Wednesday, January 30, 2013

#55: Dishonored: The “Non-Lethal” Option and the Inherent Flaws

(A Spoiler Warning is in effect on Dishonored and the entirety of its campaign.)

Recently, I went back and complete my high chaos, highly lethal playthrough of Dishonored. While this playthrough made me feel like a complete jerk (thanks to all of the destruction and devastation I caused) it also became the perfect opportunity to reflect upon morality and how it is viewed through games like Dishonored. When it comes down to it, the moral choices expressed in these kinds of games can be considered juvenile, showing a lack of understanding of nuance and ambiguity that many of these situations entail. In particular, I take issue with the fact that “non-lethal” options are almost always considered objectively good and just. The two main reasons I have for this are the topic for this week's posting.

The first of these reasons is that, for all the talk of moral superiority, non-lethal gameplay styles are not inherently any more moral than their lethal cousins. As Chris Franklin, aka Campster, already explained much earlier in this video on Dishonored, many of the things players do in a non-lethal playthrough can be seen as “bad” or “wrong,” including theft of personal property (pickpocketing/looting), forced injection of toxins (crossbow with sleep darts), choking enemies to unconsciousness, and forced invasion of the mind and body (possession). From a certain standpoint, all of these things are transgressions against all of the various people players will encounter. The problem here arises when the game only judges the audience based only on the number of kills made. If the player kills roughly less than 20% of the people in the game, then they are considered Low Chaos and the game ends with Princess Emily guiding Dunwall into a golden age under protagonist Corvo Attano's tutelage. Any more than that, then Emily either grows into a ineffectual dictator of an empire ravaged by plague or dies, leaving ruins in her wake (depending on what happens in the final mission). Corvo, who is nothing more than a supernatural assassin, is either a Bastion of moral purity or a bastard leading a nation into ruin, solely depending on the number of people he killed. This gets even more hazy when the types of non-lethal takedowns of many of the game's targets are taken into account, because almost all of them are fates worse than death. When facing High Overseer Cromwell, head of a group of religious zealots, players are asked to either kill him, or burn his face with a specific branding called the Heretic's Brand, which forbids anyone in the city from being nice to him in any way. Likewise, the Pendleton twins, rich noblemen, can either be assassinated or forced to work in their own silver mines with their tongues removed and their heads shaved. Sure, the fate of these people are rather awful in the non-lethal versions, but according to the game, it is all okay because they are not dead. In fact, players will often be rewarded by NPCs who drop gifts off for him because they opted to “show restraint” and not kill them. Whether one choice over the other is inherently better is an open ended question, but we cannot deny that neither one should be considered objectively good or inherently better than the other without close scrutiny.

While that is indeed bothersome and honestly does not make much sense, it is far from the only issue I take with that kind of dualistic moral choice. The other problem I have with Dishonored is that its lethal and non-lethal divide really inhibits the number of options developers have at their disposal. Like many of its gaming contemporaries, such as Bioshock, inFamous, or even Mass Effect, the complex subject of morality was rendered into a binary choice that lasts for the duration of the game. When the only thing that is tracked is the number of kills, it prevents the game from truly reacting to the way that people play it. No one bats an eye when every single guard in a level has either been choked to sleep or pumped full of sleep darts, but a group of dead bodies causes a massive backlash from the world. This type of binary thinking can break an otherwise strong illusion of a coherent and reactive world. It even seeps into the gameplay as well. When dealing with his targets, the game will only acknowledge whether Corvo killed them or took the non-lethal route given by the game designers. This closes off many avenues of possible problem solving that could would otherwise be possible in a real world scenario. One such example comes from one of the missions that takes place in Act 2 of the game, Lady Boyle's Last Party. The gist of the mission is that Lady Boyle is the mistress of the Lord Regent who has taken power in Dunwall, financing his military as well, so the player has to infiltrate the party she and her two sisters are throwing, figure out which one is the Regent's mistress, and take her out through lethal or non-lethal methods. To the game designers credit, they allow for more than a few ways to go through this mission. Players have the choice of discovering the identity of the mistress, either through sneaking around or by blending in and talking with the guests at the party, and taking her out exclusively. Alternatively, they could kill off all three Ladies Boyle, ensuring that the true target is also eliminated, or knock out the target and sell her off to her creepy stalker who promises Dunwall will “neither see nor hear from her ever again.” Ignoring the potential implications behind that last option, this does drastically reduce the number of options left available, especially for those attempting a non-lethal run of the game. If Corvo speaks with the real Lady Boyle and asks to see her in her bedchambers, she reveals that she has no particular love for the Lord Regent and only sleeps with him to further her own family's social status. That makes all of the methods of dispatching her seem unappealing and unnecessarily punishing her for circumstances beyond her control. It would be nice to allow for options that leave a better taste in the player's mouth like convincing the good lady to drop support for the Regent's cause, either by persuasive or coercive means. Perhaps players could even reduce the Boyle family's sphere of influence in some way, making her support and financial backing less significant. The point is that by forcing a binary “Kill target or take the designated non-lethal approach,” the game is not challenging players to think outside the box as much as they could. It would be interesting to see games track other things besides whether or not people are killed, like maybe how violent players are or how much they stole throughout their run of the game or level. Players who only strike against their targets, yet do so with lethal force, would be treated as a Hitman-esque Silent Assassin, while those who keep their presence and influence as hidden from the world as they can would be treated like a Ghost. It seems like only allowing one single stat to affect everything in the game is naive in a way, given the people are rarely so singularly influenced.

