Diecast #340: YouTube Killed the Video Star

By Shamus Posted Monday Apr 12, 2021

Filed under: Diecast 86 comments

Here is another podcast for you to enjoy while cowering indoors and waiting for the current mess to blow over. Or I suppose you could enjoy it while jogging. Or at work. Or during class. Or at a funeral. Whatever. Do what you like. I’m not the boss of you.

Hosts: Paul, Shamus. Episode edited by Issac.

Link (YouTube)

Show notes:

00:00 Moving

Paul moved! Moving sucks, but living in a nicer place is awesome.

00:59 Factorio Rocket Race and Mods

In Factorio, I noticed that once I unlocked the end-game tech, my science stuff was basically useless. At the same time, all of the infrastructure was tangled up with my rocket-launching stuff. I always wondered what a full standalone rocket assembly would look like. Rocket Race is a Factorio game type that answers that question. You begin with all technologies researched and you’re free to start building the big stuff right away.

At first I was able to launch a rocket every 20 minutes, but after two solid days of skipping sleep and losing track of time, I managed to have it launching a rocket every 2 minutesYes, I’m sure there’s some rando on YouTube that has a base that launches twenty rockets every ten seconds or something insane. Please don’t tell me how low I am on the totem pole. It will only depress me.. It’s like a whole new game.

I don’t remember when, but at some point I complained that building was a little strange in Factorio because you controlled a character. A lot of top-down games with building let you build from a semi-god mode where you’re just a floating camera. In contrast, Factorio feels like a game where your cursor can get caught on things and run over by the train. But now I see they’ve added a sandbox game mode where you are a bodiless camera. I haven’t tried it yet. I’m torn between working to improve my two-minute rocket, and just starting over in sandbox.

I need help.

04:40 YouTube outliers

Here is the music video that Paul made. Can we please get this thing more than 300 views?

Link (YouTube)

Other videos discussed in this segment:

  1. Paul’s Townscaper video.
  2. Shamus’ first (and still most popular) Bowlercoaster video.
  3. Shamus’ second (and very unpopular) video It Tastes Like Asphalt.
  4. The classic: The TV Show.

19:51 Looking forward to New World

Amazon is going to try again at this whole “making videogames” thing. The last big MMO “launch” was the introduction to WoW Classic. Will New World break us out of 17 years of WoW dominance, or will it be another hilarious / tragic failure?

I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to this summer when we find out.

37:12 Mailbag: Weather I read a Book

Dear Diecast,

I hope this question finds you well! About 10-15 years ago (back when I watched TV), I stumbled on a documentary about writing fiction where different successful authors, critics, and other experts gave their opinions on various aspects of writing. The only thing I remember from this flim is one sentence from an austere-looking man, who was a successful author. On the topic of reading other people’s work, he said: “I never read books where the very first sentence is describing the weather!”

Throughout the years, I’ve held that opinion as the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life! Of all the red flags you could have as a person, this HAS TO BE the dumbest, I’ve always thought! But as I’ve thought about it again recently, I realised that I myself have some weird red flags when it comes to fiction – things that would turn me off from a book or video game, that other people wouldn’t even notice.

So my question for the two of you is: What are YOUR red flags for fiction (books video games, and movies)? If you’re reading a book/playing a game, what are the things that would make you throw it at the wall in disgust, and start frothing at the mouth with rage?

Keep Being Awesome,




[1] Yes, I’m sure there’s some rando on YouTube that has a base that launches twenty rockets every ten seconds or something insane. Please don’t tell me how low I am on the totem pole. It will only depress me.

From The Archives:

86 thoughts on “Diecast #340: YouTube Killed the Video Star

  1. Moridin says:

    I remember watching MatN play the preview of New World ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=utTeRA4QbeE ). The setting is different, but otherwise, it looks like a really mediocre WoW-clone.

    1. The gameplay looks to be more on the action side than the cooldown-babysitting, bar-watching gameplay of WoW, and that’s what I’m looking for.

      But the animations do look a bit on the wooden side.

      1. Ugh, not looking forward to killing 5 wolves in competition with hundreds of other players at launch. Bleh.

  2. Joe says:

    I’ve seen YT videos float to the top after 10 years. No idea why. I hope *someone* at Google HQ understands the algorithm, even if they never share the secret. Just so that someone is in the loop.

    The only Amazon game I’m curious about is LOTR. Yes, they’re doing another LOTR MMO. I’m guessing it’ll be set in the second age, like their TV series.

    As for writing, I believe that tone and subject should be aligned. You should be able to read any extract and get a feel for it. I say this because I once started a book with a kind of Pratchett writing style. But thirty pages in, the subject went all grimdark. The two things go together as badly as you imagine. Contrast GRRM or Erikson, who adopt a serious tone from the start.

    I liked hearing your writing peeves. Mainly because while I wouldn’t call myself great, I’m not guilty of those particular sins. Going on about a character’s looks? I mention them once when the character is introduced, then only mention what’s relevant when it’s relevant. Hell, I don’t like description anyway. The last thing I’ll do is go on about it. Even if I imagine a character being especially attractive, I don’t like making a big deal about it.

    So I start with the character, what they’re wearing, what they’re doing, where they are, and *then* the weather.

    1. Joe says:

      I watched your videos. They’re good. Not my kind of thing, but not shabby.

    2. Joshua says:

      As someone who has played LOTRO since Beta, I’ve been curious to see if this Amazon game will effectively be LOTRO 2. From the spotty track record of their games division thus far, it doesn’t look promising.

    3. Joshua says:

      As far as GRRM, he has written a number of chapters that have relatively dark things happening in them, but there’s still an element of humor in the tone that results in some black comedy. The Victarion POV chapters come to mind.

      1. Joe says:

        Yeah, I know GRRM can be funny. But he doesn’t start out writing that way only to suddenly throw Bran out the window. It’s jarring.

        With some thought, I think it’s Age of Iron, by Angus Watson.

