Old News

This is the news archive for Sky Render's Domain. All news posts dating back two years or later are stored here now. When I think to move them, that is, which is quite rarely. Yeah, I'm a lazy bum when it comes to my site, deal with it.

CRITICISM: 11/7/11 - How to Not Write a Test
The purpose of a test is to ascertain how well someone has learned the materials which they are being tested on. This is a very solid and established concept, and one which has gotten much attention and development over the years. So I pose this question to you now: why are there still so many badly-designed tests out there? Today I'd like to go over some of the most blatant flaws in test-giving still in widespread use today, and what can be done to avoid them.
"Best Answer" Semantics - This one pops up with alarming regularity: the "best answer" is the only one accepted, but which is the "best answer" is not based on anything involving logic or the underlying concepts. Rather, the "best answer" is defined as what the materials used to teach the subject specifically referred to the concept as, even if said materials are using a term which is not the standard accepted terminology. This is especially egregious when one of the "wrong" answers is the standard accepted terminology.
How to Avoid: Simply put, screen your materials before you use them and adjust your lessons to accomodate for their shortcomings. The absolute worst things you can do are side with the materials when they're blatantly violating the accepted standards for no good reason, and rolling with said violation and purposely try to get test-takers to fail by providing correct terminology as "wrong" answers.
Violation of Learning - These are questions where the "right" answer is in direct contradiction to what the test-taker has been taught. These tend to come about as a result of a disconnect between the material used to educate and the testing methods used to evaluate how well the material has been learned.
How to Avoid: Make sure your test is based off of the same material as the test-taker has been working off of. When telling your test-taker what to study, make it clear EXACTLY what you expect of them, instead of giving them vague guidelines of what to study that includes materials outside of what has been provided.
Trick Questions - Questions specifically phrased to generate wrong answers. This is one of the oldest and biggest no-nos in test design, and yet trick questions continue to pop up in tests with disturbing frequency. These questions are not effective means of gauging how well the test-taker knows the material. They are effective at rooting out which test-takers are quick to spot trick questions, but unless you are testing for that, there is no reason to ever include one.
How to Avoid: As it's generally intentional when one adds a trick question, avoiding them is simply a matter of not allowing yourself to add them most of the time. If you're not sure about what that entails, be wary of any temptation you may have to reverse or alter the meaning of a question posed in the materials used by the test-taker. That's a sure sign that you are making a trick question.
Off-Topic Questions - Questions which don't have anything to do with the subject being taught, where the right answer relies on knowledge outside of what was covered by the materials. You would think that avoiding questions like this would be elementary, but far too many tests still use these.
How to Avoid: Make sure what you're asking on your test was actually covered by the materials provided. It's that simple.
Assumptive Questions - Questions where the "right" answer is only the "right" answer if the test-taker makes certain assumptions not outlined by the question itself. These are some of the most insidious questions of all, as they are often impossible for the test-giver to properly identify beforehand. Often our own personal prejudices about things ("Computers are all expensive!", "Everyone knows how to drive a car by the age of 18!", "Nobody in college hasn't read this book!") will cloud our judgment and cause us to expect things of others that we cannot justifiably expect.
How to Avoid: Stick to the materials your test covers. Double-check before you finalize your test to make sure that your questions aren't demanding knowledge outside of what you've taught or what is genuinely mandatory to understand what you've taught.
Ridiculously Open-Ended Questions - Questions where the test-taker is paralyzed by the question as it is simply too broad to be sure of what the "right" answer really is. Just as being overly specific is a surefire way to fail at test-giving, so too is being too vague. When a question is so open-ended that just about anything you've covered in the materials being tested on could apply, you have gone too far on open-endedness and need to drill it down more.
How to Avoid: Be specific enough that your test-taker knows what you're looking for. Even a simple sentence after the question that limits its scope to a particular set of concepts should be sufficient, and also act as a memetic cue for the test-taker (which should result in a better answer than if you had not provided such).
Test-giving is not about "winning" anything, although some test-givers seem to think it is. Most of the problems with tests outlined above are the result of approaching test-giving from the wrong angle, be it one of trying to defeat test-takers or one of trying to be as flexible as possible. There is an art to giving an effective test, and it is not one that can be mastered if you go into the process with the wrong mindset. Tests are meant as a means of benchmarking, and the process should always be approached on those terms when your goal is to ascertain how well the materials covered have been learned. It's a co-operative effort, not a competitive one.

CRITICAL THINKING: 9/18/11 - Hiring practices and the degree fallacy
I have noticed for most of my life that businesses tend to be remarkably stupid about hiring on new employees. Most of this stems from the fact that their efforts have been driven since before I was born towards removing as much of the practical testing of ability as possible and putting the weight of that part of the analysis process on college degrees. Quite frankly, this is a baffling and massively short-sighted thing to do. On paper it sounds great, as so many things do: you don't have to give the subject rigorous testing to see if they have the skills you need, and you can also exclude people from the hiring process who are just trying to get in on charisma alone. In practice, it's less than worthless since many fresh-out-of-college hires either have no experience or bought their way to that degree instead of developing the skills it says they have.
The problem is easily solved, yet companies reject this solution for no genuinely good reason: when hiring someone, test their abilities effectively and have the person testing them be an expert in the field of the job they're being hired for. I'm sure the main argument against this is that it's time-consuming and costs more than the current slipshod hiring practices, but let me paint a different picture for you. Hiring based on a rigorous skill-assessment process gets you reliable employees who do their jobs well, and your business will run far better for it. Hiring based on slips of paper that say people have skills and having non-experts decide who gets hired will get you a random mix of employees ranging from competent to dangerously incompetent, and the dangerously incompetent ones will end up causing more daamge than the competent ones can possibly make up for.
I am reminded of the profit fallacy I mentioned some time ago, and the underlying problem that so many businesses are run by people who are too short-sighted and bound to the numbers to actually look at their situation in terms of qualitative measures. The same problem that causes businesses to fail due to focusing on profits is what causes businesses to make poor hiring decisions. You cannot run a business effectively by just focusing on the numbers and doing things by the book. The numbers are meant for reference purposes, not as a crutch. The book is a set of guidelines, not an end-all-be-all guide to success. In the end, once more, you are dealing with human beings made of flesh and blood who have their own lives, not with a series of numbers and data points that make for fancy charts.
I put out this request to businesses everywhere, therefore: abandon your current model of hiring. Do not let non-experts decide what experts get hired. Do not trust a degree to tell you what someone is capable of. Test your employees before you hire them, and let them demonstrate their skills. Your workforce will be better, happier, and more effective if you staff your halls with people who actually know what they're doing.

REVIEW: 9/14/11 - A fortnight with Just Cause 2
At the end of August, I decided to get a game on Steam that I'd heard a lot of good things about and enjoyed the demo of: Just Cause 2. A little over two weeks later, I've had about enough of the game. I can honestly say that it was a worthwhile purchase, and managed to clock over 100 hours on it to boot, but I do still take issue with a few elements of the game. As such, I'm going to give a bit of a review of it as a whole.
First off, let's talk positive. The basic gameplay is phenomenal, solving just about every major issue that has plagued sandbox-style games since Grand Theft Auto 3. Traveling to any part of the terrain at all is never a pain in the butt thanks to the grappling hook and infinite parachutes, for starters. One of the greatest annoyances with sandbox games until recently has been that you basically have only foot-based and vehicle-based travel options, and the former is always ludicrously more time-consuming than the latter. The grapple/parachute combo solves this dilemma nicely and gives the player the option to travel at about 50MPH completely unaided by any vehicle. Also nice is the fast travel system which lets you jump to literally any settlement you've visited before instantly. This is such a huge time-saver I cannot even begin to tell you. And perhaps the greatest feature is that death is all but penalty-free. If you die during a mission, you just go back to a checkpoint with everything you had when you hit said checkpoint. If you die outside of a mission, you go to the nearest friendly base of operations and have everything on hand you did when you died; one quick airlift and it's like you never died at all. If you fail a mission and don't die, you also go back to a checkpoint, instead of having to huff it back to the mission start point like most sandbox games.
With all that praise, it may seem odd that I take issue with this game. After all, it works so hard to give the player so many options, and cuts them so much slack. Well, my issue is by and large with when the developers decided that all that freedom they gave the players was too much after all, and instead forced rather annoying requirements on the player during missions. Now not all of the missions are like this; in fact, the main story missions are remarkably forgiving and very fun overall. It's a few certain faction missions and challenges that stand out as very badly designed. A good example is a certain mission where you have to defend a boat from incoming helicopters and patrol boats. Already it loses points for being an escort mission, but to make matters worse, the developers actually expect you to use an awful mounted gun that cannot aim straight, has a long warm-up and cool-down time when firing, and is almost impossible to hit anything with. You can at least opt to use your own weapons instead of this terrible gun (I would have quit and never given the game a second glance if that were not an option ala GTA games, believe me), but the fact that they actually expected anyone to use it is testament to JC2's biggest issue: many of the missions and challenges do not take into account the fact that the controls are not suited for them.
Ultimately, I liked Just Cause 2. Most of the game is actually quite good, and as long as you ignore most of the faction missions and challenges, you can have a romping good time scavenger-hunting all over Panau for items and blowing up everything in sight. It is a pity they let their desire to script out certain events and scenes get in the way of the fun, but at least they didn't lock off the actual fun parts of the game until you put up with enough badly-designed missions the way Grand Theft Auto games do. They have my utmost respect for trying so hard to break the chains cast upon the genre for so long. It's a testament to how well they did so that what would be considered very good missions in almost any other sandbox game stand out like a sore thumb and feel intolerable in light of their accomplishments in liberating the player from typical sandbox tedium. They've redefined my standards for sandbox games, and if that's not the mark of good design, I don't know what is.

GODDAMN IT SQUARE-ENIX: 8/8/11 - Not this crap again...
On a whim, I decided to try re-playing Dragon Quest VIII. I recall stopping my last replay due to randomizer abuse, but I had deep hopes that I was simply mis-remembering. And as I should have realized, I was not.
Dragon Quest VIII is yet another victim of absolutely terrible gameplay design. I mentioned before that Dragon Quest V had this problem where you could have a battle be anything from a cakewalk to a complete wash with the exact same starting conditions, but DQ8 takes that to an extreme that's so offensive I can hardly believe they got away with releasing it in this state. Probably the best example early on is the prevalence of enemies that can use an attack called Flame Breath. This attack deals 30-40 damage to all allies, which may not sound like a lot, but keep in mind that early on your strongest character isn't going to top more than 100 HP; most of them are going to have 60 to 80. I'm sure you can see the problem here: two Flame Breaths equals an almost total party K.O. And worse yet, healing options are single-target at that point, and revival is as-of-yet impossible during combat.
Now you might argue that this is unlikely, and possibly even point out that the enemies which can use this move surely must have a low probability of using it. And the answer to that is "you're kidding, right?". Every enemy has an even chance of using any of their attacks in battle, and the enemies that have these attacks only have 2 to 4 commands. The odds of having 2 or 3 Flame Breaths shot out at you in a single round of combat are a staggeringly high 10 to 50% with certain encounters, which goes beyond unacceptable. That means that, on any given outing, you're almost assured to get completely wiped out if you fight enough battles. This is not improved in the least by the fact that you cannot count on the Flee command either; that fails at least half the time even against enemies that are technically too weak for you. And to add insult to injury, enemies get a free turn if you fail to flee, meaning you'll probably get wiped by Flame Breaths anyway.
I don't know why Dragon Quest VIII and Dragon Quest V DS in particular have these problems. Other games in the series didn't, that's for certain. Indeed, in most DQ games, the odds of a common random encounter doing more than token damage are very low, and the rare fight that actually does put a dent in your party never even comes close to putting you at risk for a total party K.O. unless you've been horribly lax with healing. Why did these two in particular get developed in such a fashion that fun relies on the roll of a loaded dice throw that will inevitably play against you sooner than later? I've said it before, and I'll say it again: random does not equal fun. Especially not when that random chance result is so broad in results that the entire experience turns completely irredeemable if you get just one bad roll of the dice.
One thing I will say: DQ8 has given me newfound appreciation for the innovations that the Final Fantasy series brought to Eastern RPGs. Oh what a difference it would make if the combination of easy revival, effective healing, and actual respected turn order were a part of DQ8! Being hit by that dreaded Flame Breath wouldn't be nearly as nasty if it didn't take 4 turns to undo the effects of one shot of it, and would be far more tolerable as well if turns could be queued up so the healer can actually respond immediately after instead of having to take an entire round of beating (and probably a game-killing second Flame Breath) before they can act.
Final Fantasy overtook Dragon Quest in sales for a reason: it did away with the problems of turn-based combat. DQ8 is a huge step backwards in that regard, as it seeks to amplify those problems instead of mitigate them, somehow mistaking irritation and agony for fun. I'm quite thankful that its sequel didn't go that route (clearly someone noticed how badly botched the experience was), but at the same time, it's grating to know that I've wasted so much time and effort on DQ8.

EDITORIAL: 20 July 2011 - On Rules, Restrictions, and Piracy
Human beings do not appreciate being restricted, particularly not in cultures where freedoms and rights are synonymous. To a certain degree, you can keep a human being in check and prevent them from doing certain things, particularly if you can convince them that they'd be a danger to themselves if they did those things. But eventually you reach a point where your rules and restrictions are simply too much, and that is when we humans decide we don't care any more and take matters into our own hands. This is a fairly well-understood component of human psychology.
What is perhaps most baffling, then, is why we have such a hard time grasping what to do about it. Solutions run from absolutely backwards ("They won't follow the rules and restrictions! We need more rules and restrictions!") to ineffective ("Quick, abandon the rules and restrictions entirely and make up new ones!"), but by and large nobody seems to be willing to address the root of the problem: what is being asked is not acceptable. Instead the almost universal response is to blame the customer for the product's shortcomings. What sense is there in this? There is none, of course; it's childish, egotistical, and about what one would expect from an individual who has not yet matured to the stage where they've accepted that they can screw up too.
I am simply asking for a base level of responsibility here. If people are rejecting what you offer them, it is not their fault. If they are bypassing your methods for others, the method they've chosen is superior to the method you're offering them. You can only "lose" a sale by not offering what the customer wants for a price the customer is willing to pay, and that is not the customer's fault at all; it's yours. Let's look at two industries struggling with a rapidly failing market: video games and movies.
The two industries are taking a disturbingly similar approach to something each perceives as a problem: piracy. However, neither one seems to be willing to take a properly scientific look at what they're doing and how it's impacting their business. By investing such huge amounts of money and energy into preventing piracy through techniques such as digital rights mamagement (DRM), they end up raising prices for their products, driving off customers in the process and encouraging further piracy from these newly lost customers. A simple analysis can demonstrate this to be true: sales of video games and movies were noticeably higher for these companies before they began trying to combat piracy.
This particular problem between both of these industries seems to be driven by a combination of ignorance, short-sighted greed, and an inward-looking approach which assumes that customers will put up with anything (which is in and of itself highly ignorant). I would urge these companies to respond appropriately to the actions of their customers, instead of simply getting defensive and blaming their customers when things don't work out the way the producer intended. You can screw up, just like everyone else. Admit it when you do and actually take appropriate actions to correct your screw-up, instead of continuing to screw up even worse in hopes that eventually it will stop being a bad decision.

CRITICAL THINKING: 05/27/2011 - Business and the Profit Fallacy
I've found myself thinking more and more recently on some of the key problems I've noticed in how many businesses are run. Most notable of my musings has been what I like to call the Profit Fallacy. Specifically I refer to the belief held by many companies that profits are absolutely the most important thing that a business can focus on, as without profits, a business cannot survive.
On the surface, this makes perfect sense, as the core of it is true: if you don't have profits, you will never get out of debt, and thus will not survive as a business unless you get a continuous stream of new capital investment. However, like so many surface-level analyses, this fails to account for one of the biggest problems with this statement: it's completely and utterly idiotic as an ideal. One cannot simply "focus on profits", as the means of making profits varies immensely depending on what field you're in. It shouldn't even be considered an ideal, let alone something a business focuses on. It should be deemed a side-effect of the actual focuses of a business.
Now you may well argue that most businesses don't focus solely on profits, that they do have an overarching strategy which has making a profit as a side-effect. And you would be remarkably wrong. There is an entire branch of accounting dedicated to making (frequently poor) decisions in business based solely on quantifying matters which are inherently qualitative in nature, called capital finance. In fact, one of the single most common traits of any given business practice is to find a way to convert arguments into quantitative rather than qualitative ones. The idea of taking action in business based solely upon qualitative observations is deemed financial suicide by many business textbooks.
And perhaps it would be, for those who lack a decent sense of what their fellow human beings are interested in. As a matter of fact, much of this quantifying the qualitative which pervades business and allows nonsense like "maximize shareholder wealth" to become acceptable phrases in mission and vision statements seems to be an attempt to reduce the essence of business down to a level where those with no sense of how to run a business can participate. And quite frankly, it doesn't work.
Some things you cannot reduce to a simple number crunch. Occasionally you have to trust something outside the realms of what you can measure. Let's take, for example, Nintendo of America's decision in the mid-1980s to release the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in the United States. This decision went directly against what their analysis and focus groups told them: that it was an unprofitable decision which would not work and which shouldn't even be considered. Then-president of NoA Arakawa disregarded the focus group results, because he believed that the NES would sell in America based on his own observations. And he was right: the NES went on to sell about 61 million units worldwide (34 million of those in the US) and revived a dead industry.
Here's another decision that ignored the numbers and instead counted on something else: Southwest Airline's hiring practices. Southwest took a unique approach to hiring. Instead of bidding their potential employees down to an "acceptable" wage, they would instead offer a slightly higher wage than their potential employees asked should their skills and requested pay rate be reasonable. Doing a raw number crunch on this strategy would suggest that it's a horrible idea, yet it worked in Southwest's favor to an incredible degree. Their employees worked harder and were more dedicated than anyone else in their industry, and they got more than a fair return on what they offered.
Business is, was, and always has been primarily a psychological endeavour, not a mathematical one. You are not selling to numbers, you are selling to people. And people have brains, not just bank accounts and working potential. How you treat your fellow humans, no matter what position they occupy in your business (customer, employee, manager, shareholder, supplier, or any other possible role), has an enormous impact on how well you will do. Fail to be fair and equitable to even one of your business' stakeholders, and you will pay the price for your arrogance and ignorance. You should never assume instead of learn, you should never listen instead of observe, and you should never blame instead of assess.
These are, of course, ideals. But they are important ideals, far more important than the aims of "maximize shareholder wealth" or "profits above all". They are identifiable, practical, and applicable to any business regardless of product. They have a definite focus and goal to them, with results that speak for themselves when effectively practiced. There is nothing nebulous or vague about any of them. They all outline a very basic idea: always assess your actions, words, and intentions in light of how it will impact those around you and those you serve. Or to put it another way, treat others with respect and pay attention to them. Follow this, and as long as you are making something which people want, you will find that profits come naturally.

