Friday, October 20, 2017

Everything Wrong With Nancy Drew: Danger by Design

I'm now taking suggestions for "Everything Wrong With Nancy Drew: Danger by Design"! Leave a comment if you've got some good ideas!

I'm going to leave this up as my newest blog post over the weekend, just to make sure people don't miss it.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Star Wars: Rogue One

My wife and I got to see Star Wars: Rogue One recently. I thought it was okay, but my wife disliked it. She thought the casting and the story was off. I didn't like casting for the male lead, but I think the rest of the casting was fine.

I haven't seen the original trilogy since I was, uh...seven? The movie was more or less a big homage to the original trilogy, and it ends about ten seconds before the original trilogy begins. I'm thinking a fair amount of material went over my head, simply because I don't know the original trilogy.

I'm more familiar with the prequel films, which came out when I was in high school. I distinctly remember that the bad guys had the plans for the Death Star in Episode 2: Attack of the Clones. That, um...kind of contradicts the premise of this movie. Doesn't it? Like, the bad guys had the plans for this thing finished, a long time ago. Maybe that was just a prototype, and not finished plans.

The ending to the movie was rather sad. All of the interesting, new characters had to die, in order to preserve the series' continuity.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Timed Strategy Game (Part 4)

I'm probably not going to even try to program a timed strategy game for months, but I might as well keep figuring it out, while I'm on a roll!

Most of the games has a library or knowledge center. These provide stat boosts, general in groups of 1%. So, you can increase farm production by 1%. You can increase maximum farm capacity by 1%. You can decrease the amount of time it takes to build a farm, by 1%. That seems good to me. Decrease the time and resources needed to build a place, or increase production.

Since knowledge centers are so useful, I'm going to have them relatively expensive to build. Let's have it be "80% of the maximum resource cap, if you have four buildings", to build a knowledge center. To get a particular piece of knowledge...I don't know what'd be reasonable. Normally, the knowledge center runs off a fifth resource tile, a type of currency which only gets spent in the knowledge center. But that's usually paired with training grounds and infirmaries, which I won't have in the game...

Maybe I'll just be mean, and have the knowledge center require something outrageous like six times what a normal building makes. You want to increase farm production by 1%? Great, give me the cap of six full farms. With non-resource tiles, it can cost three times what it normally does.

To prevent it from being TOO unfair, you'll be allowed to deposit resources and such into the knowledge center, even if you don't have enough to purchase a knowledge upgrade. So you can slowly get enough to purchase upgrades.

I'm going to stop here, because this sounds like a good enough framework for this sort of game. I've only got two more ideas for possible features. They're both

1. A store. You buy equipment for your hero and such. A piece of equipment basically has the same effect as a knowledge upgrade.
2. An army. Yeah, I don't like the idea of building an army to fight other players. But what if it's to fight monsters and stuff? That could be better.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Timed Strategy Game (Part 3)

In addition to resources, there's usually a home base or a palace that you have to upgrade. The palace can never be deconstructed, and you can never build anything to a level that's higher than your palace's level. So if you want level 2 buildings, you need a level 2 palace. If you want level 3 buildings, you want a level 3 palace.

There are also walls around the camp, which fill the same purpose. Basically, when you finish upgrading all your resource tiles, you upgrade the walls and the palace to advance to the next level. There's normally a whole host of other things you need to keep up, but maybe I'll keep it simple with just the palace and the walls.

The walls and palace require a lot of resources to build, and I can't see the pattern here, besides "palace requires way more than walls do". Let's go with "walls = 50% of the maximum resource cap, if you have four buildings" and "palace = 90% of the maximum resource cap, if you have four buildings". The resource cap is four times a building per hour, so that's times 8 for a wall, and times 14.4 for a palace.

How long should it take to make them? If I average out the times of all four buildings, it's 37.5 seconds. Palaces are a big deal, so let's say a palace is twice that, or 75 seconds. Let's say walls takes 50 seconds, or 2/3 of a palace. Their time can both increase by 30% each level, the same rate that normal building times increase at.

There's normally an army building aspect to the game, which involves training five types of troop so they can get resources and fight other players, but I don't like that aspect of those games, so I'm not gonna include one. That is, um...like, half the game. You can get equipment for your hero, but your hero is only good for quests.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Timed Strategy Game (Part 2)

Continuing from yesterday, the guide I had doesn't say how much each building produces, so let's skip over to a Mobile Strike guide. It starts at 50 per hour, and goes up by 50 each level, until you reach 1000, at which point, you have to be super-invested in the game, because it takes a week to build anything. Yeesh.

Math is difficult, so I'm going to go with 60 per hour, which works out to 1 per minute. I guess it's easy and makes sense, if that increases by 60 every level. So a level 1 farm makes 1 crop per minute, a level 2 farm makes 2 crops per minute, a level 3 farm makes 3 crops per minute, and so on.

Timed strategy games generally have a cap on how many resources can be created. I guess the idea is to prevent people from, say, turning off the game for a week, then logging into have a giant amount of resources. Since I'm thinking of having 15 resource tiles, I'm going to go with a cap of "the amount a building makes per hour, times four". Once a building hits its cap, it stops producing resources.

To demolish a building, it's usually the time you took to make the building, divided by two. That works fine on lower levels, but not so much on higher levels. I don't want to penalize players for redoing their layouts, so I think I'll make building demolition something like 30 seconds.

I have no idea if these numbers make the game too hard or too easy. They obviously make the game easier than their freemium counterparts, and I'd rather have the game be too easy than too difficult! I feel like Level 20 is a good ending point, so that can be where the game ends.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Timed Strategy Game (Part 1)

I talked about doing a game like Mobile Strike a while ago. Paul says it IS possible to do a timer in Ren'py, so theoretically, it's possible to program a game like that!

The good news is that all the in-game statistics are available online. That website is for Vikings: War of Clans instead of Mobile Strike, but same basic game. How can I adapt the way their game works?

There four resource buildings (Farm, Lumber Mill, Mine, Stone Quarry) that you can build, on 25 squares. I kinda like that setup, because if it was 24, people would build six types of each building and stop there. 25 changes the strategy a bit. For my game...let's go with 15. Four types of buildings, fifteen spots you can put them.

The building cost appears the same for each building. That is, Level 1 requires 50 resources from each of the other three buildings. Level 2 is 85, level 3 is 145, then 250, 420, 840, 1700, 3400, 6750, 10500. Looks like sometimes it doubles, but not all the time. Doing math, it's generally in the 40% to 50% range that it increases. (That is, you take the previous level and divide by 0.4 or 0.5). My game isn't going to be a freemium game, so let's make it easier. Let's go with a 20% increase with each level.

The time it takes to create a building is much longer. Level 1 is one minute, Level 2 is two minutes, level 3 is 4, 8, 20, 35, 90, 150, 270 and 540. 8 to 20 and 35 to 90? That's way more than doubling! It eventually reaches the point where it takes more than 12 hours to upgrade a single building. Again, my game isn't going to be freemium, so let's go with a more reasonable 30% increase.

The amount of time differs by ten seconds, depending on which building you're making. Huh. I never noticed that. That's kind of neat! So let's say Building 1 starts with 30 seconds, building 2 with 35, building 3 with 40 and building 4 with 45.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Scheduling

I'm trying to spend an hour each day, working on the Mermaid Game. The plan is to write the entire game, then program it, and then do all the artwork and stuff.

The problem is that I don't have a lot of free time. Basically, I can only work when the baby is asleep. And I've sort of got other work to do, during those times. Housework is the number one priority, but I've also got my YouTube channel, a ton of books to read, and translating stuff from Latin, or else I'll totally forget the language. And there's this blog, obviously.

Last week, I tried making myself a to-do list, and it was not super successful. There were three days when I did no work at all on the Mermaid Game. But hey, I finally edited and uploaded all the Phoenix Wright 6 videos! I just gotta watch them all and come up with titles and descriptions. There are 83 videos for Case 5, by the way. It's a long case.

This next week, I'm going to try a different schedule. Like, Monday is house cleaning and game writing. Tuesday is YouTube recording and game writing. You know, a schedule like that. I'm pretty sure the house cleaning will get out of control and throw off my schedule, but maybe it'll work.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Ren'Py Character Name Generator

I'm writing a mermaid game in Ren'py. I thought it'd be neat, if people got to pick the mermaid's name from a randomly generated list. I asked people on Twitter for good mermaid names, and I got twelve names that I liked for the main character.

Programming the name generator was a nightmare. It took at least an hour. I'm going to post my programming here, just in case someone else is going to try something similar. This should save them a lot of headache!

My comments are in #s. For the sake of this example, the player can pick one of two options, which are taken from a list of four possible names.

---

#First, I assign a random number, from 1 to 4, to each name option.