      2. Lino says:

        I haven’t read all of Martin’s books (gave up after Clash of Kings), but I think his humour is very much in service of the setting. If anything, it just makes the world more believable. After all, if there aren’t brief moments of levity to contrast with the gritty bits, then you’ll get so used to the dark tone, that it’ll completely lose its punch and believability.

        1. ColeusRattus says:

          I think it is fitting because it isn’t his writing that’s humorous, but the characters in his story are. Put less (or more) clumsily: it’s not GRRM writing jokes as a narrator, but his characters do have varying sense of humour.

    4. bobbert says:

      Does Google even have mortal employees anymore? I thought it was all run by an insane computer Asimov-style.

      1. AdamS says:

        Asimovian supercomputers would be an improvement; at least they have positronic brains and the Three Laws. Google seems to lack brains or ethics of any kind sometimes.

  3. Philadelphus says:

    Agreed, moving is the absolute worst. I’m dreading a likely international move later this year, though if I’m really, phenomenally, lucky it might put me in a position where I can actually dare to begin to possibly let myself hope for the mythical Final Move that I’ve been looking forward to for as long as I can remember. Congrats on achieving it Shamus, and hopefully Paul can get to that point soon too! If he wants to, of course.

    Yeah, if you’re making a music video (as opposed to just a video with background music), you really do have to sync things with the music. Otherwise it’s like poetry that doesn’t scan, where it’s got a certain rhythm to it and then this one line inexplicably has an extra syllable or two that throws the whole flow off. (Yes, I’m sure there are times that can be done to great effect; I’m not talking about those times.) Paul’s music video there was pretty good on that score (pun not intended).

    I think the trope for what Shamus was describing is Author Tract, where an author has a very particular view of the world and is determined to force that into the story to the detriment of everything else in it. It’s even worse when it’s a view you agree with, at which point it’s like a combination of “Dude, stop helping!” and “With friends like these, who needs enemies?”.

    1. Chad+Miller says:

      It’s even worse when it’s a view you agree with, at which point it’s like a combination of “Dude, stop helping!” and “With friends like these, who needs enemies?”.

      I like the TV Tropes name for this one: Don’t Shoot the Message.

  4. Joshua says:

    Shamus’s comment about the main character always commenting on the physical features and/or attractiveness of the female characters immediately reminded me of the Dresden Files. It’s like, “Really, another bomb-shell, huh?” However, there is actually quite a lot of good plot written in those books. And while the title character does get his fair number of good quips and coolness moments, he also has a ton of moments where does something stupid or his attempt to do something cool falls flat on its face.

    I’m not sure I have any “red flags”, but I do have plenty of peeves. Any kind of role-playing game (tabletop or video game) where the plot engages in schadenfreude towards you the player. Stuff where your character does something unbelievably stupid and gets mocked/hated for it, and that option was the only way to proceed in the game. Obviously, having the player do something stupid that was entirely optional and getting mocked for it is something different, like all of the deaths in the Sierra “X Quest” games. Since we’re getting a lot of TV Tropes drops, I’d say Stupidity is the Only Option or Blaming the Railroaded Player.

    1. Robyrt says:

      I’m always reminded of Chris Claremont’s jab at comic book heroines from Uncanny X-Men 268: “Is it like my imagination, or is every old buddy Wolverine’s got in the whole world some incredibly, fabulously gorgeous babe?!!

    2. Gargamel Le Noir says:

      Dresden Files gets kind of a pass because it’s Noir so genre appropriate, and most of the bombshell are literally inhumanely beautiful, so it contributes to setting the larger than life feel of the creatures he’s dealing with.

      1. John says:

        The Dresden Files aren’t really noir. The first couple of books sort of resemble noir, but the series transitions into The Adventures of Harry Dresden, Aw Shucks Super Wizard pretty quickly. It takes more than nominally being a private detective to make something noir.

        1. Retsam says:

          Noir is an infamously hard genre to pin down (especially outside of film where you can’t rely on the stereotypical lighting or ambiance), but the early books are pretty heavily noir inspired. Cynical private eye? Check. Chicago setting? Check. “Femme fatale”s? Check. Gangsters? Check. First person narration? Check.

          1. John says:

            The early books are certainly noir influenced, but Harry Dresden is unambiguously a good guy from the very beginning. He’s not a noir protagonist and never was.

    3. Chris says:

      My peeve is always breaking the 4th wall. The first time you see it it feels really clever, it is one of those out of the box things. But then you see it happen again and again and then isn’t clever anymore (you’ve already seen it before) and instead it just kills the immersion. Now it can sometimes be interesting, like the character slowly realizing they are in a computer world and becoming self-aware, like a sophie’s world kinda deal, but often they don’t add anything to it. It is just a straightforward “what do YOU think, player” “who are you talking to” “ow nothing haha”.

      1. Lino says:

        This is what made me drop The Messenger. The gameplay was fun, the music was stellar, but I found the story completely insufferable. Every single character – apart from the protagonist – breaks the fourth wall. In every single conversation. At a certain point, I was like “If none of the characters takes this world seriously, then why the Hell should I?”

        And it’s a shame – I had been in the mood for some good old-fashioned Hero’s Journey, with a side dish of ninjas. But no, they just had to put in all those cringy, predictable jokes…

    4. Fizban says:

      I mean, to be fair, like half the things Dresden has to deal with are Supernaturally Hot and use it to kill or enslave you, and he starts out single and in his 20s. After a while he does become more inured to it and more concerned with his various friends, allies, and other relationships, and the belaboring de-tensifies.

      Not necessarily a deal-breaker for me, but something that happens a lot in fanfics is running out of ways to avoid using basic pronouns too much, and so there will be lots of referring to people by some random distinguishing feature (hair color, titles, house affiliations, etc), which is fine. The funny part is that there’s always at least one that sticks out horribly, being too long and awkward to work as a pronoun replacement, or emphasizes a trait of a character that is not central to them at all- or even better, when the author has chosen say a hair color for a minor character different from that used by the rest of the fandom. So you’re constantly going down the list of what traits were specifically assigned in this story to make sure the right thoughts and actions are assigned to the right characters.

  5. Lars says:

    Didn’t MCU start with Hulk? The one with the Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon director?

