Adblock Can (Not) Save Us

It is now generally agreed that “clickbait culture” is destroying any hope of productive discourse that does not immediately disintegrate into bickering, flame-wars and grandstanding. However, the incentive structure as it stands simply does not allow anyone to stop doing it: the first media outlet to take a stand for calmness and sanity will be the first to bleed to death from lacking advertising revenue as its viewers click more provocative lines in their feeds. Despite cautions regarding structures that enable vertical transit, everything just keeps tumbling down. It doesn’t stop from keep happening.

But what if we could stop letting that happen? Adblockers, which modify a browser to not display advertisements from websites the user visits but does not explicitly whitelist, could decouple “maximizing viewership” from “maximizing revenue,” and whatever digital economy follows might require producers to create content of genuinely high value.

I don’t think it will work out so pleasantly. Here are my reasons, laid out as straightforwardly as possible:

  • Adblockers are permeable: most adblockers serve the purpose of blocking obnoxious ads, not preventing civilizational collapse. They often have provisions to allow non-intrusive ads, and unethical adblockers effectively operate as a protection racket, accepting payment from advertisement agencies to not include their material in the default blacklists. Adblockers that are not complete do not remove the incentive to produce clickbait.
  • Adblockers are detectable: in order to save bandwidth, most adblockers work by modifying requests to the web server so that returned pages do not include known advertisement content. Increasing numbers of websites detect this happening and lock content unless the user whitelists their site. While it’s possible to instead download the ads and not display them, this uses significant bandwidth – and more importantly, if adblock-users are indistinguishable from non-users, there’s no loss of incentive to be clickbaity from a viewer changing category.
  • Anti-adblockism is already a thing: a lot of content creators are not happy with their ability to earn a living being destroyed in the hopes that something better will emerge from the rubble, and argue that using adblockers is morally wrong. A lot of people agree with them, and would be especially unhappy with the kind of adblockers that would be required to repair online discourse (see above).
  • Content creators doubling down: to keep revenue up as numbers of “paying” viewers falls, even more outrageous clickbait will have to be used. This may sound impossible, but I’m quite sure it’s not. “Things can’t possibly get worse” has never been correct, and arguably the rise of adblockers is what precipitated this race-to-the-bottom to begin with.
  • The replacement digital economy will also be awful: it doesn’t seem especially likely that non-ad-based revenue streams will necessarily protect against clickbait. Remember that the Daily Mail existed long before the modern internet did. If people are more willing to click on bait-links, they’ll probably be more willing to fork over a seamless microtransaction to see them; or to subscribe to their service; or whatever payment model is hoped will take the place of ads. Short of a centralized body funding content-creation on merit rather than populism, the incentive to acquire more viewers at the cost of calmness and sanity will always be there, and you can bet the libertarian brigade would be up in arms if we tried to nationalize the media – somewhat rightly so, I imagine, since it introduces different perverse incentives.
  • The replacement digital economy will be less equitable: yes, clickbait is destroying the world, but it’s fair – anyone can write what they want and get paid exactly what they deserve (i.e. proportionally to viewership).

Some of these issues can be circumvented, others mitigated. And on the whole, I’m hopeful that adblocking can at least slow the decline – after all, back when all media was pay-per-view, high quality content was mostly the norm.

Oh, and everyone needs to stop using Twitter immediately – that stuff is memetic poison and “but muh coordination problem” or “but muh best social media platform” is not a good enough reason to put it anywhere close to your mind. Do not drink the radioactive acid.

Adblock Can (Not) Save Us

Deliberately Doing Thing Is Still Doing Thing

Plucked from the slatestarcodex subreddit:

Don’t ask why the author told you something or had a character do something; ask why a character told you something or what the character’s motivations actually were rather than what they were intended to be or, worse (and barf), symbolize.

