Monday, June 19, 2017

E3 2017 Games I Want to Talk About

I think we've all come to agree that E3 2017 was one of the weaker shows in recent memory. Nintendo apparently "won"... though I've always been rather if-y on what mechanism actually determines "winning" E3. How do the points work again? Do you gain or lose field position when you trot out a pair of nobody English comedians for your soccer game? The point is that 2017 was a lesser show. The year blew its load early with all my biggest hyped games, like "Breath of the Wild" and "Persona 5" and "Horizon Zero Dawn" and "Nier: Automata" all out by April (I'll review the other half eventually). That left E3 to be a lot of filler.

Plus there just wasn't a lot of huge news even with new consoles to talk about. The Xbox One X or "XXbone" looks pointless to me unless you have a 4K TV in which case you're already so rich you don't need games. You can just hire poor people to fight to the death for exposure for you amusement. Sony was just killing time until 2018 when their new crop of exclusives will come out. And while Nintendo killed it, they can't exactly carry the games industry all on their own. We all know what the Switch is by now, that can't be the story anymore. And strangely there was also not a ton of indie presence, which I feel was a mistake. It all added up to a slow, weaker crop of games. But ironically also a ton of games that I think have promise. In fact, too many games I could see myself playing.

So for this year's E3 reaction I'm going to try to keep this as short and sweet as I can. We're going to use some triage and get right to stuff that I'm most interested in talking about. If a game is not mentioned here it doesn't mean I don't have hype for it, it just means there isn't anything to say. Here's why a lot of stuff got skipped:

1. It's just more of what we saw in previous years. This would include "God of War 4", "Detroit", "Cuphead", and yeah, even "Kingdom Hearts III".

2. It's new but isn't doing much that's really new. So nothing on the "Shadow of the Colossus" remake, "Far Cry 5", or that "Uncharted" DLC.

3. It used the word "loot" in the marketing. There is no faster way in 2017 to make me lose interest in your game then saying "loot". I hate loot. Loot is not a reason to play a game. Loot is an annoying extra chore. You of the "Minecraft" generation are killing gaming with this loot crap.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Persona 5: Last Impressions

The king is dead.

Let's face-facts. Final Fantasy is not the lord of the JRPG anymore. Outside of the MMOs, its stock has fallen rapidly over the last eleven years. People still play these games, "Final Fantasy XV" still sold veritable shitloads to what I think are pleased consumers, but the magic is gone. I still haven't finished "Final Fantasy XV", a game I obsessed about, begged for, and suffered over for ten long years. And in fact, I never will finish it. I care so little for it I cannot even find joy in hating it. So I've done the right thing with that game. I took it down to the Velvet Room, sacrificed it for a Fusion, and used it for a nice discount on "Persona 5", the latest game in the series that has become the new JRPG King.

All hail.

Persona is certainly an odd choice to rule the genre. It's shamelessly Japanese - an unabashedly niche title that tells the audience, "you're either along for my ride or you might as well not play". People in the West are generally not clamoring to be Anime high school students. Who wants a game where you have to put away the fun demon action to go to class, study, and take a bath? "Final Fantasy XV" bent over backwards to appeal to the West with realistic graphics and action gameplay, but ended up utterly forgettable. Meanwhile "Persona 5" with its turn-based battles, Slice of Life cutscenes, and baroque weirdness, is beloved by the Western press, its fanbase, and me.

The difference largely is confidence. "Persona 5" is a refinement of a refinement, improving on "Persona 4" which improved on "Persona 3". Everything in "Persona 5" shines with a clear style from the bright colors, to the jazzy soundtrack, to the plaid texture on the hero's pants. Atlus knows what people liked about the earlier games and amped up the power. Square Enix can only chase after trends, giving up any sense of identity in a desperate attempt to stay relevant. "Final Fantasy XV" wants to please everybody and pleased nobody. "Persona 5" know it can't win over every player so instead is a bold, uncompromising game, more subversive and fascinating than any of its predecessors, with a clear vision to improve on what worked before.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

When Did Secrecy Become a Fundamental Value?

There appear to be two universes at war in the United States and the media right now. Interestingly, both have become completely deluged in conspiracy theories and echo chambers. Right now the liberal universe sees Donald Trump as a dangerous Russian patsy, and everything he's done in the last two weeks has been almost designed on purpose to prove them correct. The right-wing universe sees every news story as an exaggeration and dishonest character assassination, built up by a government and media that wants to nullify the results of the last election. Both universes see the world as the direct opposite: what is white for one is black for the other. And there can be no compromise. However, both are relying on an assumption about America that is perhaps the most disturbing element of this whole Trump saga.