DISBELIEF: 05/22/2011 - The Most Horribly Designed End Boss Fight Ever
I had not believed that I would actually find a game that botched the concept of a final boss fight this badly, but here we are. For those of you not wishing to have the end of Tales of Destiny II (aka. Tales of Eternia) spoiled, do not read any further. For those of you considering picking the game up, be warned that the game is going to go out of its way at the end to make you regret your purchase.
The failure of Tales of Eternia at the end is fivefold. The first and perhaps most egregious failure is that you have to traverse an entire dungeon and complete 6 highly annoying puzzle sequences (each followed by an equally annoying and easy-to-get-destroyed-by boss fight) just to reach the last encounter. This could be considered alright if there was a save point before the final encounter; there is not. Now savvy repeat players will know to do the build-up to the end boss and then go back to save, but for first-time players, this is a 2-hour-long kick in the balls after what follows.
The next failing point is one common to RPGs of the time: there's an unskippable and VERY long cutscene that precedes the fight. This is a problem which plagued just about every RPG between 1996 and 2002, as I said, so I won't harp on it too much save to say that it's very inconvenient and extraordinarily annoying after the inevitable first defeat of the party that forces them to redo the entire fight.
The third failing point is how the game sets up expectations for this fight during the first segment of it. The boss will sometimes utilize an attack which does far more damage than the player has HP, but no matter how much damage the player takes, their party members always survive it with 1 HP left. This is inconvenient and dangerous, but it sets a clear precedent: when you get hit by an attack that deals more damage than you could possibly survive, you'll still survive anyway.
The fourth failing is that the proper final fight is just too damn long. This boss has 300,000 HP, and at best you can deal damage in 1000-HP intervals; more likely you'll be hitting for far less than that unless you went out of your way to get the hidden ultimate equipment. A half-hour-long fight is not out of the question; an hour or more from start to finish is very likely.
Which brings us to the fifth and most hatefully awful failing of the final battle: what happens after you "win". The developers, not content with letting the player simply be done with the game, made it so that the last boss utilizes an attack which deals roughly 10 times more damage than the player party has HP. However, unlike the precedent that has been set, your party will die from this attack. It is completely unavoidable and always used at the end. The only way you can survive is by performing a specific button combination, which the game informs you prior to this can only be used in a very specific circumstance which you aren't likely to be in when the attack begins. Regardless, you're expected to somehow know that this is an exception and you can in fact activate it not only while you're taking all of this excessive damage, but also before the attack ends.
Add all of these failings up, and you get a very unpleasant picture for the first-time player. Imagine, if you will: the player has finally fought their way through the last dungeon, solved all of the challenges, and intends to save as soon as they get on the other side of that teleporter. But there's no save point! Oh no, the last boss fight is already starting! The player muddles through, manages to beat the first form, and also manages to tackle the second form. It seems like they just might be done with this game, when suddenly the boss uses a super-attack and...! Game over? What? WHAT!? The player has just lost at least 3 hours of progress, much of that progress involving very finnicky and poorly realized puzzle-solving.
I don't know who was responsible for this mess of a final boss fight and lead-up to it, but I sincerely hope that they either have learned not to do such incredibly stupid things or are no longer employed as a game developer. Design of that sort should only be found in games specifically designed to be horrible.

CONTEMPLATION: 04/27/2011 - Controlled Panic: A Different Look at the PSN Fiasco
I'm sure it's come to the attention of just about everyone even distantly connected to the online gaming scene that the PlayStation Network was hacked into on the 19th of April. What I find most interesting, however, is the massive amount of speculation and coincidence that seems to be surrounding this event.
Late on the 25th, Sony agents announced what had happened in a brief statement: the intrusion on the 19th had been found to have been a hacking attempt, and some data may have been compromised. This information was all that Sony released, and yet, an incredible explosion of speculation followed quickly after it. At an alarming pace, this was turned into "all 77 million accounts have been leaked and your credit card data has been compromised", in spite of no additional information or reports. All without a shred of additional information, a bleak and dire picture was painted of an inept Sony losing a massive amount of data to hackers and an inevitable huge court settlement over their head in the wake of this.
It seems, therefore, suspiciously convenient that reports began pouring in on the 27th that PSN account holders were finding credit fraud committed on their cards that they had used to purchase PSN titles with. While I have no way to confirm or deny any of these claims, the evidence does not, in my estimation, add up properly. The biggest flaw in this equation is that the data leak occurred over a week ago, on the 19th. Why would it take the hackers a full week to finally begin using the data they unearthed? Furthermore, why would these hackers (who utilized sophisticated means to hack a never-before-successfully-hacked network) make such an obvious and visible use of the stolen data?
The facts are not adding up here, and I am getting the distinct impression that what we're witnessing is an intentional effort to cause panic. It is exceptionally hard to believe that any sort of data leak of this scale would then be utilized in such an amatuer fashion. In order to have the necessary skills to perform such a precision extracting, the culprits would almost certainly have known the nature of modern digital security and tracking systems. As such, they would have the means to avoid detection entirely in utilizing the stolen data, and certainly would not be inclined to utilize it when the most scrutiny was being paid to the accounts.
Consider, if you will: the ideal time for them to strike would have been immediately after stealing the data, before Sony had announced that the leak had occurred. At this point, there would be little attention paid to such accounts, and the theft would remain undetected until Sony spilled the beans. Alternatively, waiting as long as they did, they would most certainly have employed more careful measures to avoid detection in the week they had during the interim had they not wished to be spotted. Whatever the case, their behaviour does not reflect that of either an amatuer thief OR a seasoned veteran, but rather of one whose agenda has an aim besides theft.
This is all speculation, admittedly. However, much of what is being touted as fact about the PSN debacle is also speculation, as well as conclusion-jumping and panic-rousing based on the incomplete data available at the moment. I thought it only fair to paint a different picture, one which portrays the possibility that this is not so much an unexpected disaster as it is an intentional effort by someone with an agenda besides petty larceny.

STORY: 04/26/11 - The Disruptive Storm Grows Fell
The storm has taken its toll on all of us. Even the Good Ship Nintendo has pierced their hull and is letting the floodwaters gush into their vessel. And what's possibly the saddest part of it all is, they all seem quite happy to sink down into the depths, oblivious as to what it is they're doing to themselves. But I know better, of course. Let me tell you the tale about these seas, and the time when they were once as volatile as they have been of late.
For you see, the rumor is true: long ago, the sea of video games was as turbulent as it is these days. But in those times many flagships floated proudly upon those waters, resisting the surging tides of the uncertain future and the swells of consumer backlash by adjusting their course in the market to adapt to the changing waters. All eyes were upon the sea of consumers, who would determine their fates with their wallets and sink those not worthy of sailing into such unsettled currents.
In those times the flagships were much smaller, for the sea of video games itself was so much smaller as well. These companies afloat on such risky waters took great care not to be capsized by the sudden changes, and reinforced their hulls with offerings of new experiences to satiate the hunger of the churning maelstrom around them. In time some of these flagships grew stronger than others, better suited to the task of remaining afloat, as they learned more and more about how to please this seemingly unpleasable mass, and they grew in size as their hulls were flanked with more and more beloved games.
But then something strange happened, something unexpected: the storm passed, and the waters calmed. The sea of video games seemed smaller than before somehow, but at the same time, it was a welcome change. The great flagships were deemed a silly waste with all that protective armor against a tide of ever-changing interest, and so they slowly discarded it and built their hulls up on empty games instead that offered more of the same. More and more flagships braved these now-calm waters, and grew large on their own imitations of past successes. The market grew ever more stagnant as the seas threatened to cease all movement, and the flagships simply grew larger and larger until they could grow no greater without capsizing under their own misshapen weights.
Such calm waters attracted opportunists from other seas, of course. It wasn't long before the tamed tides drew the attention of some very big ships indeed, and the market's waters were tested by intimidating forces from other seas. In time one great flagship came, bearing the promises of even more of the same but in a supposedly different way, and the smaller flagships gathered around this visitor in hopes of siphoning off of this promised success. The calm seas of gaming would soon cease to flow at all, and the whole lot would be left to fight one another for dominance in a pointless battle of self-destruction.
It was the arrival of the second great flagship from outside the market, and its ensuing battle with all other large flagships in the sea, that made the Good Ship Nintendo's crew see this folly at last. Perhaps it was the fall of their long-time rival flagship that truly spurred them into action, at the realization that they would be the next to have the cannons pointed at them. And so, dredging up the very means that allowed them to force such a torrential storm upon the world once before 20 years before, they again raised the tides and brought about a disruptive storm.
But alas, something was terribly wrong! Though they could stay afloat in this sea, and even protect their vessel better than the interlopers and fairweather vessels, somewhere along the line they had forgotten something about how to thrive in such conditions! And so the Good Ship Nintendo was tossed about the sea just as the rest, at times mastering the current by means they understood poorly, at others carried along helplessly as their neighboring flagships were. "We must do something!" cried their captain, but nobody seemed to know what that something would be.
And now, the cusp of a decision was reached. The storm was too strong, clearly, and the Good Ship Nintendo had clearly become too large for it. Nothing was working, after all! "We must clear this storm!" cried one on board, but this was shot down quickly. "The storm is all that saved us from being obliterated! No, we must master this storm, tame it and make it follow our will!" said another. But this too seemed wrong, for how could any hope to control the churning waters of the expanded market? "We shall make the market bend to our will!" cried one at the head of the ship, as he held aloft his chosen weapon. "Behold, the 3DS! With this, the troubled waters will flow at our command!"
Oh how mistaken they were! They blasted holes into their hull to allow the 3DS to work its magic, but it was for naught! The sea continued to churn, but instead of obeying the Good Ship Nintendo, the waters were beginning to show signs of calming again! Panic struck those on board, for they knew they could not possibly survive a head-on battle with their hated enemies from the outside, no matter how much this storm had weakened them. "Another means must be found!" said a dispirited crew member, but no ideas were present. One crew member was holding back something, perhaps another item for attempting to control those wily waters around them, seemingly embarrassed. Nobody really knew what to do.
Below the waters, the answers they sought were drifting, forgotten, in the lulling waves of fond nostalgia. The successes of the past, so hastily discarded during the last calm, were gleaming with the promise of what could keep them afloat and rekindle the seas above to a fever pitch, while allowing the Good Ship Nintendo to stay afloat. But these relics remained buried, floating, glanced at and copied half-heartedly from time to time, but never truly examined for what made them such powerful tools. Would any remember those abandoned treasures and the glory they promised? Only time would tell, but all eyes seemed to be pointing far from them at the moment.
An unheard muttering drifted over the waves, unheard by any of the flagships. "If you would master the sea, you must understand the sea. You do not tell the waves how to move you, you move with the waves and set your heading as they would let you. Only fools speak of siezing the tides and using them as their own. The wise know to let the storm guide their actions." Its origins were unknown, but perhaps some day someone would hear them and understand them.

ARTICLE: 07/04/10 - Analysis 101
So you want to be an analyst? Great! But don't dive right into it without knowing the basics! You don't want to end up a laughingstock, now do you? Here are a few guidelines to get you started on the path to being an analyst that people will actually listen to.
1. It doesn't matter what you think, it matters what the market thinks. This is the most important rule for you to come to terms with if you want to be taken seriously as an analyst. Reduce your own bias and opinion when doing analysis to an absolute minimum. There's no faster way to lose all respect than to have it revealed that your opinion of how things are going to go is based entirely off of how you want things to go instead of how they're likely to go.
2. Statistics are a crutch, not a leg to stand on. Don't rely on percentages, charts, or graphs to make your point. It's far too easy to slant such things to distort the truth to be something besides what it is. Whenever possible, use raw numbers to make your points, and only use graphs, charts, or statistics to help put those raw numbers into perspective.
3. Take a look at the big picture and work your way down to the small picture. This is called deductive reasoning, and it's far more effective in analysis than inductive reasoning (ie. taking a look at the small picture and trying to make it fit with the big picture). One of the biggest mistakes made by amatuer analysts is that they will take a small-picture data set and try to extrapolate the entire big picture from that alone. This is the equivalent of trying to figure out what the entirety of a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle is based off of a single piece of the puzzle. Ie. it's patently absurd, so don't do it, ever.
4. Be smart about how you gather your data. Polls and surveys are a messy business at best and often give expected results due to how questions are phrased to get specific responses. More reliable data can be gathered from passive observation: see what people do without them being aware that you're observing them. This technique isn't the most scientific, but analysis is about getting useful data, not about getting precise data.
5. Do not get personally involved. This is a bit of a no-brainer, but if your goal is to be an analyst, the last thing you want is to become a corporate mouthpiece. Analysts on the payroll of a company they're analyzing are not analysts at all, they're viral marketers. Don't think you can subtly get yourself on a business' payroll and talk up their products, either; consumers aren't idiots, they can spot underhanded tactics like that easily. Espeically in the Information Age, you cannot hide being a viral marketer, so don't go down that path.
6. Don't retroactively change your recorded predictions to make yourself look clairvoyant. Again, this is the Information Age, and people are not idiots. There are archives out there recording what you originally said, and you can expect to be caught and called out on such petty and even criminal behaviour almost immediately. It is an actual crime to do this if you're being paid for your predictions, so yeah. Don't do it, ever.
7. Admit when you got it wrong. Denying, ignoring, or otherwise downplaying your past predictions will only lose you respect from people who might otherwise listen to you. Do not attempt to spin your inaccurate predictions to being accurate, either; you will lose even more respect from people that way than you would from outright denying you made the prediction in the first place. Own up, be humble about it, and people will listen. Clam up, get defeinsive about it, and people will stop listening.
8. In all things, be ethical. On top of not manipulating the data to provide false impressions, this also means that you must acknowledge exactly what it is you have done to gather the data you are using, what techniques you have used for extrapolating your results, what bias and expectation you have in regards to the results, and what realistic margin of error your results have. Failure to be at least this thorough will challenge your credibility as an analyst, with severe violations resulting in nobody taking your analyses seriously.
Of course there's far more than this to being an analyst, but this will get you started, at least. Good luck!

ARTICLE: 07/02/10 - Some Thoughts on Being a Respectful Human Being
I do wonder sometimes what's gone wrong with our world. The lot of us don't seem so bad at a glance, yet when you get right down to it, there are a lot of problems out there. The world's a mess, to put it simply, and I can't help but wonder if some of that is because many of us are taking something of the wrong approach to dealing with one another. So I figured I'd give my thoughts on how we can, if not solve the problem, at least minimize how much we personally are contributing to it.
1. Not everything you hear is true. This is a problem I've noticed that's very common, actually: many will simply believe what they are told without doing any research or even stopping to consider it logically. It's a dangerous mindset to get into, because there are a fair few people who are aware of its existence and will exploit it to great effect. The solution? Even if it makes sense, only accept it as a possibility at best, and don't believe it until you've proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it's true. Tedious? Yes, very. But it will serve you well.
2. Respect is earned, not given. This is an aspect of the concept of entitlement which is particularly dangerous, where people expect to be treated with consideration and be given careful attention when they have not earned it. If you want people to respect you, you really do need to show that you deserve that respect. Doing so is not difficult, either: do not interrupt others, do not be intentionally offensive, contribute meaningfully, and take the ethical high ground by not responding in kind to immature outbursts.
3. The easiest solution is rarely the right one. Another unpleasant side-effect of entitlement, many of us seek out whatever takes the least effort, money, time, and/or thought when a problem arises. Ultimately, our decision to do this leads to even more problems, and the whole thing keeps mushrooming out until we do what we realize grudgingly in hindsight we should have done in the first place. You can save yourself some headache and skip the middle steps by doing the right thing off the bat instead.
4. There is a fine line between necessity and greed. Learn to recognize it, and you may suddenly realize just how much of our lives is driven by the latter rather than the former. This is a harsh realization, of course, and one that leads most who come upon it to almost immediately deny or disregard it, but I implore you not to take such a disasterous route. Appreciate what you actually need in life and what is the product of desire, and it will be far easier to do something about the side-effects of having too much of the latter.
5. Abandon stereotypes and pre-conceptions. This is probably the hardest of the lot to do, but it's also the most useful as well. It's actually rather amusing, but the entire purpose of stereotypes and pre-conceptions is to de-humanize others by fitting them into convenient niches. If you think about that for a moment, that is the absolute worst idea ever concieved. How would YOU feel if someone intentionally tried to reduce you to something sub-human? Well guess what? This is what happens daily thanks to these nasty behaviors. And the only way we can stop the problem is to stop engaging in it ourselves.
6. Never trust first impressions. Every last one of us human beings is a complex individual being who, despite all sorts of efforts to the contrary, is impossible to fit into a widespread stereotype of a group. In that regard, what hope do we have of ever fully understanding someone else over the course of a lifetime, let alone over the course of a single meeting? The only reason why "first impressions are everything" is because we've been taught to be too lazy to look more closely and realize that nobody is so transparent that their entire character is laid bare from a single encounter.
7. Practice good sense and avoid extremism. I cannot count how many times a discussion, debate, or confrontation has gone sour simply because the arguing parties abandoned all pretense of civility in favor of taking an extremist viewpoint. Let me tell you something about opinions: they are individual, they are personal, and they are not mandatory. That last part seems to trip many people up, but it's something that really must be accepted: your opinion, no matter how right or just it may seem to you, is not going to look the same to everyone else around you. As long as you can genuinely accept that and avoid thinking of or arguing your opinions as truth, you should do alright.
8. In all things, moderation is the best trait. This is a theme throughout this entire article, really. Do not take anything so far that you cannot appreciate that it's not the only way to look at things. When you go down the path of unquestioning belief to the exclusion of all other possibilities, you go down a very dangerous path which often leads to some of the darkest and most unpleasant emotions and actions we humans are capable of. Spare yourself the agony and practice moderation.
Please note that I have named no names and pointed no fingers in this article. As I happen to be doing my best to follow my own suggestions here, I can see that doing so would be a violation of quite a bit of what I've put forth and would ultimately cheapen the message. If you felt offended or that I was making a veiled reference to something you personally believe or think, rest assured that I was not. These are general guidelines for being a decent human being, not a diatribe against any specific groups or beliefs.
My usual disclaimer belongs here, of course: this is an opinion piece, and you aren't obligated to follow it. No-one is obligated to follow anyone else's opinions, and I'm not about to violate that. I do hope that this article has at least gotten you to think about what is written here, even if you decide it's incompatible with what you believe.

