Diecast #343: Still Alive

By Shamus Posted Monday May 17, 2021

Filed under: Diecast 89 comments

In case you missed it, I was in the hospital for a week. I’m still a little wobbly, but I’m on the mend. But if I eat right, exercise, take my meds, and avoid junk food from now on, then I can look forward to a long slow decline into old age, just like everyone else.

Also, sorry my audio is blown out. Apparently I forgot how to run the show while I was gone.

Hosts: Paul, Shamus. Episode edited by Issac.

Link (YouTube)

Show notes:

00:00 Shamus Lives!

So sorry to burn so much of the show talking about my life and health. Hopefully someone finds this amusing / informative.

06:08 Roomates

I messed up the story a bit here. The three things I wanted were dark, quiet, and cold. In my conversation with Paul, I forgot about cold. My roommate was always asking the nurses to turn up the heat. And to my surprise, they did.

Back when I was young, hospitals were always cold. If you asked someone to turn up the heat, they’d bring you a blanket. Maybe the rules have changed in the last 40 years, or maybe the rules are different in the cardiac section where everyone is incredibly old and heart attacks are a bigger risk than infections.

Anyway, my room was 74F (23C), which is really hot for me. I much prefer a cool room like 65F (18C) where I can regulate my temp by adding or removing blankets.

Still, the combination of constant shouting chit-chat + flashing TV + idiot TV programming + lights on + being too hot too sleep was brutal. It really did make those first couple of days an ordeal.

23:05 Mass Effect Legendary Port

I’m not in love with the Legendary Edition of Mass Effect 1. The extra resolution is nice, but something feels off and I’m not sure what it is.

29:07 My Book Arrived!


31:32 Mailbag: Music & Audio Programming

Dear Shamus,

To what extent are you interested in audio programming? I guess composing any track with a DAW and array of softsynths can be considered ‘programming’, but I’m thinking of approaches that are less linear and more system-based in the ways we usually think when using the term.

Has the idea of generative music (ie. music that plays itself based on weighted randomization) ever tickled your fancy? Or algorithmic sequencing according to rulesets (ie. every third ‘hit’, trigger X event, repeat with needless complexity)? Some of your posts on procedural generation made me wonder if this is something you’d ever given thought to. But maybe your interest in music composition is satisfied with a sturdy piano roll!

One of my favorite music acts is a duo called Autechre (aw-tek-er). They started out in 1987 before getting signed to a major label in their scene, with their early output being a blend of offbeat electro and ambient styles. What’s interesting about them is how they evolved over time and became increasingly abstract, largely transitioning from cheap hardware and drum machines to computers and full-on programming environments. The end result of their journey (ongoing today) is often described as “machine music designed by machines” that are very abstract and often lack a point of reference in relation to more conventional genres. I like to think of their tracks as puzzles to decode and decipher, usually getting my most appreciation months or years after an initial listen.

It’s not very radio-friendly, and I think a lot of their work these days is composed with Max/MSP rather than any traditional DAW. But I was curious if there was any further intersection between your interests in programming and music!

Any way, some (non-representative) examples:


Autechre Ylm0



39:37 The Sims Jazz Improv

Link (YouTube)

The idea here is that the composer kept pushing the music through lots of key changes to keep things fresh and new. However, it didn’t seem to work on me. I remember getting irritated with this piece of music in particular, to the point where I turned off the music entirely. I recognize that the music kept changing, but for me it felt like the music was guilty of excessive noodling. It didn’t ever settle into a pattern that I could call a song. It didn’t feel like it was going anywhere. It’s screaming for attention with nothing to say.

It’s like a child yelling “Hey! Hey! Over here! Pay attention to me!” So then you finally say, “WHAT? What do you want?” and the kid just keeps yelling “Hey!”

I realize I’m dumping on a beloved soundtrack to a 21 year old video game. I’m not trying to convince you the soundtrack sucks, I’m just trying to illustrate how hard it is to generate “interesting” music, because individual standards for interesting-ness can vary greatly between individuals.

49:48 Mailbag: Odd Howard


Not a question, but I found…. errr…. Stumbled upon a clip of Todd Howard saying the phrase «What do they eat?»

I found it amusing, so have a chuckle too:

Todd Howard Talks Starfield, Elder Scrolls 6, Fallout 76, Terminator, and More! – IGN Unfiltered #43

Best regards, DeadlyDark

It’s crazy. It’s like hearing Michael Bay talk about how important it is to keep things clear and coherent for the audience during action scenes. It’s like hearing JJ Abrams talk about how important it is to resolve mysteries with a clear payoff that adheres to the rules of the world. It’s like Peter Molyneux giving a talk on the dangers of over-promising.



From The Archives:

89 thoughts on “Diecast #343: Still Alive

  1. MerryWeathers says:

    Who is this “Shamus” and what have you done with 13Window?

  2. Georgia says:

    It’s crazy. It’s like hearing Michael Bay talk about how important it is to keep things clear and coherent for the audience during action scenes. It’s like hearing JJ Abrams talk about how important it is to resolve mysteries with a clear payoff that adheres to the rules of the world. It’s like Peter Molyneux giving a talk on the dangers of over-promising.

    It’s like when young George Lucas talked about how empty special effects are when they don’t have a good story behind them (except that actually happened).

    1. Olivier FAURE says:

      You say that like George Lucas in an ambiguously terrible storyteller, but at the very least he tried to write a good story, with a deeper meaning. He failed for lack of a good structure, not motivation.

      And, honestly, the prevalence of Episode III memes everywhere suggests he didn’t quite fail. How many people remember the story beats of any Transformers movie?

      1. Dumbo says:

        You say that like George Lucas in an ambiguously terrible storyteller, but at the very least he tried to write a good story, with a deeper meaning. He failed for lack of a good structure, not motivation.

