I have been on vacation for two weeks, and I’ve returned to find that in that time, not all that much has changed or even been announced with Anthem, the game I stubbornly refuse to fully give up hope for. The silence is about to be broken with a livestream tomorrow detailing a new Stronghold coming to the game, but it has been eerily quiet. It’s not just that we don’t hear much from the once-chatty devs anymore, it’s things like how the official Anthem account hasn’t even tweeted in almost a week.
That has left it to fans to do some digging themselves about what’s going on, and they’ve unearthed a number of job postings from BioWare to work on Anthem specifically, and positions like Senior Systems Designer (Loot) have been particularly eye-catching. Here’s part of thsy listing:
“BioWare is looking for a creative and passionate Senior Systems Designer with experience in Loot Systems to join our studio in either Austin or Edmonton to work on our newest IP Anthem. Building a truly great server side loot system, that is scalable, has modern concepts like streak-breaking, and easily modifiable data formats. A great loot system ensures that the players have predictable experiences that can be measured with data.”
This loot designer joins other advertised roles from item creation to the store and reward pipeline to combat balance, things that you know, are pretty key to a loot shooter.
These listings suggest some good news and bad news to me. First, the good.
I don’t agree with the notion that it’s worrisome that BioWare is hiring loot and reward loop people for Anthem right now. I’m hearing things like “shouldn’t they have done this already???” with the implication being that they don’t already have people working on this stuff. These listings show that they want to bolster those teams and perhaps bring in a fresh perspective to redesign some of the areas in which Anthem is weak. That’s a good thing.
It’s also a good sign that BioWare really is committed to the long haul. It took games like Diablo and Destiny and The Division anywhere from months to a year or more to get loot right, and it seems Anthem is following on that same path. As much as it would have been nice to get things right at launch, it stands to reason that BioWare would not be expanding its core design team for Anthem if it was not going to be working on the game for a long while to come, which suggests a different trajectory to say, Mass Effect Andromeda, which was quickly dropped like a hot rock after its underwhelming launch.
The bad news?
I mean, it isn’t great that you have a loot/reward system in the first place that needs to be redesigned, and even if it’s good to know that BioWare, and presumably EA by proxy, is in this for the long haul, the emphasis is on the word “long” there. BioWare has a roadmap that runs out of runway pretty soon and we really have very little idea what comes after, given that the game is not releasing traditional DLC packs.
If these are roles that are just being recruited for now, it is likely that whatever changes these new team members implement, whatever they design or redesign will not hit the game for many, many months to come. I’ve said before that it’s probably in Anthem’s best interest to have its own Reaper of Souls/Taken King moment that everyone can point to as a place when it turns a clear corner. 2-5% improvements every few weeks or so are probably less impactful than a huge, 100% improvement in a year or however long it takes. But until the biggest changes do arrive, the playerbase is kind of in limbo. It’s hard to know whether or not it’s at all worth it to currently keep playing Anthem assuming the kinds of big changes that are probably coming. Is it worth trying to farm sparse legendaries when BioWare could triple the drop rate tomorrow? Is it worth hunting down the perfect build when BioWare could end up scrapping and changing the entire loot/gear system? I don’t know, which is why other games with fewer things up in the air may feel like better alternatives right now.
I hope Anthem gets the new team members and fixes that it needs. Ultimately, the game will be better for it. It’s just not clear when exactly this better version is going to get here in full.
On the way home from a recent trip, I managed to cram in all eight episodes of Netflix’s new zombie series, Black Summer. Like so many other Netflix originals these days, it sprang out of nowhere with little fanfare, and it’s anyone’s guess whether it will be ignored completely by viewers or the next viral sensation.
My guess is the former, because it just isn’t all that good.
While I may be a Walking Dead fanboy, especially now that the show has gotten really good again as of season 9, I am certainly open to competition. Netflix itself has already made a great new zombie show in the form of The Kingdom, the Korean zombie period drama that was actually quite stunning and is returning for a second season.
Black Summer is…less impressive, and plays more like a bloated movie than a new series. I know Netflix doesn’t have to operate within the bounds of traditional formatting, but the show’s episode lengths are bizarre, with a 45 minute premiere and a 20 minute finale across the eight episodes, with 25, 30 and 40 minute episodes in between. This makes the entire thing about a 3-4 hour experience, which, if you’re a zombie die-hard you may want to check out, but if you’re anyone else, I’m not sure this is worth your time.
This is a fairly traditional outbreak story, one told in the early days of a zombie attack. I think we’re about 5 weeks out from when things got “really bad,” as referenced by the characters. We follow a handful of characters that end up intersecting with one another frequently, as the show likes to play with parallel timelines. They have an ultimate goal of reaching the fabled stadium in the center of downtown (I’m not sure what city this is, something in the southwest), where they hope to reunite with lost family members.
