Okay Seriously, What Is WRONG With You YouTube?!

Oh YouTube, I was ready to let it go. I’d said my piece. You probably hadn’t listened but that was okay, because plenty of people with higher profiles than I were busy nailing you to the wall with the same arguments. Our point was made, and as far as I was concerned, we were ready to go our separate ways, and for me to move on to, I don’t know… attempting to comment as a white man with little to no experience of Polynesian culture on whether a children’s costume for an upcoming Disney film was racist or not? Yeah, that sounds like something I’d have probably been doing right now.

What happened? I’m genuinely interested. Did the interns get loose? Was it Larry the Office Gibbon’s turn to chair the weekly pitch meeting? Is somebody trying to inflate the fund of the Terrible Ideas Jar so you can really splash out on the Christmas party this year? I want to know YouTube, and you Google, what it takes to turn such monolithic organisations, employing a staff of thousands upon thousands of what I have to assume are adult human beings, in an industry lead by people we’re always being told are so clever, so breathlessly, window-licking, arse-from-elbow moronic with such regularity. The rest of us need to know so we can find you a cure for your stupidity, because it’s almost not funny anymore. You guys are responsible for a ridiculously large portion of online discourse, and I have to live here!

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You may have heard about YouTube’s new ‘Heroes’ initiative. If not, it goes a little something like this: In a minute-and-a-half long video uploaded this week, YouTube announced its intention to mobilise its own user-base to monitor and moderate content on the site. Those volunteering to be a “YouTube Hero” (and can you not just picture the kind of over-inflated Little Hitler who would actually put themselves forward for such a duty), will then ascend through ‘levels’ of power to police content in accordance with their performance, from subtitling videos to mass flagging them for takedown, along with certain ‘perks’. This is, again, a likely well-intentioned approach to addressing the very real image problems some areas of the site have been garnering in recent years (‘Don’t Read The Comments’ has practically been YouTube’s unofficial motto going on a decade now). However, if you’re already raising your hand to ask who on Earth thought it was a good idea to turn to the community who’ve made YouTube such a wretched place to be in the first place and ask them to fix it… then you obviously have more common sense than whoever had final approval over this hare-brained scheme.

So how is this plan going so far? Well, at time of writing, YouTube has had to disable comments on its own announcement video, due to the tide of very negative feedback it’s received, as well as mass down-voting.

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In case this initial response hasn’t convinced the architects of this lunacy that their idea is dead on arrival, let me try to cover, as succinctly as I am able, all the rotten, nonsensical bases of this initiative…

Firstly, being on online moderator, or a translator, or any of the other duties our new Heroes are expected to cover, is in most places considered a real, sometimes full-time job. A company as wealthy as Google should not be asking its own customers to do its job for it for free. That’s the sort of thing that last week I would have assumed was obvious. Remember those ‘perks’ I mentioned before? None of them are paid. In fact, from what I can see they seem to almost entirely consist of ‘opportunities’ to attend seminars to advance your skills as a moderator. So, even assuming a Hero actually does a good job and doesn’t abuse their position, their prize will be… more unpaid work to do. We’ve barely started but that alone should be enough to kill this idea in its crib. I mean really! Who thought this was okay?! If you want people to act like professionals (and God knows in this case you need them to), then you have to actually treat them like professionals.

Also, just as a matter of interest, if you want good law enforcement, the first thing you need is good laws. While YouTube has a terms of service agreement, naturally, it’s so vaguely written, poorly visible and inconsistently enforced as to be essentially meaningless, and doesn’t even begin to cover a lot of the site’s most recent problems. Even if you believe that a citizen’s militia is a good way to establish order (it isn’t, by the way), without a meaningful rule of law to enforce in the first place, they’re just gangs of people with proverbial nightsticks.

Assuming YouTube bother to address that little snag, what assurance do both viewers and content creators have that these rules and their enforcers will work for the community? Despite YouTube faux-casual presentation of the idea, ‘Heroes’ will stop being ordinary users the moment they are given power over the rest of us. Will they then be forced to give up their anonymity, so they’ll be visible to the people they’re accusing, and so people with accusations to make can engage directly with them? For their sake I hope not; but then doesn’t that present a bit of an ethical problem if the people responsible for ruling the community are anonymous and therefore unaccountable? Say I wanted to appeal a decision (assuming I even can), will I be allowed to see who I’m appealing against? Will I be able to talk to an actual person, such as their supervisor, or will my complaint just be entered into an automated, behind-the-scenes labyrinth as happens with Content ID claims? Hell, would I even be informed if I was penalised at all; or, as was the case with their recent ad-friendly initiatives, would posts/videos be removed without warning or notice of any kind, giving the offender no opportunity whatsoever to defend themselves?

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One last question: Why am I even asking? This is YouTube, I think we all know how this is going to work. This move has been compared to giving everyone in town a gun and a badge because the Mayor couldn’t be bothered to organise a proper police force; and… well yes that’s exactly what it’s like. I would go further though. I would say that this is creating a town full of deputies with no Sheriff, and the town charter is written on the back of a napkin… that’s had coffee spilled all over it… and been buried down a local mine-shaft.

‘But David!’ I hear the bootlickers cry ‘It’s too soon to judge. The Heroes will obviously be supervised. They say Hero levels will only be increased on merit after all, and Wikipedia has managed with volunteer curation for years!’

Okay well, supervised by who; a higher level of invisible moderators, free to interpret propriety as they wish, or by more bots? Neither inspires me with confidence. Also, that raises the obvious question: If volunteer moderators need to be moderated by higher, presumably employed moderators, why can’t YouTube do the bloody job themselves, you twits!

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Oh, and Wikipedia? Seriously? What kind of fever dream have I slipped into where people are sincerely holding up Wikipedia as an example of sensible curation? Wikipedia, which is known far and wide for having the exact opposite of that; where feuds between users frequently ruin articles; where corrections of their mistakes are unforgivably slow; and where the general volume of shoddy work has left the brand with less than zero credibility. Wikipedia? Spare me!

