Cyber Psy-op Campaign in the 2016 U.S. Election: An Analysis

In the course of the 2016 U.S. presidential election there was a tremendous and historic cyber psy-op campaign waged against the citizens of the United States by a foreign power (Edit to add: since this blog post was published, US Intelligence has confirmed that this was a Russian Intelligence operation, as I and many others assumed). This psy-op campaign was multi-faceted, utilizing the dissemination of a variety of carefully crafted narratives which were propagated by various groups as well as through automated bots in order to increase visibility of said disinformation and turn public sentiment against Hillary Clinton. It also seems to have been carefully crafted to increase disharmony and chaos within the United States, exploit internal sociocultural strife, and call into question the validity of various institutions, especially in regards to media and the government.

This psy-op has been particularly effective, in part, because the narratives incorporate beliefs which are generally held in certain circles, specifically among those who distrust U.S. media and government, individuals who believe in certain types of conspiracies, and white supremacist groups. By incorporating beliefs from these groups into the narratives and finding ways to make them overlap, as well as fueling distrust of media, this strategy effectively guaranteed that the psy-op would be effective. Certain media organizations from outside the U.S. have been disseminating propaganda to feed these narratives for years, likely to sow the seeds of discord which would inevitably sprout and grow. The psy-op campaign exploited antiestablishment views and distrust for the political system, both of which have seen a slight resurgence in recent years. This trend is likely partially the result of disinformation which has, for years, attempted to characterize the United States as a villain in order to create a sense of false equivalency between the actions of the U.S. government and the actions of nations which have a much worse track record on human rights (especially LGBTQIA rights), freedom of expression, and other important issues.

Propaganda pieces increased dramatically during the election, both from sources which had previously engaged in this activity, as well as from a variety of new sources. While some of these are openly associated with foreign powers, others characterized themselves as being independent. This is an insidious mechanism of this psy-op, one which is repeated in the dissemination of the disinformation through social media. While some of these stories were written by Americans and individuals from elsewhere who may not have had malicious intentions, much of it was intentionally crafted and propagated to negatively affect the United States. This was regularly achieved by having complicit individuals masquerade online as Americans, utilizing fake Twitter accounts and other artificial online profiles to create the impression that their distrust of and discontent towards Hillary Clinton was coming from fellow citizens rather than individuals working directly and indirectly for foreign powers. These accounts, some of which are automated, are used to drive web traffic and engagement towards this disinformation in order to increase its “trending” online and place it at the top of search results. This seems to have been very successful on Twitter and Google, but even moreso on Facebook, wherein apparently controversial algorithms seem to have favored clicks over facts. The fake accounts also respond directly to online discourse and especially to accurate information which they would like to call into question, as well as facts which they would like to draw attention away from, often while simultaneously disseminating additional disinformation at the same time.

The insidious effect of this is that the longer it goes on, the less the psy-op has to rely on these artificial accounts. Over time, as the disinformation takes hold, it is then disseminated and defended by its very victims. This phenomena can then be framed as “populist”, as organic, a shifting tide of public perspectives, rather than the result of psychological operations. There were also layers of the narratives meant to undermine any potential future claims of said psy-op, including but not limited to those which call into question the nature and source of these actions and views. Many of these pieces of disinformation seem intended to serve as a sort of plausible deniability for when the conspiracy inevitably came to light. Claims of vote rigging to favor Clinton, claims of Clinton having connections to foreign powers which call into question her allegiance, claims of Clinton being in the pocket of the financial sector. These pieces of disinformation seem crafted specifically so that any statements made against the opposing side in regards to these subjects can be countered with claims that Clinton is actually the person guilty of them.

This cyber psy-op campaign slowed down tremendously once the election finished. There seems to be far less activity now from the artificial accounts which once flooded almost every top ten hashtag on Twitter with usually off-topic tweets. The psy-op is self-sustaining now, though it will inevitably unravel at some point. The full effects are yet to be seen, however, as the groups which the psy-op manipulated may have been chosen specifically for the propensity of some within their ranks to respond with violence once they realize they’ve been tricked. This is especially concerning in the event the U.S. government reveals that the election results were manipulated. This scenario would exacerbate the distrust in the political system which most in these groups already have, potentially resulting in them believing that the election had been stolen for Clinton rather than accept they’d been manipulated by a psy-op from a foreign power. The alternative, however, would be far worse.

