New Album: NEON

By Shamus
on Jun 25, 2017
Filed under:
Music

It’s that time of the year again when I pretend I can write music. I’ve been tinkering away, making a new song every few months or so. Three years ago I took a dozen or so songs and called them an “album”, and I guess I’ve produced enough content to do that again. My new pile of loosely related tracks is called NEON.

Whether you’re Skrillex or a nobody like me, to make electronic music you need a Digital Audio Workstation, which the kids call a DAW. It’s a program that lets you map out all the notes and instruments, allowing you to make music even if you don’t play an instrument. For a couple of years I used MAGIX Music Maker. I was not a fan. Last year someone donated enough for me to switch to Studio One, which I love.

In this album, the tracks are in roughly chronological order. The tracks produced in Studio One begin at “Hi!”.

Fair warning: A lot of this work is very amateurish. If it wasn’t for my existing audience as a writer, nobody would listen to this stuff. If I promote a track here on the blog or on Twitter, it gets a few hundred listens. If I don’t promote it, the song gets less than 10. (And I suspect most of those are from spambots. SoundCloud has a pretty bad bot problem.) So my list of musical fans is in the single-digits. This is not a complaint. I suspect I have exactly the audience I deserve. Just like with writing, if I want more fans then I need to make better content.

I’ve been climbing this learning curve for three years now, working on-and-off as the mood strikes me. It’s interesting to see my progression. Sure, my work has improved, but that advancement has not kept up with my expectations. Three years ago I was tickled to simply be able to make music. But now that I’ve absorbed literally hundreds of videos and tutorials on mixing techniques and music theory, I have a much better understanding of how things should work and I’m more keenly aware of my shortcomings.

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Site Move

By Shamus
on Jun 23, 2017
Filed under:
Notices

Due to overwhelming public demandUpwards of five people bugged me about it. I’m setting up this domain to work with SSL, which means that https://www.shamusyoung.com will be a thing. This will make the forums more secure, fix the domain currently squatting on the https version of this site, and may also help out the alarming number of people who are reporting that this site has recently been blocked by their employer.

However, this means the site is going to be disrupted. shamusyoung.com will be moved to a unique IP address, which means we’ll need to wait for the new DNS to shake out. If all goes well, then at some point this weekend the site will (from your point of view) vanish, and then reappear shortly after.

Also, I’m going to need to move the forums. They’re currently hosted at forums.shamusyoung.com, but they’re going to move to https://www.shamusyoung.com/forums so they can benefit from the added security.

I’ll post a notice here once the move is over. See you on the other side.


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Game of Thrones Griping 11: Arya Gets Hit With A Stick Over and Over Again

By Bob Case
on Jun 23, 2017
Filed under:
Television
This series analyzes the show, but sometimes references the books as well. If you read it, expect spoilers for both.

A visual medium – like television – has certain advantages over the printed word. For example, an actor who makes savvy performance choices can convey more about a character with their poise and their voice than entire paragraphs of text can. The way actors move within the frame, the choices of the cinematographer, the director, the costumers, the set designers… all of these are ways to communicate meaning to the audience.

It also faces certain disadvantages. It’s trickier to deliver exposition in a natural-seeming way, for instance. However, for my money, the single biggest challenge in adapting a book to a TV show is length.

In practical terms, books are way longer than shows – and that’s just normal books. GRRM’s works are your classic twenty-stone fantasy doorstoppers. To give you an idea, A Storm of Swords, which is the longest of the series, is 424,000 words. The entire Lord of the Rings trilogy? 481,000.These word counts vary according to the counting method. But the point is, GRRM’s books are very long. If you were to attempt a completely faithful, scene-by-scene, line-by-line reproduction of the books, you’d have to have fifty episodes a season.

The practical limitations of the form make that impossible, so the act of adapting A Song of Ice and Fire into a TV show is an act of severe abridgment. Every scene has to be pared down to the bone, entire storylines have to be cut, multiple characters have to be merged together into one, and so forth.

It’s why I always check myself whenever I get grumpy that one of my favorite things from the books isn’t in the show. I have to remind myself that they really just don’t have time to include everything. I try to be as understanding as possible.

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Diablo III Part 1: The Legacy of Diablo

By Shamus
on Jun 22, 2017
Filed under:
Game Reviews

The launch of Diablo III was marred by controversy and technical problems, but those have long since blown over. It’s been five years. After an expansion and innumerable patches, the game seems to have settled comfortably into its final form. So now is probably a good time to pick this thing apart and see what Blizzard decided to do with the sequel to one of the greatest PC games of all time.

