Post-Apocalyptic Vegas Times Two

Within the last few years there have been multiple major video games featuring Las Vegas. Since I actually live in Vegas — albeit one not already partially destroyed by war — I’d like to give you a few quick thoughts on two of them. I will not be dealing with gameplay, nor plot despite some logic and physics shortfalls of one of the games.

Fallout: New Vegas

When I saw the map to this game, it looked a lot like a real road map of Las Vegas. The actual grid of the city and the major loop around town are clearly identifiable. Sure, the video game map has a lot more roads to the South of town around the real-life mountains; not all of the action is in town and some places have been rendered uninhabitable by radiation.

Nor was this a case of “take a real map, erase a few lines, and draw some new squiggles around the mountains.” A player can clearly identify landmarks such as Bonnie Springs or the curving highway behind Lone Mountain.

Call of Duty: Ghosts

By way of contrast, we have Ghosts. Easily one of the most anticipated titles of 2013, this game let many people down. Ok, it’s pretty-looking. As much as I could write, I will confine myself to one particular section of the game — the one centered around post-mass-driver-attack Las Vegas. Miraculously, the Las Vegas Strip was left mostly intact, but completely reorganized. Now that’s one heck of a weapon. There’s clear damage at the Bellagio, yet the fountains still work! Several scenes take place in a building that can only be the Luxor, although they didn’t even get the interior architecture correct. From inside the Luxor, the characters have a clear view of many Las Vegas Landmarks: the Stratosphere, Bellagio, City Center, the Palazzo, Mandalay Bay, and some others. Unfortunately, not all of these should be visible from the Luxor, let alone from one side of the Luxor! Somehow, all have been mysteriously teleported down the Strip, some by several kilometers. What an interesting coincidence that our ugliest casinos seem to have vanished! This mish-mash was somewhat distracting for me. Could nobody from Infinity Ward have looked at a map?

Nor does the silliness end with the single player. The multi-player maps include a slum that signage would seem to indicate is north of what most people would consider the Las Vegas Strip. The landmarks are laughably bad. Don’t get me wrong, there are some cheap, crappy hotels between The Strip and Downtown. However, if this particular neighborhood exists, it’s to the East, perhaps down Fremont a couple klicks.

The reason this is so disappointing is that the CoD franchise has a history of really great maps based on real locations or at least plausible ones.

Summary: If you like paying for the newest, hippest, hottest game, Ghosts is already on your wish-list if not your gaming machine. But if you are using video games as a map, you’d better dig New Vegas off the shelf. Remember, the super mutants are not real.

Diet Research? It must be January.

Yes indeed, it’s the first week of the year, and that means millions of Americans are trying to shed between 5 and 500 pounds. Some scientists were even willing to stick their necks out there and say fructose is a culprit in weight gain (a culprit not the culprit). Check the archives and you will find me many times saying that every weight loss diet that works requires drastically reducing if not altogether eliminating added sugars.

So Loyola University wants to help you out. They’ve got what they think are the top 4 reasons diets fail. Let me save you some reading:

  1. Underestimating calorie intake (e.g. eating too damn much)
  2. Overestimating activity and calories burned (e.g. imagining that an amble around the mall is just like a 5 mile run)
  3. Poor timing of meals (the dreaded “starvation mode“)
  4. Inadequate sleep (having a job and other responsibilities)

Really? I’m on board with reasons 1 and 2, although I see them as two sides of one coin. But do they really think that sleep is a bigger issue than unrealistic expectations in the first place, or diet plans that are for whatever reason unsustainable? Do they think that eating at the wrong time is truly a bigger issue than unsupportive friends and family who –subtly or openly — undermine the dieter’s efforts?

Want to lose weight without torturing yourself? Try eating reasonable portions of real food: plenty of veggies; adequate protein; no sweets, no crap that comes out of a box, no food-like chemistry sets. Hey, it’s no dumber than the other diets you’ve tried over the years.

In Closing: free classes; Downtown Vegas and F15; maybe now somebody will ask banks to follow the law pretty please?; Onnabugeisha; ha!; conform or be called a terrorist; Malala; why oh why did Texas give him a second term?; more employment data than you probably want; somebody inform Scalia that 24 is not a documentary; the estate tax is not a wealth tax, it’s a wealth moving into the hands of someone who didn’t actually earn it tax; it turns out you need facts before you can figure out what to think about them; well that’s gonna have conservative panties in a wad; the Romney Loophole; is anybody surprised by this?; and I think Brent may have been playing Black Ops 2.