Suppose I write a book in which a character spends page after page talking about whaling, or their pet political philosophy, or the history of plumbing. There are several ways I can defend having done this from the charge that no one is interested in hearing about that:

  1. Denial – arguing that actually my particular audience is interested. Most effective for political rants. A perfectly reasonable defense, but leaves readers not in that audience unsatisfied.
  2. Explanation – giving my own reasons for having done this. Like, I really need the reader to understand the minutiae of plumbing in order for later parts of the story to make sense. Maybe it’s not a good enough reason, but hey, at least I had one.
  3. Cheating – “But it’s what the character would do! It’s deliberate!

In very short, my position is that if my story is being told by a character who would spend multiple pages describing plumbing, then I have chosen a boring character who should not be telling a story. Or, if I’m convinced that my character is interesting, maybe I shouldn’t put a bunch of boring words in their mouth, since probably an interesting character would be saying or doing interesting things instead.

To put it another way, saying “it’s what the character would do” is a general excuse that can justify anything. The reason it provides no actual justification is simple: yes, the space of possible characters contains the character as written, but it also contains a version of the character who wouldn’t say something so boring/pointless/verbiose/etc. I have to justify why I plucked the former out of character-space and not the latter.

Perhaps the character that rambles on is a more parsimonious character, e.g. if they’re often inclined to long plumbing discussions, maybe dropping this particular plumbing discussion would be out-of-character. In that case the question becomes “Why does my work need this character? And why has it failed to convince the audience that it does?”


Aside: what’s wrong with characters’ actions symbolizing things, anyway? I’m pretty sure that’s like Literary Fiction Traits Top Five: characters doing things because it’s symbolic of something. Their “internal motivation” is back-written to fit, if it really fits at all. The standard of literary fiction is how far backward an author is willing to underbuild, no matter how empty-feeling and disconnected it becomes. But that’s a different rant.


This habit of saying “but I’m deliberately choosing to do this” extends throughout all of fiction. Maybe you deliberately don’t answer questions. Maybe you make characters deliberately obnoxious; not merely evil, or even unlikable, but deeply unpleasant to experience. Maybe you deliberately use clichés; maybe you deliberately avoid clichés. Maybe your ending is deliberately unsatisfying or deliberately deus-ex-machina. There are limitless possibilities.

But on the whole, being deliberate isn’t sufficient in my mind. I don’t think I’ve ever changed my mind about liking anything on the basis that it was deliberately chosen to be exactly the thing I disliked. What am I even supposed to say to the claim that it was so? “Good job making me not like it”?

Deliberately Doing Thing Is Still Doing Thing

Culture War Glossary

Balance:
Describes a state of affairs in which you are winning. See also Fairness.

China:
Somewhere very far away.

Compromise:
An idiotic manoeuvre where you concede some of what the Ingroup wants, which is sacred and precious beyond measure, and grant some of what the Outgroup wants, which is twisted and vile beyond belief. It is unclear why anyone ever attempted to do this.

Culture:
The exact nature of Culture is unclear, but it is inferred from the statements of Culture Warriors to be an opaque, coloured, volatile, immiscible, flammable and strongly-odorous liquid with powerful psychoactive effects.

Culture War:
The current state of affairs regarding Culture. Believed to have been started in early 2002 by the Bush administration as part of a general policy of starting unwinnable abstract conflicts.

Culture Warrior:
An active participant in the Culture War.

Degeneracy:
People liking things that you don’t like.

Democracy:
A means of governance that functions well so long as it has Fairness and Balance but sometimes allows Degeneracy.

Echo Chamber:
Dwelling-place of the Outgroup and center of their crazed religion.

Elite:
An educated member of the Outgroup.

Expert:
An educated member of the Ingroup.

Fairness:
Describes a state of affairs in which your enemies are losing, and more importantly, suffering. See also Balance.

Immigration:
A powerful kind of magic with contradictory capabilities. A great cause of conflict in the Culture War.