Note: The games are properly titled Diablo, Diablo II, and Diablo III, but after one too many typos where I used the wrong number of ‘I’s and mangled the point I was trying to make, I’ve decided to use standard numerals for clarity and readability.

In this three-part series I’m going to look at Diablo 3 on both a cinematic and gameplay level. But first let’s talk about…

The Legacy of Diablo

The original Diablo. Swiped from Youtube, because my disk copy is long gone and Blizzard no longer sells the game.

The original Diablo. Swiped from Youtube, because my disk copy is long gone and Blizzard no longer sells the game.

The original Diablo came out in 1996. It was so influential that it was seen as the father of a genre. I don’t know if it was actually the first game in this particular style, but it was recognized as such to the point where the others were called “Diablo clones”. I think we’re over that now. Instead the culture has decided that the genre is named ARPG. (See, it’s not like all those other RPG titles. It’s an ACTION RPG.) While I hate to see the already-muddled term “RPG” stretched even further, I suppose this is better than “Diablo clone”.

In any case, Diablo looked almost like isometric survival horror. With its macabre scenery, haunting ambient sounds, smothering darkness, and grim endingThe hero sacrificed themselves to contain the titular demon., it was a tense experience focused on creating a sense of dread. You could argue that maybe the foreboding tone was at odds with the treasure-hunting gameplay loop, but the experience seemed to work for the folks in 1996.

Four years later, Blizzard followed up with the sequel. Diablo 2 was of similar tone to the original, although the visuals weren’t quite as pervasively dark. The scope was larger, the gameplay was more varied, and it seemed to have more of the ingredients that made the first title such a hit.

Diablo 2 was not instantly recognized as a classic when it hit the market in June of 2000. Gamespot gave it 8.5/10, IGN gave it 8.3, and Gamespy gave it 86/100. That’s amazingly consistent by the standards of review scores, and yet surprisingly low given its reputation today.

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This Dumb Industry: Denuvo and the Death of Piracy

By Shamus
on Jun 20, 2017
Filed under:
Column

For over a year people have been requesting that I weigh in on Denuvo, the fancy new DRM that has all the publishers excited. What is it? How does it work? How effective is it?

DRM used to be a major part of my writing. I still care about the issue, but I eventually stopped talking about it because I ran out of things to say. You can only write the “Inconveniencing your customers in an attempt to harm people who are not your customers is a stupid idea” rant so many times. I made my case. Nothing changed. End of story.

I wanted to wait to comment on Denuvo until I had something concrete to say. I figured sooner or later we’d have answers to some of the questions I posed above. But even after all this time there doesn’t seem to be much of a consensus.

What is it?

Why make a better padlock when we can just make it EXTRA illegal to open crappy ones?

Why make a better padlock when we can just make it EXTRA illegal to open crappy ones?

The term “Digital Rights Management” is such a deviously constructed bit of PR. It sounds like a good thing. “Digital Rights”. Those are good, right? But calling anti-copying software “Digital Rights Management” is like calling prison “Freedom Management”. It’s technically true, while also being a pretty good example of real-world doublespeak.

In the case of videogames, DRM is any system intended to “manage” (limit) what you can do (your rights) with the software through various software tricks. The argument usually goes something like this:

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Messages from Spammers Part 7

By Shamus
on Jun 18, 2017
Filed under:
Random

It’s the height of the cold war, and your task is to infiltrate the Kremlin and steal the plans for the top-secret Soviet Hammer-Gun. You’ve slipped into the country. You have the perfect cover story. You’ve created a military uniform that’s accurate to the smallest detail. It’s been tailored to look like a garment that has been scrupulously cared for despite continuous use. You forge all of the proper papers, to the point of fabricating your own ink and paper to make sure everything is just right. You’ve spent weeks memorizing the faces and names of all of the important people inside. You’ve watched the patterns of people leaving and entering so you know when and where you can enter while arousing the least curiosity. You’ve spent a fortune to track down and bribe various custodians, electricians, plumbers, chefs, and other workers so that now you have a completely accurate map of the interior. You know where your goal is and you know how to get there. You’ve put three years of your life into this operation.

As you approach the front door, one of the nearby guards greets you. You reply with “Howdy partner!” because you don’t speak a word of Russian and it didn’t occur to you to study it.

This is roughly how things go for spammers. So much time and effort is spent customizing their bots. They identify forms, parse captchas, spoof bot-detection systems, work through proxies to avoid IP filtering, and avoid bot-traps to make sure their messages get through. And then they post gibberish that sticks out like a Texarkana accent in Moscow.