It’s clear to me at this point that YouTube is in dire need of new direction. A complete rethink of its managerial philosophy is what’s required. Its bosses obviously don’t want YouTube to be the Wild West anymore. They have too many corporate sponsors to afford to let their community run rampant; and yet, somewhere deep down I think they still see YouTube as ‘new media’, an outsider free of constraints where anything is possible. I’m sorry, but that’s just not how it works anymore, if it ever did. YouTube is big, it’s corporate, and it has the attention of the entire world, so meek half measures when it comes to managing its image won’t cut it. You need moderation? Hire an actual moderation team! Make them visible and easily contactable by the community at large, and make the rules that they are responsible for clear and well published. Enforce those rules strictly and consistently, but give the opportunity for those accused to defend themselves before they are punished out of hand.

None of this is impossible. It’s not even complicated. It’s common sense, and what websites with good reputations with their communities have been doing for years. If YouTube wants to clean up its act, first it has to get its hands dirty.

Adaptive Panels Presents… Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol.1: Vader

Hey, with a subtitle that creative you know it’s good…

In all seriousness, yes, Darth Vader Vol. 1 is good, living up to the bar of quality set thus far by this Marvel series. It’s better than Skywalker Strikes, but in many ways presents me with the same problem.  In the way I’ve mentioned before that nobody needs me to tell them that Star Wars is good, that goes double for a story entirely focused on Darth Vader. I mean, come on! It’s Darth Vader, perhaps the greatest cinematic villain ever created, and the benchmark to which all others have, and will, be compared. There exist no adjectives here, he’s replaced them! I genuinely cannot think of the words to describe to a complete Star Wars virgin why this character has become perhaps the most iconic in all of popular culture. Fortunately, I don’t need to, because unless you just came out of a coma you’ve been in since 1966, you already know!

And just in case you really have just come out of a 50 year coma, and for some reason my ramblings are the first thing you’ve tuned into, here are some things you should know: This thing you’re on right now is called The Internet, and it’s great… most of the time; we landed on the moon, that was fun; the Berlin wall came down; and, what else? Oh yeah, Star Wars was awesome and Darth Vader was the most awesome thing about it!

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So yes, if my babbling didn’t tip you off, I’m finding it kind of difficult to expand on simply telling you that Vader doesn’t disappoint the legacy of its namesake. I reckon about tw-no, three shots of whiskey should do it. I’ll just be a moment…

Overview


Vader’s story-line runs roughly in parallel to the events of Skywalker Strikes, and after the destruction of both the Death Star and Cymoon 1, the Sith Lord appears to be on something of a losing streak. The Dark Side does not forgive failure, and so Vader is called back to Coruscant to answer to the Emperor. After making it very clear that his apprentice is on thin ice, Palpatine puts Vader under the orders of Grand General Tagge, the new supreme commander of Imperial forces, and sends him off on a mission to re-secure the Empire’s supply lines. Vader, however, suspects that his new duty is meant to get him out of the way, so Palpatine can replace him, and he’s not so far under his Emperor’s thumb to take that lying down.

Before he can do anything about it though, Vader must escape from under Tagge’s control. Tagge proves to be a far less accommodating boss than Tarkin, considering both the Death Star and Vader himself to be vanity projects when next to increasing the strength of the fleet. He assigns a young officer to tail Vader and evaluate his every move, on a mission to take out a pirate space station, which Vader suspects is getting intelligence from an Imperial mole. Vader accomplishes his task; and all too conveniently uncovers Tagge’s officer as the mole, freeing him up to pursue his own agenda.

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Next, Vader starts building a small team from outside Imperial ranks, to avoid any information getting back to the Emperor. He recruits Triple-Zero and BT-1, a pair of droids who operate as a psychotic reflection of C3PO and R2D2, as well as doctor Aphra, a rogue archaeologist with an… appreciation for violent people and droids. They journey to Geonosis to recover a company of old battle droids from the Clone War, and then on to a station, built into the carcass of a live space-whale on the edge of the galaxy (and that’s a sentence I never thought I’d say), where Vader believes he will find and put an end to his replacement.

However, when they arrive, Vader discovers Palpatine has been on to him this whole time, and allowed him to make his way to the station in order to begin a set of trials against other cybernetically enhanced warriors, to prove he’s worthy of retaining his place as the Emperor’s right hand.

Analysis


If there’s a big problem with Vader then it’s a common one found in most arc-beginning books, in that it feels like mostly set-up while providing very little pay-off. What action is here is just fine, but the final brawl the book spends all its time building up to isn’t actually final at all, and none of Vader’s opponents spend enough time on the page to really get a handle on whether they’re going to be interesting or not. In any case, if you’re at all familiar with Star Wars, then you know the outcome of this contest must be a forgone conclusion, so it’s hard for me to get invested about any of it. Hopefully the following books will make it worth my time, but for now it’s fortunate that Vader has a lot else going for it.

There’s really no getting around it, Doctor Aphra is the stuff fan-fics are made of. A young, attractive, rogue scientist and adventurer who probably also writes love letters to death row inmates in her spare time meeting Darth Vader? The hormones practically leak out of the page…

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Actually, no. Don’t think about that too much.

To the book’s credit, it doesn’t go so overboard with this that it becomes icky, and jokes aside it’s actually a fascinating dynamic. This is a scenario where the limitations of writing expanded universe fiction are a help rather than a hindrance. Obviously, the relationship between these two characters can’t actually amount to anything, because we already know how Vader’s story ends. The comic does an excellent job of letting Vader’s moments of silence, and the fixed expression of his mask, do the work, allowing the reader to, well, read into them. However, regardless of whether or not Aphra really is stirring the ghost of something human in him, he’s not going to change, and if he did she probably wouldn’t like him as much. These characters are on an inherently destructive collision course, and they both know it… and they’re both just crazy enough to roll with it.

Another interesting relationship is that of Vader and Palpatine. In the original Star Wars trilogy, it was always left as a fairly open question just how loyal Vader was to his master, versus his own interests. In The Empire Strikes Back, he seeks to turn Luke to the dark side in the name of overthrowing the Emperor. Is violent usurpation just the nature of the dark side, that places so much stock in hate, cunning and ambition, or are Vader’s objectives personal?