Ingroup:
A diverse coalition of free-thinkers like you, doing their best to save the world from the Outgroup.

Islam:
Primary cause of conflating high odds of X given Y, with high odds of Y given X.

Liberalism:
A philosophy that espouses individual freedom; formerly quite popular in The West.

Magnanimous:
Describes a winner from the Ingroup.

Media:
Believed to be a mind-control device of some kind, controlled by the Outgroup.

Narrative:
A method of belief formation in which you start with what you want to conclude, and work backwards from there to fill in facts, statistics etc.

Neoliberalism:
Liberalism, but bad (e.g. when it’s being advocated for by the Outgroup).

Neutral:
Someone who says they’re from the Outgroup, but shares all the opinions of the Ingroup.

Nuclear War:
Definitely impossible according to all sides of the Culture War. No precautions are required to prevent this, because it can’t happen.

Outgroup:
A tribe of Them, dominated by groupthink, who hate everything good (such as the Ingroup) and are deliberately trying to destroy it.

Racism:
A special kind of evil of which only the Outgroup are capable.

Russia:
Harmless.
Mostly harmless.

Science:
One of The West‘s bad habits, which it is doing its best to break.

Smug:
Describes a winner from the Outgroup.

Truth:
See Narrative.

Virtue Signalling:
Someone from the Outgroup saying something nice. Obviously they can’t possibly have meant it, so it was clearly a ploy to try to seem good.

The West:
Countries associated with the Culture associated with white people.

Culture War Glossary

Impassive Voice

From a previous post:

I’m not a fan of the Bechdel test, so here’s my test: could you randomize the genders of the cast without losing any important story aspects? If so, why didn’t you?

A friend commented on this, saying surely “if the gender of the cast doesn’t matter, why bother doing that?” Taken at face value, the question of “why” versus “why not” yields a simple impasse. This is my attempt at unraveling that question.

A brief elaboration on my test. I’m not saying most works of fiction should use randomly-gendered casts. That wouldn’t work, for the most part. Instead it’s intended to make you think about which characters need to be the gender they’re written as, and which ones have just been thoughtlessly taken as a given, like those riddles about surgeons and patients.

So it’s not really a question of bothering to randomize the cast, because that’s not the aim. It’s about getting people to articulate why their work of fiction is the way it is, rather than one of the vast array of other ways it could be. The actual complaint that begins the conversation is essentially “I would have liked to have seen more X in Y.” I mean, the following is obvious:

Equitus: I didn’t like how there weren’t any Aggies in that show.
Frierik: Does it matter whether someone’s Aggish or Bikkin?
Equitus: Yes, but I agree that it shouldn’t.
Frierik: Then why change the show?
Equitus: Because I’d like it more? I mean, I literally just said that.

At this point it may be tempting for Frierik to take the line:

Frierik: Why should they care what you like? It’s their show.

This would be foolish. It’s part of the conceit of our hypothetical that randomizing the AB-orientation of the cast doesn’t affect the show in any serious way. Therefore Equitus can have a preference for an evenly-split cast and that’s fine. If the producers want to have Equitus like their show, they should indeed randomly or otherwise non-lazily choose which characters are Aggish vs Bikkin. Therefore my recommended line for Frierik is actually something like this, bizarre as it may initially seem:

Frierik: But I prefer shows with a mostly-Bikkip or mostly-Aggish cast. Having both makes me consider additional AxB dynamics that complicate things unnecessarily for me.
Equitus: That’s understandable. We’ll just have to put up with a certain amount of automatic dislike for each others’ preferred content.
Frierik: That doesn’t sound too awful.

In short, my test is designed to identify the special case where a work genunely has no reason to have a cast of the genders that it has. Either a work has a reason, or it has none. It it has none, then there actually is no reason not to randomize the cast’s genders, and there may or may not be good reasons to do so. In the absence of any resistance from reasons not to, even the slight force of “I want it to” is enough to make a criticism out of it.

