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Archive for August, 2011

Zero Punctuation: Deus Ex

Reminder: Fallout stream is happening today at 7:00 PM, CST. Same time as last week.

Today Yahtzee retrospectively reviewed my old favorite game. And apparently next week he’ll be reviewing my new favorite game.

I was expecting him to review Human Revolution for today, but I guess I forgot that Yahtzee’s schedule basically forces him to always be one week behind. In any case, it’s nice to see he liked Deus Ex for the same reasons I did. And he’s definitely correct in his criticisms; the game looked bad, even for its generation. I wasn’t aware of it being poorly optimized, since I only played it last year, but that’s unfortunate.

I’m interested to see what he’ll think of Human Revolution, though part of me suspects he’ll hate it because it has regenerating health and cover-based shooting.


Human Revolution: Best Game of 2011

Yeah, you heard me.

I’m surprised; going into 2011 I thought Portal 2 would be taking home the gold. And Portal 2 was a fantastic game, no doubt, but it just doesn’t quite have as much depth and intrigue. I’m sure a lot of people have placed their bets on Skyrim, but to be honest I can’t really see Bethesda ever making a game this good. I enjoyed Oblivion, and I enjoyed Fallout 3 even more, but those games have nowhere near the same level of immersion and believability that Human Revolution achieves.

And I don’t just think this is the best game of 2011. I think this is the best game in a long damn time. It’s better than Deus Ex 1, and I do not say that lightly. I love Deus Ex. That’s been well-documented by this point. But even I must admit that DX1 had some very blatant flaws, and Human Revolution is an improvement in almost every single way.

As this game approached its release date I was very excited and worried at the same time. I had so many concerns about this game, so many doubts about the different features being advertised, and with the exception of the boss battles, Human Revolution ended up putting all my concerns to rest.

Cutscenes

I knew there would be cutscenes. Every game has cutscenes nowadays. The question was how much the game would rely on them. And I must say that it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. They do not occur often, so they generally don’t break the flow of gameplay. They are concise, and virtually all of them feel necessary to the plot. They’re well-constructed, well-acted and well-animated.

I usually feel inclined to dislike cutscenes, but these are about as good as they get.

Stealth

I read that there would be stealth upgrades included in the leveling system, and stealth + leveling almost never works. Usually you either get games like Fallout 3, where a low stealth score makes stealth completely useless and nonviable while a high stealth score means you can pretty much crouch-walk right up to a guard’s face without him seeing you, or games like Alpha Protocol, where having a high stealth score gives you activation-based skills that turn you invisible for five minutes so you can run around snapping everyone’s necks.

I didn’t think they would be able to pull it off properly, but they actually did. The stealth upgrades don’t make your character better at hiding; they simply give you more insight for how to approach each situation. Each upgrade lets you see more information about your surroundings. One upgrade can let you see enemies through walls. One upgrade lets you see a countdown of how long it will take for alarms to be deactivated. One upgrade reveals each guard’s cone of vision.

This feels just right. It gives the sneaky player some tactical advantages without breaking the game in his favor or making stealth impossible to those who don’t wish to sink all their points in it.

There is an invisibility augment and a silent running augment, but neither of them are game-breaking like the abilities in Alpha Protocol. They eat up a sizable amount of energy, so you can’t use them for too long. They essentially function in the same way as the augmentations in Deus Ex 1.

Hacking

I’m really surprised at how well the hacking minigame works. It’s simple, it’s engaging, and it’s quick enough to prevent breaking game flow while still taking long enough to bring about tension. See, unlike games like Bioshock where the entire world pauses during hacking, in this game it all happens during real time. So if there are any guards patrolling, you have the added pressure of having to finish it all before anybody comes and sees you conspicuously tapping buttons on their computer.

My only gripe with it would be its over-reliance on luck. Each time you tap into a node (which is basically the hacking equivalent of taking one step forward) you have a chance of being detected by the server network thing, which is the one source of conflict and tension in the minigame (besides being noticed by a guard). This means that sometimes you’ll manage to hack the entire terminal without any adversity, while at other times you’ll get detected after hacking the first node and get stuck in an almost impossible-to-win situation.

It’s not too much of an issue, though. The minigame still works quite well, and it’s certainly better than Deus Ex 1’s approach of not even having a minigame and instead forcing you to just sit and wait while JC Denton types on his multitool.