LESSON: 05/15/10 - Game Design 101
So you want to design video games, you say? But you're not sure where to start? Well, you're in luck! I just so happen to have compiled a handy 20-step guide for you to follow as you design your game! Best of all, you can follow these steps no matter what kind of game you plan to make! Let's begin, shall we?
1. You do not take control away from the player.
4. Do not make excuses; if the player hates it, you're the one who's wrong.
5. Realism is not inherently fun, so don't marry yourself to the concept.
6. If it isn't going to work, start over and spare us inherently bad design.
7. You are not making art, you are making a game, so get your priorities straight.
8. Fun is relative, but bad design is universal; learn to recognize it.
9. Work within your limits instead of pretending they're not there.
11. Just because it sounds good on paper doesn't mean it will work in practice.
12. "Safe" games are anything but; don't do it just because everyone's doing it.
13. Get actual consumers to play your game before you get too far into development.
14. If you can take no more away before it negatively impacts the experience, your design is ready for implementation.
15. Just in case you missed it before, YOU DO NOT TAKE CONTROL AWAY FROM THE PLAYER!
16. Your job is to make a fun game, so don't make design decisions that detract from that.
17. Just because nobody has done it before doesn't mean it's impossible; that's not a valid excuse.
18. Just because it's been done to death doesn't mean it can't be made new again; that's not a valid excuse, either.
19. If it sounds like too much work to you, then why are you designing video games?
20. And one last time for good measure, YOU DO NOT TAKE CONTROL AWAY FROM THE PLAYER!
If all of this sounds obvious to you, that's because most of it really is pretty obvious when you're not in the thick of it. If you've actually designed a game and stuck to these policies before seeing this list, then congratulations: that means you're a natural game designer! Don't feel bad if you haven't, though, as natural game designers are very, very rare indeed.

EDITORIAL: 05/10/10 - Redefining Game Genres 101
Back in 1988, the NES was the king of video game systems, and if your game was on NES, it was going to sell better than it would on any other system. So lots of game developers (dodgy, respectable, and otherwise) flocked to the system and learned to live with its limitations. If anything, those limitations forced developers to get creative and find unique workarounds to the issues of developing for a processor that was considered a decade out of date by that point. It was a sort of golden age of game design and development, so to speak, when game design for consoles got its identity.
Unfortunately, nobody in the game development scene seemed to notice that those hardware limits that forced creative-yet-limited design were lifted from about 1995 onwards. What do I mean by that, you ask? Surely I've seen how much bigger and better games have gotten, and how they can handle so much more than any NES game could! To this I reply: yes, but when you strip down all of the pretty graphics and tacked-on features that are there solely to accentuate the game's core mechanics, most games are derived from the exact same technique and mindset as the 8-bit era games.
As of this writing, it has been about 20 years since the glory days of the 8-bit era. So why do we still rely on the exact same core concepts for our games? Why do we still keep turning back to the same templates for our platformers, sports games, simulations, RPGs, strategy games, and so forth? Why, with all of the changes we've made, do we not even try to tweak the basic concept of what these games mean and possibly invent a genuinely new genre that couldn't actually be put onto 8-bit hardware?
Inventing a new genre is not that hard. Just take an existing genre, look at what people take for granted in it, and stop considering those elements as required, sacred, or even valuable. Take a step back instead and ask, "does this add to the experience or detract from it?". Remove what does not work, re-examine what does, and experiment with the idea of new features to make the gameplay work even better. Anyone who's read Blue Ocean Strategy will find all of this very familiar, and that's because I am proposing exactly that: apply Blue Ocean Strategy to game design and change how the game is played.
Let's take a look at a genre as an example, perhaps one of the most stale genres of all: the tactical/strategy RPG. Here are the things that are held as "sacred" to the genre: the game will be turn-based, will use tiles for movement, will involve two to four teams of 5 to 15 characters at a time versus one another, will have a heavy focus on story, and will use random chance to determine the outcome of battles. That's quite a lot that's taken for granted in this genre! And of course, that's a key part of why it's gotten so stale, but that's neither here nor there for this discussion.
I'm going to go ahead and tackle the two biggest "sacred cows" of the tactical RPG: that it has to be turn-based and tile-based. There's no reason to stick to limitations like that, hardware can handle real-time and non-turn-based RPG-centric gameplay just fine. Hell, WarCraft was designed to handle something very like that (sans the typical RPG focus) way back in the early 1990s! What is preventing us from making a real-time strategy RPG? Nothing but the lack of creativity to have considered the possibility far enough.
So if it's so easy, why does nobody do it? I was shocked at how many came up with a plethora of excuses not to think about the possibility instead of actually sitting down and doing the work to see how it could be done when I first suggested the above possibility. It's just astounding to me that there could be such inherent resistance to such a simple and logical change. Why is there so much resistance, I asked myself? I still don't have a definite answer, but I think a part of it is that many developers get comfortable with a certain type of game, and don't want to rock the boat too much.
It's time to start rocking some boats, developers. Your industry, it turns out, is not recession-proof. The "safe" route is now the more dangerous path to take, because fewer and fewer people are willing to pay $30 to $60 for what amounts to a game they already own with a new set of characters, reworked visuals and audio, and a different story to hide that fact. Abandon your conceptions of genre, slaughter your sacred cows of how you design games for any genre, and find a new identity for gaming that will not die so easily. It's time to surprise and delight your customers again, instead of just giving them what they ask for.

OH BLOODY HELL NOT AGAIN: 03/27/10 - Et Tu, Nintendo?
This relaly irritates me. The one company I can usually count on to get the concepts of "random does not equal fun" and "sequels need improvement more than they need expanded content" is Nintendo. And the one series they drove me away with by the second iteration was Pokemon, because that series gives random chance way too much power over how things play out in battle. It also doesn't help that the series has become more and more of a grindfest with every new iteration, adding yet more mascots to catch every time when many players never even caught all of the original 151.
But I figured, what the hell, it's been 15 years since they made the original (yes really, it came out in 1995 originally over in Japan), surely they've improved things. So I gave SoulSilver a try, and much to my dismay, it's exactly what I'd expect from pretty much any company besides Nintendo: more of the same with even more sadistic measures taken to prevent players from playing the game their own way than before. Pretty much everything that annoyed me about the series from the start is still there (the grinding, the fact that every fight is a one-to-three-round-KO-fest, the fact that gym leaders can heal indefinitely, and so on).
How can this be? How can a company that normally spots the problems in their games and actually improves upon them with the sequels have a series so utterly trapped in the Dark Ages of game design? Stylistically Pokemon has gotten far more impressive with each new iteration, but at its core it's still the same broken randomizer-abusing quasi-experimental game that it was on the original Game Boy. Fifteen YEARS they've had to fix this, and they haven't even tried. If anything, they've made it worse: the whole over-in-three-rounds-or-less thing is even more pronounced now, since if you don't OHKO your opponents, odds are very good they'll OHKO you (or nail you with status conditions that, as ever, abuse the randomizer like a red-headed stepchild).
All that said, the game is still disturbingly addictive, and they clearly got something right in the formula since it can still draw people in even though it's quite literally an incremental upgrade of the first game(s). But if that was all that was necessary for a series to remain relevant, then Mario would still be a uni-directional obstacle course and would feature about 80 power-ups and 100 enemies by now. That's basically the vibe I get from Pokemon these days: tons of "new" content, none of it actually new, and none of the old problems get fixed.
Will I get another Pokemon? I don't know. Probably not unless they fix the problems that continue to plague the series instead of making them worse. If they ever remove the one saving grace of the series up to this point (that you can basically dominate everything on up through the end with just two Pokemon) and refuse to address the issues caused by that with better experience curves, I definitely won't be coming back no matter how much "new" content they add. Grinding for hours on end is about as fun as having battle results be decided entirely by the randomizer, ie. not at all.

OBSERVATIONS: 03/20/10 - Does anti-logic justify reality or something?
Sometimes I think I'm trapped in some sort of Bizzarro World where entirely insignificant matters are held up on high, while the actually important matters are reduced to a footnote. The sad thing is, this statement could apply to an awful lot of things I've seen in my life, but for now we'll focus on the JRPG community.
Why is it that so many forum-dwelling RPG players baffle me? How about the fact that they actually put the value of a game's story, visuals, music, and characters head and shoulders above gameplay? Now correct me if I'm wrong here, but is not one of the root words of the acronym RPG "game"? As in "role-playing game"? Meaning that the GAME aspect should hold at least equal weight to the role-playing aspect? (And why does that aspect never seem to even come up, for that matter? Only the aspects that make up the role-playing aspect ever get discussed, not how well they deliver the experience of being put into the role.)
Going by aforementioned online RPG community, that's definitely not the case. Final Fantasy has to be the most egregious offender in that department, as the fans of pretty much any FF will expound on basically anything BUT the gameplay to defend their choice. Normally this is where I would lay a haymaker into the lovers of the two FFs I especially loathe, but instead I think it'd be best to point out that the problem is the same for ALL of the FF games and their respective fans. I have never seen a well-reasoned discussion of the gameplay strengths and weaknesses of any entry in the series. It's like the elephant in the room for Final Fantasy fans, the one thing that's absolutely verboten for reasons that nobody can explain beyond "well every game in the series is different".
Look, if normal gamers can find a way to compare New Super Mario Bros Wii with Modern Warfare 2, I think RPG players can find a way to compare games with systems that are almost identical at their cores with one another. It's not that difficult, nor is it illogical or out of left field. I reiterate, these are role-playing games, not role-playing movies. I'm not asking that these people stop raving about how great everything else is in their games of choice, I just want them to start acknowledging the fact that they are in fact playing games, not watching movies. And if they really hold these games up as pinnacles of story-telling, then I really suggest they go read a good book or watch a well-made movie and realize that turning to a role-playing game for a story experience is about as effective as turning to movies or books to get your gaming fix.
Yeah, that's all I had to say. Usual disclaimers are in place: being an opinion, you're not obligated to agree with me, and trying to change my opinion by way of a "you're wrong and I'm right 'cause I say so" argument will mostly just give me a chuckle before I delete your e-mail without replying. Well-reasoned arguments will likely fall on deaf ears as well since I've yet to see evidence to contradict this. Contradicting evidence of any real relevance with traceable sources will surprise and impress me, but probably won't change my opinion either since the existing evidence is so vast. Hmm... yep, that about covers it. Until next time!

ANTI-FUN EQUATION: 01/24/10 - On Randomity
While re-playing Dragon Quest V lately (and getting incredibly frustrated with it in the process), I was reminded of something that has ticked me off about games pretty much since the PlayStation era: developers don't understand a damn thing about how to make a genuine challenge that's also fun. And DQ5 is a classic example of the worst kind of fake difficulty, too: randomizer abuse.
As more than a few people know, I absolutely detest games that take control away from the player. And using a randomizer to determine the player's fate is the pinnacle of removing control. Dragon Quest games exemplify this nowadays: a given battle in a Dragon Quest game can have results ranging from a total cakewalk where your party emerges unscathed to your entire party slaughtered on round one of the battle. And this is against the same group of enemies, mind you, for both scenarios. Getting completely destroyed by enemies that could potentially be a cakewalk is insulting and demeaning. And while you might argue that it's unlikely, I'd like to counter with this point: it doesn't matter how likely it is, the fact that it can happen means that it WILL happen to someone, and for that someone, the game is going to suck.
And more often than not, I am that someone. I have the most amazingly nasty history of luck in Dragon Quest games, as well as pretty much every game I've played where the randomizer chooses your fate instead of your actions. From getting a full-party TKO from instant-death-to-all-half-the-time spells in DQ3 even WITH instant death protection on all characters, to having to reverse time in DQ5 a half-dozen times in most late-game battles just to get a starting round where my party does NOT lose 3/4ths of their HP due to enemies all opting to use their most powerful attacks, to irritating cycles of decay against double-turn bosses with breath attacks who wipe out my healer/defense booster every round and heavily damage my main party at the same time while said main party tries to revive the healer... It's just not pretty. I don't even bother trying to use 50/50 spells and skills, because I almost always get the crappy result: it took 15 uses of a ressurection staff in DQ8 to revive a character for me once. I am dead serious.
Random is not fun. Especially not when the result of the random roll determines if the game will be fun or frustrating as hell. And yet, game developers STILL insist on misusing randomity. Instead of addressing the inherent flaws in the system itself, they use random chance as a band-aid to avoid having to fix broken gameplay. Turn-based round-based combat is inevitably dull and uninteresting if the game plays fair. And Enix, when presented with this fact, decided that the best solution was to mix things up with a bit of random chance. And it worked alright for a while, until they started messing around too much and making the random chance results a bit too... extreme. Square, on the other hand, saw this problem and decided that the best solution was to abandon round-based combat and go for a more real-time system. The result was the much-beloved Active Time Battle engine, in which the player got the strategic side of turn-based combat combined with the real-time element of player and enemy speed and tactics actually meaning something.
Of course, Dragon Quest built its fame on being round-based and turn-based. The long-time fans of the series would throw a hissy-fit if the gameplay were to change (and they did when DQ9 was on the verge of featuring a real-time combat engine instead of the traditional one). I think it's time for Enix to stop listening to these "fans", and start listening to common sense: if the engine doesn't work any more, trying to shore up its weak points is the wrong direction to go. Making the games more random just makes them less fun for those of us not blessed with extreme and never-ending founts of luck.
The lesson applies to the entire industry, however. Stop making the determining elements of whether or not your game is even fun based around random numbers. That is egregiously bad design, especially when the randomizer can roll an especially bad set of numbers and ruin the experience for the player. While some of your audience may have the patience to tolerate this sort of slipshod design, the ones you keep losing or cannot get will not tolerate it and consider it to be a mark of shame that you won't turn away from it. We want to have fun consistently, not when the roll of the dice just happens to decide it's going to let us have fun. Let us decide, not the machine.

FUN: 10/28/09 - Of Towers and Dwarves
For some indiscernable reason, I decided to build a model of the Wells Fargo tower from downtown Portland, Oregon in Dwarf Fortress. Here's the results.
First Snapshot: 8 levels built, 25 levels to go
Second Snapshot: 11 levels built, 22 levels to go; added the roof
Third Snapshot: 16 levels built, 17 levels to go
Fourth Snapshot: 21 levels built, 12 levels to go
Fifth Snapshot: 26 levels built, 7 levels to go
Sixth Snapshot: 33 levels built, exterior complete
The end result isn't quite as tall as the real deal (the actual tower is 7 floors taller), but it's still pretty impressive. And anyway, I couldn't make it any higher than that thanks to the tower literally being as tall as the map allows as it is. That said, I don't relish the "completion" process; the tower is hollow at this point.

FUN: 10/28/09 - Strike the Earth!
About a month or two ago, I discovered this delightful(ly complex and often obtuse) game called Dwarf Fortress (full title being Slaves to Armok: God of Blood/Chapter II: Dwarf Fortress; you can see why it gets abbreviated). It didn't seem my cup of tea at first, but I am nothing if not persistent, and it's since become a bit of a favorite of mine. I've also discovered that, due to the poor AI of these Dwarves (many fans rightly call them "Dorfs"), they can cause some outrageously stupid demises of fortresses. In honor of the stupidest I've seen yet, one caused by something 100% out of my control, I decided to put it in story form. Enjoy!
Don't Feed the Spiders
In the year 201, the fortress Rovol Zarut "Sanctum of Insanity" was founded. It had a frustratingly slow first year: the cat died wandering off into the mountains and was eaten by a giant cave spider, the stockpiles were littered with huge chunks of stone, and the farms were grossly overproducing for such a small fortress. By 202, the seven Dwarves running the place were praying to Armok for a wave of immigrants.
Armok, it seems, has a sense of humor.
It was late spring. Word reached the dwarves of Rovol Zarut that they would finally be getting their much-needed wave of immigrants. What they weren't told was the chosen route. For you see, on the ill-fated first day of the first of Felsite 202, the immigrants arrived in the region... just south of the very giant cave spider who had killed the cat the year before. The screams of pain and suffering could be heard for miles as the first immigrant was paralyzed, drained, and discarded.
To call it a bloodbath would be an understatement. Not one Dwarf out of the 20 new immigrants survived, and even the original 7 were not spared either as they rushed to pick clean the corpses of their would-be allies. On that day, a giant cave spider gained a title of infamy, but none lived to say it aloud. Every last Dwarf was dead before the first of Hematite, struck down by a very poor choice of entry.
If nothing else, these unfortunate 27 Dwarves justified the fortress' name. To this day, no Dwarf will return to the Sanctum of Insanity, for fear of death by that which slew an entire wave of immigrants and the fortress minders in under a month.

