I've always seen Fallout as a bleak and cynical video game series. Yes, it has humor, but that humor is, itself, very dark and cynical. As such, the goofy, slapstick humor of the early episodes of Amazon Prime's Fallout TV show were a bit off-putting for me.

Around episode 3 or 4, however, the tone begins to shift. From then on, this show is Fallout through and through. It is violent. It is graphic. It is cynical.

Amazon did a fantastic job with the cast. Ella Purnell is fantastic as the innocent and naïve vault-dweller (named Lucy) who serves as the audience surrogate for exploring this world, as well as an adaptation of the player avatar for all of us who tried to play the first game's Vault-Dweller in a "good karma" playthrough. Aaron Clifton Moten has a weird, detached quality to his performance as Maximus, as if Maximus is half sleep-walking through the events. As weird as the performance is, it does give a genuine sense that Maximus is just completely callous and desensitized to the violence and cruelty of the Wasteland, and he only ever seems to perk up when that cruelty gives way to some kind of comfort or happiness.

The side characters are also well cast and entertaining. From Kyle MacLachlan's vault-daddy, to Matt Berry as the voice of the Mr. Handy robots, and all the Wasteland inhabitants and vault-dwellers in between, everybody is great.

But the real show-stealer is Walton Goggins as the movie cowboy-turned-ghoul bounty hunter Cooper Howard. He steals every scene he's in, and gives off just the right combination of confidence, charm, and antagonism befitting such a gun-slinging cowboy anti-hero. We also see empathy and vulnerability in his character, especially in the flashbacks to the pre-war times.

Fallout (Amazon) - Walton Goggins as Cooper Howard © Amazon.
Walton Goggins steals the show, even if his make-up leaves a little to be desired.

The lower budget of a TV show does make itself apparent with some of the makeup effects and one character's digital de-aging effect looking pretty bad. Walton Goggin's ghoul makeup looks more like he's cosplaying the Red Skull than being one of the rotting zombies wandering the wastes. I'm wondering if this was the result of a contractual requirement that the actor's makeup not be too uncomfortable or hide too much of his face, because other ghoul characters and extras that we see in the later episodes look pretty ghoulish.

But other than that, the show looks good. The Wasteland has that eerie beauty that we come to expect from a post-apocalyptic landscape. Whatever money was saved on Walton Goggins' makeup must have been spent on the Power Armor costumes. The Power Armor costumes look fantastic and move surprisingly well for being such a large and bulky practical effect. Being an actual costume (or maybe a puppet?), the Power Armor has an appropriate dirty and weathered look to it, and doesn't clash with the scenery in the way I usually expect a CG character to look.

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Imagine Earth - title

I've been seeing more and more games putting an emphasis on mechanics oriented around environmentalism and sustainability. Games in genres that typically encourage unchecked exploitation of resources are now becoming more and more about the sustainable use of resources. It makes sense. Climate change is becoming more and more of a visible problem that affects our lives in tangible ways. Milliennial game developers are also searching for ways to cope with the fact that our generation and the next will be stuck paying the consequences of the short-sightedness of our parents' and grandparents' generations. Many members of those earlier generations are still, unfortunately in positions of political and corporate power, and make up a large voting block, and are continuing to make selfish, short-sighted decisions that will only make matters worse for the younger generations. It makes sense that younger game developers would be baking those anxieties into the games that they make.

Ecologically-focused colony-building

Imagine Earth is the type of city-builder / strategy sim that has typically been about conspicuous consumption, but it now wants the player to consume more responsibly. Not only does this game expect the player to industrialize the surface of entire planets at the behest of a corporation, it also asks the player to do that with an eye towards limiting greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and other pollution. Developing a sustainable economy doesn't only mean cutting back on emissions from power plants, industrial activity, and so forth. It also requires restoring or expanding natural habitats by planting forests, growing corals, and so forth.

Imagine Earth prioritizes limiting greenhouse emissions and pollution.

Either the player has to plan the growth of your colonies in a sustainable fashion and prevent emissions and pollution from ever getting out of hand to begin with, or you have to spend the back half of each mission doing damage control.

