Diecast #370: The Blandcast

By Shamus Posted Monday Jan 31, 2022

Filed under: Diecast 90 comments

Sooner or later every man reaches the point in his life when it’s time to make the stereotypical “out of touch old man rants about a thing he doesn’t understand”. For me, that point is this week, when I rant about TikTok.

(Although I suppose you could argue that this ENTIRE WEBSITE should fall under that category. In which case this week is more of the same, only moreso.)

Hosts: Paul, Shamus. Episode edited by Issac.

Link (YouTube)

Show notes:

00:44 Endless Space

I didn’t get into it, but apparently Paul had some fun with the sequel. For me the game was SO similar to Master of Orion that it felt like the same game with a new UI. I don’t have any suggestions on how the game should distinguish itself, but I feel like it needed something to set it apart from the 4X titles of the past. As it stands, I think there’s more variety between the versions of Civilization than there are differences between the major franchises in the 4X genre.

17:26 Making a Spaceship in Blender

On the show I talked about an interview where Adam Savage talks about creating stories for the little greeblies you’re adding to a movie model. That bit is at the 5 minute mark in this video:

Link (YouTube)

29:38:27 HeroForge

If it sounds fun, you can try it for yourself.

37:47 Penny Arcade

It’s been ages since I read PA regularly, but I don’t think the strip has declined in quality. It’s as funny as it ever was. I just stopped clicking on it back in 2012 or so and I don’t know why.

Anyway, here is the strip Paul mentioned.

39:54 Shamus Doesn’t Understand TikTok

Old man yells at cloud.

46:31 Mailbag: “Big Idea” flops

Dear Diecast,

I am not sure how to exactly explain this, but I am wondering whether either of you have any stories about games (or game adjacent products) you remember that were also ill-fated, but earnest efforts at being ambitious “big idea” projects. One example for Shamus would of course be Active Worlds, who was always selling itself to investors on what it could be.

For me, I used to play the “Creatures” series of games (you can find them on GOG or be familiar with their Active Worlds town “Albiaville”).

The idea behind Creatures was basically like a complex Tamagotchi. You raised digital creatures from newborn to old age. You taught them to speak, helped socialize them, taught things to avoid, bred them, etc. The breeding mechanics were fairly complex, I believe. And you could even do everything deliberately poorly like teach them to speak entirely in UWU language as well as more malicious things like feeding them to piranhas or breeding them to love booze.

The thing is, the developer, Cyberlife, was originally founded as a research focused enterprise. It eventually changed to a game dev company which then went bankrupt, but the idea was that it was originally going to be this big thing: Artificial life on a computer! but was ultimately just a game.

Thanks for your thoughts,


50:24 Mailbag: Simulation Hypothesis

Deeeeaaaaar DIEcast,

I am sure that Shamus and Paul are familiar with the popularized “Simulation Hypothesis”: a philosophical theory that would imply that we are statistically more likely to be living in a lifelike computer simulation, rather than living in the actual real world.

As a podcast/website devoted to videogame criticism, do you have any critical opinion regarding our simulated reality? (e.g. graphical fidelity, narrative issues and plotholes, bugs and glitches, romance options…)

…Is our universe procedurally generated?

Yours existentially,


(P.S If you asked for my answer, I would say that – in a similar vein to the brown color palate of first person shooters in the 1990’s – I would have preferred if our simulation included a wider range of colors than just the blandness of the physical light spectrum).

54:36 Mailbag: Will There Be Another Game Like This

Dear Diecast,

What are game concepts you wish the industry would make more attempts at?
Do you have any hopes that they will do so anytime soon?
And why do you think it is that we don’t get games like Mass Effect or Jade Empire anymore?

Kind regards,


From The Archives:

90 thoughts on “Diecast #370: The Blandcast

  1. Asdasd says:

    Sooner or later every man reaches the point in his life when it’s time to make the stereotypical “out of touch old man rants about a thing he doesn’t understand”.

    I struggled with this, until one day I had an epiphany: it really is the children who are wrong!

    1. bobbert says:

      For all of us old farts, WHAT is a Tick-tock? Is it a message board?

      1. Shamus says:

        Imagine YouTube.

        All the videos are 15 seconds long.

        All of them are in portrait mode, for phone viewing.

        The entire site auto-plays relentlessly from one video to the next.

        1. Fizban says:

          I can assure you, even at merely 32, this makes no sense to me. It does seem to confirm that some people have 100% surrendered to the algorithm and indeed may not even understand just what that means. I actually thought the videos were at least a little bit longer- hearing it described as that one 6 second clip site that failed (ah, it was Vine!) “but longer” and LRR putting portions of their Checkpoint videos on there made me think they had to be at least 30 seconds, but 15? Seriously?

          1. Parkhorse says:

            Well, Vine was briefly successful with six second videos.

          2. Ninety-Three says:

            It kind of makes sense to me. Picture the target audience of the Youtube front page, then picture that person on the bus watching videos on their phone. I don’t understand it like I don’t understand the appeal of football, but I recognize that people seem to be into that kind of thing and I would predict them liking the new similar thing just like I’d predict them liking some newly-invented ball sport I don’t understand. It seems that people really want to “consume content”.

            1. Mattias42 says:

              Honestly, I don’t like nor use Tic-Tok itself because I can FEEL my attention span draining when I watch that format for too long, but I view the YouTube shorts sometimes when I’m bored.

              And honestly, for SOME content? It honestly makes a lot more sense than the classic 10-15 minute video.

              Like, there’s as one example this one guy I follow (B. Dylan Hollis) that does vintage recipes mixed with rapid fire comedy, and they’re quite frequently both really funny due to his style… and~ not all, but many of them, are like 3-5 ingredients and are only interesting because they’re some WEIRD vintage stuff.

              And he actually did both formats for that chocolate potato cake that went viral last year.