The zombies here are…weird. Here are the rules we’re working with:
- These are “fast zombies,” 28 Days Later style, meaning they sprint and chase you and go so fast you’ll often see them plowing through walls and windows when you think you’re safe
- Biting does in fact turn people, but we are also working with the Walking Dead rule where anyone who dies, even if they aren’t bitten, turns. And they turn instantly.
- Headshots kill them, but these zombies seem far, far more durable than most Walking Dead Combine that with their speed and even one or two is enough to ruin your entire day.
What this looks like in practice is bizarre. Given that these are fast zombies that turn instantly after death, the zombies are essentially just actors with white-out eyes and blood on their face running around screaming. There are no prosthetics here, no real monster make-up. No zombies rolling around with one arm or half melted by fire. Just a lot of crazy people screaming, which does not make for a terribly compelling threat, however dangerous they may be.
But as weird as the zombies are, it’s the editing of this show that I can’t shake as being even bizarre. The show feels like it is desperately throwing out left turns as much as it can, adding and subtracting new characters at will so in many cases, you don’t get more than 2-3 episodes to know any of them. The show does some weird things like take a character tagging along in a group that you were positive was a redshirt and then…giving him his own 40 minute episode that he spends running away from a single zombie.
Editing also results in weird time skips. Like we will have one episode where five characters spend the entire thing debating how to get out of a diner they’ve been trapped in by two zombies. And then one episode later they are executing a highly choreographed raid of a weapons cache buried inside a sex/dance club full of armed guards. I had to check to make sure I hadn’t missed an episode or two multiple times.
I do like a few things the show does. The idea of “durable zombies” is a good one, ones that eat tons of damage and bullets before going down rather than being killed with pencils and icicles like in the Walking Dead. It’s just that their presentation is all wrong. The diner episode and the heist episode were memorable, but it’s hard to get attached to these characters given how often they come and go. The only person I even recognize in this series is Jamie King, but I don’t even think she’s one of the better characters. That honor goes to Christine Lee as Sun who has to navigate all this madness without speaking English.
The show kills off so many people by the end I have no idea if this is supposed to be a one-off series or the first of a few different season. I don’t think I’m terribly interested in more, and there are just better zombie properties to compare it to, even on Netflix itself. It’s not the biggest time commitment, but I just don’t know if it’s worth getting through regardless.
An internal review conducted by outside counsel of Markel Corp.’s troubled insurance-linked securities unit’s loss reserving found no evidence that unit personnel acted in bad faith in exercising business judgment in the setting of reserves and making related disclosures during late 2017 and early 2018.
The Richmond, Virginia-based insurer and reinsurer disclosed in December that its Bermuda-based Markel CATCo Investment Management Ltd. unit, which provides collateralized retrocessional reinsurance coverage, was being investigated by U.S. and Bermudian authorities over its loss reserves.
Markel retained outside counsel to conduct the internal review, which has recently been completed and found no evidence of bad faith by the personnel, according to a statement issued Sunday.
“Markel’s outside counsel has met with the Governmental Authorities and reported the findings from the internal review,” Markel said in the statement. “The Governmental Authorities’ inquiries are ongoing and Markel continues to fully cooperate with them.”
In January, a putative class action was filed against Markel related to a stock price drop following the disclosure.
In February, two former Markel CATCo executives who were fired for having an “undisclosed personal relationship” sued the insurer, alleging they were denied more than $70 million in incentive payments as a result of the terminations and defamed in the process.
I was watching the Masters golf tournament like many people on Sunday. It was compelling, and Tiger Woods came away with his fifth green jacket. In the days leading up to the iconic golf tournament, it was apparent to us within the meteorological community that weather could be an issue for the Masters. In fact, I wrote in Forbes:
as a meteorologist, I am particularly concerned about Sunday. Sunday is typically the final round and brings high drama at the Masters. The official NWS forecast for Sunday calls for an 80% chance of precipitation (showers and thunderstorms) mainly after 3 pm. Some of these storms could be severe
As I reflect on the weather messaging associated with the Masters, there was good, bad, and ugly.
The “good” is actually better described as excellent. On Saturday, the Masters announced some changes to the Sunday schedule because of the weather forecast. PGATour.com reported the following adjustments on its website:
The field of 65 players who made the cut will play in threesomes off two tees (Nos. 1 and 10) starting at 7:30 a.m. ET. The final threesome of 54-hole leader Francesco Molinari, Tiger Woods and Tony Finau will tee off at 9:20 a.m. Final-round coverage on CBS will be live beginning at 9 a.m. ET.
The image above shows the radar image at 3:22 pm near Augusta, Georgia. Storms were approaching as scheduled and the entire area was under a tornado watch until 7pm (graphic below). The decisions made by the Masters and its on-site meteorologists are perfect examples of what the American Meteorological Society (AMS) had in mind when it issued guidance on outdoor venues, sporting events, and weather. The AMS statement said:
A common theme in the after-action reports and service assessments for these disasters is that the weather plan was inadequate to deal with a comprehensive portfolio of weather risk, or a weather plan didn’t exist. In many instances, organizers simply “hoped that we wouldn’t get hit.” Reducing the weather risk to life and property at venues and public gatherings is a priority for the weather enterprise and the American Meteorological Society (AMS). Knowledge of, and investment in, pre-event planning and mitigation serves the nation economically as well as socially.