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It was a question the prequels raised, and never answered, that irritated me (when I bothered to think about the prequels at all). Why would Anakin Skywalker, after his rebirth as Darth Vader, bother to keep doing Palpatine’s bidding when his original reason for betraying the Jedi is lost to him? It can’t be gratitude for saving his life, not after what his life has been reduced to, and it’s not as if Vader is overly invested in the success of the Empire. Victories of the fleet and gains of territory are mundane compared to the power of the dark side, which is the only thing he openly shows any reverence towards. Most of the time, it just seems like his position gives him an excuse to take out his rage on the rest of the galaxy, and that’s the closest thing he has left to a will to live. However, when Vader finds out that Palpatine has been considering replacing him since long before the Death Star, he seems to feel genuinely betrayed. This is shortly followed by the discovery of Luke’s real identity, and the book seems to interpret this as the moment where Vader truly understands what his relationship to his master is, and the first moment where he desires to be rid of him. Could it be that Vader has for all this time still been clinging to the image of Palpatine as a father figure, and only with the knowledge of his own fatherhood does he realise how ridiculous that idea was?

Conclusion


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If you think Darth Vader is cool, read this book. If you don’t, then I find your lack of faith disturbing.

(P.S. Apologies for the delay. Normal scheduling should resume next time.)

The BearSleuth Week Geek Out – LaMarr And Snyder And Bears…Oh My!

This week I am determined to get this feature up at a reasonable time! Last week was just a trial run but this is absolute prime time professionalism in article form. Unfortunately, to my knowledge their is very little to talk about in the world of television so I’m going to jump across and examine what’s going on over at YouTube. Apart from that all I have to say is that it’s been a damn good week and I hope all you back-to-schoolers are settling in well.

The Week In Comics


 

This week is looking pretty strong in the world of comics, the shelves are pretty densely packed and their is certainly a lot of talent to be found. An underground hit of the week has to be Scarlet Witch #10 which is pretty much a perfect self contained story for the character looking at her role in the magical community. Over with the Team Aqua that is DC we have some awesome titles including All-Star Batman #2 and Suicide Squad #2 showcasing talent from two of the greatest creators in the comic book industry, Snyder and Lee.

Marvel’s Team Magma are looking sound all round with some brilliant tie-in titles but my pick of the week has to go to Amazing Spider-Man Civil War II #4, which has to be one of the most complex titles I have ever written. The finale of the Amazing Spider-Man tie-in is probably going to place the series as the strongest of the Civil War II tie-ins to date as it fully succeeds in an examination of the main themes of the event. If you are only going to pick up one tie-in make it this one…then maybe squeeze your budget for the X-Men tie-in as well!

The Week In Film


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Well this week I actually went to see a film which I can talk about, Don’t Breathe. This film was pretty much schlock of the highest order with a particular scene added in just for shock value and so the film can be ‘the film that went there’. I actually think this is a horror targeted at a more female audience as the shock scene is harder to relate to from a male perspective, which probably goes a long way to spoiling it. The male characters are embarrassingly weak but the female lead, played by Jane Levy, seems to have a good amount of depth to her. The villain is essentially, old and evil Daredevil and I find that the film makes a lot more sense in that light.

Like I said up top, there’s not really much in the way of TV news from me at the moment, just finished Stranger Things which gave me a new appreciation for child actors and small-town sci-fi. Heading over to YouTube, Fatman On Batman just interviewed Phil LaMarr and you have to see it if you are in anyway a geek. My YouTube tastes are fairly vanilla but I recommend Yahtzee19,  KaptainKristian and Vuepoint’s Jack’s World if you are looking for something new.

The Week In Gaming


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Pre are in the ten week countdown for Pokemon!!! Like any good fan I’m attempting a run through of HeartGold, Pearl, Black, White 2, X and finally Omega Ruby before grabbing a copy of Sun. I’m going to be grabbing a bunch of grass starters in the way, the unloved Ringos of Pokemon starters, and basically getting myself back in that ten-year-old mind-set. Apart from that I’m continuing a play through of Dark Souls with Ollie from LoneWolfGaming and playing Until Dawn with Will, the BearSleuth camera man.

In Other News…


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The world is teetering on the brink of disaster from a take over of regional pronunciation starting with a plague of government sponsored academies and there will be more news coming on the new BearSleuth writer later this week. That’s about it for this week folks but be sure to come back next week for more sleuthing!

…That was this week’s BearSleuth Week Geek Out!!! Check back on Friday for a brand new article!!!

VuePoint: Resident Evil 4

As arguably the best game in the series, it’s hardly surprising that Resident Evil 4 has made an appearance across a whole range of consoles. From the Playstation 2, to the Wii and back again – now available to purchase for Playstation 4 in the store – there is now absolutely no excuse for anyone to have not played this action horror classic.

Now that it’s made the jump to this generation, Resi 4 looks better than ever, with enhanced textures, lighting and character models. Don’t go in to this expecting Uncharted 4, this is still a PS2 game at the end of the day, so there’s only so much that can be done without remaking the whole game from the ground up.

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This is just a remaster with a graphical upgrade, so don’t think you’re buying a new game here. If you played Resi 4 before and weren’t impressed, this won’t change your mind. This is still the same – albeit brilliant – game as it always was. What it did do however, was give me a chance to go back and play it again, and now that I’m older I get to review it. For the sake of this review, I’ll be talking about it like it’s a new game, and whilst I may compare it to its counterparts on other consoles, I’ll be reviewing it as a standalone game, rather than just talking about what has changed…mainly because nothing has. Like I just said, graphical enhancements aside, this is the same game.

Special agent Leon S. Kennedy has been sent to a creepy village to rescue the President’s daughter Ashley from an army of zombie-like cultists. It’s made clear within the first five minutes as you stand over the body of the first enemy you kill, Leon explicitly says “THESE AREN’T ZOMBIES!”. This should be your first clue that this game is unlike any Resi game before it. The over-the-shoulder camera replaces the static angles, and there’s a much heavier focus on action than before.

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This isn’t a bad thing though. Unlike the later instalments, Resi 4 isn’t a straight up action game, and it isn’t afraid to throw some scares your way. These tense moments generally build from the atmosphere across the various locations you find yourself in. Nowhere feels particularly safe, and you’ll probably find yourself frequently spinning the camera to make sure nothing is creeping up behind you. And trust me, things will creep up behind you. God knows where these guys hide, but there have been many occasions where I’ll be fending off a horde of enemies lumbering towards me, only to spot movement out of the corner of my eye and see that they’re coming from all sides.

One particular segment puts you into the shoes of Ashley herself. Separated from Leon, with no weapons and no way to defend herself, you must use the environment to your advantage, outwitting and outmanoeuvring your enemies, rather than just shooting them in the head. The fact that you can’t fight back and your enemies can come from around any corner makes this segment feel more like a survival horror than a straight up action game, and it’s segments like this that future games in the series could have benefitted from.