The usual defense is that this stupidity is deliberate for one reason or another, but I harbor a secret suspicion that they are actually just incompetent. In any case, let’s see how they fared this week…

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Game of Thrones Griping 10: The Lindeloffian Method

By Bob Case
on Jun 16, 2017
Filed under:
Television
This series analyzes the show, but sometimes references the books as well. If you read it, expect spoilers for both.

Everyone’s favoriteshut up Game of Thrones gripe-a-thon is back! I won’t even have time to complain about everything I wanted to complain about between now and July 16th, when the new season is scheduled to start. But all I can do is try. Never let it be said that common sense limited my can-do spirit.

In keeping with what I’ve done so far, I’m going to pick a single season six storyline – in this case, Arya’s – and stick with it. And hoo boy, did I pick a doozy.

It would be going too far to say that Arya’s storyline was the season’s worst – that particular trophy was retained by the season five defending champions, Dorne. But it was the one I found the most obnoxious. The Dorne plotline was inept and scatterbrained, sure, but I didn’t personally see any malice in it. The Arya plotline, on the other hand, continuously manipulates the audience in a way that I find familiar enough to breed contempt.

I’ll sound smarter if I give this phenomenon a name, so I’ll call it the “Lindeloffian Method.” Damon Lindelof is the often-talented-but-even-more-often-infuriating auteur who gave us Lost and Prometheus, among other things. He’s not the only writer who practices the Lindeloffian Method, but he is the most noteworthy, so I’ve named it after him.

The Lindeloffian method is this: have something happen that makes no sense, hint at a promised explanation later, and then never deliver. Simple, but effective, because it gives the audience something that’s initially indistinguishable from actual suspense. When they start to get antsy, you replace the old mystery with another, bigger mystery, and carry on as before.

It’s essentially the Ponzi scheme of fiction writing. In a Ponzi scheme, the grifter gets people to invest in some plausible-sounding company, and makes payments to the first group of investors with the money from the second group, then the second with the third, and so on. Once you run out of suckers the scheme collapses, of course, but by then a smart operator will have already skipped town with what’s left of everyone’s money.

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Arkham City Part 21: The Punchline

By Shamus
on Jun 15, 2017
Filed under:
Batman

At the start of the story it was established that Batman was willing to let Joker die, even if he died too. He was only motivated to pursue the toxin cure when he learned that the people of Gotham had also been poisoned.

Then later it was revealed that he wanted to abandon his efforts to save people in order to save Talia. Alfred even had to tell him, “You have to decide if one life is worth more than a thousand.” Alfred followed that up with, “Batman must save Gotham.” In the end of that conversation, it’s not even clear that Batman agreed with this idea. He didn’t go through some kind of moment of clarity. He didn’t admit Alfred was right. He left Talia and went after Protocol 10 because Alfred didn’t leave him any other choice.

So Talia is worth more to him than Gotham, and Gotham is worth more to him than Joker. That’s a bit of a compromise for him, but I’m okay with this so far. “Love” does all kinds of things to sexually repressed dudes.

Why are all of these goons standing around outside the theater? Didn`t I knock these guys out?

Why are all of these goons standing around outside the theater? Didn`t I knock these guys out?

But here at the end of the story, Batman scoops up the dead Joker and somberly carries him out of Arkham City, leaving his possibly dead girlfriend on the floor of the theater without even bothering to check to see if she somehow pulled through.

So now he cares more about Joker than about Talia, and more about Talia than about Gotham. At this point the Bat-Morality Compass is exactly backwards.

We get a shot of Batman carrying the Joker in his arms. This creates a callback to the opening shot of the game, a painting of Cain & Abel:

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Nan o’ War CH14: Dealer is Busted

By Rutskarn
on Jun 14, 2017
Filed under:
Lets Play

My horse racing career has been one of the most thrilling afternoons of my life, but I think it’s time to hang up the stirrups. I’ll always have the memories slash two character levels slash undisputed championship, even as my racehorse trots bemusedly back into its stall and my former competitors whittle themselves prosthetic wooden spleens.

All this for six thousand piastres—less than one solid Spishy Mishy. Either horse racing’s a dying art or dressing like a nun and decapitating people is a going concern.