Unfortunately, just like in real-life, any individual person or corporation or government's environmental efforts aren't necessarily sufficient to curtail the effects of climate change. There are often other corporations or settlements on these planets which don't have the same noble ecological goals, and who will happily ruin things for everybody else. They are there to make a quick buck by exploiting as much of the resources as possible, with no plans for sustained long term habitation -- the other people living on the planet be damned. But the corporation we work for in Imagine Earth does plan on prepping these planets for long-term colonization, so we have to pick up those other corporations' messes. Sometimes through violence, coercion, or sabotage, but usually through a hostile takeover of majority stake.

Not all corporations are concerned with long-term colonization that requires a stable environment.
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GameStop

Last week saw a rare convergence of video games and the stock market in popular news coverage. Well, not video games directly, but rather, one of the most popular video game stores: GameStop. Unless you've been living under a rock for the past week or two, you've probably been hearing about how a group of Reddit posters got hundreds of thousands (or millions) of fellow Reddit readers to buy and hold stock in GameStop over the past few months, raising its stock price from $5 per share to a max of almost $500 per share. This was much to the dismay of many Wall Street investors and hedge funds, who had been betting that Gamestop would lose money. Those hedge funds have been losing those bets due to the actions of these Redditors, and some very rich people are suddenly losing a little bit of money.

I'm not going to talk too much about this because Jim Sterling already released a fantastic Jimquisition episode about this very topic yesterday. It's seriously one of their best work ever, despite not being directly about video games, because it strikes right at the fundamental core of why the video game industry is so corrupt and exploitative: because that's just how American corporate capitalism is: corrupt and exploitative. So check out that Jimquisition if you want to hear more ranting about how the stock market is really just a casino for rich people who like to bet on everyone else's lives, how it's unfairly rigged against small investors, and how it creates perverse incentives for businesses and investors to hurt the workforce. I am in absolute agreement with almost everything that Sterling says in this video.

Monday's Jimquisition about the GameStop stock story is one of Jim's best works.

Nevertheless, I do want to talk a little about this topic because the excesses and exploitative nature of American corporate culture is a particularly frustrating issue that I am very passionate about criticizing. Full disclosure: I (along with some of my colleagues and friends) did buy stock in GameStop (along with AMC, Blackberry, and Nokia) as a form of protest against the corrupt and rigged Wall Street system, and in the hopes of making a quick buck. Unfortunately, I bought mine at one of the peak prices and, as of the time of this writing, I've personally lost several hundred dollars on the purchase, since GameStop's price has been dropping. But I haven't sold yet. I'm in it for the long run.

The hedge fund managers who were suddenly at risk of losing millions of dollars (or more) because they bet on GameStop to fail were suddenly calling for government or regulatory intervention. They wanted stock purchases to be frozen, or for regulatory agencies to bail them out because they lost their gamble. The stock trading app, Robinhood, even conceded to these demands last Thursday or Friday, halting the purchase of any new shares of GameStop and even closing out the accounts of some users who had purchased the stock. They did this in the name of "protecting users from a volatile market", but really, it was almost certainly to protect the hedge funds who were losing money.

I'd like to remind my readers that these hedge fund managers who were crying foul are the same people who complain about government regulation, taxes, minimum wage laws, and so forth on the grounds that the market should be "free". They, after all, make shit-loads of money trading volatile stocks and using various investment strategies to manipulate the prices of certain stocks for their own personal and professional gain. But the moment that the average consumer starts to use these same systems and rules, these promoters of "free, un-regulated markets" start crying foul. It's not "market manipulation" when they gamble with other people's money; but they want to say it's illegal "market manipulation" when we, the average plebs start gambling and winning their money. Elites want "free markets" when they are exploiting those markets for personal financial gain, but when the average pleb starts exploiting it, suddenly, these same corporatists want regulation and welfare from the state to protect them from their own bad bets. Please remember that next time you hear someone criticize progressives for "just giving handouts to the poor". At least the poor need the money or benefits. These hedge fund managers can get by just fine without their precious GameStop short sells. But they don't care. They're greedy sons-of-bitches and want to squeeze the general public for every last penny they can get out of us, even if it means thousands of people will be laid off of their jobs and fall into poverty.

Worse yet, these same elites love to criticize poor and middle-class Americans for not investing our money. But when a bunch of us decide to try, they cry that we're manipulating their markets. Because that's what they think it is: "their market". They only tell us to invest (and then blame us for not following their advice) because they know that the majority of Americans don't have enough disposable income to be able to afford to invest any meaningful amount. Maybe we can put away a few hundred or thousand bucks into the stock market, but even the collective tens of millions of us are not putting the quantities of money into the market that these elites are.

