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Are We Right?
Topic Started: Apr 26 2012, 01:41 PM (2,648 Views)
Russwallac
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The Future Predator isn't really a good example for this sort of discussion, as it was implied to have been genetically engineered.
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Empyreon
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Are you plausible?

Excellent points, T. Neo. Again, I want to point out that my thoughts on this matter aren't directed at anyone, only that this has been something on my mind for some time and I'd like to discuss it.

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Speculative biology is so wide-ranging that a qualified expert in one area could be no better than most of us in all others.

Indeed. If there's one thing I learned from my astrobiology class (and I guarantee I learned more than just this) it's that the field is very cross-disciplinary. Astronomers, geologists (more specifically, planetologists), biologists, and experts from a number of other fields must collaborate in order to paint as complete a picture as possible of where we might find life in the universe and what it might be like. And yes, those scientists are often engaging in some degree of speculation, sometimes too confidently. Those assertions should be taken with an appropriately sized grain of salt.

Another area where I think it's apt to point out the need for salt is the internet itself. I think this web comic illustrates the potential dangers very well. Unless we are reading from accredited scholarly journals it's entirely possible that the articles we read have been whittled down and diluted into exciting sound bites and misinterpreted by pundits and PR spin doctors. In other words, I feel that part of a truly scientific approach is the ability to read a text critically and read the information behind the words.

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If you're trying to to put even some scientific effort into your creations, and you're in this world where you've got concept artists, just plain artists, and teenagers who draw animesque characters, coming up with all sorts of movie monsters and eyeless creatures and humanesque aliens, over and over again, and passing these off as similar in level of scientific rigour as to what you're trying to do, it gets tiring; one wants to seperate what they believe to be scientifically driven from what they believe to be absurd.

I completely concur with the frustration you express. Coming up with a cool idea, claiming its plausibility, and doggedly sticking by that conclusion in the face of refuting evidence is like conducting a scientific experiment and stopping with the hypothesis. If you find refuting evidence, refute the refutation with more evidence; until you can do so, your speculation isn't scientifically sound. If you simply don't care about scientific plausibility, simply say so and it will be easier to appreciate it for what it is.

And for those of us who share the frustration with T.Neo and me, it's important to be patient. We all had to learn what we know, and hear it for the first time, and process the information so we can incorporate it into our own vault of knowledge. I didn't start Nereus knowing everything I do now about xenobiology, and I even went back and changed things now and again to better match what I've learned through research and the creative process. When I first started posting here I got a lot of good, clear, patient feedback from those who were more familiar with the realms of biology that I was only then diving into. That's what makes this place special to me: enough people pooling intellects to simultaneously support and challenge one another to be creative and scientifically sound.

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And if not implausible; what terms would be more acceptable?

"Implausible" is a perfectly acceptable word. What I said was that we often forget to include clarification or precise delineations for what we mean when we make such statements. Sorry for not being more clear. If, for example, I were to assert that the megasquid is implausible (and I do), it's possible to misinterpret exactly what I mean. However, when I say that there are many conceptual, biomechanical, and evolutionary issues with the megasquid it could be assumed that I feel that cephalopods have no chance on land at all, which simply isn't true. T.Neo, it was you who helped me understand exactly why a Charybdan's eyes would hypertrophy rather than atrophy, and why at least some nereids needed fur, and it was because you not only pointed out the plausibilities of my original designs, but communicated the scientific reasoning behind it. Some of your posts in this thread, however (and I don't mean to pick on you, it's just a poignant illustration of the contrast I'm talking about), say something to the effect of "it just doesn't make sense." It may benefit others to learn why it doesn't make sense based on the science we have available, much as I benefited during my early days of Nereus.

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Many of our conclusions are indeed speculative, but others are very much grounded in hard science.

I agree, and I meant to think of our concepts in much the same way that we think of the speculations of other scientists, as I said earlier. For example, Carl Sagan postulated the hypothetical existence of several species of life on Jupiter or a world much like it, which is something that I highly doubt based on my understandings of atmospheric convection of jovian worlds. I have no doubt that Sagan grounded his speculations in all the relevant science he knew, but I also understand that the theories regarding the convection currents of jovian worlds is even today a contested point. So, in theory, Sagan's floaters, sinkers, and hunters are still as valid a speculation as the empty gas worlds of my own mind. There's simply not enough evidence to confirm or deny either idea.

