Monday, August 14, 2017

Frustrated with the world

I spent a lot of time following the news on the events in Charlottesville, and things connected to it, and it sucks. White supremacists/Nazis are bad and I want them gone as much as anyone else. (Plus there's the tensions between this country and North Korea. Eeek.)

Right now I feel exhausted with it and I want to withdraw from the world for a while. Play video games and not have a care about the world, like I could do when I was very young.

I can't really enjoy myself, though. When I finally get some downtime, all I do is poke around on the Internet some more. Read more on peoples' reactions to all that's happened.

Also, a relative is being passive aggressive with me trying to get me to do self-improvement things. Even as I type this she's doing it, in the next room. Just makes me feel worse, and does nothing to help me want to do it.

Sorry. I know a lot of what I wrote up there is selfish. It's just a fraction of what's on my mind anyway. I'm not sure who to talk to about it.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

BNAA Case 3 is DONE

It took me six years, but I finished Case 3! You can read it here ( or here (Google Docs)!

Just one more case to write to truly finish the story ...

If you missed it, a year and a half before this post, I posted about this very story and linked the previous two cases here.

Hope you enjoy!

Friday, February 10, 2017

My ideal mobile phone

It doesn't happen often, but once in a while, I'll get into a discussion with someone else about things about our phones that suck, and what we'd look for in our next one. On a whim (and noticing I haven't written much lately), I figured I'd just list all the specs/features I'd want for my next phone, and why; hopefully this sparks some discussion!

I'd like to start, however, with what I already have: two Motorola phones. My daily driver is a Droid Turbo, and my previous DD was a Droid RAZR M, which I still have. (I have a handful other older and budget phones, but those were never DDs, so I'm ignoring them for now.) Respectively released at the end of 2014 and 2012, the Turbo is still going pretty strong and recently got an upgrade to Android 6.0.1; the RAZR M's final official OS is Android 4.4.2, and while I ran custom ROMs on it for a while (mainly CyanogenMod 12), I ultimately dropped back to the official 4.4.2 (with a patched kernel to address an audio bug) for stability's sake. Nonetheless, the RAZR M is showing its age, as the Google apps and services grow ever larger; free RAM is obviously scarce, and the older NAND flash just can't keep up with things like it was once expected to with a similar app loadout. But I still use the phone almost daily, for one reason: playing music. The RAZR M has a microSD slot, while the Turbo does not; consequently, I've loaded most of a card with music and have pushed almost all other duties exclusively to the Turbo.

Oh. My crystal ball tells me that you're thinking "too long, not reading". All right, fine, I'll move along.

So! My ideal phone.

