Less of Me

Once again, I’m attempting to lose weight. It seems like I’m always trying to do that, but I suppose that will be the case until I finally get down to the weight I would like to be.

I bought a new scale. The old one, it seems, may have been broken. I weigh myself fairly often and noticed that I appeared stuck at 210 or there about. A little up, a little down, but not much. On a whim, I decided that I wanted a digital scale instead of the old non-digital one we had, plus it was only $12. Anyway, first time I step on – 217. My other scale had been lying to me. Oddly enough, the previous couple weeks I’d been doing the light eating again, so I suspect that I was at 220 or so. I’m down to 216 and trending downwards.

Trending… that’s another key this time around. I’ve got a Google Doc spreadsheet I’m using to track my weight. I’m weighing myself 3 times a day – morning, after work, before bed – and recording the lowest weight for the day (because it makes me feel better), but that weight is less important than the moving average. The average will give me a better picture of where my weight really is by smoothing out the fluctuations that occur from retaining water, the occasional big (heavy) meal, and more. Also, by adding “Science!” to my daily routine it feels more like a real project and not just “eat less, exercise more”.

Speaking of exercise, I have a 10k to run in under a month, so, you know, I should probably get to training a bit. The past year has been fairly shitty for me in regards to exercise and diet so I expect to do worse than I have in the previous two years. I did, however, download a Couch-to-5k program for the old Zune that I plan on beginning, maybe this weekend. Also, you know, Rule #1 of the Zombie Apocalypse: Cardio.

Another common element of my “I’m going to start a diet” plan is cutting out sodas, which I’m doing again. Consistently, I’m drinking less sodas now that I used to – there was a time where I was drinking a 6-pack of can sodas a day plus whatever I got out at meals. Now I drink mainly on the weekends and sometimes after hosting a party at our house I’ll have some left over hanging around, and I have little to no willpower, and I refuse to let things go to waste. Oddly enough, as I was thinking about cutting out sodas again, I ran across this wonderful little infographic.

CDC: The New (Ab)Normal

It really makes me not want to eat fast food anymore. Or at the very least, order the smalls and from the value menus. It would help my ego if they stopped calling them “junior” or “kid’s” sizes, but I think I’m just going to have to get over it. I may also start ordering food from the kid’s menu at other restaurants or trying to split a meal with the wife or something. Portions are really out of control.

Also, the CDC has some really awesome stuff about diet. Which makes sense, now that over-eating and obesity are being considered diseases. You can start with the source of that infographic here.

Anyway… enough about me being fat. I return you to your regularly scheduled Friday.

The Ratings Game

starsThis isn’t about TV shows. That particular Ratings Game would take an entire blog unto itself to even begin to properly discuss. No, I’m talking about when people review things and rate them.

Does Size Matter?

Some people used a 5 point system. Usually 5 stars, but then they give out half star ratings, thus making it a 10 point system on a scale of 0.5 to 5. Then you get 10 point systems, and then they go and try to present averages between multiple reviewers and dish out things like 7.6 and 2.4, thus making them actually a 100 point system ranging from 0.1 to 10.0. Luckily, if a person starts with a 100 point system, they generally don’t do decimals (unless you are handing out grades and want to really rub it into the kid’s face that a 92 is an A and they got a 91.9, a B). Really though, most of these systems exist almost entirely to attempt to set expectations. If a movie review site uses a 5 star scale, 3 usually means “like”, 4 “really like” and 5 is “love”.

But I’m all about managing expectations, and large systems (even as large as 5) start to set them for me. A 5 star film isn’t going to be just good, it’s going to be great. A 1 star film isn’t just bad, it’s awful! And it happens with every scale.

And then you run into other people wanting to fiddle with your system. Tons of game sites rate on a 10 point or 100 point scale, but the vast majority of their scores will be in the 7-9/70-90 range. They save the top score for the absolute best games, and everything below 7/70 is complete trash, and even mediocre games get a “C”. I’m sorry, but on a scale of 1 to 10, 5 is the middle, the average, the “meets some minimum level of entertainment but I didn’t really enjoy it”. You wouldn’t know that from the way most sites work.

