Diecast #381: I Have No Mouth and I Must Eat Chips

By Shamus Posted Monday May 23, 2022

Filed under: Diecast 114 comments

At the top of the show I joked that we weren’t going to have an editor because Issac was feeling sick. But he bounced back quickly and was able to edit the show, so this episode isn’t unedited chaos as I anticipated.

Oh well. Better luck next week.

Hosts: Paul, Shamus. Episode edited by Issac.

Link (YouTube)

Show notes:

00:00 No editor
Issac is better, although I think he used my joke as an excuse to cut some corners. We’ll see.

01:14 Tin Can

Link (YouTube)

08:53 Archive Arcade
I see a lot of people say thing like, “That was my childhood!” when looking at the Nintendo 64 or the Gamecube. But for me, this stuff was my childhood. I remember sitting at one of the tables at Village Pizza, hypnotized by the demo on the “1943” machine. How can the machine make the ENTIRE SCREEN scroll like that? That must take an unimaginable amount of RAM and processing power. Computers are getting so powerful these days!

Check it out: The Internet Arcade.

10:44 Planet Crafter

Link (YouTube)

20:29 Linux gripe, The alt-tab
Great. Another terrible shortcoming with Linux.

26:26 Mailbag: Game and Real Life Overlap

Dearest Diecast,

The appeal of video games is in how they intrigue human psychology with puzzles, competition, adventure, satisfaction, etc. When I’ve spent a year not gaming, I’ve always adapted by picking up hobbies. It was in these periods that woodworking became appealing. Perhaps this was because, like a game, a hobby offers possibilities, projects that progress to conclusions, opportunities to compare oneself to others (including aspiration to achieve what they achieve), and all that sort of thing.

Video games and hobbies have much overlap in how they tickle our monkeybrains. What do you think of this idea? Do you put gaming on hiatus when you need to get a big work project done? Does gaming artificially satisfy and pacify us, leading to a society of people who don’t know which end of a hammer is used to unscrew the staples?

Health and happiness to you,
Chris P.

29:15 Mailbag: Niche Game Interests

Darn Diecasters,

Once in a while gaming regresses. Perfect Dark allowed players to create customized bots to fight against, leading to some of the favorite memories from my teenage years. We felt joy and despair in our wars against the hyper-accurate glass cannon bot army.

Worse, FIFA Soccer games disposed of the control scheme that they’d used up through FIFA World Cup 2002 on Playstation 2. This allowed for the player to use the controller to intricately control:

a.) the power of a kick by holding the button to charge up power and release at the right moment (there were different buttons for different kinds of kicks)
b.) the angle of the kick with one of the joysticks. You could kick the ball to any of the 360 degrees
c.) the curve of the kick, modified with the shoulder buttons, allowed the player to swerve a ball around a defender or away from a goalie.

It was a skillful game, especially enjoyable if sharing a team with a buddy while making amazing plays. The ball went where we were skilled enough to put it. Every pass had to be aimed and weighted appropriately.

If you’re curious, here’s a clip with a timestamp. Every kick that you see the player implement here is sent to a spot on the field. If his teammate is at that spot, then he earned that completed pass. The game didn’t automatically aim passes for him. It was glorious. I miss it.

Is there a game, series, control scheme, or genre that you lament as being lost to the past? Something that was just OBJECTIVELY better and is inexplicably gone?

Chris P.

32:53 Mailbag: Game AI

Dear Diecast,

Did cover shooters kill the good enemy AI in shooters?

What are some of the late 90s/early 00s game with the best AI?

Are there any games after 2010 that had great AI?



43:23 Mailbag: AI Shamus

Dear Diecast

Since AI generated writing technology seems to be developing at a fast rate. How would you feel Shamus if in like 10-20 years, people could compile all your Twenty Sided posts and throw into an AI app or site that can write articles that seem like it was written by you?

Sort of like how we might still see old celebrity actors in 2050 movies because of improving deepfake technology. Maybe you could even do this with all the audio from the podcast and use it to make an AI Diecast? Eternal Shamus Young content!

Love, Bumpkin

46:18 Mailbag: Fantasy Epics

Dear Diecast,

On a friend’s recommendation, I’ve been reading Brandon Sanderson’s Storm Light Archive books.

Each of these books is over 1,000 pages, and there are 4 books out with 10 planned.

There are dozens of developed characters.

Do you like stories setup like this?

Or do you prefer when books are brief and the characters are mostly ordinary while the exceptional ones are left mysterious?




From The Archives:

114 thoughts on “Diecast #381: I Have No Mouth and I Must Eat Chips

  1. MerryWeathers says:

    46:18 Mailbag: Fantasy Epics

    Epic fantasy does tend to have a severe bloat problem where the storylines and page count sprawls out of control when they could have easily been chopped down to just 300-500 hundred pages, I think the trend was kickstarted by Wheel of Time.

    Shamus and Paul note in the podcast that Lord of the Rings was 1000 pages but that was the trilogy as a whole. If it was written in modern standards, each book would probably have a 700-1000+ and the trilogy would also be extended into a 10-15 book series.

    1. Mattias42 says:

      To be a little fair, modern fantasy is one of the few generas where fluff for fluffs sake is not only tolerated, but it’s in part become part of why people seek it out.

      Like, even in speculative fiction… You write five pages about a cyborg-dragon playing in the pure, sparkling waters of, say, Detroit 2198, and your editor is going to ask what you’re smoking, probably.

      Do the same thing in fantasy with an actual dragon, in the river of The Strait 1321, and people might just consider it the highlight of the entire novel.

      Not that there’s anything inheritable wrong in a more stream-lined narrative, but I’ve definitively noticed a rise in “does this scene do anything mechanically for the plot or theme?” style writing due to the rise in online reviews and nitpick analyzers. You seldom get scenes like in, say, Snuff where Vimes is dumbfounded by meeting the garden hermit, and it just… was the world going on around ’em, not some deep foreshadowing.

      1. Mye says:

        I think most fantasy books I’ve enjoyed were mainly due to the great world building (speaking of wheel of time) and rarely due to interesting plot/characters so I rather enjoy the blot with plenty of scene that don’t really contribute to the main narrative.

        Maybe the style is going out of fashion because of the hope that the book will eventually get adapted to TV/movie?

        1. Fallonor says:

          This is part of it for me, I find plot and characters *can* be compelling, but I don’t read thrillers etc in modern-adjacent settings because worldbuilding is what compels me. I like to read about strange worlds and their implications on people, which means “bloat’ or “fluff” to some readers is “texture” to me.

      2. Supah Ewok says:

        There’s an important distinction between providing verisimilitude and just stretching the page count. The former, wherein an illusion is crafted of a larger world beyond the story, is a tool to immerse the reader. The latter is just dull padding.

        There is no clear line between the two. Almost any story can have characters and scenes and descriptive prose added to bloat the book, yet conversely can also have the same pared down until the story is reduced to the bare minimum. To an extent, how much prose is too much is down to readers’ taste, but a good part is also how the writer employs their craft.

        To use the Wheel of Time as an example: layer upon layer of interwoven political conspiracies, a dozen points of view with intersecting and diverging plots, masses of prophecy and foreshadowing, a world of distinct cultures and customs? Fun! Pages on pages of descriptions of what people are wearing, braid tugging, characterizations repeated ad nauseum, characters that get partially developed then kinda dissappear, plot lines that get dropped or kinda eat themselves? Bleagh.

        A writer needs to practice discretion on whatever they add on top of the main plot. Another possibility is the George R. R. Martin problem where you’ve stacked things so high you lose track of how to advance any of your dozen plots satisfactorily and just begin to hate yourself and the writing becomes miserable.

        1. Mattias42 says:

          Oh, yeah, totally agree. There’s a good and bad way to do fluff, and Wheel of Time had this really weird way of doing both. Dancing just right over that line between fill-ing and fill-er, if you will. Like I still remember that scene where ‘Mother’s Milk In A Cup!’ was a big swear that shocked people, and~ oh yeah, oh my god, the freakin’ braid tugging. Gha! I loathed that character towards the freakin’ halfway point of the series, and never finished it in part because I found her in particular so insufferable and every indication was that she was heading towards a happy ending.

          I think that “fluff tolerance” is one of the subtler things you can lay on Tolkien’s feet, though, in the way his shadow echoes in the genera of fantasy. Like sometimes you get mountains and forests so vivid you feel you’re walking in ’em yourself, to make sure you GET what a horrid and yet awing journey this is…

          And~ one dang page later. A freakin’ song without any indication of beat or tempo. So it’s actually a page minimum of poetry that most readers, even avid Tolkien geeks, just gloss right over.

          1. Geebs says:

            I completely agree with you on both Tolkein’s descriptions and his songs. I’m reading through Fellowship of the Ring again right and I am 100% certain I could cut 50% of the word count without a casual reader even noticing. I wouldn’t even need to take any plot points out.

        2. Syal says:

          The biggest problem with the Wheel of Time* is the sheer repetition of things. Knife of Dreams was mostly considered to have gotten the series back on track, but it’s still filled with characters repeating dialogue three or four times, or introducing the new concept in four separate scenes where nothing else is going on.

