Square’s Login UX Sucks. It’s Not You.

Square login public service announcement: it’s broken

Do you login to Square (squareup.com) regularly to do business? Maybe sell items or swipe a credit card using your phone?

Well, their login has been broken for awhile and here’s how.

First off, Square lets you choose to login either with your email or your phone number. WARNING: Your password’s simply not going to work if you try to login with your phone number. I’ve tried it, today in fact. This function is apparently 100% dysfunctional.

Don’t try it because it’ll just tell you you got your password wrong even if you nailed it using a password tool, like I did.

Square’s login email authorization’s broken too

What do you try next? You click that “Forgot password” link and start waiting for that reset email with the annoyingly short lifespan. Guess what? I’m still waiting for mine. I think Square’s login verification mail server is broken or hammered or misconfigured.

It’s just a sign of the times that a major e-commerce component like Squareup.com has such bad UX and security testing. If you use Square, be warned.

The Avatar 2 Plot: Recap and… Why’s It Broken?

Avatar 2’s plot is perhaps the least remarkable of this remarkable award-winning movie’s marvels. What happened in the movie? Here’s a complete refresher. And what made the Avatar 2 plot so porous, from a professional game writer’s point of view?

The Avatar 2 Plot in bullet points:

  • Jake Sully, the human-turned-Na’vi-avatar from the first movie, is now raising his four kids (!) with his wife Neytiri in the beautiful wilds of the rich planet Pandora. One of them is Kiri, an adopted daughter somehow birthed from Grace Augustine’s (Sigourney Weaver’s scientist character) comatose avatar (!). They are visited frequently by a orphan human kid named Spider (!) who lives with the human scientists who stayed on the planet after the violent colonizer corporation RDA was defeated by Sully and the natives.
  • The above paragraph is just ridiculous, now that I see it written out. They chewed off a lot for a movie franchise that hasn’t been in theatres for 13 years. Sorry, back to the topic.
  • Sidenote: Sully, previously wheelchair-bound, is now fully avatar, because the Na’vi used their magic Spirit Tree to move his consciousness permanently into the avatar body, which looks very much like a native Na’vi except for its five-fingered hands. The Na’vi then roasted his human body and turned it into delightfully spicy kabobs. (Just kidding on that last part. Sully’s body did not meet Pandoran FDA standards.)
  • The RDA return, seeking to harvest the golden brain juice of the giant intelligent Pandora whales called Tulkun, which grants eternal life to humans (!). With them is the reincarnated human psycho Quaritch (visualize the NRA in human form, complete with buzzcut), who died in the first movie, but has been uploaded into a new Na’vi avatar body. Of course, he’s champing at the bit to kill Sully.
  • Quaritch captures Sully’s kids; Sully and Neytiri manage to free them but Quaritch captures Spider, whom he realizes is the human son he sired (!) with some undetermined human victim from the RDA before he died in Avatar 1.
  • Knowing Quaritch will keep attacking, the Sully family flees their native jungles and relocates as refugees, joining the reluctant Metkayina clan, a related Na’vi group that lives by the sea and is better adapted for such a life. Sully’s kids clash with the kids of Tonowari, the Metkayina chief, which leads one boy Lo’ak into danger, but he’s saved by Payakan, an outcast Tulkun.
  • Quaritch tracks Sully to the Metkayni and starts attacking random villages and Tulkuns to draw Sully out. He captures two Sully kids and Tonowari’s daughter. In a standoff, Sully surrenders to Quaritch to save the kids, but Payakan smashes the RDA warship, unleashing a free-for-all. Sully’s oldest son Neteyam frees the captured kids but is killed by the humans. Spider disables the RDA ship. Lots of fighting; the good guys escape the sinking ship. Spider saves Quaritch from death but rejoins the Sully group.
  • There’s an emotional (?) funeral for Neteyam and Team Sully resolves to defeat the RDA.

Wow, there are some whoppers in that Avatar 2 plot. It astonishes me that they were so aggressive after a 13-year hiatus, pushing Sully and Neytiri not just into parenthood but linking them to a brood of five that are very difficult for the writing team to characterize… and for audiences to distinguish, given the inhuman sameness of the Na’vi renderings.

