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Monthly Archives: June 2014

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Watch Dogs is Assassin’s Creed With Less Cyberspace

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Like many open world games, Watch Dogs is a wonderful open world matched with a miserable game. The GTA games get around their poor gameplay and annoying mission structures by filling them up with edgy outsized characters and social commentary.

Watch Dogs tries feebly for the social commentary angle, but their ruminations on privacy and technology don’t distract from the Instafail missions, the annoying placement of saves and cutscenes, the too complicated control setup and the poor shooting.

And everything else.

As an open world, Watch Dogs has a Chicago that looks terrible in the daylight, but amazing at night. The overlays give every little NPC a story and make the world come alive in a way that GTA and Saints Row never managed to do. Most of the functions are just pickpocketting and eavesdropping with a cell phone, but picking up missions by eavesdropping on phone calls makes for a dynamic world and mission structure.

It’s too bad that the missions themselves are so miserable.

Watch Dogs is Assassin’s Creed with less cyberspace and even more awkward controls. The controls are too complicated when they don’t need to be burying the game under layer and layer of strange screens and too simple when they don’t need to be so that when you’re trying to stay in cover, your one press of a key instead alerts every bad guy in the area.

The missions are all about stealth, without the controls to make stealth workable. You have dozens of weapons, but it takes a few shots to kill you.

And that’s just the random missions.

Watch Dogs’ campaign tasks you with an annoying protagonist impossible to care about, who never develops a personality and never shuts up. And he has sidekicks who make you appreciate his lack of personality especially since they keep calling until you take their mission.

If you thought GTA 4’s social networking was annoying, try listening to the same Jordy Chin phone call a dozen times.

Watch Dogs builds a complicated and interesting open world and then jams you into a dumbed down game making the same mistake that Rockstar keeps making with the GTA games. But Watch Dogs doesn’t have enough color to compensate or enough style the way that its Assassins’ Creed games do. Once you get past the open world, there’s no reason to keep playing.

Watch Dogs is Assassin’s Creed with the amazing open world, but without any of the fun combat or platforming. Instead you’re stuck with another character who can die if he steps the wrong way outside a mission zone, but who doesn’t even offer the fun of cutting through a mob of enemies with a cutlass.

That’s what makes Watch Dogs so joyless. Its characters are bland, its combat is poor and its controls are worse. It’s a great open world that lets you go from urban to rural in a short drive, that lets you encounter a hundred different people with their own stories in a single block, but that plays like an arcade game without any of the fun.

It’s fun to occasionally raise a bridge during a chase letting you fly overhead or raise the bollards shutting down your pursuers, but more often it feels like trying to play a piano while someone is throwing bricks at your head. Stopping criminal convoys also sounds like fun, until your mission requirements tell you that your job is to knock down one driver while surviving attacks by his dozen cronies in a body that can take about three gunshots. Kill him accidentally and you also die.

It’s fun to hack a grenade that your enemy is carrying, but you’re as likely to end up inside a camera while he kills you. It’s fun to zoom through the cameras, but then you’re stuck with hacking a pipe puzzle.

The only way to have fun in Watch Dogs is to avoid its mission structures and Ubisoft’s design makes that as hard as it can to do assaulting you with phone calls and pop ups until you give in and muddle your way through another miserable mission.

And then you wonder why you’re playing Watch Dogs at all.

I Hate Your HDR Photos More Than I Can Say

I used to like looking at photos. Then Instagram and HDR came along.

Instagram just says you’re white, in your twenties, live in a city and have an iPhone. HDR says that you have a few thousand dollars worth of photography equipment and software that should be taken away from you for your own good.

HDR ruins a photo faster than peeing into coffee ruins your morning. It shoves photos down an uncanny valley somewhere between a photo and a picture without looking like either one. It’s a hideous mutant that shouldn’t exist. It ‘pops’ by turning your edges into a bad joke while keeping just enough photo realism so that everyone knows it isn’t a photo or a picture.

HDR is like beating your child so hard he gets a concussion and telling him to join the circus. Looking at them makes the part of my brain that processes images hurt. It’s like motion sickness for art.

 

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Just look at this thing. It’s been HDR’d and color corrected to within an inch of its life. There’s a potentially good picture hiding in that like a mobster in witness protection, but it will never be found.

Look there’s a reason that we like cloud photos. Clouds are intangible. They can’t be touched.

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Skies in HDR photos are congealed balls of colorized wax. They’re streaks of hardened copper. They kill the whole idea of a sky and replace it with something that looks like it should only be found under a microscope.

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Movie studios and game designers spend a lot of money trying to make 3D models look like real buildings. HDR makes real buildings look like bad 3D models.