No operation of this scope is undertaken without the potential for substantial benefit, specifically more benefit than risk. Whatever those benefits might be, the perpetrators of this campaign believe it is worth the risk of war. That should be enough to concern us all.

Bridging The Cybersecurity Talent Gap

I’ve been reading and listening to information related to cybersecurity and cyberwarfare recently, and one thing which comes up often is the gap in cybersecurity talent. It’s been said that unemployment in cybersecurity positions is right around zero percent. There are simply not enough people with the skills necessary to fill private sector and government positions, especially as the risk of cyberwarfare and cyberespionage increase exponentially due to steadily moving advances in technology. I have a couple ideas about how this could be addressed going forward, specifically with adaptations made by the military to their recruitment and enlistment conditions.

Typically, military branches in the United States have recruited for cybersecurity and cyberwarfare from within their own ranks as well as the private sector when possible. As the necessity for cyberdefense has become more prominent in recent years, the traditional methods of bringing in talent has continued to work well, albeit not at numbers significant enough to fill the hiring gap nationwide. One major area of hesitation for those considering serving in this field is the length of time which an individual is generally expected to serve in the military. Given the speed at which the cybersecurity industry has developed and continues to develop, it is perhaps a bit too optimistic to think that everyone with talent would be willing to commit to long-term service.

I believe that this could be addressed by creating a cybersecurity tour of duty which is two years in length, at as competitive a salary as can be afforded within military spending limits. After that tour ends, individuals would be able to choose whether to enlist for an additional tour or go into the private sector. Written into their contract would be a caveat that they could be called on again by the military two or three times each year for a set number of years after their tour for consulting purposes. This consulting process would last one week and the individual would be paid a set rate, below what they would otherwise be paid to consult within the private sector. This would create a vast workforce with established security clearance and quality training who could use and hone their skills in the private sector, and could then be called upon again to serve in the defense of their country. This would not only increase military talent but also carry over good cybersecurity protocols into the private sector. At times of high risk to the country via cyberwarfare, a vast number of well trained individuals could be called upon in an instant to defend it, and all without the considerable costs which would normally be incurred hiring a team of high level cybersecurity professionals.

This strategy still requires finding talent, and that is an area which is currently being explored thoroughly both in the military and in the private sector. The most effective course of action in my opinion would be to think outside the box, find people who have an interest in and familiarity with computers and cybersecurity, individuals who typically would not be looked at for recruitment, and train them if needed. These subjects aren’t necessarily all that difficult to learn for someone interested, though obviously they can be quite difficult to master. Finding individuals who already have the skills needed but haven’t been recruited yet is a much more difficult proposition than finding people who think creatively, who can adapt to changing scenarios, who have an intuitive grasp of computers and the tenets of cybersecurity, and thus could be trained to become the cybersecurity professionals of the future.

It’s also important to consider that those professionals may not fit the mould of what is currently expected. Recruiting people from universities who have potential and interest is a good start, but one must also consider that not everyone is able to afford higher learning. When it comes to national security and the defense of our nation I believe that there is an imperative to not limit recruitment of talent based on preconceptions and stereotypes. Considering the stakes involved, I have difficulty understanding how our country can afford to exclude good people, especially if it’s due to outdated notions.

There are countless individuals in this nation who have the analytical abilities, the problem solving and pattern recognition skills, the interest and the motivation to serve in this specific capacity, yet who haven’t been considered for a variety of reasons. Finding individuals who show potential and training them is a win-win, bolstering the nation’s defenses while providing a future career path in a growing industry and simultaneously reinforcing the cybersecurity of the private sector to help prevent future cyberespionage and sabotage meant to undermine our economy. The threat from cyberwarfare and the ever dissipating line between traditional warfare campaigns and cyberwarfare campaigns necessitates, in my opinion, a thorough and uniformly profound reexamination of current practices, and consideration of alternative solutions. We cannot afford to get this wrong.

