Author Archives: Talen Lee

Celebrating Talen’s Birthday, 2022

Hey, it’s my birthday! If you’re into wishlists, I have a Steam Wishlist and Gift Hero wishlist. I don’t know how useful that is to you, I don’t mind if you don’t want to get me anything, I don’t think you should. My birthday is just a day, and I don’t expect to get cool toys out of it, and I don’t think you owe me anything.

But.

but.

If you want to get me something, and you don’t want to spend any money today (good!), then I’d appreciate it if you could do me a favour and bring me a link to something you want me to look at, and add to that a short description of why you want me to look at it.

Yeah, do some of my research and discovery for me.

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Representing Fights With Kenpachi

Alright, let’s talk about a pet theory about a manga I stopped paying attention to and which wasn’t really made with a coherent explanation in mind by an author who was extraordinarily checked out in varying stages of the production. This is fanfiction but admit it you are here for it because you weren’t going to go check if I just said this authoritively.

Let’s talk about Yachiru, one of Bleach’s many dangling threads!

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Story Pile: Fullmetal Panic

I promise I’m not just an immense mark for millenial-focused high school alt history, it’s just come up twice.

Fullmetal Panic is kind of a greatest hits of 1998 to 2004 ‘anime’s subject material. It’s a highschool drama, it’s a gifted child narrative, it’s a mascot-based comedy, it’s a Highly Marketable And Merchandisable mecha and military kind of story that includes most of your greatest hits, including in a fairly economic way, the three flavours of Waifu; Big Sister, Little Sister, And Miscellaneous.

It tells the story of Kaname Chidori, an ordinary high school girl who has the Techno Renaissance in her head (but she doesn’t know that), and her new classmate, Sousuke Sagara, an ordinary highschool boy who’s a former child soldier transferred to the school to serve as Kaname’s long-term bodyguard because there’s multiple non-state actors (and state actors) that would use her head full of super-science ding-dongery to take over the world, deployed by the NGO Mithril, who are technically mercenaries, but the kind of mercenaries who seem to largely be paid in justice and are often scrabbling for money.

The mecha are detailed, the helicopters are realistic, the gun nerdery is (I’m told) extremely in depth and all of these components are brought together to tell a story that kind of runs in three basic lanes:

  • Super-science conspiracy stuff
  • Mecha battles with ‘small scale’ tank-comparable mech
  • High school comedy nonsense

Spoilers for the anime and light novels to follow.

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MTG: Inflexible

It’s a rare kind of custom magic design that has its own nickname.

There is, at the moment, no single card that on its own, has indestructible, hexproof, and flying. Closest you can get is [c]Angelic Overseer[/c]. Two creatures can gain hexproof and indestructible through paying some additional cost, [c]Elusive Tormenter[/c] and [c]Fleecemane Lion[/c]. This combination of keywords, for making a card resilient, is extremely obvious and absolutely nowhere in the game as presented.

Doesn’t stop the custom crowd from breaking it out on the regular, and that’s where we get the nickname INFLEXIBLEIndestructible, flying and hexproof.

You shouldn’t make these cards.

This article contains no unsolicited card designs.

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Mask: Some Masks!

I don’t need shirts right now. I do however, want to have some masks, so I can wash them very regularly. Let’s check some out!

I love my THIS SHIRT SAYS TRANS RIGHTS shirt, and I wanted a version I could wear on a mask when I need my shirt real estate to say something else, like, say, DID YOU CHECK THE SUBJECT OUTLINE. I made this variant on the shirt for mask purposes.

I have a M*A*S*K mask already, but I was never as into MASK as I was into Transformers. This mask is based on the face of Wheeljack, from Transformers.

And this is my masterpiece. This Haruhi-inspired asymmetrical mask is a reminder to me just how much I love that classic anime. I should write about it later this year.

FFXIV: Karash

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.


You might have met Karash Ejinn wandering around Limsa Lominsa, or perhaps out by Ul’dah, Idyllshire, or Radz-at-Han. It’s not like he doesn’t stand out – he’s the largest Au Ra you’ve ever seen, large even by their standards. If you’ve spoken to him, you’ll have heard the deep, rumbling voice, which speaks with a deliberate care in what is clearly his secondary language. While he’s obviously very dangerous — nobody his size would be seen as helpless — he seems to mostly do trade with people, bodyguarding work, and travel along riverways as a strange kind of nomad.