          There’s also the issue of an episodic approach that I associate with Order of the Stick; the characters are on a journey, they arrive in a place, and that journey comes to a dead stop for a hundred pages while they deal with a local issue instead. You’ve got to keep the main plot rolling through your cul-de-sacs. Collectables are being collected, main villains are villaining, complications from earlier are being established.

          *(apart from book six deliberately taking an enormous step backward in the main plot. We’ve collected 8 of the 13 villains, and suddenly five revive at once and our progress is more than half undone.)

          1. Joshua says:

            I think one of Jordan’s largest mistakes was using the number thirteen. Thirteen Forsaken meant way too much story to deal with them as adversaries, and then he went and resurrected two of them! Even still, with that many foes dealing with them felt like more of crossing off a checklist than a triumph of the main characters, hence some of the repetiveness.

            1. Syal says:

              and then he went and resurrected two of them!

              Four. Five if you count Moghedien escaping again. We were down to five loose Forsaken by book five’s end, then back to ten at the start of book 6.

              I think the number is fine, especially with so many viewpoint characters; you can fight a whole lot of them at the same time if you want to. As written, most of them don’t get a whole lot of personality, but it works out alright because the story is mostly a Werewolf game, where the main challenge is in finding them. You’ve got your three or four big personalities, and then the rest are the deep cover agents.

              1. Mattias42 says:

                Seconding that thirteen as an arch number isn’t intrinsically the problem.

                Seen it done a couple of times with casts that large or even outright 13 as an arch number. Organization 13 in Kingdom Hearts, Mane Six in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic plus family members is easily more than that, and Dresden Files easily have well beyond thirteen people I’d consider main characters beyond Harry Dresden himself. Just for three examples off my head.

                They key is restraint, and cast rotation. Actually giving spotlight time to each and every member.

                Like in this level it’s Luxord being polite at you while going on and on about his gambling fascination. ‘Today’s Episode,’ you get to meet Twilight Sparkle’s old study buddy Moondancer… that she dumped like a hot-coal years ago when she found her BFFs, and is understandably a bit bitter about that even as Twilight tries to patch things up. In this book, the ghosts of Chicago are getting uppity, so Dresden seeks out his long-term contact Mortimer the reluctant medium to gain expertise.

                That sort of thing.

                But I think Jordan kinda wrote himself into a corner with the Forsaken. They’re so twisted, horrible and efficient in a corrupting behind scenes type way, that it’s just not fun following ’em around as viewpoint characters. (And would probably have gotten the books banned if explored more.) So he… basically left them as background characters that slowly makes the world worse, while the characters run around putting out a whole lot of fires after they happened. And since they’re trained back in a golden age, versus barely recalling reincarnated farm-children… they’d win if they actually could find the protagonists.

                End result: Barely showing up, despite officially being the antagonists of the entire series. And for that sort of writing, it would have been better with one, very scary and competent villain, than a whole thirteen.

                1. Joshua says:

                  My point wasn’t that thirteen main characters wasn’t too many (WoT and ASOIAF have many more times that , but thirteen primary antagonists certainly was (on top of characters like the Whitecloaks, White Tower loyalists, and Seanchan), which it seems that you agree with?

                  I think he could have been better served if he had gone with 8-9 Forsaken (the more notable ones) instead.

                  Balthemel (for the whole reincarnated into a woman part)
                  Demandred plus 1-2 more of the interchangeable ones that took seats of power.

                2. Syal says:

                  They key is restraint, and cast rotation. Actually giving spotlight time to each and every member.

                  Disagree. The Nine in Lord of the Rings have no personalities whatsoever, with the possible exception of the Witch King, and they work fine.

                  (The one very scary and competent villain is the Dark One. The Forsaken are just the most famous tools.)

                  1. Sleeping Dragon says:

                    It’s not the same thing though. The Nazgul aren’t really meant to be characters* in the story, they’re an extention of Sauron’s will, the manifestation of his evil and the demonstration of the corrupting absolute domination of The Ring. The plot is not largely driven by Nazgul’s plotting working at cross purposes and sabotaging each other.

                    *Yes, the Witch King, but he’s still not really characterized as an actual person.

                    1. Syal says:

                      The plot is not largely driven by Nazgul’s plotting working at cross purposes and sabotaging each other.

                      The Forsaken aren’t driving the plot either, the Dark One and the Dragon prophecies are. The Forsaken are merely present at the end of the stories in order to have climactic battles. There’s plenty of plot beats the Forsaken aren’t even nearby for.

                3. Retsam says:

                  End result: Barely showing up, despite officially being the antagonists of the entire series. And for that sort of writing, it would have been better with one, very scary and competent villain, than a whole thirteen.

                  The fact that they aren’t competent, that they in-fight and work at cross-purposes to each other and basically only cooperate when they’re forced to is my favorite aspect of the Forsaken. I think it’s a big part of what makes them interesting.

                  It fits well with one of the big themes of the books: reality vs. stories – Jordan is huge on setting you up to expect one thing and then delivering another thing (see also Gawyn/Galad) – the Forsaken are literally “bedtime story nightmares come to life”, and they are powerful… but in practice, they’re just as flawed and human as anyone else, and in fact more so, as by definition they’re a collection of the most prideful and twisted individuals of the past age.

                  Yes, they could be more “effective villains”, but I don’t think they needed to be. I don’t think they’re really meant to be much more than background characters: the idea that the whole series was about defeating the Forsaken and the number of Forsaken left was some sort of “progress bar for the series” just didn’t occur to me.

                  Could you still do this with fewer? Sure, I guess. But I also think you’re supposed to have a hard time keeping track of them. The fact that you’ll kind of forget about some of them and then they pop up and you’re surprised… I think that’s intentional.

                  If there’s, say, five Foresaken and you’re constantly thinking about where they are, you don’t get that – “ah yes, it was about about time for Messana to show up, I was wondering where she was”.

                  And again that idea of “reality” vs “the stories”. Having a smaller number of Forsaken, and making sure they all get their “time in the sun” would be how “the stories” would go. Things are always neat and clean in “the stories”. But that’s not reality, and that’s kind of the point.

                  1. Syal says:

                    Definitely the high point for me was Moghedien the Spider, supposedly a master manipulator, turning out to be an enormous coward that runs at the first hint of danger. Like, her entire sinister reputation as a puppet master is based on her being too scared to fight except through other people. And also we find out the Forsaken are weak enough that they can be defeated by ordinary people, not just the Dragon.

                    1. Alecw says:

                      Well, Rahvin, Ishamael and Lanfear weren’t. They were strong enough only The Dragon or some unlikely circumstance could defeat them. They’re a good spread of characters.

                      Ishamael is one of the most interesting villains of all time, how he’s fundamentally different to the other Forsaken since he’s corrupted by philosophic nihlism not avarice or jealousy. He also seems immune to pride or hubris or just about all other sins and weaknesses. He only died the first time because he was utterly insane.

                    2. Syal says:

                      They were strong enough only The Dragon or some unlikely circumstance could defeat them.

                      Keep in mind Lanfear was beaten by being physically tackled by one of the Dragon’s entourage. It’s part of the long-haul theme that Rand thinks he has to solve all these problems personally, and doesn’t give enough credit to the people around him.

                      Don’t know how canon we’re treating the Sanderson books, but I do really like the idea that Ishamael is the only Pattern-bound Forsaken, and the other twelve are just an anomaly from the last cycle ending weird.

        3. Joshua says:

          I don’t think GRRM dislikes working on ASOIAF as much as he dislikes writing in such a way that concludes it, which is what these last two books are supposed to be doing. To use his gardener analogy, he’s planted a whole crop of plants but instead of reaping what he’s sown keeps getting drawn aside by the temptation to plant more seeds and tell more stories, which is why he keeps getting distracted by prequels. It’s like he senses that when the main story is told, people will be less interested in all of these other stories he keeps getting ideas for and wants to tell.

          1. MerryWeathers says:

            It’s a shame because I would much rather have George write more Dunk and Egg stories or the second volume of Fire and Blood. There’s more variety there to show off his storytelling abilities while TWOW has become this kind of obstacle that only exists to keep him occupied for a long time while still not bearing any results at this point.

          2. Supah Ewok says:

            I saw a video from a couple of years ago where George asked Stephen King something like, “How do you write 6 pages a day? Don’t you ever have a day where you try to write a sentence, and you hate it, then you check your email, and then you wonder if you ever had any talent at all and should have been a plumber?”

            That’s fresh in my mind, but I’ve seen other hints through the years, read some other accounts from authors with writer’s block, and discussed with friends who write. I’ve seen his repeated promises every year to dig down and get Winds of Winter done. It hasn’t happened. It may or may not happen, but I am certain that he hates working on it with a large part of that being because he can’t figure out how to get it all to work out. The pressure’s too much, the bar is high, he’s set up too much and doesn’t know how to bring it back down.

            I wish he’d just declare that he was abandoning the series, because its clear that he has so many other stories to tell, even within the same setting, that he has so much more enthusiasm for. It would be better for him, and even if the fans didn’t understand it, it’d be better for them as well.