    Also, the worst book I’ve ever started reading was was a Steampunk novel I dare to remember the name, where the main protagonist is this high tech engineer, who works on Nano boards with a soldering iron. And all the servers in that company were cooled down with mercury.

    Once he fell into the other the steampunk world, there was that extra cool female character bossing him arround for no good reason and explaining the steam technologie as wrong as the moder tech.

    1. Rho says:

      No, the Ang Lee Hulk movie is not canon, although you could argue it is a “test run” for the new technology behind superhero movies.

    2. John says:

      I’m not sure that any of the pre-Avengers Hulk films are considered canonical for the MCU. I’m not entirely sure why. I thought that Ang Lee’s Hulk was basically okay. I haven’t seen the Edward Norton one. But I suppose that they didn’t do well enough commercially or critically to be grandfathered in to the MCU proper. Or maybe there are rights or legal reasons for it. I dunno.

    3. Canthros says:

      Ang Lee’s Hulk is not part of the MCU. The Edward Norton-led reboot, The Incredible Hulk is part of the MCU, but it’s barely referenced in the rest of the MCU, possibly because the rights are messy and neither film was a huge success. The Norton film does pick up from a status quo ante that dovetails moderately well with the earlier film, but it’s also a reboot and doesn’t reference anything much from the other movie.

      Or so it seems to me, based on personal memory and a little bit of googling.

    4. Philadelphus says:

      Close; according to Wikipedia the MCU officially kicked off with Iron Man (May 2, 2008), but The Incredible Hulk was only a little over a month later (June 13, 2008)

      1. Thomas says:

        Imagine if Iron Man had been on the same quality level as The Incredible Hulk, how different might cinema have looked this past decade.

        Especially as the next two films to come out were Iron Man 2 and Thor – and those after a multi-year gap. If Iron Man was rubbish the MCU might never have got off the ground

        1. Lino says:

          Well, that just goes to show how you should never put all your eggs in one basket. If they had poured all that budget into one single big movie, they probably would have blown it. And as you say, the recent decade of movies would have looked very differently!

  6. Lino says:

    Thank you for answering my question! I guess we’ve got some quite similar red flags :)

    Regarding YouTube, the general wisdom from internet marketers and consultants is:
    – Title and thumbnail get people to click
    – First 5 seconds get them to stay
    – Rest of the video gets them to come back

    Following that logic, it’s clear why Shamus’ bowling video is so popular – the title is just BEGGING for you to click! “Bowling and rollercoasters (the latter of which I clearly see from the thumbnail)!?!??! These things don’t normally go together! I HAVE to know more” [CLICK]

    Same goes for Paul’s Townscaper video. Although the title isn’t all that catchy (if you’ve never heard of the game, you probably wouldn’t be interested; I’d have gone with something like “Building the Suburbian Tower of Babylon”, or “HOW HIGH CAN YOU GO?!?!? (Townscaper)”), that thumbnail is a thing of beauty – all those disparate layers, perfectly stacked together, and contrasting each other with bright colours? “What is that? A game? A piece of lego? A diorama? I simply MUST find out!” [CLICK]

    You can see a similar pattern with one of Shamus’ other famous videos – “Bethesda Never Understood Fallout” – short, catchy title, really clear thumbnail, and a video that gets straight to the point.

    On the other hand, “Smells Like Asphalt” doesn’t tell me anything. The thumbnail also doesn’t help me understand what the video is about. Yes, it’s clearly a video game, but I have no idea what kind of game it is, or why I should care.

    Now, for Paul’s Satisfactory video, people like me share some of the blame. See, the way YouTube works, is after you upload a video, the first people it suggests it to are your subscribers. If they engage with it (i.e. watch, like and/or comment), YouTube then proceeds to suggest it to people similar to your subscribers (i.e. people who belong to the same demographic, are interested in the topic, etc). It then gradually increases the range of people it suggests it to until it starts to see diminishing returns.

    Now, where I (and people like me) come in, is that I’m subbed to Paul, and usually watch his videos in their entirety (I even pop into his streams sometimes). However, that particular video just… flew under my radar. Even though I try not to be swayed by cheap tricks like click-baity thumbnails with big red arrows and emojis, I guess that thumbnail’s subdued colour palette must have pushed the video out of my view the first time it popped on my front page and sub feed. That caused me to not watch it (and not even find out that it exists). And if that happened to several of Paul’s other subscribers, it’s effectively made the video into an Algorithm paraiah. And it’s a real shame. Because I just watched it, and I think the video is really well edited, and it brings me very fond memories of being a kid and getting mesmerized at watching Animusic :D

    Now needless to say, all of this has to be taken with a big pile of salt (apart from that bit about Paul’s music video – I really did like it :D). In reality, no one knows how YouTube’s algorithm actually works. People have done various “studies” and “experiments”, but there are a lot, and I do mean A LOT of videos out there, and there are many edge cases. For every hard-boiled, battle-tested principle, there are hundreds of channels who do the exact opposite, and still find massive success.

    You need a monumental amount of data in order to make any kind of assumption about an algorithm as complex as YouTube’s. And the only people who have a reliable way of getting that kind of data are… YouTube. And they have absolutely no incentive to share that data with anyone. The last thing they want is people gaming the system. So, any sort of advice you hear regarding that should never be taken at face value.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Animusic was certainly one of the inspirations for The Satisfactory Sympharmonic. I bought both of the albums, and even supported the Animusic 3 kickstarter (nearly a decade ago!) that never panned out. Nowadays I get my technically accurate music anticipatory visualization fix from Smalin, though it’s not really the same.

      Thanks for the insight on video design for viewership optimization! I’m so disagreeable that it’s hard for me to take anyone’s desires into account without intentionally thwarting them, but I’ll try to keep reigning it in.

      And yes, always a pleasure to have you in the community!

      1. Lino says:

        And yes, always a pleasure to have you in the community!

        I’m glad to be a part of it!

    2. tmtvl says:

      I saw the word “satisfactory” and just blew it off. Omnibike on the other hand just drew my attention immediately.