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Unfortunately, this experience is marred by how painfully unlikeable Ashley is. She’s an annoying, whiny brat, who likes to get herself kidnapped and stand in front of your gun, taking a bullet for her enemies. What a generous move Ashley! Oh wait! No, no it isn’t.

I will admit that her AI is somewhat competent. If you compare it to the likes of the Star Trek game a few years ago, Ashley looks like Einstein. For the most part, she will do her best to stay behind you, and crouch when you aim your gun in her general direction, but her annoying character makes her – admittedly rare – moments of stupidity that much more frustrating. Given the fact that about 70% of the game is an escort mission, this makes some part particularly aggravating. When you get to the end of the game and unlock a huge suit of armour for her to wear in NG+, these problems disappear. Aside from looking hilarious, Ashley becomes too heavy for the enemies to pick her up and carry her away, and completely invincible. Some might say that this makes the game too easy, but personally I really enjoy mowing down hordes of not-zombies, without worrying about her.

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It makes me physically upset to hate on this game for too long, so let’s get back into the good stuff, because despite the problematic companion, this is still a brilliant game. The story of Leon and Ashley escaping from the monstrous Lord Saddler and his minions is a fun one. In true Resi fashion it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and despite being a horror game full of terrifying creatures that can impale, decapitate and just generally mutilate you in a  number of different ways, it still feels light-hearted and entertaining. The cheesy dialogue is very much tongue in cheek, and is delivered well by a talented cast, who bring a diverse range of characters to life.

The cherry on top of the cake is the excellent gameplay. The over-the-shoulder camera allows for satisfying shooting, and the way enemies fly back when you hit them with a shotgun is really rewarding. Your weapons feel powerful, and the upgrades you buy feel useful. The aiming isn’t as precise as I would have liked it to be, and in the shooting department, I feel the need to utter a sentence I never thought I’d say.

The Wii version of this game is superior to the PS4.

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Don’t get me wrong, everything works fine on the PS4. Anyone who’s played Resi 5 will know what to expect, it works in much the same way. The absence of a crosshair is noticeable though. Using just a laser sight to line up shots can be tricky, especially when you have a legion of enemies rushing you and you can’t move when aiming. Even more frustrating is when an enemy pulls out a cheap one hit kill attack whilst you’re reloading. Playing it does feel a little clunky and dated, although I do have a friend who said he likes this feature, so maybe it’s just personal opinion.

The Wii version on the other hand worked great. The responsive motion controls made aiming much easier, and I was pulling off headshots within a few seconds. It may take people a while to get used to this aiming method, especially if you’ve never played a Resi game before.

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All in all, I would consider Resi 4 on the PS4 a worthwhile purchase. There’s plenty of replayability to had in upgrading all your weapons, unlocking different outfits for Leon and Ashley, and even when you’ve finished all that, it’s still a fun game to play. Give yourself a while to get accustomed to the controls if you’ve never played a Resi game before, as it will be very different than your standard 3rd person shooter. But at the end of the day, Resi 4 isn’t your standard 3rd person shooter! It cleverly blends action and horror, with interesting characters, tongue in cheek humour and some amazing creatures and bosses to create – in my opinion – the best Resident Evil game yet.

…That was this week’s VuePoint!!! Check back tomorrow for another BearSleuth Week Geek Out!!!

OpinionatedDavid: Has Adblock Plus Crossed A Line?

We seem to have something of a theme rotation developing on these columns don’t we? I swear it’s not intentional, but the topics that rear their heads for me to cover seem to go in couplets. We had twin entries about DC getting pie on their face; followed by two weeks of uncomfortable conversations about the nature of free expression;, and now, we’re in our second week of advertising related nonsense online. Any bets about what’s coming next? Reboots? New console hardware? Maybe a double-bill of gushing over Disney announcing a live-action Gargoyles movie?

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Shut up! It could happen, you don’t know!

Time for me to get to the point. Adblock Plus, sellers of the leading browser extension of the same name (the function of which should be self-explanatory) have recently announced a new feature of their service known as the “Acceptable Ads Platform”. In partnership with Google, among others, this platform will allow certain advertisers that meet Adblock’s standards of acceptability to buy their way through the filters of the software, meaning those ads will be seen by end users ever when they have Adblock turned on. Adblock Plus then gets a tidy cut of the revenue from said ads, naturally, with the rest going to the advertisers, with a further division of that sum presumably, at some point (it’s really not very clear) finding their way to creators who host ads on their content as a way of making a living. If that all smells a little funny to you, then it might be because a similar business model in the outside world might be called a protection racket.

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So yes, after years of building a brand on shutting advertisers out of the loop and denying creators revenue, Adblock has decided ads are a-ok by their user base after all… so long as they decide they like you… and so long as you pay up. As you can imagine, this news has not gone down so well with everyone, particularly with content creators who had a dim view of Adblock to begin with. In their view, Adblock Plus has spent years enabling consumers of their content to consume without any money getting back to the person who worked to create it (as well as nurturing what some of them see as a consumer culture that inherently doesn’t value their work and feels entitled to everything for free), and is now proposing to make even more money by cutting in to the creator’s share of what ads are allowed to get through. While we’ll be getting into how I don’t necessarily agree with all of that, I have to admit that if I were them (which I may well be before too long) I’d be pissed off too.

Adblock, for their part, have been quick to marshal a defence against the backlash. Their line is that they’re not just trying to make money off ads, they’re trying to improve them. They site market research that claims only 25% of their user base wouldn’t tolerate any ads on the pages and video’s they view, and that by filtering through ads that meet their standards of legitimacy and unobtrusiveness, they will be allowing the ad-supported model to carry on while still delivering a quality end user experience.

Now, once I’m finished washing the marketing spiel out of my mouth, it would be remiss of me not to concede that they may have a point…

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To uncomfortably confess, I am an Adblock Plus user. I took me a long time to throw in the towel and install the browser extension, but ever since I have I can barely conceive of going back under any circumstances (a testament to just what a difference their filter makes to the end user). The reason I was originally reluctant to jump on board was primarily a huge technophobic streak, if we’re telling the truth, but there was a point of principle in their somewhere too. I cannot agree with the sentiment that using blockers is ‘stealing’ from creators. It’s not. It objectively isn’t. For one thing, ads or no ads, the experience for the end user is free to begin with. You can’t steal something that you weren’t paying for in the first place. However, it does still feel kind of morally grey in its own right. I wanted to see creators who I valued getting paid for honest work, so I stuck it out… until I didn’t anymore.