(And also, as a side-note: excluding autistic people from serving in these areas is, in my humble opinion, a mistake. Studies have shown that some autistic people have superior visual abilities, problem solving abilities, logical reasoning, ability to notice irregularities in patterns, and general pattern recognition compared to non-autistic control groups. All of these could prove beneficial here.)
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-hidden-potential-of-autistic-kids/
https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-06/uom-sfa061609.php
http://www.biologicalpsychiatryjournal.com/article/S0006-3223(08)00753-1/abstract

An Open Letter to Allies of Autistic People

(Video if you prefer)

Hey everybody, Ultimate Oddball here. Today I’m going to discuss a very important issue: treating autistic people with decency and respect. While in theory it may seem obvious that autistic people should be treated as well as non-autistic people, in practice this is often not the case. Our personal autonomy is ignored, we’re expected to pretend to not be autistic, we are disrespected, often by those who claim to care for us most, and in general we are treated as less than non-autistic people. Some folks like to throw around the word ally when they have proximity to people in marginalized groups, but actions speak louder than words, and in this case the actions of many who claim to be allies of autistic people or claim to be part of the “autistic community” do not act in a way which reflects this claim.

Many people who claim to be our allies promote Applied Behavioral Analysis, an early intervention which is partially predicated on forcing neurotypical mannerisms upon autistic people. While there are certainly some autistic people who support A.B.A., many do not. In addition, the idea that mannerisms displayed by autistic people should be eliminated is motivated by the belief that we are inherently less. That there is something wrong with us. While autism can certainly be disabling, can certainly be difficult, we are not lesser human beings. We are not inferior to other human beings. To believe we are is to support ableism, which has real consequences. Consequences like abuse, stigmatization, less education opportunities, lack of employment, mistreatment, filicide, and everything else which comes with being viewed as less than human.

Many people who claim to be our allies speak about us when we’re around as if we weren’t. They overshare our struggles and their difficulties dealing with us to elicit empathy, or understanding, or pity. Whatever your intentions are, if your sharing results in autistic people being viewed as less, being stigmatized, being used as inspiration fodder, then you are not being an ally. We’ve had most of our representation steeped in negativity, nearly all of it coming from non-autistic sources. We live the consequences of that: not you. An ally does not, through careless discussion or oversharing, add to what are already considerable struggles many of us face. Being an ally is not a badge you automatically get because you care for or work with us. It’s something you have to earn through your actions every day.

So, what can you do if you want to be an ally? Interacting with us in a respectful manner which does not attempt to force us to be like you is a great place to start. Signal-boosting our perspectives is another. No other group has people from outside that group claiming to represent them and gate-keeping to exclude them from being included in representation. That is what autistic people face every day. Organizations which claim to exist for us ignore our issues with their language, refuse to consider our perspectives, refuse to include us or hire us or consult with us. You can have the best intentions in the world for autistic people but if you don’t have the experience and understanding of what it is to be autistic in the world today, then you’re going to make mistakes. And if you refuse to include us in the discussion, then you’ll continue making the same mistakes. It’s far past time this problematic behavior ended. It’s far past time for non-autistic people who claim to be part of our autistic community to stop making life harder for us. Well, thanks for coming by, and have a good day.

Transcending Autism Awareness and Working Toward Acceptance and Education

(Content Warning for ableism, filicide, and police violence)

(Thoughts On the Spectrum video of this post)

As a country the United States has come a long way with regards to how we discuss and react to autism. Gone are the days when the vast majority of autistic people were institutionalized. As an autistic person I have to point out, though, that there is still a long way to go. People are incredibly aware of autism, but unfortunately that is often the extent of it: simply being aware that autistic people exist. That’s why I propose society should transcend the promotion of autism awareness and work toward autism education and acceptance.

In recent years autism awareness has increased, with more people becoming conscious of how common autism is and the fact that autistic people often face serious difficulties. There has not, however, been a significant increase in education, especially with regard to common behavior, the variability of the autism spectrum, and potential comorbid mental health issues. Also generally lacking is the promotion of autism acceptance, specifically respecting autistic people’s autonomy and presuming competence. This has created a situation where people are becoming more aware of autism without actually learning much about the subject or improving their treatment of autistic people.