BUSINESS: 09/13/09 - How to Spot a "Toxic" Fan
There's a misconception going on that one should listen to one's fans to get the best results, for when one does listen to one's fans, one's overall popularity seems to decline most of the time. And yet, in spite of that, sometimes listening to one's fans increases one's popularity. Why is it that the effect is not consistent? The answer is surprisingly simple: not all fans are alike. Some never speak up even once. Some only comment on occasion. And some... are toxic.
What exactly is a "toxic" fan? Put simply, they are people who are not fans of what you do, but rather, are fans of what they WANT you to do so that you can better pander to them and them alone. The toxic fan is the most devestating kind of fan, and the easiest to spot, as they tend to be the most vocal. Here are the warning signs of a toxic fan:
* They propose the addition of content or features that would make your product more difficult for newcomers to get into
* They beg you to expand on features that others say bring your product down
* They scoff at any attempt you make to expand your product's appeal and claim they'll abandon you if you do
* They demand you modify your content in some fashion to make it have a more niche appeal
* They complain that you don't release your content often enough, no matter how often you release new content
* They propose a form of content distribution which is very limited in scale and success
* They say anything about putting "art" ahead of profits
Toxic fans come in many flavors, and can be found in every single industry. Their sole goal seems to be to ensure that your product will only be appealing to them. You must never, ever listen to toxic fans. Though they cry the loudest and make the boldest claims, they are also the ones least apt to abandon your products, and the ones most likely to celebrate even as your business falls apart. Fortunately, as they are so easy to spot, toxic fans are also easy to ignore.
The fans you really need to listen to are the ones who don't openly say what they feel. Instead, you should approach those who do not talk about your product but do use it, and ask them what it is about your product that they liked, what they disliked, and what they would like to see changed. Use good sense when you do this, though, and remember that what somebody does tells you far more than what they say they want. How your product is used and what parts of your product are not used will tell you a great deal more than any testimonial can, no matter the source of that testimonial.
For those of you who find yourself showing signs of being a toxic fan of something, don't panic. The natural tendency of passion is to become toxic as your passion increases. There's nothing genuinely wrong with you, it's just that what you want doesn't reflect what most people are looking for. It's fine to be passionate, just understand that your passion is not universal, and that most will not be able to jump into that level of passion right from the get-go.
Now if you start thinking that your passion needs to be pandered to exclusively, that's when you need to worry...

NOT-NEWS: 09/11/09 - Navigating the Disruptive Storm
Another little creative piece from me. Enjoy.
I had been sailing the churning, roiling storm that was the Disruptive Sea for so long that I'd forgotten when the clouds first formed, following a dim beacon that grew ever-brighter, when I came across the twin vessels PlayStation and XBOX. My little personal dinghy was nothing compared to these monstrous ships, and yet, something seemed amiss with them as I drew closer... As the visibility improved, I suddenly realized just what it was: the ships were full of holes! They were sinking!
"Ahoy there!" I cried out, but no response came back. Not surprising; the sheer size of those monstrosities, even as they dropped below the waves, was frightening. Nearby, another ship not unlike my own drew up close, and I saw that their vessel too seemed to have some serious problems with holes in the hull.
"What business do you have with the ships of PlayStation and XBOX?" the captain of this new vessel asked in what I'm quite certain was meant to be an uninviting tone.
"I was going to ask if they were aware of the large number of holes in their ship, actually," I started, but I was cut off rather rudely.
"Those holes are for ventilation! They're necessary, or the ships will surely sink! Don't you know anything about ship designs?" the captain of the vessel before me said derisively.
I shook my head. "I will admit that I am no expert," I said, to which the other spouted a harsh "Hah!". "However," I continued, "basic logic dictates that holes in a ship will let in water, and that in turn will lead to the vessel sinking."
The rude captain uttered a hard laugh again. "Clearly your 'logic' doesn't work so great, then! See how they float majestically, faring this storm so easily! Why, any day now that little upstart Nintendo should be sinking, and we'll have this storm cleared up!"
Confused, I asked, "How can this storm be caused by another ship? Surely you don't believe that weather is influenced so easily!"
"Oh, they're the ones who're causing it!" said the man, an angry scowl on his face. "That's what the folks on the PlayStation and XBOX ships keep telling us, and I don't see why it can't be true. Those Nintendo blokes are the only ones around these parts who don't have holes in their ships." He looked suspiciously at my own vessel, and I quickly distracted him with a new question to keep him from noticing that my own vessel was decidedly not perforated.
"Tell me, then, about this Nintendo ship." The other all but roared in anger. "I don't wanna even think about those traitorous bilge rats! Like I said, they started this storm, and they're leading us deeper into it too! We keep trying to take them down, but nothing we throw at them seems to work!"
I was truly mystified now. "You're... you're following them? But if they're the source of all your problems, then why follow them? Wouldn't it make more sense to chart a new course?"
The other grinned. "Oh, aren't we a clever lad. Aye, we could, but we know that Nintendo knows the way to fortune. Besides, this storm goes on for miles in all directions. There isn't a speck of sea not afflicted by it! It's everywhere!" My skepticism of this man's sanity only increased, for I knew for a fact that no storm could ever be so large.
"Tell me, what sort of attacks do you rain on this Nintendo ship?" The other grinned manically. "We throw everything we've got at them. Our Blog brand silverware, our Viral Marketer brand tarballs, our Forum Post brand hay, you name it, we toss it right at them! And none of it does a damn thing, either!"
I raised an eyebrow. "Wouldn't it make more sense to toss something of, well, more substance? Perhaps fire a few System Seller cannonballs, or perhaps even launch a Genre Defining flaming catapult load? Shouldn't you at least save your tar for repairs, instead of wasing it by flinging it at Nintendo?"
The other shook his head angrily. "We don't have any cannonballs or catapult loads left, so we're making do with what's left. Anyway, those just glance off them too, so we figured that maybe if we try a bunch of ineffective stuff all at once, maybe it'll work. And what repairs? Our ships are perfectly seaworthy and will never break down!"
I found myself quite sure that this man was mad, but out of morbid curiosity, I continued. "So let me get this straight: you're sailing on hole-filled vessels, chasing after a vessel with no holes in it, bombarding it ineffectually as it continues onwards, and you're not at all worried that you're wasting your time?"
"Hah!" the other spat, "Wasting our time? Why, we must be succeeding, for look at all the water their ship has taken on!" I can't help but note that his own vessel had, in the time we'd been talking, sunken another good 6 inches into the sea.
"Perhaps, but no vessel can weather a storm like this without taking on some water," I reasoned. "And surely your own vessels are taking on even more water, what with the holes in them?"
The rage that exploded from the other was a sight to behold. "YOU FOOL! Don't you SEE!? They might sink! Who cares if we sink a bit!? We're HUGE! We have ROOM to sink! Their little dinghy won't last, but ours will, and we'll do it proudly, with PROPER holes in our ships!"
I was thoroughly convinced now that this man was mad. "Well, do enjoy your little diversion," I said hurriedly as I made my way towards the shining beacon I'd seen earlier which I now realized was coming from the Nintendo vessel. "I'm afraid I must be off."
"Argh, you're one of those Nintendo traitors!" the other suddenly shouted. "I knew you weren't to be trusted! Everyone, we have an intruder! Attack, attack!" Fearing for my safety, I set my boat on course quickly for the Nintendo waters.
And yet, as I looked back, I saw that they were throwing nothing but straw and dented old silverware at my ship's hull, which never even reached my ship or just bounced off it harmlessly. "What madness," I muttered to myself, and moved in to find safe passage under the wide and welcoming protective sails of the good ship Nintendo. This storm would not be easy to weather, but if nothing else, at least I knew I had a chance of surviving now that I was alongside a vessel that clearly had a good chance of making it through intact.
The storm still rages on, even now. I've seen a few of the ships surrounding our pursuers, the PlayStation and XBOX vessels, sink below the waves with no remorse from their fellows. A few of the larger vessels look ready to drop off the planet any minute, yet still their fleet pursues us and tries to take us down. I can only hope that a few of them realize their folly, patch the holes in their ships, and sail with Nintendo's sturdy vessel soon, or none of them may survive this most disruptive of storms.

NEWS: 09/03/09 - Broken record commentors are broken records
I know I wasn't going to comment on modern game consoles any longer, but good GRIEF this is getting old. Every few days, like clockwork almost, a new "article" pops up by some new nobody about how the Wii is "doomed" or how it's "scaring off core gamers" or some nonsense like that. These "articles" are almost copy/paste identical to one another, which leads me to believe that they're either written by a hive-mind or viral marketers. Not much difference, really; the latter is simply paid to repeat nonsense in hopes that they can convince us all that there are five lights. And yes, I do apologize for that obscure Star Trek reference, doubly so since I haven't even seen the episode it came from.
That tangent aside, I'd like to address a few of the stupider claims, and rebuke them. Pointless? Extraordinarily, but so are these copypasta "articles", so fair is fair. Let's begin.
Claim #1: Games only sell well when they're "shovelware", core games never sell well on Wii
On top of the fact that the term "shovelware" is highly subjective (it was once used to describe Super Mario Bros by elitist PC gamers), there's about a bajillion counter-examples to this, with the usual mess of excuses for why they "don't count" bandied about too.
Resident Evil? "Resident Evil games always sell well! The fans are devoted!" Really? So how's RE5 sales? Ah, tepid, right.
Red Steel? "It was a launch game, it doesn't count!" Why does it not count? If anything, that should indicate that it counts for a lot, as it drew a fair few people to the Wii in the first place, given its sales numbers. Can you name any games before Wii Sports Resort that provided gameplay even remotely close to it? I can't.
So how about the plethora of top-selling Nintendo-made core games? "Those don't count! They're Nintendo!" That's the dumbest excuse I have ever heard. So does that mean that Sony titles don't count on PlayStations? That we should discount Halo 3 because Microsoft published it? Let's be realistic: most people don't give a crap who makes the game. They just want to play a fun game.
Claim #2: Core gamers want HD graphics!
Oh yes, of course, how could I not see this? Because HDTV ownership is just SO high now, what with sets being priced at a premium far above what most people can afford! And look at how Blu-Ray has taken off, still getting outsold constantly by DVD, probably because most people are smart enough to realize that a tripled price needs more than 1920x1080 visuals to justify it. And let's not forget how no core game this generation has EVER been derided for its reliance on users having HDTVs by having microscopic fonts! Oh no, Dead Rising never got a single complaint! Welcome to reality: most people can't even tell the difference between HD and SD at a glance. Of those who can, few are willing to drop $1000+ on a TV that can render that high-quality when they can drop $20 on some component video cables and get what amounts to the same effect.
Claim #3: The Wii is too "kiddy"!
What is this, middle school? No mature adult cares about the supposed "target audience" of a product as long as it does the job they want it to do. Honestly, this bit of viral marketing is a holdover from last generation, as it's the EXACT SAME EXCUSE we saw bandied about for why the GameCube was "doomed". And it wasn't true there, either, unless you'd like to argue that most of the purchasers of the decidedly not-for-children Super Smash Bros Melee were inhabitants of the Negative Zone or something ridiculous like that.
Claim #4: (insert anything about "casual" here)
Ugh, no. Just no. Along with my comment above about basic maturity applying, let's look at the facts: there is no such thing as a "casual" game. "Casual" is not an attribute you can ascribe to gameplay. It doesn't even make sense: the term means laid-back, not dedicated, showing little concern. These are HUMAN traits, not game traits. And furthermore, attempting to say that there are "casual" gamers is equally fallible, as that's as foolish as any other stereotype. It's very easy to be highly dedicated to a game with simple gameplay, as evidenced by the fact that the most hours-per-user-invested game on the Nintendo Channel is (surprise!) Wii Sports. Playing a game 3 hours every single day is not a "casual" behaviour. On the other hand, playing a game for five 8-hour sessions and then never touching it again does strike me as a very casual approach to gaming: just get it done and then move on to the next. No dedication at all, unless you count the overall investment per day. And that's a pretty hollow measure indeed.
Claim #5: Weak third-party sales for core games just prove that the Wii can't handle the core!
Here's a better theory: maybe those weak sales are due to the games themselves being quirky, niche, having poor controls, having almost no content to speak of, and/or being designed with absolutely no quality intended. Take your pick, at least one of those traits applies to every favorite example. Okami? Niche. Conduit? Low content and niche. No More Heroes? Very quirky, very niche. Deadly Creatures? Quirky, niche, and poor controls. Dead Rising Wii? Quirky, niche, poor controls, and low on content. MadWorld? All of the above! Deny it if you like, but the majority speak with their wallets, not with internet forum posts.
Claim #6: Nintendo steals all the sales!
Yes, they steal all the sales. This is why the GameCube was the top system of the last generation, with every Nintendo title released taking a spot on the top 10 best-selling games of all time. This claim is just stupid. And the usual counter-argument to the honest truth (that Nintendo actually DEVELOPS their games with fun in mind instead of just assembling them like some kind of manufactured good like most "developers" do with their games) is that people only buy the games because they're Nintendo. Oddly enough, you can have it BOTH ways. How about this theory? People buy a Nintendo game... because Nintendo is known for making quality games? SHOCK! IT SUDDENLY MAKES SENSE! Third parties should not be trying to compete with Nintendo anyway. Nintendo certainly isn't wasting their time competing with third parties. And that's why they sell so well: because what they make has no true competition, only pale imitations from third parties without much in the way of gameplay creativity. And imitation will always lose to the original innovation. This is not mysterious or strange. This is well-known and well-documented business fact.
There's other nonsense that gets spouted regularly, of course, but those are the favorite topics to harp upon. Honestly, I'm disappointed. If these really are viral marketers, they don't do their job very well, just repeating the same line over and over in hopes that they can get 4 to equal 5. And if they're not viral marketers, that makes it even sadder, as that means that there really are people out there who believe so strongly in a distorted view of reality which discounts all contrary evidence that they feel they need to post an article that basically says the same thing as two dozen OTHER articles, in exactly the same way. Either way, this really does need to change. I know I can't get them to stop, but it would be nice to get them to at least spice it up a bit and find new nonsense to spout. If you're gonna claim that black is white, up is down, and short is long, at least entertain us with some new content once and a while so we can laugh at you again instead of shaking our heads in disappointment.
Oh yes, and as usual, you don't have to believe a word I've said here. This is genuinely an opinion piece, and I'm not afraid to admit it. Disregard it if you so desire, but don't waste your time trying to tell me I'm wrong, either. It hasn't worked yet, since I try to at least do a little research before forming an opinion. Anyway, that's all for now.