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E3 2017 Day 4: Nintendo

By Shamus
on Jun 13, 2017
Filed under:
Video Games

I watched the Nintendo E3 press conference. I actually missed the first few minutes because I lost track of time, so if they started with a bombshell announcement then I’m hilariously out of the loop. But assuming they didn’t lead off with anything world-shattering, the show was about what we expected. While the other publishers treat the gaming press to flashy 90-minute extravaganzas with pyrotechnics, dance numbers, celebrity guests, smoke machines, and booming Hollywood-style trailers, Nintendo keeps things simple. Their show is only half an hour. It isn’t even live. It’s just some company officers talking into a camera, followed by some trailers.

The presentation showed us exactly what you’d expect from Nintendo: Some Kirby, a bit of Pokemon, some Fire Emblem, a reminder that Skyrim is coming to the Switch, a portion of Zelda, a dash of Rocket League, a few Amiibos, and a bunch of Mario. There was even a brief acknowledgement that Metroid 4 exists in some theoretical sense and we might see a frame of it someday.

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E3 2017 Day 3: Sony

By Shamus
on Jun 12, 2017
Filed under:
Video Games

This might be the last of the shows I’m going to cover. I was going to cover the PC Gaming show, but I wasn’t paying attention to the schedule and I managed to miss it. Maybe that’s not a huge loss. The PC Gaming show has become notorious for being overlong, dull, and awkward. I suppose if the people demand it I might show up for Nintendo tomorrow. We’ll see.

The point is, this is the last of the big shows. Let me make some predictions about what they’re going to show us and what my reaction will be:

  1. Detroit: Become Human: I already hate this game. Designer David Cage is the M. Night Shyamalan of gaming, except he thinks he’s David Fincher. Everything about his gameplay and stories rubs me the wrong way.
  2. God of War: I’m not looking forward to this game, but I am looking forward to seeing how the public receives it. This is a tent-pole franchise that’s been dormant for a while, and now it’s getting a radical overhaul. I’m curious how receptive fans will be to the changes.
  3. Uncharted: Lost Legacy. I expect they will show us some really cool action scenes and amazing visuals. I’m okay with that.
  4. Death Stranding: This game is so relentlessly strange that I can’t wait to see more of it. I’m also eager to see what finally comes out of Hideo Kojima’s mind after being chained to the Metal Gear treadmill for two decades.
  5. The Last of Us: Part 2: There should not be a sequel to the original LoU. Barring that, it shouldn’t feature any of the characters from the first one. LoU told a thematically complete, self-contained story, and dragging things out for a sequel is not the best artistic choice. I’m sure it’s the best financial choice, which is why this game is being made. Alas. Be careful what you wish for, fans. It’s unlikely this game is going to be able to deliver the same emotional payload of the original.

Also, I wonder if Sony is going to announce anything in terms of hardware / pricing to counter the strong showing the X Xbox X One X O LOL X gave two days ago.

Let’s see what they do…
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E3 2017 Day 3: Ubisoft

By Shamus
on Jun 12, 2017
Filed under:
Video Games

Now it’s Ubiosoft’s turn. I expect I’ll be pretty negative here, assuming I have anything to say at all. For most of these companies I can at least say, “Sure, the company leadership is annoying, but I really like their products!” But that’s not the case here. I hate their particular house style of open-world collect-a-thon. I can’t stand Assassins Creed. I’ve never connected with Far Cry. The Tom Clancy stuff doesn’t do anything for me. I hated WATCH_DOGS. Okay, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time is one of my all-time favorites, but that was, what? 2003? And I’ve disliked where the sequels went after that one. For Honor isn’t my thing.

And then there’s UPlay, this unsightly growth on the face of the company that they’re still insisting is a “beauty mark”. And before that was their ridiculous dedication to always-online DRM.

So yeah. Obnoxious company with terrible policies, bad taste, an abusive approach to DRM, and a library of games I don’t care about. Probably not going to be a fun show for me. I guess I can at least look forward to seeing presenter Aisha Tyler do her thing, right?

Actually, no. The rumor is that they’re not going to have Tyler hosting their press conference this year. That’s bad news, since she’s always been the best part (only good part) of their show. Ubisoft is the stiffest of the corporate stiffs, to the point where they make Microsoft look punk rock by comparisonThe Division staged demos were always an epic cringe-fest. On the other hand, the For Honor guy was probably the coolest dude at E3 last year.. So they really need a professional to make their presentation feel more like a party and less like a board meeting with an audience.

They claim Tyler isn’t appearing this year so they can have a better focus on their developers. This seems like a strange reason, since one of the duties of a good host is to bring people out on stage and make them feel comfortable, even if they’re not in show business. If we’re talking about putting designers, programmers, and artists out on stage, then the last thing in the world you’d want is to have them address that great big crowd directly. Instead you can have them come out and talk to the host.

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