On the other hand, you might have met him on the battlefields, or in the trenches against the Garlean Empire over the past few years. You might have seen him, clad in black armour, repurposed from Garlean war machines, that made him seem even more massive and dark, as he walked through rivers of blood in an unflagging wall of violence pushing deep into the heart of the empire. You may have heard the rhyme the soldiers said about him.

It doesn’t think
It doesn’t feel
It doesn’t laugh or cry
All it does from dawn to dusk
Is make the soldiers die

There shouldn’t be anything that counts as a story spoiler below.

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Final Fantasy XIV Is Alt-Hostile As Hell

I play a lot of games where you get to make characters. Sometimes it’s TTRPGs, sometimes it’s MMORPGs, sometimes it’s single-player CRPGs, and sometimes it’s just for the other games I design. I like making characters, I think it’s a fun exercise and I like it as a way to create the elements of a story, or express new ideas or give a characterisation to mechanics. It’s something I really enjoy, and if the regular posts about different City of Heroes characters isn’t giving it away, it’s something I really enjoy doing.

Playing Final Fantasy XIV, I thought I might wind up doing the same thing – after all, it’s a world with a big creative space! There are lots of different ways for your character to look! There’s glamours that let you change your outfit and they’re tailored to interact in interesting ways! So many classes, so, similarly, so many different ways to express a different kind of character. A fighter with an axe is not a fighter with a bow, after all! There’s so much here, and you have a lot of slots so – you could make all sorts of alts!

That didn’t happen, because Final Fantasy XIV is a dreadful experience for making alts.

I guess to back that up I need to explain to you what I mean by an alt.

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How To Be: Minfilia Warde (in 4e D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritative but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

In deference to this being Final Fantasy 14 Week, a sub-theme in Talen Month, I figured it was time for us to give the fan, singular, what she wanted, and finally write an article about her favourite character, and how I’d go about playing her in a game that she doesn’t play and has no reason to care about.

It’s also an opportunity to talk about negative space and harmonisation.

Let’s talk about Minfilia Warde.

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Story Pile: Brave Father Online: Our Story of Final Fantasy XIV

Some of the dates her are a little general, sorry, it’s just what you gotta deal with. Here’s the long walk version: Sometime, around 2016 by my best information, a Japanese blogger who played a character named Maidy Maidy in Final Fantasy XIV made a blog detailing his story of connecting with his father through both playing the game Final Fantasy XIV. Maidy’s plan was to get his dad into the game, and befriend him there, without his dad knowing his friend was his son.

This was successful in the way that autobiographical blog posts relating to videogames rarely are.

The real-life account of this was so compelling there was a book made (2017), then a TV series (2017), then a movie (2019), and at each step of this process, the original author, who was a real person talking about his real relationship with his real dad resisted changes that were suggested to make the story more tragic or heartbreaking or more classically dramatic. The movie uses in-game footage captured by an ordinary player account, though dramatically enhanced through crime programs, and Maidy ‘plays’ his character and his guildmates play their roles with him. It is effortlessly charming, very funny, classic to its form, and a movie I really enjoyed.

It is a personal story about a relationship and a videogame.

Content Warning: Cancer!

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Complaining Is Fun

One of the reasons that Talen Month is segregated away from the other months it is, with the careful buffers of May and March on either side (the M&Ms that aren’t going to try and restrict your access to basic human rights like water), is because I know full well that when left to my own devices, my blog will generally degenerate into me saying mean things about, well, probably Peter Molyneux, or maybe Hideo Kojima, if I didn’t deliberately make it so I have a limited number of complaints every year and those complaints have to land in one spot and it’s months away.

It’s like fermenting, or winemaking, where if I’m going to spend some time to really have a good complain about something then that complaint has to be the best possible complaint and I have to be okay with it waiting until April and it has to be something that lasts. I cannot simply vent my spleen about any random happenstance that bothers me, it has to be something worth the patience. Hating is, after all, an art.

The problem is that complaining is fun.

