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October 2021 Retrospective

No self deprecating intro this month. Let's get into the mood with this banging song from JoCat.

The Good

Hung out with friends and family

I got to visit friends and family in-person again on multiple occasions this month. The innocence and boundless energy of my nieces and nephews is hopefully something I will never tire of.

I have said this before but I'll say it again, the pandemic has made me realize how much of an extrovert I really am. I wish I could visit with someone every weekend but we are probably still several months away from that possibility.

The Murderbot Diaries

I read the first three novellas of the The Murderbot Diaries and was pleasantly surprised. The idea of a robot who hacks their "governor module" and gains the ability to act independently is an interesting concept but I wasn't sure how it could be stretched out to a full-length story. Martha Wells did an amazing job of having Murderbot (the robot's name for itself) act as both an uncaring machine while at the same time developing, or more like fighting against, real human emotions.

The first novella, All Systems Red, is only 160 pages so I would recommend that everyone give it a shot.

Your DNA is probably already in a database

Veritasium is one of my favourite YouTube channels and he recently released this excellent video about how your DNA is probably already in a database, even if you didn't give consent.

It's amazing to think that if one person submits their DNA to a searchable database, that could help convict a relative of theirs three or four generations from now.

Beat Lost Judgment

Last month I wrote about how much I enjoyed Lost Judgment and this month I finally managed to beat it. Both the gameplay and story held up right until the very end and as soon as the credits finished rolling (which were excellent by the way) I immediately jumped back in for the side quests.

At this point in time I think I can unequivocally say that Lost Judgment is better than the original in every aspect. I highly recommend it.

Dump ROMs using the GBxCart

I bought a GBxCart RW Pro last month with the intention of dumping the ROMs of all my old Game Boy games so that I could play them on my MiSTer.

The GBxCart website recommended CartBoy for macOS users as it provided a native app. Unfortunately CartBoy hasn't been updated in almost two years and no longer works out of the box. Just to get it to compile and run on Xcode 13 I had to fix namespace collisions with Swift Concurrency and disable macOS notarization with an entitlement. Even after I got it to run something was wrong with how the app validated cartridges because every single one was supposedly invalid.

Like any good software developer who encounters an issue I thought I could fix it by simply building the entire thing from scratch. Fortunately the saner part of my brain prevailed and instead I installed FlashGBX, a python app that uses the QT framework for its GUI. It may not have been "native" but it worked perfectly and I was able to dump four ROMs from a bunch of Game Boy cartridges I purchased. I transferred them to my MiSTer and was able to play them all without issue.

Next month I hope to pull all of my Game Boy Advance games out of storage and dump some ROMs of my old favourites. I'm looking at you Final Fantasy Tactics Advance.

2021 United States Grand Prix

The later half of the 2021 F1 season is heating up and the US Grand Prix gave us the closest finish I have ever witnessed.

With only five races remaining my money is on Max Verstappen to take home his first Drivers' Championship.

The Bad

Metroid Dread

I need to watch myself here or I'll probably just start ranting about how much I hate Metroid Dread.

First let's start out with what I liked about it. Metroid Dread is a very pretty game, especially for being on the underpowered Switch. It has the exploration we've come to expect from Metroidvania-type games and the combat is fun, if perhaps a little stale at this point. Even if it isn't reinventing the genre there was easily 10 hours of fun to be had with this game.

But one day the developers started sniffing glue and realized what missing from the Metroidvania genre. Forced stealth sections where if you get caught you die instantly! OK fine, not instantly. You can survive if you succeed at a quick time event (QTE) with a 99% fail rate. I'm not pulling that number out of thin air by the way. There is literally a line in the game that says there is a 99% chance you will die.

When a game is unreservedly better if a mechanic were removed from it that is a pretty big indicator that you should be removing that mechanic regardless. If Metroid Dread did not have these instant death enemies the game would be more enjoyable. Also please notice that I didn't say anything about stealth sections. Those can definitely be done well. But having you instantly die 99% of the time and have to redo everything is bullshit.

This is a similar to the complaint I had about Hollow Knight, another Metroidvania game, last month. What is this obsessions with punishing your players for just playing your game? Give the sadist, speedrunners a hard difficulty where the QTEs are impossible. But for us "normal schmos" make it easy to do and have it cost us something to at least incentive us to try not to get caught. Better yet reward us if we don't get caught.