Before I wrap this up, I do not want people to be under the impression that Dishonored is a bad game by any means. While the story is weak and I do criticize the game for not offering a lot in terms of choice, the amount of options and approaches players are given is significantly more than what most even attempt in other modern games. The exploration and focus on moment-to-moment gameplay are the strongest points of the game. It should also be noted that the Blink mechanic, which allows players to use short-range teleportation to jump to areas within their field of view is revolutionary and dramatically hastens the pace and verticality when roaming or sneaking through the fairly large and wide open (by today's standards) levels thrown at players. It is a remarkable throwback to the likes of Thief with a dash of Deus Ex thrown in; A decent start to a new budding franchise. I only hope that the developers were taking notes and learn from the feedback generated by the game's audience.

Update: Shortly after publishing this post, I showed it to Dishonored's lead designer Harvey Smith, who I follow on Twitter. He disagreed with the notions I asserted in the second paragraph of this post, where I talk about the morality of it. From his perspective, he released this game with the message that "mass murders inevitably lead to instability," which was a guiding though behind the Chaos system and a notion that I can agree with. It was a commentary on the nature of violence in gaming and gaming culture. The conversation had about this was interesting, as we both lamented how little consumers and even designers think about the amount of death in the games we play. While this does really help me to understand the rationale and reason behind the Chaos system, I still maintain that using more than primarily killing as the means to track Chaos is not something I entirely agree. (And, to be fair, I am being almost willfully ignorant of the fact that players of Dishonored can lower their Chaos by doing things that help out the common folk.) I write this addendum so that you may get the full story and judge for yourself. It feels disingenuous to have a conversation with the lead designer and not include the fruits of that conversation for you to see.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

#54: Why Game Companies Should Stay Out of Used Games

The other day, I had a discussion with a friend of mine over the impact of used game sales on the profits of game developers. While we argued for quite a long time on the subject, a lack of data led to a stalemate. Having said that, it made me start thinking about used games. I have always been a massive supporter of the used market, but had a hard time justifying exact why developers and publishers should stay out it, since they would logically want people to purchase new releases instead. Despite how massively unpopular measures like Online Pass systems are to the gaming populace, they are not annoying enough for consumers to outright boycott companies that use them. This means that on the consumer front, there is also no reason to not include them in the vain hopes to combating used game sales. Upon reflection, I realized that indeed there are very good reasons to not try to stifle the used games market and realize that it is not a developer's enemy that needs to be stamped out, which just so happens to be the topic for this week.

