win the game.

Heck, unless your team specializes in converting short-yardage situations, your team is going to be handicapped. Have a trio of speedy receivers who stretch the field, and a QB with a rocket arm? Sorry, they only have about 12 yards to work with. Have a dominating pass rush that leaves rival QBs with little time to make a five or seven-step drop before being buried into the ground? Well, they probably won't have time to get to the QB, since the rules are basically mandating a three-step drop or less.

Put simply, this overtime is not football.

My other complaint with college rules has also been carried over to the XFL: games can't tie. The rapid nature of the shootout should hopefully mean that overtimes don't drag on for as long as college overtimes often do, and the scores won't be as wildly inflated. So those are improvements. But sometimes, a tie might be representative of a hard-fought game against two closely-matched opponents. But the XFL rules prohibit this.

No, I do not like these overtime rules at all.

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Friday, January 17, 2020 11:15 PM

A dislocated shoulder wont stop me!

in Health and Medicine by MegaBearsFan

Snowboarding is a dangerous sport. A couple years ago, I almost broke my neck in a fall. I fell face-first so hard that my goggles were crushed. I was lucky to have escaped that fall with only a bloody nose, broken goggles, and maybe a very mild concussion. That incident inspired me to buy a helmet -- something my partner had been telling me to do for years.

I once face-planted so hard, I crushed my goggles.

My luck ran out a week ago, and I finally suffered a serious injury. Thankfully, it wasn't a broken neck. I dislocated my right shoulder.

I wish that I could say that I dislocated it while trying to do a jump flip or grinding a rail. I'm not nearly that good of a snowboarder. Despite having been doing this for years, I still struggle with simple things like turning and carving. But that wasn't even how I fell. Nope. I fell and dislocated my shoulder while getting off the lift. Worse yet, it was the lift on the bunny hill.

Now, in my defense, that lift chair is really low to the ground, and it isn't easy to stand up off of it. We were riding with our kid, who was skiing on her own, without an instructor, for the first time. I was using my arm to push myself off the chair. I slipped, and the board started to slide out from under me. Instead of falling back onto the chair, I fell on the ground in front of the chair. But my arm was still on the chair.

My partner had to drive me down the mountain to the hospital, where the doctor had me "re-introduce" my shoulder on my own -- no pain-killers.

I dislocated my shoulder while snowboarding. It was quite painful.

So now my arm is in a sling. It doesn't hurt (other than a little soreness and swelling), but I'm not supposed to move the arm much because of the risk that it might fall back out of socket. I'll be seeing an orthopedic specialist in a few days to determine how bad the damage is, if it's healing correctly, and what the recovery will entail. I'm expecting at least several weeks of healing in this sling, and probably some physical therapy to restore strength and range of motion. I really hope that I don't end up needing surgery.

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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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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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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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