The more conscientious of creators will publicly admit that ads are can be terrible. Not ‘inconvenient’, not ‘irritating’, a terrible, ruinous experience for the end user. I caved to Adblock the moment I realised I was starting not to enjoy anything I was trying to watch or read anymore, as the advertising grew more and more intrusive and skeevy. If nothing else, a lot of users have come to see blockers as the most effective security measure their browser has. I may have felt guilty doing it, but neither can I say I regret it. At the end of the day, the consumer has a responsibility to get the best possible deal for the consumer, and nobody else. You can’t blame people for acting in their own best interests, and as a consumer, Adblock Plus has been a Godsend to me. That does not mean, however, that I am against adverts wholesale. So long as they stay at the margins where I can easily ignore or skip them when I choose to, I can tolerate their presence, which is the kind of vision Adblock Plus claims to be offering.

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Of course, that’s the theory. I may have said something last week about corporate entities not having a native moral compass of their own, and Adblock Plus is most certainly one of those. I have a hard time just taking their word for it that they will choose what ads they let through with care based on what I want (or rather don’t want) to see. They are out to make as much money as they can, and I have little doubt the ad space beyond their filters will be sold to no more or less than the highest bidder. The only thing that will keep that philosophy in check will be the tolerance of the end-users not to switch to different software if the ads start annoying them.

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I could end the article here, just giving Adblock Plus the middle finger, but in all honesty, I don’t see them as an outright villain here. Oh, I’m sure they don’t care that they make a living screwing other people out of theirs, but hey, welcome to the Free Market. In the end, their service wouldn’t be popular if end users didn’t hate ads; and as I’ve already covered, I can’t blame users for hating ads either. I don’t even blame the advertisers (not the legitimate ones anyway). They’re also just filling a gap in the market. So, does that just leave the content creators at fault for taking the money of underhanded advertisers? Of course not. Besides, it’s a fair assessment that the reason ads got steadily worse and worse over the years, was that the rise of blockers made the advertisers more desperate for our attention, and creators more desperate for money as their content became less profitable, driving them into the arms of advertisers with fewer moral scruples.

It’s the system that’s the real villain. The ad-supported revenue model stinks. It’s always stunk since long before the advent of the internet, and it brings the worst out of everyone involved. In my view, creators need to explore whatever other avenues are possible to free themselves of advertiser money, and consumers who value their work need to support them in that endeavour if they truly want to see the back of shitty ads, as it’s clear now that even ad-blockers aren’t immune to the temptation of ad-money. Paid subscription and merchandising models have been around for a long time, and user-donation models such as Patreon are on the rise. Despite the laws of self-interest, it seems consumers when given the option to decide for themselves what content is worth, actually do want to see creators get a fair deal. I know I do, and whenever I’m able to make up for my use of Adblock Plus by paying out of my own pocket for the things I like, I do so. I think it will be for the mutual benefit of both creators and consumers going forward for this trend to continue. Not so much for the advertisers or the ad-blockers, but hey, we’re all just looking after our own interests.

So long as there exists something in the world to be sold, advertising is probably never going to die, but I for one wouldn’t mind seeing its influence diminished as much as possible in the future.

…That was this week’s OpinionatedDavid!!! Check back tomorrow for a new VuePoint!!!

BearSleuth Week Geek Out

Like I said in my last post, it’s becoming a lot hard to find time for my normal Sleuthing, which is why this new feature is coming to you a little late. I wanted to make sure I gave it my full attention and due to a quick trip to A&E that became borderline impossible, I managed to tear some muscles in a fight with a bird table (don’t ask). Anyway, I have a lot to talk about so I think it’s time to stop faffing about and get stuck in!

The Week In Comics


It’s been a really good week in the world of comics. While the shelves were a little sparse, DC knocked out a few brilliant books with the new Tom King Batman Issue Six probably taking the top spot from the blue corner. Over in the red of Marvel is my top pick for the week, Jeff Lemire’s Moon Knight. This book is complex, intelligent and really shows what the modern industry techniques developed in the independent market can add to the mainstream. I also read Asterios Polyp this week and I can whole heartedly say that it is the only graphic novel to have changed my life. If you are able to get your hands on a copy you 100% should.

The Week In Film (And TV)


The run up to Doctor Strange is gripping a lot of comic book fans now with the inevitable ‘I want to get into Doctor Strange…’ posts slowly creeping onto reddit. For anyone looking for a Doctor Strange recommendation, it’s pretty hard as most of his stuff comes from the silver and bronze age of comics which can feel very dated. Check out ‘The Oath’ and maybe Jason Aaron’s new Doctor Strange series as they present the more modern take on the character.

In other news, Rogue One is struggling, to no one’s surprise (this is what happens when you put a Godzilla director on a Star Wars flick). Also a Dark Tower trailer will be airing next month so keep your peepers peeled. Turning to TV quickly, apparently the Luke Cage series looks good and the new Ghost Rider looks okay enough to get people to notice Agents Of Shield still exists.  Personally, I’ve been getting into Stranger Things and I’m going to surprise no one by saying it’s a great show, likely to become the next massive hit.

The Week In Gaming


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This week saw the world of console gaming reveal its massive throbbing erections for the PC master race as consoles take that one bold step into becoming computers. I don’t really care for 4k optimisation so I can’t say this affects me but if you are one of those graphics snobs then this…probably doesn’t matter to you because you already have a gangster rig (or whatever the cool kids are calling it). Deus Ex is gracing the shelves again, which is cool as we don’t have enough ultra-gritty cyberpunk dystopia running around. This week I’m replaying Dark Souls 3 and Bloodborne because I’m a masochist when it comes to gaming.

And Finally…


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In other news, the world is teetering on the edge of destruction from the imminent threat of a mass custard pie orgy at the top of Trump tower and I am proud to announce that we are adding another writer to the BearSleuth roster. While I’m not ready to say much yet SHE is a perfect fit for the team and I’m sure HER articles are going to be a great hit!

Subtlety was always one of my strong points.

…That’s this week’s BearSleuth Week Geek Out!!! Check back on Friday for something new!!!

OpinionatedDavid: It’s Time YouTube Had Some Competition.