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4e: The Elan

Look, don’t let the way I talk about 4e D&D (which is the best edition of D&D) leave you thinking that I think the game is flawless. It’s just much better than 3e and good enough that I don’t care to look at 5e. That excellence however doesn’t mean that the design within it is flawless, especially in those surprising incidents where I could find something I could do in 3rd edition that was more satisfying than when I tried to do it in 4th edition. Some ideas translated across really well, like making werewolf, werebear, and wererat characters into themes, allowing players to add that element to their character without it being an overwhelming drawback but also designed so that it was a meaningful cost.

There’s a place where I really miss the way 3rd edition handled things, or at least, I feel that 3rd edition did a better job than 4th did, and it was with the eerie little niche culture of The Elan.

(Art Source)
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Game Pile: The Dig

The 1990s is a compressed period of time when a lot of very interesting things happened very quickly, often on surprisingly small budgets when we talk about videogames. It can be hard to grapple with but Street Fighter II, Doom, Aladdin , King’s Quest VI and Super Mario Kart all released in the same year (1993), and even though the games are all clearly contemporary, they don’t necessarily feel it. Similarly, if you look at the videogame releases of 1998, you’ll find a deep seam of industry-shaping bangers and first-releases of important developers, a sort of world-shaking year of releases, only to find that the next year, 1999, more and possibly bigger releases happened.

This is just what happened in the 90s: Shareware, CDs, existing distribution software and an exploding marketplace meant a lot of stuff happened. One thing that happened was that Steven Spielburg pitched a videogame to the people who made Star Wars, and they got a Hugo-And-Nebula Award winning science fiction writer to write the game’s script.

It starts with an asteroid on course with earth, which we nuke – of course – and the expedition in a space shuttle to go check it out. They send a scientist, a journalist, and a Protagonist, who find that the asteroid was not just a rock, but an alien artifact that, with the wrong poke-and-probing, suddenly takes the characters away. The story becomes about doing the hypothetical science of xenoarchaeology, of asking the question about what alien life we find would even look like, what their intentions might be, and how we could even deduce that.

By the way, if you’re still looking for ‘gaming’s citizen Kane,’ this is definitely one of the examples. It’s a game that wanted to be taken seriously and to tell a serious story about serious adults and big, philosophical questions. It’s a science fiction narrative about first contact, about life and death in the face of eternity, and whether it’s our place to break the chains of life and death, or if maybe it’s best that we let the world we live in behave the way we’re told it does. You know, classic science fiction stories of What If We Improve Things, But Too Much?

I really like The Dig, even if it always feels to me, in hindsight, the loser in a duel with Beneath A Steel Sky, but Beneath a Steel Sky is about how it’s a good thing to fuck over capitalists, surveillance states, and shoot cops in half, while The Dig is a game that mixes in questions of existential realities with one of the most frustrating turtle-related puzzles in all of narrative adventure.

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Buried Gods: Reconcepting Dragonborn

I have spoken already about the challenge of integrating the Dragonborn and Dwarves into the setting of Cobrin’Seil. These two extremely strong, heavily supported character heritages, so I don’t want to take them away from players, but they’re also hard to integrate into the world the way I want it to be. For dwarves, the problem is that they didn’t bring anything to the world that humans didn’t, and I solved that problem by reconcepting them as what I’ve called a ‘pocket heritage’ – small communities whose biological oddness is explained by a feywild origin.

Dragonborn’s problem is a little more tricky. They provide some things I do want (mechanically robust heritage that can be used for a variety of classes in interesting and distinct ways) and some things I don’t care about (fuckable dragon people). They also bring with it some worldbuilding questions, which the default setting answers with a shrug of ‘a God Did It,’ and what’s more that god is Bahamut, against whom I will never not have a grudge. I know these days he’s changed his names and now he’s a monk, no, really, he was always a cool guy, but Bahamut is still always going to be a Lawful Good God who’s meant to be Super Powerful but Doesn’t Fix Things because That Would Be Hard.

He’s also very much defined by his Faerunian depiction, and that world’s gods are awful.

Dragonborn can’t just be transplanted wholesale into another species group, or remade as like, bear people, because their mechanics have all been very good about reinforcing the flavour of being ‘a dragon that’s like, a guy.’   That means they have wings, breath weapons, bites, specific references to elemental energies through their scales, and relationships to other species based on ‘being a dragon.’ Whatever I choose for the dragonborn still has to be possible for any given player to grab their existing dragonborn character art and, more or less, plonk it into the world without feeling like they can’t ‘be’ the way they want to be in the world.