And just because the majority of us don't have professional scientific experience doesn't mean that we don't have brains. I don't want to be misunderstood on that point. We should questions norms and test out wild ideas, and like you said, we may even come up with ideas so radical that they really could change the views of the scientific community; such innovation is necessary for the scientific progression. But, like I said earlier, we can't present the hypothesis, justify it based on science "as we don't know it," and stop there. Either we apply the most rigorous science we can or we say that this is, in effect, a fantastic species, and that for the sake of artistic license or other influences there are aspects of the creature that just won't jive with scientific evidence. A perfect example is with the new job I have, where I've been tasked with designing an spacefaring insectoid species, but rather than pursuing more plausible designs and attributes, I've been directed by the Powers that Sign Checks to make spacefaring insectoids that are more akin to the Zerg, or the bugs from the Starship Troopers movies. :( I've not yet given up on the fight, but I know that there will be battles within the design negotiation that I will have have to concede. They will be cool, they will be interesting, but there will be some pretty glaring mistakes to which the scientific mind will have to turn a blind eye.
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T.Neo
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Another area where I think it's apt to point out the need for salt is the internet itself. I think this web comic illustrates the potential dangers very well. Unless we are reading from accredited scholarly journals it's entirely possible that the articles we read have been whittled down and diluted into exciting sound bites and misinterpreted by pundits and PR spin doctors. In other words, I feel that part of a truly scientific approach is the ability to read a text critically and read the information behind the words.


That's a good point. I guess it's more relevant for those who glean much information from popular news sites (even ones specifically dealing with science). Personally I browse Wikipedia a lot, and while it perhaps may not be subject to the same sort of sensationalism, it's definitely fallible, so it probably pays to be a little more skeptical and read up more deeply on certain things.

A lot of the 'science' stuff out there- stuff on the Discovery Channel and the Ancient Aliens Channel History Channel is so sensationalised and quote mined (see Mathew Wedel's experience on Clash of the Dinosaurs) that one can't really rely on it for any sort of proper info. It's necessary to go into the depths of the internet; a lot of links to the better resources are often passed around on this very site.

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I completely concur with the frustration you express. Coming up with a cool idea, claiming its plausibility, and doggedly sticking by that conclusion in the face of refuting evidence is like conducting a scientific experiment and stopping with the hypothesis. If you find refuting evidence, refute the refutation with more evidence; until you can do so, your speculation isn't scientifically sound. If you simply don't care about scientific plausibility, simply say so and it will be easier to appreciate it for what it is.

And for those of us who share the frustration with T.Neo and me, it's important to be patient. We all had to learn what we know, and hear it for the first time, and process the information so we can incorporate it into our own vault of knowledge. I didn't start Nereus knowing everything I do now about xenobiology, and I even went back and changed things now and again to better match what I've learned through research and the creative process. When I first started posting here I got a lot of good, clear, patient feedback from those who were more familiar with the realms of biology that I was only then diving into. That's what makes this place special to me: enough people pooling intellects to simultaneously support and challenge one another to be creative and scientifically sound.


I agree.

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Some of your posts in this thread, however (and I don't mean to pick on you, it's just a poignant illustration of the contrast I'm talking about), say something to the effect of "it just doesn't make sense." It may benefit others to learn why it doesn't make sense based on the science we have available, much as I benefited during my early days of Nereus.


I pretty much exactly said 'it just doesn't make sense'. ;)

I agree wholeheartedly; the reason I didn't elaborate is because I assumed the reasons for why things such as the terasquid or the future predator are considered implausible were common knowledge. Considering that we have new members who probably haven't been exposed to previous rants about Primeval/TFIW, this probably wasn't the best thing to do.

There is a Spec Evo wiki; currently it's standard, I must admit, is quite poor. Perhaps it'd be a great place where all sorts of speculative concepts- and scientific criticisms of them- could be compiled together in an accessible manner. Since pretty much all of the stuff we do is original research though, it might end up being pretty odd... and a bit difficult to prevent from sounding overly authoritative.

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A perfect example is with the new job I have, where I've been tasked with designing an spacefaring insectoid species, but rather than pursuing more plausible designs and attributes, I've been directed by the Powers that Sign Checks to make spacefaring insectoids that are more akin to the Zerg, or the bugs from the Starship Troopers movies. I've not yet given up on the fight, but I know that there will be battles within the design negotiation that I will have have to concede.


Ouch. That's the kind of thing that discourages me from thinking about the potential of working for people professionally (not that I'm anywhere near that sort of level, of course).
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miocenemadness
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Russwallac, I was talking about the first ones that appeared in Episode 1.6; the one that fought the Gorgonopsid.

