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David Billiot
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Someone just asked me if I thought Skyrim was too easy.  Well, it sort of is but it's only as easy as you make it.  If you want the game to be a challenge then here is what you do.

First, install a mod called Morrowloot.  It will take away all the high powered weapons and armor from the random loot you get in the game.  You'll have to search for things.  

When you first start your game turn the difficulty to legendary and set your level to 81.  NOTE: I did not say use the console to give yourself 80 level ups. You get no level ups. You have to start the game with 100 magic, 100 health, and 100 stamina while the rest of the game is at level 81.  

Next, you need rules.

1-  You aren't allowed to train.  You have to go out and earn each level up.  

2- You can't use any clothes or armor that was on a dead body.  You have to buy it, make it, find it in a chest, or have it given to you.  

3- You can't keep weapons from dead bodies.  Arrows can be an exception since you need a supply of those. You can take their other stuff like gold.

4- No grinding.  If you make a weapon then you have to use it. No making stuff just to force your level up.  Only make what you need.

5- Optionally, no selling.  We can't go into Wal-Mart and sell all our stuff to them so why is it you can go into Riverwood Trader and unload all your stuff.  You may be very poor but now you won't even be tempted to pick up those heavy weapons and armor that you'll never use if you know you can't turn it into cash.  

6- No fast travel.  You want to go somewhere, you walk.  

7- No exploits.  There are lots of little ways that we as players can manipulate the game by thinking Meta.  Your character doesn't know that such and such follower is immortal because the game needs them for such and such quest.  Your character doesn't know that Hadvar will never turn on you no matter how many times you stab him in the back.  Your character doesn't know that there is a glitch in such and such wall that you can sneak through.   

Do all that and be consistent about it and Skyrim will be plenty difficult.  Every enemy in the game from the random dragon attack to the mudcrab you didn't even know was coming up behind you can kill you in one hit.  You will level up much more slowly, forcing you think carefully about each and every perk.  Gone will be the days of having ten perk points by the time you get the dragon stone.    Say goodbye to just charging in.  You'll be forced to gather your courage before you  take any enemy head on.  You just might consider paying the thief on the side of the road just so you won't have to fight him.  You may even find yourself getting a waterbreathing enchantment just so you can hide underwater while you pray for the bad people to go away but be careful because the fish down there can kill you in one hit.  
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David's ideas for how to fix the leveling problem.

Problems in the past:
In RPGs there is this thing called the leveling problem.  Never heard of it you say?  Well let me explain.  Table top games and the computer games that replaced them need to be able to give you information about your character so you can properly immerse yourself into the world the character lives in.  This usually takes the form of a set of numbers that let you know what your character can and can not do.  Games like Dungeons and Dragons, Final Fantasy, and Elder Scrolls take different approaches to this but it all boils down to your character having so much strength, so much health, and maybe so much magic.  These stats are often dependent on a lower level of stats which usually include intelligence, luck, constitution and what not.  The exact way that a game creates these stats and the way the player can increase them through leveling is often the intellectual property of the company that makes the game so it can't be copied.  But even with that there is one thing that all the systems do seem to copy from each other and that is the leveling problem.

RPGs are supposed to be fun.  They are called games for a reason.  They aren't virtual reality and they aren't a vacation from your normal life.  They are a games the same way that Monopoly is a game and chess is a game.  But when it comes to keeping track of stats and making sure that your character levels up correctly, the system created so that players can understand their character often gets in the way and can make the game a headache.  The problem is that each leveling system seems to favor one type of play style over another but even if you play as the developers envision you to, you might find yourself either too weak or too strong.  If you are too strong the game becomes banal and boring but if you are too weak then you find you can't progress and see the whole story.  This is why you hear a lot of people who play RPGs that allow players to manipulate their stats talk a lot about balance.  Some games will force balance on the player by not giving them any control in the leveling up process at all with player simply able to see stats but not actually manipulate them.  