$ Heroine_name_option_1 = renpy.random.randint(1, 4)
$ Heroine_name_option_2 = renpy.random.randint(1, 4)

#Then, I check to make sure they don't match. If they do, the game goes through the randomizer again.

label Heroine_name_randomizer_check:
if Heroine_name_option_1 == Heroine_name_option_2:
$ Heroine_name_option_2 = renpy.random.randint(1, 4)
jump Heroine_name_randomizer_check

#Both options now have a different number.
#Now I change each number into a specific name. 1 is Nancy, 2 is Bess, 3 is George, 4 is Deirdre.
#I had to do it this way, because the in-game randomizer only works with numbers.

if Heroine_name_option_1 == 1:
$ Heroine_name_option_1 = "Nancy Drew"
if Heroine_name_option_1 == 2:
$ Heroine_name_option_1 = "Bess Marvin"
if Heroine_name_option_1 == 3:
$ Heroine_name_option_1 = "George Fayne"
if Heroine_name_option_1 == 4:
$ Heroine_name_option_1 = "Deirdre Shannon"
if Heroine_name_option_2 == 1:
$ Heroine_name_option_2 = "Nancy Drew"
if Heroine_name_option_2 == 2:
$ Heroine_name_option_2 = "Bess Marvin"
if Heroine_name_option_2 == 3:
$ Heroine_name_option_2 = "George Fayne"
if Heroine_name_option_2 == 4:
$ Heroine_name_option_2 = "Deirdre Shannon"

#Now the player can pick one of the two options.

menu:
"What is the character's name?"
"[Heroine_name_option_1]":
"Now your name is [Heroine_name_option_1]
jump next_scene
"[Heroine_name_option_2]":
"Now your name is [Heroine_name_option_2]
jump next_scene

#But wait! There's no way for you to know whether the player will pick option 1 or 2.
#My first instinct was to make both variables the same, and just use one of them. You know, "if player selections [Heroine_name_option_1], then [Heroine_name_option_2] becomes the same as [Heroine_name_option_1]"
#But there doesn't seem to be a function for "Change [Variable 1] to equal [Variable 2]".
#I could do it, by changing the names back into numbers. Set one of them to one, and a do a simple loop of "Do they match? If no, add one. Repeat until they do match". Then change from numbers back to names again. But that's kind of tedious.
#So I just added a third variable, [Heroine], which will equal [Heroine_name_option_1] or [Heroine_name_option_2], whichever one the player picks.
#But again, there doesn't seem to be a function for "Change [Variable 1] to equal [Variable 2]". So I was forced to write out all the possible answers, when making [Heroine] the default name, no matter which option the player chooses.

menu:
"What is the character's name?"
"[Heroine_name_option_1]":
if Heroine_name_option_1 == "Nancy Drew":
$ Heroine = "Nancy Drew"
if Heroine_name_option_1 == "Bess Marvin":
$ Heroine = "Bess Marvin"
if Heroine_name_option_1 == "George Fayne":
$ Heroine = "George Fayne"
if Heroine_name_option_1 == "Deirdre Shannon":
$ Heroine = "Deirdre Shannon"
jump next_scene
"[Heroine_name_option_2]":
if Heroine_name_option_2 == "Nancy Drew":
$ Heroine = "Nancy Drew"
if Heroine_name_option_2 == "Bess Marvin":
$ Heroine = "Bess Marvin"
if Heroine_name_option_2 == "Pearl":
$ Heroine = "Pearl"
if Heroine_name_option_2 == "Angel":
$ Heroine = "Angel"
if Heroine_name_option_2 == "Deirdre Shannon":
$ Heroine = "Deirdre Shannon"
jump next_scene

#From now on, I use [Heroine] in the script. The program replaces it with the name the player chose.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Tax Reform (Part 3 of 3)

The new tax reform plan says it will get rid of personal and dependency exemptions, which are on lines 6 and 42 of the tax form 1040. This will be replaced with a larger standard deduction.

So what does that mean, in simple terms?

On the tax form now, you have to figure out how much money you made this year. Then you take away $6,300 for yourself, and an additional $6,300 for your spouse, if you have one. That's called the "standard deduction".

Then, you get to take away $4,050 for every person who lived with you that year and whose expenses you paid for. For most people, this means their spouse, their children, sometimes roommates or live-in relatives. When you take off money for someone who lived with you, it's called an "exemption".

Please note, I'm oversimplifying here; the rules for exemptions can get really complicated, really quickly, if you go into non-relatives, children of divorced parents who share custody, and college kids whose parents pay the majority of their expenses.

To summarize, you figure out how much you made that year. You subtract the standard deduction, then you subtract the exemptions. What's left over is the amount of money you pay taxes on.

Well, subtracting two different things is unnecessarily complicated, so they're gonna combine the standard deduction and exemptions. Instead of doing them separately, you'll just subtract $12,000 for yourself and $12,000 for your spouse. That's it.

I think this is a great plan, just because exemptions are complicated, especially when two different people claim the same child; that almost always leads to a huge, emotionally charged mess. I'm glad they're doing something to improve exemptions, even if that something is "get rid of them entirely". There are other

I did the math on my family, a married couple with two children. The new tax plan gives us $3,300 more in tax-free income. Hooray! But a married couple with more than two dependents would get a bigger tax break under the current system. The average family has less than two children; the birth rate for 2016 somewhere around 1.82528 children per woman. Since most people don't have more than two dependents, that means most people would save money under the new plan.

The tax reform plan also deals with business tax law, but I don't know anything about business tax law. My experience is only with personal tax law.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Tax Reform (Part 2 of 3)

The new tax reform plan says it will remove some exemptions, deductions and credits. It doesn't say which one will be removed, so again, it's hard to judge whether the plan is good or bad.

Things could go a few ways. They could get rid of the line items that are least commonly used. They could get rid of the line items that are least popular. They could combine similar line items, like lines 8a and 8b. They could go through every line of the tax form and flip a coin for each one: heads we keep it, tails we remove it. (Hopefully they won't go the coin toss route.)

President Trump says he wants to the tax form to be one page long. I'm thinking that's the general goal they're aiming for, with this statement. They want to remove half the lines on the tax form, so it goes from two pages to one page. They might try adapting the shorter, Abridged Tax Form (1040-A), too.

The tax reform plan lists three things they plan to get rid of, for sure. That's the death tax, the generation skipping transfer tax, and the alternative minimum tax. I'm only familiar with the third one. It's, uh, a complicated tax which was designed for super rich people. The main problem with the AMT is that it still uses the 1960's definition of "super rich". They never updated it, to adjust for inflation. So there's a lot more people who have to pay it now, even though they would have been exempted under the original plan. As you can expect, the rich people who pay the AMT don't like it, while the poor people who don't have to the AMT like it.

The plan names a few things that they will not get rid of. Basically, they're keeping everything which would be political suicide to remove. They're keeping the charitable contribution deduction; the government isn't going to charge people, for giving to charity. They're keeping the mortgage interest deduction; they're not going to charge people for owning houses. They're keeping the Child Tax Credit; they're not going to charge people for feeding their kids.

The Child Tax Credit is actually going to be increased, although it doesn't say how much it's increased to. The Advanced Child Tax Credit will stay the same. They're planning to add a non-child dependent tax credit of $500. I'll talk more on dependents tomorrow.

There's also a section that says, in general, the tax reform plan will have something for retirement plans and education. There are currently two different education credits, which have totally different rules that don't match each other at all. It's not clear how they'll be affected. They could keep the educational credits as they are now, they could combine the two, they could make a new one; all we know is that there will be something for education. Same goes for retirement. Again, they're keeping things which would be political suicide to remove. They're not going to charge you for going to school; they're not going to charge you for saving for retirement.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Tax Reform (Part 1 of 3)

I worked for the IRS this year, so I'm interested in the current tax reform plan. They finally released some details of the plan, so I thought I'd do an analysis of it on this blog.

First are tax brackets. There are currently seven tax brackets; they basically determine how much a person pays in taxes. For example, if you made under $9,325 in 2017, you're taxed at 10%. If you made over $9,325 and under $37,950, you're taxed at 15%. If you made over $37,950 but under $91,900, you're taxed at 25%.

It's more complicated than that, but that's the general idea. Some people are tax-savvy, and they'll play around with their incomes to their advantage. Like, if my YouTube business made $30 above a tax bracket break, I would totally buy $60 of games in December, to bring my income down a level and avoid paying the higher tax rate.

The new tax reform plan will reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to three. People in Bracket 1 pay 12%, people in Bracket 2 pay 25% and People in Bracket 3 pay 35%. The dividing lines between the brackets are ??? and ???.

That's right. They haven't decided where the brackets will be. This makes it rather hard to determine if it's a good idea or not. Like, it could be that each bracket has 33% of the population in it, and it could be that two brackets have 1% of the population, with the remaining 98% in the third bracket. Those are two wildly varying plans, and they're both possible at this point. So I'm going to withhold judgment on this proposal, until we get more information.

Columbus Day

Yesterday was Columbus Day in America. It's a holiday designed to celebrate Christopher Columbus, who discovered the Americas about 525 years ago. In recent years, there has been a push to change the holiday, because Christopher Columbus did some evil things. Some people think it should be Indigenous People's Day instead, while others think it could be a more generic Founder's Day.

Interestingly enough, Columbus Day originally had nothing to do with Columbus. It was actually Italian Heritage Day, back in the 1800's. It started when Italian-Americans noted that other Europeans had their own holidays, like the Irish with Saint Patrick's Day and the Scottish with Saint Andrew's Day. They wanted their own holiday, like everyone else.

I'm told their first choice was Saint Francis' Day (October 4), since he's a popular Italian saint and patron. But Americans shot down the idea of celebrating Saint Francis' Day, saying it was "too Catholic". The Italians switched to Christopher Columbus, since he was more or less the only person who was Italian, not a religious figure and relatively well-known/popular with mainstream Americans. Washington D.C. is named after the guy, after all. It was probably the best person they could have picked! But even then, groups like the Ku Klux Klan lambasted the holiday as overtly Catholic, and they worked to have it suppressed.

I heard this history from a member of the Knights of Columbus, which is a Catholic fraternity that was founded around the same time. They had similar reasons for choosing Columbus as their figurehead, instead of a saint.

I wonder how the Columbus Day thing is going to play out in the future. Maybe they'll change the holiday to something else, maybe they'll add another holiday, or maybe it will get demoted from a federal holiday to a local holiday, depending on where you live. I'm told Italian-Americans in New York City still celebrate it as an Italian Heritage holiday, and they are dead-set against having it removed from the calendar.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express

I did a walkthrough for Murder on the Orient Express, before the Agatha Christie book publishers forced me to remove all my Agatha Christie-related videos. One or two people have mentioned that I would like the upcoming movie:



I'm not sure I can watch this movie, without being distracted by the detective's magnificent mustache, every five seconds.