Oh, and no island is EVER completely isolated from birds or bats. Arctic terns travel from Antarctica to the Arctic every year. If there was a storm and some of the terns survived, they would probably evolve to fill in niches. But, there could be an island out there where there are terrestrial cephalopods; it is just a matter of time, after all. Wow, that gave me ideas.
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colddigger
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I think insectoid space faring races is perfectly reasonable if you design them correctly, though designing ones with caste systems and physiological differences as great as the Zerg is very iffy...
Explaining how their exoskeleton works could be interesting, my thoughts would be that they use vats for shedding. It could give an interesting scene. Shedding vats.
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Arachnus
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Hmm, looks like the birds are just so awesomely well adapted to flight, nothing is out of their reach. Although what about arboreal forms? I highly doubt birds would be able to brachiate, so perhaps something else would have to fill those niches. Perhaps the cephalopods still have a chance then? Or would other creatures manage to raft those large distances? What's the farthest known distance rafting has taken land animals?
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colddigger
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Before that they would have to grab hold of niches that birds would more quickly fill unfortunately.

Though I could provide you with the possibility of mangroves. Try developing an idea to share where your cephalopod escapes fishes by fleeing upward into magroves, and work from there.
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lamna
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Elsa? Do you want to overthrow the Kaiser?

Gannetwhales work ok, it's just that five million years is probably not long enough, and Auks would be much more likely to take that niche. After all they did once.
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Gannets and Booby birds feed by flying long distances and diving. Auks and Penguins already dive, and I don't see why they would all go extinct while gannets survive.

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On terrestrial cephalopods, what about some isolated island in the middle of the ocean, too far for birds or bats to make the journey, and too far for creatures to raft?
It doesn't exist. Birds are everywhere on earth they can survive.

And birds are perfectly good at climbing about in trees, I see them do it every day. Still, that did not stop the Robber crab evolving.
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Empyreon
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Are you plausible?

T.Neo (since you're the one who's responded to my posts I'll direct this comment to you), I thought of one more thing I'd like to add to the subject of whether we're right or not and why I feel we should think of our activities here as "only speculations," and then I'll probably be done with my thoughts on the matter.

Consider what it would mean for one of us to be "right." It would mean that our speculations are actually confirmable. Of course, in this sense I'm not talking about statements of fact like the measured biomechanics of an extant creature or the observed details of fossil records or the process of natural selection. We can assert those with all the referential skills at our disposal and be "right" insofar as our sources are reliable extensions of accepted scientific theory.

But we don't just talk about scientific facts around here, do we? On the contrary, we use those facts to inform and support the creations of our imaginations. It's those speculations that we should never feel we are right about, and that's probably the best explanation I can give for the intended meaning of my original statement. I can put all the science I want into Nereus, and match it to all known relevant theories and physical parameters, but it's still just a speculation. I'm not "right" about it because I can't confirm it. If we were to suddenly have the means to observe Eta Cassiopeiae at an appropriate resolution, I would be just as astonished as anyone else to find a planet populated with the creatures I have imagined. I would technically be "right," in the sense that my speculations were confirmed to be real, but the odds of this ever occurring is so astronomically small that even I am tempted to use the word "impossible." :P

This extends, I believe, to refutations, debates, or other types of discussions regarding the speculated creatures of other projects. Nobody is perfect in their speculations, and we can all improve our scientific understanding, but too often we hold up the result of our own research as irrefutable fact while disparaging the work of another person who has based their speculations on much the same level of scientific inquiry. For example, we treat Hollywood aliens with almost universal disdain or, at the very least, universal incredulity, but for few exceptions. Are prawns really that much more plausible than everything else out there, or are there other factors that keep them from getting the same kind of critical attention that, say, Avatar gets? Why do we spend so much time talking about the ones that don't work, and not spend more time analyzing those creatures that get things right? Or consider the constant flak TFIW and Expedition get from this community, and how the projects of Nemo Ramjet and Sigmund Nastrazzurro, both of which I'm sure have their own constellations of implausibilities. Why does one category get lambasted with corrections and contempt, while the other is largely mentioned in a comparatively positive light?

Are we right? Yes and no. ;)
Edited by Empyreon, Apr 28 2012, 01:06 AM.
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T.Neo
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This extends, I believe, to refutations, debates, or other types of discussions regarding the speculated creatures of other projects. Nobody is perfect in their speculations, and we can all improve our scientific understanding, but too often we hold up the result of our own research as irrefutable fact while disparaging the work of another person who has based their speculations on much the same level of scientific inquiry.