I'm reminded of this anecdote I heard during World of Warcraft's development. They wanted to encourage their players to take a break and not just play for hours on end. So after a set amount of time without resting the experience points you gained would halve until you took a decent break. Players complained because they didn't like being penalized for playing the game they enjoyed. So Blizzard flipped the narrative. If you take a break you gain "rested experience" where for the same amount of time you'll gain 200% experience points until that runs out and then you'll just go back to the regular amount.

Reward your players for good behaviour instead of just kicking them in the testicles and telling them to "git gud".

The International 10

I've been watching The International for a decade now. It's one of those events that I look forward to every year. I even went to Vancouver in 2018 to watch TI8 live and was planning on travelling to Sweden for The International 10. Then the pandemic through everything for a tumble, TI10 got delayed for over a year, and Valve even had to move to the event to Romania. But this month we finally got 18 of the supposedly best Dota 2 teams to compete for esports biggest prize.

I don't think this is going to shock any of the readers of this blog but esports has an issue with toxic players, especially at the lower levels. I absolutely adore Dota 2 but I have essentially stopped playing because I cannot handle the toxic atmosphere. I will also freely admit that sometimes I contribute to that atmosphere because a competitive game combined with pseudo-anonymity makes it really easy for your anger to bubble to the surface. I do my best to mitigate it by muting the opposing team but sometimes you or your teammate makes a mistake and all that adrenaline just gets to you.

I bring this up because The International is the Stanley Cup or Super Bowl or World Series of esports. It is easily the biggest event of the year and brings tens of millions of eyes upon it. One would hope that there would be a certain level of sportsmanship and maturity on display. Something that we would want to encourage regular players of the game to emulate. If during the Super Bowl after a touchdown a player ran down the opposing team's sidelines giving them the finger and yelling about how easy it was to score you know we would condemn that behaviour. It's not something we want anyone, especially kids, to emulate in their own games.

But the problem with esports is that they attract the young and socially maladjusted. Every year The International has its incidents involving bad manners and sore losers but it wasn't until this year that I felt not only was it being accepted but actively encouraged by both the production crew and the community.

When that type of behaviour was constantly displayed by the eventual winners of The International 10, I lost all interest in Dota 2. A team of five players who were between 18 and 24 years old showcased that if you act like assholes for 10-12 hours a day in this game you can one day become millionaires.

I really wonder where esports are going to go over the next decade. As it ages what sort of role models are these games going to foster? Have we just given up and are at peace with competitive multiplayer games being a cesspool of hateful, racist, and misogynist behaviour? Is there really nothing we can do to change this?

Time of Contempt

It pains me to say this but I really did not like Time of Contempt. After reading the first two books in the Witcher series, I can safely say that the only characters I give a damn about are Geralt and Dandelion. Everyone else is either boring or annoying or a combination of the two.

This book in particular focused heavily on Ciri and Yennefer and it was an absolute slog to get through their chapters. I understand these characters motivations and why they do what they do. But I could not handle their inner thoughts and justifications for their actions. Geralt is much more palatable because he is this naive outsider experiencing all these crazy political machinations. It's funny to watch him just stumble around, continually stating that he's neutral, and having everything blow up in his face.

The last chapters of the book took place entirely from Ciri's perspective and when I realized that this would likely be the case for the rest of the series I just gave up. I read the plot summary for the final three books in the series and I am glad I did. Just like Wheel of Time I appreciate the worldbuilding that goes into these fantasy series but I just can not get past the author's writing style.

That being said season 2 of Netflix's The Witcher starts on December 17th and I could not be more excited. Even though this series is probably going to tackle aspects of the books that I did not like I'm looking forward to seeing how a TV show handles it.

Housing market in Ontario

As an iOS developer working for a San Francisco headquartered company I am being compensated handsomely. But even I am having trouble figuring out how to buy a home in Ontario.

https://twitter.com/statuses/1448257214188298244
https://twitter.com/statuses/1449025027249262592

Foundation on Apple TV+

Five more episodes of Foundation have been released and what I feared would happen has come to pass. The reason why Foundation was said to be impossible to film is that it takes place over centuries and individual people are essentially irrelevant. The whole point of psychohistory is that it is impossible to predict the actions of a particular individual, only the general path that a large population will take. Yes psychohistory can predict that a single individual would need to become a leader who acts like a messiah or starts a coup, but it does not matter who that person is.

