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.

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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.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

YouTube's Flagging System (Part 4)

I wrote the blog article for yesterday on the morning of the 24th. Around 6 AM is when I got the email from YouTube, saying they manually reviewed my Nancy Drew video and okayed it as appropriate for all advertisers.

Well, it's the evening of the 24th. Guess what? YouTube reversed its decision at some point during the day. It's back to being flagged as "inappropriate".



The awful part, as you can see, is that I can't appeal or protest this decision. They've already done a manual review of the video. I just have to hope it's a glitch in their system which gets corrected.

Something similar has happened before, with these "flagged as inappropriate content" videos. I've had a video get marked as inappropriate, and a few days later, it gets unmarked as inappropriate, even though I did nothing at all. Still, I would repeat what I said yesterday: it is not good when this happens during the first week of a video's life, the week where a video gets the most views. Why does this have to happen when a video is at its peak point for ads?

Friday, September 1, 2017

YouTube's Flagging System (Part 3)

Another complaint I have with YouTube's flagging system is WHEN it occurs. Let me use my 2017 Foreign Nancy Drew Marathon #7: The Captive Curse (Russian) as an example.

The video was uploaded on the 19th. Sometime later that day, YouTube flagged it as inappropriate content. I asked for a manual review. Five days later, on the 24th, YouTube sent me this email.



So here's my problem: for any video I make, over 90% of views occur on the first week. If the video is in limbo, for four days on the first week, I lose a lot of potential ad revenue. Isn't there a way to still have ads on the videos, while YouTube is reviewing the video?

The weird part is that my video didn't make 1,000 views in a week, which YouTube says is mandatory for a manual review. I only got 724 views. I mean, I'm glad they reviewed my video and approved it, but still. Why isn't YouTube playing by its own rules?