Sunday, January 31, 2016

Seek the Original: The Big Short

91% of everything Hollywood does is adapted from a book, or short story, or comic. Never settle for an adaptation. Seek the original!

The Big Short
By Michael Lewis

A jaw-dropping, no-nonsense account of what led up to the financial collapse of 2008 and the recession that followed. Anyone who wants to blame homeowners for taking out mortgages they couldn't afford, or government rules that required banks to give mortgages to people who shouldn't have them needs to read this history of the subprime mortgage scheme straight from the mouths of those who were there when it happened.

Here's a Wall Street guide to making lots of money:

1) take mortgages, package them into bonds and sell them to investors on the open bond market as Asset-Backed Securities (ABS)

2) take the worst of those bonds and package them into Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDO).

3) Use your clout to convince the ratings agencies to assign these CDOs the same rating as US Treasury bonds to make them appear as sound investments.

4) Sell insurance policies on those assets called Credit Default Swaps (CDF)!

5) To keep up with demand, give lots of loans to people who don't deserve them. Housing prices are going up, so tell the borrowers (would-be homeowners) not to worry if they can't make their payments after the interest rate goes up; they can simply refinance and use the new value of their home to pay the principle.

6) Reap even more rewards off the fees for refinancing.

7) Package the loans, sell them to investors, and then sell more insurance on those assets! Home prices are perpetually rising, so you'll never have to pay up!

It went on so long, and prices kept going up for so long, that people never thought they'd fail. The people running the largest banks genuinely believed the ratings on those assets, that they were riskless. Everyone was making so much money off this machine, and it never seemed to end.

The book tells the story from the point of view of some of the men who saw the collapse of the subprime mortgage industry coming, and bet against it.

It is an infuriating read, and that's what makes it so good because it's what was really going on behind the scenes of the financial collapse--cutting through all the speculation and political spinning. It's nothing I haven't read before in news articles and such, but this collects the details in one place and it puts the whole thing in perspective. Wall Street did not see it coming. They had no idea what they were doing, what those bonds were, what the CDOs were, or anything. The banks went out of their way to bury that information because the products they were generating were worth so much, and making so much profit for everybody, as long as everybody believed they were bulletproof. The brokers didn't know what these things were; the CEOs didn't know; the traders didn't know. It was deliberately complicated for the purpose of masking how risky the bonds and derivative products actually were.

They should not be allowed to do shit like this unrestricted, but they can and they will do it again, knowing the government will be there to bail them out for their mistakes. They were bailed out, but the homeowners were foreclosed and laid off. The people responsible for the financial crisis walked away rich. I read entire chapters with my jaw in my lap it's so absurd and enraging.

It should be the definitive guide to what the hell happened in 2008. We sure couldn't tell then, but now we know what those bastards did to us, and they still get Fox News to blame the government for putting too many restrictions on the market, and the homeowners for being irresponsible. The Big Short shows that apart from the Fed's decision to keep interest rates low for so many years, the government had nothing to do with it; Wall Street did it to itself. They played games with the money system, exposing their own firms to outrageous risk, made the taxpayers and shareholders pay the price, and walked away rich. Those financial institutions deserved to collapse. They should have. Perhaps it would have given something better a chance to rise up in its place.

This book makes me so angry, and I loved it. Don't read it expecting great characters. Don't read it expecting to identify with what's happening, or root for the underdog, or cheer the fall of the villain. Read it to get a grip on what happened in 2008, and just how ridiculous it was. Nobody knew what hit them, even the people on the inside. Now we do, and we are pissed.

compare that to...

The Big Short
starring Christian Bale and Steve Carell

Considering the filmmakers had to make something as uncinematic and uninteresting as mortgage-bond derivatives engaging to an audience--and considering they also had to get the audience to identify with hedge fund managers betting against the mortgage industry, it does a very good job.

Really, how is the audience supposed to feel about these people? Bunch of guys who are already rich trying to get richer? Like, why bother? For the typical moviegoing audience, these people are all nuts. They inherited, they got money from a lawsuit, or something, enough to set them up for life, and all they want to do is start a business investing other people's money (a hedge fund)?

But much like the book, the people are not really that important. What's important is to communicate just how absurd the subprime mortgage bond and derivative market had become. It's so ridiculous and outrageous, and watching how these hedge fund managers react to it puts us on their side right away. The visual aids and narrative asides and narration all work very well to tell this story.