Sully and Neytiri don’t just have one borderline child; they have two. Kiri and Spider are both odd orphans. Kiri is the child of Augustine’s avatar — itself a strange stillborn adult embryo. As you may remember from Avatar 1, Augustine was wounded by Quaritch, and Sully and Neytiri tried to transfer her into her avatar, but instead she died. Somehow in the intervening years that inactive avatar gave birth. Who was her father, and how did this happen?

And Spider, of course, is Quaritch’s human son. Who was his mother? And who’s in charge of the maternity ward on Pandora? Because we have questions! I mean, there wasn’t a single birth in Avatar 1, and we come back and suddenly the cast has doubled in size.

Avatar 2 plot whoppers and whinges:

  • Pacing/tonal inconsistencies. Where is Spider during the extended segment when Team Sully goes seaward? Does the movie want to be a National Geographic aquatic spectacular or a Michael Bay blow-em-up? Is there any rhyme or reason to when Sully’s voiceover narration is shoehorned into the narrative?
  • Pretty disappointed by the mouse-pulls-thorn-from-lion’s-paw cliche in Lo’ak’s meeting with Payakan.
  • The Sully kids drop so many “cuz” and “bro” interjections that I felt nausea.
  • I’m a little nostalgic for good ol’ Earth-based cultural appropriation here. If the Na’vi were an Earth culture, at least they’d have to standardize on accents and build on a culture that isn’t so idealized and flagrantly infected with the “noble savage” cliche. Are they supposed to be Hawaiian, Native American, or other? The only thing we’re missing is a discussion of yoga poses, tribal tattoos, and superfoods.
  • The filmmakers missed a major opportunity to introduce wonder when we discover that the Tulkun can speak cogently with the Na’vi. This should’ve been a spectacular, magical movie moment. I acknowledge that, due to the timeline, Sully’s probably already had such an experience, but what if Quaritch or one of the other avatars got to bring it to us fresh? Instead it’s just a so-what moment that’s lost in the childish drama. What a sad loss.
  • What’s with the kidnap-the-kids plot loop? Quaritch is a terrible kidnapper and incompetent. He should’ve killed the Sully kids twice over.
  • Spider is an oddity as well. Not only is he retconned from the comics (!!!) and not present in the first movie, but he’s kind of a comical Na’vi wannabe, made doubly risible by his terrible white-boy dreadlocks (aka wonderbreadlocks). He could’ve been a compelling, conflicted antihero with his connection to both Sully and Quaritch, but instead his choices are merely glossed over.

After three hours in the uncanny valley, I have to say I wish the director James Cameron had applied some of his tech magic to giving us aliens with more distinctive and emotive features. Facial mocap has advanced, sure. The filmmakers are proud to brag about resolution and tracking points in the extra features. But as you can see in the images below, the amount of human emotion lost between the real-life performances and the final product can’t be quantified in pixels. It’s just a tragedy to see how plastic the Na’vi are onscreen.

Avatar 2 plot undermined by tech
This human is crying… but this shiny blue alien is noticing a quarter on the floor.
Avatar 2 plot undermined by facial mocap
See any differences in these two Avatar 2 scenes? Holy crap. Screencaptured from the making-of video, so I guarantee this is the SAME scene.
Avatar 2 plot betrayed by weak rendering
This human in Avatar 2 is deeply concerned and emotive; this avatar dude on the right is somewhere between unbothered and mildly constipated.

Don’t let me overlook the spectacular craft and creature design in Avatar 2, though. There are indeed soaring spectacles and inspiring moments here, motivated by heartfelt desires to tell a moving, family-positive, eco-positive message.

However, at the end of the day, Avatar 2’s plot flaws and execution errors deliver a movie that’s more Saturday morning cartoon than cinematic tentpole, despite whatever the box office draw says. Cameron said that he was much more focused on the actors while making this movie, but he’s failed to communicate that emotion on screen. And when up against better competition at the Oscars, Avatar 2 lost in every category except technical execution. Sadly, despite all the excellence on display, that is simply justice served.

Oh wait… don’t forget SNL’s Papyrus sketch if you need a grin.

Disco Elysium Is The Game Writing Pinnacle

Quick note: I’m nominating Disco Elysium as the pinnacle of game writing (TM).