              Short video more rapid & too point:


              Long video, with more info and history:


              So, yeah. His show is a rare-ish one where both formats work… but what attracted at least me at first was that rapid weirdness and comedy. There’s just basically zero filler there due to the time constraints, for good and ill.

        2. bobbert says:

          Isn’t that basically what they did to torment Captain Piccard, when he was a POW?

        3. Parkhorse says:

          Minor correction: Tiktok started with 15 second videos, but the current limit for videos created through their app is 60 seconds. However, if you create the video outside of their app, and then upload it, they can be as long as (iirc) three minutes.

          1. Fizban says:

            Ah, thanks, that makes much more sense now.

        4. Wolf says:

          I mean in a way it is also just 9gag or even imgur, but nowadays we can do that kinda concept with video instead of picture.
          So the middle ground between youtube and an endless stream of gifs.

      2. King Marth says:

        Tik-tok was possibly the first robotic character in modern literature, as unlike the Tin Man (another Oz character) he was clearly driven by mechanical means rather than being a possessed suit of armour. I agree though that “tiktok” as a derogatory word for the robots involved in an uprising is enough of a reason for me not to bother with the Second Foundation trilogy, the ones Asimov didn’t have a hand in that seem to have immediately reverted to non-Asimov themes.

        1. Fred Starks says:

          Tik-tok was an alright chap. I think I preferred Scarecrow more overall, but it’s been more than a decade since I’ve really read the books.

    2. Nick Pitino says:

      So in the city I grew up in one of the events that would happen each year is that they would have a great big hot air balloon rally in the large city park downtown. The rally would take place over several days and as part of it one of events is a balloon night glow. What that is is after dusk they would setup and inflate the balloons but instead of flying them they’d tether them down and put on kind of a show where they sequentially fire the burners in the balloons to make them glow.

      It’s kind of pretty and I have fond memories of going to this for as long as I can remember… except the last time I went the effect was kind of ruined by the sea of glowing phone screens in the crowd and the incessant buzzing of the two or three quadcopters flying around.

      It was…one of the most profoundly sad moments I’ve had in recent years.

      I know, I’m not supposed to complain about screens or how people are “enjoying” something. But screw it, old man yells at clouds, the children are wrong, this event is ruined for me and people are doing it wrong now.

      1. Joshua says:

        Like going to a concert these days. In the 90s, everyone in the crowd is dancing along or nodding their heads. Now, it’s just a sea of cell phones.

        1. BlueHorus says:

          To add to the compilation of Old Men Complaining…having seen some of the videos people take on their phones during concerts, it really doesn’t seem worth it?

          There’s always a blare of noise, as the phone picks up the noise of the crowd that it was filmed standing in. The mic doing the recording can’t really cope (because phone) and the video is grainy, small, and often not tracking the band properly, because it’s someone holding a phone above their head.
          And through it all you get a jarring, roughly-30-second section of music randomly taken from the performance with no context.

          What is this for? It’s nothing like being at the concert. It’s not like hearing the band’s music, because of the audio issues. It’s [INSERT NUMBER HERE] seconds of garbage video, filmed by an amateur, on a device not really up to the task.
          And there’s dozens of people doing the same thing, right beside you. Sometimes you can see their phones in the video, blocking your view of the band.

          1. MelfinatheBlue says:

            As far as I can tell, the people doing that don’t feel like they’re REALLY THERE unless they record it. No clue why (I’m a fellow old fogie) but according to the people I’ve asked that’s their reasoning.

  2. Moridin says:

    Re: Endless space not working on Linux
    Hey Paul, did you think of checking protondb (or wine’s appdb)? I find that quite often if you’re having issues with a specific title, there’s a workaround for it if you look.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Thanks, that’s very helpful. Now I just need to figure out how to get this glorious egg-roll into my computer box. Things were so much easier back when they had that big fat cassette slot.

  3. bobbert says:

    The biggest Problem I had with Endless space was the nagging feeling of, “You know what? I could just be playing MoO1 and be having more fun, right now.”

    MoO1 had a beautiful continuously-compounding economy that avoided most of the micro-management hell that plagues most other 4X games.

    1. RFS-81 says:

      I’ve really fallen out of love with the 4X genre, with the exception of MOO1 (which I feel like I’ve played to death for now). MOO1 really nails the scope. You just assign your planets to build more industry, or ships, or tech. You can research better eco technology and spend less on pollution cleanup, just like that. There’s no way a post-MOO2 game lets you get away with that. You’d have to click a recycling center on every planet to apply the benefit.

      It’s so unfortunate that MOO2 is the one game that everyone’s aping.

  4. Joshua says:

    My only exposure to TikTok is that some of the suggested “videos” that Facebook wants to push off on me have the explicit TikTok label.

    Sample video: Husband wanders by the frame, accidentally drops a fork while carrying his dinner. Wife looks at the camera, smirks slightly. End Scene. Video caption: “When you realize that your husband is sometimes oblivious”. 16.5 million views.

    It’s like a cross between people who want to make YouTube content but have no talent and the comedic skills of “What’s up with about airplane food that’s so bad?”.

    But then I saw this video, and it looks like it’s Instagram too? Whatever this trend is, it sucks!

    1. Dreadjaws says:

      Ah, yes, that’s what’s up with TikTok.

    2. Joshua says:

      I was a second too late to edit my original post, but then there’s also the content that’s made for Facebook directly. You can tell because it seems like there’s a 20-30 second sketch there that may actually be all right, but then they painfully padded it out to three minutes to make it eligible for monetization.

  5. Dreadjaws says:

    I think the problem with TikTok is exactly the one with Twitter. They deliberately give you a very small space for expression, so the platform inevitably steers towards the kind of content that’s easier to portray this way, most of which is easy to produce and low in quality. Then it’s a vicious circle when this content becomes popular, the platform promotes it even more because of that and if you want to see any other kind of content you’re first forced to waddle through lots of terrible stuff you don’t like. Most people lose patience, so the people who enjoy that kind of content are the ones prevailing, which encourages this sort of stuff even more.

