Saints Row 4 Review

I am mostly finished with SR4 and it has started to become a slog.  The game never really capitalizes on the promise of liberating itself from the shackles of plausibility.

Most of the complaints about the game seem to be that it a rehash of SR3 that reuses a lot of the same game assets.  But I think the developers did a good job using their mastery of the engine to pump out a sequel in a short time with some new features.  That is after all the appeal of a sequel, similar gameplay and reduced development costs.  I mean they at least tried to change the gameplay with super powers, though I will later question how well they did so.  It’s not like Zelda where every 3D version is essentially the same but you have to wait three years to get a game with last gen graphics at release.

So as you might have heard SR4 is completely over-the-top.  You open up as POTUS taking down terrorist cells with your own hands and then an alien invasion puts you in the Matrix.  This allows them to introduce super powers like super sprinting and gliding.  Surpisingly, they did a very good job with the extra mobility and it is on par with Prototype for joy of just trampling around a city with your god like powers.

The problem is that the killing portion of the game, which is fairly integral to the genre, mostly ignores your powers.  You are still going to be killing people with guns and you might as well not be powered up.  If you super jump you lose the ability to fire until you can land and wait a moment to pull out your gun.  The combat powers have a fairly long recharge and mostly boil down to similar area effect attacks and you can only have one mapped to a key at a time.  You can super sprint into an enemy and do an obnoxiously long cutscene instant kill.  There is just none of the fluidity to combat that I would expect to come from super agility and strength.  Combat is also insultingly easy yet at the same time the enemies have a bit too much health unless you upgrade your guns fully or headshot them.

The point where you realize the developers were in financial difficulties is the paucity of story missions.  Many of the quests are actually just lists of activities for you to do that maybe reward you with a funny piece of dialogue, but usually not.  Some of the new activities are fun, but a few of them are just mighty annoying and I have to grit my teeth through them so I can complete a sidequest.

All that said, the game is legitimately funny at times and plays its over-the-topness well.  For instance, one character uses the computer simulation to reenact a fan fiction he wrote for his favorite TV series.  Or there is the choice at the beginning of the game where you as the POTUS must choose between curing cancer or solving world hunger.  At this point I am mostly playing for these moments, which is rare for a game and at odds with the complete lack of care for plotting.

Considering the development time this is actually fairly impressive.  I just wish that there wasn’t such a clash between the decadent plot and super powers and the mundanity of much of the gameplay.


The Carr Doctrine

I haven’t done any political writing on this blog, but I am going to change that with this post.  Syria has been in the news lately and now because of Assad’s use of chemical weapons it has reached a level of international consciousness such that leaders are talking about military intervention.  As such I want to present my idea for how to deal with oppressive regimes around the world that draws from promising law enforcement techniques and puts military intervention on firmer moral ground.

Right now in the U.S. a novel and effective technique is being developed to deal with parole violators.  The idea is fairly simple, use your limited resources to focus on a small number of parolees, probably your worst offenders, and monitor them scrupulously for violations.  When they realize they can’t get away with anything they will naturally fall in line.  At this point you shift your resource to the next group, but you leave the explicit threat that you will bring down the hammer on anyone in the first group that gets out of line even though you are no longer targeting them intensely.  The best feedback is always assayed quickly and regularly and as such the targeted parolees quickly learn to behave within the bounds of their parole.

This technique allows the limited resources of our parole officers to cover a much larger group of people effectively.  Apart from that it works better for the parolees who are much less likely to to commit violations and be sent back to jail with the commensurate increase on our government coffers that entails.  It’s a win-win situation for everyone and it has has great success in the states that have tried it like Hawaii.

Now I would adapt this to foreign military interventions.  Make a list ranking nations based on how much better life would be for its people without its current oppressive regime.  There is a lot of guess work here, but it’s better than nothing.  Maybe you would even factor in how much it would cost to topple said regime and rank the list based on cost/benefit analysis, though that might look a bit cold-hearted.