A Simpler System

For me, however, I prefer a binary system, a scale from 0 to 1. If I enjoyed something and would recommend it to other people it gets a 1. If I didn’t enjoy it and wouldn’t recommend it to other people it gets a 0. No fractions.

Of course, that’s just the score. Any long review would get into exactly why I liked it, and what sort of people I think would also like it. Or it would discuss why I think the thing failed for me, and perhaps try to understand what sort of people might enjoy this, because you have to assume if someone takes the time to make something they must intend for someone else out there to like it.

I’ve written about this before. In fact, twice before. At a glance, I need only one piece of information: did you like it. Then, based on that I can decide if I want to read your full review. More so, if I’ve read a bunch of your reviews in the past and I have a general sense of “if he likes it, then I like it” I may not even need to read every review. I can shorthand. If I’ve heard about a game and think I will like it and I see that a reviewer I generally agree with also liked it, I can pretty safely purchase it and avoid the possibility of getting spoilers in a review. On the other hand, if there is a game I’ve heard of and think I will like and that reviewer says he didn’t like it, now I definitely want to read his review because maybe there’s something I need to know.

Got it in 1

In the past, I’ve toyed with ratings systems on reviews here. I even invented a 13 point system just so that a 7 would be the middle/average score. And I’ve thrown out ratings systems, insisting that the review is the only thing that matters. In the future, I’m going to implement my more simple 0 & 1 system.

Now I just need to make some nifty graphics for my new rating system, and they need to be self-explanatory because I don’t want any passing creator see that I’ve given them a 1 and think I’m saying they suck.

The story of my gloves…

One of the things I’ve come to loathe in modern MMOs is the item grind and the lack of attachment that comes with it.  In World of Warcraft, I don’t care at all about my items because the chances are pretty high that I’m going to replace them soon.  It might be a couple of days, or a few hours, or more often than I would like just a matter of minutes.  I recall one day in particular where I upgraded my character’s pants seven times in just two hours of play.  I probably could have kept any one of those since each upgrade was just a couple of points, from 120 armor to 122 or 8 strength to 9 or adding a stat bonus the previous pants didn’t have, but I felt no attachment to any of those pants.  They’d been so easy to obtain that the stats were all that mattered.

And the appearance, but when the game practically forces you to look like a rodeo clown trying to maintain a cohesive and good look is practically futile.

In my perfect MMO, character stats would be on a smaller scale.  No more crazy strength of 874.  There would be a cap, 100 is a nice number, but then I’ve always had a soft spot for the old table top D&D standard of 25.  With a smaller scale, a single point increase from a magic item would have noticeable impact.  Magic items would then be more rare.  In fact, I’d probably place true magic items only at the end of long quests, coming from incredibly hard boss mobs (assuming the game even had them) or through the arduous labors of master craftsmen.  The obtaining of a magic item would be a story you could tell.  Rather than “Yeah, I got these gloves from delivering pies from Joe to Stewart.” your story would be more along the lines of “Well, about three weeks ago, I undertook a small task for the local sheriff…” and spiral off into a series of deeds and fights or harrowing escapes.  More importantly, those magic gloves would take a long time to replace, if ever.

Over the long haul, your character would become a graphic representation of the stories you could tell, instead of a collection of the best gear you’ve obtained lately.

I think this desire, this design, springs from the years I played EverQuest as a monk.  In the early days, a monk could barely wear any gear, and he was 70% effective even naked since his gear was so weak and he fought without weapons.  Thus, every item that I wore was something I obtained through playing the game.  Some of it from long quest chains, some of it, later, from slaying dragons and other rare and dangerous beasts, from invading the planar homes of the gods, crafted by dear friends using rare materials obtained through adventure.  Even as the game changed and the design encouraged monks to wear more gear, and more monk wearable gear became available, I’d been playing one way so long that I continued.  Every item I carried was a story.  The Treant Fists were a tale of a lost weekend in the Gorge of King Xorbb, the headband of the Ashen Order and the sash of the Silent Fist that eventually lead to the Robe of the Whistling Fists and the Celestial Fists, the Iksar shackles, the Shiverback Hide armor, and so much more.