Also, there’s an added problem: Kobolds. Kobolds are an extant heritage in Cobrin’Seil, and they’re popular, and they’re useful for showing something about dragons and the world as it is. I like Kobolds a lot, and when looking at the world as a whole I had to answer the question: Why Aren’t Dragonborn Just Big Kobolds?

That was a thought, for a while there. I did seriously consider Dragonborn as like, Kobolds who had been selected to be defenders or guardians and were changed somehow, but that process seemed something I didn’t want in the world as something common enough entire heritages got it. Plus, it did open a balance door, of like, well, why can’t dragonborn and kobolds share feats? That seems strange, and lords I didn’t want to give dragonborns more options.

Here then are the parameters for defining the Dragonborn of Cobrin’Seil:

  • Allow players to feel like existing Dragonborn work,
  • Open up to more options that are more appropriate to the world
  • Don’t make Bahamut a requirement
  • Have a new, clear hook as to why a player might want to play one
  • Not Just Big Kobolds

Let me tell you about an empire of the sun.

Let me tell you about the children of the scale.

Let me tell you about the Dragonborn of Cobrin’Seil.

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Changing Avatars

Good god I need to be careful about how I word this.

Okay, how to word this. How about if I say, up front, NOTHING TRANS IS HAPPENING, and then people will go ha ha but no really, but I’ll have to restate it that I mean it and NO REALLY, THIS ISN’T ABOUT THAT.

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Celestial Fury

A long time ago, on the Baldur’s Gate 2 newsgroup, one Westley Weimer remarked about the weapon Celestial Fury something to the effect of:

If Demogorgon dropped Celestial Fury when he died, I’d pick it up and go ‘oh, that seems about right.

— My fuzzy memory, sometime around 2002

Demogorgon is one of the most powerful monsters in that game. Demogorgon is an optional boss optionally fought at the bottom of an optional dungeon which has two rewarding optional alternate defeats and gives you a huge pile of experience and no loot. Demogorgon is one of the hardest fights in the game, and he gives you, in return for that difficulty, dick nothing.

But if he’d given you Celestial Fury, that would be a pretty reasonable drop.

So what the heckadilly is Celestial Fury?

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Story Pile: Community

When Community was at its first wave of popularity, I remember reading a tumblr post praising it for its authenticity in comparison to the other, more successful and advertiser-prone alternative geeks-and-jokes series, The Big Bang Theory, which chose to describe the latter Bazinga-Em-Up series as nerd blackface. A phrase that at the time I thought ‘yeah, that’s a smart way to describe it’ and now I think ‘oh no, that’s a real sign of how brain-rotted I was to see geeks as an oppressed underclass.’

I think this helped to create a narrative about Community; that it was the ‘real’ funny sitcom about nerdy things made by nerdy people who were good, not like that other one, that was bad. And make no mistake: Big Bang Theory is extraordinarily tedious basic-ass sitcom made with a laugh track to prime delivery and a condescending view of nerds’ abilities to, like, respect women’s boundaries. By comparison and also just, on it own, Community is a really funny show.

Mostly.

In fact, so much so I’m just going to spend a few paragraphs here talking about things in it that I think are funny as hell.

The deaf girl and Abed rivalry. Troy embracing dance, but not the other thing, with the theatre. Jack Black showing up and making fun of retroactive continuity. Troy being a savant at Air Conditioning. The flag being a butthole. The pillow fort/blanket fort contention. Abed’s rap. The episode with the six rolls of the dice. Physical comedy on many levels. Dean Pelt’s many ridiculous outfits and the time when he burst out rapping even if sounded like he wanted to drop a hard n.

Hell, even just single lines are amazing and bring to mind an entire comic situation. Would that this were a Time Desk. You can excuse racism? Oh he’s too attractive, even the shadow. Football is in your blood. I’m a living god. I hope this doesn’t awaken anything in me. The professor was SO old. How about I pound you like a boy? My father held grudges and I’ll always hate him for that. This isn’t budget daycare.