Music Bonus: Apocalypse Someday

Happy Solstice! Since you are reading this, it would appear that the world did not in fact end today.


Have some bonus links about Christmas.

In Closing: TSA; diet and diabetes; I bet we could create some jobs building and repairing infrastructure (nah, that costs money!); political suicide; don’t confuse us with facts; and how nuts do you have to be to get fired from Al Qaeda?


OK, Maybe CNN wasn’t terribly subtle when they said “Washington could take down a mega-bank” and then immediately below showed a row of Bank of America ATMs. And don’t get me wrong, everything I have read about B of A lately indicates that they are skating on thin ice.

But don’t lose track of the prize. Fannie Mae just was forced to buy bought $500,000,000 in crappy loans from B of A — despite having plenty of foreclosures and pre-foreclosures of their own — in what Fortune calls a “back-door TARP.”

Gee, this couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the motivation behind a proposed program to help get rid of Fannie, Freddie, and HUD’s foreclosed properties, now could it? By the way, the headline is just a tweak misleading. They aren’t talking about slapping a “For Rent” sign in the lawns of these houses; they are talking about finding some sucker investor to buy them in bulk (that means with limited ability to pick and choose) under the condition of renting them out. Never mind that these homes are in conditions that vary from pristine to bulldozer-ready. Never mind that investors are already cherry-picking the best of them. Never mind that Fannie, Freddie, and HUD all have systems in place to favor owner-occupants when selling foreclosed properties.

Not gonna work.

In closing: I hope he’s still open for civil damages; She-Ra; Clavell did this as a novel, but with helicopters; If I Had $1000 Dollars; it hasn’t worked yet so let’s keep doing it; S&P and 63% of Americans agree about one thing; I know things are bad when Ron Paul starts to make sense; check your LinkedIn prefs; and Bert and Ernie are puppets, they have no sexual orientation.

Tokyo does not have 3 syllables

This morning, after listening to a newsman mangle the pronunciation of the current Prime Minister of Japan’s name, I thought it might be polite to give readers a brief guide to how to pronounce all those words you might see in print regarding the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear plant issues.

Thankfully, you don’t need to read any of the three sets of characters used to read and write Japanese; it’s come to you already in “roman” characters called “romanji” or “roomaji” in Japanese. Better yet, every letter always makes the same sound, which is more than you can say for English! So here’s how the vowels work:

  • “a” always makes an “ah” sound, as in “father” or “want”
  • “e” always makes an “eh” sound, as in “lend” or “get”
  • “i” always makes an “eee” sound — just like it does in Italian or Latin. Think “Italiano”. Sometimes, if it would cause emphasis to be given to a syllable, it is almost silent as in “Hiroshima”.
  • “o” always makes an “oh” sound, like in “slow” or “tempo”
  • “u” always makes an “oo” sound, like in “tune” or “rule”. Like “i”, sometimes it is almost silent as in “sukiyaki” or “desu” (which means “is”)
  • Vowels can be doubled up, which results in it being held longer. The most obvious example of this is “Tokyo,” which would be spelled out in Hiragana as something more like “Toukyou”.

And there are a few consonants that seem to give people trouble:

  • “g” is always hard, as in “get” or “give” or “gen mai cha”
  • “j” always makes a j sound, like in “jet” or “jive”
  • “tsu” is said just like it’s written; the t is not silent
  • sometimes an “n” at the end of a syllable has a sound somewhere between an n and an m (in Japanese, it gets its own character when this happens)
  • “y” is a consonant, and in words like Tokyo and Kyoto, it is part of one syllable (written with two characters — it gets complicated)

Sorry if this seems a little pedantic. Now you’ll be able to read all those place names in the news and the items on your local sushi/teppanyaki place like a champ.

Now for a special what the??? edition of In Closing: Etsy child abuse; save the Northwest Tree Octopus (you’ve never seen one because they’re endangered!); secret cat haven; an unlikely charitable organization; duh; war on undesirables drugs; historically hardcore; capture the what??; actually it was a little longer than one decade; complaints; can you pass?; the Gentleman from Ohio; time for some realistic time management (including the use of the word NO); remember; vorpal bunnies in Spain; stupid; not really; worried; poor babies; fear; time poverty; the cat and the crickets; yes, this is real; Mrs. God; and find the unnecessary word in this comic:
PC and Pixel

Shorties Carpenter’s The Thing

Medical Breakthrough: 2 Hour tuberculosis test. Imagine being able to treat people now without risking that you’re treating something non-existent, and without waiting months to be sure.

When the Cows Come Home: Quite literally.