Now explicitly state that you are going to work from the top of the list on down and start taking down dictators.  You would be careful not to embroil yourself too much in nation building, though obviously some stability is required.  Instead, you clearly threaten to return if the next regime starts to get out of hand even if it’s not top of the list material.  Hopefully, this will curtail recidivism in nations.  In a broader context, once the nasty regimes of the world see you are serious I suspect they will begin to moderate themselves in a competition to not be at the top of the list.

This to me, puts military intervention on sturdier moral footing.  As it is now we seem to play whack-a-mole with malevolent dictators based on whoever currently has the world’s notice.  Decades long atrocities in a country are fine as long as you don’t escalate anything and in doing so bring it to the forefront of international consciousness.  If we decide to make it a policy to police the world then we should start with those countries that stand to gain the most from our help rather than based on whatever country pricks our first world guilt at any given time.

I mean why was it OK to intervene in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan and not a dozen other countries at least as terrorized by their government?  Why is it now conventional wisdom that invading Iraq was a mistake and that maybe Afghanistan is still justified?  Is it just because rebuilding Iraq was so much harder than anticipated?  Why is it, suddenly, that we are contemplating intervening in Syria?  Is it because he used chemical weapons?  Would it have been less worthy of action if he had just killed the rebels with bullets?

I still haven’t been able to tease out a morally consistent answer to all of these questions.  I guess in Iraq and Afghanistan we were defending ourselves against terrorists, but I think any moral code would find our response to terrorism a disproportionate response and thus inappropriate justification for war.  Three thousand people died in the September 11th attacks with another six thousand injured.  We have killed at least an order of magnitude more foreigners in retaliation, probably most of them innocent civilians, along with uncountable amounts of human suffering.

More recently we entered the fray in Libya to help dethrone Qaddaffi.  While not a nice guy he no longer supported terrorism and seemed a bit less exuberant in his oppression.  His opposition was a bunch of rebels that once in power committed their own human rights abuses.  At the same time, our support of the rebels may have created a moral hazard.  Rebels in other countries may conclude that if they start a minor civil war that maybe the Western nations will take their side and help topple the current regime.  This may be why the Syrian civil war started at all.

Anyways, my point is that if we, as a nation, decide that military incursions to change governments is acceptable (and post-WW2, at least, our leaders have decided it is) then we need to do it in a morally consistent fashion and not whenever it catches our fancy.  I, personally, think there are better humanitarian interventions than killing people.  Even if we employed the Carr doctrine I am skeptical that using military force would be a net positive change in human welfare in the vast majority of cases.  It is certainly not clear that is the case in Iraq yet, but maybe more time needs to accrue.

In conclusion, any properly calibrated moral system should be weighted heavily against aggressively killing people.  But even if it is justifiable, it should be done in a consistent manner.  You can’t solve all the world’s problems, but you should aim for the ones where you can do the most good.

Civ 5 is Finally the Best Game in the Series

I picked up Gods and Kings, the first expansion pack to Civ 5, in the Steam Summer Sale.  Recently I won a game on Immortal difficulty which is much higher difficulty than I ever reliably won in previous Civs.  Part of it is that the game is probably a bit easier and part that it is a bit different.  I only bring it up because some reviews of the expansion packs seem written by thoroughly amateur players.  This is fine; I like reviews written from different perspectives.  However, when you claim that happiness is onerous except when trivialized by city states I find it hard to take your criticism of game mechanisms seriously (Disclaimer: This was in a review for second xpack, something like this criticism might have applied way back in release Civ 5).  With that victory under my belt I thought I would share my thoughts.

So what changed?  I myself am not sure.  My memories of vanilla Civ 5 are hazy, but it was slow, the combat was awful and managing city improvements was tedious at best.  Also I recall that many of the buildings were flat out not worth building due to excessive maintenance costs (gold was very tight at release).  It never really clicked for me.  In contrast, I booted up G&K and it immediately felt familiar and engaging.  Maybe that’s a sign that I am getting old and resistant to change, but the fact that it played more like old Civs was a bonus to me.  Obvious changes were that everything was sped up, combat was completely rebalanced with more HP, nerfed horsemen and artillery and better combat AI, happiness didn’t seem quite the atrocity it did at release and the diplomatic AI isn’t quite as manic.  Yet, for the most part the improvements mostly come from bringing back a flow to the game that was missing at release rather than any particular feature.  It just flat out plays better.