YouTube, I’m about to say a lot of things that are not very complimentary. First of all, however, I have to thank you…

I’ve tackled some pretty heavy topics recently. Topics that are by their nature delicate and that my own views on are conflicted; and, because I have no desire to be an obnoxious, wannabe shock-jock, I’ve handled these subjects with care. I like to think I’ve done a decent job. I haven’t censored my honest views for fear of offending, but I have chosen my words carefully because that’s what the subject matter deserves. Going in-depth about sensitive subjects is valuable and rewarding, but also exhausting. On the other hand, it’s refreshing and fun to have a subject to dig into that I can be unapologetically enthusiastic or furious about, and this week YouTube, when I needed you, you provided.

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So thank you, and what the fuck is wrong with you?!

So, to clue in everyone who doesn’t go to YouTube regularly, a quick clue-in. YouTube recently updated its parameters for monetising videos (where advertisements from outside companies play on the creator’s videos, in exchange for a fee of which the creator gets a cut). We don’t get to know exactly how recently, because YouTube made these changes with absolutely no announcement to its user base, and has since been de-monetising videos, also without informing the channels in question, for being advertiser un-friendly.

Now, to be clear, as a private business YouTube is absolutely entitled to set and enforce whatever terms of service it wants (more on that in a bit), but if the company cares about nurturing trust between them and the user base that rely on them, and visa-versa, then those terms need to be communicated, they need to be consistent, and they need to be clear. These new parameters are just the latest example of how YouTube, for a long time, has been failing on all three counts.

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For starters, these parameters read a lot like bollocks! A ‘helpful’ list of highlights for content that is considered bad for ads by YouTube includes, but is not limited to:

  • “Sexually suggestive content, including partial nudity and sexual humour.”
  • “Violence, including display of serious injury and events related to violent extremism.”
  • “Inappropriate language, including harassment, swearing and vulgar language.”
  • “Promotion of drugs and regulated substances, including selling, use and abuse of such items.”

And finally…

  • “Controversial or sensitive subjects and events, including subjects related to war, political conflicts, natural disasters and tragedies, even if graphic imagery is not shown.”

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Now I really, really shouldn’t have to explain what’s wrong with that list, but considering there are still people out there earnestly defending YouTube on this one, allow me to elaborate. With the possible exception of point number four, which seems to be relatively clear and concise (regardless of whether or not I agree with it), what the hell is most of this even supposed to mean?! “Sexual humour”? What, are we talking Carry On or Archer? “Events related to violent extremism” plus, well, everything in point number five, seem to suggest that advertisers are apparently too delicate for the news. Finally, and I assure you this is not coming from some Red Pill, phoney-free-speech crusader, words like “suggestive, inappropriate, vulgar” and most importantly “controversial”, much like ‘offensive’ are, when used in the context of policing content, left entirely up to the adjudicator (assuming a human is even in charge of enforcing these rules) to interpret the parameters of their meaning. That. Isn’t. Good. Enough. And has already lead to creators with video’s talking about their depression and other delicate personal subjects having their video’s penalised without any discussion. If YouTube is going to allow advertisers to pull support from videos that may contain content upsetting to the sensibilities of their target audience (which they have the right to do even if I do find it pathetic) then specific, detailed boundaries are vital to creators that rely on advertising. The way YouTube went about this, those creators didn’t even know they were being penalised for weeks, and even now YouTube has deigned to grace them with an explanation, it leaves far too much open to interpretation, and the language specifically gives them the power to go beyond even these boundaries into more uncharted territory for whatever reason it likes.

Of course, this has led to accusations flying left and right of YouTube trying to enforce some kind of political agenda by ‘censoring’ certain content. For what it’s worth, I don’t think that is the case, and the very fact I’ve seen people on both political wings accusing them of favouring the other side convinces me that YouTube has no political partiality here. I’ve had it suggested to me that this is YouTube’s way of ‘going after’ unscrupulous channels that are bringing the brand into disrepute. Now look, I would be the first person to cheer at the demise of the so-called ‘Drama’ community, or the ‘prank’ artists, but I don’t buy it. For one thing, if YouTube cared about shutting down that kind of content, it could just do that. As I said, YouTube is not the government. It has no obligation to uphold free speech, so by definition it cannot violate it. De-monetisation is absolutely the most toothless and cowardly way I can think of YouTube trying to clean up its act. There’s nothing in here about introducing some actual moderation into their infamously unpleasant comment forums; nothing in these rules that would catch out actual con-artists like the CSGOLotto guys, and all other unsavoury channels big enough to be harming YouTube’s brand have other revenue streams to rely on, such as sponsored video’s and merchandise, if they get their ad money taken away. I promise you, this will do nothing to help YouTube’s image.

No. If there’s an agenda here, then it’s simply a pro-corporate one. YouTube is putting the concerns of its corporate partners ahead of the needs of its community, which is sad but unsurprising. Something more traditional media outlets on television have been doing for decades, but also something I had hoped new-media was helping us grow out of. YouTube, it seems, would rather become the system than define it, chasing advertiser money all the way into the traditional network TV model of milquetoast, dumbed-down, wallpaper-paste content, and why wouldn’t they? While network TV has spent the past half a decade getting its arse kicked by online streaming, YouTube has no real competition to worry about. Other online media players exist of course, but to put it bluntly, most of them suck. Like its parent company Google, YouTube has cultivated a brand that defines its entire medium, to the point where any independent online video-maker is called a ‘Youtuber’. So, much like how it screws over creators with overzealous and unfair Content ID measures that pander to corporate copyright interests, YouTube can afford to leave its community in the dark and without a voice, because where the hell else are they going to go?

It’s time for that to change. No, YouTube does not need to ‘die’ as some have hyperbolically suggested. Despite its faults, it took over the industry by being far better at what it does than anything else, and there’s no reason to burn that legacy down. YouTube is a corporate entity. Objectively, it has no soul, no native moral compass, and so there’s no use loving or hating it any more than there is in hating McDonalds, Microsoft or Apple (actually that’s a bad example, Apple can burn in hell).

I’m not an anti-capitalist; I just don’t fool myself into believing capitalism can ever be benevolent. YouTube, like any other business, is driven by profit, and right now its business model relies on corporate partners a hell of a lot more than it relies on you as a member of its community. The only threat a business faces from its customers is the threat of them taking their custom elsewhere, and so it is vital, even for creators who would always be loyal to YouTube, that that option exists. YouTube may not get money directly from creators or their audience, by they are an attractive corporate property because of the monopoly they have on their market. If more services emerged, perhaps pioneered by former big Youtubers who want an environment less creatively stifling, then YouTube would be forced, for the first time since its conception, to actually compete for our attention.