    3. Echo Tango says:

      Is the Algorithm smart enough to bucket people who are interested in Satisfactory vs those who are not? I bounced pretty hard off of that music video, because I don’t really care about the game at all, and the music and robots involved seem too generic to hook me in. (Also, I sort of hate classical music; It often seems like the music is screaming at me that it’s amazing, will make you feel emotions, and will give you an epiphany about the world…but it’s not nearly as involved or nuanced as even Look Mum No Computer, when he’s just banging out an electronic song on a Commodore 64.) So, hopefully my non-view doesn’t wreck it for people who would actually enjoy the thing. :E

      1. Thomas says:

        The algorithm can definitely identify things like that – you’ll get filters for specific games on your homepage if you watch them a lot on that topic button list at the top.

        I’m pretty sure the algorithm can identify specific types of video by a creator and show them to different audiences too. I followed someone recently and noticed I was only being shown a particular series of videos that creator did in my recommendations.

        But I don’t know how much information the algorithm needs to start doing that. Perhaps you have to be a well established YouTube channel with a large enough audience that the algorithm has got a big sample size to work with – and presumably it would depend on how you title those videos.

      2. John says:

        I think you may be confusing sweeping, crescendo-heavy movie-soundtrack music for classical music more generally. Some classical music does resemble your description–the work of various Romantic composers, for example–but most of it–e.g., Baroque, which is much more restrained–very much doesn’t. There are many genres and sub-genres within classical music just as there are within other forms of music.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          I mean like, the song in the video was already setting off my pretentiousness alert already. ^^;

          1. Echo Tango says:

            Also, the orchestras I’ve listened to in person – they’ve got about a 50-50 chance of being enjoyable music or triggering me. :)

          2. Philadelphus says:

            Well, I’d say that’s because the music in the video is intentionally bombastic, over-the-top, and in some sense parodic. It’s music for a trailer for a video game, humorously pretending its reveal is some earth-shattering, mind-blowing revelation. It’s intentionally pretentious. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s hardly representative of classical music in general any more than a fourth-wall breaking comedic relief character is representative of the depths of pathos and genuine emotion reachable in the breadth of human storytelling. Simply put, “orchestral” != “classical”, especially since a lot (like, a lot a lot) of classical music is written for just a few (as few as one) instruments.

            I mean, if you don’t like it you don’t like, that’s fine; we all have different tastes. My point is merely that classical music is a very wide field indeed and disliking all classical music because you dislike some orchestral pieces is like me saying I dislike all modern popular music because I can’t stand EDM.

      3. Paul Spooner says:

        Yeah, I agree that a large portion of the enjoyment is that the music and the models (to a pretty large extent) are all from the game. If you don’t know anything about Satisfactory, or don’t care, or (as you said) are allergic to emotionally manipulative music (it used to be called Romantic music… Maybe still is? John seems to think so at least) then that aspect will be lost. I was pretty happy with how it turned out, but there’s no telling which fractions of that estimation are creators affection, familiarity with the source material, the emotional impact of the music, and objective quality assessment.

        1. John says:

          Romantic music isn’t my favorite, but calling it emotionally manipulative is probably a step too far. It’s intentionally trying to evoke or suggest stuff, including specific emotions, but it’s not like it’s trying to trick you or anything. It’s all part and parcel of the Romantic movement, a reaction to the Enlightenment, which also affected painting and literature at around the same time.

  7. Gordon says:

    It’s probably non functional but I used to have a Factorio mod intended to be used with sandbox that made buildings free so you could focus on making the factory instead of making stuff to make the factory.

  8. John says:

    I’ve got a variety of red flags, I guess, most of them related to fantasy and science fiction. Any book that starts with a timeline is automatically suspect. There’s nothing inherently wrong with timelines of course, but a good author would write a book in which I could pick up the history of the world as I read and as it became relevant to the plot or the protagonists. Expecting me to memorize a bunch of names and dates before I have a reason to care about any of them is actually rather rude. Save any and all timelines for the appendices at the back of the book. Any book with “Book X of the Space-Fantasy Chronicles Saga Cycle” pasted across the front cover in a font bigger than the actual title’s font is automatically suspect. I’m not opposed to series by any means, but I’d prefer a nice one-and-done or, failing that, a series with individually comprehensible parts. When the trade dress emphasizes that a book is part of a series at the expense of the book’s individual identity, it’s a sign that the book is probably going to be impenetrable and inaccessible to anyone who hasn’t been following the series from the beginning. And, again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it’s nevertheless a pretty good sign that I’d get more pleasure from reading something else.

    Certain tropes are also red flags, though only a single specific example springs to mind at the moment. David Weber’s On Basilisk Station is a decent enough book–its sequels not so much, though that’s another matter–but there is a line somewhere early in the book to the effect that “Honor knew she was not beautiful”. It is a truth universally acknowledged that every female protagonist ever to think such a thing has eventually and inevitably been proved wrong. Honor Harrington is no exception, though to Weber’s credit it at least doesn’t happen in her very first novel. This problem is that this trope is so old and such a cliche that Jane Austen used to make fun of it. It’s a troubling sign when an author unironically employs a trope that has generally been considered cheesy and lame since the 18th century early in the first book in a series. Does he not know this is a cliche? Does he not care? If he’s okay with this cliche, how many other cliches are going show up later on? If you’re Weber, the answer is “lots”. It takes a few novels for the cliches to reach critical mass, but in retrospect the signs were there from the beginning and I should have known better.

    1. Addie says:

      Yeah; one of my go-to books is the very splendid “How Not To Write A Novel” by Mittelmark and Newman; it’s very funny – lots of terrible pretend excerpts from unpublishable works, and descriptions of what’s gone wrong – but many a true word said in jest, and all that.