But on the other hand, if it has a reason, then it’s a somewhat more interesting matter. The question becomes considerably more complicated in more realistic circumstances where changing characters’ arbitrary characteristics would actually change the work in a significant fashion, and this is the reigning paradigm; i.e. all interesting cases are ones where the answers to the test are “not really” and “because…”.

Interesting cases should generally be taken on their own merits as circumstances demand. I don’t think anyone has to defend their preferences; people like what people like. There’s not actually any such thing as Liking Things Wrong. So even if there’s a really good reason for having a certain cast structure, you’re still welcome to dislike it. And even if there’s no good reason, you’re still welcome to like it. Liking things is good.

Impassive Voice

To Be Published After Trump Is Elected President of the United States

What makes Western Civilization so great? Why prefer to live there over some middle-eastern theocracy? When the people who called down this eventuality talk about how much they love The West, what drives their passion?

The only good answer I’ve heard is liberal values. A respect for the individual, a sense of live-and-let-live. Oh, make no mistake, I’ve heard no end of stupid, terrible answers. I’m sure I’ll hear more idiocy in my lifetime, so I’ll leave that be. The good answer is that liberalism is just right. That according moral status to any level of organisation other than individual people just doesn’t make sense.

Democracy, I’m also pretty keen on, but only because of its stellar track record of preserving liberalism. Sure, it’s had its stumbles and falls over the centuries, but it makes all other systems look like they’re not even trying, which to be fair they often aren’t.

So here we are. A lot of people badly want to defend Western Civilization, the best civilization, the place where people want to live more than any other, by tearing down the free press, placing even more controls on freedom of movement, imposing restrictive trade laws, and generally abandoning the project of liberalism. And then they try to justify this as a necessary sacrifice, a cost of protecting the best civilization.

No.

The only path to this outcome is people caring about liberalism less than the things they will sacrifice it to protect. I mentioned terrible answers above. “White people are smarter.” “Christianity is the best/one true religion.” “Capitalism is inherently righteous.” “Feudalism was the perfect governance and any leftover greatness is a reflection of that.”

“Everything was perfect, long ago and far away. The world has degenerated. The great golden age of man is failing but can be reclaimed by undoing the present and loving the past.”


When I first started writing this blog, I wanted to try and be. Well, not politically neutral, exactly, that’s impossible, but. Even-handed. Reasonable. I guess that was hopeless. I can’t see any merit in the point of view above. Any. I can at least comprehend the merit of certain positions reactionaries hold, like a love of masculine virtue or honest effort, even if I don’t agree. But the notion that these virtues are lost in the present, or that going back would help recover them, is just. Wrong. Oblivious. Stupid.

And it seems obvious to me now, that the regression-fetish is what comes first. That nostalgia is the starting-point for it all.

My opinion remains, then, what it always was.

I despise nostalgia.

Edit: And I’m not particularly interested in hearing how he’ll actually just be a conservative but otherwise unremarkable president constrained by the system and not really causing all that much harm. If you really believed that, you’d be the one making miserable posts on your blog.

To Be Published After Trump Is Elected President of the United States

Look at Me, I’m Contrarian

Or, “The Beginner’s Guide to Not Liking Thing.

Hey, remember when Digibro said that everyone loves Legend of the Galactic Heroes?

No? I’m the only one who’s been grinding an axe over that? That was a throwaway comment irrelevant to the actual point of the video? It would be pointless in the extreme to take it as a call to write a huge blog post detailing why I don’t like Legend of the Galactic Heroes?

This video would make an excellent jumping-off point to talk about Virtue Signalling and other twaddle. But no, I’m just here to complain about a show I didn’t like. I dropped it at around episode 25 or so. This is more time than I give to most things that I like, and far more than the “3 episodes/chapters/blocks or 5% of the content, whichever is larger” rule that I usually use to decide when to give up on something, so I think I gave it more than a fair shot.