Specific games: 
In D&D the problem is often that your character is too weak because you just can't get stat or health increases often enough.  In Final Fantasy you character often becomes too strong because you can just go to the woods and grind until you are nearly maxed out and then the rest of the game is a cake walk.  Phantasy Star fixed that problem by making the game extremely difficult to begin with and the only way to beat the game was to grind your character to god like levels just to play on normal at which point the player was unlikely to grind anymore because they were sick and tired of grinding.  Unfortunately this made the game so inaccessible to many players that they never bothered to finish it.  

From Morrowind on the Elder Scrolls series has taken a skill approach to leveling up.  Instead of getting experience for every little thing, you get experience when you use your skills and when enough of your skills have leveled up, you can gain a level.  Morrowind, Oblivion and now Skyrim each have their own version of the leveling problem.  In Morrowind, you're forced to start your mage character wearing heavy armor and using a spear for the first ten levels just so you can get enough health to not get one hit killed by the next rat hiding behind a rock.  In order to play as a proper mage and not some spearmage combo you had to invest a lot of time in either alchemy or enchanting.  The problem is that once you did so it was easy to see the mechanics of the game laid bare and to exploit it to make your mage a god who could kill entire towns with one spell.  At this point you weren't so much playing the game and being in that world as you were playing against your stats.  The stat menu was the enemy to be slain and the demigod in the volcano everyone is afraid of turns into just a bump in the road.  

Oblivion tried to fix the Morrowind leveling problem and in doing so exacerbated the reason the leveling problem existed in the first place.  In Oblivion, even if you are able to get your stats above the approved 100, they will still max out at 255 (or ff if you can read hexadecimal). Oblivion's world also leveled up with the character.  The thinking was probably centered on making the game challenging no matter the level of the character but what it did in reality was make the game world often level up much faster than the character.  If a player just started playing the game without giving a thought to their stats, they would eventually find themselves far too weak to handle the continuous onslaught of daedra flooding out of an oblivion gate.  On top of that, at some point all the bandits which are supposed to be low level enemies start sporting glass and daedric armor and weapons.  No thought was put into the idea that maybe these special kinds of items should be rare and the thief who wants 100 gold to let you pass a bridge is wearing an outfit and using a weapon that each costs well over 100000 gold.  

So Oblivion had an even bigger leveling problem than Morrowind and players have developed two basic strategies for dealing with it.  They could carefully plan out each and every skill increase to maximize their stats or they could roll a character that was in some way the exact oppose of how they really wanted to play the game and never level up at all but rather allow their minor skill to carry the day while the character and world stayed at level 1.

Skyrim tried to fix the leveling problem of Oblivion but again they only worked on the symptom but not the cause.  The developers didn't want players to feel like they weren't going to get all their stats so they took the stats completely away and now you just have three resources; magic, health, and stamina.  They say the symptom and thought that was the problem but they decided to keep the problem in full.  Now players have no stats to worry about but instead of getting some health and magic increase with each level you are not forced to pick one.  This means that if you go from level one to level two you will not get increases in all your resources but only one.  A fighter may feel fine with this as they only need to alternate between health and stamina but a mage is put in peril again because they need to alternate between three stats or risk dying the first time a big warrior looks at them wrong.  Skyrim seems to push the player to be a simple fighter and magic is discouraged.  But this leveling problem could be fixed with one simple idea, increase all three resources when you level up but pick one resource that gets a double shot.

But this would not fix all of Skyrim's leveling problems.  There is also a problem managing the combat versus non combat skills.  The world will level up with your character so again bandits and thieves will be wearing million dollar armor they could retire on if they just sold it.  If you leveling up smithing and speech but not some combat skill then the next time you're out walking about and taking in the beautiful scenery a mudcrab could kill you with a surprise attack from behind.  


