New Patreon Fee System

By Shamus
on Dec 10, 2017
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If you support my Patreon, then you probably got a notification recently that Patreon is changing how they process fees and pay creators. This change is being universally panned. I follow a lot of other creators, and I have yet to see a single person endorse this change.

Reader James asked on Friday:

Hi Shamus,

With the recent changes to Patreon, what’s the best way to support you and your content? I know you have Paypal as well but maybe there’s some fees there that you pay that you now don’t on Patreon…

Maybe a blog post about this might be useful to clarify things.

Kind regards,

The best way to support me is still on Patreon. I guess? It’s the most convenient, and I’m a big believer in the idea that convenience is king.

This entire controversy is completely fascinating. At first I thought it was an understandable move, poorly explained. Then as I looked into the details it looked like a foolish move, dishonestly explained. And now that I’ve been looking at the numbers for three days it looks like an insane move explained by an idiot. The longer I stare at this mess the more strange it seems, which would make for fun analysis if it wasn’t directly tied to how I provide for my family.

Before I can discuss the change, let me explain how Patreon has worked in the past.

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Borderlands Part 19: The Vault Hunters

By Shamus
on Dec 7, 2017
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Each new game has a new slate of vault hunters. As with Borderlands 2, there are 4 canonical or “core” vault hunters, and two additional ones as DLC.

Let’s meet the new crew…


So when you switched to cybernetic parts did you replace your... you know... Wilhelm?

So when you switched to cybernetic parts did you replace your... you know... Wilhelm?

Wilhelm is a boss in Borderlands 2. He’s Jack’s right-hand man, and Jack basically sacrificed him to make sure that the player would get their hands on the trapped power coreAccording to the wiki, there’s an unused audio log in the game assets where Jack states that he poisoned Wilhelm prior to his fight with the player, which was probably intended to explain why the player was able to defeat him when the combined might of Roland, Mordecai, Brick, and Lilith had failed to damage him at some unspecified point in the past.. Here we’re sort of playing through his origin story where he meets Jack.

In Borderlands 2 he was (or will be, if you see what I mean) 90% robot. Here he looks like a mostly normal guy. He’s addicted to cybernetic implants, and apparently between now and the events of Borderlands 2 he’s going to have an extreme metal makeover. If you spend points in the right skill tree you can kickstart this process yourself, making him half-robot in the process. I love this integration of character and gameplay.

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Doing Batman Right 6: The Joker

By Bob Case
on Dec 6, 2017
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I’ve mentioned earlier in this series that I don’t necessarily care for the practice of elevating the Joker so far above the other members of the Rogue’s Gallery in focus and importance. That doesn’t mean he isn’t a top-shelf villain – in fact, to me, the Joker is not only one of the best comic book villains, but one of the best villains period.

One thing the animated series could do, and often did, to good effect, was to make the Joker physically large. Very often Batman, usually the burliest mook in the room, could seem like he was at a disadvantage.

One thing the animated series could do, and often did, to good effect, was to make the Joker physically large. Very often Batman, usually the burliest mook in the room, could seem like he was at a disadvantage.

There are two “tricks,” so to speak, that his various writers and performers have used to pull this off, one minor and one major.

The minor one is to take advantage of the Joker’s time in grade as a villain. He’s been such a big name for so long that the usual genre rules don’t always apply to him. Some second-string antagonist is probably not going to beat Robin to death with a crowbar, or shoot and paralyze Barbara Gordon, because that’s not the sort of thing that happens. But the Joker might, which means that his mere presence on page or screen puts the audience in a heightened state of danger.

I’d even say that the only person in the entire Batman universe who could be considered safe when the Joker is around is Batman himself. Alfred? Gordon? Anyone else? All of them are potential victims. Whenever the Joker is present, everything seems a little wilder, a little more unpredictable. That’s the minor trick.

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This Dumb Industry: Wilson Boxes

By Shamus
on Dec 5, 2017
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Last week I linked to this video by Skill Up, which talks about how the concept of loot boxes developed inside of EA and how we got to where we are today. This time let’s talk about it in detail.


EA CEO Andrew Wilson.

EA CEO Andrew Wilson.

Like I said last time, it’s an excellent video and worth a watch, but if you’re not inclined to hit the play button then here’s a breakdown of the key points. And just to be clear, everything in the next section is from the Skill Up video and not commentary by me, so if you see something you disagree with make sure you know who you’re arguing with before you jump down to the comments. Also, this is a synopsis, not a transcript. It’s a long video with a lot of information and I’m just boiling it down to a few key points for the purposes of discussion.