            1. Damiac says:

              I imagine Stephen King replied “I just don’t give a shit about the quality, or if it makes any sense, or if it’s a huge disappointment of an ending to a epic story.”

              He’s incredible at coming up with awesome setups and really out there hints of something bigger… but then he gets near the end and he’s like “Oh right, the ending. Uh… I guess… I dunno… Voldemort. And uh… the literal hand of god. Perfect, the end.”

              The dark tower had like 5 or 6 of those build ups to terrible disappointments, and then the whole thing was also a massive build up to a terrible disappointment. The stand was sort of the same thing, but in miniseries format. But it’s sort of a running theme with Stephen King…

              1. Joshua says:

                I never read The Stand, but I saw the miniseries and my reaction at the end was “What was the point of all that?” and “THIS is the story that everyone was a fan of?”

                Dreamcatcher was another one where the film was terrible, and the book was…only slightly better, but still a waste of the set-up.

              2. Supah Ewok says:

                King’s reply was more like, “Well, you know, sometimes I have to do errands or go to the doctor and I don’t quite make it.”

                King is very… businesslike? Mercenary? I’m not coming up with quite the word I want to use. He was in poverty with his wife and children for several years, working as a schoolteacher by day and janitor by night to make ends meet if I recall correctly, while trying to break into being published. Even after he made it big, I don’t think that’s ever left him. He gets out his 3 or 4 novels a year, come what may, regardless of if he has good ideas or not, because that’s how you get paid and put food on the table. Don’t have a good idea for an ending? Just crap it out, there’s always a next book.

                1. Sleeping Dragon says:

                  Bearing in mind my familiarity with King’s work is very limited that does seem correct in that I remember many years ago seeing him quoted saying that he doesn’t consider himself an “artist writer” but rather “craftsman writer” in the sense that he knows (mileage varies) how to put words together in a way that’s pleasing to a large enough audience and uses that skill to earn his bread.

              3. Redrock says:

                While I won’t dispute your overall point regarding the general quality of King’s endings, I’d say that the actual ending to The Dark Tower was about as good as it could be, all things considered. I don’t mean, however, the final battle, that sucked. But the ending ending, the one so cutely kept behind a letter from the author gently warning you that it might be a tad disappointing? Yeah, that one was okay. You have to agree, that last line is a hell of a line.

        4. Lino says:

          Game of Thrones padding? Granted, I only read the first two books before bouncing off, but one of the things I liked was how non-existent the padding was.
          Everything was there for a purpose, the plot moved very quickly, and there were no digressions with irrelevant side characters. Does that change in the subsequent books?

          1. BlueHorus says:

            As others have kind of hinted above, you got out before it began.
            Though it’s not so much ‘padding’ as it is ‘bloat’ – the sheer number of seperate storylines becomes overwhelming, and the overall story just gets bogged down. It’s not that the new material is bad, per se, there’s just way too much of it.

            The worst offenders are the last two books that spend chapter after chapter introducing new characters and stories.

      3. evilmrhenry says:

        That’s because in Sci-Fi, your 5-page digression should be on orbital mechanics or the exact way your FTL drive works or something.

        1. Mattias42 says:

          Ha! Ain’t that something of a truth.

          Know your audience, I guess?

    2. Retsam says:

      It’s always weird to me that Epic Fantasy seems to be the one genre[1] that has to routinely defend its existence as not being just a writing mistake, and “if only they had an editor to make the books shorter”.

      Like the hypothetical suggestion of “just cut the Dread Marshes” from the podcast, sure, you can cut stuff out, but it’s often at the expense of the story being told. Sure, you can imagine a version of Wheel of Time that’s half-as-long, but I don’t think it’d bear much resemblance to the story as Robert Jordan wanted to tell it[2].

      I don’t think the idea that Wheel of Time (much less “epic fantasy” as a whole) could “easily” be edited to be half the length is anywhere near true.

      To Shamus’s point of what he looks for in books: essentially “I want them to have a point and to tell it as efficiently as possible” – yeah, that’s fair and that’s a recipe for probably not enjoying most epic fantasy. To enjoy epic fantasy, I think you need to enjoy world building itself. Which isn’t for everyone, but isn’t exactly uncommon, either. (Despite not being epic fantasy, a huge part of Harry Potter’s appeal is its world-building: a ton of stuff in those books exists for basically no plot reason at all)

      Tom Bombadil is probably the biggest element of “exists for world-building purposes, not plot purposes” of Lord of the Rings, and it’s no surprise it’s the most contentious element of those books.

      [1] Actually, I’m sure harlequin romance deals with this, too.

      [2] Wheel of Time has only two plot lines of many that are near-universally though to have run on a bit too long. You could maybe drop a whole book if you removed these (and a few other minor less-popular plot lines), and probably another if you change Robert Jordan’s writing style to be less descriptive. (And just think how much shorter Lord of the Rings could be if you dropped all the poetry!)

      1. MerryWeathers says:

        Tom Bombadil is probably the biggest element of “exists for world-building purposes, not plot purposes” of Lord of the Rings, and it’s no surprise it’s the most contentious element of those books.

        Is it? I thought it was the Scouring of the Shire, which I have not seen any other fantasy writer praise or defend besides GRRM since he apparently based the ending of ASOIAF on it.

        1. Retsam says:

          Fair point (assuming you’re referring to “most contentious”, not “included for world-building”) – I’ve seen far more arguments about Tom Bombadil hence most contentious (meaning “likely to cause an argument”), but the Scouring of the Shire has a fair claim to most disliked plot point.

          1. Rho says:

            Both Tom and Scouring have major plot purposes as well, but I’m of the opinion the average reader can’t understand either. They matter, but neither mattersin the obvious way.

            Tom shows up twice in three days to save the four hobbits, which they required almost immediately after leaving the Shire. They found themselves completely outmatched by even the casual dangers in the world, although we saw them prepare as best they knew and making astute plans. Tom Bombadil adds three things: he shows us how hilariously helpless ordinary people may be before the supernatural, how all plans will fail, and how unlooked-for said will oft prove the most valuable.

            The Scouring shows us the end of the matter, that the Hobbits have grown quite about in stature. A year or more before they couldn’t escape the clutches of Old Man Willow. Now they snacked around Saruman without much effort. It is not that they are now Level 14 Fighter/Thieves who can defeat the Level 10 Magic-User. They’re just cannier, wiser, and stronger in spirit. But evil will ever mar what it can.

        2. Veylon says:

          Fantasy authors seem to prefer to burn down the hero’s hometown at the beginning of the story rather than at the end.

        3. Joshua says:

          Tom Bombadil exists to show off a character that Tolkien created long before LotR and is more of a travelogue encounter similar to the way The Hobbit was written with characters like Beorn. It’s more world building than anything else.

          Scouring of the Shire exists* to show how much the characters have been changed from their journey and to fully step into their heroic roles (and with Frodo, his changed attitude towards violence) without any of the bigger folk to help them. It reinforces that the four hobbits are the main protagonists of the story. I wouldn’t say it’s contentious as much as just harder to pull off in a film where it feels anticlimactic compared to the destruction of the ring.

          *A popular opinion is that the chapter exists to show how evil isn’t completely eradicated just because Sauron was defeated, but I tend to disagree with this view. The brigands are more pathetic than anything else and the Hobbits curbstomp them once Frodo & Co. show up to inspire them, after which the Shire is quickly restored and Hobbits point to that year as being a very good year.

          1. Rho says:

            (Ha, I posted literally one minute after you!)

          2. John says:

            I’ve always liked the Scouring of the Shire, not so much for the “evils other than Sauron” angle as for the way that it elegantly avoids “and they all went home again, where everything was exactly the same as they’d left it”. The world seems more real when we find out stuff keeps happening even when none of the main characters are there to see it.

            Also that stuff about the hobbits that you said. Well put.

            1. Supah Ewok says:

              To add on to you all, I think the Scouring also serves to show that evil isn’t necessarily an army of darkness coming to crush kingdoms; it is also “decent” folk keeping quiet about local injustice, and probably an exercise in exorcism for Tolkien regarding his hate for the industrialization of the English countryside he loved (regardless of what he says about not intentionally writing allegories).

        4. Damiac says:

          I thought the scouring of the shire was the perfect ending to the whole thing. While the hobbits and crew were away saving the entire world, some low rent criminals, backed by a bad guy they should by all rights have killed already, have taken over and somewhat ruined the beautiful hometown of our heroes. The very thing that they were fighting so hard to save. Epic heroics and unprecedented deeds were accomplished far away, but the petty profiteers and authoritarians didn’t care about any of that, and essentially human nature (even though it was hobbits involved as well) took its natural course.

          Because the idea was that Saruman was manipulating things behind the scenes, and using his human scoundrels as enforcers, but the entire thing only worked due to the petty behavior of the Sackville-Baggins who were still mad about Bilbo cheating them out of inheriting his wealth, and the shirriffs expanding their own policing powers from patrolling for wild animals and vagabonds to enforcing production quotas and cracking down on dissent.