The plot of the book is that someone is murdered on a train. No one can leave the train, so it's essentially a locked-room murder mystery. As the detective investigates, he learns the victim is a really horrible person, whose crimes include kidnapping the Lindbergh baby. Since he's such a bad guy, pretty much everyone has a motive to kill him. So...whodunit?

The video description says "One man must race against time to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again." This makes it seem like there could be multiple deaths! In the book, there's only one murder.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Electoral College

I know I've talked about the electoral college several times this past year, but this past election has highlighted some major problems with the system we use to elect a President. I think we need to change the system. It made more sense in the 1700's, when there were more than two viable Presidential candidates per election, and it was impossible to have same-day results on Voting Day. Those things are no longer the case.

Recently, I saw someone argue that the electoral college should allot votes proportionately. That is, if you win 40% of a state's votes, you get 40% of that state's electoral college votes. This is opposed to the "winner take all" scheme, which is currently in effect in all states (except Maine and Nebraska).

I like this suggestion. It seems like a good in-between, between the current system and simple popular vote. It's mainly the same as the popular vote, except it tries to preserve the distinctions between different states, which the original system does. This system would make votes in all states important, as opposed to the current system which highlights swing states and popular vote which highlights the states with the most citizens.

When it comes to political primaries, the earlier states tend to have proportional voting. They also tend to be smaller. The larger states come later, and they tend to be winner take all. I'm told there are several reasons for this:

1. There are more candidates in the earlier part of the primaries. It's massively unfair to have "winner take all" competitions at the point when over ten people are running.
2. This system favors candidates who are in it, for the long run. It prevents a flash in the pan or momentum candidate from stealing the nomination.
3. It's more important to have the large states, with more votes, towards the end of the primaries, when it's more of a race to see who gets the minimum number of votes first.
4. The large states are "safe states" in the general election, so their input isn't as important.

I would also like to see changes made to the primary voting system. "Don't spread it out over six months" would be a good start. Also "no giving party insiders votes that count way more than votes from normal citizens".

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Abortion Bill

Earlier this week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill, banning all abortions after 20 weeks, except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the mother. Twenty weeks is halfway through a pregnancy, at which point a fetus is basically finished developing. It can move, hear, think, feel pain and survive outside its mother's womb.

Most countries have similar laws, banning abortion after 20 weeks. In fact, there are only four countries in Europe that allow abortion after 20 weeks. Those are Spain (22 weeks), England (24 weeks), Finland (24 weeks), and Cyprus (28 weeks).

The bill is going to be sent to the United States Senate, where it is most likely going to face death by filibuster. In order to break a filibuster in the Senate, you need 60 votes. We're at the point where most Senators don't bother to bring up a piece of legislation, unless they know ahead of time they can get the 60 votes needed to skip filibustering.

I don't think "avoid the issue by filibustering" is a good strategy, no matter what the issue is. It's a lot more effective to address issues head-on.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Sherlock Holmes Game

I made a text adventure game called The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. It's based on the first four cases of the original book.

Recently, I released a free demo for the game! It covers Case #1, so it should be enough to give people an idea of what the full game is like. I hope people enjoy it!


The original plan was for me to do the entire book and publish it through Choice of Games, but there were copyright issues. Specifically, the Arthur Conan Doyle estate was suing someone over the rights to Sherlock Holmes, at the time I made the pitch. Bad timing on my part! That's why the game is self-published and doesn't cover the whole book.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Battle Camp: Monster Catching

I tried out Battle Camp: Monster Catching. It's basically Pokémon, except with match-3 challenges instead of RPG battles. It was an interesting game, and I liked the interaction between the main character and the rival.

I stopped playing, when I reach the paywall. This game is huge on micro-transactions. That was part of the reason why I stopped. The other reason was that I reached the point where I needed to put a lot of effort and planning, into developing an ideal team of monsters. I just don't have the time for a game that requires a lot of strategy.

As I said, the game has match-3 challenges. Unlike most match-3 games, you can move a piece anywhere you want on the board. That was unique, and it took me a while to get the hang of it. The way it works, you can move a piece strategically, to make multiple matches in different spots on the board. I wasn't very good at that part; I kept thinking pieces would move right when I moved them left, which screwed up my plans.

You can only do five battles at a time, though. There's a meter, which refills at the rate of one battle every two minutes, and it caps out at five battles, maximum. I'm sure there's a micro-transaction to refill the meter faster, and a micro-transaction to increase the maximum number of battles.

An interesting element was that your odds improved, if you lost a battle. Say, you need to kill a bird enemy to get the feather item. Your odds of the enemy dropping a feather are 50%. If you lose and don't get the feather, the odds jump to 75%. If you lose again, your odds jump to 100%. (Also, you just used up half your battle meter on one battle. So sad!).

I kind of want to make an RPG now, just so I can adapt that gameplay mechanic.

I wonder how you'd classify this game. Maybe it's a cross-genre game? It's an RPG that does match-3 instead of traditional battles. I imagine there's also an RPG that does mahjong or blackjack in place of traditional battles. Those seem less like RPGs and more like cross-genre games to me.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Star Trek DS9 #5: Fallen Heroes

The fifth Star Trek: Deep Space Nine book was written by Dafydd ab Hugh. The premise of the book is that the two big rivals, Quark and Odo, accidentally trigger a device which sends them three days into the future. They are shocked to see everything in ruins, with dead bodies everywhere. Together, they have to figure out what happened, why, and how they can get everything back to normal.

I thought that was a really good premise. A time machine that only works for three days? I haven't seen that before! Imagine all the time travel possibilities, within that limitation. The premise of "alternate future where the good guys lost" is less creative, but it's still interesting. I wouldn't mind seeing that premise done with different characters, like Sisko and Kira or O'Brien and Bashir.

It turns out that the time machine (which is a handheld device) sent off a signal, as soon as it was used. A day later, the aliens who built the machine appear, demanding to know who set off the time machine and why. At least, that would be the logical course of events. But for the sake of drama, these aliens aren't logical. They assume a member of their species has been kidnapped, so they send in an invasion force which kills basically everyone. Our heroes can't fight the aliens, because they have magic armor which is impervious to all weapons except bullets and grenades.

I'm summarizing, obviously. These things are slowly revealed, over the course of the novel.

The book juxtaposes the alien attack in the past, with the people in the future, searching through the remains. For example, we see Quark and Odo examine the wreckage of the school in the future, then we see exactly how the school was destroyed.

It soon becomes obvious that the author has little to no interest in the investigation segments. He is much more interested in telling a grisly war story, where all the characters die heroic deaths against an unstoppable force. At some points, the ratio felt like 5:1. For every one page of future investigation, there are five pages of deadly combat.

I think I would have enjoyed this book much more, if that ratio was flipped. What can I say? I prefer mystery investigation to seeing everyone die. Plus, it was neat to see the two rivals team up. The characterization was a little off, though. Odo was more mean than necessary, and Quark cringed a lot. As in, he cringed so often, he came up with names for his cringe. Like, Cringe #7 is the "I'm not worthy to be in your presence!" cringe. That does not at all seem like something Quark would do. The man has a list of rules for how to cheat people out of their money, not a list of rules for how to be a wimp around other people.

The author has a penchant for literary references, which struck me as out of place. Like, Miles O'Brien is not the kind of guy who cares about Shakespeare, to the point where he and his wife argue over the proper phrasing of certain passages. Sisko would not spend his last minute on Earth, recapping The Lady Or the Tiger?. Odo would not think about Dante's Divine Comedy while being burned alive.

Our heroes in the future find two survivors, and they randomly guess figure out that they can go set the time machine to work in reverse, if they have a key. Every single one of the alien invaders has a copy of the key, for unexplained reasons. Our heroes go through the various corpses, but the only working key they can find is inside a nuclear reactor (or something). Odo basically sacrifices himself to get the key.

Quark puts Odo's remains in a bucket and returns to the past. He arrives minutes before the alien invasion starts, and he manages to stop the invasion, by giving them the time machine. Oddly enough, this section of the book contains several jokes. Like, Quark's shirt is ripped right before he time travels. He's forced to walk around bare-chested, and jokes ensue. It's funny, but out of place in a "everyone dies" book.

In the end, Odo and Quark decide to keep the entire thing a secret from everyone, so they can preserve the continuity of the TV show.

Overall, the book has a good premise. The execution is good, but "gratuitous violence" is not at all the direction that I wanted the book to go in. I'll probably remember the neat premise, but never read this book again.

Oh, another cool thing about the time travel premise! Our heroes think that they were caught in a "time-free bubble". That's another time travel thing I haven't heard of before, which could be explored in various interesting ways. It takes our heroes half the book to realize the "time-free bubble" theory is wrong, and they were just catapulted forward in time, three days. I don't know why it took them so long to figure that out. The investigation moved slowly.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Game Writing Update

Here's an update on the videogames I mentioned writing last month.

Oh, A Rock Studios is interested in doing the Catholic Priest game. Great! I've already got a few games in development with them, so at this point, all I'm going to do is make a detailed outline for the game. I'll get back to writing it, later.

Apparently, the Pride and Prejudice game was popular at Choice of Games, or at least, popular enough that I could try writing the whole thing, then publish it under their "Hosted Games" label. Sounds good! I'll have to re-read the book, though, because I don't remember it at this point.

If it's popular, maybe I'll do something else along those lines! I'm thinking Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, where the culprit can end up being one of four people. That could change things up, because most readers know the culprit's identity ahead of time. Or I could do something more like Fiction Fixers, where an evil culprit has changed the book; your goal is to go through the book, find the differences, and correct them.