I owned one once: Bungalows.

On the President and the Economy: ‘Nuff said. Maybe we could use some good old fashioned labor uprising. And where are we going to get the jobs we really need out of tax cuts?

I am Lawful Evil: Heh.

Right On: Essential elements of filibuster reform.

About Effing Time: “You know, maybe we should hold banks to some sort of minimum capital standards!”  D’ya think??

Speaking of the Banks: Refreshing Candor.

Dave Nails It: “Can’t get by on $250K? Try leaving your bubble!”

One of the Smarter Things I’ve Read about Yesterday’s Court Ruling: Remember, only the individual mandate has been thrown out.

Worth Thinking About: I don’t agree with all of it, but these are things we need to think about.

I love Radly Balko: In an intellectual way of course. On the TSA and ACLU.

The 99ers: read this.

Hope for Following the Law: cracking down on firms that just turn employees into contractors.

Fail: The War on Drugs.

Robert Reich: Enthusiasm Gap.

That’s it for today. Keeping it Short but sweet.

The Shorties Exorcism

Where Have You Been?: Playing Black Ops. CODBO or BLOPS if you prefer. No zombies.

Daddy Says So, and That’s That!: Jeb is not running for President in 2012. Even though Daddy admits that “he’s a good man, he performed as governor, he’s well-spoken, he’s not an extremist, he’s not a wild guy that attributes bad motives to those that disagree with him, and he’s good. And people that know him and hear him say the same thing.” In other words, all the stuff Dubya isn’t.

Totally Silly Acronym: It turns out that TSA screeners don’t like to touch your junk either. Mostly. But even though nobody finds the current system acceptable, the Boss says it’s not changing. Now, one thing that surprised me being trapped at an unexpected layover in Tucson is that the color-coded alerts are still in effect (“orange,” if you were wondering). Well, maybe not for long. Oh, and Ms. Napolitano thinks that nudie scanners should be installed for other mass transit as well! Way to kill any hope of relieving traffic congestion! The idea is that “terrorists are looking for vulnerabilities.” Then I got news for you, the mall is the next target. It’s soft, it’s easy to get in and out, and it’s full of people who aren’t thinking of security beyond “where’s my wallet”.

“What About My Options?”: Sharron Angle thinks she has political options. My neighbors think otherwise:

Lying With Statistics: Oh No! The Regulations!! They’re choking small businesses! Ok maybe not.

Ded body, snding pix: 911 may get upgrades allowing them to receive text messages and even video of emergencies in progress.

Meditation for Healthy Cells: Could be!

The Truth: Just Do It.

Think beyond the Infomercial: Tony Horton is.

Live From Sesame Street, It’s Saturday Night!:

That’s all folks. Happy Thanksgiving.

Har Har Hardy Har Har

Today I was forwarded a hilarious item called “Classes for Women at the Adult Learning Center.” In it were such gems as the following:

  • Up in Winter, Down in Summer – How to Adjust a Thermostat
  • Is It Possible To Drive Past a Wal-Mart Without Stopping?
  • Fundamental Differences Between a Purse and a Suitcase–Pictures and Explanatory Graphics.
  • How to Ask Questions During Commercials and Be Quiet During the Program
  • How to Parallel Park In Less Than 20 Minutes Without an Insurance Claim.
  • [And my personal favorite,] Health Watch–They Make Medicine for PMS – USE IT!

Oh ho ho! How amusing! Forward to all your guy friends! Try not to spray your monitor with beer!

Well, what’s good for the goose is indeed good for the gander. So in the interest of fairness I would like to flip the brochure over and look at possible classes for men (no offense intended to the many fine gentlemen I know that could easily teach these classes):

  • Toilet Seats: the Three Critical Positions and When to Use Them
  • How to Ask for Directions and Read Manuals (with lab)
  • Etiquette for the Twenty First Century, or How to NOT get Slapped in Bars
  • Psychology Seminar: Just because she’s talking doesn’t mean she wants you to tell her how to solve her problems
  • Freeway Driving: It’s Not a Race to See Who Finishes First
  • [and finally] Sexual Intercourse: It’s Not a Race to See Who Finishes First

Got any suggestions? Put them in comments.

The “it would be funny if it weren’t true” part? Today I had planned a post on the one thing Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Nauru, Palau, Tonga, and the United States have in common: they haven’t seen fit to ratify a treaty saying that women have human rights. Think about that just a moment — Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan have signed on, but the US hasn’t.