    This whole thing is exacerbated by the way the app promotes itself, which is precisely calling the attention exclusively to this low-effort insufferable crap. Have you seen YouTube ads for TikTok? Calling them “cringy” would be generous. Sure, there is> good content in the platform, but finding it is so hard and the platform itself deliberately hides it so much in favor of cheap crap that you really need a good deal of patience to enjoy the use of this godforsaken app.

  6. Ninety-Three says:

    The thing I find weird about Tik Tok is that we had a very similar platform years ago in Vine, yet the content is totally different. Vine’s unofficial brand identity was comedy skits, Tik Tok’s is uh… photogenic influencers. Did internet culture shift so drastically in less than a decade, or is there some subtle difference between the platforms that resulted in the highest rated videos of one being comedy and the other being attractive women?

    1. Joshua says:

      I omitted this part in my earlier post. Seems like most TikTok suggested videos I see feature women in the 20-25 range who definitely lean towards the more attractive side. There are some guys too, but they seem heavily outnumbered.

    2. Fizban says:

      I suppose one might consider that the 6 seconds of Vine vids doesn’t really allow you to build up a good leer, while Tik Tok’s apparent 15 seconds is long enough to settle in, and yet still short enough to pretend that the bar for quality is naturally low.

      Graham of LRR said that Vine really made him learn how to up his editing game in snappy comedy, and I believe him. But that’s someone who already had years of experience as a professional writer, editor, producer, cameraman, performer, etc, of short comedy sketches.

      In all cases, the forced shortness of the content means it is “consumed” quicker, allowing the site to count the same amount of real viewing time as more individual views.

    3. Thomas says:

      One of the Green brothers explained why TikTok is not Vine:

      The big difference is TikTok is algorithmic and ‘discoverability’ focused whilst Vine was creator focused. Anyone can make a video that goes big on TikTok and so there’s a lot of different stuff out there, a lot of it more amateur. Vine relied on people liking particular creators and had no discoverability, so it was shaped by a handful of people who had the first followings.

      I’m reliably informed that TikTok does a lot more than the photogenic models. I’m guessing perhaps those are more *ahem* ‘discoverable’ which might be why they’re showing up first.

      I found I can totally switch the kind of YouTube shorts being recommended with a couple of careful clicks on topic content. I don’t want to see it at all, but if I can’t remove it from my feed, I at least trained it to recommend me less embarrassing clips.

      1. evilmrhenry says:

        This reminds me that one of the things that happened shortly before Vine shut down was basically an attempt at unionization: the big creators got together and made demands as a group. It makes me wonder if the focus on The Algorithm on social media sites exists partially so exactly that thing doesn’t happen. If all people get is what The Algorithm feeds them, there’s no ability for creators to get big enough to threaten the platform.

        1. Thomas says:

          I wouldn’t be surprised with TikTok as they have abysmal revenue sharing with people. But there are some positives to it too – it makes the paltform genuinely more social and viral.

          YouTube is very different than it used to be, you can no longer get big by posting a video of a rollercoaster going through some balloons. Instead you have to be a ‘Rollercoaster balloon content maker’ who pumps out 3 videos a week with titles like ‘I made a rollercoaster CRASH into 1,000 balloons to see what happens next’, with a custom designed thumbnail from a dedicated thumbnail artist.

          Sometimes I miss the days where some random person would post a weird video out of nowhere and everyone would see it. And perhaps you could be that person.

          TikTok still has that feel, YouTube doesn’t anymore, Vine never did.

  7. Chris says:

    About endless space:

    The endless were a precursor race, half of them decided to turn themselves into sentient computers, the other half disliked that and after a big war both were dead. Dust is a hivemind computer thing that gains more processing power as you have more of it in one room. It basically works like spice in dune, where it can do anything from turning people into superhumans to speeding up construction.
    I think you start with titanium to show that the best metal we know (well lets just assume titanium is that) is only the lowest rank of metal in the universe. So the solarium etc is just 1000x better and blows away titanium. WOW had something similar, where you start with copper, then get tin so you can make bronze, then upgrade to iron and then steel. Then you switch to mithril and other magical metals (except you also get thorium for some reason). So it is similar in that you start with stuff that actually exists, but then you get magical metals that prove they are more powerful by virtue of having better stats than the stuff that is real.

    As for requiring tech for tanks. It reminds me of alpha centauri. There you also start with researching techs that are basically on the edge of our current tech. Stuff like applied physics, psychology and the like. Then you get the sci-fi stuff like monopolar magnets and supertensile solids. However, they still want to map weapon systems to the tech tree in a civ fashion. So you start with infantry, get vehicles quickly, but stuff like helicopters and planes should come late. As a result, you need sci-fi technologies like the mind-machine interface in order to unlock a helicopter.

    1. Gautsu says:

      I haven’t played any Endless Space yet (I got Endless Space 2 in a humble bundle.I think), but I absolutely love Endless Legend. Each culture feels unique and plays differently

      1. Mye says:

        Endless legend is, imo, by the far the best 4X game amplitude made (including humankind which was kinda just poor man civ, sadly). I’d say endless space 2 is worth playing once or twice because it has some really fun idea that are interesting to explore. ES1 is very basic and struggle to differentiate itself from most 4X space game, the UI is great but that’s about it.

        Amplitude does have the paradox problem where they release a lot of small expansion/DLC with many new systems/features. But each is completely separated from each others and none of the system can really gel with any other new or even core system because they need to consider that some of the players might not have every expansion. So you end up with lots of shallow system that don’t quite make things more interesting. I’d say the only expansion across all the endless game that’s worth picking up is the pearl expansion for endless legend, which add something to do during the long winter turn.