Before I continue I want to address the primary critique of Civ 5 and its expansion; that is, that it is all about filling buckets.  You can see this criticism leveled here, but it is ubiquitous in discussions about the game (see any post on Rock Paper Shotgun about Civ 5).  On one hand I understand the criticism, optimizing how fast a number goes up is not really the zenith of game design.  On the other hand, every Civ game is about filling up buckets, as is the entire genre.    The three basic gameplay mechanics of all Civ games are all examples of bucket filling: food fills up a bar to increase population, hammers fill up to produce a  building and science fills to discover a technology.  To say you don’t like Civ 5 because all you do is fill up buckets is to say you don’t like 4x games.  So either your tastes have moved on or you are mislabeling why you don’t like Civ 5.

To pick at a particular example used by the bucket crowd: they complain that the social policy system is just another tech tree rather than the interesting ability to switch on the fly ala Civ 4.  Again, these people are nostalgic about a system that didn’t exist.  In Civ 4, you chose the best system for whichever victory you were pursuing.  Occasionally you might switch to a warmongering policy if you were planning a protracted engagement, but overall no more decisions were made than in Civ 5’s system.  In fact Civ 5 has some obvious bonuses.  For one, it gives culture victories a bit of an advantage to make up for deficiencies in other areas and provides more incentive for dabbling in culture buildings for other victory types.  Most importantly, it adds another way to put a check on large empires versus small empires.  Thus, it seems to me that it provides more gameplay than the research tech choose social policy of the previous game.

A goodly portion of these bucket people wax nostalgic for the sliders of Civ 4 (as a side note, many have the same feelings towards the removal of sliders in Europa Univeralis 4).  How is this at all engaging?  I choose my civilization’s specialization by merely setting a slider and voila I am done?  If my choices really are filling buckets or moving sliders then I think gaming is dead.  Thankfully, Civ 5 and its predecessors actually promoted choices and specialization everywhere else in the game based on what you decide to build and research and not solely by moving a tab on a bar up and down.

Which brings me to  the major novel addition of Gods and Kings, religion.  Despite what I just wrote I have to agree with the bucket people, religion seems a bit too much like filling a bucket and not enough like a living religion.  You have new buildings that generate faith and you can use faith to buy missionaries, prophets and later other great people depending on your policy choices.  The first problem is that is it is ignorable, which is why the culture social policy revamp described above was a good idea; now everyone has to be involved with culture at some level.  In contrast it’s actually very hard to get your own religion on higher difficulties without serious focus and once you have established it, spending time and resources spreading it is usually not worth it, even for a culture victory.  Despite the use of real world religions, they are just names and you get to choose from a list of potential abilities when founding them.  These abilities vary wildly in power, with most being extremely trivial bonuses.  I would have pruned this list to a handful of good ones and that way AIs are more likely to take the ones you want.

However, I would go further and propose a completely different religion system.  It needs to be taken mostly out of the players control, just like real religions.  I would give them fixed modifiers and maybe attach them to specific civilizations.  It would spread via proximity, trade (something that needs to be in the game more heavily), diplomacy and stochastically (probably with added random events).  It would figure heavily in diplomacy.  Because of fixed modifiers you might want to woo a particular religion.  It needs to be the force of strife or unity it is in real life rather than another resource to spend.

The other system added in the expansion is espionage which is a gigantic leap over Civ 4.  First off, everyone gets automatic access to it via technology, so it’s not siphoning off resources from other things which is a surefire way to get a system ignored (like espionage in civ 4).  You then either send them to prevent spying in your cities or go steal intelligence or tech in other civs.  The technology espionage works just fine but the really interesting stuff is how intelligence can be shared with other civs.  This feeds into the diplomacy system where you get bonuses for sharing information or forgiving espionage attempts.  When you only have one spy sending him globetrotting allows you to pick up lots of diplomacy modifiers from sharing intelligence.  It’s a simple, but neat addition to the core game.