If you haven’t played this tremendously heartfelt and involving game, get on it immediately. This game looks superficially like one of those classic “hunt-and-click” adventure games from Lucasarts, but plays like its own tormented, hilarious, luminous revolutionary. And I mean that in all senses of the words.

I dug Planescape, but I’d say 60% of those deep backstories were just window-dressing that didn’t deepen the experience for me. They were nice but totally unnecessary… and never funny.

Elysium is a completely new level of depth. Almost every single character has something interesting to add or connect, or is just flat-out hilarious. When the lady you harass outside the bookstore ends up being connected to the guy from the boardwalk… you know the one… wow. That hit on all kinds of levels. Nothing in Planescape hit me like that.

Can’t Find Drafts Folder in the Gmail Android App? And How This Bodes Ill for the AI Future

Is there no Drafts folder in your Gmail app on Android?

Yeah… me neither.

Google continues to “do no harm” by slopping shovelware out there for us goofs to consume. The latest mind-numbing basic feature that is confounding me is this ridiculous situation with drafts.

If you’re on Android (obscure OS) on a mobile phone (obscure device) using Gmail (obscure mail platform from inept service), and you happen to create a draft of an email (obscure action), good luck finding that draft ever again on mobile, or on PC for that matter.

There’s little coverage and no answers in top search results. Google itself likes to point you to related answers, like how to find your drafts folder on a tablet and how to create a draft email in Outlook.

Your drafts folder is NOT the same on your PC, as well.

IMHO this is a symptom of a tech misery that’s approaching us fast. There’s a dearth of talented coders and tech wizards who can maintain and assess complex, interlinked systems. We see the result in a myriad of ways: links that don’t work, apps that cough and spit out blank screens, crashes, bluescreens. I foresee a near future when AI agents with different agendas are roaming the environment, causing even more chaos and intractible problems. Once we have active dynamic elements on the scene like multiple AI — many of which will be created anonymously or artifacts of programmers and corporations long gone — solving mysterious problems will be a thousand times more difficult than before. I also expect there to be AI agents for good that will patrol environments, fixing bottlenecks and snafus, but I don’t think they’ll outnumber the chaotic, misbehaving ones, nor will they have the access to interlinked systems to fix problems.

Moink Meat and Ethical Meat… on a Budget

Moink whattt? Moink meat is a new delivery service (Moink box) that ships you ethically-sourced beef, pork, salmon, lamb, and chicken. Moink – a farmer-run venture that supports small, family farms – is part of a growing groundswell of consumers who are aware of the grievous, heart-rending ethical failings of the American agribusinesses and is trying to ensure we get food that isn’t sourced in misery.

Meat is big business and the largest sector in American agriculture… and it’s also horrific. Pretty much all of the meat brands you know are drenched in that misery: Smithfield, Tyson, Hormel, Sanderson Farms, Koch. Offenses include inhumane working conditions, crowding animals into hellish warehouses in hellish temperatures, killing them in vicious ways, using dangerous hormones, neglecting animals in diseased conditions, and salting animals with unnecessary antibiotics. Aka undiluted evil that isn’t just soul-crushing but also bad for your health and the planet.

Moink and other services aim to redirect consumers to more ethical sources of these table staples. And for you Texas readers, I’ve found a new source of ethical meat at our favorite supermarket, HEB.

For months, I’ve been buying Applegate Naturals lunchmeat, which are clearly marked as “humanely raised” and antibiotics-free… but also not economical. Their sliced ham, turkey breast, and chicken breast run about $1.21 to $.96 per ounce.

Recently, in the meat section, I discovered an alternative! Frick’s meat products are much cheaper and come in a variety of formats; I like the smoked sliced ham, biscuit ham slices, turkey breast, and braunschweiger sausage, at $.52 to $.23 per ounce. Looking at the Frick’s website, the emphasis is on artisan quality, not on ethical sourcing. In my opinion, they’re burying the lede. If you dig into the FAQ page, though, it clearly says, “Annual Humane Handling Audits are required of our suppliers and reviewed by our Sr. Management. Our suppliers follow the American Meat Institute Guidelines – A Systematic Approach to Animal Welfare, developed by renowned humane handling expert Temple Grandin.”

So there you have it. If you need ethical cruelty-free meat in Texas, look for Frick’s. And if you need to supply a family with ethical meats, check out Moink.