(okay, I mean, obviously Digi didn’t actually mean everyone everyone, so I’m not gonna be the pedant insisting that we all use “almost” in almost every sentence, but still. I wanna bitch.)

So, LotGH. It’s a long anime about warring space-nations. Arguably the best said anime. Except, actually, it’s not about warring space-nations. It’s about warring horse-and-musket nations separated by oceans, that tries to pretend it’s set in space.

weg_logh_2

This isn’t news. It’s generally known that LotGH is really a paean to the Napoleonic era of warfare, filtered through a vaguely sci-fi coloured lens. Nonetheless, it is my first reason for disliking it. The show and the lens don’t fit. The above image really sums it up. I loved both the original games in question when I first played them. Both got HD remakes recently, both of which I played. But only Homeworld managed to pull me back in and make me love it again, because Cossacks just isn’t that great. It’s a fun recreation-of-sorts of a particular era of historical warfare, and it looks great to have these vast armies of musketeers and hussars flowing across the fields, but both on a tactical and strategic level, there’s not much depth. Most nations’ units are mechanically indistinct – often the only distinction between armies is their colour. The overall game strategy is also pretty much identical between nations – same buildings in the same order for the same purpose. It fundamentally fails as a strategy game, because it’s trying so hard to be historical. And flaws of the exact same pattern haunt LotGH also.

Homeworld 2, on the other hand, is quite possibly the best space strategy game ever made.

So my first complaint is that the show is purportedly science fiction warfare, but is actually historical recreation warfare. Any pretense of Space as a setting goes right out the window when you consistently forget the notion of a third dimension and sometimes have your ships form triangles and make actual cavalry charges at each other.


There’s the choice of medium. Animated works are great for specific things. For creating a visual style that outlasts the aging of your technology (great example: Psychonauts). For visual scenes that can’t be done with live-action, or would look terrible and inconsistent. For impossible camera angles and lighting effects and art styles that go beyond what costumes and make-up can begin to accomplish. This, I think, is why many of the best anime are genre fiction. Ones that aren’t, don’t need to be anime.

But look at LotGH. There are fight-scenes between spaceships, yes, but those have been being done with models since the dawn of TV sci-fi and no one’s minded. There’s no uncanny valley or the suchlike, after all, or at least there wasn’t at the time. Improvements in computer rendering are slowly creating one, but that’s another story. There are some pretty big “planetary-scale weaponry” scenes that maybe would look awful if not animated. But honestly, these scenes all looked pretty awful anyway. Without the benefits of nostalgia-vison, most of yesteryear’s big-budget eye-candy looks dreadful today (thanks hedonic treadmill). LotGH is no exception; another casualty in the inexorable grind of everything getting better all the time.

I’m not enough of an expert on visual media to explain why it looks so bad properly, but I’ll try anyway: there’s very poor sense of motion. It feels rigid. Details aren’t applied to where they need to be, and are often over-applied where they shouldn’t be. It looks for all the world like one of those old puppet-motion shows.

But the vast majority of the show just doesn’t need to be animated at all. People standing in rooms talking? Sounds like a good use of live-action to me. This would immediately fix all the show’s problems with wooden stances and expressions. The choice of medium is poor at best.


A point of praise is often noted to be the soundtrack, which is largely composed of classical European music. It’s very appropriate, considering the show is a Napoleonic costume drama. But that doesn’t necessarily make it the best possible choice. I’ve loved a whole bunch of choices with respect to soundtracks, but LotGH just doesn’t stand out. They wanted to seem fancy and refined, and chose classical music. Okay. Makes sense.

That is to say, the soundtrack is boring. Cliché. Uninspired in the absolute extreme. It’s not even a choice at all so much as the default. To say it leaves me unimpressed is an understatement of planet-busting magnitude.