For the most part Civ 5 plays like previous Civs now, except better.  That said a few things still rankle.  Foremost is happiness.  Global happiness that is based on population and number of cities makes no sense from a simulation perspective.  It is also an extremely clunky way to limit so called wide empires with many cities compared to tall empires with fewer larger cities.  In fact I would say the game is mostly dominated by tall strategies at this point because of happiness limitation.  It’s much better to have more organic systems in place to maintain the balance; stuff like the increased social policy cost for larger empires.  I would also do things like decouple science from population, maybe make it based on percentage of gdp allocated to research so richer empires have to pay more to stay competitive.  As it is, taking cities is often less a boon than a burden after you get done killing most of the population and destroying all the buildings, which defeats a lot of the thrill of expanding your civilization.  I do think happiness has a role here in the balancing act, just not a global happiness based only on population and city number.

The other problem with Civ 5 is how transparent an optimization game it is, which probably explains why I am better at it than Civ 4.  This is fine except that it is a bit one note in its strategy.  Namely, science is king for all victories.  For science victories it is obvious, but culture needs certain wonders before other people snag them and you need to at least stay on par in unit tech for domination victories.  Even diplomacy victories want to build the United Nations before someone else and at the earliest possible time and it is at the very end of the tech tree.  Yet getting science up basically boils down to having more people and so accruing as much food as possible is always the best strategy.  You can always switch to hammers with a large population when needed, so its not like you are giving up a large production advantage.  As such all my games play a bit too similarly.  I don’t really have any ideas on how to combat this except that I think technology should diffuse so that you are too far behind or ahead on technology.  Also I think city specialization needs to make a come back, though maybe in a less extreme form than in Civ 4.

Other minor things that bother me is a that the AI civs are a bit too static.  I have yet to see one AI wipe out another or even do major damage to another despite wide disparities in scores.  I also think the end of the tech tree is pretty boring and that modern warfare is time consuming and dull.  Lastly, I will never get over archers having longer range than modern firearms.

If I had to elect one area that needs to be added it would be trade.  While Brave New World addresses this, I feel like it should be much more front and center.  It ties into the economy, social policies, diplomacy, technology and is probably one of the major areas that governments actually controlled in pre-modern times.

So yeah, now I can definitively uninstall Civ 4.

Why Is It So Hard to Make Good Video Games?

The title of this post obviously ignores the fact that I could say the same thing about any creative endeavor.  Yet something like a movie is fundamentally different than a game in this respect.  A game has game mechanics that are not copyrightable and which it is standard practice to reuse.  The latest Bioshock is not much different than Doom when it comes down to games about a man running down corridors shooting stuff.  In contrast, everything about a movie must be new and then you have to tell the story right.  Also I would say that movies lately heavily rely on formulas and seem to have a higher floor of craftsmanship than in previous decades.  There might be fewer classics (up for debate) but the average movie is more interesting, at least to me.

The question posed in the title then is why is it game developers can’t seem to make good  video games more often.  The thing is, everyone knows which games are legendary.  Read a handful of developer interviews and you will see them namedropping like crazy.  You will see them rattle off Thief 1/2, Deus Ex, Alpha Centauri, XCOM, Masters of Magic, Final Fantasy Tactics, Masters of Orion 2, Fallout 1/2 (not 3), Planescape Torment, Freespace 2 just to name a few.

It really makes one wonder.  Are these games, games usually critically well regarded (at least after the fact) and beloved by the internet just commercial failures that don’t appeal to he mainstream?  Or should I take it with a grain of salt when a game developer exalts some classic game and they secretly are just another Call of Duty Zombie?  It’s hard to tell because we certainly are not getting anything approaching these classics.  I just don’t understand how we have so many good examples and yet not only is the medium not pushing forward it often seems to be regressing.  It took a decade for someone to merely replicate Deus Ex with the third entry.  Dishonored was a pale imitation of Thief and the new Thief seems designed by people that don’t understand a thing about Thief despite supposed reverence for the franchise.  Everyone is still trying to recreate MoM and MoO2 decades later.  FFT is still the best game in the strategy JRPG genre after two lackluster sequels that had only a tenuous connection to the original.  Finally, space sims and CRPGs died and are only now being resurrected by crowdfunding (we shall see).