        He very much is, he even admitted he was the king of wooden dialogue which is why he started relying on other people to develop and flesh out his ideas for stuff like The Clone Wars before he left the company. Execution is what ultimately makes a good story, not the concept or idea. George is not good at executing his own ideas.

        And, honestly, the prevalence of Episode III memes everywhere suggests he didn’t quite fail. How many people remember the story beats of any Transformers movie?

        There has been a concerning modern trend of people conflating “meme goldmine” with “good story”.

        1. Ciennas says:

          I would say the second part of Olivier’s question is MUCH more important- How well can your audience actually remember your story at all? Is it an ultimately disposable product with no deeper meaning or underlying message? Can one of your characters be completely replaced by a gold stapler and the plot remain identical?

          (The answer to that last one is tied directly to the female lead of the third Transformers film- the one who replaced Megan Fox. Girl sat on her butt the whole film and added basically nothing to the whole film.)

          Is your output so bad that people constantly pretend it never happened?

          Lucas and Bay both have their strengths, but I feel like Lucas is the one who is a Storyteller, and Bay is a Cinematographer- When you keep Bay away from ShakiCam, he apparently turns out shot and scene compositions that they teach at film schools, and Lucas helped coalesce stories that upended Cinematic storytelling that we can still feel to this day.

      2. Gargamel Le Noir says:

        The prequel spawned a billion memes for the same reason the old Spiderman cartoon did, because it’s so awkward and weird. It’s still a ton better than being forgettable like Transformers, but it’s no success.

        1. SidheKnight says:

          I’d argue that Episode III is a genuinely good (not great) movie. Unironically.

          Or at the very least, it’s a film that resonated with me deeply, despite it’s obvious flaws, it also did some stuff quite well.
          It’s definitely not on the same level of drivel as the other two prequels (I can’t even remember the plot of Attack of the Clones and The Phantom Menace).

          1. Chad+Miller says:

            This year I watched all 9 main series SW movies and agree; unlike some of the entries which I thought were just bad, Revenge of the Sith honestly had moments where I thought “I see what they’re trying to do here and it kinda/almost works.” I find myself wondering about the alternate universe where Lucas still had an editor that could point out how much of his necessary time was burned on pointless bullshit in the previous movies, especially The Phantom Menace.

  3. MerryWeathers says:


    Not a question, but I found…. errr…. Stumbled upon a clip of Todd Howard saying the phrase «What do they eat?»

    I found it amusing, so have a chuckle too:

    Todd Howard Talks Starfield, Elder Scrolls 6, Fallout 76, Terminator, and More! – IGN Unfiltered #43

    Best regards, DeadlyDark

    See that black hole over there? You can climb it.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      On a horse, no less – just keep holding forward and mashing jump, you’ll get up eventually!

  4. ZoingTheDroid says:

    Oops, I think some shiny cum spilled on the cover of your book Shamus. It’s covering your surname, a quarter of your title, and Shepard’s face, what a mess effect am I right?

    1. Joshua says:

      That’s pretty damn vulgar.

    2. BlueHorus says:

      Nah, you’re just seeing the Limited Edition ‘JJ Abrams’ version of the book.

      1. MerryWeathers says:

        Did TROS even have lens flares? I forgot.

    3. Syal says:

      Shepherd is very afraid.

      (I bet Pepper Steak starts playing when you open the book.)

  5. Joe says:

    I’m glad you’re back, Shamus, and in decent health. Now, I found your roommates terrible. The guy who likes to make smalltalk, I’ve met that kind of person. They’re terrible at the worst of times, just constantly dribbling on about whatever crosses their minds. I try listening in case they ever say anything of note, but it never happens. Endlessly frustrating.

    If you have something to actually say, say it. Otherwise, keep quiet.

    In other news, I partially disagree about Todd Howard. Skyrim does a decent job of worldbuilding, if you assume that what you see is just a representation. Like, farms are supposed to be bigger and more diverse than what you actually see. There are more hunters. Cross-border trade, etc. But there’s less of that in Fallout 4 that I can remember, and I don’t know about the other Elder Scrolls or Fallout games.

    1. Chris says:

      “what do they eat” by mrBtongue mentioned FO3 as a bad example. The first town you walk into (the one with the nuke in the middle) has no reason to exist and no foodsource nearby.

      1. Moridin says:

        To be fair, I think it’s pretty much only Fallout 3 (and maybe Oblivion?) that has that particular problem out of Bethesda RPGs. Morrowind has farms and plantations, and Kwama mines (and loads of amazing worldbuilding in general). Fallout 4, every settlement is growing at least some food (though probably not enough to sustain most of them if you try to do the math) and you can even get a quest from the Brotherhood to go around and tax/extort people for food and other supplies so they clearly thought about the issue (too bad they then spent all the credit they got from other worldbuilding on making the institute as offensively badly conceived as they could afford to).

        Fallout 3, on the other hand, is really bad. I don’t think there’s a single farm anywhere on the map.

        1. Chad+Miller says:

          re: Oblivion, I recently found out that NPCs in that game will actually hunt animals for food. The reason I know this is because of an amusing bug story I saw on a Josh Sawyer stream about New Vegas…

          Apparently there was a bug in development involving ED-E, the flying robot. Players would take him into Camp McCarran, then suddenly out of nowhere, the friendly NPCs would just randomly kill him, then go about their business, without aggroing the player at all.