Gunplay

I wasn’t sure how functional the combat would be in this game. I knew it was cover-based, and while I’m not a particularly huge fan of cover-shooting games, I’m not one of those people who automatically hates every cover-based shooting game either. I liked Gears of War. I liked Mass Effect 2.

Human Revolution’s gunplay might not be the best we’ve ever seen, but it definitely works well. You pretty much have to take cover because a few well-placed shots can kill you, and that fits well with the atmosphere of realism the game exudes. And I might actually rate its shooting as better than that of Gears of War or Mass Effect 2, mainly because when Adam Jensen takes cover he actually tucks his head in.

And whatever the case may be, it’s leagues better than the utterly dysfunctional and unrefined combat in Deus Ex 1.

Persuasion

Actually, I have entirely too much to say about this one. I’ll have to write a whole post on it.

Fin

This game is really damn good. You should buy it. I beat it last night, but I’m nowhere near being finished with this game. I still have to do my nonlethal playthrough and my Gears of War playthrough, and I’ll probably end up replaying it a few more times after that just for fun.

I actually feel bad about criticizing the boss fights so harshly before. Yes, they suck, but they’re a very small part of a huge, intelligent, brilliant game. And it’s worth mentioning that I didn’t find any of the other bosses as unforgiving as Barrett. I actually thought the final boss was quite good, mostly because it doesn’t really feel like a “boss fight,” strictly speaking.


Deus Ex: Human Revolution – More on Barrett

WARNING: MILD SPOILERS FOR DEUS EX AND DEUS EX: HUMAN REVOLUTION FOLLOW.

Commentators of my last Human Revolution post made a good point: Deus Ex 1 also had a few “boss fights.” Anna Navarre, Gunther Hermann, and Walton Simons each attempt to ambush JC Denton at different points in the game. They’re all avoidable if you play the cards right, but if you don’t, you could get stuck in an unavoidable and potentially tough fight.

I had to reflect on this, but after some thought, I still think DX1 did those fights better than DX:HR.

Mind you, that doesn’t mean I think they were good. They were still pretty needless and can go dive under a tractor. But they aren’t quite as bad. It’s the lesser of the two evils.

Firstly, all of them are avoidable in certain ways. With Anna and Gunther you can find “killphrases” that will cause them to explode. It requires some searching and hacking, but they aren’t extremely hard to find. An observant and thorough player will probably find them on his first run through the game. I’m not criticizing anybody who didn’t find them — I certainly didn’t on my first playthrough — but at least there’s a chance.

I don’t know about the rest of the bosses in Human Revolution, as I haven’t reached them yet, but I’m pretty sure the fight with Barrett is 100% unskippable. This is the first time you’ve ever interacted with him, and the game doesn’t give you any opportunity for dialogue, so I don’t see how you could talk your way out of it. You have to defeat him for purposes of the mission at hand, and there’s no way to sneak up on him. You have to fight this guy, whether you like it or not.

Secondly, there are ways to make the unskippable fights in Deus Ex exceedingly easy. All three of the Big Baddies can die from one rocket, one LAM (LAM = mine in the Deus Ex world) or even a few grenades. If you don’t have any of those then you might have some trouble. But while I can understand why you wouldn’t have a rocket launcher, since it takes up a ton of inventory room, if you don’t have any LAMs or grenades by that point I would suggest you stock up.

In the case of Barrett, there’s no way to make the fight easy as far as I can tell. There are certain weapons you can use to get the upper hand (I ended up extensively using the Stun Gun) but those don’t make the fight a cakewalk by any means. You have to be fairly close to Barrett to use your stun gun on him, and if you get too close he’ll grab you and punch half of your health bar off.

In my other post I said that Barrett might be a reasonable fight if you use a combat build, but I’m actually not so sure of that. I’ve been pretty thorough in my playthrough so far, searching every room, hacking every terminal, completing every sidequest. And I hadn’t acquired that many augmentation points by the time I fought him. As a rough guess, let’s say 10. Unless you spend almost all of those points on combat upgrades, you probably won’t notice a very significant difference in the fight against Barrett.