I’d love to see a game, or perhaps I’ll have to make one, where I actually care about my gear beyond the numbers it increases.

The Value of Bad Press

I first heard about it back in June.  But apparently it has recently been ruled on by the FTC that bloggers must disclose when they get free stuff.  Personally, I’ve never gotten a free game, and while I’ve gotten free movie passes they’ve never been sent to me specifically for review, I obtain them in other ways (more on that tomorrow).  But, other bloggers do get free games sometimes, or at least offers of free games, so there has been some discussion on the subject.

Being that free games are often sent out by marketing departments, and the goal of marketing departments is to try and get favorable review out in the wild where potential buyers can see them, the concern is that bloggers given free games might give a undeserved favorable review in order to continue getting free games.  Sadly, in part, this is why most game review magazines and sites tend to use the “7 to 9” scale of rating, reserving 10’s for truly astounding games and anything less than 7 for unmitigated pieces of crap, letting even a mildly entertaining game with numerous flaws still get a 7 out of 10.  Of course, the reality is that these places are actually reviewing on a 5 point scale: 6 or less, 7, 8, 9, and 10.  So getting a 7 there is kinda like getting a 2 out of 5.  Do you normally go see movies that get 2 out of 5 stars?

Now, while no game company really wants to get poor ratings, not all poor ratings are created equal.  Rather than trying to seek out favorable ratings, what they should be seeking is “fair” reviews.  By fair I simply mean that the game will be reviewed on its own merits, in detail, and then given a score intended to reflect the value of the game to that reviewer.  THEN companies should encourage people to read reviews instead of just viewing ratings.  Metacritic is the devil because it does the opposite, placing all the focus on the score and the reasons behind the score disappear.  The result is publishers pushing for higher ratings when what they should be pushing for is the abolishment of numerical ratings.  But players seem to demand “at a glance” ratings systems because its easier on them, even though in the end they are mostly being lied to.  Its all counter-intuitive and somehow self-reinforcing at the same time.

Personally, when I am trying to decide if I want to purchase something, I actually seek out poor reviews.  For example, on Amazon.com I may skim through the 5 star reviews, but I will read every single word of every 1 and 2 star review.  The reason is simple: people tend to more specifically describe their dislike of something than they do their like of something.  I’ve written about this before.  The main reason for this is that the only thing I can guarantee about a reviewer is that they are not me.

Take movie reviews for example.  Let’s say I was going to review Zombieland.  On a 10 point scale, I’d give the movie a 9, on a 5 star scale it would get a 4.5 or maybe even a 5 (I’m not a fan of the .5 in a rating scale).  But if you were looking for a movie to go see, the fact that I gave the movie a 9 out of 10 is less important than if you like zombie movies, gory movies, or comedies.  Even if you like zombie movies, Zombieland isn’t Dawn of the Dead, it is more like Shaun of the Dead, and that’s more important than my rating.  On the flip side, suppose I had given Zombieland a 2 out 10 and said, “This movie was just as dumb as Shaun of the Dead. If you liked that piece of crap, I guess you’ll like this too.”  And if you loved Shaun of the Dead, then despite my rating of a 2, you should probably see Zombieland.  When I get in to the idea of the value of bad press, well, I’ve already seen many dozens of reviews for Zombieland that were little more than “This was awesome! Must see!”  But all the negative reviews I’ve read have been very descriptive, and I think would actually be more helpful to people not sure about the film decide whether the film is something they’d enjoy or not.

In the end, though, I suppose I do agree with the FTC that people should disclose if they have gotten freebies, especially if they are going to comment on the value, like saying a game is or isn’t worth the $60 box price.  I’m not sure it should be a law with fines though.  At the same time, I don’t think people should discount a review just because the reviewer got a free copy, and I think marketing departments should push for quality reviews and not worry so much about just getting favorable ones.  They should reward reviewers who clearly spend time with the games and write well, not just those who blow smoke and tell them what they want to hear.