Elements of the fix:

Deep down the leveling problem has to do with numbers.  On the most basic level your character either exists or doesn't so that could be thought of as a switch, either a 0 or a 1.  Each thing about the character we itemize will boil down to a set of numbers and there needs to be a way for those numbers to go up or down.  We can't recreate a full human being in a game so we have to have some set criteria for them.  If you think of it as a house, you can have a simple house as one unified thing or you can have a house made with large stones, or you can have a house make of bricks or you can have a house made of match sticks or a house made of sand.  How far down do we want to go?  

The skills approach of Morrowind together with the fact that the game world does not level up with the character is the best fit in my opinion but there is still something to be desired there.  In Morrowind, you can use an iron dagger and with it get your short blade skill all the way up to level 100 and then you are a master of every short blade in the game.  That is unrealistic.  In Skyrim it is worse.  You can use an iron dagger and get your one handed skill all the way up and now you are a master of swords even though your character never picked on up.  This is even worse if you think of a magic user.  You can use the base flame spell for most of the game and get destruction up to level 100 and now you are a master of every spell in that class, even the ones you haven't learned yet.  

Final Fantasy IX had a system where in you gained experience with certain items you had equipped.  Perhaps that idea can be adapted for better use.  

David's fix:

For me the key word is not so much balance as organic.  How can we make the game world so organic that all the numbers fall into the background?  One thing we need is to stop capping everything at either 100 or 1000 or ff as some are apt to do.  

To do this we have to do a couple of things.  There is no cap and the game world does not level up.  If you go to fight the end boss with a level 1 character you will die.  If you have a level 193 character and you are facing a thief on the side of the road, he'll likely run away from you.  

There are no skills and there are no stats but there are numbers going on in the background.  You start with no numbers at all but then you pick up an iron dagger.  Just the fact that you have now held a dagger in your hand for the first time in your life you get some experience but it is hidden so the player isn't going to go through the start menu looking for it.  As you use the dagger your skill with that dagger goes up.  As it does so your health, magic, and stamina go up by little increments that are hardly noticeable first, with the stat the most closely related to the skill being increased going up double from the others. 

Now it does make some sense that if you have used an iron dagger a lot than a steel dagger won't be much trouble to use.  The iron dagger gives a boost to the steel dagger skill but they each level up independently.  Think of it as a skill tree.  An iron dagger is a dagger so other daggers get a boost from this skill.  Similarly, a dagger is a bladed weapon and so other bladed weapons get a boost from this skill but it will be smaller than for other daggers.  Knowing how to use a dagger doesn't really help you know how to use a bow so there is no boost there save for helping with stats.

This idea carries over to magic quite well.  A fireball spell is a fire spell and so other fire spells get a boost. Ice spells, since they are also combat magic also get a bit of a boost but not as much.  Spells that are not combat related at all don't get any boost but do benefit from the increased magic the player now has.  

It also carries over to item creating and crafting.  You could imagine an entire alchemy skill tree with your skill with each type of potion or poison you can make going up.  You can see it in your skill with working different types of metal with you create or maintain weapons and armor. (For the record, I think weapons and armor should need to be repaired over time but I don't think they should break if a player could't get around to it.  Maybe going down to 10% and stopping is a balanced trade off.)

If we break down the character as having weapon skills, body skills, and magic skills we can put anything the player might want to do into one of those categories.  Most of the thief skills are body skills so let them be body skills.  Knowing how to dance well involves having greater control over your body and that same control can carry over to fighting with just hands ( and feet) as well as sneaking.  This could also carry over into affecting posture and presence which helps with persuading people as well as being a pickpocket.  

Maybe there will be some skills that get no boost and give no boost to other skills but simply have to start at 0 and will only level up as much as the player uses it.  This opens up the idea that if a game were made with this system in place it could see updates that add new and unique weapons to the line up without worry.  