The problematic nature of this narrow focus on awareness is further exacerbated by the current narrative surrounding autism. Years of organizations and individuals using fear tactics and the notion that autism is a tragedy, that autistic people are a burden, in order to increase public awareness and get people to take autism seriously has overtaken public understanding of it and causes serious issues for autistic people. Employers don’t want to hire a “burden”. Some parents don’t want to live with the “tragedy” of autism, and so they end their child’s life. A police officer doesn’t know how to respond to autistic people or doesn’t understand our behavior and finds it threatening, so they shoot first and ask questions later. These are all the result of the problematic narrative surrounding autism. A negative narrative perpetuates stigma. A narrative bereft of education and acceptance dehumanizes and further marginalizes said group.

I don’t know why a Florida police officer shot at Arnaldo Rios-Soto, an autistic man, and Charles Kinsey, a therapist who was attempting to help him, and I won’t speculate, though I can guess. What I do know is that if autistic people are indeed seven times more likely to encounter police, as a 2015 article from the Chicago Reader states experts on the subject claim, then autism education for law enforcement is clearly a necessity. According to disability rights journalist David M. Perry, Mr. Rios-Soto was arrested after the shooting, placed in a police car for hours, and was then held in the mental health ward of a local hospital. In the opinion of many, including myself, this is likely to have further traumatized Mr. Rios-Soto after a shooting which his family states had already severely traumatized him. Educating officers on how to interact with autistic people and what to expect won’t stop all these tragedies, but it might mean they happen less.

But it’s also necessary to change how we discuss the subject. As an autistic person, I know first-hand that there are real difficulties that can come along with autism. It isn’t easy. Being autistic is made much harder, however, due to how autism is viewed in society and the way we’re treated because of it. Most people hold a thoroughly negative view of autism, meaning we’re often mistreated, condescended to, disrespected, and treated as less than human. Society minimizing the incredible variety and complexity of the autism spectrum and those on it to a handful of stereotypes and negative views results in autistic people being further marginalized. This prevents us from being accepted in society as equals, and perpetuates ableism which denies the possibility of any potential and refuses an assumption of competence.

If you want to support autistic people one way to do so is to support education and acceptance, and respect the perspectives shared by autistic self advocates. There are many of us posting information on these subjects on Twitter for free every day. The best source of information on many subjects related to autism is autistic people, and only autistic people should be dictating the narrative. In the past the narrative has been almost completely controlled by non-autistic individuals and organizations. However well meaning they were, the result has been disastrous, detrimental, and damaging. Keep in mind that the “autism community” is first and foremost autistic people. It has become very common for non-autistic people, especially parents, to appropriate and inadvertently usurp autistic representation in a variety of ways, from inclusion in organizations to preferred language, generally controlling the narrative and discussion around autism. No matter your intentions, if you are not autistic you should not be claiming to represent autism or autistic people. We cannot find our place in society if non-autistic people are actively standing in the way, whatever their intentions. Being an ally means signal boosting. Respecting and aiding. Not usurping. Not holding us back.

A Cat Named Baudelaire (Poem)

I had a cat named Baudelaire
a fickle feline fiend,
who slept upon the rooftops
and bathed in place unclean.

He perched himself on neon signs,
stretched out beneath the sky.
From his vantage point he hissed
at all the people passing by.

From up above the city
he surveyed the local sights:
his favorite frisky cat house
that he went to once a night.

And in the night the streets would change,
stretch out in desolation:
he pondered as he peered out
on the hunt for new elation.

He stumbled upon a man one day,
slumbering still and calm.
Baudelaire went along on his way
but the man, alas, did not.

He roamed the sewers, huffed gasoline,
a furrowed ball of furry fray.
A life of chaos was, for him, serene,
which is more than most of us can say.

I’d watch Baudelaire from my safe place
in a room overlooking the city.
The world around me more than I could face,
but at least I knew he was living.