In Closing: confessions; caffeine and weapons; throw them in jail; submit or start driving; expert Ezra; back to the grassroots; Arizona boycott is working; obstruction; Advice for Kate Middleton; and skeptical.

Bad Company 2

No, sorry, this isn’t about corporate malfeasance! This is (mostly) a guest post written by Warren Magnus. I’ve done a little editing, and my additions are in italics. I added all the links. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 came out Tuesday — that’s 2 days ago. He’s already finished the single player scenario. Let’s see what he has to say about it.

Our house is a little different. We have three avid video gamers and we play together regularly. We’re not talking Wii sports and party games like Rock Band either. We’re talking hard core online competitive first-person gaming. Our son has recently joined us in this and he’s an aggressive competitor in his own right. Most of all, though, we have fun playing. This is genre we know and love and we’re always ready for new and exciting games.

ShortWoman has written on games periodically and hailed the arrival of the highly cinematic single player games of the Modern Warfare series. These games are so good and so compelling that even after a fairly short single player game (6-8 hours) the full price of the game is realized. They play really, really well and network play keeps them fresh for months afterwards.

Last November Modern Warfare 2 arrived. The network play has been plagued by hacks and bugs just like most new software, but Infinity Ward has patched the game regularly and kept these from being a real problem.Even so, it would be nice to have something fresh. Enter DICE’s Battlefield Bad Company 2, a sequel in a long line of games that the ShortWoman and I have logged many hours playing.

Despite superficial graphical similarities, BC2 has exactly none of what makes a Call of Duty game compelling. The soundtrack echoes movies like Raider of the Lost Ark. That wouldn’t be bad, but the suspense music from Raiders every time a plot point is revealed gets old quickly. It’s like a giant banner reading “Look! Here’s something important! Pay attention!”

This game initially reviewed exceptionally well, but the rating has fallen to an 89 at Metacritic. Oops, it’s dropped to 83 since this morning. A quick look of gaming communities will reveal a lot of enthusiasm and dedication to this game especially amongst the PC gaming crowd. Don’t believe it. Part of their enthusiasm is for reasons other than gameplay or quality.

The single player campaign for Bad Company 2 was short and shockingly shallow. BC2 shows that DICE simply doesn’t get single player gaming; it just doesn’t provide the kind of immersive experience that both Modern Warfare chapters did. The game did take a few direct digs at Infinity Ward (the developer of Modern Warfare) in the game dialog but instead of being funny it felt forced.

Nearly every frame of the game felt like I had played it before and recently too. Spoilers below the fold for those that care. There was a whole lot of “Been there, done that, unlocked the achievement.”

Infinity Ward has been widely criticized for improbable or incomprehensible plots, but BC2 beats any Call of Duty game for that. The team in Bad Company ends the first game driving into the sunset with their truck full of gold ala the movie Three Kings (which was itself a remake of Kelly’s Heroes). This isn’t even mentioned and no explanation is given for how they are hijacked by Army special operations. What happened to the gold? Why isn’t the first scene with our protagonists somewhere in a South American villa with the Sarge sipping a fruity drink and asking exactly why they should agree to work with the United States Army at all, for any price?

The plot of BC2 hinges on discovery of a Japanese WWII vintage secret weapon that ends up being hijacked by a Russian agent and used against the US. The American spy that has coordinated the movements of Bad Company suddenly turns the weapon over to the Russians, a complete surprise because it comes with no real lead in and includes a non-sensical explanation. At least the Russian bad-guy kills the American spy immediately. That at least made sense!

The framing and dialog of the game creates an environment that just isn’t compelling or immersive. One only develops a passing interest in any of the characters thanks to shallow portrayals, inane dialog and game play that is almost completely on rails and feels it. Call of Duty games are just as linear, but through careful pacing and use of cinematics makes it feel the player has more freedom of motion than he really does.

One “feature” of Bad Company and Bad Company 2 is the Frostbite engine. This gives players enhanced graphics and for the lack of a better term, enhanced destruction. Almost anything can be blown up: people, trees, buildings, vehicles, those ubiquitous red barrels, just about everything beyond rocks and supply crates. For a while, this is incredibly cool in a “let’s see what we can destroy next” sort of way. And then you come to realize that almost anything you could possibly hide behind for cover can blow up, leaving you in the open. You can actually be killed by a building collapsing on you under tank or RPG fire. Nowhere is this feature/problem more obvious than multi-player mode; don’t be shocked to see that certain areas of the map have been reduced to rubble.

