Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Southfield February 15, 2018 City Council Meeting



An agenda and related documents can be found here.



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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

February 12, 2018 Southfield City Council Meeting







An agenda and related documents can be found here.



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Saturday, February 10, 2018

It's Long Time We Reexamined Dot Hack



I am an isekai apologist. I love Sword Art Online and all of the knock-offs it inspired but when I listen to people give their point by point breakdowns on why they don't like it I can't really disagree with them. All of that stuff is true. But I also believe that the core conceit of being stuck in a video game has a lot of interesting possiblities and SAO does deliver on enough of them to be engaging.

That being said even I'll admit that season after season the genre gets more and more watered down and hard to like as it copies more and more of the elements that didn't work in SAO.

... Our jaded programer protagonist who kind of hates MMORPGS because they are his job and actually kind of made Death March To Parallel World kind of interesting for 2 episodes is getting a harem ... with slave girls. Yaaaaaaaay.

And I think okay if I were to use all commentary, all the critique to fix SAO, to make it a show beyond otaku instant gratification what would it look like?

What if they made it so Asuna spent more time doing guild stuff and could show off how badass she was?  What if they made it so that instead of fawning over him Kirito's harem actually did plot-relevant stuff. Heck what if instead of just saying he has trouble dealing with people ... while having nearly every female character want to date him Kirito actually did have trouble dealing with people and all of his friends had lengthy discussions about why they hang out with this guy who can't help himself from pissing them off.  For that matter what if he actually had a personality that made him act in ways that weren't a just generic hero stuff. What if there were a character in the story specifically designed to do all the crazy hacker stuff required to solve the plot rather than the 15-year-old kid hero whose primary qualification amounts to being really good at playing video games. What if the story focused a lot more on the existential horror and dread of not being able to go back to the real world and why that was happening rather than spending a bunch of it's time in a log cabin in the woods playing house.

I would probably end up with something that looked a lot like .Hack specifically .Hack//Sign the first anime iteration of the franchise.

That's not to say that .Hack is perfect. Even //Sign which is both arguably the best of the .Hack franchise and the one that least requires knowledge of the property as a whole ends in a way that requires you to play the games... that were released on PS2.  And yes for a fantasy show ostensibly about an action-heavy video game it is very talky.

Also I want to differentiate between isekai or trapped in another world stories and what I'm going to dub cyber isekai or trapped in another world stories where the world in question overtly runs on video game rules.  Trapped in another world stories have a long history even in anime and I dislike that everybody pretends like it started with Sword Art Online which by the way is kind of why I'm writing this. Heck even if you just wanted to stick to dude stuck in a vaguely video gamey world Digimon has you beat.

All the same rather than saying SAO is the progenitor of modern (cyber) isekai I would say .Hack did it first and better warts, and all.

One of the biggest problems people have regarding .Hack//Sign is especially compared to modern stories it doesn't feel like it's about video games. It's not fun.  No. No, it's not.  It's a story about the segregation of offline and online identity and communication and how that divide is an illusion. About how even in a game whose entire purpose is escapism these characters, these miserable saps,  can't run from who they are in the real world. Because more than an isekai story or even a fantasy story .Hack is a post cyber-punk story.



Thursday, February 8, 2018

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Southfield January 29, 2018 City Council Meeting



An agenda and related documents can be found here.
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I'm Going to Pick On the Financial Diet



So I have money problems. And I have spent the last 7 years doing the same thing I always do when I have a problem I can't seem to wrap my head around. Go to the internet for advice. And there is no shortage of places to for financial advice on the internet.

After spending years trying to figure out ways to reorganize how I spend money the only conclusion I can make is that I simply need to make more money. No amount of cost-shaving or budgeting is really going to change that.

Yet that's most of the (not obviously a scam) financial advice on the internet.

For simple shorthand, I'm going to use the Financial Diet. They give good advice... if you already have enough money to do the things you need to do and live comfortably. But what if you don't?

I don't blame the Financial Diet for that. They do what they do well. It's just that I don't see a lot of places giving the other type of advice. Realistic advice like how to get a job in your field after college, or how to avoid multilevel marketing scams, or how to gauge whether or not you are getting paid too much or too little for your work, or how to figure out if you can survive on your salary with the cost of living in your city, or how to accurately gauge the value of potential purchases.

