Legion on FX: what the…

Posted by & filed under Reviews.

So I have finally watched first episode of the Legion show from FX. The results are… mixed, at best. I guess I went into this with wrong expectations. I kind of expected “superhero TV series linked to X-Men” and it ended up being something akin to Twin Peaks on steroids. Or worse. Very confusing, quite weird and somewhat boring.

Warnings signs should have been praises for bringing forward “mental health issues” (see here and here), but, unfortunately, I decided to read in-depth reviews after watching the actual shows instead of before it. I don’t really expect that to be the focus of science fiction. Yes, people suffer from mental conditions (and deserve help and understanding) but should it be primary focus of quite long and thus jumbled and confusing episode? I don’t think so.

This episode also was waaay too similar to season 1 episode 4 of the Magicians, which didn’t help and kinda made me groan “not again”.

I wish the back-story was a bit compressed, not full-blown more-than-an-hour of mental hospital. I’ll probably watch second episode but so far expectations went way downhill to “not for me” label (and “give me more wit and action and fun things”).

Guild Wars 2 after 3 years: things are getting cray-cray

Posted by & filed under Reviews, Technology.

tiny_bagI can’t believe it’s already been 3 years since I’ve started playing Guild Wars 2. So much has changed. And some things have stayed the same.

First the good things:

– Guild Wars 2 (GW2) is still one of the prettiest MMORPG games ever. Seriously. One other game that is getting close and potentially could get the top spot is Blade and Soul, but NCSoft took their sweet time bringing it to NA market. I blame the Wild Star — the ugly but funny duckling and an example of what happens to MMOs that are trying to be all “hard core content all the time” (read “grind everything”). However, it finally failed hard enough for NCSoft to think about bringing the GW2 competition to North America’s market.

– Music and sufficient amount of story content. Plus some additional pieces of story that can be interesting to play.

– Still has a good variety of classes to play, and getting one more class soon with the expansion.

– Still plenty of group events to do with, well, a group, provided you are at the right time and right place. Enough great communities that help out players and make game generally alright to play.

Now onto the “other” things….

Champ trains and nerfs.

For a while, Arena Net was basically leaving the game alone and not changing things drastically. People have played through the “personal story” part of the game, and, given that there was not much gear progression, figured out how to earn in-game gold by grouping into massive blobs of players, upscaling events, getting better rewards. Thus, the “champ trains” were born. Pre-determined paths through particular maps, everyone participating in same series of events, killing in-game champion bosses, amazing amounts of in-game experience, good amounts of loot.

Except part of these “champ trains” were in the low-level areas. So when, admittedly rather scarce, new players would get into the world and accidentally kill some champion boss “out of order” (while primary blob was killing another boss) there’d be _tons_ of virtol and miasma in chat. Plus, I presume ANet suddenly realized people were getting loot, so the champ train in lower areas got killed. Bosses were downscaled, and now low-level areas are pretty much as empty as before.

Mega-server merger.

Initially, it was important to be on high-population server, as you’d get better events and gameplay. Population disbalance started to hurt and ANet figured out how to create just enough dynamic “overflow” servers to keep things more-or less populated. While this meant that you don’t really get on absolutely empty server any more, this new system broke PvE (player vs environment) way of things. Before you could tell when particular events were happening, depending on the server and time. Now, with “megaserver” it’s, apparently, too hard to put events on the timer, so there’s no more “guaranteed” group play to, for example, take on the temples.

Well, the events are still happening from time-to-time but you can never tell when. If you’re lucky, you’ll get the “Temple” event done (which drops specific loot). If not, you won’t have it. This feels like developers intentionally trying to avoid giving players the way to join these fights. To minimize loot?

Never-ending nerfs of anything that gives players gold.

Economy starts to feel like Soviet Russia. Every time ANet and developers open their mouths and broadcast a news about some “changes” it means something is getting nerfed. Some part of the game is giving too much reward and getting either outright killed (like champ trains), or so reduced in rewards that nobody plays it any more. The standard running joke is that most events in Guild Wars 2 give you two blues and green pieces of equipment (low level crap, basically). A while ago Arena Net boosted rewards for “dungeons” — the end-game content for players who reached level 80 (and got good gear, and still like PvE systems instead of going into player-vs-player mode).Dungeons were hyped as the new type of expansion/new content that would be expanded with time and blah-blah-blah 3 years later we got one more dungeon path and official notice that developers don’t want us to play dungeons any more, so the in-game gold that dungeons were rewarding is going to be “significantly removed” (read killed to 1/10th or so).