I'm impressed most by Steve Carell's performance. He is playing against type here, and he does such a good job as Mark Baum. The film's only true belly laugh, for me, was watching him in a strip club talking to this topless stripper about her mortgages! It shows exactly who these people are, and what motivates them.

Christian Bale's performance as Mike Burry is also striking. He, too, is unrecognizable as this socially awkward man struggling against challenges that are very difficult for outsiders to grip. The stressful world of hedge fund managers... investing other people's money... how do you get across something as undramatic and nonvisual as worrying about an investment? He does it well, though the filmmakers totally failed with the glass eye thing. Mike Burry has a glass eye, and it's established at the beginning of the movie, and yet Mike's eye moves normally all through the movie. Why bother establishing it if they weren't going to show it?

All the players in the movie make a lot of money, and though the motivation for why they want to make more money when they already have more than enough is totally lost on the audience, the one thing pulling us through is learning just what the banks did, the stupid risks they took, and how clueless everyone was about the whole thing. People were too busy making money to realize it.

In the end, they get rich, but nobody feels good about it. Baum's misgivings about what they had done may or may not have been what the real man thought, but it does give the movie's events a poignant point. Steve Carell's character says it best at the end: there was a time when fraud didn't work. Things always go South eventually. When the hell did we forget that? Now here we are... The people who perpetuated this mortgage scheme walked away rich while the homeowners were foreclosed, and none of it was illegal. In light of all this knowledge for why the banks were in such trouble, the bailout seems stupid. Why would we want to bail out these smug idiots??

Be angry, people. This is why we're in this mess--not because a bunch of irresponsible poor people tanked the economy, or because the government put too many regulations on banks and forced them to give loans to people who didn't deserve them--but because a bunch of Wall Street people stuffed portfolios full of risky mortgages, sold them to investors as AAA bonds, repackaged the worse of those mortgages as a different sound investment, sold insurance on those securities, and then got taxpayers and investors to bear the risk while they themselves got rich.

It should be a call to arms about the necessity for regulation and proper oversight. It should be a revelation that we cannot trust people acting selfishly to do the right thing for everyone. What's best for a company as a whole (to say nothing of the economy) isn't always what's best for the individual. What happened in 2008 should be the swan song for Ayn Rand's ideology.

Instead, banks are more powerful than ever, and large corporations have even more control of the government than before the crash. It's starting all over again. The theater in which I saw this movie was empty. The 2008 mortgage crash is one of many topics people still aren't angry enough about.

I applaud Adam McKay for making a movie out of this. It should have been a cinematic disaster, as it's little more than people talking on cell phones and in small offices about the mortgage-backed security, but the sheer absurdity of it all is more than enough to keep the audience's attention. It's a good adaptation of a nonfiction book about real events and the real people who were part of them. I wouldn't call it an entertaining comedy though. It's a movie with a message, and it succeeds in getting its message across, despite the likes of Fox News trying to shift the blame and convince us everything is just fine and nothing needs to change.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

I'm sick of the gun "debate" in America

Some people seem to equate requiring any kind of background check as taking away Americans' right to defend ourselves. Some people want more control.

Personally, I think the whole debate is a distraction from the real issue. The root of the problem is: guns are legal in America, therefore there will be shootings.

You can require background checks all you want, but most people who commit shootings are either not insane, used someone else's gun which was purchased legally, or have no prior record. So long as guns are legal in America, people will use them on one another.

Stop arguing that bad people will find a way to kill with or without guns and the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun and face this fact. Take a few days to let it sink in. The United States has a gun problem because guns are legal, not because bad people keep getting their hands on them.

We're never going to use guns to overthrow a tyrannical government, or stop a mass shooting. They may be good for home defense, but let's face it: most burglaries happen during the day, while you're at work. As long as guns remain legal in America, people will be shot. That's it.

I don't have a problem with guns. If you want one for home defense, that's fine. If you want a hunting rifle, that's also fine. But with this freedom (which is not unique to America, by the way. Plenty of other nations have guns, too) we must accept that people will be shot, and there is no way to separate the good gun-owners from the bad ones.

The second amendment was about states maintaining their own militia, not individual gun ownership. It was written before the modern city even existed, let alone weapons that can fire more than one shot per minute.