        1. Marvin says:

          Agreed. I was somewhat into humankind’s community thingie (I was around the first round of demos), but the result seems rather disappointing, in the sense that I don’t see what it significantly adds to the Endless Legend formula in terms of gameplay.

    2. beleester says:

      One of the Alpha Centauri technology quotes hung a lampshade on this:

      “I have often been asked: if we have traveled between the stars, why can we not launch the simplest of orbital probes? These fools fail to understand the difficulty of finding the appropriate materials on this Planet, of developing adequate power supplies, and creating the infrastructure necessary to support such an effort. In short, we have struggled under the limitations of a colonial society on a virgin planet. Until now.”

      Most of the vehicle techs are also described as “Doctrine” techs, likely to indicate that what you’re really inventing is the military strategy and organization to make the vehicles useful in an army.

      1. bobbert says:

        Man, the voice quotes for that game were really top notch.

      2. John says:

        Alpha Centauri is good like that. Why don’t we start with tanks, airplanes, and other military vehicles? Because we didn’t bring any with us, because we don’t have designs that would function on this hostile and poorly-understood alien planet, and because our ship blew up and we crashed into the surface of the planet in an escape pod so that we don’t have the tools or the resources to build them if even we did have practical designs, that’s why.

        Honestly, people forget that Alpha Centauri is set on a planet that is, at the beginning, fundamentally inimical to human life.

        1. bobbert says:

          Well, it starts that way, then you discover genetically modified pine trees. The fungus stands no chance against the Norway Ultra-Spruce.

          1. John says:

            I’m not sure that the atmosphere of Planet is supposed to be breatheable, even in the end-game. But, yeah, those pine trees are something else.

          2. Xeorm says:

            I mean, they do point out that the forests of earth find the area a paradise. High nitrogen and CO2 are great for the trees. And the native life doesn’t really go after them like it does industry or humans. Given that Planet actively fights against you with psionic creatures, it stands to reason that it sees the flora as non-harmful in a way it doesn’t see humans.

            1. bobbert says:

              It is funnier to imagine that the worms hate the trees as much as they hate you, but they are allergic to pine sap.

    3. Steve C says:

      In addition, the heroes in the Endless games have been infused with Dust (precursor nanites). This almost never works. The Hero’s Academy represents the handful of people who survived this process in the galaxy over thousands of years. A kind of workers union for the type of people who outlive the civilizations that hire them. The Academy’s location is not shared because it does not want to be involved with civilizations or told what to do. It is space LinkedIn. It doesn’t want anyone showing up in person.

  8. Chad Miller says:

    re: the simulation hypothesis, I’m reminded of this fake Matrix dialogue:

    Neo: “Doesn’t harvesting human body heat for energy, violate the laws of thermodynamics?”

    Morpheus: “Where’d you learn about thermodynamics, Neo?”

    Neo: “In school.”

    Morpheus: “Where’d you go to school, Neo?”

    Neo: “Oh.”

    Morpheus: “The machines tell elegant lies.”

  9. Syal says:

    I’m hard-pressed to think of a genre I want AAA to make more of. I’ve got enough Job-Class JRPGs and turn-based strategy games to make me happy.

    Maybe a… political thriller, with multiple factions, that’s also a… typing game.

    Yakuza: Blood Type.

    …or a turn-based 4x game with tiny squads, and timed skirmish battles like the ones in Ogrebattle.

  10. Simplex says:

    If that brakes ‘no religion or politics’ rule, feel free to remove, I will hold no grudge. I don’t want to start a flamewar, it’ s not intended as a drive-by posting.
    I found interesting what Shamus said about the simulation theory – that it’s pointless for him, because it can’t be either disproved or proved and it does not in any way improve or influence the situation we are in on Earth.
    Well, for me it’s the same way with God, whose existence also cannot be proved or disproved and their existence or inexistence in no way changes my current situation on Earth. I just thought it’s an interesting observation, but it might as well be an edgy hot take.

    1. Shamus says:

      I don’t see that as edgy at all. In fact, you can hear me stumble over my words in the middle of that point. I was hyper-aware that an unbeliever would feel the same way about God, and I was wondering if I should swerve around that, or acknowledge it and move on.

      When I talked about the simulation theory being “useless”, this difference is what I was alluding to. We can disagree on the truthfulness of a particular religious text, but even if you think it’s nonsense, you can maybe see how someone derives benefit from it in the sense of guiding principles, a sense of community, personal growth and examination, an understanding of their cultural heritage, or comfort from various kinds of loss and trauma. Even if the text has no value to you, it’s clear that some people (as misguided as we may seem) apparently derive some benefit from it.

      But the idea that we live in a computer simulation doesn’t offer that sort of thing. It doesn’t tell me about life, death, existence, truth, or self. All it tells me is that “god” (whoever is running the simulation) exists, we know nothing about him, and we have no way of learning. If accepted, the computer simulation idea doesn’t just fail to tell me anything about the reality I live in, it also invalidates any existing text that attempts to do so. In the end it gives us the worst of both worlds: If we accept the idea as true, then it compels us to believe in a god we don’t and can’t know anything about. We’re left with the obligations of a religion (we’re forced to conclude there is some other reality beyond this one that we can’t access or study, which is a pretty frustrating place for a scientist to be) but without any of the spiritual benefits that people typically look for in religion.

      It is a dead-end on both a practical and spiritual level. And that’s why the simulation theory annoys me.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        Simulation theory should have implications: if we’re inside a computer running for unknown reasons, then at any moment our digital god might get bored of playing The Sims 12 and pull the plug. We should expect some nontrivial chance that everything might just blink out of existence one day and that should in turn influence something about how we live our lives, just like we’d live a little differently if we thought life-extinguishing gamma ray bursts were more common.

        But I have never once heard anyone take it in that direction, because simulation theory seems to be just a nerdier version of “Dude, what if like, you see a different colour blue than what I see?” It’s a thing people talk about at parties and stop thinking about as soon as the conversation ends.