          Eventually they realized that the way Oblivion’s hunting worked something like:

          * Animals all have [animal] meat in their inventory
          * NPCs would hunt for food if they ran out of food
          * When deciding what to hunt, they would target an actor if it’s not one of the playable races, and if it has food in its inventory

          So if the player stuck some Sugar Bombs or whatever in the robot’s inventory, eventually the NCR would get hungry and the above would kick in. I like to think someone left a patch note “NPCs will no longer hunt the player’s robot for sustenance”

        2. Echo Tango says:

          They have a couple plants scattered around the map in Fallout 4, but the world-building is shallow and stupid everywhere you go. Why is my robot functioning after a hundred years? Why are the fusion cells only used to power combat, and not a resource I can spend on fixing towns? Why is there a deathclaw in the opening scenes of the game, which I can’t kill with the minigun and power-armor dropped into my lap, and why hasn’t it already eaten all of the dumb NPCs who have weaker weapons and no armor? I went into this game trying to play as intended, for a nice fun, dumb, pop-corn-movie bit of relaxation, and had to shut the game off and never come back.

          (I know the rest of the game is as terrible as the opening scenes, from what Shamus has shared, and Joseph Anderson’s videos on the topic. I wouldn’t be able to get through this game.)

          1. Sartharina says:

            Your robot is functioning because the game runs on the naive retro-idea that machines are immortal.

            And what Deathclaw can’t you kill? From the opening scene I remember (in the museum where you get a laser-musket) the entire point of the Power Armor was to show off the Death law and let you kill it in a trivial fight. And it hasn’t killed everyone else because it had only just arrived.

            Fusion power cells not being able to be used as a power source might be an oversight, or just a compatibility issue that hasn’t been solved by game start.

            1. Thomas says:

              “because the game runs on the naive retro-idea…”

              That’s the whole point behind the ‘What do the eat?’, it’s not about literal food, but the difference between worlds built with loose themes as justification and world built like cohesive spaces

              1. Daimbert says:

                I think the point here, though, might be more that it was running on the thematic, futuristic 50s idea that you could build a robot with an atomic or nuclear core or something and it would run forever on that power source and completely maintain itself. If that was the aim, then it would be cohesive for the world they were building and so raising it as a part of world-building that was missed would be missing the point.

                1. Echo Tango says:

                  If they want the benefits of a cartoon world, they need visuals that actually evoke that aesthetic instead of the pseudo-realism they’re consistently aiming for as the series moves onwards. They set up the expectations for a believable world, but don’t deliver on it.

                  1. Daimbert says:

                    In the Fallout case, that’s less of an issue that it might be in other cases because of the history of the series, since it is trying to represent an alternative world where the expectations of that era turned out to be true. So even with a realistic aesthetic that not coming across is a failure in presenting that history, not in the choice of aesthetic. To be fair, though, going with an aesthetic that better presented that sort of thing would have worked better.

                    Someone else (maybe Shamus?) did note that the problem with Fallout 3 seemed to be more that it made a shallow copy of the original’s premise, which as Shamus notes ends up with it using the elements from the first games as if they were part of that premise even though the premise really is about how a futuristic world with that mindset will develop. By the original premise, things should change, but Fallout 3 takes the terms literally instead of figuratively and ends up missing the whole point.

                2. Chad+Miller says:

                  There’s a box of Mr. Handy fuel in the player’s house, in the prologue. It may be literally the first thing the player sees after creating their character and leaving the first room.

                  Which goes back to the whole “they don’t worldbuild, they don’t have a central vision, they just have a bunch of different people individually creating things without much thought regarding how they interact with each other”

                  1. Daimbert says:

                    Well, that might be a joke or a simple mistake in that scene, depending on how the robot is presented throughout the rest. Sure, it’s an inconsistency, but I do think that it is likely more reasonable to think that the robot is supposed to be self-maintaining and the Mr. Handy fuel is the anomaly than the other way around.

                    1. Chad+Miller says:

                      It’s not a one-off. You can find more of them throughout the game and use them in the crafting system. Which provides Oil and not, say, Nuclear Material.


                      (I actually always thought it would have made more sense if Codsworth were broken down inside your house and you had to turn him back on/repair him with parts from the closet than the actual canon of him just hovering in front of your house for 200 years)

            2. Echo Tango says:

              The deathclaw right after you get the power armor; It pops out of a nearby sewer[1]. I know it’s supposed to be an empowering fight, but the minigun was doing barely any damage to it, and it was eating through my power armor faster than that. I eventually had to resort to getting it stuck on a doorway, because YouTube pointed out that it will get stuck if you fight it from just far enough inside a building that it can’t attack you, but not far enough that it will wander away from the fight and heal. I don’t know if the damage was glitched out, or if I’d just picked the “wrong” skills[2] to start the game, but either way I was having a pretty bad time. After I cheesed the deathclaw, I lasted about another hour before the other nonsense in the game made me give up.

              [1] Or subway tunnel; I can’t remember exactly what it was.
              [2] Either the game shouldn’t let you pick certain skills, or it shouldn’t be throwing combat-oriented challenges at non-combat-oriented players in this power-fantasy game.

              1. ZekeCool says:

                The minigun given to you for that fight is one of the worst possible weapon choices to fight a Deathclaw at that point, due to the minigun’s tiny damage per bullet and the Deathclaw’s armor. It’s way easier to kill it with almost any other weapon. The devs either never considered this or maybe wanted it that way? I’ve never been certain why they would have made that choice.

          2. Moridin says:

            I’m not defending Fallout 4 in general, just pointing out that it doesn’t have this particular issue. In general, apart from Morrowind I think Bethesda games are only worth playing for the mods, and event that’s debatable.

          3. Chad+Miller says:

            re: the Deathclaw, they do justify that, kinda. In a psychic vision that requires a dialogue stat check.

            Mama Murphy implies that it was attracted by the gunfight happening in the streets. That said there’s so much else wrong with that dialogue in particular and Mama Murphy in general that this just calls attention to other problems.