And then there’s politics. “Ohhh, but it’s bad to not like a thing because you think its politics are wrong, you’re supposed to be objective.” Nope! If anything, the opposite. I’m not here to be objective: I’m here to complain.

If Utopianism and Dystopianism are flawed paradigms, then all the more so LotGH, which flirts with both. Granted it never falls into the worst traps, the starry-eyed optimism that ignores flaws or the dismissal of interesting questions by adding “… and then no one ever enjoyed anything ever again” as an unqualified assertion of the inevitable results of the author’s least favourite social policy. But nonetheless, for a show hyped for its amazing political commentary, LotGH is just So You’re A Reactionary: The Introductory Guide to Wishing for Kings. It pits an idealized monarchic state against a democracy that it clearly wants to be “warts and all” realistic, but the show can’t seem to bring itself to show anything except flaws. The ‘hero’ character of the republic is a mouthpiece to deploy further polemic, and a historian who loves the past. He has some lines mumbling something about believing in what he’s fighting for, but the sentiment is never really felt compared to his idolisation of bygone eras and admiration of his enemies.

Granted, the Empire is not all sunshine and roses in LotGH, but the hand on the scales of the political commentary is blatantly obvious and deeply obnoxious. Are political statements allowed to be art? Sure, I don’t see why not. But it’s harder to respect art that definitely picks a side, and art that picks a side while claiming not to do so is even worse, and art that picks the side you’re not on is always going to be less appealing still. But art that picks the side you’re not on and then tries to pass it off as objective or unbiased is borderline infuriating.

The sad thing is, I can see why people would love this aspect of it. No matter how much we dismiss the Puppies’ methods, specific aims, associations and general appearance of being destruction-seekers, their complaint that science-fiction has a leftist slant is pretty accurate. Of what rightist SF/F there is, most is pretty garbage. Finding something that flatters your preconceptions without going too far and being a transparent exercise in political propaganda is hard, and I don’t fault anyone for loving things that achieve that delicate balance for them.

I mean, I get it. Star Trek TNG in particular is egregiously left-of-center, and I can understand why people would be put off by that; please try to sympathise with my being put off by the exact mirror scenario.


The characters are also raved about. I won’t have much to say about them, though, since I can’t remember most of them. Some are obnoxious; some are contemptible, but the vast majority are just boring. No one in this show seems willing to stand up for their ideals (and no, “I really want to conquer the galaxy and rule all with an iron fist!” is not an ideal, no matter how nicely you phrase it), and no actual character conflict seems to occur. Characters are either Enemies, in which case they try to kill each other, or Allies, in which case they fight together (possibly while plotting betrayal for personal gain). Maybe they get to that later, but there’s a point where you go past “taking your time” into “taking the piss,” and that point is definitely less than 25 episodes into a show.

While I don’t want to dwell too much on the political angle, and I’m aware that reactionary readers would scorn such criticism, the show really lacks women. Like, people complain about Lord of the Rings for being sexist, but it at least has one strong-willed woman with goals and stuff. I’m not a fan of the Bechdel test, so here’s my test: could you randomize the genders of the cast without losing any important story aspects? If so, why didn’t you? The answer for both LotR and LotGH are that they’re a product of their era, and contain an implicit expectation that Fighting Is For Men. However, LotR is set in a fairly distant alternate past, and can be expected to take an ultra-conservative position – but instead includes the Shield-maiden for no reason other than it seemed cool and made sense. Whereas a good sci-fi author might try to extrapolate social trends into the future, which extrapolation for LotGH somehow concluded that the social structure centuries in the future would be uncannily identical to 17th century Prussia.