      Some of their basic (given straight) advice is that a novel should primarily consist of (a) action (b) plot driven by action and (c) dialogue which serves the action; flowery prose, excessive descriptions, daydreams, activities which don’t go anywhere, etc. should all be edited out. I’d like to nominate “Girl With A Dragon Tattoo” as worst for this I’ve read recently; starts with fifty odd pages of mundane office work, intermixed with the aspirations of the protagonist, could be chopped down to half a page effortlessly without losing a single thing, and get on with the action

      They also recommend starting ‘in medias res’ – if there’s a lot of backstory, start with an action scene and then work up to how you got there. So yeah; don’t start with a timeline, or a massive lore dump, it is not interesting. Lord of the Rings starts with a map, and a party, and some mysteries; pretty soon moves onto a chase, and doles out the lore a bit at a time in between plenty of action – masterwork. A Song of Ice and Fire started like that, but after a couple of books changed from describing the action, to just describing what the characters thought about the action, to being completely bogged down in what the characters are just thinking – let’s face it, unlikely to be finished, and probably a mercy kill at this point.

      1. Boston says:

        I’m not sure if I entirely agree with the idea that a novel should be so centered on ‘action’. I think that is a bit more modern of an idea and reminds me of novels that read like movie scripts (Jurassic Park comes to mind). Having read older authors, like Victor Hugo, I think the expectations of what a novel should include as far as description and whatnot varies over time. Hunchback of Notre Dame for example, included many long digressions on the city of Paris and a whole chapter that was essentially an essay explaining the meaning of one character’s line. And don’t get me started on Moby Dick.

        I’m not a lit major by any stretch, and you could argue that those kind of sections are unnecessary. They certainly bored me when I read V. Hugo and Melville. But I would say that there is room for things that add detail to the world or the characters even if they don’t advance the ‘action.’

        1. John says:

          I think it’s reasonable advice, especially for aspiring or inexperienced writers. In the hands of an expert, a long digression from the action or, more loosely, from whatever it is that the book is about, can be part of a book’s charm. A rookie, on the other hand, should probably avoid that kind of thing. It’s a judgement call. I’d also argue that it’s perfectly possible to do world- and character-building in the process of depicting the action so that long digressions aren’t really necessary in the first place.

          1. Kylroy says:

            Yeah, remember that 99% of writing advice is for writers who want a book that a publisher will buy, or at least that a wide swathe of people will want to read. If you’re a nobody trying to stand out from the army of unpublished authors out there, being slow and over-descriptive will not draw people in.

        2. Kincajou says:

          I would disagree with this, one of my favourite works of russian literature remains Crime and punishment… the action in that bok is all in the first chapter or so and the rest is introspection. “Memoirs of Hadrian” is nearly all flowery prose and introspection as are many things written by Poe or Stanislaw Lem…

          Also, aside from “the whale pamphlet” Moby dick was an exceptionally good read for me!

          So, all in all, i feel good writing may be very complicated? and it may be one of those things where there isn’t one set of hard rules? maybe?

        3. Bubble181 says:

          It’s certainly culturally (and thus, also temporaly) determined what is considered ” good writing”.
          Look at one of your examples – “Hunchback of the Notre Dame”. All well and good…Except that the original title is “Notre Dame de Paris”. The title – and, according to the author himself, the main character – is the cathedral. Not the guy with a deformation living there. While the book is, yes, also about unrequited love and what makes a man of moral character, it’s mainly an exploration of the city, the life of the normal people, and a defense of important architecture and history.

      2. Syal says:

        They also recommend starting ‘in medias res’ – if there’s a lot of backstory, start with an action scene and then work up to how you got there.

        That’s actually a flag for me; a story starting on an action scene and then backing up to the beginning is basically telling me it has no confidence in its beginning and I’m just going to have to slog through it to get to the carrot. (Looking at you, Trails of Cold Steel.)

        1. Kincajou says:

          Having thought about this, i find myself disagreeing.

          Like every tool “in medias Res” can be used well or badly, take for example “The odyssey”, “Chernobyl” (the tv series), “Memoirs of Hadrian” (this one may actually count as “at the end of the story- in finem res?”) as places where the device was used successfully just off the top of my mind…

          Interestingly, legasov’s death in chernobyl (forgive me that’s the most recent of the examples i quoted, also the most likely to have been experienced by more people so it may be easier for you to understand my point) may not be the most “interesting” event in the series (that is one that varies from person to person…some are marked by the dog episode others are marked by the trial,etc…) but it adds some key elements that i think add to the narrative:
          – It starts you off wanting to know what brought legasov to that moment, who was legasov before those tragic moments that we were introduced to him with?
          – Legasov whilst he is destined to die, will survive at leas until that point so you worry less about him (the others, that’s a different matter) but he’s also going round with a sword of damocles over his head… He’s a dead man walking and, to me, that makes his character’s travels all the more tragic…

          As i said, i think it’s mostly a question of how the tool is used rather than the sole fact of that tool being used. People have talked about the fourth wall being broken as an example of something that may be too much but then there’s “if on a winter’s night a traveller” which is completley based around the concept of the fourth wall, or UBIK where the fourth wall is slowly eroded to the point of meaninglessness (still my favourite sci-fi book).

          I guess all this is to say, “i have enjoyed many books/media that begin in medias/finem res and some of those are even more universally accepted as good books… so if you use that as an immediate sign to not go further you may end up missing on some stuff that i really love and would like more people to experience and i find that sad!”

          But ofc, this is only an internet rando’s opinion on a videogames blog …. so you know, make of that what you will

          1. Syal says:

            It’s not a flag that will stop me outright, but I’ll hold it against the story when they use it. Usually I’ll forget what the imr scene was and when we catch up to it I’ll go “oh right, they opened with that didn’t they, that was a waste of time.”

            The Odyssey is the only of those three stories I’ve heard of. I tried reading the Odyssey a while back but dropped out around Chapter 2. I don’t remember an in medias Res start to that.

            1. Kincajou says:

              I see, that makes sense… thanks for expanding!

              For the odyssey, if it didn’t grab you then that’s fair enough, the in medias res is that you start with odysseus listening to someone sing of the battle of troy and starts crying at a banquet. This leads him to tell his tale and reveal who he actually is to his hosts (who thought him a simple castaway), after you catch up there is the whole ending where he makes it back to ithaca and all that befalls the suitors.