The first reason publishers would be wise to not fight used games is that, depending on how far they go, it could be illegal. This is because of a law that is on the books in the United States (and I assume most developed countries, though perhaps in different forms) called the First Sale Doctrine. For those not familiar with copyright law, the First Sale Doctrine says that when a consumer purchases copyrighted material from its copyright owner in a lawful manner, the rights to that one specific copy of the material transfers to them, including rights to barter with or otherwise dispose of it. The copyright owner is no longer allowed to have any influence over that one particular copy. The one exception to this is that the new owner, who bought the copyrighted work, is NOT allowed to copy or duplicate it; Aside from that, the consumer now owns that copy in its entirety and the original copyright owner no longer has authority over it. Because of this, there is a possible, if admittedly weak, case to be made that using Online Passes or other methods of curtailing used games may be illegal. The same may even be said of On-Disc DLC, but that exists outside the purview of this article. Though this may seem like a good reason, there are a few loose ends to it. First of all, to the best of my knowledge (and I am no legal scholar by any means), because of a variety of different reasons including court costs, time, effort, and the massive amount of resources that publishers have at their disposals, this has and likely will never be challenged in the court of law. Honestly, most sane people (myself included) would rather just spend the $10 on an online pass or whatever than go through all of that. Also, the First Sale Doctrine strictly applies to physical goods. When dealing in digital distribution, what consumers purchase is not an actual product but rather a license to use the data and copy it onto their system. This may be changed some time down the road, but until then it is pretty cut and dry. There is also no protection for server access, so if the Online Pass is strictly for some online component (and not something like Arkham City's Catwoman missions), there is also no legal leg to stand on.

Another very good justification for allowing used game sales to continue as they have for a long time is that the money that consumers get by trading in used games can go towards new games. According to Gamestop's statements, (which are admittedly biased, so take them with a grain of salt) 70% of all the money that given out through used game trade-ins immediately goes in that direction, in support of publishers and developers. In a dwindling economic environment, this is even more important now than it ever was before. People are on tight budgets, some more than others. For these people, trading in games is often the only way they can get the $60 necessary to purchase new games on release day. It is either that or do not buy that game at all, which neither the publisher nor the potential customer desire. This war on used games has a potential to severely reduce the potential market and profit margins for game publishers. Without the money that is generated through trade-ins, it becomes more difficult for lower income wage earners to afford gaming. Games are a luxury product after all, they are no where near necessary. When it comes time to cut the budget and see where one can save money, games are often the first things to take the fall, being as extraneous and expensive as they are. Keeping this in mind, it may actually be more important to preserve the used games market in order to allow people to continue to buy video games and stimulate the market.

The last reason I will go over that publishers have to ignore used games is that later on, they can help generate a market for future games. What I mean by that is simple. If there is one thing that publishers can be counted on trying to do, it is make sequels to IPs in their possession. (Unless it is Mirror's Edge; Yes, I am talking to you, EA!) Once sequel time comes, then companies are going to obviously want to attract as large an audience as they possibly can. One of the easiest ways to do this is though the used game market. Instead of dropping $60 on a brand new game that they may not like, consumers would be more willing to spend a smaller amount, maybe $20-30, on a used copy of the previous game in the franchise. Then, they could learn whether or not they truly like the concepts and ideas behind the series before jumping in blind with the new installment. This is quite a common practice that people have come to adopt. I know quite a few people who have gone on to buy many other games based on what they have seen in a previous game. For me personally, I would have never bought the latest Hitman game if I had not taken the time to play through Blood Money the summer before. My purchase of Fallout: New Vegas was also entirely based upon my enjoyment of its previous installment, Fallout 3. This form of brand recognition is something that publishers count on to sell units. It does not make sense to stifle that by trying to inhibit used game sales.

The bottom line here is that used game sales are just a boogeyman. I have yet to see any conclusive evidence that used games harm the sales of new games. Considering that its the only fair way to operate, I must assume that used games are innocent until proven guilty. It is far more likely in my opinion that video game are not as profitable due to a combination of over-inflated budgets and an unwillingness to lower prices to below $60 to compete in the marketplace. Games like The Walking Dead prove that high budgets are not necessary to make remarkable games. Steam sales prove that lower prices, even if only temporarily, will boost sales and improve overall revenue. Instead of trying to needless combat this used games “menace,” the industry should focus on improving itself and changing away from an obviously unsound business model.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

#53: Railroading: How it Doesn't Have to Suck

As many of you know, I am a very big fan of choices in games. I love it when a game allows me a degree of agency over the story and the way things unfold. To me, this is a major part of what helps gaming separate itself from other mediums, like books or movies. However, this does not mean that I am against the notion of linearity in video games. There is nothing wrong with games having players follow a path that is decided by the designers well before they gets their hands on it. Many of the better games and stories in this medium are of high-quality because of their linear nature. The key for developers to have well-executed plots that railroad players into one path is to carefully mask those rails as much as they possibly can. This can be done in a number of ways and with many different approaches. Today's article will be dedicated to outlining a couple of possible methods with which railroad-y plots can work.