At the very least, it needs to be updated to adjust for the changing times. Regulation and moderation is not the same as infringement. But as long as business interests keep shaping our politics, the powers that be will always twist the argument into an emotional one.

Stop it. Let's all please stop being shocked when another shooting happens. Let's stop arguing the same things again and again and just accept that this is an inevitable effect of gun ownership as a right.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Fallout 4: Why I supported the Institute

Fallout 4
(a review with spoilers)

I love the Fallout games. I played Fallout 1, 2, 3, New Vegas, and now FO4. A retro-sci-fi world blown to hell by nuclear bombs, and now you must survive in it. Fallout 4 begins with a pre-war man frozen in a Vault and then thawed out 200 years after the bombs dropped. He witnesses his wife murdered and his infant son stolen. Now he climbs out of the Vault and into a bombed-out, radioactive Boston. There your character learns the people are paranoid of something called "Synths," androids that look so human they are taking the place of human beings. Nobody knows why, only that they come from a place called The Institute.

(At first I thought the plot resembled the Sega CD game Snatcher, but it's only superficial. At least we found out what the snatchers were for by the end of that game. FO4 can't claim that honor.)

I was overpowered by level 12. I could kill a Deathclaw with a combat shotgun by level 15. Almost never died past that point, even without power armor. This game is even more unbalanced than Skyrim. Caps are easy to get, good weapons and armor are so easy to find you almost never have to modify or craft anything, and there's so much stuff in the Commonwealth you'll never have a problem upgrading your weapons and armor or building anything. I reached the point where nothing is impossible so fast it's a letdown.

Character motivation is a bit of a problem, too. You do one thing for someone, and they want to make you their king. My character joined the Railroad for no good reason, helps the Minutemen even though he has no vested interest in doing so, and is offered to join the Brotherhood of Steel after doing one mission in which he mostly hides behind the guy with power armor and a laser rifle. This is a problem in Fallout 3 and New Vegas, but I think the fact that the player's character is voiced this time makes it more noticeable. When your character isn't voiced, you're free to imbue your own motivations onto him/her. Not so when he has a voice and a personality of his own.

Equipment no longer decays, which makes the game way too easy. I know it didn't decay in the first two games, but that's apples to oranges. Having to replace your shotgun every few dozen shots in a turn-based combat game would have made it more complicated than it needed to be.

The lack of skillpoints also makes the game too easy. Merging skillpoints with the perks system streamlines the leveling, but it means your character comes out of the Vault an expert at everything except lock-picking and hacking, and you merely add perks to make him even better at those things. Under the old system, you were inexperienced with weapons until you leveled up and added skill points to each category, and only then did your accuracy and damage inflicted improve. In Fallout 4, somehow your character knows how to aim a gun, use a missile launcher, handle a minigun, make weapon mods, use and maintain power armor, and cook Deathclaw Steak straight out of the Vault. It's not roleplaying. It's what Doomguy would be if Doom 3 had been an RPG.

In spite of this, I liked the main quest at first, and the sidequests were good as well, except for the settlement quests. They get tiresome quick. The whole crafting thing is tedious and ridiculous. No more ridiculous than your character somehow being able to carry a minigun, four rifles, three shotguns and thirty grenades on his person, but there's only so far you can take videogame logic before it stops being fun and starts being stupid. Somehow I can take wads of old paper money and turn them into beds?? I can build generators that never need refueling? I can build new houses by scrapping the ruined structures in each settlement? Come on, it's a Fallout game, not Simcity.

That the NPCs expect you to do everything for them is aggravating. If they needed me to do everything myself it would be ok, but no, they EXEPCT the player to do everything! Why do I have to go and clear out those ghouls? Why ask me to build you defense systems? Why ask me to build you a generator? Why can't you people do it? What are the Minutemen doing in Sanctuary that's so important they can't?!

It kinda gives people a false impression of what a military General actually does. He doesn't go out and fight bad guys himself; he orders others to face the enemy for a greater cause. Hell, real leaders don't do everything themselves. They tell others to do things for them! Leaders coordinate other people and then take the credit for their work; they're not some Übermensch who can do everything alone.