Am I supposed to be impressed because you took a photo that looks like a video game cutscene from 2007?

That’s not evolution, it’s devolution. It’s as if you took genetic therapy to turn into a monkey.

And then there are the animals.

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Is there any reason for this cat to be in HDR? If it understood what you had done, it would be ashamed of you. I won’t even mention the HDR kids. When your son grows up, he would rather you showed baby photos of him peeing outside than the most dignified HDR photo.

Consider this an intervention. Your HDR photos suck. There are only two valid reasons for HDR photos.

1. You’re making a cover for the album of an amateur heavy metal band in Detroit.

2. You’re an idiot

Five years from now you’ll look through your HDR photos and delete all of them and wonder what you were thinking.

Is SciFi Lit Dead? The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirtieth Annual Collection Review

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It took me a while to get around to reading The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirtieth Annual Collection. I don’t like Gardner Dozois on principle, but the annual collections, despite the nepotism, were usually dominated by strong writing.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirtieth Annual Collection stinks of nepotism and mediocrity. There are few strong stories and few bad stories. The dominant theme is mediocrity.

Most of the stories are mediocre. The same five or six writers have two stories a piece in the collection. I never saw that before and it’s telling.

There’s the foreword with its phony confidence about the health of the industry. The pathetic attempts at inclusiveness. And the stories that are congealed masses of SciFi lit genre cliches.

Third world nanotech. Forgiveness and near death experiences. That’s the dominant impression. It’s like the genre hasn’t changed in fifteen years. And it needs a bath.

There are a few ‘different’ stories like Steven Popkes’ “Sudden, Broken, and Unexpected” and “Old Paint” that feel modern, but the rest is the usual post-cyberpunk trash clogging SciFi lit. And there’s even a Steampunk entry. And at least one zombie story.

“Close Encounters” by Andy Duncan has a certain charm, but doesn’t seem like a best of anything, though it comes closer to fitting the Sudden and Old Paint template of modern Science Fiction.

“Chitai Heiki Koronbin” by David Moles circles that same template, but is too mediocre to be here.

Some stories were so boring that they’re unreadable. They’re not bad. They just sit there. Like Holmes Sherlock or Lavie Tidhar, who gets two stories to demonstrate that she can write like it’s 1995. Or Carrie Vaughn’s Astrophilia.

Nobody sums up tired 90’s post-cyberpunk better than Pat Cadigan with “The Girl-thing Who Went Out For Sushi”. Thanks, we’ve done this already. Try a time machine to when computers ran Windows 95 and this story would have been edgy and fresh.

But Alastair Reynolds has his shot with tired Third World genre cliche “The Water Thief”. A refugee camp. Remote work. It’s so timely. In 1995.

Robert Reed’s Eater of Bone is dark and good. “In The House Of Aryaman, a Lonely Signal Burns” by Elizabeth Bear is actually decent and uses the Third World setting intelligently. It’s the exception to the rule.

Indrapramit Das’ Weep for Day is used to market the book, but it’s a mediocre cliche with occasional bursts of style and about the only reason for the hype is the new diversity quotas.

Lavie Tidhar appears to be another diversity quota entry. “Tyche and the Ants” by Hannu Rajaniemi is another diversity quota and poor story. “Vainglory” by Alastair Reynolds would have been a much better substitute.

“Macy Minnot’s Last Christmas on Dione, Ring Racing, Fiddler’s Green, the Potter’s Garden” by Paul McAuley takes the prize for longest title and most worthlessly mediocre story.

“Nightfall On The Peak Of Eternal Light” seems like a Heinlein story. Except more mediocre. It’s a decent depiction of lunar life, but not really very interesting. Not sure why it’s even here. Ditto for “Nightside On Callisto” by Linda Nagata with a different setting.

Michael Bishop’s Twenty Lights To “the Land Of Snow has its moments of charm, but it’s too long and directionless. Again, mediocrity.

There’s “Steamgothic” by Sean Mcmullen which is every bit as awful as it sounds.

“Ruminations In An Alien Tongue” by Vandana Singh. See quotas, diversity.

“The Wreck Of The Charles Dexter Ward” by Sarah Monette And Elizabeth Bear is somewhat intriguing, but it’s a technophobic zombie story with an interesting setting and no background.

“Invisible Men” by Christopher Barzak is an “I’m so clever I’m writing about class as a metaphor” reworking of The Invisible Man. It would have been mediocre even in 1955.

The overriding theme is mediocrity. It seems as if SciFi Lit, despite being more vocal and more editorially powerful than ever, has run out of steam. It’s unable to jettison its tired cyberpunk gear and its attempts at diversity just make a bad thing worse.

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