First, though, I'm going to work on the mermaid game. The idea is to make this one into a visual novel. I'm going to do all the writing and programming, and once I get to drawing all the various pictures, I'll probably end up hating myself. "Why did I have a DOLPHIN character? I can't drawn an angry dolphin!" I guess I'll self-publish it, or I'll throw it at someone else and say, "Here's $100 and 15% of the sales. Put it on Steam and do all the marketing for me! I'm even worse at marketing with strangers than I am at drawing angry dolphins!".

Monday, October 2, 2017

Organizing Demo Videos

I talked about channel organizing a few months ago. Specifically, I wasn't sure how to handle the demo videos that are spread over three playlists. Well, here's what I've done about it:

1. I deleted all the demos I did, for games that I later played in full. No one's gonna want to see me play the first five minutes of a game, when I have a full video walkthrough for it, right? The remaining demos are still on the playlist.

2. I deleted all the livestreams I did, for games that I later played in full. Those would be videos 6, 8, 9 and 10. All my livestreams are numbered, so now there are gaps in the playlist. Maybe I should just renumber the videos and pretend no livestreams have gone missing.

3. I deleted all the "backlog clearing" videos. You might remember, I tried that last year. I would livestream myself playing 1-2 games, for fifteen minutes each. The idea was to gauge people's interest in games, to help guide me in determining what games to purchase and do walkthroughs for. It never really caught on. People like watching the livestreams, but no one watched the videos afterwards.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

YouTube Calculations

Now that we're in October, I can make more accurate estimates for well YouTube has gone for me. I just take how much I've done so far, divide by nine, then multiply by twelve.

It looks like I'll get about 4,608,261 views this year. Last year, I got 5,024,932. So, views are down 8.3%. As for how much money I've made, that's gone down 11.3%. Sadly, this is not surprising. Every year since 2011, my total number of views (and total revenue) has gone down.

When I set YouTube analytics to look at this year by itself, it says views are down 15.34% and revenue is down 17.09%. So it's possible that my estimates are off by a lot, and I'm way more of a failure than I think.

I suppose the good news is that I've gotten about 2,000 new subscribers this year! Last year, I got about 3,300 new subscribers, so yeah, that's down, too. But at least the number of overall subscribers isn't going down, like the number of overall views and overall revenue.

*sigh*

I don't want to be a complainer. I mean, it's great that I'm making any money from YouTube at all! But dang it, when I moved to Portland in 2013, it was partly because I assumed YouTube would make enough money that I wouldn't have to get a second job.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Mobile Strike Clones

I think I've mentioned on this blog that I enjoyed Mobile Strike. It has a host of clones, such as Terminator Genisys, Final Fantasy XV and Vikings: War of Clans.

They fall under the "strategy game" genre, so I find it odd that all of the clones are exactly the same. If you made minor changes to them, the strategies could change in interesting ways. Like, what if there were six types of soldiers, not five? What if the number of resource squares was reduced from 25 to 20? What if the fifth type of resource was something other than a currency which isn't used to buy anything? And hey, what if you could buy weapons or armor for your soldiers?

The games work under the "wait hours for a building to be constructed, or pay money to have it finished instantly" model. So you'd think that they'd add more options at some point, if only because that means there's more things people could pay them to build.

I'm also wondering if I could adapt the basic gameplay to a visual novel or text game. There's no in-game timer in Ren'py, as far as I know. You'd have to do something else, besides "wait five minutes for the house to be built". Maybe you could force the player to solve a simple puzzle instead. The higher the level of the thing you're building, the more simple puzzles you have to solve in order to build it.

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Baby-Sitters Club Notebook

Since I'm reviewing the Baby-Sitters Club series, I figured I'd review The Baby-Sitters Club Notebook by Sonia Black and Pat Brigandi. As it turns out, the book has nothing to do with the Baby-Sitters Club series. It's a quick cash-in with the series logo slapped on it.

The book is a simple guide on how to baby-sit. The target audience appears to be middle schoolers or high schoolers. It has a series of short sections, like "dos and don'ts", "how to get jobs" and "handling infants". There are several sections that go over various games and activities you can play with kids.

There is a list of books to read to kids, a list of simple recipes and how to get kids to sleep. There's what to do in case of nightmares, injuries, fighting or strangers appearing. And that's it. Nothing too complicated, and it's about 30 pages.

The second half of the book is a blank diary, where you can enter notes about a particular baby-sitting job, or about a particular client. I guess that's useful, but my cynical side thinks it was put in the book to pad the length by another thirty pages.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Star Trek DS9 #6: Betrayal

The sixth Deep Space Nine book is called Betrayal. It's a political drama, with a murder mystery attached, because apparently, every DS9 book has to involve murder. It must have been in the authors' contracts.

The political drama goes like this. The Revanche political party has taken control of the Cardassian government, claiming the previous rulers were incompetent failures. There were many executions, and the Cardassians have sent a nasty man named Gul Marak to reclaim Deep Space Nine. Naturally, he appears right when Bajor is having a huge interplanetary conference. Ambassadors from about fifteen planets are here, to negotiate a trade agreement.

There's also a terrorist on board, who sets off three bombs. They leave threatening notes, along the lines of "Aliens, go away! Bajor is for Bajorans!". Sisko tries to placate the various delegates, while Major Kira investigates the bombing threats. The investigation hits a little too close to home for Kira, because it's similar to tactics she used as a resistance fighter. Plus, she has to investigate former resistance fighters, who question her loyalty and call her a collaborator.

I thought the whole Kira angle was good. The book went into detail about her thoughts and feelings. Unless I'm mistaken, you never hear the characters' thoughts on the TV show. The books like to go into detail about Sisko's thoughts, too, and that usually works well, because on the show, he has a tendency to be wooden.

Most of the focus is put on a renegade Cardassian named Berrat. This poor fellow was part of the previous government, and he gets abused non-stop by his comrades. He escapes onto Deep Space Nine. Gul Marak uses this as an excuse to send armed guards into the area and attack innocent people, under the guise of searching for an escaped criminal. This raises the tensions even higher.

The Ferengi discover Berrat. Since he's a great mechanic, they use him as part of a repairman service, for great profit. Sisko grants Berrat political asylum, which raises the political tensions even higher.

Everything is tied together in a neat package. It turns out Marak is responsible for the bombs; he's trying to ruin Bajor's trade negotiations, while at the same time blaming Bajor for it. Sisko and the other set it up, so Marak proves his guilt, in front of many ambassadors. Marak dies, and the ambassadors decide to go through with the trade agreement after all. In order to preserve continuity with the TV show, the Cardassian government goes back to the way it was, before the Revanche revolution.

Overall, I thought the book was enjoyable, and it certainly feels like an episode they might do on the show. We've clearly reached the point where the authors have watched some episodes of the show, before writing books about it, so everyone is more in character now. Hooray!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

How to Have a Religious Argument (Part 2 of 2)

Bishop Robert Barron recently gave a speech at Facebook, entitled "How to Have a Religious Argument". Yesterday, I talked about some of the things which make debate and argumentation impossible, like close-mindedness and the refusal to take your opponents seriously.

Those affect debates in general. But what specifically stops relgious debate? Bishop Barron pointed out three mindsets, which hinder religious debate.

First is scientism, the belief system which says that scientific knowledge is the only kind of knowledge. Knowledge or ideas gained in any other way are most likely false, and there's no reason to believe them. This amounts to a wholesale rejection of all religious ideas, and not only that, it's also a rejection of ideas gained from literature, movies, politics, philosophy, and this blog (which is not peer-reviewed ahead of time!). In terms of religious debate, this is basically a variation of the "everything my opponent says is wrong" mindset that stops debate from occurring.

There's also the idea that religion is diametrically opposed to science; that the two of them are opposites, and one must destroy the other because they're totally incompatible. This mindset is normally a variation of scientism, although there certainly are people who takes religion's side. Catholics don't believe in that dichotomy; we think faith and reason are two types of knowledge that go together in harmony. Pope Saint John Paul II uses the metaphor of faith and reason being the wings of a bird, which work together to bring humanity higher and higher in the quest for ultimate knowledge and truth.

Second is what the Bishop called mere toleration, which is the privatization of religious beliefs. The argument says that religion is a private affair, a private belief system made up of private opinions, which you should never, ever talk about publicly. Obviously, if someone isn't allowed to talk about their beliefs, it's impossible to have any sort of debate about those beliefs.

Third is voluntarism, the belief that will triumphs over intellect, the idea that "what I want" is ultimately what's most important. This kills all debate in general, because it removes the common ground; it gets rid of any external truth that both sides can appeal to. Debates like this eventually devolve into shouting matches. You can't convince your opponent of your ideas, so all you can do is beat them into submission and make them bend to your will.

I've heard of voluntarism before, but I wonder if there is a form of it called "emotional voluntarism" or something like that, where someone puts their emotions higher than the intellect. I see this in debates about healthcare; people make emotional appeals way more often than they make dispassionate logical appeals to spreadsheets and budgets. I also see this with romance; people talk about love and marriage in terms of emotions, whereas the long-standing Catholic belief is that love is an expression of the will.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

How to Have a Religious Argument (Part 1 of 2)

Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles recently visited Facebook headquarters. They asked him to give a speech, entitled "How to Have a Religious Argument".

Bishop Barron had several good points, which were probably born out of personal experience.

Arguments and discussions are impossible, when one or both sides come in with the mindset of "no matter what the other person says, it's wrong." You can see this politics sometimes. Instead of debating ideas, two opponents will debate each other. This mindset is toxic to arguments, and it prevents the real exchange of thoughts and ideas. The people aren't even going to try to reach any sort of agreement; they're just going to end up yelling at each other.