              Memoirs of hadrian is a fictional-ish account of Hadrian’s life as written by hadrian on his death bed (near as damn) so the whole book is actually a big flashback if you will, peppered with the thoughts and emotions of an older self looking upon his younger actions.

              In chernobyl (tv series) you more or less start with the key events being told to you and you see the ultimate fate of one of your main characters, before jumping back to “where it all started”.

              In all these cases i feel the use of the tool is to allow some underlying framing for the story which is about to be told, for the memoirs of hadrian you get the advantage of him putting the outlook of older age to his younger experiences, for chernobyl your main charachter’s fate is sealed and you know roughly what the ussr’s approach to the catasrophe will be (de facto allowing you to focus on other elements or even see elements unwinding slowly towards the inevitable conclusion… we know it all goes wrong, but how,why?). For the odyssey it’s a more immediate tool, imo the framing serves to draw one in (obviously not always successful) by making one want to know “ok, so how do we go from an Odysseus who is at the top of the world and we end up with this castaway at a banquet surrounded by strangers?”.

              of course the tool doesn’t always work and it doesn’t always work well (or isn’t even used for the same purposes) but when it does i feel it brings something unique and special to the table (of course the most basic use is…”how did we gat here?”).

              That’s my 2c at least :)

          2. I think In Medias Res is a disaster for video games. I think it’s often overused in other works, but in video games it’s an outright disaster. Why? Because the first twenty minutes to an hour of playing a game (or more, depending on the game) is spent with the player just getting acclimated to the controls and trying to orient themselves within the game space. Their brain is 85-95% occupied with just that. They don’t have a lot of attention left for trying to ferret out what the heck is going on with a complex situation around them and playing catchup with the “GO GO RIGHT NOW IMPORTANT THINGS HAPPENING YOU MUST RUSH!!!” screaming that the game is doing at them.

            If you pull the rug out from under someone before they’ve even found their feet, it’s not going to feel significant to them. It’s all a part of the general confusion. It just becomes a single mass of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
            By all means, have interesting things going on, but let the player get acclimated at their own pace. THEN you can pull the rug out.

            I think this measured start to games became less popular because people often complain about “having” to do the tutorial when they replay the game for the hundredth time. Me, I tend to enjoy revisiting it in a sort of nostalgic way. I’m not in a rush at the beginning of the game. It’s later on, when I’ve got 78 unfinished quests and this one damn guy I need to kill just won’t die and I’m fed up that I start to get impatient.

            I think game creators need to visit Steam or similar and pay attention to the stats on how many people NEVER FINISH THE GAME. Yeah, a small fraction of diehard fans play it many, many times. But you need to sell many millions of copies more than that to make your money back. Think long and hard about the people who don’t have a clue what’s going on.

            1. galacticplumber says:

              On the opposite side of the spectrum, I’ve tried many a game that I wished would shut the hell up and let me play in literally my first session. Having a slow option for people who want to go slow is one thing. placing a ball, and chain on the legs of everyone with no option to skip is simply poor design.

      3. Thanks for the recommendation, I grabbed it.

        One of the hardest parts about writing is that you basically have to do it all from instinct–like a virtuoso violin player, you practice so much it becomes second nature. But the process takes so long and has so many parts to it that it’s very, very easy to internalize some really bad habits.

        The only inoculation (not a cure, just a preventive measure) I’ve ever found is that you have to read as much bad stuff as you do good stuff, and while you’re reading it, explain to yourself what’s wrong with it and how you’d do it better if you were writing something like this.

  9. Echo Tango says:

    Factorio sandbox mode is so close to what I’d want out of Factorio.[1] I like the limitation, that you need to transport materials and machines from one part of the map to another. However, sandbox lets you just pick up anything in the world and put it down anywhere else, for zero cost. There’s a mod that adds ground-level robots that (I think) can chop trees, transport items, and build your blueprints[2] into real buildings. However the robots are unlocked after quite a few researches, so they’re not appropriate for use in a game mode where there’s no player character. Really, they’re more of a proof-of-concept, than an actual working mod. There’s a different mod that adds a few normal construction and logistic robots to your base to start[3], but those are far too powerful, compared the the burner-level stuff you start the game with. What I really want is a mod that adds some different levels of robots, so you can play the whole game more like a normal RTS, without the player character. Maybe start with burner-powered ground-level robots that look like steampunk little tin-men, then progress through better fuels, then batteries, then finally get to the flying, battery-powered robots that are already in the game. :)

    [1] At least, playing without the cheats for all research, free items, or always-daylight.
    [2] “Ghosts” in this game.
    [3] Without the research to build more.

    1. Gordon says:

      That’d be interesting. I wonder how you’d need to change up biter mechanics to play into that RTS vibe, at the moment they have to be balanced toward static defences and one slow moving combatant, so they are quite passive.

      1. Echo Tango says:

        The lack of a player running around with guns would skew in their favor, but being able to build new turrets not tied to a single avatar-and-mouse-cursor location would skew the battles in favor of the player. So I guess it depends on how strong the player is compared to lines of turrets and walls. :)

  10. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    Amazon Studio starting with a major AAA was indeed super dumb, but I would the corporate culture is their biggest problem. Their concept was to throw immense budget to bring over established talents, but on the other hand they would be put under the thumb of a soulless corporate stooge that doesn’t know or like games and refuses any sort of feedback from his experienced employees. Cue trend chasing, scope creep, utter lack of creativity…

  11. Dragmire says:

    Ugh, I feel Shamus when he talks about hating a song after working on a project using it. I made an animation(*) in college to the song Riot from Three Days Grace. Even 10 years later, I can’t stand hearing it anymore. It doesn’t help that the result was far worse than I wanted but I made the scope of the project too large for the time I had to complete it.

    (*)It was a 3D animation that went from a drawn animatic and character design sheets to effects after rendering and aaaaall the modeling, skinning, rigging, lighting, and animating in between. As a result, I was listening to that one song for hours each day for about 3 months…

  12. MadTinkerer says:

    So what I do is I have Wikipedia bookmarked. It’s the top link on my list of References that I commonly use. That way I can just go to Wikipedia if I want to go to Wikipedia instead of typing everything into Google like my parent’s generation does.