All the while you play the character, every little thing you do is slowly adding to your health and magic.  The game should still not be easy.  You can't ignore the low level weapons because you will want that experience on your character but you really want to just use the best stuff from the beginning, there is not cap on the skill so go for it.  Or if you want to challenge yourself to only use the lowest level items then go for it, it's your game.  The player should never have to think about how they want to level up.  In fact, there will be no stated level at all.  There will only be an accumulation of resources as the player goes through the game organically doing what feels best to them.  

Addressing possible concerns:

A problem some may see in this system is that without overriding skill groups managing everything, developers may feel compelled to equalize the number of weapons, spells and other skills.  

My first response is, so what.  If that's what it takes, then so be it.  They've often made worse decision in the past by doing just this sort of thing, like when enchanting wasn't a skill at all in Oblivion because they didn't want magic to have more skills than everything else.

My second response is, who says they have to be balanced.  Most games are weapon heavy and light on magic anyway.  This gives magic a way to have a day in the sun.  If your character is master all every weapon in the game as unlikely as that is, then you are now encouraged to get a spell and learn to use it instead of being punished for reading a book.  

My third response is with the great number of different weapons that are often made for these games and the large number of possible spells and levels of spells that could be created, hopefully, there will be such a lush variety of things to do to skill up you character that the player will never need to think about it.  The key word again is organic.  

The skill group that will likely have the fewest skill will be the body skills.  Do we add chopping wood?  Do we add cooking or farming?  Running and jumping used to be skills so they can be again.  What about sleeping or making camp? Does it matter?  A thief character will do a lot of sneaking and there is no cap. All characters will run and jump from time to time and again there is no cap.  Most players will buy and sell stuff often and again there is no cap.  So where a player may have many weapons leveled a little and many spells leveled a little, their body skills will level up a lot since after all they have only one body.  I'm ok with that.  The game can be designed accordingly.  Maybe in the course of development it might be decided that there really does need to be a cap.  The body skills are still ok.  Go ahead and cap them if you must but allow the player to continue to get experience for using a skill even if they have reached the cap.  This way players can continue to play in the style that they like without ever having to stop and consider what the best way to level up.  
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David's idea on how to fix Welfare.



America is the richest and most powerful political entity in the history of mankind.  And yet, even with all our success we still can't seem to keep certain people from messing up their lives so bad that they can't take care of themselves.  Of course we can't have people just living on the street and we don't want children to be malnourished or uneducated.  

The solution that was thought up a while back was for the government to use tax dollars and give those that need a bit of extra help some money in the hope that they will be able to get out of their situation.  As anyone who's ever gotten a raise can tell you, a person very quickly gets used to their new level of income and spends accordingly.  

There is also the fact that the people who actually have to pay the ever rising rate of taxes in the US become very resentful over the fact that their money is going to people who are perceived as just being lazy.  Why can't these people go out and get a job instead of asking for a hand out?  The solution is for everyone to work, right?

Well, that is a fine theory but unless the government hired these people directly, which it won't because that would cost far more than just giving them some money and hoping they go away, there is little chance for most of the people on welfare to get a job.

The problem can be found in the minimum wage law.  Employers are only going to pay an employee a certain amount of money if that employee can perform work that makes the employer more money.  Employers are not going to allow wages to go over a certain amount because if they do they will be seeing themselves go out of business very quickly.  When the government says you have to pay every employee at least a certain amount, then the unskilled workers have a much smaller chance of being able to land a job.  Even if they do land a job, if their employer begins to feel like the unskilled worker is not pulling their fair weight at the company, then the worker will be fired. 

However, if you take away the minimum wage law, some people feel like companies will exploit their workers so much that it would actually be more financially beneficial to stay at home and get on welfare than to work for wages that are so low that they insult the worker's dignity as a person.  

So what is David's idea on how to fix this?  

We aren't going to be able to get rid of the minimum wage and therefore not everyone will be able to get a job at minimum wage which means that there will always be people who will need government to give them money.  However, once the government gives someone something, other people become resentful and we have animosity between countrymen who should be on the same side but aren't.  The people who pay the taxes will see as lazy the people who receive assistance. 