This, by the way, is why I love John Oliver. He is the only person I really see in the mainstream even close to giving this type of advice short of actual journalists.

And then I think about why.

Giving that type of advice requires a little bit of cynicism. A little bit of acknowledgement that yes to a certain extent the system and the individuals who profit from it are out to keep you down and bilk you for everything you're worth and the remedy is to make it your chief goal in life to become smart enough so you can cut 'em off at the pass and even then the odds aren't good.

That requires a certain type of worldview or at least a certain amount of openness to it.  And that worldview does not sell well.

Regardless more and more I'm getting the feeling that the places I've been looking aren't the places to get the advice I really need.

...So I'm getting more cynical as I get older.


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Let's Talk About Player Generated Content (I Really Want To Play Ark)


So yeah I've been jonesing to get back into video games for years and have a list. And on the top... 10 of that list is Ark. And it's on there for a specific reason. Ark at least, in theory, fulfills a promise games have been making to me for a long damn time.

Let's talk about player generated content.

Okay if I had to guess I'd say I got into RPGs around 2001 for the same reason everybody else got into RPGs around 2001.




People do not know how much that movie effected media in the early days of the new millennium. Sure it's easy to point to all of the movies that were trying to be the new Lord of the Rings and how everything after was trying to be a trilogy but books and video games were trying to take the fantasy crown.

Anyway, it showed that there was a market for sword and sorcery and rejuvenated the video game industry in regards to role-playing games. Specifically role-playing games with a western methodology.

Not counting Bioware and maybe if you squint Blizard there just weren't as many western fantasy RPGs coming out as JRPGs. And that matters because in general especially at the time, JRPGs were much more story based often restricting player choice for the sake of the narrative. 

While the much of the core of western RPGs was allowing players to customize their characters and how they played.

To this day this is a core difference between the two types of RPG.

In general, western RPGs have a much more open-ended feel where players are offered much more freedom. And the zenith of this was having a game where multiple players were plopped in a world together and essentially told to use each other to make their own fun.



Yeah. I played a lot of MMORPGs. In retrospect, a lot of them don't hold up not because the ideas sucked (don't worry I'm writing this whole thing because of you Shadowbane my whole hope is that ARK is a better you.) but because the technology just wasn't there. What are you going to do? Everybody still had dial-up and lag was terrible for most games.

But the few that worked really did open the door to the idea of players as content. Rather than using NPCs and scripted events to create believable yet still fictional worlds MMORPGs did so organically via player interactions.

And the next logical place to go after having players build the world is literally having players build the world.

And MMORPGs have been trying to figure out how to do this for a while.

But in almost every game I tried with the exception of Minecraft it tends not to work. And I really really really really want it to.

The question almost always comes down to how much control and how many options to give the players.

Regardless, to me, Ark seems like the game that might have actually cracked the code and I want to see it.

Note: It's not the same thing but one of the earliest examples I can think of where putting players in charge of an area actually worked was Lineage II's siege system. Since that game is still around I thought I would note it.  

Monday, January 29, 2018

Favorite Fantasy Anime Shows



So the reason why I'm jonesing so hard to get back into video games is at least partially because Overlord is back and is heavily leaning on classic old-school RPG and fantasy tropes. But it airs once a week so... here are my other favorite sword and sorcery anime. And just to keep things fair I'm going to try to avoid talking about stuff I put on my other list.  And I'm going to try not to discuss shows I only know by reputation. Sorry, Yona of the Dawn,  Slayers, and Record of Lodoss War. Also while I've seen everything on this list and have tried to differentiate it a lot of my memory was jogged by My Mother's Basement's "Five Fantasy Anime You Probably Missed" video. 

Sorcerous Stabber Orphen


 Let's start old school. For better or worse most anime of the 90's didn't take themselves all that seriously. The dub voice acting specifically was seldom dramatically ambitious. The tradeoff is that a lot of them are really fun and funny and Orphen is one of those. There is a dramatic plot. You will not care you'll just love the journey.