Bishop Barron recommends approaching discussions with a mindset closer to Rogerian psychology. I had to do this in English class in high school, if I remember correctly. You start by trying to understand your opponent's point of view, trying to know what their thinking. In most cases, there's something good there, and your opponent is right about something. That's where you start. You start with what's good and right about your opponent's ideas, instead of starting with what's bad and wrong about your opponent. This technique requires you to truly listen to your opponent, instead of ignoring them out of hand.

Bishop Barron points out that Saint Thomas Aquinas always did this technique. Whenever he made an argument, he started by listing all of the counter arguments. I did the same thing, when summarizing his writings on what leads to happiness. Aquinas didn't take the intellectually lazy route, by demolishing a bunch of strawman arguments. He always took the counter-arguments seriously, and sometimes, he presented better versions of the counter-arguments than his opponents.

Ben Shapiro, a conservative political commentator, follows this technique. Whenever he does a Q&A session, the people who disagree with him are sent to the front of the line, so they can ask questions first. Of course, he has a reputation for acerbic refutations, but I appreciate that he tries to listen to opponents, instead of existing in a political echo chamber.

I like that methodology. If your arguments can only destroy strawmen, then they're not good arguments. If you want to strengthen your ideas, then you have to subject them to testing. In some ways, this is a lot like the ideology behind the scientific method.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Star Trek Discovery

My wife and I watched the first episode of Star Trek Discovery last night, because why not? We missed the first part of it, which presumably had introductions to the various characters, along with a country theme song. We picked up, with the main character running out of the hospital. She runs to the bridge and tells the captain to adjust their sensors! They do so, and uh oh! They're sitting ten feet away from a giant Klingon warship!

We get treated to a long segment of the Klingons. Their conversation is mostly vague foreshadowing, about a prophecy and how they need to wait for something. An albino Klingon impresses everyone, by holding his hand in a fire for a few minutes. I should note that the Klingon costumes and makeup have been completely redesigned, so they look totally different. In fact, my wife's first reaction was, "Those aren't Klingons! These are clearly villains, pretending to be Klingons!".

Back with the humans, our heroes have no idea what to do. They sent out a lot of messages, but the Klingons haven't responded. The higher-ups on Earth don't have a plan besides "Uh...just sit still for a while, and maybe they'll get back to you." We learn that no one has seen Klingons for the past 100 years, and the resident alien gives our main character a pep talk. The conversation is brief, but interesting; Resident Alien seems like he's going to be the most interesting character of the series.

Our main character is a woman named Michael. She's been angry the entire episode, because her adoptive parents were killed by Klingons! Uh...didn't we just say no one's seen them for 100 years? Whatever. She calls her biological father, a Vulcan named Sarek. He says that Klingons only understand force, so the best way to deal with Klingons is to attack them, full force, at every opportunity. The Vulcans did that for decades, and it led to unnecessary deaths and war a peace treaty.

Michael tries to convince the captain to attack. Michael is so bellicose and belligerent, the captain asks to talk with her in the waiting room. The captain tries to explain that humans never attack people unprovoked. Michael knocks the captain unconscious and prepares to assume command. Michael orders an immediate attack on the Klingons. Everyone at the helm is skeptical that the captain suddenly changed her mind and went to the bathroom at the same time. Michael insists, "No! We've got to attack now before it's too late!"

But it's too late! Twenty more Klingon ships appear, in a cool-looking special effect. The show ends there, telling us that we have to pay money to see the second half of the hour-long episode. Ouch. All 700+ episodes of Star Trek have been hour-long episodes, but this one was cut in half. I wouldn't be surprised if fans rebelled.

Overall, the episode was okay. I can't tell for sure, because we only saw half of it, and most of what we saw was "we're rebooting what Klingons look and act like". The series looks really nice. It looks extremely expensive and cinematic, with different camera angles for every shot. In particular, there was a fancy shot, where the camera kept circling the room. It's not the standard three camera setup they use for other Trek series.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Star Trek DS9 #2: The Siege

Over Labor Day weekend, I read the second Star Trek: Deep Space Nine book. This one is called The Siege. As the introduction states, the book was written in two weeks, before the TV series had aired. The author was given five scripts to work with, and that's all.

I'd say author Peter David did a pretty good job, getting the characters' personalities correct. He went with "everyone is mad at everyone else all the time," which is pretty spot-on for the first part of the series. I thought Quark was off the whole time, and I thought the Odo/Kira scenes were off. The two of them chat like friendly high school buddies, which is not at all how they act on the show. But other than that, and a penchant for swearing, I'd say the characters were fine.

The book starts with a Borg attack. Oh no! The Borg send a ship through the wormhole, only the ship gets destroyed by subspace compression. Hooray for unexplained scientific anomalies! The Borg never appear again, so hooray for random cameos!

A family of aliens called "Edemians" appear. They are highly religious and set up a booth so they can tell everyone about their god. It's revealed that the boy alien is sick with a fatal disease. Dr. Bashir wants to treat him, but the aliens' religion forbids it. So...they're the alien version of Christian Scientists. Bashir doesn't want to force people to do something that violates their beliefs, but he loves helping sick people so much, he can't help himself! Bashir tortures the mother with images of what her child will look like in its dying moments, and she agrees to give him treatment. When the father finds out, he divorces and excommunicates the mother. Everyone walks away from the situation feeling like garbage, but Bashir knows if the situation repeated, he'd do the exact same thing.

A Ferengi named Grav shows up. Quark cheated him in a business deal long ago, but the two of them become friends. Grav tries to buy Deep Space Nine, even though it's not for sale.

The main storyline is that a serial killer arrives on the ship. His name is Meta, and he's a shapeshifter like Odo. He kills one of the Edemians, a nurse that the doctor flirts with, one of Gul Dukat's minions, and he tries to kill Quark while Quark and Grav are in a holosuite, doing inappropriate things. A big shapeshifter fight ensues.

Odo eventually realizes that Grav hired the serial killer to murder Quark. Another big shapeshifter fight ensues. While this is going on, there is a three-way fight between an Edemian spaceship and Gul Dukat's spaceship. The killer tries to escape on a runabout. The killer ends up being killed by the wormhole's subspace compression. Hooray for unexplained scientific anomalies!

Odo is brought home to safety, and Captain Sisko makes some puns. The end.

Overall, it was a fairly good murder mystery with cool shapeshifter fights. I didn't enjoy the "science VS religion" subplot, where Bashir violates his beliefs, in order to violate other people's beliefs. I give the book a 6 out of 10.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Splitting Up California

This last election was one of the weird ones, where Donald Trump won a clear majority of states, but he lost a clear majority of votes. California was the deciding factor for the popular vote, which made me wonder. What would happen if California was split up into several states? Would that affect the electoral college and the election results?

The electoral college gives votes to every state, based on population. The more people are in your state, the more votes your state gets. However, the electoral college also sets a baseline of three. So no matter how many people are in your state, you're getting at least three votes.

The states with three votes are Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington D.C. and Wyoming. In other words, the seven states with the smallest number of people. Montana, the most populous of the group, has 1,015,165 citizens. Wyoming, the least populous, has 582,658. Therefore, the "every state has at least three votes" baseline covers a range of about a half million people.

California has about 38 million people and 55 electoral votes. If you split it up into Montana-sized states, you get 38 states with 114 electoral college votes. If you go for Wyoming-sized states, that's 65 states with 195 electoral college votes. So the answer is "yes". Splitting up California into a lot of smaller states has the potential to majorly change the election; you can almost quadruple the number of votes that way.

Of course, it's unlikely that California would be split up like that, because you'd have to split up Los Angeles into three or more separate states. Maybe California could be split up by county. It has 58 counties. I didn't do the math on the various county populations to determine what the state populations would be.

The people in California are too smart not to know about gerrymandering, though. They'd be sure to split California up in such a way that each of the smaller states is still heavily Democrat. Also, Congress would probably not take kindly to new states changing the current balance of power, no matter what the changes may be.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice

I recently finished the sixth Phoenix Wright game, and I'm currently editing the videos for YouTube. I figured I should review the game, before I forget most of it.

Case One is fine, as far as tutorial cases go. It does a good job of introducing the general storyline and setting.

Case Two is fine, I suppose. The story is that Trucy got framed for murder, and I dunno. I like Trucy as a sidekick much better than Trucy as a victim. The logical progression of the trial seemed a little off to me, but I liked how they handled the fakeout culprit, and the setting was neat. The case introduced both Apollo and Sahdmadhi.

Case Three was good. We got to see Maya again, and there was a double murder mystery where the two cases entwined in an interesting way. The case also tackled a longstanding problem with the series: if Maya can talk to dead people, why don't they just talk to the victim in every case, and solve the murder mystery that way? It's one of those murder mysteries where, once you know the big plot twist, you kind of want to start over from the beginning again and see the subtle clues you missed earlier.

Case Four is awful. I know the series has a hard-working localization team, but this case honestly feels like it wasn't localized at all. They kept most of the Japanese names and cultural references in place, without any explanation. I know I got thrown off by how everyone has the same last name, even though they're not related; apparently, that is a rakugo thing. Due to the lack of localization, some of the puzzles were impossible to solve. One puzzle requires recognizing the logo of a specific brand of sake, and the big plot twist involves the ingredients of Japanese food that I've never heard of, outside of this case. It's too bad they decided to go with the literal translation route for this case, instead of going with the series' tradition of using burgers as the most common meal.

Case Five was fantastic; it took the ideas about spirit channeling from Case Three (and earlier games), and took them to extreme situations. Also, Apollo got character development. Good for him! As in, so much development, they could call this the end of an Apollo Justice trilogy and have him leave the series, and I wouldn't complain.

It feels like Cases 4 and 5 of Dual Destinies put together, which is good, because those two cases were basically the same mystery. The plot twists and characters were interesting, and I'm not sure how to describe it without spoilers. It was great, and I liked it so much, I'm giving the game a thumbs-up overall! I feel the same way about Phoenix Wright 3; I can overlook the 1-2 cases I didn't like so much, because the other cases were great.