In Deus Ex it’s unlikely that you’ll be forced into a brutally hard combat situation. But it’s still possible, and that’s very unfortunate. In Human Revolution it’s unlikely that you won’t be forced into a brutally hard combat situation.

For the record, I did eventually beat Barrett. It took me around ten tries, but I beat him, and now I’m back to loving the game. And as a fair warning, I’m probably going to gush a lot about this game in the coming week or two. But this really is a reprehensible flaw.


Fallout 8-24-11

The video is up.

I said that, not including indie titles, the only new games I’ve bought this year are Portal 2 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. That was actually incorrect; I also bought Bulletstorm. I think that purchase was a bit of a mistake on my part. It cost more than the other two, and provided less entertainment value. In the indie department, there’s Jamestown, Breath of Death VII & Cthulhu Saves the World, Defy Gravity, Terraria, Frozen Synapse, the list goes on.

Does this make me a hipster?

I know it probably seems like I over-emphasized the whole “WHY DON’T THEY KNOW ABOUT GIZMO?!” thing, but that little detail effectively ruined the quest for me. It was an extremely brief little side quest, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. It was exciting to do something that would presumably have dire consequences on the world. But that entertainment value shot downward once I realized that I hadn’t actually accomplished anything, except for acquiring stimpacks and XP. The mob boss is dead and his casino is now a ghost house, and yet nobody even realizes it. Even worse, they continue to warn me about “Gizmo and his goonies.”

This wouldn’t bother me so much if everybody hadn’t told me that the #1 strong point of Fallout was its “cohesive setting and believable characters.” If these characters are so believable, why do they let a stranger walk into their houses, shuffle through their dressers and steal their stuff? Why do they willingly trade their caps away for absolutely nothing? And why does nobody realize that the mob boss is dead?!

This only strengthens my suspicion that I happened to find a completely different game that was also developed by Black Isle, published by Interplay and titled Fallout. Or that my copy was transported from some twisted alternate universe where Fallout is just as nonsensical and lacking in verisimilitude as Fallout 3. Either way, it’s quite unfortunate.

Of course I said I would finish this through to the end, and that’s exactly what I plan to do. I didn’t find Deus Ex 1 all that impressive at the start either, but later on I really started to become enamored with it. Maybe the same will happen with Fallout. I don’t know. But from here on out, I have nothing planned. This is when the playthrough truly becomes “blind.”


Stream today!

Friendly neighborhood reminder that this week’s Fallout stream will be starting at 7:00 PM, CST. In other words, one hour earlier than last week.

Link: http://www.livestream.com/thejedisasquatchchannel

Hope to see you there!


Deus Ex: Human Bullet Sponge

Damn it.

I was planning on telling you guys all about the glorious experience of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I wanted to tell you about the intriguing setting and story, the refined gunplay and stealth, the deep augmentation upgrading system, the engaging hacking minigame, and the surprisingly realistic and intuitive social augment.

I wanted to tell you all this, and then I slammed face-first into a brick wall.

HULK SMASH!

Barrett is the game’s first boss fight, and he’s also a walking tank. I shot him directly in the face with a crossbow and he barely flinched. I unloaded multiple clips of assault rifle ammo on him and he didn’t budge. I know he has augmentations, but I’m pretty sure his entire body isn’t made of titanium, so this kind of puts a strain on versimilitude.

He is also ridiculously, ludicrously, brutally hard to defeat. He deals damage with his gun at such a rapid pace that even one moment out of cover will chop your health bar in half.

I suppose if you built your Adam Jensen to be like Serious Sam it might be a reasonable fight, but my Adam Jensen is not a killing machine. He is a hacker, a talker and a stealther. He’s a thinker first, and a fighter second. If he is forced to face enemies, he prefers to knock them out with a silent takedown or a stun gun. He uses lethal weapons (generally his pistol) only as a last resort. And if he knew he would have been put in a forced combat scenario with the Heavy over there, maybe he wouldn’t have sunk 90% of his augmentation points into hacking upgrades. It’s not easy to outsmart bullet.

Mandatory boss battles were the kiss of death for Alpha Protocol, and now they’re the kiss of death for Deus Ex: Human Revolution. This isn’t just unfortunate; this is depressing. This is a horribly disfigured blemish on an otherwise fantastic game.