            1. Echo Tango says:

              Unfortunately, I didn’t get as far as Mama Murphy, even if I would otherwise have given her furious hand-waving the benefit of the doubt. :)

              1. Chad+Miller says:

                The conversation I’m talking about comes before the deathclaw, but you could be forgiven for missing it.

        3. Chris says:

          Shamus’s his video on bethesda never understood fallout mentions FO4 as a bad example since you walk into a dinner thats lived in yet the woman living there doesnt grow food, or cleans the place up.

          And, sure, a little bit of food is fine (you accept something is a city even if it only has a few dozen houses, or a map is large even though you can cross it on food within an ingame day), but bethesda often just has no food around at all. Or they have a town/city in a local that makes no sense (no good position/resources). The big problem is that they have their devs make their own little things, rather than it being a team effort. That is how you get a quest of the ghoul kid not having eaten for 200 years while he was stuck in a fridge, while a bit later ghouls require food to survive.

    2. MerryWeathers says:

      Being in a hospital and having a complete stranger as your roommate is on the same level as sharing a bed with a complete stranger to me, makes me shrudder.

      Skyrim does a decent job of worldbuilding, if you assume that what you see is just a representation. Like, farms are supposed to be bigger and more diverse than what you actually see.

      Eh, I find most of it to be pretty bland. It’s slightly better than Oblivion’s Tolkien pastiche but still far below Morrowind’s genuinely unique but still grounded setting.
      I think the problem really lies with writing, which is so boring and dry that barely anyone discusses the quests and characters despite the game’s success and reputation and it’s attempts at simplifying the previous lore about Skyrim to maximize mainstream appeal (it’s just vikings, dragons, and a shitton of draugr).
      The setting is also lacking a connective tissue, the civil war and Alduin storyline alsp feels self-contained to the main quest while the side stuff are off doing their own thing, barely affected by it all.
      Compare and contrast with New Vegas, the writing is flavorful, the characters memorable, and the quests and factions actually tie into one another. That game’s setting feels alive and did Skyrim (and most Bethesda games) way better.

    3. BlueHorus says:

      The [person] who likes to make smalltalk, I’ve met that kind of person. They’re terrible at the worst of times, just constantly dribbling on about whatever crosses their minds. I try listening in case they ever say anything of note, but it never happens. Endlessly frustrating.

      I worked with one of these for a while. The interesting thing is, she didn’t actually appear to ENJOY the small talk – she was just afraid of silence and/or being alone. Filled up the space with whatever thoughts were going through her head at the time.
      After a few days, she complained that I wasn’t giving her anything in the way of responses or engagement, which I found amusing. She, however, sounded genuinely upset.

      What was annoying was that regularly she WOULD say something interesting to me (she’d had a bad childhood/home life) – but immediately change the subject every time it came up, because naturally that’s a hard thing to think about.
      So forever hinting at a conversation worth having, but then quickly replacing it with vapid blather.

      1. Lino says:

        Oddly enough, I’ve always envied those types of smalltalkers. Whenever I’m in a social situation with people I don’t know that well, I always feel like it’s expected of me to have smalltalk with them. For some reason, most normal people feel awkward when there’s silence (which is a problem, because I love being alone with my thoughts and not talking about inconsequential things).

        People like Vern can immediately fill that void by talking about the weather and other inoffensive topics. Which is why I’m always extremely thankful whenever I have at least one such person in the group. That way I don’t feel as pressured to talk about things I find annoying.

        And if I’m in a group with more than one Verne?! Then I find that completely AMAZING!!! Because that means they can spend the whole time talking to each other, and generate enough chatter for the entire group!

        1. BlueHorus says:

          I get the idea, sure. It’s comforting to be in a conversation with someone without having to provide the small talk that bores you. The question is…when you DO have something to say, are you actually able to say it? Or will it get overwhelmed by Verne’s stream of consciousness?
          The chronic talkers I’ve met generally talk at other people, not to them…

        2. Sleeping Dragon says:

          Tell me about it. I’m actually quite (even very) talkative when I have something to say, get me going on a subject and I’m even capable of public speaking despite being normally very introverted. But if I don’t have a subject or I’m done with it my side of the conversation just… dies. I have no capability of initiating or upholding smalltalk whatsoever. This has actually caused me to drift apart with people I was at various points close with because I have neither the need nor the ability to just “hang out” talking about nothing.

      2. Syal says:

        My last job featured an ADHD coworker who would not only shout stream-of-conscience smalltalk for hours on end*, but would actively interrupt anyone who tried to actually talk with him. Most obnoxious person I’ve ever dealt with.

        *(We got a new employee the day before I left, and this coworker jabbered at him literally the entire day.)

    4. Shufflecat says:

      I’ve been replaying Skyrim recently, and… eh.

      IMO it’s generally very good in terms of the placement of cities and settlements being in places where it absolutely makes sense. It’s also very good at designing the layout of cities in a way that both makes sense and subliminally implies that what you’re experiencing is a foreshortened depiction of what’s actually supposed to be a much larger city in “reality”.

      It’s only kinda-sorta barely passable at the “what do they eat” question though. Most cities have a house with a garden patch outside the wall, and that’s basically all the “farmland” you see. In other ways though, it’s… kinda well but imperfectly thought out.

      The map is large enough that they could have put a full ring of farmland around Whiterun and Riften without impinging on the world’s perceived size, but instead you’ve just got the one or two token “farms”.

      Rorikstead REALLY looks like it’s intended to be the breadbasket of Skyrim, and could be 10 rings deep in fields without damaging the scope of the map, but again, you’ve got literally just a couple garden yards and that’s it.