My System For Conversing With Others

Making small talk and responding appropriately has always been difficult for me, so years ago I developed a system for making conversation. By going through a few simple steps, I’m able to have a back and forth which is both socially appropriate and positive. I don’t maintain eye contact, and I’m not good with facial expressions that indicate that I am reacting positively, so sometimes people have trouble reading me. I also have severe anxiety, and because of that I like to rehearse things in my mind and have a system. This helps me tremendously by making it almost like a checklist. I’ll go through these points and go over why I believe they work for me:

    1. I greet the person. Many people like shaking hands. I shake their hand, but not too tightly. I ask them how they are doing, or what they’ve been up to, or how they have been, or what they’re up to now. This shows that I am interested in how their life is going. I care a lot about people, and I’ve found that asking questions like this lets them know that. I used to take for granted that people understood my appreciation or positive feelings toward them, but I’ve learned it just doesn’t come across, so I make it as clear as I can in conversation. If they ask me something along the lines of what I recommended before I do, I respond with the same question if it pertains to them, or, if not, a similar question which does. I assume that whatever they ask me is important to them, and so I respond in a similar way.

    2. If there is a lull in the conversation, I try to remember something about that person that I can ask about. “How’s your job” or “how’s your family” are good, and the more specific, the better. I focus on their response, and then try to respond to that positively. If things are difficult, I’ll tell them that I hope they get better. Whether you are a positive person or not, which I am, being positive and friendly helps when interacting with others. If they are interested in something that I am interested in, I will talk about that subject, but I will do my best to focus on not perseverating. This isn’t always possible, but I’ve found that keeping an eye out for it usually helps me avoid talking about something to the point that it bores the other person.

    3. Through trial and error I’ve learned that I don’t need to try to fill every space in the conversation. It seems to me that sometimes there are just natural silences in small talk, or a conversation can kind of trail off. When that happens I just go back to focusing on my thoughts until the other person wants to talk again. If they don’t say anything, then I try reengaging a few times by bringing up other topics of conversation. Sometimes, though, the other person just doesn’t want to talk to me, and that is totally okay. Everyone has the right to talk to or not talk to whoever they want to.

    4. If they continue talking to me, I continue engaging their topics of conversation. I ask questions about the things they’re talking about, focused around what I consider to be the key points. I don’t ask too much, by which I mean I do not ask highly personal questions of people that I am not close with. Even if I am very close to someone, I’ve learned that some questions are still considered to be socially inappropriate, so I always keep that in mind and don’t ask anything that seems like it might be questionable.

    5. When the conversation wraps up, I say something positive about the interaction like “it was nice talking to you” or “it was nice seeing you”. Of course, I do not do this if it was a negative interaction. I don’t lie, but I also try to avoid being rude or negative, although if the other person is being negative then I consider that an invitation for me to be negative as well. I do my best to keep things positive, but of course, I am not perfect, and if I feel strongly about a subject, I tend to react by saying things in a very blunt manner that may hurt feelings or offend people. Sometimes, in life, things like that happen for everyone though. If I later feel like I was in the wrong, then I’ll apologize.

These steps have helped me in making conversation, and hopefully they’ll help others too, so I wanted to share them. Thanks for coming by and have a nice day.

The Spirit of the United States of America

Another black man was killed by police yesterday, unjustly, pointlessly, and without reason. Philando Castile had informed officers he had a firearm, a concealed carry permit for said firearm, and that he was reaching for his identification, which police had ordered him to do, when an officer opened fire on him while he was in the driver’s seat next to his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, with her four year old in the backseat. I’m not going to talk about systematic institutionalized racism in America because, as a white man, it’s not an experience I live and thus not one I should speak on. Suffice to say it’s a serious issue which needs to be addressed in every corner of this nation.

What I’m going to talk about today is the spirit of this country. I remember being taught as a child that America represents equality, democracy, freedom, justice, and many other noble traits. I remember the moment I became disillusioned, when I realized that historically entrenched systemic sociocultural discrimination made those things impossible. If you asked me today what I think America stands for, I would struggle to answer. That answer would be inherently tied in with race because of how drastically experiences differ. Because of this, as a white person my answer would automatically be biased.