        1. modus0 says:

          If we were in a simulation, and the program crashed, or the creator pulled the plug, we wouldn’t know, because we have no existence or awareness outside of the simulation. If it then resumed, we wouldn’t notice that there was an interruption.

          1. Ninety-Three says:

            If it didn’t resume we would be “dead” forever just like if we got hit by a gamma ray burst, and taking simulation theory seriously would involve some degree of planning around that.

            1. Philadelphus says:

              …for what? What possible planning could be done for “everything in existence could literally be unmade, with no forewarning, at any time”? There’s no question of leaving some sort of message behind for hypothetical future beings to find, no cultural or artistic or scientific legacy. At least if we were “only” taking about a planet-sterilizing gamma-ray burst you could consider leaving some sort of vault containing a record of human life behind in the infinitesimal chance that some aliens would find it in the future. But we’d be non-existent, so we would neither know nor care. I feel quite confident saying that there is no possible plan that would make any difference if simulation theory is true; the only difference it would make is that the only rational philosophy of life to follow would be hedonism in its original sense, the maximization of pleasure and minimization of pain in each individual life. (Maybe there’s a simulated afterlife, but hey, that could also end without warning at any time!)

              1. Ninety-Three says:

                …for what?

                the only difference it would make is that the only rational philosophy of life to follow would be hedonism in its original sense, the maximization of pleasure and minimization of pain in each individual life

                1. Philadelphus says:

                  Ahh, difference in terminology. To me that’s not planning, that’s mere reactivity. Planning is pointless when you have no guarantee the world won’t end before you finish this sen—

            2. Syal says:

              and taking simulation theory seriously would involve some degree of planning around that.

              You don’t need simulation theory for that. I for one am planning around the day that gravity turns off. And if you have any ideas about how to hold things together once strong force gives out, don’t be stingy.

        2. Wolf says:

          If we are in a simulation we might benefit from guesses at what makes the simulation “interesting” to whoever is running it, to make them run it for a longer time.
          If you want to be extremely generous that is kind of the plot of Free Guy.

          1. Ninety-Three says:

            “Damnit, the control group figured out we were simulating them, wipe it and try again.”

          2. Philadelphus says:

            That’s making the generous assumption that whoever is running the simulation is A) aware of us and B) interested in our antics. For all we know it could be a simulation of the mechanics of dark energy and no one’s even noticed that there’s anything “alive” in the simulation.

            1. Thomas says:

              “Dammit Jerri, you’ve created life again”

              “Into the alcohol solution you go”

          3. Syal says:

            Well that’s it, we need to carve “Oh my God you’re so big” into the Earth in letters large enough to be seen from space. If that doesn’t make the simulators like us, nothing will.

        3. Retsam says:

          The supposed simulation has apparently been running for billions of years without hiccup, so even if I knew for a fact that there was both a simulation (and that it was something that could be “unplugged”) that still wouldn’t amount to a “nontrivial chance” in my book.

          And if the goal is for people to be more aware of the potential fragility of existence, there’s simpler/more convincing arguments than “simulation hypothesis + bored god”, anyway. You can probably come up with some exotic universe ending scenario… but from a practical perspective I’m not sure you even need to go that far. Is the universe “turning-off” really meaningfully different than something that “just” kills the entire planet… or really even that meaningfully different than the fact that I might get run over by a car when stepping out of my house tomorrow?

          1. Ninety-Three says:

            The supposed simulation has apparently been running for billions of years without hiccup

            Has it? I’m playing a game of Dwarf Fortress with hundreds of years of history but it’s got a high chance of suddenly going away at some point during its next few subjective years.

            1. tmtvl says:

              Suddenly goblins.
              Or worse, elephants.
              Or worse: carp.
              Oh gods, not the carp.

            2. Retsam says:

              If you’re saying that the simulation is only interested in studying human behavior and that our universe was created only… say 6000 years ago, that’s still a pretty good uptime.

              If you’re saying that human history itself is a fabrication of the simulation and only your own life can be proven to be real… well I guess it’s natural that simulation theory would pair naturally with a form of solipsism – another theory that’s an unprovable philosophical dead-end.

      2. pseudonym says:

        Even as an “unbeliever”, I fully agree with you that religion has way more intrinsic value than something that essentially boils down to a fancy form of nihilism.

        “Unbeliever” as a term is a bit unfortunate though.
        People outside of organized religion also have morals, values and beliefs. I feel that “atheist” is a more fair description of the disposition.

        1. Shamus says:

          Sorry. I didn’t realize “unbeliever” was considered rude. I honestly thought it was an acceptable catch-all for atheists, agnostics, etc.

          1. Retsam says:

            I believe “nontheist” is the preferred catch-all term.

            1. Shamus says:

              *thumbs up*

              Got it.

              1. Dtec says:

                As a card-carrying atheist, I grant you permission to call us out as the flaming heretical miscreants we are.

                1. Philadelphus says:

                  I believe atheists could only be considered heretical to other atheist sects holding a different interpretation of atheism, and while I won’t rule out their existence I must confess I’m not familiar with any…

                  1. Dtec says:

                    South Park has a special for you.

                2. Zeta Kai says:

                  “Heathen” is also acceptable, as is “reprobate”.

          2. pseudonym says:

            No offense was taken! It was not my intent to extract an apology and I hope I did not came across as being too combative. Communicating on the internet without non-verbal cues is quite hard. Especially when discussing people’s personal beliefs.

      3. Nick says:

        Hey Shamus and Paul,

        This is the second question that I have submitted to the Diecast that ended up being more of a political/religious can of worms than it was originally intended (the first being a question seeking advice about raising children in the digital age). This was really just supposed to be a comedy question. I personally find the Simulation Hypothesis do be no more than an interesting thought experiment, if that (though I mean no offence to anyone who gives it more credence than I do).