      I kinda buy Windhelm and Markarth having less or no farmland, as Windhelm is clearly a port city, and Markarth is a mining town. They both live by trade rather than being self-sufficient. BUUUUT, Windhelm is the capitol of the isolationist and xenophobic faction (hilarious for a snowbound port city completely dependent on trade), and there’s no good or direct roads between Markarth and Rorikstead.

      Solitude looks like it’s meant to be the biggest, most “modern” city in Skyrim. Like Windhelm it’s a major trade port, but that really doesn’t seem like enough. Feels like the road between between Solitude and Dragonbridge should be filled with farms, and again: this wouldn’t damage the scope of the map (other than maybe forcing Meridia’s temple to be a more public place than another cookie-cutter crypt).

      Falkreath must be eating mostly deer and mushrooms. It’s supposed to be hold capitol, but it’s even less of a “city” than the small towns like Riverrun and Rorikstead, has no farmland, and is isolated.

      Winterhold should be way more terrified of the Nord’s disapproval of magic, given they have zero means of self-support outside of the occasional horker, and their closest trade partner would be Windhelm (the least culturally magic-tolerant city).

      I’ve no idea how or why either Morthal or Dawnstar even exist.

      The problems are pretty noticeable, but also pretty easy to fix. Give Whiterun and Rorikstead some actual farm fields, change some dialog slightly, and put better roads in a few key places. Some of it even pays for itself in terms of quest/story opportunities. Maybe the Archmage want’s to to to clamp down on some of his staff’s more liberal attitudes towards human experimentation, so as to (precariously) stay on Windhelm’s good side. Maybe the Foresworn are attacking trade convoys instead of just mines. Maybe maintaining good relations with the Empire is important not just to Solitude’s political power, but to its very survival as a city.

      Still better than Oblivion though, which IIRC was also really good with city placement and structure, but had NO implied farms or food infrastructure at all outside of some fishing.

      The only Fallout game I’ve played is New Vegas, but I remember it being good. Vegas has actual farms to support it (foreshortened, but believable, given that), and there’s a lot of good attention given to the importance of trade and logistics for the settlements and military camps.

      1. eldomtom2 says:

        IIRC Oblivion is pretty much the same as how you describe Skyrim. There are definitely a variety of farms.

  6. Lino says:

    Once again – glad to have you back! However, you said you had three roomates during your hospital stay. However, you only talked about two of them. WHO was the second roomate? What was his story? And WHY are you hiding it from us?!?!?

    And as I’ve grown older, I’ve really come to appreciate old people’s stories about the past. E.g., I was always fascinated by my grandfather’s stories about WWII (he was about 7 at the time), and with my grandmother’s stories about her time studying in Cuba during the ’50s.

    1. Shamus says:

      My second roommate was “Ray”. At 59, he was just a little older than me by the standards of this wing of the hospital. Nice guy. Veteran. Extremely polite and thoughtful.

      1. Lino says:

        Must have been a very nice change of pace after Vern!

  7. Ninety-Three says:

    Fallen London is a really good “what do they eat” game: it’s full of lore and weird mysteries, but if you dig around in enough obscure corners you’ll find plenty of answers, and this gives you the feeling that even if you never find an answer there is one, it’s not just a mystery box.

    Anyway, Alexis Kennedy, the driving force behind Fallen London made a smaller project called Cultist Simulator and it suffers from a novel form of “what do they eat” problem. Normally as Shamus described, the failure is that the world ends up feeling like WoW, a bunch of generic videogame dudes with exclamation marks over their heads. Cultist Simulator on the other hand feels like a creative writing project. It’s full of little snippets that hint at being part of something larger, but that’s all it has. There are no deep dialogue trees or lore dumps where you learn a ton of concrete information and it left me with the impression that the snippets I was reading were being written first and foremost because they made for cool snippets, not because they corresponded to some complete and internally consistent world.

    Re: Todd Howard and where it all went wrong, my cynical guess is the same as Paul’s, he’s repeating empty platitudes. When IGN asks him what’s important he says thinking through a society because those are the words that came out of the mouth of the last creative nerd he talked to. If his writers wanted to mess with him they could probably get him tell an interviewer that the most important thing in videogames is banana fish origami spork.

    1. Daimbert says:

      When I picked up Cultist Simulator, my thought was that it would be basically a game where an overall narrative was assembled out of those little snippets and so it was somewhat random/player determined instead of having a set story. So somewhat like, say, the board game “Arkham Horror”. I think that it did work that way, but playing the game itself was too much work for the time I had to play it at the time.

  8. kikito says:

    Nice one!

    Regarding “How to make DAWs” – it doesn’t have to be difficult, as long as you keep your expectations realistic.

    First step is identifying a sound library that you can use in the platform you are already familiar with (because you don’t want to learn a new platform at the same time as trying to actually produce something). Then learn how to do basic stuff with it – play an octave on one note. Then you find an interface library that you can use in your platform. And then you hook your interface to your sound-producing library.

    With 24 buttons you can make a virtual keyboard with 2 octaves. Add more buttons and you can make a multi-track sequencer.

    For example: I made a very basic DAW in Google spreadsheets. You can put html on a Google Spreadsheet sidebar. So I choose a javascript library that was able to produce notes (every column was a different instrument). Then I would fill up the spreadsheet with notes, press “play” on the html sidebar, it would parse the notes and pass them through to the javascript library.

    I have not shared it because the “glue” that you use to connect spreadsheets with html is difficult to share for some reason. I might keep trying at some point in the future.

    The limits of my knowledge are now these two: in order to really harvest the computational powers of audio processing, one has to pay the price of learning a bunch of pretty boring (IMHO) Math. Waves, Fourier Transforms, all that Jazz. The other limit I have is that I have no musical formation whatsoever; I can’t predict how things will sound beforehand, or whether they will match. I do a lot of trial-and-error, which goes super slow, and I lose my energy really fast.