Now I mean this is a series that I may have just praised but you’ll also notice that for example, Ben Chang doesn’t show up in any of those anecdotes, and Laverne barely does. It’s because Laverne’s a fucking homophobe and everyone around her is just okay with that because everyone else in that room is a homophobe, as you might note by the way they’re totally okay with one of their friends being a blatant homophobe. It’s a quirky belief, just like her antisemitism. Oh wait I’m supposed to mention something that’s acceptable. Her fondness for parental abuse?

I like this series. I like Community. There are a bunch of episodes that are funny and it has some great sequences of dialogue and some episodes A plot or B plot is really great and forms an enjoyable, thoughtful whole. Lots of plots resolve out cleverly, the reference pool is very relatable to me, and when the show dips into nerdy topics, I get the strong impression that I, as a white guy who is now approaching forty, am the kind of nerd they want to be talking to. It’s really good at being a funny show with a cynical edge.

But there’s always something that comes up, eventually, and ruins it.

If you want the short reason, before the fold, here’s the simple bit: Britta. But for more, we need to lay down a content warning for Child Sexual Assault.

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Iori Yagami

In the story of King of Fighters, there’s very little you can say is ‘important.’ Fighting is important. Grudges are important. A tournament that gets interrupted every single time by several different world-ending megalomanics is important. A human cloning project that may or may not also be connected to the soul of the Phoenix is important. The Orochi, an eight headed serpent and the people whose blood it taints is important.

Oh, and Iori Yagami and Kyo are probably gay and that’s important.

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3.5 Memories: Fighting Backwards

Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition was an interesting system with a lot of good ideas. In a big, top-level mechanistic way, it had some good ideas, like making standardised rules for how categories of things worked. Some abilities were spells, some were spell-like abilities, some were supernatural, some were extraordinary, and if it didn’t fit that category, it was generally unique, but by making these categories meaningful there were a lot of rules that just got tidied up. Things were complicated, and the rules system wanted to cover very complicated things. 2ed had some very complex monster abilities, and 3ed wanted to be able to run things that looked a lot like them. Not quite compatibility, but certainly to carry some of that same ‘oh, this can fight like this OR it can be a spellcaster OR it can teleport at will,’ kind of design.

Thing is, this kind of top-down design idea was done as a half measure, and also didn’t preclude the system from bringing in some real problems of its own, like the way that all the melee classes were garbage and the wizard and druid were overpowered. There had to be a big balance enema, and that enema was called 3.5. It was an opportunity to get you to buy all the books again, but also a chance to do some really comprehensive, holistic errata, onboard new players with the better rules. This could address those balance problems, too, by reigning in the wizard and druid and maybe the cleric as well, and then giving a good shot of power to those weakest classes, Everyone Else.

How’d that work out?

Uh.

Well, the Druid got Natural Spell in the core books, so it became even more powerful. The cleric didn’t get the slightest bit of reigning in. Wizards lost one of the most powerful spells they had and were still otherwise completely as busted as before. The bard, ranger, barbarian and Paladin all received improvements that didn’t really address the categorical problem of how they worked, but certainly made them less boring. What about the fighter…?

Well, and this is going to sound unbelievable, they made the fighter worse.

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The Fairy Type Sucks

I mean, not like any given fairy type sucks. Every Pokemon, big or small, is someone’s Ya Boy, and it’s not like your favourite being a fairy makes it bad or not. It’s not that I think the Pokemon that are fairy type pokemon suck, it’s that the fairy type itself sucks, and I dislike it, and how it was implemented.

The problem derives from what fairy does, and what its presence changes.

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Asset Brainstorm #4 — Casino Cards

As a matter of practice, it’s important to me that I keep demonstrating different ways to engage with games. Making games is a practice, and when you can look at game assets and consider ways to apply them, you’ll begin to see how much of game design is stuff you can do. Therefore, on this blog I’m making it a project to regularly grab some game assets I couldn’t make myself, that are made for game designers to work with, and see what ideas they inspire.


I did spend a long time today – when I wrote this – picking out possible assets to buy for this project this month. I also thought about maybe just using art assets I knew I couldn’t buy because the point is the brainstorm, not the product. I looked at a lot of stuff today, and I tried very hard to come up with something that felt interesting

But I kept getting pulled towards a mechanical idea I’ve been thinking about.