It just baffles me how Alpha Protocol (or even the latest Splinter Cells) messes up stealth when Splinter Cell is there to show the way.  Or how it is the latest Hitman messed up a perfectly good formula.  They aren’t progressing the genre but forgetting things that have already been learned by their predecessors.  Considering the money in video games, I should be playing an equivalent to Deus Ex every year.  How to do it is out there, but instead we get another bland manshoot or Blizzard messing up the crack that was the Diablo formula and people regale it as the best thing ever.

Then again, maybe I am just the gamer equivalent of a grumpy old man.  So I say, get of my lawn!

Alpha Protocol: Maligned, But for the Wrong Reasons

I recently finished Alpha Protocol, another valiant, but ultimately disappointing effort by Black Isle refugees at Obsidian.  What I find interesting is that the reviews of this game seem to deride it for all the wrong reasons.

For instance, because it is an Obsidian game it gets hammered for being buggy.  Nevermind, that Skyrim is orders of magnitude worse, requiring fan patches for the base game after multiple expansion packs (which also have their own fan patches).  This is Obsidian and so it must be buggy.  I, for one, encountered only two bugs (if you discount occasional clipping issues), both of which are well known and solutions exist to circumvent.  The one that is perhaps more annoying due to its persistence is that if you die you must go back to the main menu to reload or the game freezes.  This game is pretty easy so this doesn’t happen often and it only adds a few seconds to a reload.  The other involves reloads on specific levels wiping out the guards.   More troubling, but again you can circumvent it.  That said, there are more bugs reported on the internet that I did not encounter.  However, a perusal of forums suggests it is no buggier than any other RPG release in recent memory and in fact seemed the most polished Obsidian game yet.  So in my opinion the game was technically proficient, but many words were spent on how terribly game breaking all the bugs were.  Sadly, the bad press probably hurt the game enough that they never got a proper patch out.

What then are the actual faults?  Well it’s just that pretty much everything else is mediocre.  Take for instance the dialogue.  Adding a time limit to dialogue responses is a great idea.  Too bad the characters are mostly boring and underdeveloped.  I mean there are four romances in the game and yet in my mind if the time spent with all four women were focused on just one you would still be hard pressed to write a convincing romance.  Your rival spy in Alpha Protocol doesn’t show up enough to actually feel like a rivalry.  Part of this was a decision to not actually spend any time in Alpha Protocol, instead you go globetrotting as a rogue agent for most of the game.  Returning to AP at the very end ofthe game is nowhere near as interesting when you only spent the intro in that locale and with those characters.

The uni-dimensionality of the characters is underscored by the easy discernment of how to influence them (and the dialogue wheel conveniently puts the “correct” choice in the same location every time).  The game obviously wants to encourage you to build a personality for your Thornton, but it’s hard when you know the NPC likes professional responses and they put the professional response in the same spot and label it “professional.”  What I am saying is that I game the system a lot.  Interestingly enough situations where you would want to game the system, such as bluffing past some guards, are curiously absent for the most part.  I think the game would have been much better if you did indeed build a personality for Thornton and people expected you to act a certain way and are surprised when you don’t.  Instead you can be aggressive with the aggressive NPC and suave with another without any problem.

Apart from that the plot is really standard stuff about evil corporation selling weapons and the missions rely far too much on gathering intelligence over actively deterring the villains.  We know from near the beginning of Halbech’s dastardly plot, yet we spend the entire game globetrotting so we can find more evidence that yes, evil corporation do evil shit.  It’s not clear to me at all what Thornton actually accomplished between going rogue and the final sequence back in Alpha Protocol.

Then we come to the actual missions.  The foremost problem in my mind is how easy the game is.  I went pistols and stealth.  Pistols allow you to freeze time to aim multiple shots and it lets you aim from cover and you get a silencer that works far too well (the guards can’t hear it at all, even in the same room).  Stealth makes you quite invisible by the end and even allows tens of seconds of complete immunity to detection as an ability.  Guard are fairly static and usually pretty blind.  When you kill someone the body sticks around for a bit so patrols could find it, but rarely do and you can shoot them in the head before they sound the alarm.  Usually this isn’t a problem because bodies disappear after a bit.  Which apart from just being weird is messed up for a stealth game.  Anyways, it is quite easy to go into room and kill everyone silently.  Either use super stealth move or just line up a chain shot to the head on everyone in the room with the pistol.