Prince Caspian

9 out of 13 nots.
for being good and fun, but not spectacular

I actually saw The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian on Monday at a screening, but since it opened yesterday, I figured I’d go ahead and put up a review.  Keeping in mind that on my ratings scale a 7 means “average, not bad but also not good”, I’m giving this movie a 9.  It was better than average, but…

Okay, so, I’ve never read the Narnia books.  Even so, from the opening scene all the way to the end, this movie did not surprise me.  Not once.  Every turn of the story was, to me, telegraphed.  I saw everything coming.  It was… formulaic.  Now, while nothing surprised me in a plot sense, the special effects were fantastic, the fight scenes were great, but without a plot that really drew me in it felt like any other summer special effects laden blockbuster.

I enjoyed the film… really, I did… it just didn’t knock my socks off.  See it, but I would definitely say to catch this one at a matinée or early morning price.

Ratings Systems

I decided that I wanted to start rating things. When I review movies or games or TV shows or the lives of people I meet or customer service or my own stupidity, I want to have one of those goofy scales so that something can be a “9 on the ProbablyNot scale”. But I can’t just arbitrarily slap one on.

Or more to the point, I needed to make sure my scale was absolutely arbitrary.

First off comes the symbol. There are the overused stars and thumbs or even lawn chairs. I wanted mine to be confusing, so I looked long and hard for a symbol to properly represent the site but also to completely misrepresent the scale itself. Eventually, I settled on the wide spread “not” symbol, as seen on road signs and warning labels everywhere.

A Lone Not

With the symbol decided, I next needed a range. Typically these ranges go to 3, 4, 5 or 10. Each of these makes logical sense, so as with my symbol, I needed to make sure my range made no sense at all. Being that my name is Jason and thanks to a particular slasher movie franchise it will forever be associated with the number 13, and I happen to like the number 13, I am going to go with 13. Oddly enough, this actually will help reduce some confusion, especially when it comes to reviewing video games. Most game reviewers use a scale from 1 to 10, and since 70% is passing is most educational establishments, people (insane people) have come to expect that a 7 out of 10 means that it is just barely passing, and anything from a 6.9999999999 down to 1 is failure. Stupid, yes, but also completely understandable to magazines looking to sell issues and to get exclusive previews of new games. So many game sites and magazines actually rate games from 7 to 10, with lower scores being reserved for items that are complete and utter crap. Back to my scale, confusion will be lessened because a “middle of the road” score on a 13 point scale is 7. So game makers can feel good in getting a 70% on my scale, as long as they realize that I give out grades up to 130% for awesomeness.

But a straight linear scale would be too easy, so two elements are added.

First, on my 13 point scale, 7 will indeed be an “average score”. What a 7 means is that whatever I am reviewing was not a complete waste of time. If I am reviewing a movie and give it a 7, that means that after two hours I felt like I’d just spent two hours, but not wasted two hours. Enjoyable, but nothing to get excited about. Being on the low end of the scale is not always a bad thing. While 7 will be middle of the road, the “worst” score to get will be a 3. A 3 means that this thing is godawful bad, and had no redeeming qualities. To score a 2 or a 1 on the scale, your product must be so horrifically bad that it actually turns a corner and becomes something I will actually share my pain with others about. The kind of shitty movie or game that I insist other people must experience to truely understand the depths of the miserable quality contained therein.

Secondly, even with a confusing symbol and an unusual scale, the review score still isn’t odd enough for me. So I’m going to also steal an idea from the ESRB (the people who rate video games for content) and the MPAA (the Motion Picture Arbitrary Assessment, or something like that) and include verbiage for why the score is what it is, but make sure those words are vague enough or strangely worded so that no matter the rating you might still want to see the thing I’m reviewing just so you can get it.

As an example, recently I saw the movie The Mist, which I might have given, had this system existed at the time:

11 out of 13 nots
for Creepiness, Social Commentary, Religious Fanaticism and Clever use of Dog Food.