I don't really see much point in talking about the details of the Comey firing, or the accidental blurting out of Israeli intelligence to the Russians, or just the utter chaos that the Trump administration seems to create all across the government*. Because you know already what I think, and if you need my thoughts confirmed, read the footnote. You'll have heard whatever I have to say a thousand times and were probably thinking it before you read this article. I'm going to try to look at this another way. Both universes are making a fundamental mistake right now, which is something the larger discussion around the unraveling** of the Trump administration seems to be missing:

Why are secrets so important? Why are we so quick to defend the Deep State and despise all who fail to uphold its values?

What happened to this country which, theoretically is a democracy, where secrets and lies and darkness have become so key to the job of the president? Trump's run-in with the Russians is just the latest form of a story that's been going on for years now. Add it to the issues with Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Hilary Clinton's emails, the DNC hacks, and the leaks to the press from what remains of the White House. The issue of America and its secrets has become one of the central problems of our time, possibly above even healthcare, and apparently neither side wants transparency. It defeated one presidential compaign, and might kill the current administration. Breaking the dogma of keeping secrets is the greatest sin in Washington today. We cheer when our opponents are caught failing the standards of classified info. Yet those secrets which discredit our enemies do not benefit us, the people. We are actively working against our own knowledge.

So with the slim possibility of light at the end of this Trump tunnel, I want to look at the darkness in the government which we seem to have accepted. Because maybe that's not better.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Why Are So Many Americans Worthless?

I wish the Republicans voted on whatever healthcare plan Donald Trump thinks they passed through the House of Representatives yesterday. In Donald Trump's mind, this bill keeps protections for pre-existing conditions (outright lie), still grants insurance to everybody (at least twenty-four million will lose coverage*), would offer "great healthcare" (his definition of "great" varies considerably from mine), and it’s going to lower healthcare costs (for the young and healthy only - maybe).

Typically I’m just an idiot on the internet, but the AHCA/Trumpcare/Ryancare is one of the few places I can actually speak with some level of expertise. Health insurance is my day job, I work as an Insurance Analyst for a healthcare provider. (Not my dream profession, but it pays.) So for once, I actually know what I’m talking about. Personally cutting Medicaid is really bad for the company I work for, since we need those plans to stay in business. But beyond that I can also tell you that the healthcare system in this country is a goddamned mess of epic proportions - the fact my job even exists is testament to that. RINOcare is not going to make things any simpler, just more chaotic and segmented.

The reality, of course, is that the bill guts Medicaid and creates a roadmap for its eventual death, gives wiggle room for states to opt out of pre-existing condition restrictions, allows insurers to bring back crappy plans that don't cover a whole lot, and deeply increases costs for the elderly. You lose if you’re poor, if you're sick, if you're old, and you'll even lose if you’re young and healthy because the policies you’ll now get are much worse than the ones you need. And this bill has brought everybody in the healthcare sector together... to oppose it. Hospitals are terrified of it, the AARP hates it, doctors don't like it, and even health insurance companies have spoken out against it. The only winners in the immediate term are the upper class, who will get lower taxes. The rest of us are losers.

The AHCA seems like a bill for nobody. So why would this legislation even be considered in the first place? Why do so many Americans simply not count in the eyes of their Congress?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Why Are We Starting a Fight with North Korea, Again?

Every year I hear the same news story: North Korea threatens World War III. You know the tale by now. The dictator of North Korea is a madman ready to end the world if he doesn’t get his Ann Takamaki body pillow on time. While Kim Jong-Un lavishes himself in luxury and delusion his people suffer, then he threatens to nuke the world because he's desperate for respect. Let’s all point and laugh at this pathetic nation and its weird dorky leader.

Right now we’re in the latest round of this semi-annual ritual. Kim Jong-Un is going to make some apocalyptic threats, the news will dutifully spin the story for maximum panic. Then in a week this will all pass over. So it goes year after year.

The eyes of the media are still focused on Syria thanks to a grand piece of theater on Donald Trump’s part last week. But while Syria has been a festering ulcer for years now, it isn’t an immediate danger. North Korea is. Kim Jong-Un's threats to nuke the United States are dubious but his threats on cities like Seoul and Tokyo are very real. North Korea has been the most dangerous flashpoint of the world for decades. Any time it heats up, no matter how ridiculous the threat, is something that needs to be a taken seriously. Taking things seriously is something our current president Donald Trump just doesn't seem to do. Now in 2017 you have the unpredictability of the Trump administration facing off against a nuclear state with its back against the wall. This is deeply worrisome.

North Korea is a terrible nation that rightly should be evaporated off the map forever. It’s one of the final evils that Communism has left behind. (Thanks, Stalin.) But no matter how bad the other side is, this newest crisis is one largely of our own making. For no good reason the US is suddenly acting very aggressively in the region. We now represent a considerable threat, even if we don’t realize it. Trump’s chaotic governing style is no longer just a problem for Washington, it’s a problem for everybody.