If caps weren't so easy to get, and you didn't know where to go to find out what happened to your son, then you'd have a reason to get involved with all these groups and do work for them. But since it's so easy to get rich in this game, and you know exactly where to go and what to do, you have no reason to join the Railroad, or the Brotherhood of Steel, or the Minutemen. It wasn't an issue in Fallout 1 and 2 because there was no stuff to collect and sell for easy caps. Getting caps was a difficult task, and you didn't know where to go or how to accomplish your mission. You had to complete quests to level up so you could improve your accuracy with guns and progress with the main quest. There's no necessity in the Bethesda Fallout games, so character motivation remains a huge problem.

The game is much more combat-heavy than the previous installments. There are fewer terminals to read and fewer local stories to find. Hell, there are only 3 Vaults to explore, and nothing in Fallout is more fun than discovering how evil Vault-Tech was! We only get a little bit of that this time. In Fallout 3 and NV, you had to go through the entire Vault to find out what the hell was going on, and the story was spread out across multiple terminals. In FO4, you find a terminal at the beginning of each Vault that outright explains the Vault's purpose, and nothing else. No buildup, no living the madness yourself before you get an explanation. The game is underwritten and over-actioned. There's somebody to fight around every corner, even outside of Boston, and wow it makes exploration an arduous task compared to Fallout 3 and NV.

I enjoyed the main story a lot more than Fallout 3 or Skyrim (but not more than New Vegas) for a while, but the further I progressed, the more the lack of character motivation bothered me. I'm not vested in any of these factions. I don't like how I was FORCED to be an important agent in the Railroad, leader of the Minutemen, and leader of the Institute! I didn't want to be any of those things, and I have no reason to go along with it!

In fact, the Minutemen become annoying by the end of the game. They preach a message of how we have to help each other to make life better in the Commonwealth, but they don't do a damn thing to help anyone! They expect me to run around the Commonwealth and do their dirty work for them! Defend this settlement, retake their old castle, build beds for them, build defenses for this settlement! Screw them! You people aren't doing anything but lounging around in Sanctuary! Get off your asses and practice what you preach!

There's no proof that the synths in the Institute are mere slaves and need to be liberated. The Railroad has a goal, and it's an admirable goal, but I went inside the Institute, and I don't see any enslavement, oppression, abuse, or hints that the Synths inside want to be free. To me, they seem to be just machines. What's the reward for guiding a Synth to freedom but condemning them to a life wandering the Commonwealth dodging bullets? That doesn't sound like much of a liberation.

There's no indication that the Institute is doing anything bad. After all that trouble to get inside, all I know about the Institute is that they plan to create robots to populate the post-war world, but so what? How does this save mankind? Do they plan to wipe out biological life, or upload it into machines, or merely recreate it with computer programs? I've been all over the Institute, and I find no terminals with useful information, and nobody gives more details, so I can't tell what exactly they're planning to do. I'd actually be all for uploading. That sounds like an improvement. How is this bad? Is there more to their plan? What about the FEV experiments? Why is there no option to ask about them? Information is not being withheld from me. There just isn't any.

There's even less reason to get involved with the Brotherhood of Steel. I wasn't interested in them from the start because their goal seems to be martial law, but for what? The Brotherhood has been an ambiguous faction since game 1, so I didn't feel bad becoming their enemy. Your character has no reason to join them because doing so does not help him find his son!

Without more information about what each side's goal is, how can I make a decision about which faction to support? While I don't expect the factions to be black or white, I was hoping for more details about what they're doing. I was at a loss for whose side to be on. It's the lack of information that bugs me, not the ambiguity. I'd be all for ambiguous good guys and bad guys if I knew more about them so I could weigh the pros and cons and choose who to support, but the game doesn't give enough context to do so.

Again, underwritten and over-actioned. As many reviewers on Steam have pointed out, Fallout has become an FPS with RPG elements instead of the other way around. It actually made the game less fun as I continued the main story. The only reward for progressing is special loot. In previous Fallout games, more story was your reward for exploration. Loot is not a good reward when you're already overpowered; it makes you feel like that journey was a waste of time because you already have five good weapons and armor with special bonuses. More of that does not satisfy. I wanna know more about these people, and the game provides no details.

I sided with the Institute. Because your character's son is in charge of it, it is the only faction you have a reason to join after seeing the war zone that is the Commonwealth. I'm pretty sure it's supposed to be the wrong choice, but it's the only one that makes sense.