  9. John says:

    So, you want a guy who’s good at both programming and music to release a serious procedural music generator? Don’t worry about it. Sid Meier has you covered. He released CPU Bach for the 3DO back in 1994. It was his next big project after finishing Civilization. Because nothing says “yes, this is obviously the natural follow-up to the greatest and most influential strategy game of all time” than a baroque music generator for an obscure system that nobody liked and that nobody bought. I guess that when you’re the co-founder of the company and the metaphorical goose that lays the metaphorical golden eggs (Pirates!, Railroad Tycoon, Civilization, etc.) then your project is going to get published even if management doesn’t really believe in it. It’s just not going to get published anywhere good.

  10. MerryWeathers says:

    Not a question, but I found…. errr…. Stumbled upon a clip of Todd Howard saying the phrase «What do they eat?»

    I forgot if it was you Shamus or Joseph Anderson that pointed this out but Fallout 4 technically actually did acknowledge this, lots of locations have farms and a visible food source.

    The problem was that they completely missed the point and took the question way too literally, simply answering the question of “what do they eat” but not “how does this operate in general” which is what Shandification was really about. So the locations were still nonsensical but at least Bethesda took the time to let us know what they literally eat.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      Didn’t most locations have a water source too? I think that might’ve been an attempt to make the locations functional within the “all settlements need food and water for settlers” mechanics they had, rather than a perfunctory attempt at worldbuilding.

      1. ThricebornPhoenix says:

        I would think the same, but Diamond City (not a settlement) also has a farm. Laughably small, but it’s there. They also have the annoying kid who purifies water for a living.

        Then again, I don’t remember Goodneighbor, the only other non-settlement town, having any crops, livestock, or water sources. Despite this, their economy can support drug dealers, gangsters, and a bar with a singer. Hmm.

        1. Chad+Miller says:

          Goodneighbor can’t be taken over by the player, though. Someone may have realized that players would be a lot more likely to notice if they took over a supposedly-functioning settlement only to find it had no food or water (I think Ninety-Three is right that all settlements that are prepopulated and that the player can settle have preexisting food and water)

          That said, I do want to know who thought Covenant shouldn’t come with a stove.

  11. Geebs says:

    Glad to hear you’re feeling better Shamus.

    I’m not going to bother with ME:LE, I reckon. I already played the games as many times as I think they warrant (i.e. ME1 three times, ME2 twice, ME3 once; and Andromeda 0.5 times).

    Also they changed the combat mechanics in ME1 to be more like the rest of the series, and I will maintain to my dying day that ME1 had by far the best fights. “Use the gun that does the right colour damage” is DmC-level lazy combat design.

    1. Sleeping Dragon says:

      Honestly if they gave me at least a 50% discount for owning all the old games I might be tempted though I’d probably grumble about it. As it is I’ve decided I’m going to wait and see if/when it starts going on a decent sale but on the other hand by then I might be over it enough that I’ll just give it a pass.

  12. LittleLovin says:

    RE: Mass Effect Legendary Edition
    Must have been the removed butt shots, EA didn’t just take it out of the game but retconned reality itself so there were never any in the first Mass Effect and that’s why the remaster feels off.

  13. DeadlyDark says:

    From what I recently heard, apparently, Bethesda studio is a very nice place to work on, mostly because after early years (iirc, up until Morrowind) they had a lot of crunch, and Todd when he became the leader, he stopped this practice all together (as he saw everyone being burned out). Seems like he cares about his team, and don’t really push them around to work overtime and such

    I really wonder, what will happen when he’ll finally step down, how it’ll go with Bethesda as a company

  14. tomato says:

    I’m not in love with the Legendary Edition of Mass Effect 1. The extra resolution is nice, but something feels off and I’m not sure what it is.

    Could it be the lighting?

    1. Shamus says:

      Wow. You know… that might be it.

      What a huge difference from some subtle changes.

    2. tmtvl says:

      The pictures on the left look terrible. And because I don’t remember ME looking like garbage I presume that’s the new garbage.

      1. Sartharina says:

        I think left is the old. We just remember it looking better because graphics weren’t as good… and in this situation, the lighting is more clear and everything is less muddy. Awful for screenshots, good for animated gameplay.

        1. tmtvl says:

          I dunno, looking at the facepalm image it seems that on the right Dr. Chakwas’ uniform is more blurred and low-res, but I need new glasses, so it may just be my old eyes playing tricks on me.

          1. Shufflecat says:

            It’s not just your eyes: the one on the left has much higher resolution, more detailed textures.

            Plus I’ve replayed the original recently enough to remember what the lighting is like in that part of the ship. The one on the right is definitely the new “remastered” version.

            1. Shufflecat says:

              GAH. I got my right and left mixed up. How does that even happen?

              I meant the one on the LEFT is the remaster, the one on the RIGHT is the original.

        2. Leviathan902 says:

          No, the right is old, the left is new. Old ME was very dark and shadow heavy. There’s lots of comparison pictures and LE ME is always brighter, and imo, looks worse.

          I mean it’s not surprising that when you crank the lighting up on all this old stuff it looks worse. It’s kind of like how when you remove all that fog from old Silent Hill that was there for technical reasons, you can see how terrible everything looks and destroy the mood in the process.

          1. Shufflecat says:

            In the screenshots from the original, the room and the characters are lit at the same intensity. In the screenshots from the remaster, it the characters are lit much more brightly than the room. Contrast and black levels are also inconsistent between the characters and environment, with the latter having less contrast and REALLY noticeably greyer blacks.

            You can see it most obviously with Ashley. In the screenshots where she’s standing in the background, since she’s “immersed” in the environment instead of detached from it in a closeup, the relative brightness issue is obvious. In her close up, you can really see the contrast & black level difference. In both cases it makes her look a little like she’s been greenscreened in.