Overcoming that inertia will be difficult. It will take time, and I don’t doubt this isn’t the last time YouTube will infuriate its user-base.  However, for the sake of the community and the medium, I think it’s time for someone to be a pioneer.

…That was this week’s OpinionatedDavid!!! Check back tomorrow for a brand new Vuepoint!!!

 

BearSleuth Announcement: Life And The Sleuth

I have been sitting at my keyboard for the best part of two hours now. After a lot of internal and external debate with myself I have decide to make a few changes to BearSleuth. I love this website but I am also overjoyed to tell all my loyal readers that I’ve just started a job as a copywriter and so my time is becoming very limited. BearSleuth originally started as a way for my to hone my skills while talking about all the stuff I love like comics and writing. Then it became a family with OpinionatedDavid, VuePoint and the Covert Coot. We have seen a lot of success and a lot of  support of the last years and it has been nothing short of amazing. I am not going to lose that.

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The New Normal


After a talk with the rest of the team I have decided to keep BearSleuth running at a slightly slower pace so this is how your week is going to look on this most awesome of sites:

Monday: BearSleuth Week Geek Out: This is going to be my only article going forward and it will be a quick-fire rundown of all the geeky highlights from the previous week.

Tuesday: Nothing.

Wednesday: Adaptive Panels: OpinionatedDavid’s bi-weekly examination of comic book adaptations of films and other mediums.

 Thursdays: Nada.

Fridays: Occasionally Covert Coot: Your favourite Coot is currently on the road touring with his band so when he has time between rocking out he will attempt to get you your fix of anime and geeky observations.

Saturday: OpinionatedDavid: David’s weekly rant about everything wrong in the world of entertainment.

Sunday: Vuepoint: The jewel in the crown of gaming journalism that is Jack’s weekly observations on the state of gaming and it’s histories.

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I am also assisting the writing team in learning how to use WordPress for themselves, so forgive any rookie mistakes.  This is a new and slightly more relaxed era for BearSleuth but I think it will be a step in the right direction for everyone involved including you folks at home as me and the team will be able to be more focused in our approach and writing. This is your humble BearSleuth signing off on my BearSleuth Opinion Pieces, Comic History 101 and The BearSleuth Spoiler Free Comic Book Bundle. I hope you have enjoyed them all and I hope you enjoy this next step.

…That was the BearSleuth Announcement!!! Check back over the weekend for a brand new VuePoint and Opinionated David!!!

Adaptive Panels Presents… Star Wars Vol. 2: Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon

Getting straight to the point, Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon is a lot more interesting than its predecessor, and in many ways is the kind of story I wish Skywalker Strikes had been to begin with. It’s not perfect (there is such a thing as too many bounty hunters Marvel), and in my opinion some of the characters and storylines get a little too spread out before converging. However, I feel like this book is far more creative filling in the cracks of the original story, which is after all what I believe good expanded universe material is supposed to do.

In the end, I define what deserves a good write up from me on whether reading it does or doesn’t feel like work, and I blazed through Showdown mostly in a single afternoon, and at no point felt like I needed a break. In all honesty, as far as consumer advice goes I could stop there. Everything else is just me showing off…

Overview


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Picking up where the Skywalker Strikes left off, Han and Leia have been joined unexpectedly by Sana Solo, a woman claiming to be Han’s wife, on Han’s Incredibly Convenient Invisible Smuggler’s Planet. Misunderstandings and hijinks ensue, as first it seems Sana is only after Han, only to become more concerned with collecting Leia’s Imperial bounty once she discovers the other woman’s identity, only to then reluctantly help both of them escape Imperial forces when she finds out Han is wanted by the Empire too. All the while, Han remains adamant than Sana isn’t really his wife, but naturally, is never given the opportunity to explain himself properly. Much to Han’s chagrin, Leia agrees to give him back to Sana as payment for her help in rescuing Luke, who’s managed to get himself in more than a little trouble.

His return to Tatooine having seemingly borne little fruit, Luke’s last and most desperate idea for learning how to be a true Jedi, involved getting himself smuggled into Coruscant, the galactic capital and heart of Imperial power, in order to locate the old Jedi Temple. In order to find some smugglers, he heads to Nar Shaddaa, the titular smuggler’s moon (not to be confused with Han’s smuggler’s planet from before). Predictably, Luke’s plan soon goes awry, as he is separated from R2D2 and falls right into the clutches of crime lord and collector of Jedi relics Grakkus the Hutt, who plans to enter Luke in a gladiatorial battle as the Last Jedi for the amusement of the rest of the moon.

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Meanwhile, Han, Leia and Sana meet up on Nar Shaddaa with Chewbacca and C3PO, who were in the middle of their own rescue operation gone wrong (I swear this all flows a lot better than I’m making it sound, and from there the race is on, to rescue Luke from Grakkus as well as approaching Imperial troops, and for the prize of dozens of Jedi holocrons locked inside Grakkus’ vault.

Oh, and by the way, all of this is just from chapter 2 onwards. Chapter 1 is its own special story within a story, following Obi-Wan Kenobi during his years in hiding on Tatooine. The aging, but still powerful Jedi master struggles to adjust to his new life as a fugitive and a hermit, protecting Luke as a child while avoiding suspicion. All this, while Tatooine threatens to die of thirst around him, with Jabba the Hutt’s thugs ready to pick its scraps off the bone.

Analysis


I left the first chapter for last in my summary because it was just easier to pick up where the last book left off, but also because I believe it deserves special attention. It works entirely as a standalone story, without having to have read the previous material to follow it. At most, all you really need to understand is a basic overview of Star Wars lore, for which I think you’d have to journey to the far side of Ganymede before you found any lifeforms that have no knowledge of it at all. As a standalone story, it’s one of the best tails I’ve encountered in this universe. Firstly, the art is beautiful, heavily emphasising harsh lines and shadows and with a washed out colour palette that reflects how everything on this world at this point in time is fading away (in more ways than one). The Kenobi presented in this story is a far cry from the unflappable Jedi seen in most other material, yet it makes sense for his predicament. What struck me most was the anger. Not an angst-riddled, overdramatic rage like we’ve seen in some depictions in this franchise before, but below the surface, everything about Obi-Wan’s final duty grates with him, and he desires to lash out against his better judgement. It’s sort of how I imagine a Star Wars story written and directed by Clint Eastwood would feel, and I mean that in the best possible sense.