  • Compared to the Turbo, I think shrinking the height and width slightly, while increasing thickness a tad, would allow for more effective one-handed operation (at least for my hands, obviously) while still potentially allowing for a 3500+ mAh battery.
  • A 720x1280 or 1080x1920 screen would be my ideal resolution. Anything greater than 1080p is just extra pixels that I'm not going to discern (there's barely any video content over 1080p and I'm not going to run games at their max graphical settings because that chugs battery power!) - plus it increases power consumption for little gain in daily use - and lower than 720p starts to enter "you can see the pixels without trying" territory - not that I mind seeing pixels, but it can be very distracting with various colors if the display is PenTile (see: the RAZR M) and makes small text harder to read. I'm not sure if I'd have the display tech be good ol' LCD, or OLED. OLED displays may have prettier colors and true blacks, but they degrade noticeably early on.
  • I'm torn between physical (or "physical") buttons over on-screen buttons - especially if the display would be OLED, since on-screen is just an extra spot for the burn-in effect to be noticed. I like the "physical" buttons on my Turbo overall, but it drives me a little nuts that they're forever stuck with the KitKat design and can't support adapting to context. On the other hand, they never vanish for Immersive Mode.
  • Direct OS support from Google, a la Nexus/Pixel. I'm sick to tears of the official firmware being years behind on my Verizon Moto phones, and Moto was pretty good about updates for a while! (I hate that I never got to use a Moto X or G before the company was absorbed by Lenovo.) I'd also like to see official support last for around five years - this is the one trait of Apple's devices that I envy iPhone users for (timely updates AND long-lasting OS support - at least, long by smartphone standards).
  • Android 7.0 or newer as the starting OS. A clean build with zero bloatware or carrier apps. Pure Google plus AOSP plus the necessary firmware/drivers.
  • A 3.5 mm analog headphone jack. No sale otherwise.
  • I know USB C is the future, but I kind of want to hang on to microUSB for just a little longer. I still have absolutely nothing that uses USB C, or even USB 3.0 (save for a couple of flash drives whose full potential I cannot use)! Plus I'd have to get an adapter for my dual-mode flash drives, and new OTG adapters, and ... ugh, I'll switch once USB C has proliferated a lot more, okay?
  • A microSD slot. I know it's a performance bottleneck, but I want to use one, mounted as a separate volume (i.e., as opposed to the new mode introduced in Android 6), filled with all of my music, some movies, and other content that's almost exclusively read, sequentially. The United States' mobile broadband has a long way to go before I'll even consider streaming as my primary means of consuming content. I will keep software on the internal storage, though - and with the increasing size of both the Google apps and many games, I think I'd want 64 GB as the minimum for internal NAND. Even 32 GB is just too cramped for me now.
  • Speaking of broadband, I'd really like full compatibility with all US carriers (and many carriers in other countries). Also, a pony, as long as I'm wishing. The current standard for LTE seems good enough that (on Verizon at least) I can make VoLTE calls almost anywhere I'd want to go.
  • 801.11 n/ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1 or newer, though I imagine this hardly merits mentioning. Throw in NFC even though I never use it.
  • A freely-unlockable bootloader, or an official service that makes it fairly easy to unlock. (I guess it goes without saying that it won't be sold through Verizon.) This plus direct OS support would likely make custom ROMs well-supported by homebrew devs/enthusiasts.
  • A low-energy chip that helps the phone always listen for hotwords, screen on or not, without doing more than barely sipping battery power. The Moto X had this; and I've had the equivalent feature enabled for a while on my Droid Turbo, which I believe has no such chip, and I love it. I can bark commands at my phone while it's charging before bed, which is super handy when I'm asked to remember (to get) something for tomorrow. (My memory sucks.) 
  • An easily-removable battery - and I'd be okay with making the phone a little chunky to accommodate a biggish one (say, 3000 mAh or a bit more). I think one of the biggest problems with smartphone batteries in general right now is that they're all different - if phone manufacturers and battery makers could collaborate in the name of improving the customer experience, I bet they could come up with "universal gumstick"-shaped rechargeables and multiple phones that would accept these, in a manner not unlike what we have/had for devices that accept AA and AAA alkaline batteries and their rechargeable replacements. (I imagine doing this could, potentially, improve overall quality control and reduce costs for manufacturers and customers, since there wouldn't be so damn many battery models to juggle!) All of this would make it possible to make removable batteries much more practical for all parties, since customers would stand a chance of finding replacement batteries for their device in good condition without resorting to sketchy "el cheapo" third party equivalents, which often become the only option for older phones as parts stop being made by the OEMs. Phones could therefore be made to last longer, especially since the year-to-year power increase has flattened for now and makes buying a new phone every year or two hardly worthwhile beyond having a fresh battery inside.
  • ... man, I went off on a tangent there, didn't I. Oh well. Probably a pipe dream anyway, considering how much phones and many standard PCs are clearly designed to be disposable these days ...
  • Specs! To start, I'd really like to see 4 GB of RAM, maybe even 6. It's a lot for a phone now, but give it a few years. Devs are going to keep targeting "MOAR POWER", just as devs for the PC market did and do. And in the meantime, it'd let me shuffle through multiple programs ("multitask") like a champ.
  • A recent SoC, but not the latest-and-greatest. ARM CPUs and GPUs for phones seem to have gotten to the point where they're plenty fast even if you want to push some serious computing and/or gaming. The problem is that they all get too hot too fast to do that at top speed for any meaningful length of time, and thus the quest for more speed is wasted. Instead, I'd want a SoC that's about a year old for the phone's time (say, the Snapdragon 820), but tweaked and revised to consume less battery power and stay cooler at the higher clock speeds - plus, put some heat pipes in the phone to dissipate the heat even further. Avoid thermal throttling for as long as possible - that's what I'd love to have seen with even an older SoC, like the Snapdragon 805 in my Turbo. SO MUCH potential is lost because we (or SoC makers, at least) are too damn busy chasing faster theoretical performance instead of trying to squeeze out more speed - and better efficiency - in real-world usage.
  • A really good rear camera. (I'm not picky about the front camera other than that (a) there is one and (b) it's good enough for video calls.) I'm real fuzzy on technical specs for these, but I heard the Nexus 6P's camera was pretty good, so something like that I guess? Optical Image Stabilization would be very appreciated, and I wouldn't mind a camera bump if it meant good focal range, focus accuracy, and a high quality sensor. (12 MP would easily be fine, 15+ seems insane to me unless you're using a DSLR.) RAW support in the stock photo app would be nice, too; I like the camera app on my Turbo for the most part, just wish it gave me more manual controls. Also, I wonder if anyone is working on cramming in an optical zoom ...?
  • I really don't like how my Turbo's SIM tray is behind the volume buttons; IMO it makes them feel flimsier, plus I can't press both volume buttons simultaneously which limits what combinations you can do. I think the SIM+microSD tray that a lot of phones use nowadays is pretty cool. You know, the one with the pinhole that has a button inside? Seems better overall; at least it's less stressful than the push-push spring-loaded slots in my RAZR M. One slip of the finger and my SIM or microSD would go flying out of that.
  • Whatever microphone setup my Turbo is using, I'd want to replicate that. Voice recordings with a good recording program (I like Sony's) at lossless quality sound superb.
  • GPS, accelerometer, gyroscope, lux, all the usual sensors.