NEWS: 07/31/09 - I still don't like Final Fantasy IX, either.
Thank you, developers, for being assholes. For a while there, I thought you might not be, but as usual, you disappointed me.
What is it with me lately? First I replay a game I knew I hated on the PS2, now I've replayed a game I knew I hated on the PS1. And both are from the same series, no less. Well, seeing as I forced myself to suffer through FF9 again, I'll give you a brief review: it sucks. Not as badly as I remember it sucking, but it still sucks. Why? Read on to find out.
Twenty Things I Hate About Final Fantasy IX
1. Stealing from bosses. Apparently the developers were high or something, but they decided that the best way to set up boss steals was to have a shit-ton of items you can nab, with increasingly smaller odds of success for better-quality items. Heaven help you if you plan to steal the best stuff from any given boss, as the odds can roughly be calculated out to 1 in 256 most of the time (that is to say, 0.390625%). This is especially annoying when the game pulls a dick move on you like limiting you to 10 turns against a given boss.
2. The game is a cheating whore. I'm not even kidding here. Enemies can and do use every possible cheap move in the book. Ostensibly they should only use said dick moves on you about 10% of the time or something, but Sod's Law is in full effect whenever Final Fantasy IX is in the PS1, and you can fully expect to get a 150-damage-to-all Flame Breath exhaled on your party every single Ironite battle, have Malboros never stop Bad Breathing you into submission, and certainly you'll never get any breaks from Ahrimans and their instant-death attacks.
3. The encounter engine was coded by monkeys. Instead of being intelligent and setting an encounter step range that was reasonable, they said "fuck it" and set it so that battles happen every 1 to 65,535 steps or so. More often than not, you'll get a battle every step or so, unless you're trying to level up (in which case, you'll probably traverse the entire area without a single fight). This game was made around 1999, but going by the ass-like encounter engine, you'd think it was made in 1989.
4. The battle engine is slower than the slowest slow that ever slowed. It doesn't seem so bad at first, but as time goes on and you realize just how long it takes for battles to load, let alone for characters to finally get off their butts and take their turns, you start to feel a certain sort of dread set in every time you see that encounter swirl effect. The game was clearly far more ambitious than what the PS1 could handle within reason, though it is at least miles ahead of Legend of Dragoon even at that.
5. Even in the year 2000, Square was STILL putting the absolute minimum possible effort into their minigames, and it shows badly. The card game is an unplayable mess with every single hated rule from Triple Triad making a return (only you can't get rid of them this time), as well as absolutely random "card battle" results that allow for even the weakest card imaginable to beat the best card in the game (and since Sod's Law is in effect, this will always always ALWAYS happen to you). Chocobo Hot and Cold (or as I like to call it, Chocobo Hunt-n-Peck) requires near-pixel-perfect accuracy, and most of the time you'll end up pecking at the dirt for 10 to 30 seconds straight trying to find that damned hidden spot. The only bright side in this mess is that there's not very many minigames.
6. The developers are grade-A certified ASSHOLES. I cannot count the number of times the game pulls dick moves on you both in and out of combat, as that would take weeks to properly catalog and would be longer than this entire news post entry. This game is definitely the winner of the "most cannot-win boss fights" award-of-shame for the series. It's like they went out of their way to punish players for not being clairvoyant, or to make sure the player knew how little the game developers thought of them, and then made sure to rub it in their faces that they failed afterwards. I don't know what kind of grudge against humanity these developers were sporting, but seriously, they should seek psychological help.
7. There is no replay value. Seriously, zip, zilch, none. Your characters never vary in the least. Leveling up is all but pointless, since your equipment determines 90% of how any given fight turns out. There are no branching story paths, no alternative ways to play with any of the characters, and absolutely no benefits to giving this game another go. This current play-through was essentially an absolute clone of my last one many years ago, not for want of trying to make things more interesting either. And that is downright sad.
8. The story has no substance. The entire game's plot can be summed up easily: some pretty-boy with no apparent motivation tries to take over the world one nation at a time, and ultimately gets defeated because he has no self-confidence. The entire script reads like it was written by a sixth grader, even going so far as to give each character exactly one defining characteristic (if that), and exactly one major change to their outlook and personality throughout the entire course of the game. If ever there were such a thing as a manufactured story, Final Fantasy IX's is at the top of that list. No story has ever felt so forced and contrived before or since.
9. The game should not exist as we know it. Long ago, back when FF8 was new and FF9 was just a speculated idea, there were screenshots and concept art released which showed that Final Fantasy IX was going to be truly epic. There would be a class-changing system, there would be fantastic inventions, and there would be epic showdowns between good and evil. Strangely, most of this concept art disappeared within a few months of the game's actual release, which was so pathetically not like what was promised that it's probably no wonder it was quietly removed from the internet. All signs point to a rushed development to cash in on the PS1 one last time before the PS2 arrived.
10. The sidequests are bullshit. Most of them are rumor mill material, and quite a few are missable or easily made impossible to complete. The most notorious of the rumor-mill-esque quests is Excalibur II (which requires you to quite literally break the game in order to find), and the other noteworthy failure in game design is the coffee bean quest (which requires you to go back to the first town of the game during a very specific event with absolutely no prompting whatsoever). How they could have messed up this badly is anyone's guess, but FF9's sidequests are an annoyance, not a fun diversion.
11. Pandaemonium. Everything about that dungeon is fail, but especially the bit where you have to walk through an invisible maze in JUUUUUUUST the right order; failure to do so pits you up against a fucking Malboro, and taunts you with the countdown timer still going in battle, inevitably hitting 0 before you ever get a single turn.
12. The abusive remixing of songs that runs rampant throughout the game. It's hard to name any theme in the game that doesn't have at least three different mixes, and while they may be nice songs, the game feels like it's cheating the player out of new tunes by constantly recycling the same dozen or so songs with slightly different tempo and instruments.
13. The marriage ceremony song at Conde Petie. I don't know what Uematsu was thinking, but I can only assume that some form of illegal substance was involved, as nobody could think that a high-pitched constant whine would be appealing as "music". It makes an already campy and irritating scene entirely unbearable.
14. Most skills are totally useless. Nobody in their right mind would ever use Six Dragons (since it usually fucks you over royally), Zidane's skills are almost all worthless, nobody in the history of ever has wasted time casting every single damage-free status spell on a boss in the vain hope that one might work (instead of, you know, ATTACKING), and who the hell keeps adding in these retarded "self-sacrifice" moves and giving them to characters who aren't likely to survive long enough for it to be useful anyway?
15. Garnet on disc 3. I suppose I need to explain this one: for the better part of the third disc, Garnet will spend about 66% of any given fight being "indecisive" and refusing to act. This isn't such a problem since you can just use Eiko instead, until you get to the dungeon where Eiko is kidnapped and you HAVE to take Garnet along. Essentially, she's deadweight, and dangerous deadweight to drag along since she's supposed to be your healer during aforementioned kidnapping.
16. Everything about or relating to Oeilvert. The game quite cruelly only tells you AFTER you've assembled your party that the place has an anti-magic field (meaning if you put any mages in your party, you're fucked). As well, during the dungeon, you run into a monster that will shapeshift into your own party members and frequently use instant-kill moves. And to top it all off, the absolute worst mandatory required minigame ever takes place during the sequence, where you have to pixel-walk Cid to a key in red-light-green-light fashion, and have to start ALL OVER if he gets spotted. Fuck you too, Square.
17. Ipsen's Castle. On top of being irritating as hell to navigate, the game pulls one of its grandest dick moves and makes it so that good equipment sucks balls in there, while bad equipment is more powerful than your ultimate weapons are outside of the place. And there are Ahrimans in the place, to top it all off. I fucking HATE Ipsen's Castle.
18. The game does not feel at all like a Final Fantasy. On top of the totally out-of-left-field and often illogical item and equipment naming schemes (why the hell is a Linen Cuirass more effective than a bronze one, and who the hell would name a staff a "Whale Whisker"?), the entire feel of the plot and gameplay is just out of place for the series. Final Fantasy games are, at heart, about world-shattering events where heroes rise from an unlikely source and step in to stop the coming disaster. The battles in most Final Fantasy games feel both epic and necessary to the story. Final Fantasy IX fails to deliver, and as such, fails to be a Final Fantasy.
19. This game is pure fanservice. Everywhere you look, there's some entirely unsubtle and often blatantly broadcasted reference to a previous FF game. Final Fantasy IX cannot and does not stand on its own, and feels more like a fan game designed to pay tribute to something far better than it.
20. The fanboys. This is the worst part of FF9, without a doubt: the fact that there are people who not only like FF9, but who love it and think that it's the best of the series. This goes beyond stupidity, beyond madness, beyond anything resembling coherency. You would have to have an unmitigated love for self-torment and pain to genuinely believe that this game is anything but a sub-par entry into the series. And don't ever get into an argument with an FF9 fanboy. It's like trying to debate with a combination of a brick wall and a brain-damaged squirrel: they don't listen, but they'll gladly lash out at you violently for not agreeing with them.
If you didn't guess by the huge size of this list, I hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate HATE Final Fantasy IX, and this recent replay has only helped amplify that hate. Please, if you value your sanity, don't try to argue the point with me. I gave this game a second chance, just like I did FF12, and the results were all but identical: I still hated it. Expect further additions as time goes by and I get more frustrated by FF9. Thank you and good day.

NEWS: 07/01/09 - It's the Gaming Apocalypse! (Version 2.0, at that!)
We should've seen this coming the moment NEC decided they wanted in on the gaming scene with the PC Engine (aka. TurboGrafx-16). We should've spotted it when Sony stepped into the market. We definitely should have come to grips with our new reality the second Microsoft threw their hat in. But now, with developers collapsing under their own pretentious weight and with the drive to declare games as "art" as strong as it was back in the mid-1980s, the conclusion is inescapable.
The industry is going to burn.
Figuratively, of course, but a cleansing is necessary nonetheless. A gross disconnect has occurred, and most of the developers today are identical in spirit to the pre-NES developers who so happily signed the death warrant for home console gaming on the Atari 2600, and who gladly turned PC gaming into a niche platform. The industry no longer caters to consumers. The industry caters to itself.
The nice thing about this is, we don't have to do a thing to bring it about, besides refusing to buy the latest attempt to get us to break out our wallets to buy yet another identi-kit game or yet another pretentious "art game" that cannot be played. All we have to do is what we (or rather, consumers at large) are already doing: deny business to those who refuse to accept that they are supposed to be selling their products to us, not to themselves. What could be simpler?
The most remarkable part of all of this, of course, is that nobody at these development studios (at the higher, middle, OR lower levels) is saying "Wait a minute, we've got it all wrong," and trying to change their ways. Even with these companies hemmoraging money, they refuse to adapt, to change, to face the challenges before them with an open mind and a creative new approach. The reason why? Because most developers aren't creative any more, if they ever were to begin with. They don't remember how to be creative, or never learned how.
Take a look at the vast number of games out there, and see how many entries on the list do not stand out at a glance. About 90% of titles seem to fit the stereotypes of their genres so perfectly that nobody would ever be able to differentiate them without looking more closely. If this sounds eerily familiar, let me bring your attention to another time when we had most every game being a clone of something else: the Atari 2600 era's dying days of 1984. That's right, we've come full circle again.
It's downright comical, but the industry is killing itself exactly the same way it killed itself 25 years ago. And honestly, I'm not sorry to see it die. A new industry is happily taking its place, with a far more user-friendly and customer-oriented approach. One led by none other than our old pals and hated bringers of the Gaming Apocalypse (for the second time!), Nintendo. Let your minds reel at this: without Nintendo's NES, there would be no Sony PlayStation or Microsoft XBOX, let alone their uncreatively numbered successors.
So yeah, I'm just gonna sit back and enjoy the meltdown of an industry that managed to destroy itself twice in exactly the same way. It's twice as funny this time, since most of the perps of this meltdown are the same ones that orchestrated the rebuilding of the industry after the last Apocalypse of Gaming. History repeats, largely because nobody seems to see beyond their own nose when it comes to chasing empty promises of Alchemist's Magnets that turn lead into gold. You'd think the promise of endless fortune would have been a dead giveaway, but we really do never learn...
Why not grab yourself a fizzy drink, pull up a chair, and join me? This Gaming Apocalypse should be quite a sight better than the last one. Cheers!

NEWS: 05/23/09 - I still don't like Final Fantasy XII.
See those glowing red things? They're traps. See the line they form? That's the obvious route to the save point. Screw you too, Square-Enix. Screw you too.
I've spent far too much time lately replaying FF12. Why? I wish I knew. I guess it was because I was suckered into thinking that there might be some sort of reason to believe that it wasn't as horrible as I first thought. And to be fair, as it turns out, it isn't quite as bad as I originally thought. But it's also not even remotely as good as its supporters have preached it to be.
Final Fantasy XII tries very hard to be a good game, but it's like there was somebody on staff who desperately needed to see the game fail, and he kept pulling bullshit moves that made the game un-fun, or that killed the sequences that are fun with busywork. I shall list eight of the most irritating greivances.
1. Your allies are morons. You can argue that this has more to do with how you program them with their Gambits, but this falls flat when you consider the major problem with ally AI: they refuse to move when they're casting magic, even though the game does not prevent them from moving when they do so. I cannot count how many times I yelled "coming, Balthier?" angrily as he sat back repeatedly trying and failing to cast Regen or Protect or something on himself and kept canceling it, taking one step forward, and trying again, only to fail again because I'm not stopping my movement just to satisfy the crappy AI.
2. Treasure chests. Just... treasure chests. There's the infamous Zodiac Spear chest (wherein opening various completely arbitrary chests in random areas of the game can cheat you out of the best weapon in the game), but then there's the common chests. Common chests can contain Gil, pathetic healing items, or (if the moon is blue and the planets have aligned) a piece of equipment. That is, of course, assuming the damned things even spawn, which for the good ones they usually don't. The amount of time I spent trying to get decent equipment from chests just makes me want to cry.
3. Positive status effects last about 40 to 240 seconds. This is very, very unforgivingly short when it takes 15 minutes to cross a single damned screen. Combined with the stupid, stupid AI that sits around picking its arse while it casts spells, it takes even longer to cross areas than it should if you want to go through with any sort of boosted status. Yes, you can forego the likes of Protect, Shell, Bravery, Haste, Float, and Bubble, but neglecting the latter two is a death sentence most of the time, as explained next.
4. Traps. There's a reason why most RPGs don't feature traps lying around on the ground, waiting for some unwitting player to step on one, and that's because they're annoying. And in FF12, they are everywhere, especially along any path you are pretty much assured to take. You can't even see the damned things without Libra active, though fortunately Libra is available very early and each use lasts a very reasonable 10 minutes or so. Why couldn't other status spells be so considerate? Anyway, traps are especially annoying since their damage seems pretty much random. Some do a few hundred damage, others do 9999 to your entire party.
5. Cuchulainn the Impure, one of the optional Espers, has an auto-sapping field that can drain a 9999-HP character to death in about 60 seconds flat. And he casts Sap, meaning you die twice as fast. This bastard took me more tries than I care to count to defeat, and what's especially insulting is, he'd be total cake to defeat if he didn't have that damned HP-super-drain effect on you at all times. Way to be assholes, Squenix.
6. The sidequests are terrible. We're talking FF9-level obscurity here, where you would never know any of them even existed without a guide, unless you talked to every one of the literally hundreds of NPCs in the game, and talk to them over and over after every major story event too. This is just inexcusable. It was tolerated on the NES and SNES, and even a bit on the PS1, because there were about 75 people in the entire world you could talk to at any given time with earlier RPGs. But FF12 has about 75 people to talk to per location. As I said, inexcusable.
7. The story is incoherent. I can tell they had a very deep and interesting plot intended, but it's told so inexpertly that I cannot even bring myself to care. There are more locations and names thrown around in any given FF12 cutscene than in the entirety of Final Fantasy X, which is no small feat, and they're all given the most unmemorable gibberish imaginable for names. The plot itself is boring too, and seems to jump all over the place, completely jumping all sanity around Giruvegan when suddenly some previously-unmentioned group of Deus-ex-Machinas appear to give the plot a twist or two. It's a brain-bashingly thick plot that, in spite of any depth it may possess, is inpenetrable.
8. As I mentioned before, FF12's names are gibberish. Who is going to remember a name like Balfonheim, or Tchita, or Mjrn? How can Mjrn even be termed a word? It has no vowels! Most of the stuff in FF12 is named as though players of FF11 came up with the names, ie. they sound like vaguely pretentious misspellings of existing words, or made-up nonsense words meant to sound cool. Whichever various terms may be, they universally make no sense at all.
Now that I've pissed off everybody who actually likes FF12, let me say this: the game is playable, which is something I felt it was not last time I tried to go through it. It's not my cup of tea at all, however, requiring so much micromanagement and tolerance for total nonsense and the game's sheer determination to torment the player that I couldn't really get into it. I may have clocked close to 80 hours, but most of that was out of spite for how many hours the game had already taken from me.
Oh yes, this should be old hat by now, but you're not obligated to share my opinion, agree with me at all, or even like what I have to say. So please don't e-mail me trying to convince me to like FF12; somebody already tried that, which is why I gave it a second chance in the first place, and it ended up making me regret that decision anyway. FF12 isn't for me. End of story, book closed, not going to be opened again. Good day.

NEWS: 04/28/09 - Being Vanilla R. Beans: A Month of Steambot Chronicles in Retrospect
She may feel asleep, but the real question is, have the truck started to move?
So yeah, I've spent about the last month playing this old PS2 game in my backlog called Steambot Chronicles. I'd played it before, but never got past a certain point. It was an unfortunate timing of release, really; Suikoden V came out not long after, and that absorbed me so much that I forgot about Steambot Chronicles entirely.
Okay, so that's not entirely true. As I have since re-discovered, the game does have its fair share of gameplay issues, not the least of which being that the game likes to play the old "heads I win tails you lose" trick a lot, including a boss that requires precise jumping (in spite of the game's jumping controls being a bit dodgy at best) and a totally unavoidable one-time-chance tournament that you're forced to enter at a given point in the plot against your will and basically cannot win without super-powerful equipment that could toast the last boss. Said tournament made me quit originally, and damn near made me quit again a second time just recently.
The game isn't perfect; harbor no illusions about this fact, it has flaws up the wazoo. Slowdowns are commonplace and happen so regularly in towns that you end up rotating the camera just to keep the framerate above 15FPS. The combat engine, while fun in theory, has some serious flaws in the form of the utterly broken throwing mechanics (said mechanics work very much in the enemy's favor, too, since they can move around far more effectively than you can). There are also some glitches and bugs that, while they don't kill the main game, do kill many sidequests. And the game's load times are just atrocious.
And yet, I still like the game. Why? I'm still working that out, but I think it has something to do with the fact that the combat (when it's not against toss-happy enemies) is viscerally fun and surprisingly tactical at times. The story, as well, is very consuming, and doesn't feel like your typical anime/RPG faire at all. It's so down-to-earth, even when dramatic things are afoot, that you'd almost think the plot was written by Hayao Miyazaki... or a less experienced fan of his style, anyway. The sublime and subliminal nature of the story is a breath of fresh air in a genre that's polluted with cookie-cutter plots trying to be far more than they need to be.
It also helps that the localization is one of the funniest and best localizations of a PS2 game ever. Atlus truly put their all into this game's localization, and it shows. There's references to classic translations (one pictured above), amusing little jokes, self-referential humor, the works. There's even a place called Meme Village, which surprisingly does not feature lolcats or DO NOT WANT anywhere. And even with all that campiness, they still managed to convey the main story without a hint of ineptitude. That's talent, of a kind not often found in the industry.
The only thing about this game is that I can't recommend it to anybody who's not going to use a guide for it. And the caveat there is that there aren't any truly stellar guides for the game which outline all of the game's many pitfalls and how to avoid them. Certainly there are adequate guides, and ones that cover the extras exceptionally well, but nothing comprehensive. Yet, anyway. I've been at this for a month mostly because I resolved to fix that, and I'm not quitting until I have made this game the guide it needs.
So there you have it. Steambot Chronicles has possessed me for the last month, and I'm not especially sorry it has. Hopefully I'll be done before May's out, though, or I'll never clear my backlog up.