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An interesting and sickening piece of political video gaming news came out last week. I had meant to write about it at the time, but got bogged down with some personal and family obligations. Nevertheless, I wanted to throw in my two cents.

Activision / Blizzard has apparently banned a professional Hearthstone player, living in Hong Kong (a semi-sovereign city-state in China), from participating in professional e-sports. The reason that Activision / Blizzard banned Ng Wai Chung (who goes by the username Blitzchung) is because he made statements in support of a decades-long protest movement in Hong Kong that supports independent democracy. The authoritarian communist Chinese government has been battling pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong for decades, and apparently video game publishers (among many other American corporations) are starting to act as shills for China's policies of repression and censorship.

Heck, Activision even went one step further, and rescinded the prize money that Blitzchung had already won! They also stated that they are canceling professional relationships with the Taiwanese reporters who were interviewing Blitzchung when he made the comment. Taiwan, by the way, also has a lengthy history of Chinese repression.

Blitzchung made his comments as a part of an official Twitch stream, and Activision claims that his statements violated tournament rules that prohibit any speech that would:

"... brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard image."

Apparently, speaking out against Chinese government repression and tyranny counts as "damaging the image of Blizzard". But Blitzchung isn't an employee or agent of Activision / Blizzard, and his statements had nothing to do with Activision / Blizzard as a business. Blitzchung's comments weren't hate speech, they weren't inciting riots or violence, nor was the statement itself anything that is actually offensive (to anyone other than the Chinese government). Would Blizzard have reacted similarly had a tournament player said "Trump, 2020" or "LGBTQ rights" or anything that could be seen as similarly divisive? If they had, they'd be equally as wrong to do so.

Activision / Blizzard's reaction is disgusting and reprehensible. I'm sure they want to increase their market penetration in China, and having players of their games who live under that repressive Chinese government speaking out against the repressive Chinese government probably doesn't make Activision / Blizzard look good in the eyes of the Chinese government. But so what?! By not taking a stance in favor of free speech, Activision / Blizzard is enabling and condoning a tyranny that would squash the very free markets in which Activision / Blizzard operates and earns its vast amounts of wealth.

...

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Tropico 5

Without a decent, new iteration of SimCity for me to play, I've been looking high and low for new city simulator games in order to scratch that particular itch. I spent a large chunk of time a few years ago playing Cities XL, but never got around to reviewing it (maybe I'll post aretro-review in the future). Cities XL has so far been the best of the bunch and has a very wide scope, but it's developer has folded, and the game has never truly felt complete.

So I've started looking at more niche titles. I gave Children of the Nile and Caesar IV a go a few years ago, and both were pretty good, but just didn't hold me over for very long. So when Tropico 5 went on sale on Steam, I picked it up and put it on the shelf till I took a break from Civ. The game has also been released on XBox 360, and it has also been announced for a PS4 release sometime in 2015, but I've been playing the PC version.

The primary gimmick of the Tropico series is that the player isn't a mayor (as most city simulators claim); instead, you play as a dictator who is granted governorship of a small Caribean island-nation by a European power. It's basically a Cuba-simulator. At the start of a game, you must create a dictator avatar, and that character can have children and heirs in order to maintain your dynasty. From a meta standpoint, this gives much greater justification for the breadth of power that the player has over the development of the city. But this dictatorial theme isn't just a gimmick; the game actually does use it for gameplay purposes.

Tropico 5 - war
Poor management of relations with internal factions and external nations
can lead to revolts and open warfare on your streets.

In addition to balancing workers versus jobs and various citizen satisfaction metrics, the player also has to worry about maintaining your position of power and dealing on the international stage. Much like the Democracy games, the player actually has to win elections in order to avoid losing the game, and so you must balance the favor of various competing factions. It's nowhere near as deep as Democracy, since there's only about four factions (which change depending on the current era), but it does add an extra challenge that a game like SimCity lacks. After all, your mayor-hood in SimCity is indisputable.

It can be hard to manage the favor of these various factions and their members, since it's hard sometimes to tell exactly what is making them happy or unhappy...

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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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