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As for the rest of it? Yeah, it’s all still pretty good. The galaxy far away was never hurting for crime-riddled slums, so Nar Shaddaa may not be the most original or interesting locale, but the characters inhabiting it make up for that in large part. Grakkus is a very different Hutt from Jabba; more refined, but in many ways far more brutal. While I think in the end the question surrounding Sana and Han’s past to answered a little too neatly, she’s still a fun character to have around, who definitely enhances the banter between Han and Leia rather than feeling like a third wheel.

I’d like also for special attention to be paid to Chewbacca and C3PO, especially seem as theirs is the storyline that really gets short-shrift in this one. Their own rescue mission, perhaps unsurprisingly, doesn’t get very far, and they end up in the most unnecessary and uninteresting diversion on the story. Despite that, the two characters play off each-other really well, and it’s not very often we get to see Chewbacca actually take the lead on anything. The wookie is definitely more than Han’s burly sidekick in this one.

Conclusion


Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon would be worth picking up for the first chapter alone. Fortunately, the rest of it is a damn good read too.

…That was this week’s OpinionatedDavid check back on Friday for a special BearSleuth Announcement!!!

 

VuePoint: Open-World

So No Man’s Sky was released a few weeks ago to some pretty mixed reviews. The general consensus seems to be that yes, 18 quintillion planets is an impressive achievement, and technically the game is pretty ground-breaking. Nobody is arguing that. But what good is a huge open universe to explore, when there’s very little to see or do in it? Keep reading, because in this article, I’ll be talking about how important size actually is…the innuendos have started already.

None of the reviews I’ve seen have said that No Man’s Sky is an outright bad game. Unfortunately I’ve not had time to check it out myself yet so I can only go off what I’ve seen and heard. A huge galaxy to explore is inviting, and is the game’s main USP, but repetitive gameplay and a general lack of things to do seems to be holding it back. When you don’t fill an open world with things to do and see that are actually worth your time, the large scope actually becomes detrimental to the game, rather than enhancing the experience. In the case of No Man’s Sky, where the huge scope is the focal selling point in the game, if this happens, that is definitely a bad thing.

Take a game like The Witcher 3. One of the largest open world games I’ve played in a long time. CD Projekt Red made a pretty smart move in dividing up the vast landscape into a collection of smaller (but still pretty huge) sandboxes. This allowed them to have a variety of locations to keep your interest, without having to worry about the technical difficulties in making the varied landscapes flow into each other naturally.

Furthermore, it allowed them to fill each sandbox with contextual, area specific side quests, races, contracts, and other activities, again, without having to worry about the areas in between. Had the whole map been one huge area, the sights would have had to be spread out, making each area less interesting in order to avoid any area from being completely empty.

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Talking about open world games that are impressive in size, I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself for not mentioning the Just Cause series. I’m going to throw it back to Just Cause 2 here. Yes JC3 was more recent and bigger in scope, but when playing it is a chore thanks to the downright abysmal frame rate issues, crashes and bugs, I can’t talk too much about it without starting to take huge breaks between each word. That’s right, talking about Just Cause 3 causes my real life frame rate to drop.

I know that makes no sense. And this isn’t a Just Cause 3 review. Let’s move on.

HUGE OPEN WORLD! Just Cause 2 is absolutely insane. I remember my younger self running around, blowing things up for a good six or seven hours, liberating towns, toppling statues and completing activities. Then I opened the map and zoomed out to find that I’d explored maybe three percent of the map? Just like all those ill-advised fuel tanks stored conveniently beside heavy weaponry, my mind was blown.

Admittedly now that I’m older (and possibly snobbier), I can’t amuse myself for as long as I used to in the shoes of Rico Rodriguez. Blowing things up does get repetitive pretty fast, which makes JC2 a strange example of what I’m talking about. It’s a great game, it’s fun, it’s chaotic, but it gets dull after a while. It makes me wonder if it’s possible for a game to be TOO big.

Now, this might only apply to me because I have borderline OCD when it comes to completing a game. I love seeing progress counters tick closer and closer towards 100%, which makes Just Cause 2 my worst nightmare. There are an absolutely insane number of things to do, but many of them are copied and pasted. Blow up a few things, grab the collectibles, kill the General, move on. Its gets stale, and seeing that you’ve liberated sixteen of some two hundred and something colonies is more disheartening than it is satisfying.

Of course I might be wrong, and on some days even I would disagree with that. Some days I like to mute the volume on my TV, head onto YouTube and watch some videos, as I completely ignore any story and smash my way through a few cities. For those moods, games like Just Cause are perfect. And if you (like me) actually enjoy some brainless, repetitive gameplay to keep your hands busy whilst you watch a movie or some YouTube videos, I’d highly recommend it, along with Dragon Age: Inquisition and Mad Max.

Ohhh Mad Max. What controversy you’ve sparked. The film was outstanding, there’s no denying that, and personally I quite enjoy the game. Yes, its repetitive, but there’s a huge open world just waiting to be taken back from Scrotus and his legion of psychopaths. Yes the villain is called Scrotus. Let’s just move past it.

Strangely enough, Mad Max is a game that I ONLY play when I’m in my “sound off, videos on” mood. The story is really not interesting, so I spend all my time destroying the war totems, taking back camps, looting the scavenging locations, and generally blazing my own path through the wasteland. The combat is crunchy, and there are a vast number of challenges to complete. Unlike Just Cause, each challenge or activity you complete either directly rewards you with an upgrade token to improve your base stats, or lowers the control that Scrotus’ generals have over the area you’re in, which is much more satisfying.

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Getting back to the subject at hand – No Man’s Sky. Y’all need to sort it out. From what I’ve seen, I’d be amused for a little while, then it would be demoted to “Sound off, video on” status, before eventually joining the shelf of forgotten, uncompleted games that are gathering dust. God I hate that shelf. I can’t sell them or trade them in, I haven’t finished them yet! So there they wait. Ever played the Bionic Commando remake? He’s on there. But that’s a story for another time.

That’s it for this week gamers! Let me know what you think of open world games in the comments! And what games are gathering dust on your shelf? Keep on playing and I will see you next week!