          I know Tolkein always denied that LOTR was allegory, but it so obviously contained a lot of allegory for real life war, especially the stuff Tolkein himself saw.

          And then the heroes effortlessly defeat them because they’re a complete paper tiger. The hobbits just had to find their will to fight. The entirety of LOTR has a very interesting take on pacifism, and it’s definitely not all positive. Frodo becomes a pacifist because of essentially fantasy PTSD from getting stabbed by the wraiths, then the ring fucking with his head. Some good hobbits get killed or badly messed up because they didn’t fight off the invaders sooner, and then they are so angry by the end Frodo has to stop them from killing the surrendering humans. Sam, on the other hand, epitomizes the very best of humanity. He’s got humility, but he’s not afraid of getting his hands dirty to save his friends, even when he’s terrified out of his mind.

          I don’t know what to say about the songs and poems. Tolkein really really loved them I guess, and we put up with them because it’s a great story, and they’re easy enough to skip over. Same deal with Tom Bombadil. Not that I skip over his part, because it does fit into the story, but he’s obviously out of place, and a bit of a Mary Sue.

          1. Joshua says:

            One item of note though is that Tolkien came up with “Sharkey” before later deciding that it would be Saruman. I’m not sure when in the story process this occurred, but possibly after the Sharkey foreshadowing had been dropped in Fellowship.

            1. Damiac says:

              Yeah, and it didn’t really have to be Saruman anyway, although it worked to tie up a loose end there. And again, it was another example of well meaning good intentions leading to tragedy. The ents were supposed to guard him in his tower and keep him from going out and causing trouble, but eventually they felt bad for keeping him locked up and let him go. Gandalf even called them out, basically saying that the ents let Saruman play them.

              I do wonder how… consciously Tolkein kept hitting on that theme. He always seemed so idealistic, but then so many idealistic actions in the story led to bad outcomes.

          2. alecw says:

            Sam is the hero of the story, according to Tolkien and many literary analysts. NOT Frodo, who is far more flawed and whose development of a character is stunted. He earns high honour but ultimately failed, and is broken, Sam and Aragorn are the only characters to complete a true hero’s arc.

            The Scouring of the Shire served to finish that vital circle.

      2. Fizban says:

        There comes a point at which efficiency directly reduces verisimilitude, where things are so efficiently written that nothing is realistic and there are no surprises. Where instead of trying to figure out what’s going on and being in suspense over what will happen, you’re instead instinctively and accurately following the meta: X, Y, and Z have been mentioned, therefore they are all important, and then later Y is the only thing that hasn’t come back around so therefore Y will be what saves the day. You generally know that the protagonists are going to succeed in the end, but you don’t know exactly *how*- unless the writing is so efficient that by the time you’re 1/3 of the way in, you actually do know exactly how.

        Call me an apologist if you must, but the “bloat” of Wheel of Time and other ridiculously long series, if anything, makes them more real. In real life, not everything and everyone will end up being important. Sometimes stuff just happens because it happens. Sometimes you get bogged down dealing with something for way longer than you want to, or decide it’s time to drop what you’re doing and draw a line in the sand. The fact that main characters in WoT often stop and play hero is *how they show that they’re heroes*. The fact that political maneuvering and guessing games over who’s the traitor take up huge amount of time is because that sort of crap *does* take up huge amounts of time. And the fact that some bit villains (and minor supporting characters) never end up seriously amounting to much by the end, while for some may be simply due to the realities of the author’s health, nevertheless are entirely appropriate for a series that shows us a range of conflicts all the way from petty thieves to the fate of all human existence.

        Funnily enough, episodic TV shows don’t get crap for having tons of unimportant people and stuff left lying around- because people have since accepted that episodic shows can be their own thing. Some shows are just a single movie broken up into pieces, some are entirely episodic, and most have a mix of continuing plots and episodes that are almost entirely standalone.

        So why can’t a long book series have a mix of progressing parts of the main plot and also stuff that ends up not being important? The answer of course is that it can and does and plenty of people like it.

        1. Joshua says:

          Where instead of trying to figure out what’s going on and being in suspense over what will happen, you’re instead instinctively and accurately following the meta: X, Y, and Z have been mentioned, therefore they are all important, and then later Y is the only thing that hasn’t come back around so therefore Y will be what saves the day. You generally know that the protagonists are going to succeed in the end, but you don’t know exactly *how*- unless the writing is so efficient that by the time you’re 1/3 of the way in, you actually do know exactly how.

          Call me an apologist if you must, but the “bloat” of Wheel of Time and other ridiculously long series, if anything, makes them more real.

          This is how GRRM gets away with lots of twists, because he includes so many other details of other characters and events so the twists and foreshadowing aren’t *as* obvious the first time, but stand out more on a reread.

    3. John says:

      I used to be into epic fantasy, but I lost a lot of my tolerance for it around twenty years ago.

      Some of that is because I changed. After I graduated from college, I just didn’t have the time for fantasy door-stoppers any more. I also developed a taste for non-fiction, especially history, which I found scratched a lot of the same metaphorical itches that epic fantasy did. Let’s not kid ourselves, a book like The Silmarillion is more an ancient history text than it is a novel anyway.

      But the trade dress for fantasy paperbacks had–and still has!–a lot to do with it too. Every time I go to a bookstore these days, all the fantasy novels seem to have titles like Adjective Noun: Book VI of the Fantasy Jargon Cycle Chronicles Saga. It’s off-putting. It makes them seem same-y and interchangeable, the very opposite of fantastic. It also feels like a threat. I hate leaving things unfinished, but I also hate idea of having to read five to ten books in order to get a complete story when I’m dealing with an unfamiliar author whose work I might well dislike.

      To the extent that I still enjoy fantasy, I think I now prefer one-and-dones or series–i.e., a bunch of books set in the same universe, possibly featuring the same characters, each of which is a complete story–to multi-book epics.

      1. BlueHorus says:

        I know what you mean. I slogged my way through the Wheel of Time*, my interest in a Song of Ice and Fire died of old age, and the Brandon Sanderson story – well, it’s just more Brandon Sanderson, just…longer**.

        Nevertheless, can I interest you in Jittery Warlock, Book III (of XII) in the Bluehorus Rising Saga?

        *Not worth it.
        **Which is weird, seeing as one of his great strengths seem to be how efficient his writing is…

      2. Supah Ewok says:

        I have fallen much into the same place as you, although I think I’m about 16 years behind you.

        I graduated, I started a career, I have periods of lots of overtime while I’m also doing a lot of self-studying for a license and certifications… time means a lot more to me now. And I’ve happened to read some extraordinary works of fiction, both in fantasy and without, that showed me that you don’t need 1000 pages or 13 books to have verisimilitude, great characters, or a meaningful plot. Epic fantasy, even the good ones, just feels like bloat to me, as I skip through pages of descriptions or nothing dialogue just to get to what’s good. Its not worth it to me anymore.

      3. Joshua says:

        I feel the same way, not necessarily about the length of novels (although there is that too), but that it’s so derivative. I read so many in my teens, and then after a few years got burned out because so many were just copies of each other.

    4. Grimwear says:

      No one’s mentioned it yet but the only one I’ve read was the Malazan Book of the Fallen and man….that series is not good. There are a lot of reasons for it but there’s so much extra plot put in that could be cut and not be lost. o many characters who disappear across 3 or more books (which page count wise ends up being the equivalent to 9 other books). And so many things that happen off screen that you sit there and go…why aren’t I reading about that stuff? And people excuse it by saying “it makes the world feel bigger and lived in”. Sorry I thought the 10 1000+ page books were supposed to be doing that.

      Example: One character is traveling with a tribe and when we next see him he’s the leader because the original leader just drowned. Somehow. Between books. Or the fact that something utterly bizarre occurs in the final book that makes no sense until you remember that a single line was typed in book 8 2000+ pages ago that said X character needed to do something. Hope you remembered that single detail. Or that the actual entire basis for the series occurs offscreen and never gets explained. Here’s 3 ancient races all with different goals and turns out that they all joined together to do big doom! Why did they join forces? How were they convinced to work together? How did they meet when they live in different realms? Don’t know. It happened and they’re at the final ritual and good guys better stop it.

      My favourite trivia is that the author Steven Erikson got upset because people said he was bad at characterization (Kinda hard to care about characters when there are literally hundreds of them and some you don’t see for hundreds or thousands of pages. Coincidence that people’s favourite characters are those with the most screen time? I think not.) so he dedicated book 4’s first 200 pages to a single character in order to prove them wrong. Well turns out people loved this character Karsa Orlong (I wonder why), but then he dropped that writing style and went back to incessant jumping. Well after the Malazan series ended he tried writing a new trilogy that no one read (and claimed he didn’t know why it was so unpopular) so he stopped after book 2 to instead write a Karsa Orlong trilogy. I wonder if as he’s writing the Karsa Orlong stuff if it niggles at his soul that one of his most popular characters is one he wrote out of spite and inadvertently proved his critics right.