This time, we’re going to look at an idea I’ve been toying with that wants to use, at least to start, ordinary playing cards.

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Story Pile: The Story of Tiffany Aching

I’ve said that the correct place to start with the Discworld books is to grab one that looks interesting and go for it. There is no need for the continuity of the story for it to work for you, they’re all contained stories that work well on their own and hold together without the need for knowing exactly what comes before and after. You don’t have to treat these books like they’re part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a reading order to tell you what you can or can’t handle.

This is not, however, to say there is no continuity in the Discworld. Instead, that continuity is much more about tracking the narrative path that follows something in the setting, whether it’s a character or organisation or country, seeing the way they change from one story to another, the way they grow or suffer, the ways their choices and jobs and circumstances shape them. It can be something like watching the Omnian Church arc from inquisatorial fundamentalism to its eventual representation by Constable Visit-the-Infidel-with-Explanatory-Pamphlets.

One of these stories is about a nine year old girl, and her arc from wisp to witch. It’s the story of the what it’s like to grow up and want to wrestle with the incomplete world the adults have given you, about how being smart isn’t the same thing as being good, and how being good is a thing some people have to practice. It is a young reader’s set of stories that come together to form darkest, most intricate Smurfs fanfiction you’ve ever read.

I want to talk to you about the story of one Tiffany Aching.

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Talen Month 2022!

You might be surprised to hear this but I am, in my mind, extremely restrained. Oh sure, this blog is full of content of me, every day, just trotting out a few hundred words about whatever nonsense I want to think up. There are nonetheless, a ton of topics I avoid. Particularly, I will often avoid talking about things I really like for entirely petty, personal reasons, since I find that I think that’s hard for you to relate to, and I will sometimes avoid talking about things I actively want to just be mean about or air petty grievances on, for, well, again, the same reason.

My entire article about how Magic: The Gathering isn’t a gacha system was based on being mad at some random’s complaint that he couldn’t make a full-time living playing competitive legacy as a brand new player, for example. It is a beef writ large.

I keep these personal arguments and motivations close to my chest, in part because I think it’s boring, but also because if I make sure I spend time on it, if I hone it, I will have the time to decide if the complaint is really worth one of the thirty limited slots I offer for these feelings during the month of April, my month, the month in which I was born and the month that I use to publish all the stuff that I look at in the drafts folder and think ‘oh, I’m looking forward to writing that.’

It is April, My Friends.

I think about this as I progress along this writer’s path, as I strive to keep examining my own process, and yes, as I seek to generate something like a thousand words a day of varying levels of appreciable quality. I think about how I can tell there are things I want to focus on, things I think will be enjoyable or exciting to write about, and then there are surprises that I absolutely feel i want to share about, and there are things I think that if I write about them, will provide useful insight into me, as a person, so you can better inform yourself about my opinions.

Basically, if Decemberween is when I can relax a little, April is where I want to show off a little.

One piece of poetry that I have striven hard to be able to recite on spec is by Ogden Nash:

Love is a word that often is heard
Hate is a word that is not
Love I am told is more precious than gold
Love I am told, is hot
But hate is the verb that to me is superb
And love jusst a drug on the mart
For any boy in school and love like a fool
But Hating, my boy, is an art

There is in me a mendacity and a cruelty that wishes to, at times, dance about in the moonlight. There may be mean things said this month, possibly about things you think are good, and there may be indulgent appreciation of things. Probably another article about a transformer, or about how important some particular Animorphs book was to me.

For now, I want my love to be as precious and foolish as a schoolboy’s,

and for my hate to be artful.

Game Pile: Total Annihilation

Generally speaking, I am ‘good’ at games I care about. I can play first-person shooters, platformers, exploration games, card games, and in most cases, I am aware of how those games play, and I as an adult, have become better at those games over time. It is, in general, not the case that a game I care about is a game that I know I am terrible at playing.

But real time strategy games?

I am dire.

Which is a bit of a problem when you consider how many hours of my life have been spent playing the various different iterations on the formula that started for me with Dune II and Warcraft: Orcs Vs Humans. It’s a model of gameplay that I felt was perfected in the late 90s not by Starcraft but by the dueling Australian releases of Auran’s Dark Reign and Cave Dog’s Total Annihilation. These two games were months of my childhood afternoons — and I am absolutely abysmal at playing both.