I think that about covers it. If I forgot something, let me know and I'll add it in. If you made it this far (and didn't rapidly scroll down from the top to get here), thanks for sticking with me. Which details do you agree with? Which would you change? Sound off in the comments!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

I'm recording video games again.

Everyone and their mother is doing it, so I might as well rejoin the YouTube gaming community.

I'm preparing to do a for-fun race through Super Mario Bros. 3 against a friend, and I figured it might be neat to record the practice runs, as a test for recording the real thing (which we absolutely want to do). It's been a great learning experience so far, broadening my video production horizons and improving my skillset. Yesterday I bought a big strip of green fabric, so I can even utilize chroma key filters to add a face overlay, giving my recordings some extra polish.

Another game I've started recording is Donkey Kong Country 2, inspired after playing a Two-Player Contest run with a friend for a couple of hours. He'd never played 2 before that, so this doubles as a chance for him to look ahead at the levels from someone he knows.

The runs are here,and I'll be uploading one video daily (when I have a bunch ready) or ASAP after they're recorded (during a dry spell). I'll list the games I have in progress here and update this list as I go.

  • Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES) (Run completed!)
  • Donkey Kong Country 2 (SNES) (Run completed!)

Games I'm considering running:

  • Doom (PS1)
  • Frogger (PS1)
  • Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 (GB)
  • Bastion (Steam)
  • Dust: An Elysian Tail (Steam)
  • Space Grunts (Android)
  • PinOut (Android, hardware permitting)

Also, if you're new to recording video games, it's not particularly hard as long as you have some recent hardware, and it's possible to pay exactly nothing for the software.
For recording, I use OBS, which is available for Windows, macOS, and Linux but is currently buggy on Windows. I'm using Debian testing as my OS. Since I'm using emulators for the games, the only extra hardware I need is a webcam (which has a passable microphone) for video of me, and the green cloth to "green screen" that video feed.

Anyway, hope you enjoy the videos!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Nintendo Switch thoughts!

Man, the reveal of the NX - hereafter, the Nintendo Switch - was incredible. My mind is already racing with all the fun possibilities and I really hope that we get some more details soon!

But I have several thoughts I'd like to go ahead and write out. First, though: if you haven't watched the First Look video, do so now!

Done? Good.

Sooooo I'm hoping that the base will have a number of features that the tablets cannot, such as an optical drive (for backwards compatibility with Wii U software) and an included HDD (not just flash storage this time, please, Nintendo!), while keeping a respectable amount of flash storage on the tablet to hold a few downloaded titles (in addition to the cartridge, of course). Hopefully save files are always kept on the tablet, and/or automatically synced over the Internet.

I'm also hoping that there will be some sort of "starter box set" that includes the Switch as shown in the First Look, and standalone tablets (with a controller set) to accommodate additional family members. It'd also be great if the dock would allow any docked Switch tablet to use the software in the dock; maybe we could even "rent" downloadable titles from the dock?