Claymore


For a lot of reasons I hope they remake Claymore eventually. It has interesting characters and good story but it was produced at a time where the focus was more on action and there it delivers. If you want gore, gore it has. But I feel that this incarnation of it was kind of a wasted opportunity.

All the same. I really do like Claire as a character. It's relatively easy to convey hot anger, but getting cold anger across on screen takes skill. And Claire is the anime epitome of cold anger. And the entire story is about making her realize how truly pissed she is and calming her the hell down before it kills her.

Avatar the Last Airbender & The Legend of Korra


It's anime. Fuck you, fight me. Most of it was animated in Korea and nobody gets there nickers in a twist debating whether that stuff counts as anime. Furthermore, the show along with its sequel is just too good to leave off a list of my favorite fantasy shows animated or otherwise. especially with how Last Airbender ended. If I had to make a list of best finales that show would probably top it.


The Heroic Legend of Arslan

It's the most ambitious fantasy show I've seen in some time, with epic battles and huge production values.

Beast Player Erin
I'm a sucker for stories that follow a single character throughout their life and Beast Player Erin is one of those. But beyond that. It has a strong message (these animals are not pets) that it gets across by showing rather than telling. Specifically, the entire story has a tension regarding the use of tamed and domesticated animals, and it's just really intriguing watching wondering how they are going to resolve it.


Moribito: Guardian of the Sacred Spirit


You've got your action. You've got your drama. You got your intrigue. There is something in this show for everybody. That said it kind of switches gear in the middle, becoming a different show until its ends.  Oh and hey it looks like they made a live action version that was up for an Emmy. WATCH THIS SHOW!

Spice and Wolf

Hey, who wants a crash course in currency markets. Eh, Spice and Wolf was just really refreshing. Most of these stories are about a warrior on a quest. This one is about merchant trying to make bank while not going bankrupt.

And a lot of it is him talking his trade and trying not to get swindled by other merchants.

Resturant to Another World

Again sometimes you want the traditional, "I be strongest warrior I go on quest to save village" but...it's been done a million times and occasionally I want something different. And Resturant to Another World is that. It's a fantasy anthology more or less centered around a restaurant.  Because it's not so concerned with EPIC narrative it can get away with telling smaller more atmospheric stories I rarely see in sword and sorcery largely because they wouldn't add anything a larger story unless they were the point in and of themselves and here they are.

That being said don't watch it unless you're prepared to be hungry by the end of each episode.

Scrapped Princess

Talking about what makes Scrapped Princess good would be a spoiler. But it is probably one of the best anime I've seen that does what it is trying to do.


Snow White With The Red Hair

I have a thing for post-modern reimaginings of fairy tales. And this is a great one. It's not Snow White if that's what you're looking for but it's a story that draws on it for inspiration and is one of the most charming anime romances I've ever seen.



Maoyu: Archenemy and Hero

It was a casualty of how we watch anime these days. It had a decent time in the spotlight before everybody moved on. But still, I think did what it was trying to do pretty well. Which again was get past the "I be strong hero. I save village" thing.

The Twelve Kingdoms
I lied. I couldn't resist putting this on here. For a really long time, it was my favorite anime. And I just couldn't keep from mentioning it even if I did put it on another list. GO WATCH THE TWELVE KINGDOMS!


People Should Give The Windows 95 Sampler and Entertainment Packs More Credit


... So I'm jonesing to get back into PC gaming. (And create a killer tech set up in general... Someday.)  While I'd honestly like to return to my pupal stage of "coreness" I'm not there and won't be for a long time. And free to play games (with some notable exceptions) have not been able to scratch that itch.  To be fair most of the free to play games I've tried have been browser or mobile based because right now I just can't afford the type of hardware it would take to play anything more but all the same it's just not happening for me. Most of what I play has basically been skinner box stuff while waiting to eventually have fun.

And the combination of that and the brokeness has been causing me to reevaluate free or cheap games I liked and played before I became "a hardcore gamer"

The games that came on the demo disk for Windows 95, as well as Microsoft's Entertainment Packs, don't get nearly enough credit as they deserve in the history of PC gaming.