This country has changed dramatically in many ways. How we deal with our own diversity, however, still has a long way to go. There are a small percentage of white Americans who refuse to see the reality of the situation we’re in today. Whether due to ignorance or overt racism, they deny the lived experiences of black Americans. It is the height of arrogance to assume that you know the experience of another better than they do, especially when your experience differs dramatically.

I’ve learned to be careful around law enforcement over the years, not out of a particular distrust or fear, but simply out of caution. Autistic people are statistically more likely to be killed by police than non-autistic people. Still, that concern is nowhere near what I would feel if I was a black American. I have no idea what it’s like to be black, but I know after seeing these shootings happen seemingly every day that I would be in fear for my life in every interaction with police if that were the case.

This continues to happen because society allows it, because the public outcry is not powerful enough, because we abide it, because we do not make it known that this is not the America we want. And I truly want to believe that most of society does not want systematic racism to exist, does not want the murder of black Americans to occur, wants justice to be done, does not want inherent inequality to be a cornerstone of our democracy. But we abide it. Through our action and through our inaction. As a society we abide it by not actively making our discontent known. We abide it by refusing to signal-boost the experiences of black Americans, or by thinking we know better. Too many of us close our eyes to the issue at hand, hoping it will go away on its own.

But it hasn’t. It only gets worse over time. When your foundation is uneven, everything that you build on top of it just makes the imbalance that much more obvious, and the structure’s solidity that much more tenuous. We, as a nation, must address the systemic racism and inequality which has been allowed to fester and grow. It is poisoning our nation and has been for some time. In the coming years this nation will have new leaders, new representatives, a new guard. Will they learn from the mistakes of the past? That depends on whether we, as a society, force the issue.

(A previous version of this post incorrectly identified the daughter of Diamond Reynolds as also being the daughter of Philando Castile.)

Why Sybill Trelawney Is The Character Most Responsible For Defeating Voldemort

Hey everybody, Ultimate Oddball here. Today I’m going to discuss why I believe Sybill Trelawney, Professor of Divination at Hogwarts, is the character most responsible for the downfall of Voldemort in the Harry Potter series. This may seem like a strange assertion to make. After all, the series is called Harry Potter, and anyone who has seen the films or read the books knows that Harry is the primary protagonist. ‘The Boy Who Lived’, as he would come to be called, was also called the ‘Chosen One’ by some due to a prophecy which many, including Voldemort himself, believed foretold of Harry’s victory over Voldemort. But where did this prophecy come from?

Ardent fans of the series will tell you that the prophecy was foretold by none other than Professor Trelawney during her interview with Albus Dumbledore for the position of Divination professor at Hogwarts. This may confuse some, as Trelawney is almost always presented as someone who invents her prophecies. Due to her family lineage, having descended from a noteworthy seer, many do not question the validity of her claims. Despite often seemingly inventing prophecies, there have been at least two examples of her actually predicting future events. The first known example of this is the prophecy which many believe referred to Harry defeating Voldemort. It’s important to note that the prophecy said the Chosen One would have the power to defeat Voldemort, a power he knew not, but it did not say that the Chosen One would actually defeat him.

Whether the prophecy refers to Harry is also a matter of debate. Many theories online have gone over the fact that Neville Longbottom fits every requirement for the Chosen One. One could even argue that Neville may have better fit, though Voldemort ultimately chose to pursue young Harry, and thus set into stone the details. What I’ve come to realize, though, is that it ultimately does not matter who the prophecy is about. The prophecy itself resulted in him acting in a manner which caused his defeat. The timeline here is important to understanding why the prophecy is the driving force for everything which happens after.

Trelawney made the prediction in front of Albus Dumbledore. Snape, who had been spying on them, heard part of their conversation before being thrown out by Aberforth Dumbledore. The prophecy was logged and sent to the Hall of Prophecy to be kept. Simultaneously, Snape informed Voldemort of it, sparking fear which Voldemort acted on, killing Lily and James Potter and failing to kill Harry, the act of which cemented the prophecy in everyone’s mind and also caused Snape to secretly switch sides. It’s unlikely anything other than an official prophecy, especially one from Trelawney, who claimed to be the first seer with the “Second Sight” in her family since the well known and celebrated seer Cassandra Trelawney, would have motivated Voldemort in this way. Had Trelawney not faked her way into that interview Dumbledore would not have been present to hear the prophecy. Without the prophecy Voldemort doesn’t seek out Harry and lose his power after being defeated by the magic of love. Snape never changes sides and things keep getting worse for the wizarding world.