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Avengers: Infinity War Speculation

By Shamus
on Dec 3, 2017
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So the Infinity War Trailer dropped this week. It’s pretty good. I really like the angle they’re taking with Thanos, our villain. He’s not just some boring sadistic space monster. He’s a big dude with big goals, but he seems to enjoy the prospect of mopping the floor with the heroes. His design is interesting as well. He doesn’t look cruel or insane. If anything his design makes him look thoughtful.

It’s interesting the movie is called “Infinity War”. Originally it was titled “Infinity War Part 1”. We know this movie and the next were shot together and form a single story. Maybe the sequel will be called Avengers: Infinity Plus One War.

It’s been a long road to get here. The Marvel Cinematic Universe turns 10 next year, and a lot of the old guard are preparing to leave. I’ve been wondering about this since the whole MCU plan was announced. It’s a remarkable opportunity: The chance to introduce a superhero, grow them for a decade as they experience multiple character arcs, and then kill them off for good. TV shows can’tIt’s not IMPOSSIBLE, but what are the odds of making it this long without getting canceled, the public losing interest, the key creative people moving on, or the meta-plot dissolving into nonsense as it passes through multiple writing teams? do these kinds of long-running stories, and in comics you can’t count on anyone staying dead. In a lot of ways, this is exactly what I’ve always wanted from superhero stories. Stories that are long but not unlimited, with characters that die when the writers run out of interesting things to do with them. It’s a shame these things are so expensive to make, because I’d love to see a lot more heroes explored in this format.

The Marvel movies are to the box office what John Cena is to wrestling. It’s almost boring to see them win all the time. Sometimes I wish they would fumble one of these things just so we can see how they’d handle it.

But that’s silly. We’re getting two or three incredible movies a year and that’s more than enough entertainment for me. Rather than wishing Marvel would fail, it’s probably more sensible to wish DC would pull it together and start giving us a rival series of similar stature.

Anyway, we’re about five months from the first Infinity War movie, and so I’d like to engage in a little speculation as to what they’re going to do, who’s going to die, and how things might play out.

I have no insider knowledge so nothing we discuss here can be considered “spoilers”, but I will be spoiling some earlier Marvel films and comics and such. For the record, I’m all caught up on the Marvel movies except for Thor: Ragnarok, which I plan to see in February when it comes out on video. 26 years ago I read the Infinity Gauntlet comics, which is what this movie is loosely based on. So if you’ve fallen behind on your Marvel-watching and you’re shy about spoilers, then maybe give this post a pass.

Still here? Great. Let’s do this…

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Borderlands Part 18: Origin Story

By Shamus
on Nov 30, 2017
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Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel takes place in the space between Borderlands 1 and Borderlands 2. Instead of being developed by Gearbox, Publisher 2k Games handed the project to 2k Australia.

Borderlands has something interesting in common with the Arkham series:

  1. The first game was a surprise hit with a fresh look and fresh gameplay, although it was a little rough around the edges. The final boss fight was almost comically disappointing.
  2. The follow-up was bigger, more ambitious, and more polished.
  3. The next entry was an awkward one-off prequel made by a new team so the publisher could continue to capitalize on the series while the original team tried to make the fourth game even BIGGER. This one felt a little off from the others.

The final Arkham game turned out to be pretty bloated and unfocused. There’s no telling how the next Borderlands game will turn out, but I’m hoping the long development cycle of Borderlands 3 doesn’t mean the team has bitten off more than they can chew and we’re headed for another Arkham Knight.

I suppose I tipped my hand already with bullet point #3, but I really do think the Pre-Sequel is a bit of an awkward misfire. It’s got some great ideas and makes some genuine improvements on the formula, but it’s also missing a bit of the magic that made Borderlands 2 so much fun to play. I feel bad about saying this, since the Pre-Sequel is the last game the studio made before they shut their doors.

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Doing Batman Right 5: The Penguin and Two-Face

By Bob Case
on Nov 29, 2017
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I should’ve mentioned last post that I was planning on taking Thanksgiving off. But now I’m back with The Penguin and Two-Face.

As I explained in the first of these posts, one of Batman’s strengths as a property is versatility – the ability to go from goofy to serious and everything in between and back while still remaining Batman. This same quality applies to some of the Rogue’s Gallery as well, and the flexibility inherent in the property allows for individual performances to drive the change.

The Penguin: A Tale of Two Actors

The Penguin first showed in Detective Comics #58 and subsequent issues of the same, dressed like the monopoly guy, wielding trick umbrellas, and occasionally riding around on an ostrich. He seemed destined for the second-string villainhood he so richly deserved, and, for a while at least, he fulfilled that destiny.

Then came the Adam West show, and with it Burgess Meredith. Did you know the old Penguin was played by the same guy who played Mickey in the Rocky movies? I went almost my whole life without realizing that, and have since lowered my opinion of myself accordingly. Meredith played the Penguin using the method shared by Cesar Romero, Eartha Kitt, and other notable villains: he turned the ham up to eleven.