One of my longstanding gripes with the series is Apollo's mother. He's not an orphan; his mother is still alive. Phoenix Wright knows this, but he hasn't told Apollo about it. I have no idea why Apollo would keep this a secret. There's basically no good reason for him to lie to Apollo about it, over and over again. This game had multiple good places, which would segue into resolving this plot point. For example, Apollo talks about his parents (mainly his father), while Phoenix is in the room, listening to him. Phoenix still says nothing. I hated that.

The good news is that there's a post-credits scene which makes it seem like Phoenix and Apollo's mother are going to reveal the truth soon, but I'm not holding my breath.

Overall, it's a good game, and I liked it. I think it's an improvement over Dual Destinies, which understandably had some rough edges to it, since it was a series reboot. If the series keeps going with this level of quality, I'll be a happy camper!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

Katie and I saw Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, and wow. It is a really bad movie. It's like they took an awful fanfic and turned it into a movie. It's even got some hallmarks of bad fanfiction, like unexplained shipping, author self-insert and everyone being out of character.

The unexplaining shipping is Scotty flirting with Uhura, multiple times. They never display any interest in each other outside of this film, so it comes out of nowhere. The author self-insert is the producer, playing the role of an admiral. He acts more like a friendly neighbor than, say, a military man who is warning our heroes about a deadly situation.

The premise is that a villain has kidnapped three random people on Planet Religious Symbolism. Our heroes have to save them! Uhura distracts some of the villains by doing a feather fan dance, and the rest of the villains are dispatched in a big fight. This fight includes a scene where Captain Kirk punches a cat stripper with three breasts. Also, Spock knocks a horse unconscious.

The entire things is revealed to be a ruse! The villain lured our heroes there, just so he could steal their spaceship! Our heroes make a death-defying trip back to the spaceship, only to find the villain has brainwashed the crew. He throws our heroes in jail, but they escape.

The villain is revealed to be Spock's half-brother, who has never been mentioned before or since. His evil power is the ability to make someone relive the worst moments of their life. It's sort of like the Dementors from Harry Potter. He grabs someone's head, and they are transported to the moment that causes them the most pain. People are so incredibly grateful to him when he does this, they instantly become mindless zombies who do whatever he says.

Please note this makes no sense. You'd think people would not be grateful to the person who made them relive their worst moments, but apparently, that's not how it works.

The villain takes their spaceship to the center of the universe, which is protected by a strange barrier. They break through to find the first planet ever made. God is waiting for them there. God does a few special effects to prove that he's totally the real deal, then he asks them to give him a ride on their spaceship, because he wants to get off of this planet, and waaaait a minute. Why is God a hitchhiker all of a sudden?

Obviously, it's not God. It's an alien named ??? who was trapped on this planet by ???, because ???. Yeah, none of this stuff gets explained. Fake God gets mad when he's exposed, and our heroes blow him up. That's basically it. Everyone goes back home, and our heroes go camping. The end.

Overall, it's a bad movie. My wife turned it off within the first twenty minutes, complaining about how out of character everyone was, and how weird the cinematography was. I found it slightly more enjoyable, as I thought of it more like a campy movie. There are plenty of original Star Trek episodes which are campy. But still, I wouldn't recommend this movie. It's sort of a train wreck.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Tax Reform News Reporting

The other day, I saw a news report, where someone made a disparaging comment about President Trump's tax reform. My initial reaction was to fact check the comment as false, because we don't know what's in the tax reform plan! It hasn't been released yet! And besides, Congress writes tax law, not the President.

(I wrote this blog post five days in advance. It's possible the details of the plan will be released, by the time this blog hits the Internet. I doubt it.)

This got me thinking. I'm pretty sure the news stations have already decided how they feel about the tax reform plan. For example, Fox News is going to report that the tax plan is great, and it will boost the economy; CNN is going to report that the tax plan is awful, and it only helps rich people. In fact, they probably already have the reports on tax reform already written. All they have to do is to plug in specifics when the plans are released, like they're playing News Report Mad Libs.

I just got a little depressed, knowing the news reports will basically be the same, no matter what the tax reform is. So when the tax reform plans are released, my initial reaction is going to be skepticism; I'm not going to take what the media says at face value. I'm gonna want to see the proposed tax law changes myself!

And then I'm going to have to ask my wife what they mean, because I've never dealt with business taxes.

And then I'll probably blog about it.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Danger on Deception Island Route (Part 5)

The items that are useful to have at the start of the game are...
  • Binoculars
  • The GPS
  • The clam tube
  • The clam bucket
  • The headlamp
  • Hilda's puzzle letter
  • The driftwood
  • The spray can
The last three items on the list aren't necessary, but nice to have. What are the items in Secret of Shadow Ranch which correspond with the above list?
  • Nancy's lariat
  • Piece of paper which explains Dirk's secret code
  • A piece of kindling
  • The burnt note fro the fire
  • The egg basket
  • A piece of kindling
  • The letter for Mary Yazzie?
  • The key to the jail
Unless I'm mistaken, there is no way for Nancy to have all those items at once. For example, she never has kindling and the lariat in her inventory at the same time. Therefore, you can't get all of the useful items at the start of Danger on Deception Island.

I guess the next step is to figure out what combinations of items are possible to get in Shadow Ranch. From there, figure out which combination will save the most time in Deception Island. The binoculars and the GPS save a lot of time, so I imagine those will be the most important ones to get.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Danger on Deception Island Route (Part 4)

I tested out the route I talked about yesterday. Here's what I discovered:
  • I thought you have to see Andy's card and talk to Katie about him, to open up Whale World. But all I had to do was get Andy's card (and do Casey's wood identification challenge). Maybe that's a weird side effect of starting the game with the binoculars.
  • During the wood challenge, Casey asks what the name of the sea monster is. If you've met Holt, Nancy says it's Caddy. If you haven't met Holt yet, Nancy doesn't know what Caddy is, so she stays silent. So it's a minor timesaver to do the wood challenge before meeting Holt.
  • If you have the piece of driftwood in your inventory at the start of the game, you can talk to Katie and start the wood challenge, right away. Unfortunately, you can't solve the wood challenge; the game won't let you look at the wood under the microscope. I had to go to the beach and pick up the piece of wood, in order to continue. So it's not really a timesaver, because you have to go to the beach to get the piece of wood, no matter what.
  • Similarly, it looks like doing Hilda's puzzle letter at the start of the game doesn't make a difference. When you solve it, it doesn't trigger conversations with Holt, Andy and Jenna. I guess you have to get the real puzzle letter first.
  • You can go clam fishing and get fifteen clams, if you've got the right inventory items at the start of the game. You can give the clams to Jenna right away. That bypasses the conversation where she asks you to get her clams. Conveniently, this also opens up the rest of the Hot Kettle Café!
I got stuck on Holt's duffel bag. When you play the game normally, Holt says you can look inside it when he gives you the chess puzzle. I couldn't find a way to trigger this conversation. I suppose you have to visit the hidden beach, to get it to work.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Danger on Deception Island Route (Part 3)

I'm continuing from yesterday! For those of you just tuning in, there's a glitch where you can load a "Secret of Shadow Ranch" save file into "Danger on Deception Island". This lets you start the game with certain inventory items. For example, Nancy's lariat in Shadow Ranch becomes her binoculars in "Danger on Deception Island".

I haven't tested out EVERY inventory item, because that would take a long time. Let's just assume the glitch works with every item. Items which would save me time are Hilda's puzzle letter, binoculars, the GPS, the clamming permit, the clam tube, the piece of wood on the beach, the spray can and the headlamp. Wow, that's a lot of items.

I'd start by doing Hilda's puzzle letter, which gives you the message "Ask HS AJ JD for Hilda's gift". This lets Nancy talk to Holt and Jenna about Hilda's gift. You talk to Holt about it, so you can look in his bag and get the password to the lighthouse. You ask Jenna about it, and she gives you the clamming challenge. (That's where already having the clam tube and clam permit come in handy--you don't have to get them from Andy!)

Once you get the clams to Jenna, you can go into the side room at the Hot Kettle Café. Solve all the royal flush puzzles in the Café to open up the hidden passages here. Since you already have the flashlight, you get to skip the "make Katie a sandwich puzzle".

Go through the hidden passages and use the spray can on the door. Move the pieces. Then go through the lighthouse and move the pieces on the other side of the door. This gives you access to the sea caves.

At some point, while all the above things are going on, you want to call Casey and have him identify the piece of wood. That way, you can use the binoculars on the ship in a bottle, at Whale World. This gives you the symbols that you use in the sea caves. Since you have the GPS, you can then take the kayak to the sea caves to see the orca and trigger the endgame sequence.

This is all hypothetical, of course. I haven't tested this.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Danger on Deception Island Route (Part 2)

In "Danger on Deception Island", once you look at all three of Hilda's presents, you can send Nancy's telephone number from the lighthouse. This triggers a lengthy scavenger hunt, which ends with Nancy getting binoculars. Use them on the ship in Andy's area, so you see symbols. Use them on the sea caves area under the lighthouse to trigger the endgame sequence.

At this point, I realized that, duh, it's a huge timesaver to have the binoculars at the start of the game. You can use them to trigger the endgame sequence right away. Maybe.

I tried it out, and it didn't work. When I tried to go to Whale World with binoculars in my inventory, it was closed. After a lot of dinking around, I realized Casey needs to identify the piece of wood on the beach, first. That's one of the triggers here! With the wood identified AND the binoculars in hand, you can go into Andy's and trigger the endgame sequence.