How to Use Vimeo’s Slideshow Maker

Wanna know how to use Vimeo’s slideshow maker? Interested in a review of this new free feature?

Surprise! You won’t find it here. Well, only a truncated one. Why? Because we don’t recommend it. We tried to use it for a project recently and invested a fair amount of effort, only to discover that it wants you to buy into the pro version if you want to make anything longer than three minutes.

vimeo's slideshow maker

We’re pretty disappointed in Vimeo for making this limitation invisible on their webpage. The page is frothy and very light on details, and there’s very little info on how to use the slideshow maker in a practical way.

They do set you up with a few sample slideshows, though, and it looks pretty nice. Some decent license-free music selections for your soundtrack. Video assets are fine. Fun titling and fonts. Transitions are mysterious, though, and it wants you to set up every new image as a “scene” even though there appears to be the ability to chroma-key out backgrounds and composite multiple images together.

In sum: avoid.

Tails of Iron Gameplay

Tails of Iron gameplay has been on our minds lately. It was one of the April games that came with a Playstation Plus membership, and a lot of reviewers have been saying this little 2D RPG is worth a ride. I disagree.

I liked the Tails of Iron gameplay and style at first. Hand-drawn art, simple 2D action, epic revenge story writ small and furry, right? Well, it started to wear on me. I don’t mind difficult battles, but Tails of Iron’s gameplay felt unfair.

The boss battles are tough, but even the minor minions can be problematic because of timing issues. Your character’s attacks, especially the charged ones, can be quite slow, locking him into moves for a long timespan. And some of the enemy attacks are quick. That’s a problem, because no one likes to get beaten because they’re defenseless. (To be fair, some of the enemy attacks are very slow, and often they are defenseless after a strong attack or signal an attack with one of two alert graphics.)

But that’s not all. Many of your foes also can instantly turn 180 degrees (it’s 2D and there’s no turn animation). So an attack that was harmless a microsecond ago suddenly is landing right in your back when you tumbled past your foe to avoid him.

And sometimes you have multiple foes coming from both directions.

And sometimes your foes don’t signal their attacks at all.

And the health bars on your foes are hefty, so you have a choice of pecking away at them forever or performing slooow heavy attacks to burrow through their health slightly faster… at significant risk.

The developer describes Tales of Iron as “an epic RPG adventure with punishingly brutal combat” and “soulslike.” This game has grand ambitions, but lacks the polish and tuning to claim these monikers. Someone in marketing is smoking some serious ego to think that they can sell this awkward 2D slasher as “punishingly brutal.” Instead, I’d use descriptors like “arbitrary” and “frustrating.”

ToI also triggered one of my pet peeves with its unexciting loot. You pick up new equipment during the game, but they’re generally just incremental upgrades to your already prosaic items. A little more green bar here; a little more red bar here. None of them felt that different from their predecessors, and ToI kept throwing up alert tags to tell me that I needed to inspect items that I’d already equipped. Umm, no.

Lastly, I found it annoying that they cribbed a storytelling technique from the much-better Don’t Starve games and made it worse too. In Don’t Starve, characters talk with instrument voices and it’s charming (and also free of localization concerns). In ToI, characters talk with icons (presented in cartoon bubbles) and instrument voices. Then, because it’s impossible to do real storytelling with icons, the dialog is followed by the narrator speaking, telling you what the icons meant.

I’m sorry, what? Why did I sit through the icons and instrument voices? What was the purpose of that if it was never intended to transmit information? It’s ornamental? Sorry, that’s a no sale.

There were numerous chances for humor in this game, but in general they play it boringly straight. A grinder in which you play a tight-lipped morose rat. It was ironic to be assigned in one mission to clear the farmer’s basement of vermin as a rat, since killing basement rats is a cliche level-one AD&D mission. But no, not even a subtle wink. We have heard that there’s a faction of “Moleshevik” rodents that you encounter later in the adventure, and we’re 100% here for it, but we didn’t get that far.

Sorry, I wanted to like this game. But the Tales of Iron gameplay isn’t up to snuff.

How to Use a Picture as a Webcam Upload

Need to upload an image instead of a webcam selfie? Here’s how.