But the Foundation TV series has decided that psychohistory is that exact opposite of that. In the span of a single episode we were told that four people in a single generation are absolutely essential to "The Plan" and if they don't behave exactly as predict then the Foundation is doomed. Oh also one of those people needs to discover a "ghost spaceship" that has been lost for 700 years but its "advanced technologies" will allow them to become ruler of a quadrant of space. Who the fuck wrote this again? A comic book writer who also wrote Blade: Trinity, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Terminator: Dark Fate. Sweet Jesus this show is doomed isn't it?

Honourable Mentions

Back 4 Blood

Back 4 Blood is a worthy spiritual successor to Left 4 Dead.

A lot has changed in the 13 years since Left 4 Dead was released and multiplayer games have grown and evolved quite a bit. Back 4 Blood did a good job at keeping everything enjoyable from the original, adding numerous quality of life improvements, and then sprinkling in some deck-building to add character progression. I would say that on the whole Back 4 Blood meets or surpassed Left 4 Dead in nearly every aspect.

That being said there were still three major flaws with the game that had me dangerously close to quitting.

First off this game is still relatively buggy. We had a map fail to spawn an explosive barrel that we were suppose to use to seal off a zombie hoard. No barrel meant the hoard kept coming and we died. This happened three straight attempts before it magically fixed itself.

Second, some of the corruption cards that make each run of a map unique actually make it impossible. One in particular was snitches that always summon a zombie hoard. The AI director just kept stacking snitches on top of one another and we simply didn't have the firepower to survive.

Finally, the last act contains the most trite, boring encounter you could imagine. A massive, slow moving creature appears and you just need to shoot its glowing weak points for massive damage. No need to move around the environment and load weaponry or bait the monster in a certain direction. Literally a big greyish blob with glowing orange spots has to be shot. A game like this doesn't even need a final boss just like both Left 4 Dead and its sequel didn't have one. The great thing about these games is building up to that big crescendo moment where you need to hold you ground or make some final push to safety.

I know I'm coming off as quite negative but I really did enjoy Back 4 Blood and I am planning to go back and play it again on "normal" difficulty.

Season 2 of Ted Lasso

Season 1 of Ted Lasso may be a perfect season of television. I struggle to think of anything that matches it. Ted Lasso's ability to make you laugh while simultaneously raise your spirits is unparalleled.

Season 2 was more of the same but there was something just slightly off that I can't really put into words. I still found myself laughing hard and every episode had some uplifting message that it wanted to convey. But there was something different about season 2 that didn't make it land the same.

Part of it definitely came down to a certain character's story arc. I don't want to spoil anything but I'll just say their actions at the end of the season didn't make sense to me. They're obviously foreshadowing some upcoming things for this character in season 3 but that left me more worried than interested.

Regardless Ted Lasso is still an excellent show that I recommend everyone watch. Fingers crossed they rebound a teeny bit and finish the series strong with season 3.

Squid Game

What can I say about Squid Game that hasn't already been said? This thing has become an international phenomenon. It was #1 on Netflix in over 90 countries! More people have probably watched it than the new Marvel movies.

I almost don't want to write anything about it because going into this show cold would have been absolutely amazing. If I could have seen that first episode without the slightest inkling of what was going to happen, I can only imagine how much my mind would have been blown.

I will say this one thing. Squid Game was even a bit too nihilistic for me, and if you know me that is saying something. The shock and gore of this TV show are what people are talking about, but this is like the anti-Ted Lasso. You don't come out of any of these episodes feeling good. So just keep that in mind if you are thinking about watching Squid Game.

Alice in Borderland

Somehow after Squid Game I was still in the mood to watch people compete for their lives and so I immediately jumped into Alice In Borderland on Netflix.

It's probably the anime/manga lover in me but I enjoyed Alice in Borderland a lot more than Squid Game. It's not going to win any awards for its writing, but each episode was thoroughly enjoyable and I am already looking forward to season 2.

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