...Only that requires you to go through the lighthouse. And unless I'm mistaken, you have to use the spray can on BOTH sides of the door, to reach the sea caves. The one side of the door is easy. You just need to see the code to the lock, in Holt's chess book. With the other side of the door, you need to solve all four royal flush puzzles AND you have to get the clams for Jenna. If you don't get the clams, then the side part of the Hot Kettle Café will be closed off, and you can't access the hidden tunnels.

So...it looks like you still have to do a fair amount of the game, even if you start with the binoculars. I'll see if I can bring all this information together, tomorrow.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Danger on Deception Island Route (Part 1)

Okay, so I had trouble thinking of the route for "The Haunted Carousel" yesterday. I'm more familiar with "Danger on Deception Island". How do you can skip ahead in the game, if you have items ahead of time?

Well, the first part of the game is getting a GPS from Holt, by solving his quiz. Then you find the four notes from Hilda, which are GPS coordinates. This lets you get to the hidden beach, where you get Hilda's puzzle.

I tried doing this, with the GPS and the four notes in my inventory at the start of the game. It doesn't work! That is, Nancy says, "I don't have any coordinates to enter yet" when you use the GPS. You have to pick up all four notes, so you can enter the coordinates into the GPS. So this isn't a big timesaver, but hey! Having the GPS from the start lets you skip Holt's quiz.

Actually, scratch that. Hilda's puzzle at the beach is an inventory item. So right from the start of the game, you can solve that puzzle and trigger the "get Hilda's gift from all the characters" puzzle. Andy's gift is simple, since that's an inventory item. Holt's gift should be simple, as you have to solve his chess puzzle, and that's an inventory item. But when I gave Holt the puzzle solution, the game crashed. I think you might have to get the chess puzzle from him, no matter what.

As for Jenna's gift, you have to go clamming to get that. You can save time, by having the permit, tube and clam bucket ready in advance. You'll still have to get all the clams manually, since the full clam bucket and the empty clam bucket aren't different inventory items. I didn't try this out, so I don't know if it works or not.

I spent about a half hour, working on this. More tomorrow.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Haunted Carousel Route

Continuing from yesterday, I'm wondering how I would beat Nancy Drew: The Haunted Carousel, if I could have any inventory items at the start of the game. I seem to remember that the endgame sequence is triggered when you put the spook's arm on, tighten it with pliers, put the brass ring on, and enter the nickname for Amelia.

All of those things sound like inventory items, except the nickname. You get the nickname from calling Anton Sukov. You can't get his phone number, until near the end of the game, when you make a lathe. That's when Elliot leaves the room. If you try looking at the magazine with Elliot still there, he asks, "Can I help you?", and Nancy backs down.

I'm guessing you can't ask Sukov about the nickname, until Miles says the clue about the nickname. That would mean you have to do the entire Miles sequence. So...hmmm...yeah, I think you have to do most of the game, no matter what.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Nancy Drew Save File Cheats

A new way to cheat in Nancy Drew games has been discovered! You can copy/paste save files from one game, into another game, in order to manipulate your inventory.

For example, if you load a "Danger on Deception Island" save file in "The Haunted Carousel", you get taken to the start screen, with some items already in Nancy's inventory. The same thing happens, if you load "Secret of Shadow Ranch" save files in "Danger on Deception Island".

Those two, Games 8 and 9, appear to be the only games where this trick works. I didn't experiment much with manipulating the save files of other games in the series, but Game's 8 save files don't work with Game 7, and Game 11's save files crashed Game 10. So that was as far as I tried.

As for WHICH inventory items appear when you use this glitch, I guess we'll have to do some experimenting. It seems like each item is connected to another one. Like, if you have the canteen in Shadow Ranch, that gives you the chess quiz in Deception Island.

I have no idea what this glitch would be used for. Speedrunning? It saves some time to have all the inventory items at the start of the game, but those are not games where the endgame sequence is triggered by items. So you'd probably have to play a fair amount of the game, no matter what.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Love on the Oregon Trail

The final game pitch I had was Love on the Oregon Trail.

The year is 1854. You're risking everything to go on the Oregon Trail and start a new life in Willamette Valley. Things are going well, and it seems like you're making good friends for your new life, when your wagon breaks. You find yourself forced to join one of the other teams, but which person will you go with? The poor widower? The silent Indian guide? The secretive seamstress or the bumbling doctor? Choose well, because your journey will be filled with danger...and perhaps a wedding or two.

At the moment, I don't have any ideas as to how I'd write this game. That pitch was basically all the work I've done so far: make a list of possible love interests. #lazy

Monday, September 11, 2017

Pride and Prejudice Game

Here was my pitch for a Pride and Prejudice game:

Pride and Prejudice is a classic novel in which the rebellious Elizabeth Bennet defies convention and falls in love with the conceited nobleman Fitzwilliam Darcy. But what if that wasn't the case? What if Miss Bennet had a different personality, or what if she decided to pursue a different suitor, such as the amiable Mr. Bingley, the stuffy Mr. Collins or the villainous Mr. Wickham? Would things still end happily for Elizabeth, or would her life change forever?

I've actually got a full outline for this game; I worked on it with Diana Gray, a few years ago. We basically made a list of the important scenes of the book, as well as a list of the male characters in the book. Then we combined the two lists together, as best as we could. It's surprisingly not TOO difficult to keep the general storyline of the book the same, while having Lizzy go after a different suitor. She can still go to the Rosings estate and have drama there, whether she likes Bingley, Darcy, Wickham or Colonel Fitzwilliam.

Remember, Mr. Wickham doesn't flee the country until after the group returns from Rosings. So his pathway doesn't split off until Chapter 20. That's around the same time that Jane hears from Bingley (after he tragically was forced to leave her, against his will). So his pathway doesn't split off until late in the game, too.

We ended up with a 3 page outline, comprised of 23 scenes. That's just the general outline. We went into detail about specifics, for each of the men, so I've got a six page outline which describes each guy in detail.

We had vague ideas of doing a version, where you play as one (or more) of the men. Maybe you switch between them? In the book, Mr. Darcy's romantic interests are Caroline Bingley, Elizabeth Bennet, and Anne de Bourgh. Collins' romantic interests are the five Bennet sisters. Bingley's romantic interests are Jane Bennet, Charlotte Lucas and...anyone else? Maria Lucas? Mary Bennet? We didn't really put much thought into how a male version would go. Maybe because the guy gets to have whatever woman he wants, as long as he's rich and handsome.

High School Drama Game

The fourth game I pitched was a Sweet Valley High femslash. They were looking for a femslash game; Sweet Valley is what popped into my mind. The pitch went like this:

You're a normal high school girl, trying to live up to your older sister's reputation, when you stumble upon a secret that could blow the school apart: a cheating ring in the sports department. Suddenly, all the girls on the cheerleading squad are willing to do whatever you want, as long as you keep their secret. It's a tempting offer, but what do you want? Popularity? Good grades? A new girlfriend? Revenge against your rival Jessica? The choice is yours, but remember: if the secret gets exposed, you will be in just as much trouble as everyone else.

I would have been endlessly amused, if they had picked this one. They didn't, and I think I'll let this game concept die here.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Magnum Principium

In Catholic news, Pope Francis changed Law #838 yesterday. He did this with a letter entitled Magnum Principium, or "Great Principle". This law deals with translating the mass and other things from Latin, into other languages.

Previously, people in the Vatican were responsible for making new translations. Now, Bishop's Conferences are responsible for making new translations. "Bishop's Conference" is just a fancy term for "all the Bishops in a country". So, if the United States Bishops decide they want a new translation of the mass, they can write one themselves and send it to the Vatican, where it will either be approved or rejected for general use.

No one seems to be sure how this will play out. Will the US Bishops make a new translation? Can they do it without any in-fighting? What process will they choose, for writing a new translation? They seem to like making committees for everything, so I imagine that's the route they'd take. At their next meeting, they'll probably vote whether or not to make a translation committee. Then they'd vote on who gets to be on the committee.

Assuming the US Bishops do make a translation committee, I don't know what route it would take. It might just be an exploratory committee that looks at the issues and recommends making no changes at all. It could be a committee that sets out to make a new translation from scratch, on Day One. It could be a Bishops-only group, or the Bishops could delegate to a sub-committee. The Bishops might decide to only translate one thing, like the Rite of Ordination. They could decide to translate everything. They could also decide to keep the current translation as-is, except for a few minor changes. There are many possibilities.

I imagine the committee would submit its recommendations (or translations) at one point, and the Bishops would vote whether or not to approve it. They'd either vote on everything at once, or vote on each individual item. If approved, it'd go to the Vatican from there.

One question I'm seeing is "will there be multiple translations in effect at the same time?". I doubt it, but the Pope's letter doesn't give an answer one way or another. Imagine if the U.S. Bishops approved three or four translations. We might end up in a weird situation where priests in Texas use one translation, and the priests in California use another.

Previous version of the law:

Can. 838 -- §2. It is for the Apostolic See to order the sacred liturgy of the universal Church, publish liturgical books and review their translations in vernacular languages, and exercise vigilance that liturgical regulations are observed faithfully everywhere.
§3. It pertains to the conferences of bishops to prepare and publish, after the prior review of the Holy See, translations of liturgical books in vernacular languages, adapted appropriately within the limits defined in the liturgical books themselves.

New version (changes are in bold):

Can. 838 - §2. It is for the Apostolic See to order the sacred liturgy of the universal Church, publish liturgical books, recognize adaptations approved by the Episcopal Conference according to the norm of law, and exercise vigilance that liturgical regulations are observed faithfully everywhere.
§3. It pertains to the Episcopal Conferences to faithfully prepare versions of the liturgical books in vernacular languages, suitably accommodated within defined limits, and to approve and publish the liturgical books for the regions for which they are responsible after the confirmation of the Apostolic See.