Unfair Leveling RPGs: Addendum

It seems like I really ruffled some feathers with that whole unfair RPGs post, so I feel I should make something clear: I don’t think any of the games I mentioned suck, much less suck exclusively because of their balance issues. In fact, every single one of those games is awesome in its own way.

System Shock 2 was an intense and daunting adventure through the bowels of a malevolent AI and a viral hivemind. Fallout: New Vegas was an atmospheric trudge through an old Western themed wasteland. Mass Effect 2 was an epic space opera filled with ethical dilemmas and intriguing lore. And Alpha Protocol was a morally ambiguous spy story spiced with conspiracies, interrogations, casual sex, and all the other features commonly associated with good old-fashioned spy movies.

I still rate Alpha Protocol as one of my favorite games despite its horrendous balance issues, because I just loved its approach to storytelling. What you have to understand is that while I do tend to criticize games pretty heavily, that doesn’t mean I think they’re crap. No game is perfect. And I still think every game I mentioned has some serious balance issues that should be addressed.

And I just feel like clarifying that I don’t get angry whenever I’m not using the best build possible. I only get angry when I see a build which there is no logical reason to use. This doesn’t apply to games where the “weaker” build also has drastically changed gameplay that might be more fun to some people.

For example, in System Shock 2 there isn’t really any difference in gameplay between using a laser gun and a regular gun, except for the fact that with a laser gun you’re doing less damage. So System Shock 2 fails the leveling system.

The statement I made about some of Mass Effect 2’s classes being nonviable really only applies to Insanity mode. Which is why it made sense to me, because I played the game on Insanity. That was just my second playthrough, though. My first was on Normal mode, and I was a vanguard. And I enjoyed it. Vanguard might technically be the worst class, but it’s also a lot of fun if you ask me, since there’s much more emphasis on movement.

So I guess the bottom line with Mass Effect 2 is that if you’re not going to play on the hardest difficulty setting, then the balance issues won’t really be a problem for you. It’s still a flaw, but it’s not nearly as terrible as I made it sound in my previous post.

As for New Vegas, it should also get a pass because using guns feels very, very different from using melee. I actually consider using guns or energy weapons to be the “proper” way of playing New Vegas, since that’s ultimately the only way you’ll get a decent challenge, and it fits best with the whole Western vibe the game exudes.

I’m just bothered by how ridiculously overpowered the melee is. I understand that it’s virtually impossible to perfectly balance melee and ranged combat, but surely they could have done better than this. I’m not kidding when I say that using a melee or unarmed build feels like playing with the cheats turned on. It’s absurd. Maybe if they’d done just a bit more QA testing they could have noticed and tweaked the stats just a bit.

Using a Guns or Energy Weapons build is not impossible, it’s not excruciatingly hard, and it’s not unfun. I used guns on my first playthrough and I got a kick out of them. But it’s ludicrously less effective than punching everyone to death. I’m not saying playing with guns is too hard — I’m saying that playing with melee is too easy.

I’m sure I’ll be told that I’m not allowed to complain about a game being too easy. There seems to be a prevailing notion among gamers these days that balance only matters in PvP. I think that notion is completely false. Gameplay matters. Challenge matters. Balance matters.


Cammy

When it comes to tactics in games, I like offense and speed. I like to throw a barrage of quick hits at my foes before they have time to retaliate. It’s a peculiar aspect of my personality (likely a feature of that Daredevil mentality I’ve talked about before) that bleeds into just about every game I play. My favorite class in Team Fortress 2 is the Scout. My favorite character in Smash Bros. Brawl is Sonic. My favorite race in Starcraft is the Zerg. I generally prefer to use red decks in Magic: the Gathering.

And it seems that in Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition (good lord, I still can’t get over how unnecessarily long that name is) the character who fits my play style most is Cammy. She’s a very aggressive character, prone to fast and powerful attacks with little to no defense to back her up. Which fits like a glove for me, since I generally forget about the existence of a block button in games like this.

Which is why it’s unfortunate that Cammy’s character design bothers me to no end.

I really hate to see this. Every single female character in Super Street Fighter IV is young, fit, and scantily clad. Let’s look at some of the males for sake of contrast.