But why would that extend to refutations or debates regarding biomechanics and other things that can be verified through science or mathamatics?

If I showed you a 100 meter tall, green-furred, bipedal elephant, and you said "but that doesn't make any sense at all, it'd crush itself under its own weight, and mammals cannot produce the necessary structures in fur to appear green, and the skeletal system of the elephant is highly unsuited to bipedalism", would that criticism be merely speculation? It is all very much grounded in scientific fact, and there's nothing that could give such an organism an excuse past any and all criticism- unless of course, being fictional is in itself an excuse. But that of course would defeat the entire purpose of speculative biology.

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Are prawns really that much more plausible than everything else out there, or are there other factors that keep them from getting the same kind of critical attention that, say, Avatar gets?


The more and more I look at the prawns; the more issues I see with them- they're incredibly strong for their skeletal-looking build. Their 'gill plates' are interesting, but wouldn't water drip into them when it rains? And let's face it; they may not look like humans in suits, but their posture and proportions are based on humans.

And what kind of creature has a reproductive system that involves hooking up their eggs to dead cows? :rolleyes:

I think though that the prawns are well done in terms of effects and concept design though; and at the very least, they're a welcome departure from the usual uncreativity we see in aliens in film, even if they have implausibilities.

I think that kind of thing; something that's even just a little bit good, in a sea of bad or mediocre stuff, can elicit the kind of reaction you're talking about. Something that reminds me of that is the ISV Venture Star spacecraft from Avatar; it's far better than the usual Star Wars or Star Trek-esque spaceship designs we commonly see, in terms of being similar to a 'real spacecraft'. But its radiators (oddly for something in a vacuum) seem optimised for conductive heat transfer, and with the immense power it would have to harness to travel at the speed it is said to travel, it'd probably fry itself the second the engines turned on.

Is the ISV a 'plausible' design? I don't really think so. Maybe it could simply be called a 'good design', to showcase how well done it was, while not making any claims about how plausible it is.

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Why do we spend so much time talking about the ones that don't work, and not spend more time analyzing those creatures that get things right?


I don't know. Perhaps we simply like to pick a few subjects and constantly moan about how bad they are. :P

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Or consider the constant flak TFIW and Expedition get from this community, and how the projects of Nemo Ramjet and Sigmund Nastrazzurro, both of which I'm sure have their own constellations of implausibilities. Why does one category get lambasted with corrections and contempt, while the other is largely mentioned in a comparatively positive light?


Quite frankly, I think it is because Snaiad and Furaha are indeed 'better' than TFIW and Expedition. Though you have to approach different projects in different ways; TFIW is future evolution, meaning that it has to subscribe to the biology and physiology found on Earth. Expedition or Snaiad, on the other hand, deal with alien worlds, and have more leeway.

I agree; we should not refrain from criticising projects like Furaha (though we don't know that much about it, mind you) and we shouldn't (in internet parlance) 'hate on' Expedition just because it contains implausibilities.
Edited by T.Neo, Apr 28 2012, 06:13 AM.
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Russwallac
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Concerning the Expedition vs. Snaiad, etc. thing: This forum is filled with the kind of people who tend to not like things which are popular. We're a little biased towards finding flaws in things which many other people like. That being said, it does seem odd how TFIW had actual scientists working on it, yet somehow cam up with completely ridiculous ideas.
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dragontunders
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Are you plausible?

T.Neo
 
If I showed you a 100 meter tall, green-furred, bipedal elephant, and you said "but that doesn't make any sense at all, it'd crush itself under its own weight, and mammals cannot produce the necessary structures in fur to appear green, and the skeletal system of the elephant is highly unsuited to bipedalism", would that criticism be merely speculation?

I'm gonna quote my previous post to show how this falls into a category other than "[mere] speculation."

Me
 
Of course, in this sense I'm not talking about statements of fact like the measured biomechanics of an extant creature or the observed details of fossil records or the process of natural selection. We can assert those with all the referential skills at our disposal and be "right" insofar as our sources are reliable extensions of accepted scientific theory.

Offering verifiable scientific insight that either supports or refutes a given speculation is exactly that: verifiable, confirmable. You can go to the bones of a creature, living or dead, and conduct experiments to reinforce the assertion. That's evidence. That's research. That's the ability to point to something and say, "Look, I'm right." Even after all the biological and evolutionary research I've put into my project, I couldn't point to a nereid and say, "Look, this proves my point." There's no independent researcher out there who can look at the remains of a magnificent strider, for example, and say, "Yep, his imaginary critter makes perfect physical sense."