The new law goes into effect October 1st.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Mermaid Game

The next game pitch I had was a mermaid game:

As a low-ranking soldier in the mermaid army, you are suddenly thrown into prominence after an unexpected shark attack. Soon, the generals want you to help with the next stage of their war plans: infiltrating the human world. Your spy mission quickly falls apart, when life on land is unlike anything you would have expected: Humans have amazing technology, wonderful foods, and, much to your surprise, human males are not kept as slaves. As a literal fish out of water, it's almost too much for you to handle. Will you help your fellow mermaids conquer the humans? Or will you find love and decide to live on land...forever?

I only had a few ideas for this one. It could take place in the early 1900's, when submarines were coming into prominence. This is what prompts the undersea worries about people on land.

I was thinking one chapter introduction to the main character and mermaid land, ending with the shark attack. There is a challenge to survive, and the mermaid rises to prominence. The dolphin general reveals their secret plan to infiltrate the human world, and he gives her the mission. (The dolphin will totally be a love interest, right? He'll check in with her regularly, to make sure she stays on task.)

The mission is dangerous, because every other mermaid agent has refused to return to the sea. And that's about all I could think of. I have no idea what happens next, or what characters the mermaid would meet.

I did think we could have a grand finale with the Titanic. Say, our heroine learns about the Titanic and is ordered to destroy it by any means necessary. That's her final mission, to test her loyalty.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Priest Game (Part 2)

Continuing from yesterday, I think I'd arrange the game in cycles. Like, each cycle has a segment where our hero has a priest-in-training challenge, a segment with love interest 1, a segment with love interest 2 and a segment with love interest 3. That cycle repeats three times, at which point the game ends. If I decide to keep Nasty Old Lady as a character, she could also have a segment every cycle.

Priest-in-training segments will include writing a homily, surviving a parish council meeting, preparing an RCIA lecture, a confirmation retreat with surly teenagers, impressing the vocations director, and a diocese-wide priest meeting. Maybe I'll have 1-2 of these per cycle.

If I write the game this way, each love interest has three segments before the end. That should be enough time to start and finish a storyline, right? I know another standard way to do it is to have two cycles with each love interest, then you pick one to pursue in-depth, while the others fade into the background.

The next step for this game would coming up with a three-chapter storyline for each love interest, and making a full outline from there.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Priest Game (Part 1)

Bad news! My pitches for a romance game were rejected, all four of them. They said I could go ahead and write a game on my own, and maybe they'll pick it up for production, but that sounds like a lot of work, for a possible rejection.

So tell you what. I happened to like the games I pitched. I wanna see if any of these ideas are worth salvaging. First, the Catholic priest game, tentatively titled Sexy Priest. Paul came up with that title, not me. Blame him.
You're in training to become a Catholic priest, when the Bishop puts you on assignment at the wealthiest parish in the diocese. Is this a promotion or a punishment? As you struggle to find your footing in a life outside seminary, the world is rocked when Pope announces he is removing the "mandatory celibacy for priests" rule. Suddenly, you're getting more attention than ever before from the female parishioners: women like the RCIA candidate, a single mother, your ex-girlfriend from college, and, sadly, the nasty old woman who thinks she is your boss. Will you survive this pastoral year? Because this is your life now—for better or worse.
That was my pitch, but let me flesh it out. Here are some ideas/stories off the top of my head. I'll probably have to change things a little, so they don't reflect my personal experiences as a seminarian. Otherwise, the Nasty Old Woman would probably strangle me for making her look bad.
  • Single mother: Maybe she has one-on-one time with the seminarian, because she's taking baptism classes? The father of the baby isn't in the picture at all.
  • RCIA candidate: I had to lead RCIA classes, about once every two months. Same with leading the adult education program; basically, they gave me a topic, and I had to give people a two hour lecture on it. But now that I'm thinking about it, teaching RCIA and teaching baptism classes are pretty similar. Maybe I should scrap this character, in favor of a "prepare a two hour lecture" segment instead.
  • Ex-Girlfriend: Let's make things interesting and say she's a militant atheist. Or she bears a grudge against the main character, because he dumped her to join seminary. He hasn't seen her in a while.
  • Love Interest #3: A music person?  Like, the one-woman band who picks weird songs for the 5 PM Saturday mass, but everyone's afraid to confront her. Or maybe someone from a different parish ministry, like the Legion of Mary or St. Vincent de Paul.
  • Giving homilies: There's gotta be a challenge, where the priest guy writes homilies.
  • Rival: The priest could have a friendly rival! Like, the guy who skipped ahead a year.
  • Bishop: Gotta have the Bishop in some kind of dramatic finale, right? Like, if you do badly over the course of the year, the Bishop fires you.
  • Priest Mentor: Since our hero is a priest in training, his boss is the local parish priest. They have to interact with each other. And maybe there is another priest at the parish? I dunno. Writing these characters not like their real-life counterparts could be tough...

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Giving Blood

My Catholic church had its annual "end of summer" blood drive last week. Since it was a blood drive, happening right after Hurricane Harvey, we got some local publicity. Hopefully that means more people volunteered to give blood!

The timing wasn't ideal. I had to go during the late morning, which meant I had the baby with me. The good news is, she was very well behaved. Some of the older women I knew there were more than willing to watch her, while I was giving blood. I thought ahead and put off feeding her, so she was hungry. That way, she would be eager to drink from a bottle, and drinking babies don't cry. (Not usually. The sometimes cry WHILE eating. It's both hilarious and freaky.)

Giving blood went well, until the ending part, where they take the needle out. I felt like the temperature rose by 20 degrees in a matter of seconds. They put a cold rag on my forehead and neck and forced me to lie down for fifteen minutes. I'm pretty sure they were afraid I would pass out. The woman told me not to close my eyes, and she had me confirm my name, just to make sure I was cognizant. Sadly, she didn't ask me to confirm the year and current President; I probably would have said "Hillary Clinton", just to mess with her.

Getting back home was rough, since I wasn't able to drive. I had to walk the baby all the way. I more or less put the baby in her crib and collapsed on the bed for the rest of the day.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Tax Reform

Since I worked for the IRS this year, I'm pretty eager to hear about the major tax reform that's being planned. Sadly, we're not getting a lot of details, partly because they're subject to change, and partly because the news reporters don't understand taxes.

There are two types of taxes: personal taxes and business taxes. The tax reform is going to tackle both kinds at the same time. This can lead to three options:.

1. Both are fantastic. Everyone's taxes go down by 25%, businesses can afford to hire millions of new workers, and everyone gets a raise. America is great again.

2. Both are awful. Everyone's taxes go up by 25%, the new laws are so confusing that it takes forever for people to do their taxes, and lots of people get hit with penalties for doing taxes wrong. Every business decides taxes are so bad, they move to Canada, and half the jobs in the country disappear. America is sad again.

3. One is good, the other is not. Unfortunately, they'll come as a package deal, so you can't get one without the other. In effect, they'll be holding the good reform hostage, in order to pass the bad reform.

---

These three options are also possible, on a smaller scale. Let's pretend the tax reform affects five things on the personal tax form. It could be the case that all are good, all are bad, or some are good and some are bad.

It doesn't help that people disagree on what "good" tax reform is. I am totally in favor of combining lines 9a and 9b on tax forms, which are ordinary and qualified dividends, respectively. That seems good to me, as it makes the tax forms simpler and should result in more revenue. People who own a lot of stock probably think that is an awful idea, as it will result in them paying more taxes.

I guess I'm saying most people believe "good tax reform" is defined as "whatever causes me to pay less in taxes", more than "whatever makes tax forms easier" or "what is more just".

Monday, September 4, 2017

Odyssey

I did a walkthrough for Odyssey. This is a science-themed game which is available for purchase on the Her Interactive website.



The game reminds most people of Myst, in that it's a first-person adventure game where you land on an abandoned island and solve a series of puzzles. Only these puzzles are all science puzzles, which focus on astronomy and gravity.

I kind of wish I had time to play through the entire game first, before recording videos for it. Island #3 is all about pendulums and gravity, and I got stuck on many of the puzzles there. I feel a little embarrassed that there's 15+ minutes of me, not understanding how to read graphs.

In my defense, I haven't had to calculate the slope of anything since high school, but still. With the first puzzle, I had to look up the solution. With the second puzzle, I semi-cheated and found the answer by asking, "What numbers in the list of possible solutions multiply against each other?", instead of interpreting the data, like you're supposed to.

I also kind of wish I spent more time, toying with the graphics. They had options life "anti-aliasing" and "look smoothing", which I didn't understand. As a result, the frame rate for the video is slow. Maybe I should have run the game in a smaller window than 1600 by 900.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

YouTube's Flagging System (Part 5)

After all the brouhaha with my livestream of Nancy Drew: The Captive Curse being flagged as inappropriate, I was shocked to find another video got flagged. THIS video:



There is no way that video is inappropriate for advertisers. It is a baby giggling while a dog licks her chin. I complained about this on Facebook/Twitter, in order to draw more attention to the video, so it would get over 1000 views in a week. That way, YouTube would do a manual review. I logged in later, to see that YouTube had "inappropriate for all advertisers: confirmed by manual review" on the video.

I just about flipped my table after that.

The good news is that, the next day, both the videos were cleared. Whenever I log onto YouTube now, there's nothing on the video about its ad status. When I put the "videos with limited ads" filter on, they don't show up. I'm going to hope this means that both videos were confirmed appropriate by manual review, and YouTube won't bother me about them ever again.

Great. I'd like a way to re-monetize all the other videos that got flagged as inappropriate. Also, I'd like a way to make it so my livestream is not auto-flagged as inappropriate, before I even start streaming. Right now, YouTube says my streams are inappropriate, so they don't put any ads on them at all. So it's impossible for me to make any money off of livestreaming. If I wanted to not get paid for doing livestreams, I'd use Twitch.