      1. Retsam says:

        Yeah, I love epic fantasy, and I just really didn’t care for Malazan – I got somewhere into the 7th book before I dropped. It’s – and I mean this completely unironically – the Dark Souls of epic fantasy: it’s pretty unforgiving how it throws around lore and characters and magic and gods and plot-lines and just expects you to keep track of it all yourself.

        But (again, like Dark Souls) the people who are into it are super into it: it’s a huge meme on r/fantasy about now matter what kind of recommendation you ask for, one of the top replies is going to be “Have you tried Malazan Book of the Fallen?” (Maybe it’s gotten better, I dropped r/fantasy years ago) And you get a lot of similar “it ruined other fantasy series for me” comments, again a lot like some Dark Souls fans talk about other games.

        But, yeah, it was incredibly hit-and-miss for me. Some real interesting world-building – everything’s like an order of magnitude older than in most fantasy books, and tons of ancient races and, I dunno, zombie raptor gods? … but it didn’t seem to really have hardly any overall plot, and I didn’t find many of the characters compelling, and if I did, it’d completely throw them away and change them out in the next book (or often, in the second part of the same book).

        For me the best part of the series was… book 5? Which compared to the others, actually had a coherent arc to its narrative – it helped that it was basically all a ‘flashback’ book – it was much more focused and self-contained and basically everything in the book came together at the end and actually had a fairly compelling payoff.

        I think the most ridiculous thing for me is that there’s a character is traveling with two other characters, and spends multiple pages recollecting (in his head, to the audience) the history of someone he once fought: the famously silent leader of the a tribe who fought and won battles against a colonizing force, only to eventually later in life see his people brought down by economic subservience instead of outright conquest, which drove him towards alcoholism and he died babbling and nearly mad.

        The entire story is just a setup to say “… but even in his madness, surely he did not talk as much [traveling companion who won’t shut up]”. Like an entire fictional history of a character and their people… all just to make a throwaway joke about a character talking too much. That’s Malazan Book of the Fallen.

        1. Grimwear says:

          Yep I have so many gripes about Malazan. I did google some reddit stuff about how people enjoyed it and wow there are some…zealous fans. In fact one was so insane I actually screen grabbed it. I hope the dude who wrote it was being at least a bit facetious but I’ll provide a quote, “We both think Toll the Hounds one of the greatest gifts ever bestowed upon mankind, delivered unto us from the heights of Parnassus itself.” Yikes.

          But I have a lot of issues with Erikson. It’s too bad you didn’t finish 7 since I consider it my favourite simply because it feels like an ending to the series. Things get resolved and the whole thing could have ended right there no harm done. But no instead we get 3 more books and the not built up at all ritual plot of world ending doom.

          I don’t mind worldbuilding but if I don’t care about any of the characters in said world then I have huge issues giving a crap. I have theories about how this came to be but no proof of anything really. I do know the first book was written as a movie and never picked up so Erikson wrote it into a novel but I firmly believe Ganoes Paran was supposed to be our main protagonist. He gets dropped into this crazy world just like the reader and we’re meant to get acclimated along with him. He even gets to be the super awesome Deck of…Dragons? Master. But then Erikson goes off the rails, Ganoes isn’t in book 2, comes back in 3, then disappears until 6 and when we see him he’s suddenly mastered all the powers of the deck and we the audience miss the whole thing. And after that…he literally becomes just a taxi service. The worst.

          But people keep saying it’s amazing and the worst part is the author believes it as well. A friend sent me a facebook post he wrote against his critics who don’t like his series and he’s so incredibly dismissive and smug. Stating that those who don’t like it are people who want their stories directly fed to them like a baby gets fed pablum, In fact the “essay” is called Pass the Pablum.

          You mentioned the long recollections and it infuriated me nonstop and is another reason I despise Erikson. He purposefully starts every chapter with a 5-10 page inner monologue on something (power, politics, companions, whatever) but will not say who is doing the monologue until the end. So he expects you to read these pages with no context, find out who’s saying it at the end, the reread the whole section AGAIN this time with context so you can further understand said character. No…I just skipped until I saw the name of the character then started reading. And there are a lot of weird things that pop up and entirely depends on how much trust you have in the author.

          For example, we hear nonstop that Tavore Paran is a military genius. She beat all the other generals at military exercises as a child and spent her time recreating battles and Ganoes says she’s the best ever. But then every single time her unit goes to battle they get absolutely destroyed. Burned alive in a city, flee from their homeland, she completely misinterprets the military campaign in book 7 when she expects the “oppressed” populace to rise up alongside her soldiers and they don’t. She survives on luck then she gets demolished by the lizard people, marches her forces into a desert where they die, then gets to the final battle blah blah blah. The point being…is this Erikson just forgetting how amazing she’s supposed to be or that the story got so large and needed these dramatic events that Tavore got the short end of the stick? Or is this him purposefully subverting expectations? Well I believe the former because I don’t consider him a good writer but I’m sure all his rabid fans will excuse it with more of his genius.

          At the end of the day Malazan has sold…4 million copies I believe? Something like that. And I’m insanely curious to see the numbers across the series since I would wager that at least 75% of the sales are from books 1-4 and they drop off steeply after that as all these people who were told it was amazing drop the series. That’s what happened to me. I bought the first 4 books of Game of Thrones (it was a buy 3 get the 4th free deal), then hated it, never finished the first book, and still they sit in my room collecting dust but hey I pumped those GoT sales numbers.

          1. Lino says:

            I’ve never read the Malazan, and I don’t really intend to – these days the only doorstops I have time for are either non-fiction stuff (usually history), or one-and-done old-school sci fi. I’m just not that into fantasy anymore, and the amount of rabid Malazan fans is an even further turn-off.

            But your impression of sales made me interested, and it seems to be true. A quick way to check is to look at the Goodreads ratings and reviews. While it isn’t nearly as concrete as sales data, I think it’s a good gauge of overall interest (usually, the percentage of people leaving ratings and reviews is quite consistent – so less ratings mean less sales).

            And you can see that the sharpest decline was between Books 1 and 2 (from 103k ratings down to 64k), and between Books 2 and 3 (from 64k to 50k). Then we get a gradual fall until we get to Book 10 which only has 25k ratings.

            1. Grimwear says:

              Wow there’s a lot of interesting material there along with a lot of inferences. Book 1 is obviously the lowest rated since clearly the majority of people who hated it then dropped the series immediately so they no longer lowered subsequent book ratings. What’s interesting is that there’s so little drop off between 7 and 8. I argued 7 my favourite because it finally felt like things were happening and plotlines were being resolved and it seems many other people did as well since they continued to book 8. Unfortunately I consider book 8 the worst and a complete waste of time, and it clearly upset a lot of people since we see another drop of 3k ratings.

              Finally, I’m a bit sad book 9 is rated worse than 10 (9 and 10 are considered to be 1 book by Erikson and he was just forced to separate them) since I personally thought 9 was so much better than 10 and it’s terrible ending.

              Other quick thought: Deadhouse Gates is rated very low. Could be due to disgruntled readers holding on hoping the series would get better. Doesn’t help book 2 is pretty much a completely new cast. I will say this book has some of the best scenes I’ve ever read. The…Chain of Dogs? is frankly phenomenal.

              1. Syal says:

                Deadhouse Gates is the only one I’ve read, and the whole Chain of Dogs thing was quite thrilling; it felt like a general managing to hold off impossible odds while clearly not actually being able to affect the outcome. Like the Elfstones of Shannara but better. I’d love to be able to pull off something like that.

                On the other hand, there’s also a straight ripoff of the Nameless One from Planescape Torment, who’s literally called The Nameless One on top of having his own name.

                And then there’s a couple of other plotlines that I don’t remember leading to anything. Also no likable characters, everyone’s some gradient of villain. So, mixed bag book.

                1. Retsam says:

                  Yeah, if anyone’s interested reading Deadhouse Gates is the right choice. You don’t miss anything from book 1, because there’s very little connection: it’s mostly an entirely different plot on an entirely different continent with almost entirely different characters, and only a few repeats. (Then book 3 drops basically everything from book 2 and goes back to the book 1 characters and plots, and basically repeat again for book 4)

                  And the Chain of Dogs plotline is definitely one of the most popular plot points in the whole series… (though maybe in part because most people drop without getting all the way in).

                  1. Grimwear says:

                    I personally believe Chain of Dogs is the best the series gets.

                    Book 3 – City Siege is good but coming off Chain of Dogs is found wanting.

                    Book 4 – A non battle. Literally 1 person walks up, stabs another, then the army runs away. (Great subversion when you read 1000+ pages for nothing /s.)

                    Book 5 – Fine

                    Book 6 – Pretty darn good battle in the city on fire.

                    Book 7 – Good campaign à la Chain of Dogs, unfortunately the Malazans are saved by a Deus ex Machina Malazan sorceror who is first introduced an subsequently killed in book 7.

                    Book 8 – Biggest waste of time ever and the entire Shake and Tiste plot could be dropped from the entire story without any major issue.