Rufus:

Blanka:

E. Honda:

I know, I know. This is a dead horse that’s already been savaged viciously by every other games journalist in the world. I don’t care. I’m beating it anyway. Whenever a woman is placed in a video game, 95% of the time she’s there for sex appeal first and any other reason second. This problem is by no means exclusive to video games, but the sexist undertones are still pretty rampant.

You could argue that since every other game is full of sexy women in their undies, this game’s got to do it or else it’ll be scorned. First of all, that brings to mind the “If everyone else jumped off a cliff” mantra. Secondly, it’s not even true. I know of at least one developer that doesn’t have to sexualize its characters, and by sheer coincidence it just happens to be my favorite developer, the one I can’t seem to stop mentioning every other post. How utterly predictable of me.

Valve is known for, among other things, creating Alyx Vance, who is often cited as a particularly good, well-written female video game character. I can see why; she’s the most prominent character in Half-Life 2 who actually has a voice, and she has some strong characterization. But my personal favorite Valve character is Zoey from Left 4 Dead. She is never used for sex appeal; instead they focused on making her relatable, quirky, interesting, emotional, and three-dimensional. Instead of making her as sexy as possible, they made her as sympathetic and likeable as possible.

So no, I don’t think female characters should have to dress in skin-tight outfits and show off their buttocks to the camera (I’m looking at you, Cammy, and not in the good sort of way) to be interesting. In fact, doing so sort of ruins the character in my eyes. When I think about how Cammy is written, she doesn’t seem like the kind of character who would dress like she does in Street Fighter.

She never shows any sexual attraction toward anyone. She’s a very formal, militaristic type. She begins every match by saying “Target acquired. Beginning mission.” She acts like an asexual robot, and yet she dresses like a stripper. Inconsistency, I think that’s the word I’m looking for. And if Capcom weren’t so obsessed with the sex appeal of every double-X-chromosomed character in their games, they wouldn’t have this problem.

Speaking of sex appeal, I don’t know about you, but I just don’t really find Cammy attractive. That’s what makes it even worse. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think every woman has to be attractive. I just got through saying that. But it’s especially irritating when a character is blatantly made to be a sex object, and then isn’t even attractive regardless.

Maybe there’s something wrong with my eyes, but her body just looks unnatural to me. Disproportionate. Inhuman. I think part of the problem is with the ridiculously large and buff legs, which I guess they must have thought made sense since most of her attacks are kick-based. But when I look at her I don’t think, “I’d like to hit that.” I think, “Has the concept artist for this game even seen a real woman before?”

JPH, why are you complaining so much about this one fighting game character? Fighting game characters aren’t meant to be taken seriously, just beat people up and have fun.

If I were saying “Street Fighter IV sucks because Cammy’s character design is bad,” then yeah, that counter-argument would be valid. This isn’t a review; it’s simply an analysis. And the game constantly subjects us to the character design and dialogue, so I think it’s a worthy topic of discussion.

As for why I’m so fed up with Cammy in particular, like I said in the beginning, she’s my favorite character to play as. So I’m obliged to constantly look at her while I learn how to play this damn game. So I would appreciate it if the character design was interesting in any way, but it isn’t.

Also, she sounds like Lara Croft doing a terrible Lara Croft impression. If that makes any sense.


Unfair Leveling RPGs

The ultimate goal of an RPG leveling system with multiple builds or classes is to offer the player multiple equally effective but varying play styles. This makes the game feel more personal, as it lets you feel like you’re shaping the experience. It also adds replay value, since you can try out each of the different play styles and builds and see how they all go.

Of course it’s very hard to balance all of the different builds just right, especially in a game that gives you a multitude of choices rather than just a few different classes, but I figure that if one build makes you worse in nearly every conceivable way than another, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

So here’s to all the games that failed in that regard. Here’s to the games that cheated, humiliated and wronged us. Here’s to the games that effectively cripple anybody who had the sheer audacity to not make the correct choice at the start of the game.

System Shock 2

I already mentioned this in a previous post, so I’m going to keep this concise. Basically, this game completely favors “regular” weapons over energy weapons. Energy weapons are only effective against robotic enemies, and virtually every major threat in the game is organic. I hope you didn’t want to go Pew Pew, because if you try you’re just going to go Q Q.