I love consoles. Can't afford them right now but I love and always had loved the general set up of a big screen and a controller to relax with that they afford. But again they're essentially expensive toys and always have been. I'm not calling anybody who loves games juvenile, god no.  Just acknowledging that console gaming is expensive and on the list of financial priorities is pretty low as a fun luxury for most people and always has been.

But computers have always been a more justifiable expense with many people needing if not a desktop, some form of a computing device for work and daily life. And especially in the early days, those games set the standard for what casual and even occasionally hardcore PC gaming would look like for those people.

I Would Prefer an Upfront Price ... But That's Not the Way The Market Works



 I am a gamer.

I like playing video games. Have as far back as I can remember. But I haven't played many recently. My computer is the sort of junker that makes playing anything made past 2012 force me to hurl things at it. And being super broke with a mountain of debts I can't justify spending half a grand on consoles that are still essentially toys, luxury items for me to play with.

Still to me playing video games is one of the fastest ways for me to actually enjoy myself. I am really hoping for the day when I am just able to get back into the game. As such I try to stay current on games I might like and the general conversation occurring around the medium.

And for the past year, it's been microtransactions. microtransactions, mictrotransactions.

But this week Extra Credits put out a video explaining things from the industry side with an interesting argument.

Video games should not cost $60 anymore.

Now for me, it's a bit hypothetical. I don't have the money for new games and haven't for a while. But if I did somehow earn that dump truck of stupid money and could do whatever I wanted would I have a problem paying $75-100 for new video games? Do I feel that that would be a fair price?

Sure.

What annoys me most about microtransactions and even day one DLC, again I'm dealing hypothetically here, is that they obscure the real price of the game, how much money it takes to get a fully enjoyable experience.

I feel like right now a lot of these games are essentially lying to consumers telling them the game will be enjoyable to them at the $60 mark when it's been developed from the ground up not to be.

Furthermore, without a set price or even guidelines, these games can feel downright predatory, extravagantly bilking their customers regardless of what it does to their lives. Sometimes you got to know when to cut 'em off.

But here is the thing. A price hike on games would require a first penguin. It would require a major studio being willing to be the first and take all the slings and arrows that implies. They aren't living in a vacuum. It hurts me to say it but there just isn't the variety there used to be in AAA games as there used to be, at least from where I sit. If Activision were the studio to do it (they won't be) with Call of Duty, EA would be sitting in the wings selling nearly the exact same game with a sticker price of $20-40 less.

Moreover. Even though I don't play games this conversation seems kind of "hardcore" (maybe I haven't been keeping up with the conversation as well as I should have been) and dear god I know how that sounds. But hear me out. I understand the frustration with microtransactions. Heck, I WAS RAISED ON MAGIC THE GATHERING! But a parent who doesn't play games buying their kids Star Wars Battlefront II for a birthday present might not. They're likely to just see a lower price on the shelf not realizing what it means. As I said in the beginning. As much as I would like to get into the game they are still essentially expensive toys.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Vikings' Real Problem... The Last Kingdom

So I love me some dudes with swords. So you know I've been all up in Vikings. But this season has been off. I don't hate it, but its hard not to feel like the show is spinning it's wheels, especially when somebody points out how much Viking Civil War feels like a giant waste of time.

I can only speculate as to why the writers don't just focus on the conquest of Wessex, but my guess is because both narratively and historically the most logical place for the show to go is The Last Kingdom.


Since really the death of Ragnar my biggest question with Vikings was how they were going to essentially tell the same story as The Last Kingdom when they caught up to it. When it came out The Last Kingdom in a lot of ways was Vikings: The Next Generations.  And then Vikings had that time skip and it became evident that the show actually did intend to tell the story of The Great Heathen Army

There are a few notable differences, Vikings is from the Danes' point of view. Though they aren't exactly unsympathetic in The Last Kingdom they are well established as the series antagonists and I was looking forward to a different perspective especially considering the dueling religious outlook of the factions. Both shows dip a toe into magical realism but Vikings more so and dealing with that would have been fun.

And then there is Bjorn. I'm not caught up on the second season of The Last Kingdom. But the first was notably Bjornless and Bjorn is my favorite character. It was going to be fun seeing what he was up to around this time. (We only got like three episodes in the Mediterranean when I was hoping he we would spend the entire season over there kicking ass.)

