No Man’s Sky

I came very close to calling this post ‘Why I hate No Man’s Sky’, continuing the trend I set last time with the Interstellar post. But let’s not.

Freelancer is one of my absolute favorite games of all time. The free flying through space, the storyline, the super-detailed universe, I loved all of it. All I could wish for was that there was more. Once the storyline ended there wasn’t that much left to do, really, except for getting the best possible ships and visiting all the systems. I really, really hoped that No Man’s Sky would be the successor I was looking for. Sadly, it’s not. At least, not yet.

I’ve been playing NMS quite heavily since it came out. Maxed out the ship, maxed out the multitool upgrades, maxed out the exosuit. Exploring new planets is a pretty neat gimmick in the beginning, but it quickly turns into a resource-finding grind. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed spending a few real-life days on a beautiful planet full of different kinds of animals while focusing on getting better ships, mining and getting new technology. I genuinely felt sad about leaving it, knowing I’d be heading to the center of the universe and would never see that planet again.

..but that feeling quickly turns into utter numbness once you realize that every single fucking planet is the same. Sure, the color scheme changes and your near-to-death-ness slider depletes a bit quicker on some planets compared to others, but funcionally they’re the exact same. Animals are either ignorable or killable, buildings look the same everywhere and there’s only a very limited set of ‘gimmicks’ (crashed ships, learning words, discovering technology) to run through before you’re done. Mining resources could have been interesting, were it not that all the expensive resources cost roughly the same and all the cheap resources can be found everywhere, on every single planet, all the time, never more than a 2 minute walk away. It’s the same for all the fucking alien outposts on every single planet. NMS tries to establish a lore in the form of the sentinels, the ever-present space police, which supposedly protect the planets from change, colonization, etc. by the 3 major races. Yet somehow the 3 major races establish bases by the buttload, once again on every single planet, once again always within a 2 minute walk. That stuff needs some serious attention by the developers, cause it makes no sense, not from a realism point of view, not from a lore point of view and not from a common sense point of view.

During the game’s development we were promised a lot of things that did not make it into the final game, but that doesn’t matter that much to me as long as the game we end up with is fun to play, or at least has potential to be turned into something better by way of patches. I’m a bit dubious about NMS in this respect. The procedural universe is pretty awesome, but the devs seem to have spent a *lot* of time on just the procedural bits of it and completely forgot about the gameplay. NMS also seems to have been dumbed down severely (for PS4 users perhaps?). I absolutely hate the way the ships fly. You can’t crash into anything, you can’t fly at a specific altitude over a planet, it’s just a bloody elevator. Ground floor, sky floor, space floor. If you try to point your ship at something that might pose the slighttest risk of a crash, the game takes over for you and prevents it. So much for feeling free in your own ship. It doesn’t help either that all of the (beautiful procedurally-generated) ships handle exactly the same. Space pirate attacks are always exactly the same. Trading ships always warp in exactly the same and do exactly nothing (compare that to Freelancer where they were always moving from one place to the other and you could hail them and they’d tell you where they came from, what they were transporting and where they were going). So much of the game is just unfinished, unpolished or uninteresting. It frustrates me because it could have been so much more. Seriously, procedural generation is a great backdrop for a storyline, but the storyline is paper-thin. Where are the characters? Where are the factions? Freelancer was a million times better in that respect. But I bet it’s a lot easier to turn NMS into Freelancer than it is to turn Freelancer into NMS.

Three things can happen to No Man’s Sky in the future: 1. the devs are so stressed out from their (amazing!) effort to release a fantastically complex game that they call it quits and move on to the next adventure. I would absolutely not blame them for this. 2. The devs keep simplifying the game even more to appeal to the mass audience and keep adding features that no one wants. I’d say this is likely, but I would like to see 3. the devs, finally released from the stress of releasing a massively-hyped game, feel free again to focus on what they originally wanted the game to be. I bet this would require massive changes, and the longer they wait with this the more it will piss off the fanbase of the current game. But screw that. The game could be a lot better. I hope they take up the challenge.

 

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The Peak District

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“Do you get to the Peak District very often? Oh, what am I saying, of course you don’t.

 

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Why I hate Interstellar

I love sci-fi. I’ve been a long-time fan of all things Star Trek, I loved the Martian, I’ve read loads of sci-fi books like The Culture series, The Forever War, The Foundation series, and so on. I’m quite fond of hard sci-fi, so when I first heard that Christopher Nolan was working on a large scale science fiction movie that would try to stick to science I was very excited. In fact, Interstellar is one of the few movies I went to see in a theater. Sadly, my expectations were betrayed.