All reviews will be presented with the rating first followed by a more in depth write up. In depth write ups will likely contain spoilers.

Keeping up with a rating system can be a chore, so we’ll see how long I stick with it. I might get bored and give it up, or not… who knows…

How to Truly Listen

If you know City of Heroes, and you frequent the message boards, you might be familiar with the battle cry, “Repeal the Purple Patch!” and you might even know what they are referring to…

First off, what is the Purple Patch?

When City of Heroes first opened, it was possible for a player to fight and defeat a foe that was 8 to 10 levels higher than he was. These battles were usually fierce and hard fought, but with the way experience was given turned out to be well worth the effort. See, exp in CoH is done on a scale.. a mob is worth X exp, and then a bonus or subtraction is made based on other factors. The major factor is your level. If you are the same level as the mob, you get X. If you are higher level, you get less than X, and the scale works quickly down so that once you are 4 or 5 levels over it (and the mob is easy to defeat) you get nothing. On the other end, there is no limit… if the mob is 10 levels higher than you and you do 100% of the damage to defeat it, you wind up getting something crazy like 4 or 5 times the exp, so a mob worth 50 exp becomes worth 200-250 exp to a lower level. The issue is, the game is largely balanced around you fighting mobs your level. So, at level 10, you might get 20 exp for defeating a level 10 mob, which is 2% of your exp for level. 50 level 10 mobs, and you level. If, however, you can fight a mob and get 200 exp, then you only need to defeat 5 of them. Problem is, they didn’t expect people to be able to defeat a mob 10 levels above them, and didn’t expect people to level quite so quickly.

As a result, the Purple Patch came into play. What they did was once a mob goes purple (4 levels above you), your chance to hit begins to decline very steeply… VERY steeply. So steep that once a mob is 8 levels above you, realistically you have 0 chance to win the fight because you will be simply unable to do more damage than he will be able to regenerate due to missing. (Originally, it was harsher than this even, the decline started sooner and a mob 5 levels above you was impossible, but they eased up, so the original patch is not important anymore, only the existing situation).

The effect this had on players, was that now that they were relegated to fighting mobs 4 levels above and lower, the exp rewards were not as ludacris as they had been. Leading to the inevitable “they nerfed all the fun out of the game” cries because people couldn’t earn mad exp while fighting impossible odds. To a degree, the players ARE correct. However, as often is the case, they are single minded.

This can be tied in with my MMORPG Project (link over on the right)… See, the players are focused on “repeal the purple patch”, but what they don’t realize is that the purple patch isn’t the issue… its that the mobs they “should” be fighting (according to the developers) are too easy and not rewarding enough. Would they still be asking for the repeal if the fights with orange (level +2) and red (level +3) mobs were more harrowing and yielded a better reward?

I don’t think they would. And this is where the developers should focus. They were right with the purple patch… players should be fighting things 8 and 10 levels above them… but players should regularly seek challenge, even level to red con, and they should find it fun and rewarding.

The devs are on the right track… now its just a wait and see to see if they follow through.

13 February 2001

Been thinking alot lately about jobs.
Been thinking alot lately about jobs.
I just started a new one and, well, I’ve already decided that I don’t “like” this job. I don’t mind going, and it fills the space of the day and makes my money to pay my bills, but its just doesn’t make me smile.
Everyone should find a job they enjoy. I used to think it was enough to enjoy the people who worked with if nothing else, but I just don’t see that anymore because even if you like the people, the little tasks that make the day will slowly drive you insane.
And here I am, slowly being driven insane.
So, how to find a job that I like, that I enjoy.
Well, I often think that I would enjoy working in the computer gaming industry, but to get in the door I have to make one of two sacrifices. Either I scale back my life alot and take a much lower paying job, or I scale back my social life and spend time learning something useful to get a better job in the industry. I like my life outside of work, and making that sacrifice is hard.
Then there is writing, but as with the above, I like my social life and just can’t seem to get myself in a frame of mind to sit and write instead of going out or hanging with friends.
So what do I do?
I’m open to suggestions.