A list of questions the show never even pretended to answer:
How does interstellar travel work? What are the weapons the spacecraft use? What’s their effective range? Fighter-type craft are seen a few times – how is the balance between what look like battleship-type craft and carriers so near to perfect (in reality, naval combat turned from battleship-doctrine to carrier-doctrine very rapidly)? Why do space-battleships descend to planetary surfaces so often? How does interstellar communication work? Is it faster than travel, and if so, how? How do both sides maintain their large single-government existence across vast distances? How does the configuration of the strategic arena conspire to allow chokepoints such as Iserlohn (it’s outer space, just go around)? Speaking of Iserlohn, how is its energy generated? And why was it crewed exclusively by morons who can’t follow even the most basic security protocols? When a fleet’s supply lines are being discussed, what supplies are we talking about here? Food and water? What kind of timescales are we operating on (see earlier question about interstellar travel)? Why does anyone care about conquering anything at all when you have the technology to travel between stars? What possible desires are there left to satisfy by conquest? What happened to all the other, more plausible images of the future to prevent them happening (admittedly basically nothing ever addresses this one)? Why are static defenses used, ever? Why is Yang considered a genius for using “hit it with something moving very fast” against said defenses? Why are any of the heroic characters considered geniuses, given that frankly their strategies aren’t that brilliant and what we’re shown is simply that their presence in a fleet exerts some sort of auric influence that makes their ships shoot better, shrug off hits, etc? Seriously though, why did massive space battleships land themselves on planets like a bunch of delta-v-wasting chumps? Why did the original writer apparently not bother learning the basics of orbital mechanics, stellar physics, or it seems any science whatsoever before making the attempt? Did they think using fission weaponry against the entire surface of a planet would be efficient? Wait, are these spaceships carrying around fissile materials? Why not just lug a big ol’ box of rocks around space with you while you’re at it? Where are all the EVAs? The fancy futuristic spacesuits? Why did they end up fighting in an Ouroboros shape in the first episode? The Wattsonian reason, that is, the Doylist one is really obvious and really stupid. Why no relativistic kill vehicles? Are planets so individually valuable (in an entire galactic civilisation!) that you can’t afford to melt the crust of even one if doing so might put an end to an interminable bloody war? For that matter, why are mass drivers so rare in general?

You get the idea.

A lot of these questions may seem pointless. Surely all that irrelevant technobabble is what we want taken out of science fiction, to leave the pure essence of the story? No, it doesn’t work that way. The fundamental point of science fiction is that technology and story are inextricably bound up with one another. The constraints on what characters can do inform the audience’s expectations of what they will do, which in turns controls how the story can fulfill or defy those expectations. A great example of this, from the point of view of a character with near-godlike powers. But if you never learn what the constraints are, eventually the story dissolves into a disjointed series of events without any explanation. Oh such-and-such is travelling to wherever to stop so-and-so. Who will get there first? Hah, tough luck, there’s no way to determine that. It’ll happen when the story demands it and not a second sooner, y’hear! Maybe growing up reading fantasy stories that always include a map spoiled me.

Most importantly, why is explaining the above not even worthy of a throwaway line? “mumble mumble hyperspace inhibitors.” There, easy. That’s how Homeworld did it, and while it’s a total write-in of an explanation, it’s sufficient. Here’s my reasoning, which ties right back to the very first point. Legend of the Galactic Heroes is not science fiction. It’s literary fiction: the kind of fiction where you don’t have to explain anything because the assumption that the story takes place in the contemporary world and involves ordinary humans doing ultimately ordinary things is an assumption that is shared by the author and the audience. LotGH is a reskin of that, but the change is only surface deep.

It would be a lie to say I’m not interested in any literary fiction. It’s sometimes very good. But I am inevitably going to be dissatisfied with a literary piece trying to pass itself off as sci-fi, for the same reason that I’m not happy with even the very best coffee if it’s sold to me as tea. It doesn’t help that coffee is not a drink I enjoy even when I know what I’m getting in to.