        Once again though, I did thoroughly enjoy the resulting (though unexpected) conversation on the podcast, as well as the resulting comments below.

        For what it’s worth, if you had deemed this or any other of my questions as being uncomfortable to answer, then I would never be offended if you left the question off the podcast.

  11. Steve C says:

    As for science being tied to location, that’s a real thing. That’s why there’s bases in the Antarctic. It’s why the James Webb is where it is. (And asteroids etc can be colonized in Endless Space.)

    BTW you might like this bit of info about James Webb:

    1. Amstrad says:

      And science being in specific locations tied to specific phenomena is exactly how Stellaris handles it. It does however run afoul of the exact problem Shamus mentions in that while flavor wise it’s given some reasoning, mechanically it’s just a bonus value that never ‘runs out’ once your scientists have studied it. So I suppose it’d be interesting to handle it like an extractable resource, where the science does eventually run out on any given location, which would really justify and encourage even further exploration and expansion.

      1. Steve C says:

        What? I don’t know how you came to that conclusion. We are never going to ‘run out of’ things to study. The Lagrange points are not an extractable resource. These locations are catalysts for science. Not something that will ever be consumed. It is their uniqueness that makes them valuable. How that uniqueness can be applied to new areas of study.

        Humanity did not know the properties of orbiting Earth before Sputnik and Apollo. Now the unique properties of orbiting Earth allows all sorts of interesting science to be performed and new material sciences explored. And that will still be true long after the ISS is gone. Because that is true of any unique location. It is not the location that is being studied. It is how the location makes studying other things easier.

  12. People who say it’s more “statistically likely” that we’re living in a simulation don’t understand how statistics work. Past events (such as the fundamental nature of the universe) do not have a statistical likelihood. Only FUTURE events with unknown variables have a statistical likelihood.

    If you want to know if you’re living in a simulation you do not need a coin flip. You need EVIDENCE for that conclusion. How would a simulation differ from a non-simulation and what facts would lead one to conclude that one or the other was present? If there’s literally no difference or any way to tell the difference between a simulation and reality then the question is meaningless–the words “simulation” and “reality” reference the same object as far as we’re concerned. If there IS a way to tell, then friggin point to the presence of it.

    As for games like Mass Effect and Jade Empire (and, to a lesser extent, Dragon Age, the fourth installment of which I will believe when it has a release date and not before)–IMO these games existed in a narrow potentiality band where a AAA game could have decent 3D graphics with a team size that made it possible to tell a coherent long-form story and still sell enough copies to keep the lights on. The sheer expensiveness and team size required to make a graphically acceptable AAA or AA game now militates against this kind of long-form, quality story, and that “space” has pretty much been split between the Open World RPG on the good graphics side (with either a pre-set character like Geralt or a story that’s split up into little largely-unrelated chunks of variable quality like Skyrim) and top-down or turn-based style games on the long-form story side (like Pillars of Eternity, Baldur’s Gate 3, Pathfinder: Kingmaker, most JRPG’s, etc.)

    However, this situation will probably not always pertain. Acceptable-levels-of-3D-graphics are getting cheaper again (see Eastshade) and will probably continue to get cheaper. So, we might yet see the return of this style in coming years.

    1. Steve C says:

      @Jennifer Snow: ‘Statistically likely’ is the correct framing for this thought experiment. It is being used correctly because it’s not just the final question that matters.

      It goes like this:
      If we were capable of doing so, would we create some form of simulation of reality? The answer is: Yes. Definitely. There’s no question we would. We’re trying to do that all the time in one form or another. From games to NASA simulations. Even Shamus’ job was to create a virtual mall with Active Worlds.

      So let’s imagine a reality where it was possible to create an artificial reality. That artificial reality would also want and attempt to create artificial realities. And some of those would succeed and create more artificial realities. And some of those would too. More and more artificial realities, all the way down.

      Now here’s how statistics come into play; If you are in part of that previous set of realities, what are the odds that you are in the real one? The first one that birthed all the others? It’s 1/{arbitrarily large number approaching infinity}. IE Effectively zero.

      It is impossible to test if we are part of that previous set or not. Exactly as you say. So the question comes down to *if* it possible to create a simulation of reality or not. If it *is* possible, then we are part of the previous data set. Which means it is statistically likely we are in the one of the simulations.

      1. Philadelphus says:

        It’s only “statistically likely” if you ignore the probability that an artificial reality cannot be created. Proof: if we truly have no idea whether it’s possible to simulate reality or not*, then we have to assign it a probability of 0.5, i.e, 50-50 odds either way. (We can call this the “probability of discovering, in the future, if reality can be simulated” to make it a future event subject to probability.) If we find it to be false that reality can be simulated (with P(0.5)), then we’re a priori in the true (only) reality. If it’s true that reality can be simulated (with again, P(0.5)), then we multiply by the chance that we’re in the true reality, which is P(1/X), which approaches zero as X approaches infinity but can never actually reach it**, and so is ultimately always >0. The chance that we are in the true reality is therefore 0.5 + 1/X, thus >0.5, thus, taking all probabilities into account, it is actually statistically most likely (P(>0.5)) that we are living in the true reality. QED.

        *I personally believe it to be impossible, but this is a statistical exercise.

        **Since you can’t reach infinity starting from a finite number.

        1. Philadelphus says:

          I thought of a simpler way to demonstrate this: I’m going to flip a (fair) coin. On heads, I will roll a (fair) twenty-sided die. What is the probability that I roll a number that isn’t a 1?

          Well, the odds of me rolling not-a-1 on a d20 are 19/20 = 0.95, which seems pretty high. However, that’s dependent on me getting heads on the coin toss in the first place. Take that into account and the probability of me rolling something that isn’t a 1 is actually 0.5×0.95 = 0.475. So while, in isolation, the chance of me rolling not-a-1 is high (0.95), the total chance of me doing so is less than half.