I also really hope, if the Switch is designed to replace the Wii U and the 3DS family, that Nintendo makes a "mini" version of the tablet with the button controls built in (e.g., non-removable), so that we still have a pocketable portable system. If not, I guess we'll have to start hauling around our Switches in a tablet sleeve or book-sized carrying case once the 3DS family is phased out.

Speaking of which, I hope the battery life on the tablet is better than the 3DS family's - the OG 3DS in particular is painfully short in practice, even if you don't game that much. With my DS Lite, I can play in small bites and potentially not have to recharge the thing for over a week. (I wonder if the plane ride in the First Look is subtly addressing that question.)

I hope they keep - or even expand - the StreetPass and SpotPass features, too.

With all that said - I'm excited for this thing. I feel like my favorite feature (besides the natural benefits that come from the home and portable console being the same machine) is the fact that each "half" of the controller can be handed to a player for some simple, yet fun two-player (or even four, it seems) action! I'll be looking forward to having impromptu Mario Kart and Smash matches.

Have any of you thought of other wants/hopes for the Switch? By all means drop a comment below!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Short Thoughts on Fire Emblem: Awakening vs. Fates and emotional manipulation

I listened to some music from the soundtracks of Fire Emblem: Awakening and Fire Emblem: Fates a little while ago, and it occurred to me that while I look back (not that far, admittedly) on Awakening very fondly, I tend to feel a bit ... bitter when I think about Fates. The sentiment that usually comes to mind is based around a comment I saw on a gaming website: "'Fire Emblem: Pay For the Canon Ending'".

This got me thinking. For all the improvements we saw in Fates' gameplay features over Awakening, like the revised (read: less broken) Pair Up system and the multiplayer-friendly features like My Castle and actual PvP combat, the story (and some gimmicks related to it) feels like a step backwards.

Awakening, in my opinion, for the most part has a very generic-feeling story, but makes up for it with great characters (which the Support conversation scenes flesh out well) and decent pacing overall, save for the lull in the middle of the game. Meanwhile, Fates, in my opinion, tries too hard to make you feel for the characters, to get you invested in them and their struggle regardless of how naturally inclined you might be to do so.

I would go so far as to say that Fire Emblem: Fates is deliberately emotionally manipulative.

I mean, yeah, a lot of stories are to some degree, depending on your point of view. I don't think it's uncommon for a writer to stick in some sad lines or disastrous events to kick in the reader's empathy. But Fates hits the player hard and fast - most people will get to Chapter 5 within an hour or two, and we're treated to a fully-animated cutscene where a character very close to the protagonist - the player's Avatar - is killed by a sudden and brutal attack, courtesy of the Avatar's surrogate father, and the Avatar is filled with so much grief and rage that they transform into a dragon, right before kicking off Chapter 5's battle.

Awakening waits until Chapter 9 to pull its big death stunt (barring the opening cutscene, which carries different connotations because of the circumstances), which (as I remember) takes around 6-9 hours to arrive at, depending on difficulty. It gives you a lot more time to get emotionally invested in the characters and their plights. Plus, not every emotional moment is directly related to you, as the Avatar; the Avatar's role is more of a deuteragonist in this game (though it does shift a lot in the third act).

In contrast, every big scene in Fates is supposed to be tied to you (the Avatar) somehow. Your family from the house you sided against brand you a traitor. Your father of Nohr turned evil. Your mother dies. Your eldest siblings face you off near the climax.

On top of this, while Awakening gives what many consider to be a very satisfying ending, Fates leaves the player hanging if they play Birthright or Conquest.

All of this leads me to believe that Fates was written specifically to manipulate the player into feeling invested in the characters, so as to want a better resolution and pay for the other story paths. Indeed, the aforementioned "canon ending", Revelationcannot be played through without also buying Birthright and/or Conquest. You must spend $60 to $80 instead of the baseline $40, to get either a downloadable copy of Revelation's data or a physical cartridge with all three paths.

I don't know why Intelligent Systems went with this pricing path. Maybe they thought it was honestly clever. Maybe they knew they needed a way to give newcomers and old hands appropriate ways to enjoy the same world and wrote Revelation because they couldn't fit the necessary plot threads into the separate versions. I don't know. But what it feels like is that they tried out a different scheme to make some extra money that turned out to be just a little too transparent, and I'm less inclined to buy the next Fire Emblem as a result.

Friday, September 2, 2016

A tough question, or a brief story on how I started writing BNAA

All right, folks. Tough question time.