                    Book 9 – Almost has as good a moment as Chain of Dogs where the Lizard people attack the Malazan. And the Malazan are in their trench with lightning magic being flung over their head and you get an amazing line something like “And then the Malazan stood up.” Almost got chills. Great start to the battle right? Wrong because that’s the end. Erikson ignores the battle then you get jumped to like 2 days ahead where all the soldiers are in awe of the Malazan because the one unit (Bonehunters?) held the lizards back long enough for the rest of the army to retreat and the other army dudes flanked the lizards in the side then they all ran away. Sounds like an awesome battle. Would have been really great to experience that as the reader, especially considering we were literally right there. But no. Also the…Barghest? stuff was good.

                    Book 10 – Waste of time, terrible battles, and most notable thing is the Malazan walking and dying in the desert which is just a worse version of Chain of Dogs. Chain of Dogs the group is being hounded and chased. Here they’re marching and dying because Tavore says so. You literally have generals pleading with her asking where they’re going or why they’re doing this and she just ignores them. Insufferable.

  2. Thomas says:

    I’d like to think the ship’s problem in the third run of Tin Can was that the fire detector was broken.

  3. Lino says:

    In terms of stories, I’m definitely with Shamus and Paul – I’m more interested in the ideas a given story wants to explore. Mountains of lore are usually a turn-off for me. Which is why I’ve taken to reading old-school sci fi, and all the fantasy I read these days is either Conan the Barbarian stories (which are short, action-packed and to-the-point), or the loosely connected Discworld novels (which I don’t consider pure fantasy).

    1. Tizzy says:

      The Discworld novels are connected by character and setting, but very early on, each book is interested in exploring one or two ideas in depth. From revisiting old story tropes (what if Death took a holiday?) to unpacking modern history (what is it like for a society to invent paper money and wean yourself off the gold standard?)

      Enjoyed by many.

      1. Lino says:

        That’s exactly why I love Pratchett. It’s everything I want out of a book – a relevant real-world idea, explored in-depth, interwoven with humour, often times a mystery, and compelling characters. What more could you want?

    2. RFS-81 says:

      If you’re up for unsolicited recommendations, check out Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar stories. They’re old-school Sword & Sorcery, but slightly tongue-in-cheek, and I think one of the bigger inspirations for Terry Pratchet. The protagonists Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser even got a sort-of cameo in the first Discworld novel.

      1. Lino says:

        Hmmm… Definitely looks interesting. I just added it to my To-Read List. Thanks!

  4. beleester says:

    Tin Can reminds me of Deep Sixed, another game about performing spaceship maintenance under pressure with a complicated manual. Definitely putting it on my wishlist.

    1. Jon Ericson says:

      Deep Sixed is a wonderful little game. It has a PDF manual which I put it on my Kindle and feels quite immersive. The story works pretty well, too.

      When you first play, it’s all about panicking when something (often several somethings) goes wrong. Once you know the ship, it becomes easy to calmly pull out the needed tool/part to fix the problem and move on to the next task. I feel like it’s a Dark Souls game for people who can’t abide Dark Souls nonsense.

  5. Thomas says:

    I think the issue with modern AI is just that modern environments look a lot busier. The AI does a lot of smart stuff, it just doesn’t read well.

    Shamus talks about cover-based AI moving from cover to cover and flanking you, but Uncharted AI definitely does do that. And they spread out and try to get around the sides of you when you’re in cover.

    And in The Last of Us, not only does the AI do that, but it’s also only aware of where it last saw the player. So you can pop up, shoot people, sneak around cover and flank the AI which are busy trying to encircle and storm the place you were hiding when you were last shot.

    But I don’t think any of that is easy to read in these big cluttered environments and when you’re concentrating on when an enemy is next going to pop out.

    What does read well is running back through a dark grey corridor and slamming into an enemy who was coming the over way.

    EDIT: Paul is right. Fortnite stuffs it’s games full of bots and makes it very difficult to tell which is a bot and which is human. It’s scummy because it makes it easier to win 1 versus 100 when a lot of the 100 are bots designed to die to you. They focus a lot on not making the AI play well, but making it do the dumb stuff people do. They wear skins, they spam dance emotes. They build random walls. They have normal usernames. People work out the things that denote bots (bots build too well, bots don’t build ramps etc.) and Epic change the AI so they do that too but the community normally finds a new tell

  6. Tizzy says:

    The AI of F.E.A.R. has been extensively documented, thanks in part to Jeff Orkin who was involved with that project. See this more recent treatment (2014). One way in which it is a “lesser” A.I. is that each agent is autonomous and behaving independently of the others, and any complex behavior of the squad is just emergent behavior. In other words, unintended, and illusion. An AI that aimed at simulating a real squad would want them communicating (the slow audiovisual communication of humans, not the fast communication of agent able to access a shared memory space) and apply squad tactics. From the point of view of the programmer, it’s terrible overhead and extra complexity that will definitely slow down the game. From the point of view of the player, it’s unlikely to look that different. So though the actual squad AI is an interesting exercise, and may have application in future warfare with drones, it is unlikely to improve the gaming experience of the player.

    1. King Marth says:

      I strongly disagree that emergent behaviour which appears complex is intrinsically unintentional and lesser than handcrafted squad tactics. There is an entire AI research subfield for autonomous multi-agent systems, focused on constructing relatively simple individuals which combine in interesting ways. Flock simulation is the most famous. Perhaps these devs somehow never checked what their AI was doing in groups and adjusted accordingly, but emergent behaviour can definitely be by design.

      There is a lot of value to agents which dynamically react to their environment, especially in video games when the number of agents can change from frame to frame.

      1. Tizzy says:

        I don’t think anyone would be surprised that autonomous agents all working towards the same goal would result in emergent complex / cooperative behavior. The point though is that if the agents are not deliberately synchronizing, the game AI cannot be described as simulating a squad of soldiers, who even in the stress and confusion of battle, would at least attempt to communicate with each other. Having such a squad AI does not guarantee a better game, of course. It would simply be a more accurate simulation, probably at the expense of gameplay (extra computing cost which is unlikely to be compensated by a more realistic behavior as seen from the player’s POV).

        In the case of F.E.A.R. AI, it seems that, though the agents are not deliberately coordinating their actions, they are able to recognize what angles their teammates are neutralizing, and take it into account when prioritizing their own moves. That would be how they appear to synchronize, and as I recall from playing the demo back in the days, the illusion is hard to break.

  7. Thomas says:

    The thing about the Foundation series is that those books dramatically shifted in style over time. The first few books were tiny, and partially a collection of short stories.

    And then it becomes a whole thing and the become more bloated and more focused on continuity and a lot more magical and less sci fi.

    The original trilogy is under 700 pages total, and about 11 hours reading time.

    Foundation and Earth is 500 pages and 8 hours reading time by itself.

    1. Drathnoxis says:

      Foundation became a lot less interesting to me when it became about Super Psychics, rather than science predicting societal changes.

  8. PPX14 says:

    Is there a game, series, control scheme, or genre that you lament as being lost to the past? Something that was just OBJECTIVELY better and is inexplicably gone?

    1. Lean (First Person)

    Secondary ones (somewhat lost and commonly lamented):

    2. Unlimited sprint
    3. Health bar

    And most importantly:

    4. Jedi Outcast

    1. Lino says:

      4. Jedi Outcast

      *wipes eye*

      Damn ninjas cutting onions!

    2. beleester says:

      Leaning is still around in the Dishonored games, but outside of stealth games I’m generally happy to use my Q and E keys for something more important.

      Also, Crysis 2 had a context-sensitive “peek out of cover” button – if you crouched behind a wall it would make you peek over it, if you stood near a corner it would lean to the side. It was a neat way to add cover shooter mechanics to a first person game.

      1. PPX14 says:

        Ah trust Arkane to keep it going :D

      2. PPX14 says:

        I did quite like the control scheme in Rainbow Six Vegas, if I remember, on PC with mouse and keyboard, it felt very useable, intuitive, flexible and tactile. It was the first game I’d played with the blindfire option, 1st person game that goes 3rd person in cover (I think?), sticky cover with options to turn out of and spring back into cover to take shots e.g. round corners which puts you back into first person to line up the shot. (And the risk of being head-shot by doing so, that was a funny moment, poked out of cover and died instantly and realised oh yes, I made my head the only target.)

        I wonder what the situation is now with such games. It’s the only of its type that I’ve played really. Opposite of Far Cry (1)’s strict 1st person.

  9. John says:

    Welcome to the GNOME desktop environment Paul! I too have suffered from weird alt-tab behavior since I installed GNOME on my laptop, though not to the extent that I have ever felt the need to do something about it before. For your sake, however, I have taken a look at the keyboard navigation shortcuts in the GNOME settings application just now and I have discovered that:

    (a) alt-tab cycles between applications,

    (b) alt-F6 cycles through the open windows for a given application, and

    (c) alt-ESC cycles through all open windows–i.e., it behaves like alt-tab on a normal computer.

    GNOME keyboard shortcuts are, as you suspected, customizable, so you ought to be able to make alt-tab do what you want. I note that GNOME is the first desktop environment I’ve ever used where alt-tab doesn’t cycle through all open windows by default. I’ve used LXDE, XCFE, MATE, and Cinnamon without ever running into this issue before.