So I reached the end. I killed everyone in the Railroad, blew up the Brotherhood of Steel, was surprised I didn't have to destroy the Minutemen, and there is no multi-part ending sequence showing how the choices you made affected various areas of the Commonwealth. No information on what the Institute does without opposition, and what it means for the future.

No matter what you do, the ending is the same, and you never learn the consequences of your choices. What absolute bullshit. Much like the dialogue "trees," all choices converge on a single path to the same end. Why bother being able to choose which faction to support if the end is the same?!

Sure, it's a good shooter, the action is good, the details are great, and the conversation system is so much better with cinematic angles (but worse for a maximum of 4 dialogue choices that have no effect on the outcome of the conversation), but there's no writing, or roleplaying. Fallout has been dumbed down! It's the next generation of consoles; they could've done even more with the storytelling and the branching choices! But there's no story. There are no more details about each faction. There is no reason to side with any faction. Nothing you do changes the ending, and you never find out what the Institute was planning, and how the Commonwealth fares depending on which choices you make. Fallout 4 forgets to be a Fallout game. It's a good action shooter, but there's nothing underneath to support it. What a disappointment.

Now that the game is over, there's nothing left to do but try and romance a Deathclaw.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Jurassic Park (Sega CD)

My review of Armikrog. reminded me I never posted a review of Jurassic Park on Sega CD. I didn't post it then because at the time I figured who cares what I think of a game nobody played on a system nobody owned. I still think that, but since there's no writing news, why not ramble on about it.

Jurassic Park on Sega CD is among the worst kind of adventure games. I can't bash it for not learning from Myst, since the game came out the same year, before Cyan taught everyone how to make an adventure game.

Objects are scattered around in dumb places. Random objects are needed to interact with random areas. Areas you can go look like places you can't go, and areas that look like you should be able to go to are unreachable. Action sequences are unintuitive and unresponsive. Death is around every corner, and frequent death sends you back to the visitor's center, forcing you to grind through many portions of the game multiple times.

And the game is on a fucking time limit!

The transitions between nodes, and the panoramic view at each node, are cool. Ahead of their time, certainly, but the same attention to detail was not applied to the dinosaurs. The sprites are laughably childish when compared to the dinosaur sprites in, say, the Sega Genesis game.

The T-Rex sequence is maddening because Mr. Bakker gives a very specific hint as to the T-Rex's weak spot in one of the videos (the side of the snout, just under the eye). So naturally I thought the game was telling me to use the crowbar or a rock to hit the T-Rex on the side of the snout when it faces off with me. Since the T-Rex flashes her weak spot at the player several times, it made sense. It's not a hint. Turns out only a charged taser shot to the open mouth works. There is nothing to tell player that the taser--not the gas gun or the tranquilizer--is the only weapon you can use, and that it must be charged. There's nothing in the game to imply the taser can be charged at all! Why give the player clues to follow when you can just make it random.

And that damn wrench... There's nothing to indicate you can reach the backpack. Nothing to hint you have to cut the rope attached to the tree. Hell, you can't look up, so you can't see that the backpack is held up by that rope! Too many leaps of logic, not enough insights.

It's a shame, because there was good potential for an adventure game on Jurassic Park. The environment is pretty good, and the CD soundtrack is outstanding. The real nature sounds make one feel like one is actually on the island, surrounded by dangerous wildlife. Everything else sucks. It's not fun and it's not a good adventure. Glad I played it at last.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Seek the Original (abbreviated): Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Bed-knob and Broomstick (containing the books "The Magic Bed-knob," and "Bonfires and Broomsticks")
by Mary Norton

Three children, Carey, Charles, and Paul, are sent to the country to live with their aunt while their mother is doing something so important she can't look after them.

The children meet Miss Price, an elderly woman in town who has a secret. Charles, the eldest, has been watching Miss Price fly on a broom for weeks. One night she falls and hurts her ankle, and the children rush to help her. That's when Charles confronts her about witchcraft.

Miss Price is teaching herself the craft, and though she is a beginner, she can still do some impressive things. But she can't have the whole village knowing she's doing this, so she makes a pact with the children: she gives them a magical device that can transport them anywhere they want, at any time, in return for their silence. If they tell anyone Miss Price's secret, the spell will break and the object won't work.