Perhaps it was because of the hype of it being a scientifically accurate movie, but I could not contain my disappointment. When I first saw it people in the theater were ooh-ing and ah-ing whenever something happened, and all I could think of, and came close to expressing vocally, was: “fucking bullshit”. Interstellar shits on science. Interstellar pretends to be interested in science, courts it, dates it, then realizes it’s not what it was after and brutally murders science and shits on its grave. That is how much I dislike this movie.

I think the problem for me is the initial premise. The movie goes out of its way in the beginning of the movie to show us humans: humans not at all different from us, because the events in the movie are supposed to have taken place shortly after present-day earth. The movie needs us to believe that these people are equivalent to modern-day humans. Then it proceeds to rub it in by giving Matthew McConaughey some clunky exposition dialogue to Murph about the scientific method, and how as a scientist you need to come up with a hypothesis, write down your findings and prove it. The movie clearly portrays the setting as ‘In this universe science is true, yo. You better believe it.’, and then goes on to violate exactly that premise. Sure, they got the little science-y details right, but that doesn’t do shit if your overarching plotline is inherently anti-science (and full of plot holes).

It’s been a while since the movie came out and I still hear people going on about how great it was. The movie still has a great rating on imdb too, so I was willing to concede that I might have been wrong about it. Today I watched it again. Nothing changed. Well, one thing. In the theater I didn’t want to be that guy who loudly shouts ‘BULLSHIT’ during the movie. At home I had no such misgivings.

The whole point of science and the scientific method is observing, coming up with a theory that fits the evidence. The movie uses this as a plot device, for science’s sake. If you’re going *that* far to insist on science then you can’t just do a heel-face turn at the end and be like ‘five dimensions and a predestination paradox make all of this okay’. Because it fucking doesn’t. That’s making a mockery of science. The danger of using ‘legit science’ as your movie backdrop is that you can’t make dumb plothole mistakes, like landing on a planet with massive waves without realising it had massive waves. There must be at least a minimum of dozens of scientists at NASA. Don’t tell me none of those people would’ve thought that a giant black hole would affect the tides. Or, even simpler, a pilot landing on the planet with waves of that close an interval would absolutely have noticed something on his approach. So, yay for scientific accuracy, nay for basic common sense. I guess you can’t have both in a movie because that would make things too boring for the viewers. But then I’d prefer leaving the science out rather than the common sense.

Now let me be clear: I have no problem with movies that make a mockery of science, or anything else, or with movies that don’t take science that seriously. I still enjoy Star Wars, I love Game of Thrones and I’m fine with whatever unrealistic laws of physics and reality are thrust upon me in whatever anime of the month I am watching. But the movie can’t violate its own rules. Interstellar establishes ‘science just as in real life’ as its own rules, and then in the end is like ‘Oh, by the way, this movie’s rules were actually science just as in real life plus five dimensions plus time travel plus the power of love. Fooled ya’. That is just not cool. It’s as if I was making a movie that portrays Christianity as true and then in the end was like ‘oh by the way, Christianity is only true because of science and God doesn’t exist. Fooled ya!’. Certainly anyone should be allowed to make a movie like that, but that doesn’t make it anything less of a dick move.

So there you go. I could not suspend my disbelief during this movie, and the reason for that is, ironically, because the movie tried to stick as close to reality as possible, and then failed miserably at that. I would’ve been much happier if they’d tried less hard at representing real-life science and focused more on the plot holes and fixing the common sense issues instead. I’ve experienced this a lot in Nolan movies. He likes to dazzle you and blind you with his pretty imagery and fantastic plotlines (don’t even get me started on Inception, although I liked Inception a lot better than Interstellar) so that sometimes you don’t even realise that you were fooled. Sometimes that works out, sometimes it doesn’t. Interstellar was a classic Nolan bait-and-switch that I did not enjoy.

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Just do it

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I never feel like going out for a cycle but I always feel better when I do.

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Daily life and fulfillment

Usually when I’m happy I tend to think that I am happy despite daily life. I tend to think that spicing things up and doing random things is part of what makes life fun. I still think that, but I also think that doesn’t necessarily imply that not doing that makes life not fun. I find pleasure in doing something well, and I’m getting better at doing my every day things, every day. If you focus on something and focus on getting better at it, then you can find enjoyment.