NEWS: 03/03/09 - Teenage Mutant Ninja what now?
So I recently got myself some reprints of the classic 1988 TMNT action figures, and being in possession of a very odd imagination and a camera, I decided to make a few "one-panelers". The results are, in order of appropriateness:
Here (SFW), here (probably SFW), here (probably NSFW), here (definitely NSFW), and here (undoubtedly NSFW).
That's all the zaniness for today! Come again soon.

NEWS: 11/13/08 - Reducto ad Absurdium
I was feeling oddly inspired today, so I wrote a brief little parable. Enjoy?
Perhaps the greatest and most controversial invention ever to come out of the laboratories of Invent-o-Smart was the Greed Detector. This remarkable device possessed the ability to accurately analyze, to sixty decimal places, exactly how much greed factored into the actions of the person it was used upon. The company heralded it as the most promising invention ever, which would allow humankind to finally and truly overcome corruption, shortsighted policy-making, and dandruff build-up. Unfortunately, not only did the device not solve any of these problems, but it also ended up causing an awful lot more problems just by being announced.
The moment the device was filed for patent, it was simultaneously banned, outlawed, and deemed a capital offense deserving of the death penalty in every single government on the planet. All knowledge concerning its existence was erased, the laboratory that it was invented in was burned to the ground, and just for good measure, everything in a 100-mile radius of the laboratory was also burned to the ground. After sixteen tactical nuclear strikes on the site and an extensive campaign to systematically deny any nuclear strikes took place, the governments of the world finished the operation by dismantling Invent-o-Smart and summarily executing everybody on the staff and (for good measure) everybody they were related to, friends with, or whom they had had any contact with in the last 165 years.
The end result of this brutal massacre left the world population greatly decreased and led to an incredible revolution against the world's governments that ultimately resulted in new governments more or less exactly like the old ones taking control of things. Once people realized that all of this devastation had happened because of a simple patent filing, they promptly vowed that they would never allow a patent to be filed again. Two weeks later the newly elected and newly corrupt politicians revised this, as they realized that copyrights were the only things keeping their funding in place from the ridiculously corrupt businesses that had emerged after the massacre. Instead, they outlawed any and all critical thinking, which went over quite well with most of the remnants of civilization, though not so much with the surviving intellectuals. So the governments of the world just had them all killed.
Although there was never a working model made of the Greed Detector (the prototype never even got tested), and fire, nuclear warheads, and bullets had summarily erased all knowledge of its existence, it was generally agreed that whatever those lunatics were working on must've been very bad indeed. After a brief worldwide forum on the subject during which a lot of obscene gestures and name-calling were thrown about, the people who survived vowed to never think for themselves again. Unfortunately this proved to be a very bad move indeed. Just three days later the Earth was visited by some extraterrestrials that were looking for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. Upon discovering that humanity had vowed to abandon intelligence, they summarily vaporized the whole planet to keep the rest of the galaxy safe.
If there was a moral to this story, the author isn't sure what it was, but is sure that it was probably a really good one.

NEWS: 10/05/08 - Legend of Shenja? Mo' like Legend of Trainwreck!
Before Genesis Innocens, there was another...
It was called Legend of Shenja Episode I: Genesis, but I like to call it Lame Shenja. It's... awful. I made it back when RPG Maker 2000 was new and when I thought I knew how to make an RPG but really didn't.
Why am I putting this up here? Three reasons. One, it's cathartic. Two, it's high time people realize how bad I used to be at RPG design. And three, I was bored enough to replay it and realized that, while bad, it's still miles ahead of a lot of RPG Maker games.
So enjoy (as best you can), and remember: it only sucks because there's something better out there for it to suck compared to.

NEWS: 8/31/08 - Looking at Trends as Flowers
I'm going to try a slight deviance here. I'm going to look at how people see trends, and liken it to how people look at a flower.
First, we have the people who only see the flower itself. With a trend, that's spotting that there is a trend. No talent is really necessary to do so, just pattern recognition.
Second, we have the people who see the stem as well as the flower. These are the people who spot the common links between elements of a trend. While this requires a bit more research than the above, there's nothing in this method which is subtle. The links in the trend are no more hidden than the trend itself is.
Third and lastly, we have the people who dig up the flower and find the root. These are the people who work out why the trend exists at all. This requires more than just research or fact-checking. To even know to look for the root, you have to actually have some grasp of how the system works. To grasp how the system works, you have to actually observe the system at work, not just what it produces. Meaning you can only get to the root of the trend if you understand the way the trend works well enough to know the root exists.
Most only see the flower. Some look closer and see the stem. Only a few curious people ever see the root. So it also is with trends. Most see the trend, some see the commonalities, few see the real reason for the trend.

NEWS 08/09/08 - A Parable of Cycles
I wrote this in a post to a forum recently, in a moment of Maelstrom-inspired creativity, and figured it was more than good enough to post here, too. Enjoy!
The wails and mournings of the hardcore continue into the twilight of the Cinematic Cycle's day in the sun. Bemoaning the fate of their beloved hobby, they refuse to listen as the wise men tell them that this is nothing new and that the future still holds bright things. All they can see is the setting of that movie-esque sun, and the demise of a genre that they thoroughly entrenched themselves in, and the creeping sunrise of the Social Cycle's sun, with its games focused on many players doing simple but fun tasks together.
"Petty!" one of the hardcore scoffs, "Shallow! Unrefined! I shall never play such dregs! Send them away and give me my Metal Gear Solid!" But nobody answers their cries, and the Cinematic sun continues its inevitable descent, the Social sun its inevitable rise.
A lone figure approaches the angry hardcore who cried out. "Why do you belittle the Social Cycle? It is young," the figure reasons.
"Pfah! Look at it! All cheesy party games! Not a single good game in there!" the hardcore declares, spitting bitterly on the ground.
"But," says the unknown man, "what of games like Mario Kart Wii? And Super Smash Bros Brawl? Are these not games which appeal to your tastes?"
"Speak not the name 'Nintendo' to me!" the hardcore yells, angrily. "I will only hear the names of 'Microsoft' and 'Sony' uttered in my presence!"
"Why?" the stranger asks, bemused.
"Because...! Because...!" the hardcore struggles to find words. "Because I hate Nintendo! They've killed gaming!"
"Ah," says the stranger, nodding knowingly. "Turnabout is fair play, you know. When your Cinematic sun rose, do you know what those who worshipped the Arcade sun said? Much the same as you, that Nintendo had killed gaming."
"No!" the hardcore shouted, angrier than ever. "Nintendo did not bring the Cinematic sun to us! It was Sony! Sony! SONY!"
The stranger shook his head. "You know not your history, I see. Pray tell, did you ever play the Nintendo Entertainment System?" The hardcore shook his head. "Well, let me show you the start of the Cinematic sun's rise, then."
Just then, a large screen popped up, and Final Fantasy started playing on it. "That doesn't count!" the hardcore yelled.
"Why not?" the stranger asked, bemused. "It's most definitely a cinematic game, albeit one of the earliest. And here it is, on a system which predated the PlayStation by a decade. You see, Nintendo brought about your beloved Cinematic sun just as they've brought about the Social sun."
"It doesn't matter!" the hardcore yelled, sounding desperate. "Nintendo didn't give us the greatest Cinematic games, Sony did! And the third parties that supported Sony! Nintendo abandoned the Cinematic game!"
The stranger smiled. "Yes, they did. Because the Cinematic style was proving to be unprofitable. Tell me, what do you think is the most important thing to a company that makes video games?"
"That they make good games!" the hardcore said, mildly irritated at such an obvious question. "Why are you laughing!?" he demanded as the stranger chuckled.
"Poor deluded gamer," the stranger said, shaking his head. "The ends do not make the means. Companies that make video games value profit above all else if they are to survive. Making good games is the end of that means, not the means to the end. And Cinematic games do not make a profit; many of the companies making them are now expiring."
"So what!?" the hardcore shouted impatiently. "The games are still great! I don't care if a few companies go under, I just want my games!"
The stranger sighed. "You don't get it, do you? Who will make your Cinematic games if all of the companies die? Who will give you your fix then? The age of the Cinematic game is over, and with it, all those who will not flock to the Social Cycle which is rising. You cannot make the sun stop setting, and you cannot stop the cycle from ending. Do not hate Nintendo, for they are only the heralds of the inevitable shift."
"I refuse!" the hardcore spat, and turned to chase the setting Cinematic Cycle's sun.
"Futility..." the stranger muttered, walking off towards the rising Social Cycle sun, shaking his head. The hardcore would only find darkness at the end of his journey, but the stranger at least would find a brilliant day awaited him in the near future.

NEWS 08/04/08 - I have an award to give out...
Quite a few, in fact. This goes out to all of the people predicting that the successor to the Wii is going to either a.) be an HD version of the Wii, b.) go back to using the old-style controllers, c.) use the same marketing and distribution tactics as Sony or Microsoft's next systems do, or d.) any combination of the above.
You guys have earned it. A clearer example of how shallow the human imagination can really be would be hard to come by. I am impressed.

NEWS 06/30/08 - A follow-up to the "theft of Legend of Shenja" article
It seems that Garlaanx realized that the jig was up and he'd been caught, so now his forum is a Mario Kart Wii club forum instead.
Though he never said a word to me in response to my e-mail (which in hindsight isn't surprising, as not only did I put him in an awkward position, but I also worded it with a bit of hostility), I am at least grateful that he didn't try to turn this into a battle or anything like that. So kudos to him for his maturity in that regard.
Nothing much else to say, save that I'm trying my hand at perhaps the most complicated RPG Maker 2003 project I have ever envisioned, but for very different reasons than why LoS2 is complicated...

STORY TIME 06/17/08 - A Parable of Price
I wrote this little tale in a forum to explain why price alone isn't a determining factor in how well a product sells, and I figured it was good enough to post here.
Suppose a home virtual reality set came out that retailed for $1000. Even though virtual reality is a popular idea that would draw in many dedicated users, a great deal of people would, upon seeing such a high price tag, refuse to get it. They'd see it as sinking a grand on something that they didn't need, during an economic time when money is tight. No chance, in other words.
Now suppose the price dropped to $900. A bunch more people who were on the fence about paying a thousand bucks for a VR set would jump on, but those people who saw $1000 as excessive for entertainment are unlikely to see $900 as any better.
Down to $800, and more people jump on. But again, those die-hard hold-outs don't want it. If anything, they're even less interested at $800, because they know that the price will keep dropping, and some day will be affordable to them if they still want it then.
Now let's say at this point a competitor comes out with a new virtual reality set which isn't as complex in its graphics and sound capabilities, but has a much better gameplay interface and is compatible with games from one of their existing systems. And let's say they retail it for $400, half the price of their competitor. The high-end users would scoff at the system for being so simple, but the superior interface would pique the interest of some of those who didn't want to look at the competitor's VR system.
Let's say the $800 model's makers, in a panic, drop their price to $500, just $100 more than this new system. Again, there's a wave of new users, but even fewer than the drop to $800. But why? It's only $100 more than the competition, and has much better graphics!
The reason is simple: the number of people interested in the higher-quality graphics that haven't already bought the system are very few, whereas the number of people who want the better interface on the newer VR set model is astronomically higher. Even some of the people who bought the more expensive set end up taking an interest in this simpler, but more immersive, device.
The moral of this little fictional tale is, the value of a product is not determined by its price, but by its appeal. And appeal accounts for far more than just the price tag.

NEWS 05/07/08 - The New Gamer's Glossary
In the spirit of the changing times, I have composed a brief glossary of terms for newcomers to video games. If you find yourself getting confused by all of these buzzwords and terms flying around in the video game market, then look no further! Oh, but please don't waste your time complaining to me if it offends you, unless you wish to simply entertain me with your rantings. I simply tell it as I see it.
That's all for today!

NEWS 03/21/08 - Welcome to 2001
In the spirit of my page's perpetual outdatedness that would make even Strong Bad proud, I have updated the links in my main menu to image macros that change when you put your mouse over them. Aren't I so clever (only not). And fashionably late by 7 years, too! Many thanks to Aerdan for the simple-yet-effective image mouse-over code he provided, and hopefully he won't curse me endlessly for doing this to my otherwise minimalist site. I'm sure he's currently laughing at this news post, looking at my page with JavaScript disabled.
Not much to say otherwise. The Wii is fun. VG Chartz is entertaining for anybody who has a thing for economics and abuse by internet-enabled gamers. And this website is now stuck in the start of the 21st century, instead of the end of the 20th. That's all for now.

NEWS 03/02/08 - Meme Wars
Yep, I made more meme images and sounds. They can be found at the usual spot. Enjoy.
What, you expected more? Sorry, I got nothin'.

NEWS 02/19/08 - Immitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but theft is just theft.
Ever notice how, when you make something fairly good, somebody out there goes and makes something almost exactly like it? That's kinda nice. But here's a mind-bender for ya: this guy must've figured he couldn't possibly make a game as good as Genesis Innocens, so he went and claimed he made it instead.
Comically enough, this Garlaanx fellow appears to not even realize that lifting the exact text off of my site and putting it in his forum might just draw my attention eventually. Also, he appears to be in the business of stealing others' games and claiming credit for them, too. This will not do, of course.
Now I'm not saying you should go and punish him for his wicked deeds here, but there's definitely something wrong about somebody going and stealing others' work like that not only without credit, but also attempting to charge for it? Yeah, I think this fellow has some hard lessons ahead of him...

NOT-NEWS 01/06/08 - Return of the Meme

NEWS 01/01/08 - When voice recordings attack!
So yeah, last night I was bored and I decided to record my voice a bit. Turns out, I can do a pretty good impression of the lead character of an old (and short-lived) American cartoon, The Legend of Zelda. The character in question, Link, had a particularly irritating favorite phrase, which is mainly funny for how the voice actor made a slide whistle effect with his voice.
What, you expected a statement about how it's a new year before I went on about whatever I've been up to? Hey, excuuuuuuuuse me, princess! Yeah, I just wanted an excuse to type that, I admit. If you didn't guess, the link there is myself doing the clip. And for the console fans out there, here's my analysis of 2007 for the major contenders in the market. Read if you wish, and enjoy if you can.
A link to the voice clip has been added to the Memes page, appropriately enough, and the article is now in my FAQs, etc. area. Anyway, that's all for now.

NEWS 12/17/07 - STAR GET!
The tradition of Mario Engrish continues... Though not in the US version, unfortunately. Ah well.

NEWS 09/01/07 - Internet memes and reviews, oh my!
Yeah, so I've actually uploaded quite a bit of stuff over the last few, erm, months. These things were mostly uploaded to show folks on #rpgone, but I realize now that there's no reason not to link them here, too.
So the newly trimmed-down Sky Render's Domain now plays host to a new section: the Internet Memes and Other Such Nonsense section. This strangely named area will be where to look to see the fruits of my demented labor to make myself and others laugh. With varying degrees of success, I'm sure.
I've also added a Reviews sub-section to the FAQs and Walkthroughs section, now called the Guides, Reviews, and Literature section. Yeah, I'm all about new names for old stuff today, aren't I? Anyway, that's it for this update-that's-not-really-an-update. See you in October!

NEWS 08/19/07 - Cleaning is such a chore...
Well, it was high time to retire about, oh, 70% of my site or so. Really, it was just cluttering stuff up with content for games that have been out of print for years on end. So now you see the slimmer, trimmer Sky Render's Domain. More room for disturbingly blog-like rants. Oh joy. Also, most of the news stories on the front page are where they belong now, in the news archives. And as a coup-de-grace, the links have been updated (finally).
Not much to say past that, other than that the HM DS section has been updated on slightly more than a regular basis lately. I think I might just like that game a bit...

NEWS? 07/02/07 - No, not really news, sorry
I just don't like leaving my website totally unupdated for, erm, 2+ months. What is it with me and not updating very often? Actually, I know why: because I'm still going through college (major time eater, that), and because I have a gaming backlog the size of Hyrule to go through (and Navi won't stop saying "Hey! Listen!" whenever I turn my back on it, stupid fairy...).
Okay, now that I've scared off every non-gamer reader who comes to my site (so about 2 people), down to the nitty-gritty. I have no news to report. Unless you consider Harvest Moon DS being incredibly fun to be news. And yes, I am going to shut up now about next-gen consoles, because quite frankly, I stopped caring about what Sony and Microsoft are doing some months ago. And you can only mock them for so long before it just degrades into insulting them for insulting's sake.
So that's that. I'm lost in my backlog of games, I've played about a bajillion times as much HM DS as is sane, and I'm sick of picking on the sore losers of the console race. Until next time!

COMMENT: 04/23/07 - To all the haters of the Wii...
You hate fun, uh?
Sorry, but it must be said. Graphics are nice, but in the end, games are meant to be played, not watched. That's why we call them "games", not "movies".