Don’t take that as criticism. (It’s my belief that all of the best acting is overacting anyway.) The show’s writers liked his Penguin so much they always kept a Penguin script on ice in case he became available. He was used often enough that he graduated from the second string to the first, and has been considered a “main” (for lack of a better word) Batman villain ever since.

So for a while we all thought we had a pretty good handle on what The Penguin was. Then came Danny DeVito.

It`s always sunny in Gotham.

It`s always sunny in Gotham.

While up until this point The Penguin was a relatively normal dude who happened to dress like a gilded age railroad baron, the DeVito/Burton incarnation of the character was a grotesque flippered mutant who lived in a sewer and gorged himself on raw fish. He also had a prominent hooked nose, twice interrupted a Christmas tree lighting ceremony, and eventually planned to kill every firstborn in Gotham. As near as I can tell from reading the accounts of the filmmakers, this unlikely confluence of anti-semitic tropes appears to have been a genuine accident. I didn’t notice them when I first saw the movie, but on later rewatches I could see someone finding it at the very least uncomfortable.

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The Untold History of EA’s Long (and Rich) Pay-2-Win Love Affair

By Shamus
on Nov 28, 2017
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On Twitter someone linked me to this video, which tells the history of EA’s pay-to-win shenanigans. It’s a really good video. I know a lot of you don’t come here for video content and tend to skip this sort of thing, but if you get the chance I highly recommend it.

Link (YouTube)

I intended to make a column about this story, but I didn’t have quite enough time to make that happen.

This video really makes me wish I’d spent more time reading EA earnings reports. They’re publicly available, and if you’re willing to sift through the filler and jargon you can learn a lot from them. I read a little a few years ago back when Peter Moore was still running the show. They’re not a lot of fun to read, but given the amount of time I spend slagging the EA leadership I should probably pay more attention to the financial end of the operation.

Sorry to leave you with nothing but a YouTube embed for the column this week. Two of my three kids are moving out today (we’ll be driving them to the bus station when this post goes live) and I spent some of my column-writing time playing Death Road to Canada with the oldest before she leaves.

Consider this an open thread for discussing the video. EA, pay-to-win, loot boxes, the gambling controversy, the quality of their games, etc. Also, if you’re a fan of the FIFA games I’d love to hear what you think of the loot box implementation used there.

I plan to add my thoughts to this next week.

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TV I’m Watching: The Punisher

By Shamus
on Nov 26, 2017
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The Netflix Punisher series came out recently. I guess I liked it. I can’t think of anything major that I disliked, anyway. It’s not a bad show, but it’s bad at being a comic book show.

For those of you who never really got into this particular antihero: The Punisher is a guy named Frank Castle. He’s basically a distillation of all the revenge fantasy tropes. His family was murdered by the mob, and so he returns to his roots as a special ops badass soldier to hunt down the guilty and kill them all. He’s a bit like a murderous version of Batman. He’s stoic, he wears all black, he’s driven by guilt and rage, and in the comics he does a lot of inner monologue stuff to walk you through his plans. By hunting down despicable predators and bringing them to justice, both characters feed into the same desire for cathartic fantasy justice. The only difference is that Batman puts them in jail where they will miraculously escape, while the Punisher kills them and they’re miraculously replaced by someone just as dangerous.

I haven’t read a lot of Punisher over the years, but the best ones seem to map to your typical 80s cop shows / movies.

  1. Introduce a bad guy and make us hate him.
  2. Have the hero track him down. They face off, but the bad guy escapes or wins so we hate him even more.
  3. At the finale they face off again and the hero brings him to justice.

That three-act structure makes for a really good TV episode or movie. It guarantees the audience will always get both drama and action. But for some reason, this isn’t how Netflix has decided to run their superhero shows.

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This Dumb Industry: No, We Didn’t Beat EA

By Shamus
on Nov 21, 2017
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So over the past week the big story has been the massive backlash against EA for the loot box mechanics on Star Wars: Battlefront II. According to some very conservative estimates, it would take 40 hours of continuous play to unlock Darth Vader as a playable character. This is assuming you save every single point of in-game currency and don’t spend any of them on other things. Then you’d need another 40 hours to unlock Luke Skywalker. Even if you’re just going to save up for a simple loot box, it will take three hours of play.

This is a much slower system of progression than we see in other games, while at the same time the things you’re trying to earn are more substantial than the usual things like cosmetics. It rubbed people pretty raw that they might buy a $60 game and have to grind for a solid week (or pay an additional $20) just to unlock their favorite character.