Paul, the youngest, happens to have a knob from his bed frame with him. Miss Price enchants it, and now the children go off on wild adventures on their magic bed that can take them anywhere they want!

...or not.

What's the first place they go? Back to London to see their mother. She's away, and instead they are picked up by a police officer and have a couple chapters in a police station, followed by a one-paragraph dilemma of how to get back to the bed.

Then they travel with Miss Price to a Pacific island for a lovely evening on a tropical beach (since beaches in England are cold and dreary). The island is inhabited by stereotypical cannibals (bones through the nose, dancing around a fire, chanting, a witchdoctor--every Hollywood cliché you can think of), and they make their escape. The children return home, bed soaked with seawater and pajamas filthy. It's enough to make their aunt send the children home.

This begins the second book. The bed-knob and magic have been forgotten for 2 years, and then the children answer Miss Price's ad in the paper for lodgers. Miss Price has given up magic, but she now owns Paul's old bed, and the children ask to go on one last adventure.

Finally, at long last, the children go somewhere interesting: 1666 England! There they meet a man who is pretending to be a necromancer for money, and they are so taken by his story of a life of fraud in fortunetelling and casting fake charms that they take him to present day 1940's England to meet Miss Price.

But when they send him back home, they discover he is doomed to be burned at the stake for sorcery! Now it's up to Miss Price and the children to rescue him.

What a waste of a magical object! British children in the 1940's had no imagination! They're in possession of a magical device that can take them anywhere, any time, and they don't do anything with it! The first book is disappointing. Escaping from cannibals? That's the story? That's all they do with the magic bed, and then for two years they do nothing with the knob?

It's only in the second book that they go somewhere interesting and do something interesting for someone who you kinda feel for. The necromancer is built up to be a very sympathetic character, worth going back to the past to rescue. Afterwards, the adventures end with no possibility for a third book. Two whole books, and they barely do anything with the bed-knob, or witchcraft in general.

It's not a bad pair of books; they read very well and Miss Price and the children are active characters who drive the story forward instead of just getting lucky (I'm looking at you, Miss Bianca, Nils, Bernard!), but the entire story is so underwritten it borders on making me angry for all its unused potential.

As the spiritual successor to Mary Poppins, the 1971 movie adaptation is quite a followup. Aside from the concept, there's barely anything from the books in the movie. The movie is actually an improvement.

Miss Price and the children use the magic bed-knob to go on a quest to find the last spell Miss Price needs to learn, and then she uses this magic for a real purpose: stopping the Nazis from invading Great Britain! It's exactly what was missing from the books!

Perhaps my expectations are higher in 2015 and the books were written when adventure could be more understated, but that didn't stop Treasure Island from being full of action and danger in the 1880's! I think so much more could have been done with the idea, and the movie did everything the books did not. It has adventure, character development, danger, humor, and the magic is used for a purpose. Overall, it is the better story, and one of my favorite movies from my childhood. It's still a spectacle to this day.

Friday, October 16, 2015



The much-hyped spiritual-successor to The Neverhood. (Are we ignoring Skullmonkeys? Yes, the Neverhood did have a sequel!) Adventure games are tough to pull off, but I have to wonder if anyone on the team even played one before!

(Did you watch that intro video? I hope so, because that's all the backstory you're going to get on our main characters, Tommynaut and Beakbeak. After that, they crash land, are trapped in the fortress Armikrog., and now they must solve the puzzles contained therein to get out.)

The puzzles are indiscernible, and when they aren't, they're tedious. The story is nonexistent and even weaker than the Neverhood's was. No, I didn't have fun with it. The whole game is just a chore.

I couldn't deduce much of anything from my environment. The game throws so many meaningless symbols at you you're never sure which ones to make note of, so you have to backtrack to find them again when you learn you need one of those symbols for a puzzle!

The game breaks its own rules multiple times. Why does the octopus on the ceiling only talk to Beakbeak when he's on those little ledges and nowhere else? There is no clue that you're supposed to click on the elevator octopus while controlling Beakbeak at that particular moment, and why would you since you can't reach it?? The game only lets you interact with things within your reach EXCEPT for those parts!