The current “hype” is Fractals — extremely repetitive and limited in variety content that ANet is now feeling is more important than dungeons. Oh, and they’re adding “raids” (for 10 men groups). It makes me want to laugh, as exactly the same stuff was promised for dungeons — developer’s attention, good rewards, new paths etc, which, basically, didn’t happen.

Nerfs of event systems.

That’s an expansion of previous nerf. Basically ANet realized, that players were getting spoiled with events that were dropping loot, giving players experience and in-game gold. So almost all “new” content that is being introduced is waning people off of this stupid loot thing. New events don’t give you anything until you finish the whole chain. Before you’d get some XP and random stuff from monsters killed along the way, now you have to kill crapload of stuff over 30+ minutes and then maybe you’ll get something. This was the “special event” they have introduced recently, the Mordrem’s Minions Invasion. Except, as usual, there were bugs so some people didn’t even get the crap-rewards they were supposed to get after an hour of killing things. Players were really really mad. Tons of screams on forums and reddit, general “we think it’s all fine” responses from ANet.


World vs World horror.

Part of the end-game for 80-level players is, basically, big scale Player-vs-Player. You belong to the server A, it gets matched to servers B and C and three servers duke it out in special areas for whole week — taking objectives, killing players, the works.

It could be a lot of fun. If you belong to the right server. WvW suffers from series of population disbalance issues.

No matter what ANet does, there’s just not enough players to fill up all tiers. So while top 9 or so servers have enough people to fill it up, the lower tier servers simply don’t have enough players to fill the environment. Even when populations are somewhat coparable, the scoring system of WvW fights makes it very important to have around-the-clock coverage — some players who continue to take objectives during the night. And, as usual, the number of “off-hours” (Korea, Japan, European guilds) players is rather low and has a tendency of clumping up on few servers here and there. This results in “nightly wipes” where everything that got earned during the North America prime-time hours gets lost to other server that has bigger night population.

Transferring from server to server costs a significant amount of gems, prices of gold-to-gem conversion are insane and only going up, and given above-mentioned nerfs not everyone can transfer to “hot server A”.

PvP “balance” killing things in WvW

Other nasty side effect is ANet’s obsession with “e-sports”. This results in changes to game balance and mechanics that are made purely for small-scale player-vs-player fights. Except they usually affect WvW and PvE in worst possible way. One example — control effects and counter-play of “stability” that resulted in “ranged play” where groups of players are circling around and remote-nuking each other, instead of engaging in melee fights. Things became significantly less fun. But given that WvW is an afterthought and doesn’t usually get any good changes…. (and when devs do notice something, there’s a chance of horrible changes that show they don’t really know how people play and what people do.

Horrible RNG-ing of everything

Anet is obsessed with Randomizing Rewards. I presume because it allows them to show higher “hours played” metrics — if you allow players to earn something after N unsuccessful plays, that allows them to reach the goal (collection of some sort, or crafting/obtaining a pretty cosmetic item). And we can’t have that. Instead GW2 is full of awful random drops. You can do event hundreds of times and not get that special item to finish your collection. You pretty much have to buy it if you want to get it. Which results in amazing prices for some weird items (trinkets that cost 400 golds, for example, because you have to have it for the collection). If you want it, you have to grind up gold.

New Player Experience.

At certain point in time, it was declared that lower level gameplay was “too confusing”, so most skills got locked behind puzzles and higher level events, everything was “simplified” and changed in low level areas (breaking a bunch of things in progress). Personal story went through meatgrinder, and instead of gradually giving player things to do, got bunched into “10 level” increments. Tons of complaints, and finally it kinda got re-fixed a bit, as player no longer has to do ridiculous things to unlock skills and traits (and rely on others to complete event chains etc).

Bugs, neverending bugs.

While GW2 is not as bad as, say, Wildstar was, amount of bugs affecting quality of life is rather large. Certain events that players may want to finish can’t be completed, things break all the time, skills don’t work, servers lag etc etc. Every time some release happens it’s usually the time of confusion where a few patches are released rapidly (either because something completely broke, or players managed to find some loophole and got too much loot)

It just feels like ANet is trying to fight the players instead of making their life easier and better. Players like something? Nerf it. They adapted to particular gameplay? Not allowed, need to change something to make things worse. Old events were popular? We have to “fix” them and make it less fun and less loot. Seriously.

Google Fiber TV: time to opt-out from TV history?

Posted by & filed under Technology.