    1. tmtvl says:

      Oh, cycling between windows of an application is Alt+F6 in GNOME? Usually it defaults to Alt+Grave Accent (aka backtick, the thing that shares a key with tilde).

      1. John says:

        It is in Manjaro GNOME edition. Whether that’s a GNOME default or not, I couldn’t say. A lot of distros like to tweak GNOME to one degree or another.

    2. Paul Spooner says:

      Thanks! I’ll have to try that out.
      EDIT: Sure enough! Alt-Esc does the trick! I was even able to easily swap the shortcut (with Alt-Tab) from the system settings menu. Take that Windows!

    3. Philadelphus says:

      Yeah, came down to here to say that on Cinammon (the only desktop environment I’ve used on my home Linux rig) Alt-Tab works exactly as described on Windows.

      1. Addie MacGruer says:

        Yep; Mint user here, has always worked like that on Cinnamon. Used to work that way on Gnome, back in the ‘2’ days, but I never got on with Gnome 3 and it’s one of the main reasons I moved to using Mint.

        1. pseudonym says:

          Gnome 3 is an interface disaster. It is tailored to those who want to have as much screen space available as possible and heavily relies on hotkeys for users to have an efficient flow. Sure, this works! But it relies on a user knowing and memorizing these hotkeys. Which is by definition not true for a new user or someone who uses linux to browse the internet. That is only stuff that becomes important when you start using linux for your job and use multiple applications and need to switch between them often.

          So it tailors to heavy users, ignoring new users. But even as a heavy user I do not like it. I used it about a year at work, then really needed multiple desktops in my work, could not found how to do it in GNOME 3 within 10 minutes, so I switched back to MATE (the GNOME 2 continuation project.) MATE is simply much better if you want to divert from the path the GNOME 3 developers set out. Now I can have my windows layout (task bar at the bottom) that I have been comfortable with since 1995 (when I was 5….) and also have a super-key activated searchable menu, an alt-tab switcher with previews and easy switching between multiple desktops.

          1. John says:

            I will speak up for GNOME and say that it has been a pretty good fit for my small touch-screen laptop, all the more so since I think I failed to properly re-connect the touchpad ribbon cable the last time I took the laptop apart. Best of all, it doesn’t seem to have any problems with my AMD APU. The last time I tried XCFE, MATE, and Cinnamon on this hardware they were all so glitchy that it was effectively impossible to do anything at all. (I wonder if that issue has been fixed yet? I miss XCFE.) GNOME hasn’t been the best fit for gaming for various reasons, but otherwise I have no serious complaints.

            1. pseudonym says:

              Fair enough, as the “standard” desktop in most distributions, Gnome is going to have the most polish in the hardware department. That is also very valuable.

              Having said that, I have had no problems with MATE yet on my AMD gpu. I wonder if the issue could also be GTK3 related? Gnome 3 has been running on that for ages while the smaller desktop projects have been supporting that only somewhat recently (at least MATE does now as far as I know of).

  10. Syal says:

    I’m way into the complexity camp. There’s a modern-day mystery book called The Emperor of Ocean Park that’s still introducing new characters at the three quarter mark, and I love it. The Shogun/Taipan series is all about following masses of characters around, some of which have little or no actual plot relevance at the end of the day, but you have to get to the end of the day to know that. Boogiepop Phantom is pure disconnected confusion. Throw as many layers of plot as you can at me. Give me that space cadet glow.

    I really like Brandon Sanderson’s books, but Brandon Sanderson is a nerd and his writing incorporates his nerdiness. There’s a lot of dumb jokes in there that hurt the worldbuilding. Oathbringer had a particular line that made me cringe when I read it, because of how awkward and blunt-force it was, and then it basically turned into a rallying cry, and it was awful. So, you’ve kind of got to glaze your eyes sometimes to keep enjoying them.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Ooh, Shogun and Taipan? The James Clavell books? They were kind of fascinating, in the way they were incredibly detailed, really complex, well characterised with a lot of depth…
      …and then they’d just…
      Not bad endings, though, and there were rarely any plot threads left loose, but you’d always be left with a vague feeling of ‘Wait, is…that it? I don’t have any questions and I’m not really disappointed – I was just expecting more, somehow.’

      I always got the impression that Clavell just got bored of the stories and then abruptly decided to wrap them up. Either that, or he was writing on a schedule and realised that the deadline was far closer than he thought.
      “Oh shit, this finished draft is due on Tuesday? Oh okay, er, the main antagonist guy is ordered to kill himself by a new character. So he does. He’s dead, everyone else just keeps going as usual, the end!”

      1. Rho says:

        I have a bit of a different view of Shogun: Clavell was so busy exoticizing the people of Japan and the samurai specifically that he seems to have forgotten they were, in fact, human. Works written by actual Japanese people of the Sengoku period are often humorous, but reveal a lot more mundane normalcy to them despite the very different culture.

        Or to put it another way, in real life samurai are neither so pathetic nor so loyal that they would throw themselves off cliffs to get the attention of a warlord, nor would a warlord be so entranced by his apparently-imminent death as to fail to notice his retainers literally throwing him a rope. Any leader who acted like the succession of fools in Shogun would have been knifed in the back and chucked into the garbage. The real history is far more exciting and dramatic than the novelization, I’m afraid.

  11. tmtvl says:

    Concerning Planet Crafter, no matter how advanced your technology is, as Montgomery Scott said, you cannae change the laws of physics.

    1. Moridin says:

      Well, the thing is that even with advanced technology, terraforming would still take centuries. So for the purposes of a video game, that has to be compressed somehow, regardless of how you’re going about it.

      1. tmtvl says:

        Yeah, though I would still recommend going for a different style than a first-person crafter, maybe go with something closer to The Last Federation in style would work better.

  12. Paul Spooner says:

    So, I just played the free demo of Tin Can, and there’s a whole section of the tutorial dedicated to walking through how to repair items by scrapping other parts. Seems like maybe you forgot that step for runs 1 and 2? Couldn’t you also take a screen out of one of the other systems? I’m leaning toward this being your fault.

    1. Schlemazal says:

      Having found and played a bunch of Tin Can recently, I’m getting a kick here.

      To be fair to Shamus, in the Rescue mode the repair bench doesn’t unlock until one of the longer ones (20 minutes, I think). You could always repair it in an earlier run, but it takes a bunch of parts and a couple of specialty ones so generally not worth it.

      The thing I really enjoyed about the game is that basically anything is survivable in some fashion at least. There are really hard situations, but very little is unwinnable. Some of the Challenge mode runs really highlight that – no pumps to run your life support systems? Just manually open your oxygen and nitrogen tanks to control air pressures, and vent all your air into space whenever your CO2 gets too high.

      Some tips for Rescue mode though:
      1) Shamus had the right idea with gathering components at the start. It’s not necessary, but makes it way easier. There are several aisles on the station before launch, and every component is represented in them. I found there was time to get 3-4 handfuls if you use the time, and batteries were a solid choice.

      2) You can swap components between systems pretty much whenever you want (just turn off that system first). You also don’t need every system to run all the time, you could easily survive just swapping components between your oxygen and CO2 for example. CRTs swap very easily, and most of your systems don’t need one 90% of the time.

      3) Where it gets really crazy is trying to figure out how to survive the events the game throws at you. They all have pretty easy ways to get through with minimal damage, but half the fun is figuring out how, so I won’t spoil it.

  13. Philadelphus says:

    My sole exposure to Planet Crafter came in the form of Josh from Let’s Game It Out breaking the game in half over his knee…over and over and over

  14. Fallonor says:

    It feels so weird to me to hear that fantasy books should be brief because what I’ve always loved is big fantasy books where I spend long enough with the world and characters and systems, that I can start to picture it in a deep way. Where I know about how random strangers act and know the creatures and the magic systems and everything.

    You can get this in a brief book but I’ve never had a short novel do the kind of job that a heavy tome can at building worlds I could turn around and teach someone about. I’m the guy that collects and reads essential guides, or dives into the wiki on shows I never watched because I’m far more interested in worlds and the broad strokes of stories than I generally am in character drama. Honestly, I don’t partake in very much straightforward drama in any particularly real and modern setting because I find it offputting. I’m scared of interpersonal conflict and I’m worried about my real world, drama that reflects that is showing me what I’m trying to get away from.

    I feel like there’s this concensus lately, among folks like game critics, DnD youtubers, film analysts and the like, that all anyone wants is to be told a story and there is a right and wrong way to do that, and that anything else is fluff at best, time wasting at worst. But I find more and more that I don’t even believe it’s necessarily the broad consensus. When I watch folks like Red Letter Media proclaim that the Transformers movies are bad despite being wildly popular, I start to wonder if they just don’t understand what folks want from movies. Maybe folks don’t mind lowbrow humor and flashy robot fights and really don’t care if the story is deep.

    In the same way maybe a lot of folks think because Lord of the Rings is an enduring classic, any book that wants to be as long has to have the incredible stakes, messages and mythology or it’s simply lesser. But even the popcorniest popcorn fiction can serve the purpose it was made for. Eragon has weak overall story and the dialogue is awkard at best. But a world with dragons and magic and a clear evil a young man could hope to challenge was a world I wanted to inhabit for a time. It seems I’m not alone, the books were successful.