In conclusion:

056

Look at Me, I’m Contrarian

GGG Design Philosophy – Points and Counterpoints

It’s a fairly common complaint, amongst both hardcore and softwcore players, that Path of Exile has no combat log that can be used to analyse the cause of a death after it happens. A point raised often in this thread is that “GGG doesn’t want to include a combat log, it would give players too much information.” The problems raised with players having too much information are:

  • The game would become too min-maxed, with players calculating how much survivability they need and getting exactly that much.
  • The presentation of the additional information might be overwhelming.
  • The game is supposed to be mysterious and difficult to understand.

I doubt the significance of these problems.

On the question of min-maxing, there are three realities to address. The first and most obvious is that most powerful hits from major bosses already have known approximate values. The idea that any information is actually being concealed here is laughable: the information is simply made less easily accessible. Second, the game simply doesn’t allow for such straightforward calculations. Between base damage variance, critical hits, overlapping AoEs, using defensive curses, being cursed, map modifiers, the various effects that can buff an enemy unexpectedly, and party-play buffs to enemies, as well as non-standard formulae for calculating the effect of armour and evasion, there are more than enough ways that players would be punished for trying to have only barely enough survivability. And third, the game is already a hugely complicated mess of mathematical min-maxing. That’s why people like it.

As to the question of presentation, I present that it is just that and no more. There’s little demand for ‘floating number’ style information – a combat log accessible after death would be quite sufficient. This might lead to a demand for always-accessible logs, which might in turn lead to third-party programs displaying numbers over the game (this sounds like it would be interacting with the game in memory, which I believe would violate the ToS and almost certainly be detectable). But even so, so what? If people want to debase the game, fine. They’re not gaining any unfair advantage by doing so (if anything, they’re disadvantaging themselves by obscuring the screen).

Lastly, there’s the philosophical point. We can break it into two parts:

  • Should a game have mysterious elements – information kept deliberately hidden from the player?
  • If so, is the manner in which a character dies an appropriate place for this?

On the former, I think a good case can be made either way. On the plus side, it can make a game more involving, letting players decide how deep down the rabbit hole they want to proceed. ARGs are the pinnacle of this: the entire game is the hiding of the information. Puzzle games somewhat less so, all the way down to straightforward board games like Chess or Go where the rules are laid out in their entirety from the very beginning. On the other hand, it is also fairly pointless. Consider the hiding of card rarities in early Magic history. This accomplished basically nothing except making the game harder to understand and creating booster packs where the rare card was a basic Mountain.

So maybe PoE should conceal certain information from the player. My contention is that this is not the right place to do it. Compare vendor recipes. These are pieces of information that are very well-suited to being concealed. A recipe, once discovered or learned, is permanently a part of the player’s ability to play the game. Not knowing a recipe may make a player less effective, but it does so “invisibly” – without the player being aware of what they don’t know until they learn it. And it’s predictable, both in the sense that a recipe can be shared easily across multiple players and experiments can be done to find hidden recipes. It’s practically the ideal example of a game developer hiding information from the player community in order to create fun experiences.

Now consider a character death in a hardcore league for comparison. Learning how much damage an attack deals is inexact and doesn’t permanently increase your skill – intuition won’t transfer well between characters with different survival strategies. For the same reason, the information transfers poorly. But most importantly, it’s really up-front and obvious when you don’t know why your character died. And it’s really frustrating. Learning that you could have been turning in your items differently for better rewards is a “kick yourself” moment. Learning that sometimes you’ll just die and the best way to avoid it is to just not do anything in the game because you can’t determine what is and isn’t dangerous might not cause immediate uninstallation, but it erodes a player’s desire to keep playing. After all, it’s not like there’s any practical difference between a game you play but don’t do anything in, and one you don’t play at all.

Overall, I don’t think there’s any good reason to not include combat logs on death in Path of Exile. The stated reasons either seem oblivious to the actual state of the game and the world – failing to account for the increased availability of information since the dawn of the ARPG genre – or philosophically tenuous, generically aimed at creating fun moments of discovery that simply don’t happen in the specific context in question.

GGG Design Philosophy – Points and Counterpoints