Regardless it was going to be a hard needle to thread. Before they actually showed up if you wanted to flash forward to "The Sons of Ragnar Lodbrok" The Last Kingdom was the place to go.

But more and more it seems the show is uninterested in retreading The Last Kingdom, thus The Viking Civil War.


Thursday, January 11, 2018

Southfield January 9, 2018 Board of Education Organizational Meeting







  • Election of Officers

Please support me on Patreon at www.patreon.com/CypheredWolf

January 8, 2018 Michigan 11th District Congressional Republican Debate


Cook Rating of District 
R+4 

Date
January 8, 2018

Place 
Novi Emagine Theatre
44425
W. 12 Mile Road
Novi, MI 48377

Republican Candidates 

  • Lena Epstein
  • Kerry Bentivolio  
  • Kurt Heise 
  • Klint Kesto 
  •  Andrew Raczkowski 
  • Kristine Bonds 


Democrat Candidates (Not Debating)

  • Tim Greimel
  • Dan Haberman  
  • Fayrouz Saad 
  • Haley Stevens 
  • Suneel Gupta


 Moderators 

  • Scott Hagerstrom
  • Thayrone X 
  • Meshawn Maddock 


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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Future Man is ... Smarter Than Stranger Things



So the marketing got me. After having the commercial preroll ads over and over and over on various Youtube videos I gave in and watched Future Man which looked like nothing more than a 13 episode  College Humor sketch poking fun at 80s movies and time travel rules.

And it is that.

But it also comments on those 80's movies. And I can't help but contrast it Stranger Things.

Look I love Stranger Things. It's basically the best 80's sci-fi show not made in the 80s which is what it's trying to be but after awhile I can't help but feel it's a bit hollow. It's not the 80s. We have roughly 30 years of hindsight.  30 years of contemplation of what the decade, it's events and culture all of it meant in the broader stroke of human history.

Stranger Things tries so hard to be of the 80's that it kind of stops being about the 80s. Future Man is about the 80's or at least 80's pop culture.

The plot is (in movie terms) what if Kyle Reese and T2 Sarah Conner used Starfighter to find T1 Sarah Conner.

At first the show runs on the metajoke of inserting "reality" into these movies.  Playing a video game does not equate to growing up and training in bad future #682: Cyberpunk.

But that metajoke slowly turns the characters from one note knockoffs designed to poke fun at how silly those movies were to actual human beings as they respond to the fact that they are not actually in an 80's sci-fi movie or at least not a world running on 80's science fiction rules.

And in that space the show can and does actually comment on the culture of the 80's in ways I didn't expect from it. That's not to say it's a grand intellectual exercise. At it's heart it's still a Seth Rogan comedy working with Youtube production values but given what it is it made me think.



All pop culture is culture. All of those movies, books, tv shows, songs, video games, and music videos originate in the minds of people grounded in the surroundings of their world. And as such all of that pop culture can't help but to a certain extent reflect that world even if it set out to.

That's the interesting thing about a lot of 80's pop culture.  The zeitgeist of the moment was an exhaustion of the overt politics of the 1960's and early 70's, the pop culture of which was often trying to be overtly political. But a lot of mainstream by the 80's was trying to run as far away as it could from any topic that could be overtly read as political.  That's not to say there weren't political movies or even political sci-fi but just that those generally weren't the blockbusters the industry was banking on and supporting. Even the original Terminator was a relatively low budget feature with $6.4 million.

A lot of the 80's movies we remember aren't exactly the ones that people were going to see. Film geeks tout 1982 as the best year in genre film history and sure a lot of those movies make the highest grossing but Tootsie beat out everything but E.T.

My point is now we look at all of the stuff that was going on under the surface but that's just not where your typical denizen of the time was and the media of the age reflected that. There is a dissonance between the reality of the 80's and the version of it we have in our heads, between history and nostalgia.

Stranger Things and Future Man aren't made for people living in the 80s but people living in the late 2010s who have experienced either via memory or media the remnants of the decade.  Future Man acknowledges it while Stranger Things doesn't. And honestly, it makes me kind of like Future Man a little bit more.


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