    On the other hand, Shamus can actually make 3D games without relying on someone else’s engine, so maybe I shouldn’t talk?

    1. John says:

      I find that if you are willing to type “wikipedia” rather than just “wiki” then the Wikipedia link, if it exists, is always the first link. I suppose that I could, over the course of my lifetime, have saved as many as ten whole minutes by simply bookmarking Wikipedia, but typing “wikipedia” into the search bar is so little work that I struggle to care.

    2. Echo Tango says:

      I believe Chrome and Firefox both have Wikipedia as a search-engine, in addition to going to Google, Bing, etc. So, you’d be able to save some mouse-clicks, by just typing your search-terms in the URL-bar instead of going to a bookmark first.

    3. baud says:

      To search wikipedia (and wiktionary when I’m not sure if a word actually means what I intend to write), I’m using directly the address bar: with chrome I type wikipedia, go to the line to go directly to the website, but instead of pressing enter, I press tab, which allow me to use the wikipedia search instead; on firefox, I have to add the search engine of the websites I want to use beforehand, but then, I can type, then select which search engine I want to use instead of the default one. Quite useful.

      1. Moridin says:

        I use Pale Moon, so I actually have a separate search bar(including a drop-down menu to select the search engine). Firefox really dropped the ball when they decided they’d rather be Chrome-clone.

  13. The Big Brzezinski says:

    I recall a paperback that came with my copy of the Burning Crusade expansion for World of Warcraft. I could not get passed the first sentence. I could not find the noun or verb of the first sentence. I drowned in a sea of adjectives.

    The issue of clumsy messaging has became acute for me over the past couple months. I played Subnautica: Below Zero last November after they said the story was pretty much complete, excluding the ending. Since my nephew bought me the game out of gratitude for introducing him to the first one, I figured I’d check it out. What I found was what will be a text book example of story collapse once the Mass Effect book comes out. For example, you can’t empathize with the protagonist because her motivation is not sufficiently explained. The premise is that her sister Sam died while on the job on 4546B (the Subnautica planet) due to her own negligence. Your character, Robin, thinks Alterra (the big corporation that is also the government, except for the cops and courts) is bad because of some raisins, so she doesn’t believe them. Eventually you do find the truth, but you’ve moved on to other plot threads by this point, and so Robin just forgets about it. You even end up working for the person who is proximally responsible for Sam’s death, but Robin never says anything about it. This is just one failure of many that collectively not only leave the player lost and confused, but retcon and undermine important narrative and thematic elements of the previous game.

    It’s pretty obvious why they did this. This story was made by a brand new writer that came on board at the beginning of 2020 and implemented in less than a year into a game that was already mostly done (there was even an existing placeholder story). They wanted to present a story about a heroic explorer lady who uncovers the nefarious schemes of an evil corporation and foils them. There was no time to implement anything less generic, more connected to established world-building, more polished, or even all that comprehensible. Subnautica’s characterization of Alterra as silly mostly-benign-but-still-very-acquisitive Space Apple-Walmart was ignored. And just to add insult to the game’s injury, real life events have thrown the game’s new story into a very unflattering, even offensive, light. So not only is the story rushed and sloppy, it’s also an unlucky victim of unfolding history.

    Honestly, I just feel bad for the company making Below Zero. They REALLY ARE trying. They KNOW they made something great in Subnautica. If I could wave a magic wand and fix all the problems with their narrative presentation without changing one word of their story, I would. As it is, the realities of production has left their game between a rock and a reaper leviathan.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Lol! I wasn’t aware there was an expansion. Is it any good, other than the story?

      Maybe Below Zero could just hire… you know… an actual experienced author instead of putting the new hire on it? Not that writing for games is anything like as straightforward as writing a novel, but on the other hand it’s nowhere near as extensive, especially in a story and dialogue light game like Subnautica.

      On the topic of videogame tie-in novels, I was shocked and surprised by the quality of the book “StarCraft: Evolution: A StarCraft Novel” by Timothy Zahn. You’d think the title would say it all, but no, it was a very solidly assembled narrative while still remaining true to the mechanics and tone of the source material. I’m not saying it’s just as easy to go the other way, especially with the added constraints of existing gameplay and other givens, but there has to be something to the craft of being able to think through a videogame narrative! EG this website.

      1. Retsam says:

        Timothy Zahn is pretty legendary as like “the one guy who managed to make the Star Wars EU make sense” (e.g. invented the character of Thrawn) so I’m not surprised he’s done good things with the StarCraft canon too.

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          Oh yes, that’s where I learned of him as well. A number of his other novels are pretty decent. The Green and the Grey comes to mind.

  14. baud says:

    to enjoy while cowering indoors and waiting for the current mess to blow over. Or I suppose you could enjoy it while jogging. Or at work. Or during class

    Last time I enjoyed listening to the podcast while painting a miniature model (fighter plane painted in sci-fi colors). And I guess I’ll listen this one while finishing painting it (well, I got only a few spots of dark red to apply, shouldn’t take a full podcast)

  15. Echo Tango says:

    Re: The TV Show
    Apparently this is an independent artist, and they did actually make this video in 2009, not earlier. They’ve got a pinned comment on the video from last year, celebrating 10 years, and their biography lists the video as 2009. Google translate says the Japanese part of the video title is “indie animation”. :)

  16. bobbert says:

    Well, Shamus, you managed to get the Buggles stuck in my head. I hope you are proud of yourself.

    Also, a tour of your rocket factory would be nice.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Seconded. There’s got to be a way to leverage a “This Dumb Industry” episode out of Factorio and Satisfactory. The pun itself is screaming to be made!

  17. Mark says:

    My biggest red flag: characters who are constantly “grinning” and “chuckling,” regardless of the seriousness of the situation they’re in. Extra large red flags for any “shit-eating grin” or “crooked smile.”

    I’m not quite sure why but it’s nails on a chalkboard for me.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      I knew a guy like that IRL. Turns out it’s compensation for chronic anxiety. Not sure what it would mean if the whole cast in an author’s work has that problem though.