Google Fiber TVLooks like Google Fiber TV is about to trample all over TV ads industry. And add a bit of a headache for TV viewers too. If you’re one of the lucky few who has it in your neighborhood, you might get extra extra custom ads soon.

Fiber TV in Kansas City will soon be testing more customizable ads that will complement local TV ads in live and DVR-ed shows. It’s already done by regular local TV stations, except now advertisers will have a chance to target not just particular geography an shows, but also your watching history. So if you, say, ever watched some automotive racing shows you might get custom ad for local high-end racing car dealership. Oh, and bonus — dealership will actually know if you saw the ad. Kinda like internet advertising.

Good things:
– ads might actually be less stupid and annoying
– advertisers will really see how many people actually watched the ad versus going with “audience estimation” (so particular fluffed-up TV shows might experience slight… reduction in ad rates because people don’t really watch them)
– local business will only pay if ad has been seen, and not throw their budget into the airwaves hoping it works

Bad things:
– online “relevant” ads didn’t really became relevant (or at least I was unlucky) so this “better targeting” might not make ad experience more enjoyable
– random marketoids will be able to target you based on what you watched
– there’ll be a list of everything your household ever watched

Important thing:
If you don’t trust marketing promises, you can opt-out from the viewing history collection in Fiber TV Settings.

Also see AdWeek article.

How to really unsubscribe from Google Birthdays Calendar

Posted by & filed under Technology.

So our beloved Google Overlords have pooped on us graced us with a new useless feature that you can’t turn off. Because, really, who doesn’t want to have a new calendar that shows thousands of birthdays on it. You know, if you actually happened to have a lot of people in your Google Plus circles.

You can hide the calendar, but you’re still subscribed to it. Why? I don’t know. Someone in UX department had a brain-dead idea. And they want you, silly user, to use it. Previous workaround, where the new calendar showed up in “Interesting Calendars” thus inadvertently allowing you to (gasp!) unsubscribe, was quickly fixed. But I’ve found another workaround.

Brace yourself, it involves JavaScript!

Specifically, follow these steps:

1. Open the settings page of the calendar (https://www.google.com/calendar/render?pli=1#i)
2. Open JavaScript console (in Chrome click View->Developer->JavaScript console)
3. Paste the following code into the console:


4. Press [Enter]
5. You will get a confirmation on the setting page, asking if you really want to unsubscribe from the Birthdays calendar. Click Unsubscribe.


The End. You will be unsubscribed. “Birthdays” will no longer show up in “My Calendar” section, etc etc.
So far everything seems to be fine and zombie calendar didn’t return 🙂 (until they “fix” it on server side anyway)

Basically LNa is the function that is normally called when you click “Unsubscribe” link — you can see it if you have any other calendars. The ID of birthdays calendar is that I…bQ string. So this “fakes” case as if there was actual “Unsubscribe” link. And instead of messing with HTML elements, you just call this function directly from JS console.

p.s. if for some reason this didn’t work, try JNa instead of LNa. Or look at the unsubscribe links that you have:
Right-click, inspect element on unsubscribe link, use the same function:

html inspect

Hope this helps!

Update only two months later (from January 9th when I wrote this to March 4th), and looks like Google actually adding an official way to hide mega-birthday-avalanche:

Google News and Spain: control of the freedom of press?

Posted by & filed under Politics, Technology.

spainSo, Spain now has a new law that requires news publications to charge aggregators, such as Google News, for showing even small snippets. Because, like, copyright and blah-blah-blah, they’re stealing our content!!!!! type of thing. Never mind that inclusion in the news was voluntary and websites could opt-out.

No, because greed covered their eyes and made them think that Google will just pay out of its own pocket for the right to show news snippets on the site that earns no money. So Google News closes in Spain.

But I think there might be a different subtext here. Perhaps the government simply doesn’t want users to have an easy access to individual small publishers. Law doesn’t distinguish between big and small outlets, right? They all now have to be paid for use of their content, a new organization will be created to manage that wonderful money stream etc.
Therefore there will now be less options for users to discover smaller media outlets, because the big ones succeeded at nuking aggregators from the orbit. Yes, technically you can still access press on the newspapers’ websites. No, your choices are going to be reduced. And even if Spain-based newspaper wanted to be included for free, they won’t be able to do it any more.

I wonder if “rights holders” will ever change their mind. As in, how stubborn they are, and will they rather suffer drop in traffic than admit that they do indeed benefit from the free service that includes tiny pieces of their content on one page.

I’m not hopeful. At least because there’s probably going to be Yahoo News that shows ads and is more likely to pay. We’ll see.