The straight up combat in this game is really awful, even worse than Deus Ex which at least becomes tolerable when you master a skill.  Here you just hover over an enemy and it rolls a die or you can aim at an enemy for awhile for a critical hit.  The boss battle are at least as bad and incongruous as Deus Ex 3, but thankfully the pistol chain shot to the head works wonders on most of them.  Also it is again fairly easy even without points in assault weapons or health.  When killing people from stealth is easy and even if you are detected enemies are easily dispatched it ruins all the tension of a good stealth game.  This is no Splinter Cell, the game it obviously intended to emulate.

The levels themselves are incredibly linear and when you get to checkpoints it mysteriously locks the doors behind you.  The obvious influence for the RPG half of this game is Deus Ex where you would tackle the level based off your skill set.  There is no possibility of that here with claustrophobic levels that can make a Call of Duty game look nonlinear.  If I am a hacker I should be hacking my way in and if I am really stealthy I am looking for a keycard to pickpocket or if I am gungho I just shoot the guy and take it.  This is a basic example and yet it never occurs.  No matter what, you are bypassing that door either through the hacking minigame or with an EMP grenade, no matter your character’s skills.

The big thing that AP does right is consequences to your actions.  Rather than some goofy karma meter that only influences the ending, almost all of your choices effect something.  What order you do missions determines your allies, as does how you treat NPCs.  Did you go guns blazing or stealthily walk back into the night?  The NPCs will notice and say something and can even be influenced by such actions.  The missions are still mostly the same with only one major mission opening up depending on your choices.  Yet it feels very organic and your choices feel far more efficacious than any RPG I can recall.  It’s a strength of being a fairly linear and story driven game that they can reference your actions more easily.

AP is not a bad game.  It’s just that this game should have been amazing.  My dream game would have been Deus Ex open levels with Splinter Cell stealth (I think that the guns blazing approach should be de-emphasized).  You would have spent far more time in Alpha Protocol because spy agencies are a vital part of the spy genre and it gives you a hub where you can talk to people rather than just checking your email and buying weapons.  The plot would include a mole in the agency and it would be written such that all your interactions can be colored by paranoia if you wish.  Or maybe you are more subtle trying to befriend them and find the discrepancy in their behavior.  The possibilities are exciting and I hope someone tries their hand at a spy RPG again.

Fat Loss Myth Myth

On the part of the internet I frequent there is a fatalistic view of fat loss developing the “scientific” basis of which can be found here.  The theory goes that long term weight loss is impossible because nobody does it.  This of course means that all the fat people on the internet can, while sitting on their asses, wave their hands in the air in defeat free of the burden of responsibility for their bodies.

The most obvious counterpoint here is that people were much lighter even twenty years ago.  Thus, we must have some control over our weight.  The mechanism that the article fails to mention for why we are doomed to grotesque flabs of flesh is that of homeostasis where your body likes to keep its physiological state relatively the same.  This equilibrium point is pretty much set after adolescence.  Perhaps the biggest contributor, especially if we believe the article, to adult obesity is then childhood obesity.  This has some important public policy considerations that I wont go into, needless to say, I think stuff like a soda tax is a great idea especially if trying to discourage the more price sensitive children.

Now I live in a rarefied part of the internet, consistently visiting sites on lifting or the latest health research.  In these locales there are many stories of people losing large amounts of weight and keeping it off for a time and looking amazing at the same time.  Maybe they get fat and stop posting or maybe they are just the gifted few that maintain weight loss.  I think far more likely is that these people are doing it right and the vast majority of people are doing it wrong.

Take for instance the metastudy linked in the Cracked article.  Of the twenty seven studies aggregated only six of them had anything to say about the exercise patterns of their subjects.  But in those six they found better maintenance of weight loss for those that exercised regularly.