            On the plus side, it does look they’re depicting the directionality of the light a little better (relative to the sources depicted in the environment), they’ve just artificially cranked it up on the character models to a degree that looks unnatural (and ironically actually making it harder to tell that the directionality is more consistent). On the gripping hand though, the lighting directionality in the close ups makes the depth cues on Ashley and Dr. Chakwas sort of flatten out. The up lighting in the original isn’t as accurate to the environmental sources, but it does make their features “pop” a lot more (incidentally making their expressions/performance more readable), and looks more dramatic.

    3. ColeusRattus says:

      Yeah, the lighting is off.

      And they messed up the eyes. The upper eye lids seem to be retracted a tad too much which gives everyone an intense cocaine stare.

      And the FoV is limited to 70, which is lower than it was IIRC.

      And supposedly, the mouse controls get wonky above 60 FPS, which too makes it feel awkward.

      1. RFS-81 says:

        I’m not normally bothered by uncanny valley, but Shepherd’s stare in the top left picture makes me uncomfortable. Yikes!

  15. Dotec says:

    Thanks for for the inclusion of my email regarding ‘programming’ music, Shamus! It’s something I’m conceptually interested in and sometimes try to implement in my own tracks, although my skill level in this regard will probably never rise above “total novice”.

    Over a decade ago, I was reading somebody’s post where they got hold of some of the MAX/MSP patches Autechre were using in their live shows. One of the examples they broke down was a track that a had a slow, semi-random bass beat playing throughout. But then they’d tie the playback rate to a keyboard scale (at a ridiculous speed compared to the original), turning the isolated bass drums into a squelchy-sounding, continuous tone that they could improv on the fly, with all sorts of adjusting timbres. The drum beat was now doubling up as an odd bassline. In a way, they were creating music that played itself, but also allowed them to interject and take control of their systems at any point. You couldn’t just reduce them to their tools.

    I thought stuff like that really separated them from some of their more egg-headed contemporaries. ‘Generative music’ can often come across as really academic and cold, at least in many of the examples I find online.

  16. Chad+Miller says:

    Re: Bethesda worldbuilding and accidentally importing your own culture –

    This doesn’t just happen in medieval settings. It happens even in Fallout, a setting ostensibly based on US culture. Bethesda’s Fallout characters often import enough random assumptions from the present day that it’s like they think they’re in a functioning civilization, just wearing torn up clothes (I think this is what Joseph Anderson meant when he referred to Fallout 3’s NPCs as “cosplayers”)

    “The Commonwealth” is often implicitly treated as though it were still a functioning state. The MacGuffin of the four-way faction battle is for “the Commonwealth” which doesn’t even make sense at all if you stop to think about it. What does that even mean? Why does it include all of pre-war Massachusetts? Why not just half of pre-war Massachusetts? Why do you care what used to be Massachusetts if you can’t even remember it was called that? Paladin Danse has logs talking about crossing “the border”. What’s the border? Who’s enforcing it? Why is it significant?

    Or when Cait refers to herself as “Irish”. I would think the standard response to that would be “what’s ‘Irish’ mean?” but since the Sole Survivor lived pre-war I wanted to say something more like, You’re Irish? Does that mean Ireland still exists? You mean most people in this region don’t know about the state or country this land used to belong to, but you can just say “Irish” and assume people will know what you’re talking about? Are people really immigrating here from the other side of the Atlantic? Why?

    Diamond City has a Mayor with press conferences. Organized crime exists in regions with no rule of law to oppose. Bull is treated as a villain for kidnapping Vadim after he welched on a deal, (because I guess he’s supposed to do the “civilized” thing and send him to a collections agency or something). People talk about TV dinners and kidnapping victims on milk cartons. It’s really quite impressive how little sense the game makes even after you swallow the mutants and psychics and that base building system.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      Clearly the answer to these questions is that “American culture” is some kind of magical force nudging people to do whatever is needed to realize Americana, like in Terry Pratchett’s Moving Pictures.

      I’m not even joking, “the world is guided by the literal spirit of Americana” is the most sensible explanation I can think of for the Besthesda Fallout games.

      1. Ciennas says:

        I mean, they keep trying to crowbar in HP Lovecraft style Old Ones into the setting, along with the supernatural in general.

        Which is still a particular bugbear of mine, because they already have a franchise full of Eldritch Abominations and supernatural shenanigans aplenty, and I don’t know why they keep trying to force it into Fallout.

        Like Fallout 76 has a terminal entry that implies that the FEV is somehow eldritch and magical, as opposed to a reasonably hard science bioweapon that got scattered into the atmosphere.

        I just don’t get it, but I guess that that’s Bethesda putting steak sauce into everything regardless of recipe.

        1. Chad+Miller says:

          Unnecessary supernatural elements have been around since Fallout 2 though. I’m one of those people who never liked the presence of a ghost in that game.

    2. King Marth says:

      This is part of the appeal of consuming foreign media – all those weird missing assumptions are filled in with modern-day intuition from a culture different from your own and thus often indistinguishably alien from the manufactured components of the setting.

      Proper localization fixes this of course by finding equivalent parallels for concepts that wouldn’t make sense, but fortunately you probably won’t encounter proper localization.

    3. Echo Tango says:

      I am even happier now, that I gave this game up early. Yeesh! :S

  17. Ciennas says:

    I’m glad you’re back and alright, Shamus.

  18. pseudonym says:

    I am glad that the hospital visit greatly enhanced your health, Shamus. I hope you can enjoy this quality of living much longer.

    Paul, what instruments do you play exactly? Do your kids and wife also take to playing instruments? Is it a happy family band?