    Im rambling, but what I’m trying to get at is that I think short books and tight dramas are great, but I think somehow the personality overlap between folks that produce shows about media and folks that enjoy those forms above all has confused us into thinking that preference is an objective value statement. I don’t think Paul and Shamus necessarily are guilty of that here, but it felt like it lined up closely with the issue and I think a lot about it.

    1. John says:

      When I watch folks like Red Letter Media proclaim that the Transformers movies are bad despite being wildly popular, I start to wonder if they just don’t understand what folks want from movies.

      I don’t really need to say that popularity is not the same as quality, do I? I thought that particular principle was well-established by now. The Transformers movies are bad. At least the one I watched was. It doesn’t mean that I don’t understand why some people might like it anyway. I am capable of recognizing that other people don’t always care about the same things that I do. I presume that the same is true of whoever it is that works at Red Letter Media. Nevertheless, a critic’s job is to speak critically. It is not to reflect popular taste. It isn’t anybody’s job to reflect popular taste.

      Well, I suppose that it might actually be somebody’s literal actual job. But isn’t anybody’s moral responsibility. That’s the important thing.

      1. Fizban says:

        The problem is the blanket meaning/usage of the word “bad.” Something can be critically/structurally flawed, even egregiously so, and still be enjoyable- or in other words, “good.” While there is an accepted “this X is terrible and I love it!” position, dialing both ends up to extremes, there seems to be very little tolerance for things that are moderately to majority but not ridiculously flawed, which people enjoy without exalting.

        1. John says:

          Enjoyable and good are not and should not be synonyms. In this discussion, I have taken “bad” to mean “poorly crafted”. You and Fallonor may be operating on different definitions. With that definition in mind, however, I propose that, while it is perfectly fine and perfectly normal to like bad things, liking bad things does not somehow make them good.

          1. Philadelphus says:

            Enjoyable and good are not and should not be synonyms.

            Hear hear! (As a simple example, various addictive hard drugs…)

            1. tmtvl says:

              I would’ve gone with The Room as an example, but I suppose your example is a bit more palatable.

        2. Syal says:

          Something can be critically/structurally flawed, even egregiously so, and still be enjoyable- or in other words, “good.”

          I’d say “fun” for that stuff. Doesn’t have to be good if it’s fun.

          That said, Transformers 2 and 3 also failed to be fun. I don’t know what the public saw in them, they were bad in every sense.

          there seems to be very little tolerance for things that are moderately to majority but not ridiculously flawed, which people enjoy without exalting.

          Critics have to have something to talk about. If a movie is good but not great, you have to talk about that if you’re talking about the thing at all. Flaws are easy, comparisons to better movies are easy. You can sort of compare them to worse movies, but comparing it too much in both directions will confuse the hierarchy and leave the audience saying “so is it worth seeing or not?”.

          1. Gautsu says:

            You both are conflating your subjective opinion, with an objective fact. You disliked the movies and consider them bad or poorly crafted. Others didn’t. None of your or their opinions have more weight than any other. Everyone has different tastes and I am sure there are plenty of people other than Tommy Wiseau who consider the room a masterpiece. One of the biggest problems we face as a society now (sorry if this borders the line) is believing that our opinions are truths, when they are not. 1+1=2 can be proven; quality is a lot harder to prove

            1. Philadelphus says:

              You might be surprised how difficult the former is to prove; a math professor of mine once recounted his experience taking an entire semester of higher math theory, culminating in something like a 40-page proof derived over an hour or more, where he finally, in a momentary flash of insight, truly understood the formal proof that 1 1=2. :)

              By comparison, quality is easy to determine because we have many, many examples of movies of various quality levels and we can compare them based on our experience, much like we can rank stars in apparent visual brightness without a photometer to measure their absolute incident flux. Yes, sometimes people can allow their preferences to cloud their judgement, but if we’re honest with ourselves we can recognize that something we like is objectively on the lower end of the quality scale, and vice versa. And there’s nothing wrong with that! The other danger, though, is in letting other people’s opinions cloud our judgement. I don’t care how many other people enjoyed the first three Transformers movies; good on ’em, but those movies were objectively pretty low on the scale of the quality of all the movies I’ve watched in my life. (I wouldn’t even say I dislike them, because that would imply an action on my part; I just don’t really care about them one way or the other.) Conversely, there are films in various genres which I’m sure I would not enjoy (I’m not big on horror, for instance), but which I can recognize as being well-crafted masterpieces. So it’s possible to separate one’s subjective opinion and enjoyment of a work from one’s objective assessment of the quality of the work that went into it. As a painter myself, I can recognize the sheer quantity of talent and work that went into painting, say, the Mona Lisa; I’ll probably never paint anything a hundredth as good in my lifetime. But personally? Well, it’s not exactly the most exciting painting out there, is it?

            2. Syal says:

              You both are conflating your subjective opinion, with an objective fact.

              Art is purely subjective. To declare it’s an opinion is redundant. To call for objective criticism is to call for silence.

              None of your or their opinions have more weight than any other.

              The opinion backed up by reasoning holds more weight than the one without, since the reasoning can be understood and interpreted. “This is great when you’re stoned” is a much weaker endorsement than “The puppy kung fu scene touched on a childhood emotion I’ve never been able to put into words before.”

              1. PPX14 says:

                “The puppy kung fu scene touched on a childhood emotion I’ve never been able to put into words before.”

                The mid-air interception, seen between the big cats in that terrible live action Jungle Book a few years ago, elicited this emotion.

  15. PPX14 says:

    Is there a game, series, control scheme, or genre that you lament as being lost to the past? Something that was just OBJECTIVELY better and is inexplicably gone?

    Games takes some thinking.

    But ask me about Windows features and Microsoft Office…

    * Toolbars!
    * Moveable, easily customisable, Toolbars!!
    * Windows XP and earlier allowed us to position folders and files wherever we wanted in 2D space within a folder!!!
    * Windows 98 allowed us to change the background image within a folder!!!!

    Many new features have been added which help in many ways. But the removal of these and other features is inexplicable to me. I kept XP for the longest time partly for the benefit of being able to arrange files spatially as I saw fit within folders, as it helped me work (especially if sub-folders become difficult due to the file path character limit).

  16. Z'Greel says:

    I do agree that a first person terraforming game might not be the best format for that. It’s a bit too small and too short a timeframe, as mentioned.

    Which is why I rather like Surviving Mars and it’s Green Planet DLC. The timeframe is still fudged, of course. But you terraform Mars over generations, with industrial sized terraforming equipment, spread over a large area.

    I find it quite fun, and I can recommend it. (Less so for the other DLC though >_> )

    1. Philadelphus says:

      I’ve been playing Terraformers lately, which released into Early Access back in April. It’s another take on the idea of terraforming Mars (yes, I have like 4 games on that theme in my library…what? No, I don’t have a problem…). which goes for a turn-based approach* where you have to simultaneously explore the planet to find resources while building cities on it, each of which in turn has a little map with nodes where you can place buildings in it. I won’t get into a big spiel here, but I’ve found it very enjoyable and relaxing (there no real time-pressure, unless you’re trying to beat your own best score).

      *Where each turn is 1 Martian year, or 2 Earth years; for comparison, my best times to complete the various scenarios hover about the 50-turn mark.

  17. evilmrhenry says:

    Re: Tin Can. There’s a link on the Steam store page that goes to the manual, so you can totally just print out the manual.

  18. evilmrhenry says:

    It’s too bad you didn’t look up how to make alt-tab work right in Edge, because it’s stupid. It’s not a setting in Edge; instead, you need to open up “Settings” in Windows (Not Control Panel, and the fact that there’s two completely different locations for settings in Windows is a rant all of its own), System, Multitasking, and change the setting there.

    1. Killjoy says:

      Thanks for this. I (for laziness reasons) use Edge to work from home and not mix it with my personal Chrome tabs, and this behavior always annoyed me. Never bothered looking up how to fix it and just accepted it as one of the things I had to suffer through for my choice of browser, but now I get to suffer slightly less. Progress!

  19. Chris says:

    I think the terraforming game is a cool concept and would work great and the problem is execution. Just introduce some kind of bubble system. So at the start you create a small bubble that traps atmosphere in it. Then you use your weak tools to slowly convert it. Once you get some trees and lakes going it starts to become self-sufficient, even self-reinforcing. Then you can stretch up the bubble, and instead of having to plant tiny shrubs by hand and squeeze water out of a rock, you can use your already existing patch of terraformed earth to seed the next bit.
    That neatly folds into crafting gameplay like you have in factorio. Where you start with nothing, and it takes a lot of time and effort to get anything done, but once you set it up, basic resources come easy, and you have to work on larger projects.

  20. Ilya says:

    On the topic of AI-generated rants: someone could train an ML algorithm on a collection of Shamus and Paul No Man Sky rants, and then feed it each changelog/release notes. This would be like “experiencing” a new content for an AI.

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