I’m a desktop guy so I hate it when a site requires me to be on mobile to buy something. Recently I hit something even more pernicious: a site that required me to snap a selfie to buy something. Yes, really. They have a desktop site, but when you go to check out, the selfie requirement forces you to use mobile or a webcam-equipped computer.

Using a Picture as a Webcam Upload

For a variety of reasons, I wasn’t eager to recreate my cart contents and switch to mobile, but I found there’s a workaround: the FineCam virtual webcam app. This handy free app has a feature to share content with others, which is exactly what I wanted.

Unfortunately, FineCam doesn’t really have a “presenter mode” where you can make your selfie image front-and-center. If you use it normally, your static image will be overlaid with a live image from your cellphone camera.

Here’s what you do instead:

  1. Launch FineCam on your PC
  2. Launch the FineCam app on your phone
  3. Initiate a connection to your phone from the FineCam app on the PC – but don’t approve the connection on your phone
  4. Click the Content button on the PC’s FineCam app and upload the photo you want to send to the website as your selfie
  5. Jump to the vendor website and “send” the selfie image they want.

Task complete.

“The Last of Us” Plot

The Last of Us plot and writing work are a revelation and a clear sign once again that videogame writing can hold up to massive scrutiny. I mean, we in the videogame industry have always held it in high esteem because it’s a monumental work that IGN called “a masterpiece.” Edge dubbed it “the most riveting, emotionally resonant story-driven epic” of the console generation. Okay, that’s a sizable statement.

Who do we have to thank for The Last of Us’ outstanding plot? In the original Last of Us game’s credits, Neil Druckmann is given the writing credit, with Jacob Minkoff garnering a designer credit. Druckmann and Bruce Straley have director credits and, in interviews, are attributed with the overall leadership by copresidents Evan Wells and Christophe Balestra. (Druckmann stepped into Balestra’s shoes in 2020.) The game was developed by game industry heavyweight Naughty Dog, which is also the home of Uncharted, another world-beating action-adventure franchise noted for cinema-quality storytelling.

To us, it seems like the multi-talented, award-winning Druckmann is the guy who deserves the bulk of the credit for The Last of Us’ plot greatness. A former programmer, Druckmann also cowrote several Uncharted titles, a few comics, and a good piece of HBO’s The Last of Us as well. He and veteran screenwriter Craig Mazin (Chernobyl, Scriptnotes podcast) share creator/writer/executive producer credits on The Last of Us (the TV show) and he directed the second episode, his first experience directing a TV production.

Congrats to Druckmann. But we’re also cautioning him: don’t let your game writing work get criminally overlooked in the movie as happened to Rhianna Pratchett on Tomb Raider.

That Time “The Last of Us” Plot Got Overshadowed

… by a rogue HBO server? Or worse yet, by an error by the show’s production team? Yep, it happened.

While we’re talking about The Last of Us, we might as well highlight this astonishing visual mistake in the infamous Bill and Frank episode (“Long, Long Time”). As you’ll see here, there’s a massive change in light and color values as soon as the camera cuts to Ellie’s face. The warm tones in the scene flash brightly blue and the overall light levels spike.

What happened here? We’re not talking about a soap opera here; this is The Last of Us, a pillar in the HBO empire, a major cinematic undertaking.

Whatever the case is, it’s a bit gobstopping for us to see a cinematographic mistake of this magnitude in this show. Maybe it’s just a glitch on the HBO server, but we’re hoping that HBO doesn’t let the production pressures erode their standards.

Is Green Rogue the Worst Game Ever?

Back in 2001, we at 3DO Redwood City released our baby, Army Men: Green Rogue, a game that attempted to recast the hoary Army Men franchise into a darker yet more retro mold. Were we successful?

Apparently not. I just found out that two Youtubers with a series called “Worst Games Ever” profiled AMGR. As you might guess, this wasn’t a compliment, although to be fair the show is fairly genial and humorous. It was a good opportunity for me to review our work on this project and apply the ol’ 20-20 hindsight and the view was indeed revealing.

You may not be familiar with Army Men, but it was a genius idea at the time: take ubiquitous plastic army men, which were already experiencing a renaissance because of the Toy Story movies, and make them the heroes of a new, kid-oriented videogame series. That’s what we were famous for at 3DO. The first entrants in the series were turn-based tactical affairs, which were generally well-received. Then our executives pushed the titles into more action-oriented efforts, spinning off new heroes and launching a set of helicopter-combat games and even a platformer starring the daughter of one of the army officers.