Exercise is our most potent tool for weight loss.  Let me amend that.  For fat loss.  Another problem with that metastudy is that is only looks weight loss, but not all weight loss is equivalent.  If we take homeostasis as immutable and that it likes to maintain a certain amount of fat (neither contention may be true), putting on 20 pounds of muscle and maintaining the same amount of fat is still going to make you look better and have a lower body fat percentage along with a bunch of other health benefits.

Now why is exercise so great?  Myriad reasons.  It can help combat food cravings.  It increases fatty acid oxidation so you are more likely to use fat as a fuel.  It improves your mood and happy people are more likely to stick to the program.  It improves nutrient partitioning so excess energy is less likely to be stored as fat.  This is all on top of the well cataloged health benefits of exercise by itself.  Note that weight loss is still not definitively shown to lower your mortality rate, just a few markers for things that could kill you.  In contrast, exercise is well established as improving basically every part of your health, even your brain functioning.

Returning to our exercising study participants, while it was great that they exercised I can almost guarantee it was that long jog crap that has become ingrained in mainstream culture as “exercise.”  First off, that takes forever which always reduces compliance.  I have heard of people taking 45 minute jogs five times a week.  If they took three of those and replaced them with some resistance training I guarantee it would serve them better.  Many studies have shown that combining lifting with cardio gives more fat loss and increased lean body mass compared to either alone.

Another knock not against the metastudy, but the studies it metas is that the dieting protocols seem a bit insane.  In this case many of the were so called Very Low Energy Diets (VLED) where they eat 800 calories day.  Now all the evidence says you should go into a harsh calorie deficit to make progress 20-30% below maintenance.  However, 800 is really low and there is emerging evidence that starvation level diets can drastically slow your metabolism along with a bunch of other health markers.  This seems like a protocol designed only for the obese and it’s not clear that a more sane diet might not be better.  However, the metastudy showed that more drastic weight interventions (that is, VLED or larger amounts of weight loss) resulted in more weight loss maintenance.  I think it remains to be seen what the causation is here.  It could just be that in order to lose 20 kg of fate you have to be enormous already which means it might be easier to keep off.

But lets say the scientists are doing it right.  That does not mean your average person is.  As the Cracked article stated, only 2 in 1000 Weight Watchers clients maintain their weight loss.  This is a miniscule amount, but the problem is that these people went to Weight Watchers.  I have friends that used this system and it sounds ridiculous.  It adds a redundant points system on top of the points system every food item already comes labelled with: calories.  Furthermore, this subset of the population probably diets all the time.  This appears to be counterproductive especially with the small energy deficits of most consistent dieters.

So Cracked dismisses the claim that weight loss is all about willpower and yet at the same time all the people maintaining long term weight loss are obsessive.   Now I hang out with bodybuilding types and they are pretty much the most obsessive people on this planet.  Yet they get results and that is because at some level it IS all about willpower.  Whether that level of willpower is out of reach of most people is another question entirely.  It most likely is especially with our increasingly overflowing schedules. 

That suggests to me that we need to find ways to make it easier for the less obsessive among us.  For one science needs to work on optimizing exercise routines to take the last amount of time and get the most results.  We can also apply lessons from behavioral psychology where obsessive becomes habit and it stops taking willpower to do things.  Get a routine down and will start to take willpower to NOT follow it.  Finally, we need to start disseminating the few good results of science out to the masses.  For whatever reason health and nutrition is cesspit of fads, ignorance and celebrities peddling the latest snake oil; exactly the areas the scientific method is great at cleaning out.  Unfortunately, most of the results in this field just become one more advertising point for the latest health fad.  One study about the slimming effects of coconut oil and the web births a clutch of coconut fan sites espousing how the beneficial effects of coconuts, that range from staving off cancer to improving your sex life,  have been hidden from us by a vast conspiracy of scientists and corporations.

And that’s all I have to say on the subject.  It was a lot, but it holds a place in my heart because I was relatively chubby kid and now I consider myself relatively fit.  Am I doomed to largeness again or will I be one of the lucky few?  Only time will tell.