The series makes it clear that ultimately Voldemort was the one who caused his own destruction. It’s stated that not all prophecies come true, and that he had a hand in creating the eventual outcome. None of this, however, would have happened the way it did without Trelawney making her prediction. Dumbledore played his part before and after Voldemort lost power but, alongside everyone else in the wizarding world, struggled to keep Voldemort and the Deatheaters contained. The Chosen One could have just as easily been Neville as it was Harry. Everyone helped contribute to the defeat of Voldemort, but all of it was the direct result of the prophecy of Sybill Trelawney. The vast majority of the series, and the eventual outcome, never happen without her.

Well, thanks for coming by and have a good day.

My Thoughts On Spiderman PS4, Ghost Recon Wildlands, and State of Decay 2 (E3 2016)

Hey everybody, Ultimate Oddball here. This week on the blog I’ll be discussing a few games shown at E3 and giving my reaction to them. First up: Spiderman for PS4.

So, I’ve been a huge Spidey fan since I was a kid. This game looks very good, though nearly all of the footage seems to be pre-rendered cut-scenes. Hopefully the camera isn’t that close in on Spidey in-game, as having a clear view of buildings around is pretty important for him to get around. It’s being developed by Insomniac Games, who also made ‘Sunset Overdrive’. In an interview which I will post below, the Creative Director of the title says that this project has “the biggest game production team we’ve ever had at Insomniac”. It seems to be a very ambitious game, and hopefully they will do a level of quality assurance testing sufficient to make sure it’s not a buggy mess. I will be very happy if this turns out well, but I won’t get my hopes up just yet.

Another interesting piece of information is that the game will have an original story. It confuses me how common it is for adaptations to write new stories rather than pull from the treasure trove of stories, characters, and material which come from decades of comics. I’m not against rewriting some elements of the old stories, but the core of these comics are what got people interested in the first place. From the interview it seems the game will be narrative heavy, so I’m hoping the writing is solid and it fits thematically with the established canon.

 

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands from Ubisoft (TW: video game violence):

This game looks pretty interesting. I really enjoy games like this, especially with a good squad using teamwork. I do think it’s strange that it’s a Ghost Recon game, as it looks closer thematically and mechanics-wise to Grand Theft Auto than Ghost Recon. The world seems to be good sized, and the missions action-packed. I’m curious to see how much of the open-world aspect is utilized. If it incorporates mechanics like those in Far Cry involving outposts, mixed with the ability to earn money to buy guns, add-ons, ammo, special weapons, support, mortars, and other usable items, it will likely have a higher level of replayability. Hopefully microtransactions are minimal in this and don’t ruin the in-game balance.

Competitive multiplayer would also be great on this, as game modes wouldn’t be limited to simply team deathmatch or capture the flag type games. Ubisoft can get some great ideas from how Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain utilizes things like in-game currency, taking risks for the potential to capture resources, AI guards, base invasions, and dynamic online gameplay. If this game is done well and is as dynamic and player-driven as developers have stated it will be, I expect it to be very good. Only time will tell whether Ubisoft does enough QA testing to make sure it’s not a buggy mess at launch, especially with it being an online focused game.

 

State of Decay 2 by Undead Labs (TW: video game violence)

 

I played a decent amount of the first State of Decay and really enjoyed its sandbox mixed with group management third person action in a dynamic open world style. The sequel looks great and will have drop-in multiplayer, which is a great addition for an open world game focused on survivors trying to make it through a zombie apocalypse.

I hope to see a bit more backstory from the characters, as well as an increase in the variety of interactions and missions. I would also love a construction system for building bases, and a crafting system which can be used to generate weapons over time at facilities which can be upgraded and improved with blueprints, new machines, certain types of material, and defenses. Being able to take multiple AI survivors with you on missions would also be great, especially combined with the ability to assign basic tactics and give simple orders (wait here, cover me, attack, etcetera).