As you might expect, reviewers started to tire of the seemingly-boundless flogging of the series, and eventually the series (and the company) ran out of steam. Still, when launching AMGR, we had hopes it would find an audience. First, it starred a faceless supersoldier who looks unlike the usual WWII grunts. Second, there was the retro gameplay, which keyed on the fact that, if you picked up the same kind of weapon powerup over and over (i.e., the grenade launcher, while avoiding the other weapons), you armed yourself with more and more powerful versions of that weapon, including guided versions of some weapons, or versions with a vast area-of-effect. Eventually you got a pretty spectacular uber-weapon that could ace platoons of foes with little effort, making aiming at different elevations a moot point. Third, the constantly-advancing camera and multiple foes meant a kind of bullet hell lite experience where you had to be constantly dancing around incoming fire while laying down your offensive ordnance.

It wasn’t AAA-level fun, in my opinion, but it was different and surprising without being weird or obtuse, and for that alone we thought AMGR had a chance to be recognized by reviewers who were tired of rote Army Men titles.

See that big meter on the bottom left? Above the gun? Yeah, that’s what you’re supposed to fill up to get the fun.

And we were wrong. The reviews were terrible. Journalists saw the Army Men label and recoiled in horror, expecting dreck and reviewing it as such. Almost all of them failed to mention the upgradable weapons and the biostrike smart bomb.

The upgradable weapons are indicated with a very large 8-chambered UI meter in the bottom left of the screen, right above your weapon indicator. It’s hard to miss, but when you’re a bleary game reviewer with five other, much sexier games sitting ignored in your inbox, why bother? You can easily pan an Army Men game after 10 minutes of bored play, using the worst weapons in the entire assortment and never seeing a single boss, without anyone ever asking what that meter is. And that’s what our droll and amiable Youtube reviewers did.

Looking back, I feel that was our fault. We made it far too easy to ignore these core features of the game. A simple hard pause and a few dialog boxes would’ve done wonders. “Hey, you just picked up your first weapon powerup! Here’s how they work.” “Biostrike powerup? Press this button for boom!” “Want to slow down the game? Try kneeling.” “Hey, that weird numbered powerup you grabbed? Here’s what it does.” (Honestly, I don’t remember what those do.)

We also failed in production to make key moments of story meaningful, which added to the slapdash feel. (Story, anyone?) I remember asking if some of our in-game dialog could be made more audible and relevant, and there was some dithering about the idea of stopping the game to emphasize the story (a cutscene, maybe?) but nothing was done. Specifically, there was a moment where the enemy yell something like, “What is that thing?” and our faceless hero without a history says something to the effect of “I’m… I’m a monster!” Would that have been more affecting if it hadn’t been drowned out by explosions and death screams? I’m gonna say yes.

Some other flaws I’m seeing clearly now: Weapons not autocorrecting generously for terrain was a huge mistake. Offscreen enemies shooting at the player was not good. The terrain itself should’ve been much flatter — roads instead of paths — so the flaws weren’t so pronounced. “Our world” environments like kitchens and bathrooms should’ve been introduced immediately (this was one of my big gripes but I was shot down because of the “gritty” feel we were targeting). The “I am Omega Soldier” powerup animation is dorky and not explained, nor is it clear what effect it has. The audio levels and voiceovers are rough and many of the battle dialog bits are heavily repeated. And of course the hero’s movement and the movement of the camera are jerky and laughable.

In retrospect, like many other games and movies, AMGR was full of good intentions (really!) that were badly implemented or communicated. I wish we could go back and make a few tweaks so people could appreciate the (modest) value that we delivered. Please let me go back. I just need a time machine, two more weeks in the schedule, and the total compliance of management. That’s not too much to ask, right?

My fellow designer Keith Meyer says:

  • He would have skewered the reviewers even more. He recalls pretty clearly some early reviews that completely missed the point/style/ how to play the game, which was frustrating because, although it wasn’t an AAA title, it was a pretty fun game for what it was.
  • He likes to focus on YouTube comments like the person who said they loved the game and played the electrons out it when they were 12 or 13. “That was what we were aiming for.”
  • Lack of a tutorial really hurts.