EA tried to explain or justify the policy on Reddit:

"a sense of pride and accomplishment"

"a sense of pride and accomplishment"

This resulted in the most downvoted comment in the history of Reddit. The previous record was a comment with something in the neighborhood of 23k downvotes. This one got over 600k, smashing the old record by an order of magnitude. You can’t dismiss this as a vocal minority on Reddit, either. In the UK, physical sales of Battlefront II are down 60% compared to the previous entry in the series. We can’t prove that worldwide sales are down by the same ammount, although I can’t think of why sales would ONLY be down in the UK. Either way, it’s certainly troubling.

The controversy burned for a few days and was even picked up by major mainstream news outlets. Perhaps in response to this, EA disabled all microtransactions within the game. (For now.) Polygon suggested that this was in response to pressure from Disney, who perhaps don’t appreciate EA tarnishing their brand after the two entered into an exclusive deal a few years ago. While that article sounds plausible, it’s just conjecture. The reversal could also be due to low sales, or concerns that shareholders were getting nervous due to the negative press.

So that’s where the story stands now. EA is in the doghouse, sales are down, microtransaction loot boxes are disabled, and the community doesn’t know if EA is going to give them what they want (something fun) or just wait for the heat to die down and re-enable the system with some minor tweaks.

People are celebrating this as a victory, but I don’t see much to cheer about. EA is still run by a defective corporate culture, which means all of the uninformed people that made this happen will be making decisions down the road. It’s not a victory until there’s a serious shakeup inside the EA leadership, and I don’t think this controversy is big enough to make that happen.

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Rexperienced Points

By Shamus
on Nov 19, 2017
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I had a pretty good run over at the Escapist. I was a contributor there from 2008 to 2016. I made comics, wrote a weekly column that ran for 265 installments, and posted a few Let’s Plays which I’ve since reposted here on the blog.

Sadly, The Escapist is sorta-dead. Most of the staff is gone and aside from Zero Punctuation there’s not really much new content. While nobody has said so explicitly, I get the impression that the current owners will keep the site up as long as it brings in enough traffic to pay for its own overhead, and there’s no telling how long that will be. It could be years, or the whole place might just vanish the next time the domain registration comes due.

These days I have two problems:

  1. I don’t always have a good topic for my weekly Tuesday column.
  2. I’ve got some good topics in the archives over there, and now that the site is in zombie mode that content doesn’t get much (any) traffic.

So what I’m planning on doing is cribbing from those old columns for new content. I don’t plan on doing a copy / paste job. Most columns were linked to the news of the day, which makes them kind of stale by now. Also, I don’t want to match the content at The Escapist word-for-word, since Google tends to recognize this as bot behavior and lower your page rank accordingly.

But I do plan on taking those old topics, reusing their best points, and rewriting them to make new content. I’m pointing this out now so you don’t worry I’ve gone senile when I start revisiting old ideas.

I already have a couple of old columns picked out that I plan to refurbish over the next few weeks. If you’ve got any favorites you’d like to see me revisit – or just a request that I cover a specific topic – let me know in the comments below.

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Overhaulout Part 9: Confréries Sans Frontières

By Rutskarn
on Nov 17, 2017
Filed under:
Video Games

Why are the Brotherhood of Steel in this story? Frankly, what good are they?

Here at the halfway marker the player is well stocked with goals, enemies, and resources James was murdered by the Enclave. Project Purity is both stalled and in enemy hands. Before the end of the game the player will need to find the GECK, escape the Enclave’s clutches when captured, and mount an assault to reclaim the monument and purify the wasteland. None of that requires the Brotherhood unless we say it does. Do we really need to introduce a unique location and dozens of NPCs if all we need to say to the player is, “Go find a GECK, it’s in this part of the map somewhere?” Is the idea of fighting through all the Enclave’s soldiers and singlehandedly reclaiming the monument more unrealistic than, say, fighting one’s way alone out of Raven Rock? Or wiping out small armies of Super Mutants? Or any of the other absurd battles the player’s obliged to win without backup? At best you can argue that you need an armed force like the Brotherhood to hold Project Purity after you’ve taken it…but why would you need them to? I mean, in the original draft, why do you need to occupy the monument once you’ve successfully purified all of the water in the wasteland? Isn’t a desperate lone-wolf attack to fix the device, press the button, and who knows if you’ll make it out alive more exciting anyway? Wouldn’t that give your likely sacrifice a greater sense of heft and dramatic inevitability?

In the game as written, the primary effect of the Brotherhood is to dilute the player’s agency and responsibility. They do nothing to justify this and oblige other tremendous expenses on the part of the artists, writers, scripters, and voice actors. But I can’t cut them out; that’s not the kind of lemonade we’re making here. Instead I will ask myself:

What good could the Brotherhood be? Continue reading »

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