The first of these methods is simply to create a large world and build the perception that there are many places and locations for the player to explore, while at the same blocking off areas until they have completed a significant enough portion of the story. Final Fantasy games, especially the earlier games in the franchise, are some of the most well known practitioners of this strategy. In many of this franchise's games, players start off in one town, but see that all around them there is a fairly large and expansive world map to explore when they depart that town. Most sections of the map are blocked off simply because the player requires certain means of transportation to get passed obstacles like mountains, rivers, oceans, and so on. After making significant enough progress in the story, the player is given some method with which to bypass the obstacle like a teleporter or some kind of vehicle (most famously the Airship). This tactic comes with its own strengths and weaknesses. On the positive side, it gives off the illusion of a massive world which the player can explore. Earlier Final Fantasy games always had the feeling of world-sprawling adventures that took players to varied, exotic locals. It also allows for strategic placement of locations and towns to give off the impression that players are exploring an actual place with people. Taken further, designers can also use this world to place side quests in deliberate locations that make them feel like natural extensions to the game and its lore. This can best be shown by contrasting early Final Fantasy games with a later game in the franchise that did not utilize such a mask, Final Fantasy XIII. That particular game is notorious for presenting the majority of itself as a long, linear corridor. Without the illusion of a large world, the game feels like a straight line and there is very little room for side content. On the other hand, there are downsides as well to this particular illusion. For one, it is fairly difficult to scale up. This worked well on small scale pixelated games because we accepted a degree of abstraction. We did not need to see other people using airships or traveling around, gathering resources and trading, to assume that it was happening. When we scaled up to high-fidelity 3D, this was no longer sufficient. For games to employ this tactic in modern AAA gaming, it requires a great deal of effort. The place has to look almost exactly like a living breathing world in the vein of an Elder Scrolls or Assassin's Creed game, especially an Assassin's Creed game, in order to maintain the illusion. Because of this, the blocks that prevent players from proceeding further into unexplored territory before advancing the story can seem increasingly artificial. In particular, the Assassin's Creed series is extremely bad at this. The barriers that determine how far players can explore are literal force fields that appear when they are going too far out of the designated free area. It justifies them by saying that the ancestor of the day did not explore those locations during the memory segment that the player is currently reliving via the Animus. While crafting natural blocks that make sense in the world can be difficult at times, Ubisoft did not even try and many games in the series feel decidedly linear because of it. That is not to say that this is a bad tactic to use, but we have to consider the weaknesses of doing things this way.

Another good way to disguise linearity in games is to plan the player's actions and the level design so that the correct path to take feels like the one they are most likely to take anyway. This is easier said than done as it takes a fair amount of work, play testing, and knowledge to get right. One of the biggest problems with games and plots that railroad the player into doing certain things is that often the player is forced to take actions that are obviously stupid even without knowing what they will lead to later on. A good example of this is the start of Mass Effect 2, where Shepard decides to work with the organization Cerberus despite knowing already that they are a terrorist organization that is responsible for completely reprehensible crimes against humanity. Most players who are familiar with the events in the first game would NEVER want to join up with Cerberus, but are forced to anyway because the writers have already made that decision. Assassin's Creed 2 is also responsible for this by forcing Ezio to spare Rodrigo Borgia at the end of the game despite the fact that he is and will be responsible for thousands of deaths. These kinds of moments make it seem like the protagonist or designer of the game is attempting to troll the player, both acting illogically and placing the player in situations that could have easily been avoided. Simply put, neither the player nor the player character should ever be forced to take actions that are obviously stupid in service to a plot. If that does happen, then the players will often mark the game down for being overly-linear and “railroad-y.” Hiding a game's linear nature is easiest to pull off by reading and re-reading the script of the game with a critical eye. Designers need to think about logical actions that the player or protagonist might consider taking and either finding a way to explain why it would not work or rearranging the plot element or set piece in question around that. Play testing and bringing in fresh eyes can also help as watching what others do and asking why they make those choices can greatly help in planning scenarios in a way that they seem less linear. It is hard to point to games that do this particularly well because those are the kinds of games that are so well done that it is hard to notice that designers are funneling their audience towards one end. While I am an advocate of doing things this way, again one has to acknowledge that it is not easy and requires quite a bit of forethought and adaptability.