NEWS: 03/04/07 - Nintendo goes Wii on Sony and Microsoft
Unless you've lived in a cave or have been avoiding the gaming scene for the last year (give or take a few months), you probably know about the current generation of game consoles: the DreamCast-esque XBox 360 with its rabid fanbase and early head-start, the alarmingly 3DO-like PS3 with its huge price tag and limited game library (present and future), and the very naughty-sounding Wii, with its strange controller and quirky line-up of unique games.
So. All three consoles have been around now for at least 3 months. And what have we seen thus far? Well, the 360 has sold about 10 million units. That sounds plenty impressive, until you consider two things. One, that was over the course of 14 months, meaning an average of less than a million sales a month worldwide. And two, the console is selling disproportionately throughout the world: the US market is buying about six times as many 360's as Japan, and Europe is only lacklustre in its interest of Microsoft's latest juggernaught.
In short, the 360 has a head start, but no unanimous support and fairly limited sales overall. What about the PS3? Definitely not doing as well as they expected. In 3 months, they've sold under 2 million units; stores across the world are overstocked with 'em. That's never a good sign for a console's future. While they've got about equal levels of sales world-wide, those sales overall are titchy. It's really bad when most of your console's launch models were sold at inflated prices on eBay so the original purchasers could buy another, less expensive console...
Which brings us to the Wii. Now, I don't want to be predicting the future too far (miraculous comebacks have happened, and odds have been defied), but the Wii is seriously kicking all kinds of butt. In 3 months, it's sold over 4 million units, and is only slowing down in sales because supply simply cannot meet demand. And what demand! Very evenly distributed across the globe, Wii demand has topped any other console at this point. If the current trend continues (and it's not showing any sign of slowing down), the Wii will have matched Microsoft's 360 sales before the console's been out even a year. And I'm taking into consideration further 360 sales, to boot!
Why is the Wii so popular, when all the naysayers were saying that it'd fail for sure? What happened to it going down in a blaze of consumer disinterest because of those last-gen-esque visuals? Why is the market snatching it up despite that weird controller? And it can't possibly be the GameCube's popularity keeping it afloat; what popularity? And there, ironically enough, is the trifecta of why the Wii is succeeding.
Next-gen visuals, while pretty, seem to be synonymous with poor gameplay. Can you name many games with high-quality graphics that are actually fun? 'Cause I can't. Oblivion bored and frustrated me in turn with its broken gameplay and total lack of originality. Dead Rising, while loaded with unconventional weapons, is still your typical survival-horror game full of Hollywood's standard-issue zombies. I remember a time when games were about being fun, not about looking extra real. A time when game budgets were mostly invested in making sure they had something worth playing, not something that looked awe-inspiring. And the Wii's got that going for it: a lot of the launch titles are actually fun. Just not visually very impressive. Who, honestly, really cares?
So what about the controller? Well, wireless is all the rage, and it certainly has that. Boy does it have that: wherever you stick it, the Wii knows (and yes, I realize that sounds dirty). Meaning you can make all kinds of crazy gameplay mechanics. Wanna swing your sword around in a game to make your own combos? Wiimote's got it covered. Want to play golf or bowling the way you do in real life? Can do! It's surprisingly satisfying to be able to swing your controller around and have it do more than just be an expression of frustration, as it has been in the past. If you don't believe me, go try a Wii out some time.
And how can the GameCube possibly be helping the Wii? It sold so poorly! Well, yes, but keep in mind, a lot of people who didn't get a GameCube are now looking at getting a Wii. And a lot of people also were interested in a few GameCube titles, but didn't want to sink $200 (or $150, or even $100) into a GameCube just to play 3 to 6 games on it. Enter the Wii: fully GameCube compatible (well, minus a few usually cross-platform online titles), and it plays newer games to boot! The Wii launch lineup is nothing to scoff at, but if there's nothing a new buyer wants on the list just yet, they can still pick up some of those GameCube games they didn't get last generation. Score!
As it turns out, all of the frequently cited "weaknesses" of the Wii have been the system's strong points. And it has one other thing going for it that people also never thought would work: non-gamers are taking an interest in it. Let's face it, game systems in the past have been very abstract. You hit a button, move a d-pad or joystick, and an on-screen avatar does something. What doesn't always make sense to your average Joe, and average Joe doesn't really wanna read the manual. The Wii, on the other hand, lets you interact pretty directly with the games. Swinging a baseball bat or golf club, tossing a bowling ball, swinging a cow about like a lasso... All pretty easy to figure out, and actually really fun. There's nothing really abstract about it, which appeals to people who don't really want to learn that A means talk in game X, but it makes their character jump in game Y.
Who will win? Who will wince? Only time will tell. But I think it's safe to say that the Wii has a few advantages in this generation that nobody was expecting. Those advantages may well give it the edge it needs to show the world that games are about gameplay, not about looking pretty, costing $600 a console and $60 a game due to a risky new format venture, and taking forever to load.
I don't usually rant like this (not a blog, after all), but I felt it'd be appropriate to point out that it's very easy to forget certain basic principles, hence why so many of us predicted it all wrong for this generation (based on the evidence so far, anyway). Pardon if my opinion irks you, but hey, you don't have to share it with me, so just give it a miss if you don't agree. I won't be offended, honest. And yes, this little essay was prompted by me getting a Wii. An odd occurrence if ever there were one, as I never have gotten a console so close to launch before. This bodes well for the future, methinks.

NEWS: 10/04/06 - PSP Backgrounds R' Us
I've decided to make the various PSP backgrounds I've made over the last year or so public. You can find them on the page linked there, or in the links list at the top of this page.
Little else of note to report, what with school starting up again. Back to the academic life with me...

NEWS: 07/27/06 - A not-so-brief rant on game systems
Normally I try to refrain from posting blog-like things to this site, but I figure it's high time I said this...
What the heck is up with people becoming fans of the makers of video game SYSTEMS? The systems themselves are not what determines if they succeed. The systems are just the medium through which the games are played. What's the point of showing unerring support for Nintendo, Sony, or Microsoft, when the consoles themselves are nothing but a means to an end?
Sony has made two very successful home consoles in the last decade, but these two systems did not end up being "top dog" just because they were made by Sony; hell no. They both have their fair share of issues (load times up the wazoo, tiny memory cards, original models being serious space-eaters, etc.). What set these consoles apart from their competition was not their capabilities. It was their games.
For those who have played both PS1 and N64 games, try and name ten games you love that are on PlayStation. Now try to think up ten games that you love on N64. Maybe you had about equal trouble, maybe not. Now how about twenty each? Ah, say a few readers, now I get what he's after. See, it's a lot easier to name twenty good PS1 titles than twenty good N64 titles. That's not because there aren't any good titles on N64 (quite the contrary, what is arguably the best 3D platform game ever made is on N64), it's because there's simply no significant VOLUME of good games on N64. A few gems in the rough, but that's all.
The success of the PS1 over the N64 had absolutely nothing to do with hardware specs. If hardware specs determined the winner of the console wars, then we'd be singing praises for the Sega Master System, TurboGraphix16, and 3DO, while nobody would remember the NES, Genesis, or PS1. This last generation of consoles proved again that hardware counts for little, as the highly hardware-inferior PS2 has completely thrashed both the GameCube and X-Box in sales of units and games.
A console lives or dies by the games that are released on it. First-party titles can only take a system so far (see: N64, GameCube; while most Nintendo-produced titles on these two systems are excellent, neither one managed to best the competition of their era). A large quantity of third-party titles are required to really make a console sell well. Exclusive contracts with game companies to bring popular series to only a given console also help (something Sony's been doing from the start).
All that in mind, let's get back to my original question: why support the console makers instead of taking a look at what's coming out for a console first, and then deciding which one is worth your $200-$600 of hard-earned money? Where is the sense in claiming that Sony (or Nintendo, or Microsoft, or any company) is going to always be top dog? What is the point of going to extreme lengths to defend a console that's not even out yet, and thus cannot be properly gauged with its competition? And what is there to gain from simply ignoring the flaws of a given company's consoles, yet harping on every little flaw of another's?
I propose the theory that there is no point in being a fan of a company's consoles. All game consoles should be judged from an even ground, not based on who made it or what's wrong with it, but on what games are on it and how fun they are. Because really, what is a console without games? Just a frequently outdated computer that usually can't even run an operating system, that's what. Love the game, not the hardware. Hate the poor software developers, not the console.
There, I've said my piece (excessively long as it is). Usual disclaimer follows: these are my ideas, you don't have to accept them if you don't want to, so don't waste your time telling me how wrong I am, 'cause I really don't think you stand much chance of convincing me of that anyway. Until next time.

NEWS: 06/20/06 - Warning: Bad Pun Approaching
I recently came up with a short but bad story pun. My condolences for unleashing this upon the unsuspecting world...
Recently, somebody decided they'd try to ressurect Mark the Evangelist, using genetic material gathered from his worldly remains. But because nobody is really sure where St. Mark's remains ended up, they used the wrong DNA, and cloned a rather rude heckler from the same era instead.
Unfortunately, the scientists didn't realize that they had the wrong guy, so they figured something was wrong with their technique. No matter how they varied their methods, they kept ending up with the same jerk instead of the holy man of legend. "I just don't get it," one of them said, "we're trying to bring back a saint, and all we're getting is a lot of snide re-Marks."
You may proceed to groan now. Sorry, it had to be done.
Nothing else worth mentioning to the world at the moment, since this ain't a personal blog, yo.

NEWS: Not 09/05/05 - Where'd Sky Render go?
Where'd I go, you wonder? Back to school, that's where. I'm resuming my college education, which means that I am even less likely to make regular updates now than I was before.
That's all I have to say. Yep, this is just an "I'm not dead" notice. Until next time, when I'll hopefully have something to show for my absence. (Don't bet on it...)

NEWS: 09/05/05 - Transfer completed, all systems online. Would you like a danish, sir?
Welcome to the new home of Sky Render's Domain! My eternal gratitude goes out to David Saulesco for providing webspace for me for so long, but alas, the situation has changed. Fortunately, I had this server to upload my page to, so no harm done!
Very little worth commenting on has happened lately, outside of this update. Projects remain in "chugging along slowly" status as life rearranges itself in various (yet decidedly uninteresting) ways.
Oh yes, the transfer to the new server also includes Phantasia Knights' site; his new locale is www.skyrender.net/phantasia/.
Well, that about covers this update. Until next time, keep your eyes peeled for three-headed monkeys!

NEWS: 06/28/05 - RPG Update
There were enough things to update at this point, so Genesis Innocens is now version 1.1. Get the update patch here. For first-time downloaders, the main binaries are also updated.
Oh, and I finally got around to moving some news items into the old news, but I doubt many will care...

NEWS: 06/23/05 - Genesis Innocens
My long-standing RPG-in-the-works is no longer in-the-works. You can download version 1.00 of the game right here. Enjoy!

NEWS: 05/22/05 - Inconcievable!
What, me, updating twice in 3 days!? This is unheard-of!
It's about time I publically unveiled that I am, in fact still working on an RPG of my own. Shenja lives again!

NEWS: 05/19/05 - FAQ you, man!
Two massively massive FAQs added today: one for Dark Cloud 2, one for Dragon Warrior VII. The latter has been waiting for me to upload it since, oh, September. Yeah, I slack off.
Anyway, you can find them at the FAQs page, as usual.

NEWS: 04/09/05 - Obligatory profile page
Yeah, I wrote a profile. Must've been momentary insanity. It's here. So, yeah.

DEFINITELY-NOT-NEWS: 03/20/05 - Kupo!
What can I say? Somebody wanted a Moglie sprite, I was bored, and I made one. Then I made a Tina sprite for the hell of it a bit later. And later still I did one of Lock. I may have the whole FF6 cast here eventually.
Nothing else to say, though. Oh well.

MAYBE-NEWS: 02/08/05 - Furachi na midnight yeah...
Katamari Damacy is great fun. If you haven't tried it, then I highly recommend you do. At $20, it's a lot of fun for your buck. And hey, if you ever get tired of the gameplay for some strange reason, the soundtrack is really catchy. My thanks to my good friend and gracious webspace provider David Saulesco for originally introducing me to this game.
Also, my fellow RPGOne member and friend Phantasia Knights now has a little site of his own for his various fanfictions and the like. Check it out if you want. He's written some pretty funny stuff, and some pretty interesting fanfiction as well. Keep in mind that it's still under construction, though.
As for other news, what other news? Nothing of any significance has occured or been worth noting (besides Katamari being a great game) in the last two months. Slow times, these are.
Until the next update, then. Keep the good times rollin'!

NOT-NEWS: 11/18/04 - Food for thought leaves one quite hungry...
Greetings, one and all! Yeah, I got nothin' for ya. Just one of my usual "no I'm not dead" updates that I make when I remember I have a website. I keep them sparse for your sake; this ain't no blog, folks.
So... Hm... Nope, can't think of anything witty or important to say.
Hasta la pasta, see you next update.

NEWS: 10/07/04 - Were you expecting a witty catchphrase? Ha!
Yet another update, this time to the FAQs section, as well as the HHGTHM:BTN, though it's the same thing in both. Hard to believe that I finished the first version of that guide exactly a year ago. Time, she does fly.
Also in HM news, if any of you fanfic-reading folks care, the HM:BTN fic I started ages ago has been updated, and is now complete through chapter 6. It's also in the FAQ section, though not in the HHGTHM:BTN. Enjoy?
Yep. That's all I've got. So... Yeah.

NEWS: 09/26/04 - May the Pants be With You
Yet another late update. Today's offering is a little something I cooked up just for the heck of it, my very own guide for Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. You can locate it at the FAQs page, naturally.
I can't even remember what I was hoping to update about last time... 'Tis a bit disjointed at this point, this life of mine. That, and I've spent more time working on RPGOne projects than I have on personal projects.
Well, that's that. Until next time, keep your stick on the ice.

NEWS: 08/12/04 - A Hiatus Ended
Unbeknownst to most, my PC was just recently upgraded, hence why I've been more or less absent for some time. As I work to get things back into working order, my site is naturally going to experience a bit of lag in getting updated. Bear with me.
The main event of this update is that two (yes, two) of my FAQs have been updated: the Dragon Warrior VII TinyMedal Checklist (which is no longer temporary), and the Harvest Moon: Back to Nature Ultimate Guide. You can find them at the usual spot.
That's all for this update. Another will be on the way soon, though, so keep your eyes open.

NEWS: 06/13/04 - Return of Duke3D
About four months ago, I stumbled back on Jonathon Fowler's port of Duke Nukem 3D and BUILD to Windows9x. Memories of my past work with this editor resurfaced, and I decided to see if I had learned anything in the interim about design. You can judge for yourself, as I have released two new levels: STATION5, and The Great Library. Head here to take a look. STATION5 is a single-player map, The Great Library a DukeMatch map.
In other news, my life has remained much the same as it has for the last four years or so. Things are happening at RPGONE, but that's really not something to be mentioning on my personal site. Oh yes, and if anybody is keeping track, the Hitchhiker's Guide to HM:BTN has been updated recently. Enjoy?
That's all for this undefined period of time. See you next update! (Whenever that will be...)

NEWS: 05/01/04 - The End of Fantasy
At long last, my biggest project ever is complete.

NEWS: 04/21/04 - Were you expecting something witty? Ha!
Not much to say today. Just updating to say that a few FAQs have been updated, and a new one has been added: a Vagrant Story Translation Differences FAQ. The lazy can click on this link to reach the FAQs page instead of clicking on the link above. Enjoyish.

NEWS: 03/28/04 - But why Dorset?
Long time no update, but that's not odd for me at all. There has been a lot of stuff going on that's either not related to this site, or is RPGONE-related. Now then, onto the update.
The biggest news at this point is that I am no longer going to be updating my Tripod and Freeservers mirrors, as (thanks to the generosity of the Swedish composer and my good friend David Saulesco) I have webspace on a server with no ads. You can find the new home of my website here.
As the regulars of the Harvest Moon: Back to Nature board at GameFAQs already know, I have a new site section: The Hitchhiker's Guide to HM:BTN. Please note that, if you're looking at my Tripod or Freeservers (ex)mirrors, you won't be able to access this page. Please use this site from now on to access my page. Thank you.

NEWS: 12/23/03 - A New Story
The main thing I wanted to point out for this update is that there's a new story in the FAQ/walkthrough/fanfic section. It's a Harvest Moon fanfic (big shocker, I know), and still a work in progress. It seemed like a good time for posting the first three chapters, though.
There's really not much else to say. I have translation projects underway, I have secret projects in the works (one is done, and awaiting the release of another project), and I have lots of stuff to take up my attention. The lack of updates is, for probably the first time in this site's history, due to an actual lack of time to update (instead of lack of anything to update about).
That concludes this update. And, of course, since I'm sure there will still be a few stragglers, go here if you're seeking information about the FF6 or Chrono Trigger projects.

NEWS: 10/07/03 - New content? Impossible!
Through the amazing coincidence of being incredibly bored and very inspired all at once, I've made the most comprehensive and mind-bogglingly detailed guide ever for Bokujou Monogatari ~Harvest Moon~ (Harvest Moon: Back to Nature, for those of you not in "the know"). It's on the FAQs page. May all your HM:BTN questions be answered!
For those of you just returning to this page after a long time, you may want to read the previous news post I made, especially if you're interested in the FF6 project. Anybody looking for updates to said project should, of course, hightail it to RPGONE Translations.
That's it for this update, though there may be another in store before too much longer... I have a "secret" project or two in the works, and at least one is nearing completion.

NEWS: 07/18/03 - Of cats and bags
There's really no point in concealing it any longer: I have joined RPGOne, and Sky Render Translations has been dissolved. For those of you asking why, the answer is simple: SRT was a one-man job from the beginning. Skeud was helping as an outsider, as were all of the others who aided me. But that ends now.
All of my translation projects, including Final Fantasy VI, have been transferred to RPGOne management. This is a good thing, by the way. As well, Final Fantasy VI has been getting some serious ASM recoding done on it, thanks to the aid of the wonderful and kind ChrisRPG. For more details, please visit RPGOne.
This page is now reverting to just a personal webspace. I will still be uploading FAQs and walkthroughs I've made here, as well as fanfiction, but don't expect a lot of updates (because, as you may have noticed, I don't do updates often). That's all for now.