What if the central argument used to degrade people on welfare were taken away?  

What if in order to receive any assistance you needed a job?  That sounds crazy since if these people had jobs they wouldn't need assistance.  However, the reason many of these people don't have jobs is because employers won't hire them at the minimum wage.  

My idea is for the government to supplement the minimum wage.  If an employer wants to hire someone unskilled now the calculation is altered.  The employer doesn't have to pay the full minimum wage.  They would only pay a portion and the government would pay the rest.  From the employer's point of view, they get to hire an unskilled worker for less money.  From the employee's point of view they are getting at least minimum wage, which should be high enough to support themselves.  From the government's point of view they are keeping crime down and making sure everyone has enough in resources to keep themselves healthy.  

It seems like a win/win/win for everyone and unlike the current situation where it seems like the government is paying people to stay home and be uneducated which leads to recipients being called lazy; in the new scenario the people on welfare wouldn't even know they were on welfare.  They would wake up everyday and go to work.  At work they would be learning new skills, making contacts, and building work ethic.  

Now there will probably be problems in a program like this.  Since a program of this sort has never been tried before it is difficult to hammer out all the kinks ahead of time.  What percentage of a wage should be paid by the government and what percentage by the employer?  How many employees would a company be allowed to have on this particular program?  How do you prevent fraud and corruption ahead of time?  What happens if the employer wants to give someone on the program a raise above minimum wage?  How can we keep the program neutral enough so that the government is seen as picking winners and losers?  How do we keep the government and the employers accountable to the taxpayers for the money spent?  What percentage of welfare recipients will actually be able to transition to work if such a program is started?  

These, and probably lots of others, are very good questions that I'd like answers to.  As a Catholic, I like the idea of helping people but I dislike the idea of taking money from one segment of the population and "giving" it to another.  However, I think this sort of set up would be just the sort of fix the relationship between welfare and the minimum wage needs.  

If you have any feedback on my idea, please post below.  This isn't just a mental exercise. I'm planning on sending this idea to legislators and congressmen.
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Game of Thrones season 6 spoilers.  Also book spoilers for the as yet unpublished books.










Nihilism.  If you don't know what that means, go look it up.

The whole point of the Song of Ice and Fire books is nihilism.  All these things that are supposed to have meaning just don't.  In the end we are all just meat and we are all just going to die.  The Targarian girl is never going to get back to Westeros to rule.  She's going to die out in slaver's bay.  Maybe she will have a long life or maybe she won't but she and any children she has will never make it back to King's Landing.

The Starks are all going to die.  Yes, that includes Jon Snow who is now dead, dead as can be and will not be coming back.  In the end, it doesn't matter who your parents were.  If you get stabbed enough times you die just like everyone else.  There is no magic bubble of prophecy that will protect you.  No one in Westeros is the Nerevarine.  They are all just like JFK.  No matter how big and important you think they are, one crazy guy with a gun can still kill you. Superman does not live in Westeros.  Everyone, absolutely everyone is expendable.  No one has main character powers like John McClain and is able to live through things that would kill any normal person.  Everyone in Westeros is going to die.

The white walkers are going to attack the wall.  The wildlings are going to run from battle while the Night's Watch are all going be slaughtered.  The walkers are then going to descend on the north and kill everyone.  Then the they are going to march south and make it all the way to King's Landing.  When that happens, all the political maneuvering, and who likes who, and who is married to who, and who had the throne and who doesn't; won't matter.  

It will be like one guy one upping another guy in the game of office politics and getting the promotion or getting someone they disliked fired.  In the moment all of those things seemed to matter but then when the boss is publicly announcing the promotion that you worked so hard for, a plane hits the building and even if you survive the initial explosion, you discover that you're on the wrong side of the fire and can't evacuate the building.  Then the building collapses and all of your smug thinking about how important you were, and how it was your destiny to lead the company one day all goes up in smoke.  You weren't special after all.  