 

Well, thanks for coming by, and have a good day.

My First Comicon (A Photo Story)

This year I was lucky enough to go to my first ever Comicon. As a lifelong lover of sci-fi, fantasy, and of course comics and video games, I was pretty psyched to go. My friend Louie was nice enough to take me with him and get a few pictures of me there. While I was there I visited a lovely Star Wars cantina, and here’s what happened next:

I ran across some bounty hunters and noticed the super cool blasters they had in their holsters. I thought to myself: “Hey, these are nice folks. I’m sure they won’t mind if I take one and give it a closer look.”

They were not pleased.

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(Bounty Hunters pictured giving me, a long haired tall man, a stern talking to while I have my hands held up in the air and eyes wide with fright. The Bounty Hunter on the left is holding a blaster in their right hand and pointing at me with their left hand. To the right of that Bounty Hunter is their slightly shorter differently armored companion who has a blaster pointed at me with their right hand and an arm laser pointed slightly away from me on their left arm. Behind them is a counter island with drinks on it, and behind that is the bar storage area which has various machines. A bald alien wearing a stylish down jacket is watching from near the bar.)

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(Bounty Hunters pictured yelling. The Bounty Hunter on the right is now pointing their arm laser at me. My hands are still in the air. At this point my arms are beginning to hurt. Their lecture on local customs has been going on for roughly sixty minutes.)

Not long after that, I was able to calm them down. I went off to enjoy some drinking, and after four or eight or so drinks I was having a lot of fun! I was dancing and laughing and having a merry time! Unfortunately those Bounty Hunters from earlier saw me doing my laughing pointing dance and for some reason thought I was poking fun at them. They were not pleased.

 

After some yelling back and forth, I went over to see what was wrong. They were both very upset, claiming I had been doing impressions of them, which is untrue. I was doing an impression of another Bounty Hunter jerk I know. Anyways, I’d had enough of being pushed around, so you know what I did? I unleashed the Force on those jackasses.

 

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(Bounty Hunters pictured standing next to each other. The Bounty Hunter on the left has their hands at their side and weapons in their holsters. The other has their right hand at their side holding a blaster and their left hand pointing an arm laser at me. I have my arm extended toward the Bounty Hunter on the left with my hand in a choking motion, a look of immense concentration on my face.)

“Things are going well.” I thought to myself. I could feel the Force coursing through me.

 

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(Bounty Hunters pictured in a similar position, with the one on the left hunching over slightly.)

This was about the time that I remembered: “Hey, I don’t actually know how to use the Force.”

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(Bounty Hunters pictured standing next to each other, with me furiously attempting to choke them, and the Bounty Hunter on the left now brandishing a blaster in their left hand while reaching cross body towards their belt. I look slightly concerned.)

 

They were not pleased.

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(Bounty Hunters pictured in the previous three images standing in similar positions with the Bounty Hunter on the left pulling out and brandishing a knife while holding the blaster up towards the sky. I look slightly more concerned in each image, with my eyes closed in the last image as I call on the Force once again.)

 

As I concentrated with all my might, something amazing happened: everything around me flew away in an enormous blast of power and energy.

Just kidding. The Bounty Hunters felt bad for me on account of how ridiculous I looked, and they said shame was punishment enough. They even bought me a shot of Nabooian whiskey. It tasted like swamp!

 

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Oh, and I met R2D2! I asked for an autograph, and they beeped back at me, and I said “Twenty dollars, are you kidding me?”, then we laughed and laughed. I think that’s what those beeps meant anyways. R2 was very down to Earth, which is surprising because they’re a droid and also I don’t think they’ve ever even been to Earth.

(Pictured is R2D2, a medium sized droid, looking up at me while I look back, smiling slightly. After this picture was taken we went back to the bar and R2 beat up the Bounty Hunters for me. Then we got drunk together. Great times!)

And that was my first Comicon! Hope you enjoyed this photo story!
Ultimate Oddball