The Masters used a proactive approach rather than a “hope” plan.
The “bad” is actually not related to the Masters tournament but something that happened during the television broadcast. For days, it was clear that the Atlanta area and parts of north Georgia would be dealing with severe weather. At several times during the broadcast, CBS 46 in Atlanta cut in to the Masters coverage to alert viewers of tornado warnings in the area. These are life-saving actions and consistent with what the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) expects stations to do. The usual complaints started sprouting on social media. CBS46 actually used a split-screen approach rather than completely removing the Masters coverage, and I thought that it worked well. Yet, many golf fans complained. Two of the most consistent complains that I saw included:
- This type of coverage isn’t needed anymore because we have weather Apps.
- Why do they keep repeating the same information?
On the first complaint, there are still a significant number of people (elderly, vulnerable, and marginalized populations) that may not have other resources to receive a warning. Many people are not very smartphone savvy so rely on their local TV meteorologists. I have written in the past about how a good number of people still rely on a comforting voice over Apps in times of stressful weather. I also kept wondering why the folks complaining about alerts couldn’t watch the Masters on an App. As for the second complaint, many people drop in and out of a broadcast. Repetition is often required to ensure that the message is received by whoever is watching at the time.
The “ugly” is that some Atlanta area TV meteorologists actually received death threats because they interrupted the Masters. Yes, you read that correctly. Ella Dorsey is a meteorologist at CBS 46-Atlanta and happens to be one of my former students at the University of Georgia. She tweeted:
To everyone sending me death threats right now: you wouldn’t be saying a damn thing if a tornado was ravaging your home this afternoon. Lives are more important than 5 minutes of golf. I will continue to repeat that if and when we cut into programming to keep people safe.
That’s ugly folks.
Destiny 2’s big Arc Week patch arrived with…a number of issues that needed immediate fixes yesterday. Some players were being rewarded the wrong emote from Eververse bundles which resulted in funny sights like Warlocks twirling Hunter arc staffs. Then there was a brief infinite enhancement core farm as people realized they could do some sort of exploit that got them rewarded pinnacle weapons over and over again they could dismantle. So Bungie shut off all pinnacle weapon quests for the time being.
Then, the most hilarious, tragic glitch of all. For a brief window after the patch went live, players who went to Xur and bought his special engram, one that was just patched to contain Forsaken exotics, were sometimes awarded Wavesplitter, the PS4-exclusive Forsaken exotic, even if they were on PC or Xbox One.
This resulted in a few hours of mad panic as people tried to figure out what was going on, whether the deal with Sony had quietly died and Destiny was now freeing up its exclusive content for its entire playerbase.
But alas, no.
The fix came swiftly, and it’s kind of cruel. This was indeed an accident, no other exclusive stuff like the Broodhold strike went live, and this was just a glitch with the new Xur engram, as Wavesplitter was not dropping in the wild. The good news is that if you got Wavesplitter, you can keep it. The very, very bad news is that if you have it and you’re on PC or Xbox One, you cannot use it until September 2019 when the deal expires.
Bungie probably had no choice but to do this. We don’t know the exact terms of the Sony deal, but one aspect that seems pretty clear is at least a year of timed exclusivity for the PS4-only content. And Bungie can’t just open the floodgates whenever they want, lest they risk legal action and their relationship with Sony.
This has sparked another debate abo the future of the Sony deal and how much all players, even PS4 players, hate it. For five years now we have been having this debate, and players have been hoping that with Bungie leaving Activision and taking Destiny with them, that the Sony deal will die.
It’s clear, however, that the current Sony deal didn’t just get torn up when the Activision split happened, however, and I don’t know if this is something Bungie is going to walk away from regardless. Yes, the originally deal probably was negotiated with Activision, but now without the backing of the megacorp, Bungie is going to need cash more than ever. And so if Sony wants to pay them potentially millions of dollars to withhold a few pieces of content from PC and Xbox players every year, they may be inclined to do that. Even if that generates grumbling and eye-rolling among the playerbase, grumbling and eye-rolling probably does not equal millions in lost sales, so the benefits outweigh the costs.
And yet, it sucks, and very clearly makes the game worse for everyone in small ways. Besides PC and Xbox players not having any access to this content, deals like this mean that even PS4 players have a worse time. Xur cannot sell exclusive Sony exotics. Sony exclusive strikes cannot show up as the Nightfall or be used in quest steps. The content is hard limited in its uses for an entire year until everyone can access it.
I think there are very few players outside of the most die-hard Sony fanboys who want to see this deal stay. But it may make too much financial sense for Bungie to keep taking Sony’s money, so long as it continues to be offered, whether or not Activision is in the picture. We’ll have to wait until this fall to know for sure.