  18. Syal says:

    There’s not a lot of flags that will single-handedly stop me consuming media, but I can think of two that have done so in the past.

    A Netflix anime started with a planet exploding, and then about ten seconds later “simulation terminated” popped up, and I immediately turned the show off and never went back. Any variant of “this dramatic moment actually held zero consequences” is the end of the story. (I’ve ignored this rule before, and ended up reading the most hilariously bad book I’ve ever read; Jennifer Fallon’s “Warrior” (featuring no warriors) is a damn good read for what not to do.)

    The only other one I can think of is the first sentence in the Goodbye Volcano High trailer. I guess it would be “presumed sympathy”? “Emo poetry”? I don’t know what it’s called but I know that I hate it and nothing good will follow it.

    I guess I’d add “hilarious” miscommunications, especially romance implications, but the only story I’ve seen open with that also opened with “it was just a dream training scenario” so i don’t know if it would stop me on its own. (Seriously, Trails in the Sky 2 had an atrocious opening. It was years before I played the rest of it.)

    Other flags include “in medias res” starts, where a story opens on an action scene and is like “you may be wondering how this happened”, to which I reply, Not particularly, no. “Well let me back up to the beginning of the story and tell you.” No really, how about you just finish the scene and I’ll go without. “It started three weeks ago-” You aren’t even listening, are you.

    But the only thing that’ll really stop me reading a book is if the writing is boring. I picked up “The Knight, Death, and the Devil” based on the title, which turned out to be a documentary on Hermann Goring, and was surprised to discover Hermann Goring was actually the most boring man in all of history. Entire chapters dedicated to walking around a garden. Chapters!

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Me and my pals started watching some anime series on Netflix, that was set ona desert planet with cowboys, bandits, and the protagonists had a magic robot transformer arcade-cabinet muscle-car that powered it’s deus-ex-machina powers with friggin quarters. That theoretically could be a good spoof show, but t was taking itself ientirely seriously. :E

    2. Syal says:

      Oh, forgot a few.

      Movies, and horror movies especially, like to play really loud sounds and then have the entire cast whisper everything to try to make you turn the volume up so their really loud sounds can be even louder. Those movies either get turned off, or muted and subtitled. Straight up abusive, that.

      Generally any kind of focused sexuality is a red flag. Sword Art Online is the standout on that one, where nearly a full episode was heavily focused on sexualizing a 13-year-old girl. (Although Elfen Lied managed to make nudity a metaphor for humanity that mostly augmented the tone. Still a few that were obviously just “here’s a naked child” though.)

  19. The Rocketeer says:

    Please don’t tell me how low I am on the totem pole. It will only depress me.

    This is a part of why I quickly ditched every Zachtronics game I’ve tried. I get the intent, but surely I’m not the only person that hates being repeatedly shown how much worse I am at the game than some fucker named “Paul Spooner.”

    1. Saul Ppooner says:

      Yeah! And what about that spike where people just look up the “solution” on Youtube? Where’s the fun in that?

  20. Will says:

    On my first attempt at getting gameplay and music to synch up, I got really lucky that the timing of the music and the video were a pretty good fit with so little work that I can still enjoy the song years later. Alas, it was the tail end of a longer video in a game that’s a bit of a slow burn, so it doesn’t fit the viral clickbaity template at all.

  21. I find it interesting that you mention the “dwell on how all the female characters look” as a red flag in fiction, because I was going to mention the flip side of that for “female-oriented” fiction is when the female protagonist is socially insecure/kind of a mess, and the first major male character she meets is ABSOLUTELY SMOKING HOT and she begins dwelling on his physical characteristics INSTANTLY, usually accompanied by a litany of “mmmm” and “down girl!” and blushing and stammering when she gets caught staring. That SCREAMS “terrible formula novel with a crappy romance crowbarred in” much like what you mentioned. SOMETIMES they can still be kinda enjoyable, but usually not. (I don’t generally seek this stuff out, but I’ve read an INCREDIBLE amount of it because I’m a sucker for a $2.99 sale on Kindle.)

    Another huge red flag that I’ve found is when the author DESCRIBES their characters without actually CHARACTERIZING them. This is a HUGE sign that the author is an amateur and there’s a very good chance that they’ve just banged some cliches together and have no idea how to write characters, establish motivations, etc.

    The difference is subtle, but it primarily shows in that they associate certain emotions with physical characteristics and clothing and not with ACTIONS and personality. When someone doesn’t know how to characterize, if they want to, say, portray someone who is a massive douche, they’ll spend three paragraphs telling you about their sunglasses, their tight t-shirt, their spray tan, their whitened teeth, their cutoff shorts, their sandals, their frosted hair, their manicure, and on and on and on and on. A pro author will just have them make one stupid crack and instantly you can SEE the sunglasses, t-shirt, etc.

    Terry Pratchett is, from what I’ve seen (and it’s not like I’ve read everything that exists) the world-class grand champion of having a character say one thing and instantly you feel like you KNOW them. He very often doesn’t describe his characters at all, he’ll just have other characters give their opinions and, boom, you can see them before you, larger than life. And then he’ll throw in a few minor details that make them a bit more individual, so you know they’re not just A Trope but a person. The description is, even then, on the light side. They rarely go into details unless those details are important somehow

    A good author will also shroud the introduction/description of a character in some sort of activity. A bad author just plops them down, lists a bunch of irrelevant drivel that doesn’t really add up to anything, and off they go. It’s only later, from context, that you find that what they MEANT by all that laundry list was “here is a huge douche”.

  22. Abnaxis says:

    My current Factorio project is building a train-based base where I plan on eliminating every single belt once I get robotics up(and I only really plan to use those robots for refueling/making a construction supply hub), with large, very rich resource patches and in expensive mode with 10x additional cost for all research.

    It’s very slow going. I only have 300-ish SPM, so most things take 10-ish minute to research and I’m just now getting ready to get basic oil refineries/blue science production up and running.

  23. Jeremy Smith says:

    I will play a game that dumps you into gameplay without sending you to the title screen so you can adjust the settings first, but it annoys the heck out of me every time.

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