I love building things. I love it when there’s a problem I can’t quite grasp, but then I start working on it and, as I am working on it, the solution becomes clear. That’s just such a satisfying moment. But it’s also where my flaw lies, because as soon as I grasp the solution I lose interest. I get the fulfillment from thinking about the problem, starting to solve it and finding the solution in my mind, but not from working it out until the end. So after I find the solution it just becomes a chore; yet another thing to finish.

(No moral or life lesson. Just observations.)

 

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Guidelines

I’ve been following three ‘principles’ of sorts lately. I think they’ve been quite useful for me. Maybe they’ll work on other people too. In no particular order:

  • Own it – whatever you do, don’t feel embarrassed about it. Pretend if you have to. Eventually it becomes second nature.
  • Always leave something left to do for the next opportunity. Be it programming, gaming, travel, or that TV show that you were intending to binge-watch. Leaving something open means it’s easy to get back into things the next time.
  • Avoid procrastination by not thinking things through too much and just taking the first step. Don’t try to solve the entire thing in your head from beginning to end, just start somewhere and keep making progress incrementally. It works for me especially on the things I don’t like, because once I’ve started I feel like I might as well finish it.

Mental health, y’all.

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The old ways

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The last time I shot old-fashioned analog film was back in the early 90s, when I was less than ten years old. It wasn’t old-fashioned back then. But after my girlfriend gave me an old SLR that fits my Canon lenses and promised to develop the film, I quite fondly took it with me on a cycling day and took some photos.

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Analog is tedious! Shutter times matter a lot, whereas with digital I’m used to using a bit more risky shutter times and just shooting a couple of photos, knowing that usually at least one of them will be sharp. With analog I’m constantly worrying about not wasting film. It helps with the composition and thinking about what you’re doing, but I doubt that it beats the brute force of digital. Not to mention the fact that with digital you can immediately see your result and make adjustments.

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One thing I will say about analog is that the colours and the contrast is pretty unique, and very distinctive to look at. The images have such a different characteristic that I can hardly apply anything from my usual Photoshop routine of touching up photos. It’ll probably take me a while to figure out how to improve analog photos.

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Depth of field is fantastic with a 50mm f/1.8, better than I get with my DSLR since that has a crop factor. More experiments to come. (Slowly, because it’s analog :p )

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Fatigue, part two

First off, let’s call the beast by its name: burnout. When I’m working on things, my natural state is to use an unsustainable amount of brainpower. Sometimes I get recharge moments and everything works out ok, but at other times I reach the bottom and cease to be effective. Once I reach that point it’s damn hard to get out of it. It takes weeks or even months to return back to the mindset of peak performance after burnout. I’ve experienced burnout quite a few times in the past, and I know exactly what to do to get myself back from it. But preventing it from happening in the first place, that appears to be a lot trickier. You need willpower to tell yourself to stop working on something interesting, and if you continue working at that point your willpower slowly slips away. It’s easy to get lost. Especially if you’re faced with the exact thing that would keep your brain busy.

An interesting problem is like a burnout virus for the mind. All you need is a problem that is challenging, exciting and complex, but also not complex enough to seem too daunting. Maybe you’ll know how to solve 90% of it and the challenge of solving the remaining 10% is what motivates you to keep working on it. Then after you’ve worked it on for a while you start to realize that the remaining 10% of the problem is actually another problem that is as difficult as the original one. Once again, you know how to solve 90% of that problem and the remaining 10% is a challenge. Repeat ad infinitum. Or until your willpower is gone and you’ve achieved peak burnout. Congratulations.

Recognizing that you’re about to get stuck in this loop is important. It’s the mindset of believing that you’ll solve these kinds of problems immediately, or by just devoting more brain-time to them, because then you’ll get into the willpower-draining self-loop that eventually leads to burnout. There’s always one more thing to solve; one more thing that needs fixing or thinking about. What matters more than solving the problem is keeping yourself in a state where you’re able to solve problems. And draining yourself towards burnout is the exact opposite of what you should be doing. Take time off. Think about other things. Don’t worry if you still think about the problem in the shower or before going to sleep, it’ll drain itself from your brain eventually. No problem is as important as keeping your mental self in its best possible state.

(Yes, this post was totally advice to myself. Felt good to write about it though.)

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