          1. Steve C says:

            What’s the odds after already knowing the result of the coin flip? That’s what is being talked about here and why your example is not correct. “What is the probability that it will rain tomorrow?” VS “What is the probability that it already rained yesterday?” The first is valid, the second is not.

            It is *not* possible that we can create a perfect simulation of reality. Therefore we are not inside the first data set. Probability does not apply. However if that changes at some point in the future then we are inside the first data set and probability does apply.

            The issue and confusion about the thought experiment is due to jumping over the middle part.

  13. Long Time Reader, First Time Poster says:

    The game Shamus is talking about was probably Majestic or is kinda spiritual sequel The Black Watchmen.

    1. Amstrad says:

      I’d have to agree that Majestic was what Shamus was thinking of. I can remember PC Gamer Magazine being one of the publications that gave it high praise at the time.

  14. Nick says:

    Hey Paul,

    If you forgive this non sequitur, you mentioned in podcast #268 that you had a game idea in your mind about running the store in a Diablo-esque videogame world, and that you were disappointed that the game “Moonlighter” was not that game. I haven’t played it myself, but I wonder if you have ever heard of the boardgame “Bargain Quest”, which seems to be closer to what you were both talking about?

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      I watched the SU&SD episode on Bargain Quest back in the day https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYR1x_Yys5E
      Just re-watched it, and it’s about half-way there. The other half would be buying loot from the adventurers, which would give you an incentive to help them succeed.

  15. evileeyore says:

    Your Leaders in MoO2 do level up, you just don’t have any control or choices to make over it. It’s easy to have overlooked it as it would be a single notice on a long list of notices you’d get every turn.

  16. Zeta Kai says:

    The discussion about Simulation Theory danced around the idea of Falsifiability, the idea that if you can disprove something, then that is worthy of debate. Conversely, if you canNOT disprove something, then that is NOT worthy of debate, as it is strictly a subjective matter, so a person can have any given opinion about it, & those opinions cannot be invalidated. While Simulation Theory may be an interesting idea, it is not falsifiable (as there are currently no means of disproving it), so it is therefore in the same category as religion, philosophy, & politics: flame war fodder. It is pretentious to even call it a Theory, as there is nothing to it beyond its initial supposition, & a theory has a lot more rigor behind it than a cool premise.

  17. Bartolo Polkakitty says:

    There’s a common trope in science fiction that’s usually referred to as something like a Basilisk, where it’s discovered that there’s some kind of highly unusual image that the human brain can’t process, so if you look at it, your brain instantly shuts down and you die. I think there are actually images that the human brain can’t perceive correctly in real life, and they’re exemplified by optical illusions. Of course, looking at optical illusions doesn’t make your brain instantly shut down, it just means you see an image that appears to have illogical or inconsistent properties, like lines that both are parallel to each other and intersect, or colors that move whenever you’re not focusing directly on them.

    Biological systems normally have a certain amount of tolerance for input error, by necessity, since organisms need to be able to survive in environments that are unpredictable in many ways. For instance, in each person who is conceived, their DNA is not copied perfectly from their parents; it will contain some mutations, but the person is still generally able to survive. It makes sense, then, that if your visual cortex gets a stimulus it can’t interpret correctly from an optical illusion, it fails gracefully: it misinterprets what the image you’re looking at should look like, but it doesn’t actually damage itself, and your brain carries on working as well as it normally does (not very well, if you’re me, or most people.) However, there is a commonly seen type of system that has absolutely no tolerance for any input error, and that does immediately fail if it encounters any input outside of what its design anticipated, which is quickly and dirtily written computer programs.

    I’m pretty certain the idea of the Basilisk is one of the many wrong-headed ideas that have come from people learning a few things about how to write computer programs, and then deciding they don’t need to learn anything about how the brain works because it obviously must just be a computer program. It’s the kind of idea someone would come up with if the first program they wrote was one that would print out a calendar for a month, they noticed that the program crashed if you told it to print out a calendar for month #13 or month #-1, and they assumed there must be some equivalent way that you could get an invalid value in your brain, and it would make your brain crash. The idea that the brain just segfaults if it encounters any input it doesn’t anticipate is too perfect a copy of the behaviour of badly written computer programs for the similarity to be coincidental.

    I think the simulation hypothesis is in the same category of ideas. Like a lot of sci-fi tropes, it isn’t even bad cosmology so much as it is bad computer science. Proponents of the simulation hypothesis usually argue that unintuitive properties of physics, such as the fact that energy is quantized, are related to facts about how computers perform calculations internally (they argue that the quantization of energy is evidence that the simulation uses integer variables to represent energy.) However, there are many aspects of physics, especially quantum physics, that can’t be represented in terms of the basic variable types and operations that processors normally support. Representing those aspects of physics correctly would require complicated, custom-designed data structures and operations, and unless the entire point of the simulation was to test those specific aspects of physics, it would make no sense to design a simulation to represent them accurately instead of abstracting them away.

    One of the best examples of this might be quantum uncertainty, the property of particles where, the more precisely their location is measured, the less precisely their momentum can be measured, and vice versa. If the location and momentum of a particle are represented by variables in a computer simulation, that suggests the simulation must be running on a computer in which two variables can share the same bitstream, and the number of bits assigned to each variable can be changed during runtime, so if you measure one variable with greater precision, more bits are required to represent it, and those bits are *taken away* from the other variable, which becomes less precise. There’s no computer that has a processor that works that way, and I can’t imagine any reason anyone would ever want to create a computer that works that way.

    Even if you were making a computer for the sole purpose of calculating the location and momentum of individual particles, there’s no reason not to have separate variables for location and momentum. If you don’t, the only thing that accomplishes is to make it harder to correctly handle any calculations that use the location and momentum variables: every time you write to those variables, you have to check how many bits they’re currently using and write only that many bits, or else you’ll write the wrong value into some other variable. Every time you read from those variables, it’s even worse: you have to handle taking bits away from some other variable to make the one you’re reading from more precise, and I guess you have to redo whatever calculation last set the value of that variable, to get a more precise measurement (and having to remember what that calculation was will eat up far more memory than you ever could have saved by having location and momentum in one variable instead of two.)