Fallout: New Vegas

The weapon category imbalance was an extremely sore spot for me in New Vegas. There is simply no reason to specialize in Guns or Energy Weapons rather than Melee or Unarmed. Guns deal less damage, require more maintenance because of ammo, weigh more (especially in hardcore mode because of the addition of ammo weight), and are constantly at risk of jamming if you don’t keep them at high condition. Guns are worse than melee attacks in every conceivable way, except for the fact that they look cooler.

Mass Effect 2

Bioware took the easy road with this game by simply giving you six classes rather than letting you make your own build, and yet it still completely fumbled. I remember attempting a playthrough of Insanity, the highest difficulty, as a Sentinel (cross tech/biotic) and reaching a point where I couldn’t win no matter what I attempted.

I suspected that this might be more than just me sucking at the game, so I looked up online walkthroughs and found that if you’re playing as any class other than Infiltrator (the designated “sniper” class) you most likely won’t get through the game on Insanity without utilizing exploits or glitches. The Infiltrator gets a temporary invisibility spell, which apparently helps a lot with exploiting enemy AI patterns.

Boo.

Alpha Protocol

At the start this game appeared to have a lot of promise. It was going for Deus Ex style espionage gameplay where you can choose to shoot the baddies down, sneak past them, hack machinery or utilize whatever other strategies might be lying around in the room.

However, unlike Deus Ex, this game blatantly favors certain skills over others.

To anybody who doesn’t believe me: I challenge you to specialize in stealth and melee combat and get through the game without becoming thoroughly frustrated at least five times. I think what really killed it was the unskippable boss fights. I don’t think I need to explain why mandatory battles with powerful enemies is a bad idea in a game like this.

I’ve read that Deus Ex: Human Revolution (which is coming out in just a few days, by the way, and which I’m totally psyched about) also has mandatory boss battles, which begs the question: Holy shit, how have RPG devs not figured this out yet?! How is it not completely counter-intuitive to force the player into combat situations in a game that encourages — nay, boasts — combat alternatives like hacking and speech?

Christ, that game had better not suck.

Fin

I read about character builds in Fallout 1 and assumed it would have the same unfair inanity. After hearing about the hilarious brokenness of Barter and the depressing uselessness of Outdoorsman, it was hard not to come to such a conclusion. Judging from the almost universal objections I’ve received, I may have been wrong in my assumption. Maybe the game really does let you play however you want.

But I thought it would just be fair to point out that I don’t always have to have the most powerful build ever. I like a challenge, and I like to play by my own terms. I just don’t want to be gimped, and I’ve been gimped plenty of times in the past. And this definitely is not a complete list.


Fallout Stream: Video Up!

To those of you who missed the stream, here is the video in all its low-definition glory.

I don’t watch  many Let’s Plays or live streaming sessions of games, so I have little to compare this to. There’s also that whole “You’re always the worst judge of your own work” mantra. But on the whole, I’m not too happy with it. There are many awkward silences, and many of the comments I make are responses to messages in the chat room, which you can’t see because the chat room isn’t shown on the stream. Maybe I can make room for the chat window in my next stream?

Oh yeah, by the way, I’m thinking this will be a regular Wednesday thing. From now on I’ll probably start earlier than 8 PM to make it easier on my European viewers (which, out of the 7 viewers I had, I think most of them were European). I think 5 or 6 PM would be a good time.

Anyway, I had a lot of criticisms I had planned to make while playing the game, most of which I forgot to mention once I was actually streaming. It’s amazing how it all dries up when you’re put on the spot. I have a great level of respect and admiration for people who can stream a game live, without anyone else’s voice on the line, and still manage to make funny and/or insightful comments. (Rutskarn, I salute you.)

I think the main point I wanted to make was in the intro video. (Not the War Never Changes video, but the Go Fetch Us A Water Chip And Some Pizza video.) Something tells me that introduction was supposed to captivate me far more than it actually did. Not only do I find it to be a fairly weak goal to work towards, since I haven’t gotten to know anybody in Vault 13 (they could all be jerks for all I know) but it also doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

If their only hope for survival is to get this water chip, why are they only sending one person rather than a whole team? Surely that would provide a higher chance of survival and success. Think about it — what if I had TWO people shooting bears greater mole rats? I might not have even died!

Maybe it’s explained later, but it bothered me nonetheless, and they didn’t even lampshade it.