Some puzzles are hidden. This one, for example, features a symbol on the wall with a button beneath. My first instinct was to try pressing the button, because buttons are interactive. Nothing happened, so I moved on. Turns out you have to click the symbol on the wall next to the button to activate the puzzle! Symbols are not interactive any other time, so why does that work here?!

So many levers to find... So many tile puzzles... So many SYMBOLS! That's pretty much all you do. Hunt for levers, slide tiles around, and hunt symbols. Many require taking detailed notes of every symbol you see, most of them are meaningless, but a few are important. If you didn't make a detailed drawing or take a good picture of that particular symbol, you may have to backtrack a looooooooong way to see it again. This happens over and over.

I am an adventure game player. I took notes of everything I saw, and I still missed a lot because so much of what you see is unused, and the stuff that is used is usually not what you expected! Every door has a symbol over it, symbols abound in every room, symbols are over every button, on the ceiling, on the walls--they're everywhere! There's only so much I'm willing to write down!

That robot puzzle! Why that pattern and none of the others?? Given that there's a space between two robot patterns, I thought the solution was to select the patterns on the dial that were between the two patterns on the wall. It seems logical, as there would be a robot etched there if not for the nest taking its place, but that's wrong. The solution is to choose the only patterns from the wall that are on the dials. Geeze, the solution is right in front of you, but good luck spotting the differences between the robot pieces, as they all look alike, which makes them almost impossible to draw for reference (not unlike the prayer bell puzzle in Schizm)! Why make a logical puzzle when you can make it tedious and arbitrary. I felt like I was being punished for thinking things through.

And the lullaby puzzles. They are so long, and you can't speed up the song, or stop the shrill crying of that damn baby, so if you mess up, you just have to listen to the whole song again and again with the crying baby in the background until you get it right. Getting it right is trial and error. No skill, no deduction.

Every puzzle is a freakin' chore, and there's no lightning mode, so backtracking is a painful trek! Eureka moments are accompanied by thoughts of "crap, now I have to go all the way back and find that symbol again!"

I played the fully-patched version, and even then it failed to save my game several times, and Beakbeak glitched out while flying, forcing me to replay large chunks of the game! Whatever happened to releasing a bug-free product the first time? Don't need to now--why bother getting something right the first time when we have the internet and can just keep patching it.

$900k dollars on Kickstarter for this? It's pretty, and the animation is gorgeous for the rare moments it happens, but that's it. We barely know who the villain is, and why he's doing all this. He's introduced and then defeated within two breaths! The Neverhood got away with these problems because the style and humor rose above its weak story and arbitrary puzzles. Skullmonkeys got away with a weak story because the platforming gameplay was otherwise good. Armikrog is so unintuitive, so tedious, and so unfunny its style can't make up for its shortcomings.

And what happened to the sound quality on the voice acting? Everyone speaks with an echo for half the game, and there's no reason for their voices to echo. It detracted from otherwise good performances. They got THE Michael J. Nelson to voice the main character, but he has maybe a page's-worth of dialogue! He's the main character, and he barely has a role. Mike is totally wasted!

Kudos to Terry S. Taylor for another great soundtrack, even if it is subdued and underused compared to the 3 games he scored for the team in the 90's; and to the artists and animators and voice actors who brought all of this to life, but the game is downright unpleasant to play. They had a lot of talented artists and animators, but apparently nobody knew how to make an adventure game or tell a story.

The backstory is poorly delivered--there's actually more background on the characters in the scrapped versions of the theme song than the theme actually used in the game! That intro song is the only identity our playable characters ever have, so if you missed any of the lyrics, you will be lost by the time the game ends! I'm still not entirely sure what happened, and I don't really care. The game is so tedious and aggravating it made me want to hurry up and get it over with.

Adventure games are supposed to be about exploration, discovering the story, and figuring out the puzzles in relation to the environment. They should be part of the story and discernible within that context. It's a hard task to pull off--just look at the sheer number of bad adventure games out there!--but wow, I haven't played an adventure game that pissed me off since Jurassic Park on Sega CD. Even Darkstar didn't make me angry!

Sorry, but I didn't enjoy Armikrog. They could have done so much more with this idea, but instead we have a lifeless, tedious game with a weak story and a distinct lack of humor and fun. There are a lot of creative people behind it, and the game took a lot of work to bring to life, but it doesn't add up to anything enjoyable.