    And, when you create a programming language or a library, anything that makes it harder to use correctly will ensure that people will use it incorrectly, and that they will create more bugs when writing code using it. Regardless of whether or not the universe is just a simulation in a computer, it’s clearly not a *buggy* simulation; if it was, then every experiment that depends on quantum physics would occasionally give us a result that should be impossible and that contradicts all other results from the same experiment.

    Of course, proponents of the simulation hypothesis would respond to this by saying that quantum uncertainty must not exist in the *real* universe, and the aliens running the simulation must have created it because they wanted to see what would happen in a universe where quantum uncertainty did exist. It’s an unfalsifiable argument: any imaginable observation about the universe can always be justified by saying “the aliens designed the simulation that way”. However, this also means that proponents of the simulation hypothesis can’t commit to saying the simulation was created to observe any particular aspect of the universe, and I think that highlights another fatal problem for their arguments: the universe doesn’t seem to be designed to focus on any phenomenon in particular, the way that an actual simulation would be.

    When you actually create a simulation, most of the design decisions you make have to do with what you need to include and what you can get away with ignoring. Computer simulations are used to model things like traffic on roads, to find optimized designs for highway intersections, and those simulations don’t try to keep track of every last atom of every car and every thought that the drivers have. They just model each car as a geometrical shape that has a destination it wants to get to, and that moves according to simple rules, and the people running the simulation try to see whether there’s any place on the highway where cars tend to pile up.

    And the universe has so many levels of structure to it that, whatever phenomenon is intended to be observed in the simulation, many of those levels would have to be unnecessary. If the purpose of the simulation is to find out something about quantum physics, then it doesn’t make sense that it would need to be designed to simulate entire galaxies, instead of just a few particles that would interact in a specific way, and if the purpose of the simulation is to find out something about galaxies, or planets, or sapient beings, or societies of same, then the designers of the simulation have made some very strange choices of phenomena not to abstract away. Perverse choices, even. (I’ve heard some unconventional theories of government, but I’ve never heard of one that says the ideal form of government is one where people who have had neutrinos interact with their bodies are the rulers.)

    If you imagine that there are two parallel universes, one in which fire exists because objects have phlogiston in them, and one in which fire exists because of oxidation reactions, science can be thought of as the field of thought that asks how we can tell which of these universes we’re living in. However, the simulation hypothesis offers no way to gain a better understanding of the universe, because it offers no reason why the aliens should have designed the simulation in any particular way. The strength of science is that it can verify true statements about the universe more easily than false statements. But for any question about the universe, the simulation hypothesis can justify a false answer as easily as a true one, by saying “the aliens designed the simulation that way”. Despite its pretensions to revealing the true nature of the universe, then, it can’t actually tell us anything about the universe. It can only wait until someone discovers something about the universe by doing an actual experiment, and then nod sagely and say “yes, all according to plan”.

    Bottom line, I think what we should do is we should ask Zaphod Beeblebrox what he thinks about these issues, because he is objectively the most important being in the universe.

  18. Ektenia says:

    What are game concepts you wish the industry would make more attempts at?

    The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot!

    * Every player is a hero who runs through castles/homes/dungeons killing the monsters/mooks/traps
    * Every player builds and uploads their own current castle/home/dungeon. You must be able to beat your own dungeon in order to upload it.
    * You run through other players’ dungeons.
    * You can watch videos of other players’ runs through your dungeon.

    It’s dead.

    I found the store page of one similar game on steam, The Castle Doctrine, but reviews suggest it’s dead.

    The nearest relative I can think of is Super Mario Odyssey Balloon World (?) (I haven’t played; I’ve only seen videos), where players hide balloons for other players to find, and if you want to place a balloon that needs mad skillz to reach, you need those mad skillz to place it there.

  19. Marvin says:

    RE: helping out your parents in games. My mom is super into this word puzzle game (in Dutch), like she spends 3 hours on a session to get something competitive with the other 5 people that always top the leaderboards. (and even then you need to last like 5 hours for a really good score) So, at times, she asks for things like whether I know some more words with the letter Q (since every word can be used at most once, she has a list where she ticks off all the Q-words). She also asks me to solve the Raven matrix like puzzles made for some puzzle calendar made by the developers of that game (Neurocampus, a Dutch “brain training” initiative), logic and math is not her thing, like words are not really my thing. (btw, I was surprised at how often they got their own puzzle wrong at first, but they seem to have learned)

    “Video game dads” is a good way to describe not only this podcast, but most of the community! I really like the degree to which video games are taken serious here.

    RE: TikTok. It appears to be designed like 4chan, except in video form. So yes, your experience appears to be what we should expect form this platform. TikTok doesn’t match their content to your preference, it matches your preference to their content.

    Indeed, you can’t possibly tell whether your in a simulation, that was a major plot point in Inception. Also, it’s nothing new. Look at Plato’s cave and Truman Show. A lot of philosophy is asking the wrong questions for decades until the entire body of work itself becomes an object of study you can have an entire journal about. Some of it is useful, however.

    RE: Space mystery, have you checked out “Opus: Echo of Starsong”? A bit more magic than you’re perhaps used to, but well, sufficiently advanced magic… (Nono, this recording of a Witch’s song is degraded, we need to replace it before you use it with your amplification staff. This scout ship’s scanner misses the advanced range chip, we’ll need to get one of those before we can get our Witch’ space cave scanning song to find really new stuff. My god: this station is a giant song amplifier. In space! (yes, magic songs can use space as a medium)) It’s a really beautifully told story, and the politics, science, progenitors, etc. universe is slowly revealed and very interesting.

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