Eddard Stark was not special.  Jon Snow was not special.  Robb Stark was not special.  Tywin Lannister was not special.  Jauffey was not special.  Prince Oberyn was not special.  Stannis was not special.  

In the end Tyrion will not be special.  Daenerys will not be special.  Arya will not be special.  Sam and Gilly will not be special.  Cercie will not be special.  Tommen will not be special.  They are all going to die and the ultimate end of the story will see Westeros completely destroyed by White Walkers and the East is going to be feeling very grateful that the White Walkers don't like to swim.  Westeros is lost.  
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Sounds like an epic end to an epic story. -)
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Congress tries to violate the constitution.  AGAIN. 
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Yay for fanfiction.  Here is some well reviewed TNG goodness. 
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David's idea on how to fix training in an Elder Scrolls game.

As player of Morrowind know, you could train in that game as much as you wanted provided you had the coin.  

As Oblivion and Skyrim player know, you can only train five times per level so as to prevent you from just buying a bunch of level advances and instead actually go out and experience the game.

However, the second a game throws up an arbitrary restriction saying you can't do something it kind of takes me out of the game.  

But in all three games there was something that worked so well that they never bother to alter it and it works the exact same way in every game.  That would be Powers.

I like to play as an imperial and on rare occasion I will use the Emperor's Voice power.  I can't rely on that power and I know that because I can only use that power once a day.  Once I use it 24 hour timer starts in the background of the game that won't let me use it again for another day.  

Unlike with training, players don't go out to mod the game to change the way powers work because we sort of understand that you need time to rest before you pull off that trick again.  

The developers of the game just need to carry over that idea to training.  When you train, take several hours away from the player and jump them forward in time.  Then if they try to train more tell them that they are tired and need to rest before they can train again.  Problem solved.

Players can train as much as the want per level if they want but they now have to wait a day to train, giving them plenty of opportunity to go out and experience to game world. 
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Youtube has brain conditioned me!

I was reading an article on the internet.  It was a scholarly article about dissenting opinions from US supreme court justices that eventually become more important legally than the then majority opinion.  

I got a text message so I turned away from the computer and looked at my phone (my xperia z3 compact which is oh so nice).  

Having taking care of the business at hand I again turned my attention to my article and for some reason my body assumed through repetition and muscle memory that I needed to hit the SPACE bar to continue reading!

Of course this did not give me my desired results and instead acted like the page down button making me lose my place. 
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Luke is a very happy and energetic five year old who suffers from Autism.  At first it might seem that his condition has not affected many aspects of his life since he behaves in a way typical of many children his age.  However, just spending more than a moment with Luke, most people discover tha...
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Friends Season 2 episode 11

The one with the wedding.

A friend of mine couldn't stop talking about how supposedly great the TV show Friends is.  So I rented season 1 and found myself really disliking the show.  Now my dislike is boiling over into pure hatred.  This wedding episode is just bad but not for the reason you might think I'd object. 

Through the whole episode everyone is talking about why Carol should just be able to marry Susan if she wants.  But in my head all I could hear was the biggest, hugest, reason why  she should not be able to marry Susan.  She is already married to Ross.  She already made a commitment to Ross.  Sure, they are "divorced" but if you see divorce as the sham that I do, then you can help but look on Susan as the most evil and cruel person on the show for her blatant adultery and forcing her husband to go along with it against his will and accept something he should never have to accept.  This wasn't a bad wedding because it was a "lesbian" wedding, it was a bad wedding because a wife was using the legal process of the state to force her husband to watch her commit adultery and asking him to celebrate it.
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Here's my other story.  If you like Superman, please check it out. 
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It's happening. The congress is counting article v applications. I'm starting to be very optimistic about a convention call this year.
Obtain documents, public disclosure forms, historical data and Member and Committee information for the U.S. House of Representatives
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