But even those scientific assertions, in a very small way, are also a form of speculation. Let's think of it another way. T.Neo, you and Rhob have been engaging in a fascinating discussion at his thread about Polyergus Aliens, in which you said:

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They're one of those organisms I look at and I just want to yell "implausible, what from here to Mu Arae were they smoking at the time", but I'm forced to believe it because it actually exists. :lol:


If someone were to present a completely invented creature that behaved just as the Polyergus ant, your response would be to label it implausible and either cite evidence supporting your claim or ignore it on the basis of absurdity. But it's real; it doesn't get a "get out of jail free" card because of artistic license or some fantastic bending of physical law. As you said, it actually exists, and it challenges your current understanding of life, and what it's capable of, and I find such a challenge to my current understanding just as fascinating as you do. I find that there is evidence out there that the conclusions I have come to based on scientific inquiry-- my "speculations," if you will-- are erroneous and in need of adjustment to fit with the evidence I see. That is the ubiquitous caveat of the scientific process.

But it's that caveat we too often forget. We don't say, "This is implausible based on my current understanding of relevant scientific matters," or we don't say, "Could you show me the science you may have found that supports your speculation?" We say, "It's implausible." Period. We slam down the gavel as if our own Interwebz degrees give us such authority. The speculator of the 100 meter green-wooled behemoth doesn't get constructive feeback on what the upper limits of size might actually be, or exactly why there are obstacles to bipedality, or interesting bypasses that could possibly bring about green fur (like these poor critters). We mark the speculator's work as an Epic Fail and say better luck next time. Where is the science in that?

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The more and more I look at the prawns; the more issues I see with them...

See, this is the kind of stuff I think is really good. Correct me if I'm wrong, but even after you've given the prawns more thought as to their plausibility, it hasn't diminished your enjoyment of the film, has it? The ISV Venture Star can't fall into the category of "plausible," but that doesn't exclude it from being "good," right? Why must Expedition be regarded as a flight of fancy for its implausibilities, but Snaiad's mistakes ignored simply because it didn't make the same ones? Why do we throw the bathwater out of TFIW without ever discussing whether or not there's a baby or two in there?

I really think it does come down to bias, like you say, Russwallac. "What I've learned is right, and if you've learned something that disagrees with it you're obviously wrong." Scientists come up with ideas that amateurs can point to as ridiculous. Poor, poor Galileo. ;)

But this is all part of the game that Hal Clement describes in his article "Whirligig World":

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"Writing a science fiction story is fun, not work.... the fun... lies in treating the whole thing as a game. ... the rules must be quite simple. They are; for the reader of a science-fiction story, they consist of finding as many as possible of the author's statements or implications which conflict with the facts as science currently understands them. For the author, the rule is to make as few such slips as he possibly can..."


We all play this game, and we find it quite enjoyable, but I think we could all improve on our sportsmanship just a bit...
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Fakey
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Apr 28 2012, 11:56 AM
But it's that caveat we too often forget. We don't say, "This is implausible based on my current understanding of relevant scientific matters," or we don't say, "Could you show me the science you may have found that supports your speculation?" We say, "It's implausible." Period. We slam down the gavel as if our own Interwebz degrees give us such authority. The speculator of the 100 meter green-wooled behemoth doesn't get constructive feeback on what the upper limits of size might actually be, or exactly why there are obstacles to bipedality, or interesting bypasses that could possibly bring about green fur (like these poor critters). We mark the speculator's work as an Epic Fail and say better luck next time. Where is the science in that?
This is what I face every time I make a project, only they don't yell 'implausible'. They go, "I'd love to see more." without even bothering to give constructive criticism.

Frankly, I have half a mind to resist the urge punch someone in the dick though their monitor for saying that wiout going on about why they think it's cool.


I'd love to hear for once, someone say "I like this because your rape mountain has this this and this going for it, but if you want it to be really plausible, then you'd do this this and this. Maybe even this or this if you change those Ddraigs."
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Russwallac
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Well, you're a senior member. It's hard to find fault with the work of someone you look up to and respect (you're not the BEST example, but still).

I sometimes get the same problem; people say that they like my projects, but they don't say why or give any ideas/criticism, except at the beginning. You can see it in Pangaea or Lovecraftia; the initial comments are insightful and target inaccuracies, the later ones are more generic, and they eventually just stop entirely. :whatever:
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