NEWS: 12/06/02 - (Insert random text here)
Despite notices that I have no intention to reply to questions regarding any of my projects, people are still e-mailing asking about them. Go figure. To all who have taken the time to ask, despite the fact that I asked you not to, please pay attention to the newsposts. I don't write them for my health.
Well, it's been 2 months since I said I wasn't taking questions, and I'm extending the don't-ask period indefinitely. Things have literally stayed unchanged for the past two months on all projects. Skeud hasn't replied to any e-mails, beta testing on LoS1 hasn't really gotten anywhere, and worst of all, I've lost the motivation to even work on any projects.
The big problem lies in the fact that my efforts don't really have any reward, of course. Sure, there's the satisfaction of getting it done, and the satisfaction of learning all sorts of things along the way, but now all of my projects seem to have degraded into time-consuming and rewardless tasks.
To get to the point, I'm not getting anywhere on any of my projects, so I'm thinking about taking a nice, long break from the entire field of RPG design and translation. I don't know how long it will last, nor what I'll do instead, but I can't keep going like this when I have no motivation or reason to keep going at all.
Don't expect any web page updates for a while (as if I update often anyway), as I've got some thinking to do, and some changes to make in my life. Until I return, keep your stick on the ice.

NEWS: 11/01/02 - Ryle hira
If you don't understand the above text, I suggest you read some books by the (relatively new) author known as Elizabeth Haydon.
I've finally played Kingdom Hearts (yes, I realize my statement below regarding Square; but I didn't pay for the game myself). The game has both irked and amused me, but on the whole, it's not too bad. Certainly an improvement over FF10, especially considering there's no ultra-rare-can't-get-it-any-way-save-by-doing-a-stupid-minigame items.
The main reason for my updating this section is the same as any of my updates: to rant and get people to stop e-mailing me about stuff that there's a FAQ for.
My primary rant is about other people. Specifically, how I really hate them in person. I don't quite know why, but it seems like every single human in existence wants to meet me and babble at me about their life's little troubles. I don't care, and I'm not going to pretend to care, either. This really seems to offend people, which futher amuses me, because I would estimate that less than 10% of the world's population even remotely enjoys hearing about other peoples' problems, and most of them are paid to do it.
Throughout my life, I've always lived by a credo of separation. I don't bug others with my problems, and I expect them to not bug me with theirs. I don't pretend to care when I don't, and I expect them to have the same courtesy. However, society seems to encourage just the opposite of what I've always believed in. My response: good for you, society, now leave me alone. I'm not going to change myself to suit the wills of a million people, but I also don't expect a million people to change their will to match my own. Just being themselves should suffice.
And therein lies another issue: the subjugation of the self within society. Why oh why would anybody be willing to give up their own personal identity in exchange for being part of a bunch of people who primarily complain, babble, brag, and otherwise obsess about themselves? Why do people so gladly surrender individuality for becoming a part of a group? It's fine to relate to other people, but when you lose your own identity in the process, something about it is just plain wrong.
As for a few parting shots, I'd like to remind any who wish to complain or "correct" me that: a.) I am entitled to my opinions, just as you are entitled to your's, b.) words don't change me, nor do I intend to change you with mine, and c.) if you don't like what I say, don't take it to heart. An opinion is not an obligation, after all; it's just an opinion, and often masked under many layers of prejudices and genetic preferences.
Well, that's about all I have to say this time. And yes, progress is still halted on everything due to lack of outside input from specific individuals. E-mails regarding this not from these individuals will be ignored.

NEWS: 10/06/02 - Look behind you, a three-headed monkey!
Yeah, I'm still alive. No, there's no progress on any projects due to a lack of any input or output from any of my outside help. No, I don't know when I'll have a new patch out for FF6j, or when LoS1 will be done. And yes, I am going to be ignoring e-mails asking about these topics for the next two months.
And on another note, you fight like a dairy farmer!
If that makes no sense, go play some computer games right now! Especially the really funny ones by LucasArts! I suggest vintage games, specifically Maniac Mansion, Secret of Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, and Sam and Max Hit the Road.
And so ends this update. Keep a stiff upper lip, and don't put the hamster in the microwave.

NEWS: 8/03/02 - Note to Square: You've lost another customer...
I'm a bit pissed at Squaresoft right now, needless to say. After dealing with the exceptionally sub-par and utterly impossible "mini-game" (term used loosely; "torture device" would be more appropriate) known as chocobo training in FFX, I've decided that Square doesn't deserve my business any more. Any company who drops so low as to put crap like this in an RPG doesn't deserve to survive.
I knew things were going downhill when FFIX started out with about three or four mini-games right off the bat, and I had high hopes that FFX would be free of such abominations that helped make FFIX not worth the plastic it's printed on. Unfortunately, they seem to have taken FFIX exactly the wrong way, and are now focusing almost entirely on impossible mini-games and nonsensical side-quests.
To put it shortly, Square has lost sight of what a quality game really is. They've been slipping since FF7 came out (the first FF with any real mini-games, surprise surprise). That they've gone so far down the drain that their latest FF to reach the US shores is almost nothing BUT mini-games (I'd hardly call the main game a game; more like a front-end for the mini-games) really disappoints me.
Now, of course, I don't expect that my opinions are shared by most (if indeed more than a handful), but that's never stopped me before. Thank you, Square, for proving to me that humans really CAN be that stupid, and that an RPG-making company can spontaneously and completely forget the idea behind an RPG...
Here's hoping that Xenosaga isn't so mini-game-laden as FFX is...
Oh yes, and if you're planning to send me hate-email and/or criticism for this rant, please keep in mind that you're not obligated to share my opinions, nor am I going to change them due to somebody telling me to.

NEWS(?): 6/21/02 - This is what happens when I slack off, you know...
They say a picture's worth a thousand words... I'd say this one's worth about 4 or 5, myself. Probably "This guy are sick".
Nope, nothing in terms of progress lately. Still waiting on Skeud, still slacking on my other projects, can't even get enough motivation built up to work on my latest project. And yet, I still manage to play FF7 practically non-stop... What the hell is wrong with me? Other than the obvious case of high-functioning autism, of course.
Wait, did I forget to mention that I have Asperger's Syndrome? Yeah, I do. Yay go me, I'm antisocial and think too much. Just call me Squall, thanks. Seriously, though, I don't mind in the least. I actually kinda like being unable to act in socially accepted ways.
Anyway, nothing's really new (other than the diagnosis there), so I'll stop babbling now.

NEWS: 5/18/02 - When Ambitious Projects Attack!
I'm just notorious for this kind of thing, so I'll keep it brief. I have another big project (why I constantly start them and never finish them is beyond even my understanding), and this one's probably even less likely to be completed than any other project I've started. "Ambitious" can barely begin to describe it...
I bet you expect me to spill the beans on it, huh? It's tempting, but I'd prefer to keep it mostly in the dark for now, mainly because I don't want a repeat of LoS1 (which is STILL in beta testing, due to my beta testers all mysteriously vanishing). The only thing I will say is that it's an RM2K project, as was LoS1.
Even saying that was probably too much... Anyway, involving various translation projects, I can't get anything done on any of them due to a few reasons, ranging from lack of patches (Skeud, where are you?!) to lack of interest (which really confuses me, to be honest).
Anyway, don't hold your collective breath, it's going to be a while before anything truly new shows up around here...
If you must blame anything, blame Star Ocean 2. I love that game so much...

NEWS: 4/26/02 - History repeats. History repeats.
Yep, I did it again. I vanished without a trace, and reports state that I'm somewhere in the middle of the Bahamas, sipping fine tropical drinks (don't I wish). Truth be known, I've been stolen away once more by various games, including (but not limited to) Star Ocean 2, Lunar 1, and the infamous Dragon Warrior 7.
Will anything improve? Not likely. I've updated my FAQs section, and added in some of my demented fanfiction I've written over the years (yes, demented; don't believe me? Check them out). Other than that, I haven't updated anything... Projects are still all in hiatus, and I still have no idea what happened to my pants.
Oh, wait, I'm wearing my pants. Well, that's one mystery solved...
Anyway, there's still a little left to report... No there isn't, my bad. I'm still a lazy bum. Sorry.
Oh, and if you're wondering about any of my projects (most everyone seems to be recently), they're all still alive, just in carbon freeze until I can actually get some progress done on them (be that via motivation or skill).

NEWS: 1/05/02 - And now for something completely... the same?
I won't deny it, I'm a lazy bum. I haven't gotten anything done on my translations for the past half month or so, and I've been slacking off playing RPG's for the majority of that time. Hate me if you wish, but remember, we all need a break sometimes.
Fear not, though! True updates worthy of mentioning on this page will occur soon! ...I think... Er, it could be that I'll just keep playing Star Ocean 2 and forget about my page, slowly decay into a shadow, and just fade away... But what's the chances of THAT happening?
Damn it, Crawd, learn to AIM! Hmm? Oh, sorry...
Well, I should be back at my usual efforts within the next week to two weeks, if all goes well. And it had BETTER go well. Got that, ya pesky lower brain?
...Don't you talk back to me, you! Excuse me, I have to have a little "adjustment" session with my reptilian thought center.
Get back here, you little...! Hey, stop that! Nyaa!
... ... ... ...
Sorry 'bout that. Anyway, as I was saying, expect great things to resume happening soon. ...I heard that, you little twit! Get back here so I can show you who REALLY controls this body!
You'll have to excuse me, my lower brain doesn't like seeing reason. Come back here, you!

NEWS: 12/03/01 - Sekai wa Urusai...
If you didn't understand that, don't worry. It just says (roughly), "the world is rude".
And that it is. I have so little time for translation and design of my RPG's now, thanks to finals... But progress is being made! Due to my greatful sacirifice of eating, sleeping, and breathing, I have made significant progress on my efforts!
Life is short. Bury! Steady Sword!
Wha? No, I haven't been playing FF Tactics in my spare time, honest... Well, okay, maybe a little...
Burning anger... Rising... Burst! Wave Fist!
Okay, maybe a lot... Sorry, I've been drawn into FF Tactics, big time... And who wouldn't be? Er, I'll get back to translating soon, I promise!
...Right after I kick this boss's ass. Eat Choco Meteor and die!
Okay, okay! Jeez, so impatient...

NEWS: 10/28/01 - Four years is a long time...
...And here's to another four! That's right, the least useful web page on the net (aka. this site) is now four years old! How did I manage to keep the page so useless for so long without ever noticing it?! Ha, I'm just being sarcastic. I thought I'd do a gigantic update for this time, but all I really have to offer is a new title image, a bit of reformatting on the main page, and squat for progress on my translation efforts. BUT...! The FF6j translation is going to be back on track soon (unless a new crisis arises in my life), so keep your eyes peeled (well, not literally; that'd really hurt).
And in other news, Chrono Trigger is fun. But that's not really NEW news, now is it?
In other other news, I'm insane. But everybody knows that, so that's not news either.
Well, I guess I really don't have any more news.
...If you're still reading this, then I'm inclined to ask why...
But then, it's your choice. :P

NEWS: 09/14/01 - It's more than meets the eye.
Maybe, just maybe, I can get back into this "updating" thing... Anyway, all I'm really updating about is to make clear what's going on with my projects. All translations are currently on hold until I can finish my own RPG (which is NOT a translation, despite what some have come to think), which is in the beta testing phase right now.
...Did you expect some comment about terrorists and bombings? Sorry, not my forte...
Which is not to say that I don't care, I'm just sick of hearing about the incident.

NEWS: 08/21/01 - Another update?! Woah...
Yep, I've updated again. This has to be a new record... Anyway, I've uploaded many a FAQ that I've written over the years. The new page can be found here, if you're too lazy to click on the new link above.

NEWS: 08/10/01 - Further proof that I don't update much
Don't get your hopes up, I'm only updating because I haven't updated in a long while. I've been so busy enjoying summer vacation that I haven't had much ambition to improve my site or add things to it. Progress has ground to a halt, essentially, as I spend more and more time playing games and reading books, and less and less time working on my projects. Fear not, though, I shall return to working on things soon. ...I hope. Maybe I'll have something up for my webpage's "4th year in existence" update...

NEWS: 05/09/01
This update has very little to do with any other update on my page (what a big shocker that is). I have a project that I've been working on roughly since my FF6j translation stopped getting regular progress reports. It is this project that has caused the lack of updates or progress on all other projects. Feel free to check it out, if you wish.

NEWS: 03/09/01
Well, I've finally got something to update the page with, but it's not what you may have expected (indeed, probably not even remotely close). Like most of the net's denizens, I've heard about the word's worst translation (aka. Zero Wing), and have decided to spoil all the fun by re-writing the intro so that it's in English. Ain't I a meanie? :P You can find the patch here.

NEWS: 12/20/00
A lot of people ask me, "Why don't you ever update your web page?" Well, the reason would be that I never have anything to add most of the time. Since I've gotten kind of tired of sorting through "Have you given up on (insert name of translation here)" messages, I've decided to update my translations, to help clarify their statuses.

NEWS: 10/02/00
The main piece of interest is that I'm going to be pruning out sections from my page that I've never really updated, or that I never intended to update. Oh, and I've also begun preliminary translation of Chrono Trigger (Japanese). More info to come...

NEWS: 7/26/00
The main part of my page hasn't seen much action lately (update-wise), but SRT has been updated like mad lately. Unfortunately, I don't have much else to add for this update, other than that I was rather angry that I hadn't updated my main page in 4 months. :)

NEWS: 3/22/00
MIP has been updated recently, with a complete overhaul of the script. You can get it at the usual spot. Thanks for your patience! Oh, and I've started a new design for my page.

NEWS: 10/19/99
Finally, I've added a new section to my page: Sky Render Translations. This section will be the place to go for all of my translations henceforth. Enjoy!

NEWS: 10/04/99
Although I've declined to mention it, I've updated my page quite a bit lately. Now I'm on Tripod, too. My Insane Project is complete. It's a re-translation of Final Fantasy III US. Check it out!

NEWS: 9/06/99
Summer sure did pass by quick! I'm updating for the last time for... oh, I'd guess around two months or so. I added my Usenet sig file. Yes, that's it.

NEWS: 8/13/99
I added a few features to my e-mail sending links that automatically adds the correct subject for you. Other than that, I've also added to the Ultimate Square.

NEWS: 7/06/99
Since I moved to FreeServers, I've had some link troubles. Those problems have been fixed. Now, all e-mails refer to the correct e-mail address.

NEWS: 6/11/99
Once again, a new addition to this ever-enlarging page: A Half-Life section has been started, and is in the works. Other than that, I have nothing to contribute to this page. At least, for this update...

NEWS: 4/18/99
I've updated! As is often the way of things, I've updated far more often than it appears. This is, in fact, the 2nd time I've updated my page in 3 days. I've changed appearances (as you may have seen from the first section), and have made some dearly-needed updates to information. PS: A Half-Life section may be coming to this page soon, so keep your eyes peeled!

NEWS: 2/27/99
The StarCraft section has been done for some time, but I've forgotten to upload it until now. This should be a nice change for this page, as it has been stagnating, of late.

NEWS: 12/11/98
Well, it's December again, and I've got very little else to say. My FF7 section of the ultimate square is going quite nicely, and I'm working on a StarCraft section to help revive this page. Until the next update...

NEWS: 10/12/98
I've completed the grim task of declaring sections of my page to be dead. I've also added some more FF7 GameHack information. If you want to see a section of my page revived, send files relating to the section to me. It sounds desperate, but I have no alternative.

NEWS: 09/30/98
Actually, I've updated twice since my last official update. I've mostly been adding GameHack codes to the FF7 section of the Ultimate Square. Mayhap I'll one day update some other sections of my page, but as of now, I truly have no materials to do this with. Ahh, well.

NEWS: 08/20/98
Update! I've updated the Ultimate Square: More FF7 GameHack codes, info on FF1 through FF6, and... well, that's about it. Anyway, I hope to have codes for the newly finished sections soon!

NEWS: 08/5/98
I've decided to update again, as I've completed (for the most part) my Squaresoft section, THE ULTIMATE SQUARE! More to come later, but until then, keep sending in levels and such!

NEWS: 07/31/98
I've finally updated my page! Wow! It's been 5 months, but it was about that time, anyway, and school's out for summer. :^) Well, STATION4 is done already (and on this server), as well as STATION3, so you can check them out if you want to. My SW section is finally fixed (I can't believe I didn't figure that out before!!!), so if you like Shadow Warrior, go on in! Oh, and I've got an idea for this page for some time in the near future: a Squaresoft games page. I'm still thinking on it, though...

NEWS: 02/28/98
Forgetful me! I keep forgetting to update my page. Well, here's my page, with a new look! STATION3.MAP is finally done! I am now debating on wether or not to make another Station level. I think I might just... I have added the outlines of a Shadow Warrior page, and will fill it up ASAP. Until then, enjoy the SW section!!! PS: Genesis is at a point where I discovered it can't be recovered. Sorry, but genesis is dead, now!

NEWS: 12/17
I forgot I had a web page there for a while! Sorry. I hope that I get some more hits, and soon. Business is good, and RAMA is coming along nicely. It should be done by the next update. I added a neat little section on the Rama book series. Look at it if you like Arthur C. Clarke's writings!

NEWS: 11/23
Badly needed an update. Finally added the Genesis demo, and a few of my VERY old Doom/Doom II levels. WarCraft II is new, but I forgot to mention it before. Have fun!

NEWS: 10/29
My web pages are at last complete! I have worked all weekend to finish the sections for my page, and I am pleased with the results. I hope you will be, too, but that's up to you. I am accepting any and all levels that can be sent to me via e-mail or ICQ, so start sending those levels to me! Have fun in the meantime.