There are two small ways in which Bad Company 2 is at least an improvement over its prequel. First, your AI teammates are better shots and more likely to actually take out enemies instead of leaving you to kill absolutely everything. Oh, you’ll still do everything, you just won’t have to personally kill every tango. Second, the enemy’s bullets are slightly less protagonist-seeking. Slightly.

It’s not often that I feel truly short changed for what first run video games cost. I’m a careful buyer. BC2 is worth playing for those that rent games and maybe later when it’s a discount priced “greatest hit” but at full retail fare the value just isn’t there. Judging from the rapidly plunging Metacritic score, you just might be able to pick up a discount used copy at Game Stop by the end of the month.

Continue reading Bad Company 2

Economy Jigsaw Puzzle

Normally, you start a jigsaw puzzle with the edge pieces. However, that’s really hard on this one because the fallout of the dysfunctional banking system that resulted in many of our economic issues is in the process of bringing down a foreign nation: Greece.

Mr. Buffett is really good at these puzzles, so let’s let him have a go first. Oh look, he’s put together a housing recovery in 2011 (I think that’s assuming we actually get through all the foreclosures) and a slow recovery. He thinks that something has got to be done to punish the financial whiz kids who got us into this mess, and that our current system of paying for health care is a colossal drain on our economy. This is one of the two richest guys in the world and as nearly as I can tell he didn’t need to defraud anybody to get there, so just maybe we ought to listen to him.

Of course there are other parts of the puzzle that bring into question whether there is really a recovery, even a slow one. We’ve got millions of people who are unemployed, millions more who are “underemployed”, stagnant wages, and just enough inflation to mean the savings rate is going down. Those low interest rates — which were supposed to make businesses borrow money from banks who won’t lend it and renters buy houses they can’t afford (but that are actually tempting people with higher mortgage rates and underwater homes to walk away and buy something nicer and cheaper at a lower rate) — mean that there’s not much point in saving money. That hooks in with lousy consumer sentiment, the continuing (and at least partly bank-caused) bubble and subsequent crash of housing prices, and a trillion with a T dollars in lost economic growth. That’s a million million dollars. $1,000,000,000,000.

See? These puzzles are a lot easier when people work together!

Over by the bankers, brokers, and other financial whiz kids there’s these rumors of “reform” and “consumer financial protections.” Careful, though. If you don’t put that together just right, it’s worse than nothing.

Oh yeah, and in this corner over by underemployment, we unfortunately have government budget deficits. It doesn’t take a financial whiz kid to know that when income is stagnant, unemployment is up, underemployment is high, and not enough jobs are being created, that means tax revenues aren’t what they should be either. That in turn means bigger deficits, even without any sort of spending on economic stimulus. Senator McCain wants to cut that deficit just exactly the way Reagan did, which I suppose means he proposes higher deficits.

The nice people at Forbes think all those government workers need a pay cut. Now riddle me this, Batman: while I understand their sentiment, exactly how is cutting the pay of the guy who delivers my mail or the lady who processes my passport application going to help? That’s just going to exacerbate the “stagnant wages” problem. I feel certain that they can’t really mean cutting pay for high wage workers like our Congressmen and key people in the Executive branch; such a proposal would never make it out of committee. Besides, until campaigns become solely publicly funded, I think you can argue that all those people are underpaid. After all, every one of them spent more to get elected than they will ever make at the job itself!

Of course, state governments don’t have the option of deficit spending. That’s why Nevada is moving most employees to a 4 day workweek. The only way this works, of course, is to make all those offices like the DMV open only 4 days a week. Right, because nobody needs to get a drivers license or car registration on a Saturday, right? That way they aren’t spending money to light, heat, air condition, and clean those buildings all weekend. And I suppose it’s probably good for the environment that all those state workers will be sitting at home instead of getting on the freeway. Maybe they will spend some money on their extended weekends — assuming they aren’t deathly afraid of job cuts.

There’s still pieces missing. I’ll check the box and under the sofa. In the meantime, it’s a pretty ugly picture.

In Closing: How much scientific research is thwarted by harassment that borders on textbook definition terrorism?; the Chile quake actually tilted the Earth on its axis, such that the day is 1.26 milliseconds longer (funny how Pat Robertson isn’t dredging up some made up reason why Chile has a pact! with! Satan! that explains why they had an even bigger quake than Haiti); no **** ***** cuss free week at this **** **** blog!; man accused of selling outdated videogame systems to help a terrorist group; origin of the peace symbol; ok, ok, something on health insurance reform; happy daddies; and your overdue dose of Japanfilter, Cat Costumes. Oddly enough the cat doesn’t look unhappy, and the human has no obvious wounds.