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Piano mostly (Here’s a video from a decade and a half ago when I still had hair.) but I picked up violin, mandolin, and bass from music camp, and taught myself drums, panpipes, and harp. I play mostly by ear, so given a half hour with an instrument I can get to where I can pick out a tune or play backup stuff.
      My parents made all of us kids learn an instrument, but we never really played together as a band. We’re all pretty introverted, so public performance was never an attractive goal. My wife isn’t musical, though she can sing. We’re not making the kids to learn instruments, though we may start when their a little older. We all sing together in church, which is good enough for now.

      1. Zak McKracken says:

        Based on my own experience and observation of others, I think it’s a good idea to encourage/help children to learn to sing and/or play instruments, but not good to make them. My older brother stopped with piano lessons as soon as he was old enough to object when asked to play in front of others. Even if it was just in front of family, and even though he’d gotten fairly good (for his age), he hated performing, and that was the end.

        Seeing how he was pushed was the reason why I did not want to learn an instrument, even though I kinda wanted to and later regretted not having started earlier. I was past 30 when I learned to actually hit notes while singing, and now I actually love to perform — if I choose to do so, not because someone else wants me to. And I think it’s a horrible shame I did not get to be in a band in my 20s.

      2. pseudonym says:

        Wow, nice piano playing Paul. Also, the violin is quite hard right? No frets, so very precise finger positioning needed. Quite an impressive range of instruments that you play.

        Church was one of the things that got me to like making music in general, I loved the singing and listening to the organ playing. At age 13 I was playing the game “Opera Fatal” and it had a snippet of Claude Debussy’s 1st Arabesque playing when reading about the “impressionist” era. I was enchanted and I wanted to play the piano from then on. Luckily we happened to have a digital piano in the house at that time. I still play the piano (I am 30 now). I was never pushed by my parents to play an instrument, but I am glad they had the option available by having the instruments in house. With all the instruments you play your kids have plenty of choice!

  19. Rob says:

    I recognize that the music kept changing, but for me it felt like the music was guilty of excessive noodling. It didn’t ever settle into a pattern that I could call a song. It didn’t feel like it was going anywhere. It’s screaming for attention with nothing to say.

    This is the problem I have with Arcanum: of Steampunk and Magick Obscura. Many of the game’s tracks (including the main theme at the start of that video) just sound like random improvisational playing that doesn’t ever lead anywhere. Can anyone honestly tell me they remember anything past thirty seconds into the main menu theme? It almost sounds like it’s building up to something before devolving into random notes. And nearly every track has this problem. It’s honestly frustrating to listen to for me, in a way that’s hard to explain without sounding like a crazy person.

    1. DeadlyDark says:

      *Checks his own playlist*

      Apparently, I have oly one track from Arcanum there. Tulla theme. I guess, this explains why

  20. Zak McKracken says:

    »But if I eat right, exercise, take my meds, and avoid junk food from now on, then I can look forward to a long slow decline«

    I’m about 4 years your junior, and of course individuals are obviously individuals, so this may not completely applicable, but:
    I started cutting refined sugar from my diet 3 years ago, replacing my daily double chocolate muffin with apples, pears and grapes (hmmmmhhh, graaapes!). Slowly reducing meat over the years (I’m almost but not quite vegetarian by now — there’s a few dishes that are just too damn important to me…), and a year ago, I’ve started working out for 10 minutes every morning. I’ve gone from borderline-overweight to just below ideal. My wedding suit (from 15 years ago!) is now hanging a little loose, despite my arms being thicker and my shoulders wider than they’ve ever been, and my back simply stopped giving me trouble, despite still spending 90% of every day in an old, not very ergonomic office chair.

    I can’t really tell what triggered this (except that certainly my dear wife has played an important supporting role there), since I was trying in vain to live healthier for many years — but the thing is that with the right kind of approach, there’s probably something to gain beside slowing the eventual decline.

  21. Amstrad says:

    I don’t know how many episodes of Sesame Street D hosted, but I do remember him as a notorious Vampire Hunter.

    1. Dotec says:

      That would explain his limited appearances in the show’s early years, before getting phased out. The Count probably saw this is a hostile work environment.

  22. Dude Guyman says:

    Hey Shamus, good to hear you’re not dead yet. That’s always a plus.

    Have you heard the news regarding Toys for Bob? They have released some extremely quality Crash Bandicoot and Spyro games recently- cutesy cartoony platformers that they really seem to ‘get’. Crash Bandicoot 4 is at least as good as the original series if not better, and the Spyro remakes were absolutely beautiful and perfectly recaptured the feeling of the old games. Previously, they used to work on the Skylanders franchise, which were also well received.

    So, naturally, Activision saw this studio which specializes in cute kid’s platformers with fantastical art styles, and decided that they would be the perfect support studio for their Call of Duty battle royale. Toys for Bob has been assigned to Warzone duty, possibly indefinitely. It’s not completely clear yet whether it will be a permanent change, but Activision’s messaging so far seems to lean in that direction, and it seems about in line with their recent behavior. Vicarious Visions also recently released the very successful Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 remaster (the fastest selling game in the franchise), and so Activision rewarded them by dissolving them into blizzard. Publishers have never cared much for critical success vs commercial success of course, but even commercial success doesn’t seem to sate Activision’s hunger.

  23. Simplex says:

    You can now buy almost all if not all EA games on Steam. They still require Origin installed (like ubi games requiring Uplay) but the game itself launches from steam.

    Also, check out It Takes Two, great coop game from the makers of A Way Out.

  24. Rick says:

    I just realised the missed opportunity for a 343 Studios or 343 Guilty Spark home with the title.

    But Still Alive is a much much more fitting title. Hope you’re still doing well back at home.

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