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March 2022 Wrapup!

The seasons turn, the days end, and we come once more to another full month of articles over here on Press Dot EXE. March is gone, and with it I want to take a moment to talk about what I’ve done this month; what writing is here, what you can check back on a whole month of content and see if there’s anything that stands out to me that you’d like to check out.

One of the strangest things about these posts is that they feel to me like a ‘cheat’ – like I’m doing a bunch of work on these posts, when I’m working hard to present the best writing I can on an interesting variety of topics, and then every month you get one fewer post, because there’s here, a menu.

Except then I find out how even the most obsessively interested people looking at my content tend to miss stuff, because the internet is hard and I realise it’s important to take a moment and reflect like this.

Anyway. Hey, here’s a summary!

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March Game Project — Sky Islands

Every month of 2022, I am trying, as part of both my PhD project and my all-purpose general game development, develop if not a whole game for game development, a project start, such that I can make playtest prototypes. This is a sort of report of the process throughout the month.


In January, I started late and didn’t get it done. In February, I had four game ideas. One of them became focal, and I spent some time this month actually making a physical prototype. My plan this month is to have something that at the end of the month can be treated as a thorough plan for not just a prototype, but a game that’s ready to go.

That proved very stressful, with the whole design write-up being week to week, and publishing just before the end of the month. Instead, I’m going to talk to you about what the idea is and focus on the core ideas, rather than on every step of the process.

Let me know if you prefer the week-to-week explanation or this style of simplified version.

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CoX: The Wild Hare

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.


Juniper Jacks thought she was pretty boring. She thought she wasn’t special. She thought that if the time came to step up, she wouldn’t, not really. Oh, sure, she had a drive to try – but… like, everyone had that, right? Everyone could see things they’d do, and just lacked the power to do them, right?

Then she became the host for the BOUND symbiote, from a mysterious Praetorian-Primal science project. and found, to her surprise, that when she had power, she absolutely wanted to do something with it. Stepping up, acting, fighting and finding evil and battering it unconscious: She was here to spring into action.

Oh, sure, she’s a rabbit girl – but she’s a loud, brash, brawling, rabbit girl who gives 10,000%.

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Story Pile: Martian Successor Nadesico

Martian Successor Nadesico is a comedy-drama science-fiction space opera story with an enormous cast of characters that introduces a spaceship, recruits its screwball crew, goes to mars, then to the moon, engages in multiple sorties, defies the UN, deals with shadowy secret research, uncovers a conspiracy, grapples with questions of culture and media, wins a war, creates a peace, has a talent contest, multiple music videos, love triangles that go through the full typical mathematical configurations, is funny as hell and serious as a heart attack.

This popcorn anime of the late 90s is now a vintage classic.

The world was a different one, where anime were not being wholly produced on computers (yet), nor the natural end point for a churning industry of marketable light novels (yet), nor an endless filler spiral trying to maintain the presence of one of the big three shounen anime in the minds and charts of the viewing public (yet). It was a time when anime series were seriously grappling with just being too big to reasonably buy, where a 13 episode anime would still cost you $140 to buy, because you’d get two episodes per VHS tape, and each tape would cost you $20 AUD.

You had to pick dubbed or subbed when you bought the tape, and it was entirely possible that the track you wanted wouldn’t be available when you went to the store. An anime might sell out of like, volume 6 in sub or dub, and you had to wait literal years for the next reprinting.

It was a time when the medium was the message in a truly astounding way: when anime was competing for a small number of slots, for a small audience, and as a result, it was even more self-referential, trope-codifying and quietly impenetrable than you’d imagine. Right now, the main anime people know from this time, and I say ‘know’ in that they ‘kinda remember’ or ‘have watched some of,’ or think about it as a thing that’s important to ‘anime,’ is Evangelion or Pokemon, which you can definitely look at as two forking paths: one of mass-market popularity, and one of deliberately reflective genre awareness.

It’s one thing to be a leader. It’s another thing to be one of the first followers.

And it’s even more impressive to somehow follow both.

SPOILER WARNING: Uh, spoilers? Some? For stuff in the series that is why you should want to check this anime out?

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