Lastly, one of the more ambitious ways to create a linear game is to actually enable players the ability to make choices as the plot goes on, but weave those choices into the story in a way where the player feels like they were making significant choices, when in actuality they were just being funneled into the tale that the designers wanted to tell. Out of all the possible tactics to employ, this is the most risky. Done well, it can give players a strong feeling of authorship over the narrative until playing through the game again. When poorly executed, players can feel like the game is invalidating their choice and forcing them into situations they would rather avoid. One example of the former is Telltale's The Walking Dead. While there are moments where it seems like the game is conveniently sweeping decisions players have made in the past under the rug (particularly in Episode 3), for the most part the game is pretty good about guiding players towards their intended paths while acknowledging and respecting the choices they made along the way. But of course, for every good example of a game doing something right there is a counter-example that demonstrates the worst way to implement the same thing. In this case, Mass Effect 3 serves as that counter-example. There were several moments in Mass Effect 3 where the script seemed to do what it wanted despite the choices players have made. In order to avoid spoilers in this article, I will instead point to my previous works that detail this phenomenon. This is something hard to talk about because in order to do it justice, I would have to prepared to go into massive spoiler territory and I am trying to keep this spoiler free for once. Nonetheless, such a skillful weaving is something that takes genuine effort. Players will notice and appreciate it.

Again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with games being linear. Done well, a good linear story can make for quite an enjoyable game. It is worth noting that none of these strategies have to be done in isolation. In fact, it is ideal if a few of them overlap. This is also by no means a comprehensive article on the subject. I am sure that other tactics exist to help facilitate linear storytelling in video games. Lastly, my final disclaimer is that sometimes not hiding the rails can be a legitimate tactic if the game's story calls for it, as seen in games like Spec Ops: The Line or the first two-thirds of Bioshock. By no means is game design an exact science with hard and fast rules. The medium is still very much in its youth. Designers should feel free to experiment with and test other ways to improve how we tell stories.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

#52: When Good Plots Go Bad: How “Those Who Came Before” Ruined Assassin's Creed

(A SPOILER WARNING is in effect for the entity of Assassin's Creed from the first game to the most recent outing. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!)

A week ago, a friend of mine finished playing Assassin's Creed 3, which sparked a pretty interesting discussion regarding the plot of the franchise and its somewhat controversial ending. While we were talking, I had made the statement that the inclusion of “Those Who Came Before” (which I will be abbreviating to TWCB) and the destruction of the entire world was the beginning of the end for the franchise's main plot. That is a fairly bold statement to make without providing proof, since it became a major element of the story from the second game onward, so this week's article is my defense of that claim. While I have addressed this series several times in the past, this is the first time I have discussed the larger over-arching story of the whole thing. I am going to assume at this point that you have at least a passing familiarity with the franchise. If you do not, please cease to read on if you are afraid of spoilers. This is going to contain a few of them. Anyway, the inclusion of TWCB/Apocalypse plot had a number of after-effects on the main plot that, taken as a whole, really restricted what they could otherwise do with it, which severely damaged the franchise.

The first of these after-effects is that Assassin's Creed began to move away from the Templars vs. Assassins plot and towards this new Mayan Apocalypse plot. It is a very subtle shift that one may not notice unless they look closely. In the first game and second Assassin's Creed games, the war between the Assassins and the Templars was the central guiding element of the plot and everything that happened was in service to that. In Assassin's Creed, the conflict and the morally/intrigue behind it was introduced. In the sequel, the war was further elaborated on both through the main story and Subject 16's recordings. Also, Desmond was being trained (via the Animus) to take part in it as an active participant. As we progress forward from here, we see that there is a subtle shift in how the plot begins to unfold. Instead, the main story begins to unfold around the impending apocalypse, which becomes the new driving force for the plot. For the events of Brotherhood, Desmond needs to find the Apple of Eden in order to learn what he needs to do to stop the apocalypse. During Revelations, our protagonist needs to wake up so that he can do what needs to be done. Lastly, in the most recent outing, the reason Desmond goes back into the Animus is to find the key to the ancient temple that contains the device capable of saving the world. Instead of the Assassins vs. Templar plot being the highest priority, the sub-plot of TWCB and their efforts to stop the world from being burned is at the forefront of the player's mind. Considering that the former and its moral ambiguity is at the center of what is interesting about the franchise, it is a bit of a mistake.

But this was not the only problem with the “end of the world” storyline. Another major issue invited by it is that it an even larger focus was placed on the present-day storyline that is set in 2012, stealing momentum from the story-lines of the ancestors in their periods of history. Again, this is antithetical to the strengths of the franchise. The other big draw of Assassin's Creed is that the Animus, the game's signature plot device, allows the writers to explore any period of history they choose. This has led to quite a few interesting, and relatively unused, settings being highlighted in the franchise from the Third Crusade, to the Italian Renaissance, and even the American Revolution. Many people come to the franchise specifically for this reason. Shifting the focus away from this and over to a grand, world-spanning apocalypse plot is a grave mistake as it takes away from what makes the game shine. In the original game and it's successor, the focus was squarely on the ancestors presented. While Desmond was there and he had an outside motivation for going through his ancestors' memories (and a debatably large amount of screen time), the real star was the ancestor presented, be it Altair or Ezio. Moving on past that point, Desmond and the modern day story surrounding him became much more important. Brotherhood allowed made him more involved, giving him several segments outside the Animus and giving the assassin crew a bit more of a showing, allowing players to interact with them and get to know them better. The entire point of Revelations was to get Desmond back into the real world after the plot twist of Brotherhood literally sent him into a coma. In that game, there is a whole five part side mission dedicated to Mr. Miles and getting to know him better. Lastly, the third main game had entire sections where Desmond used stealth to get around the real world and find artifacts that would prove useful to the main plot. The problem with all of this is that the real world/present day story have always been the weakest part of Assassin's Creed. As a character, Desmond has always been as bland as a leading man can get. Ubisoft tried to make him an “everyman” that people can relate to, but as a result he does not have anything that distinguishes him from any other protagonist. This is a problem that the series is notorious for and has been since the beginning. So to make a plot twist that would throw that element into the limelight seems like a very poor decision. Because someone needs to deal with the apocalypse in the modern day story, they were forced to make it more important instead of just regulating it to the side-lines as a vague justification for going through an ancestor's memory.

Lastly, one of the biggest problems with the inclusion of TWCB is that it codified the legendary “mind fuck” endings that the series would grow to be known for. The first game ended on a fairly surprising note with Desmond discovering that his room was covered in hidden symbols he could only see with Eagle Vision. This led to a number of fans speculating and trying to decipher what those symbols might mean for the lore of the series. It was an odd and surprising “WTF” ending, but it was not entirely out of place for the game as we knew it. When Assassin's Creed 2 introduced its plot twist at the end, that TWCB created humanity, but died in a solar flare that now threatens to come back, it came entirely out of left field and no one saw it coming. This set the trend going forward into Brotherhood with the death of Lucy, who was secretly a triple agent, joining the Templars after being sent to spy on them and then reintegrating herself into the Assassin order. Revelations would try for this with Altair's, Ezio's, and Desmond's stories, with Altair sealing himself and his Apple of Eden into a secret library and Ezio talking to Desmond directly in order for a member of the First Civilization to tell him about the apocalypse, but in general they did not elicit many strong reactions. And in the third main installment in the series, the plot twist was something that players could partly see coming and partly felt like it came from nowhere. As the game foreshadowed, Roman goddess Juno was planning to backstab the human race and Desmond decided triggering her trap was worth keeping the world intact. Every game past the second tried for a “mind screw” ending and for the most part failed. The whole concept of TWCB drove most of these plot twists and gave them fuel. Without this element, it seems less likely, though still entirely possible, that similar twists would have happened.

Ultimately, the inclusion of this one, singular element really derailed what could have an interesting game about a world-spanning, secret war between two shadow organizations with ambiguous stances on morality. Instead, it changed the franchise into an entirely different science-fiction apocalypse plot that seemed wildly divergent from its roots. As someone who is a massive fan of the series, it is perplexing to see how different it turned out from anything that could have possibly been predicted based on the original game. Truly, the game moved so far from what it originally promised that it can sometimes be hard to believe. It seems to have evolved and lost itself as it progressed. I admit that I am curious as to exactly how this happened...