If you weren't aware, I have a bit of an interest in writing fiction. I don't write much (fiction or non-fiction) these days, but from time to time I come up with some ideas for a story that I /really/ want to put into words and share. My goal - at least, once I settled on one - was to come up with a story that appeals to me and carries emotional weight; ideally I'd like to come up with a situation that builds up to something where the reader bawls like they were at a Pixar movie, and then delivers something tense while it builds a climax and moves on to a heartwarming finale. Yeah, I know, cheesy, right? But my experience tells me that the stories that stay with you the most do something along those lines, as long as the execution's great and the story and/or characters are solid.

More on that later.

Around 2010, I came across a series of stories known as the Super Smash Bros. Brawl (SSBB) Case Files [link if I can find it], written by someone known as ShadowKnux. It was a crossover series of Smash and Ace Attorney, and it was written like a game script - in fact, originally, it was posted in a playable "audience follows along" form on a forum. Basically, Phoenix and Maya go around assorted Nintendo locales and solve murder mysteries, meeting characters from all sorts of Nintendo games (most of which were in Brawl), gathering evidence and testimony, and of course duking it out with Edgeworth in court to find the culprit and save an innocent client from being found guilty.

The story that stuck out in my mind the most was themed around Pokemon. Mewtwo took part in it, and he played a sort of mentor role to yet another accused - Ness - and was willing to sabotage his own defense to prevent Ness from being tried for murder. (Phoenix ends up saving them both, natch.) I really don't remember what the true inspiration was, but I liked the idea of Ace Attorney-style courtroom tales set in Pokemon locales with Pokemon characters - and decided to try my hand with writing a case, even doing it in the same script style that SSBB Case Files was using. I called it "Brendan Namron: Ace Attorney" after the title character, chosen because he was also the male player character from Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire, which were my favorite Pokemon games at the time.

The first case was ... pretty lame, to be honest, but it got my feet wet and I felt pretty good about it. I even shared it on a message board, and posted it there using the same "play along" style SSBBCF used. I also shared it with a good friend over ... was it IRC or Google Talk? and did more-or-less the same play-along thing. We had actually been doing that with SSBBCF - I would paste the text into the chat and he'd supply the answers when the "game" asked for one. I even made up press text when he pressed a statement that had no text from the original author, so it was good practice and probably contributed to my desire to write my own case. In both places, the story seemed to be met with positive responses - what few there were - and I felt encouraged to write a second case. I wanted to make it bigger, and I certainly wanted to make it better; the first case was completely amateurish and ridiculous in the way the trial played out, and mostly served as a warm-up. But I wrote an ending to it that was supposed to set up the theme - because I wanted to try and make a complete four-case story out of it, and now I was confident that I could do so.

Things kinda went downhill.

I had a good chunk of text written by the time I started posting the first case to the message board, but I was hungry for feedback and spent a lot of time posting it, and it didn't take long to catch up. After that, my momentum took a nosedive, and on top of that I wrote such a horrendously sloppy section that the board's admin called me out on it. (I scrapped it and rewrote most of that part, and the admin seemed to enjoy the new version.) I came to a near-complete halt when I hit the final trial, because I was struggling with a lot of things about it - not the least of which included how to lead-in to the final trial day, as well as how to *end the case*. (Endings really are hard.) I think I scrapped about a dozen versions of the lead-in before I allowed myself to continue.

I still mostly write sequentially. B cannot happen until A has, and consequently I have a lot of trouble planning. Which also means I mostly write by the seat of my pants, and other than some vague idea of what I want to convey or make happen, I don't know in advance what *will* happen. This usually makes for fun writing until I remember that I'm writing a /murder mystery/ - one that's supposed to be in the style of a solvable visual novel, at that - and *everything* has to make consistent sense or suspension of disbelief goes out the window.

So yeah, I think case 2 ended up taking me over a year to finish, and by then interest had died down greatly. Still, I wasn't giving up, so I set to work on case 3.

Except I had no idea what case 3 was going to be about for several months. I had no idea what the /overarching story/ was going to be about.

On top of that, I got this idea into my head that people just *really* hate reading script formats, and that that was probably why BNAA wasn't getting much feedback. So I eventually took it upon myself to write case 3 in prose, telling myself it would be good writing practice anyway.

I was still writing without much direction in mind, but as I tossed idea after idea, I started drifting to case 4 and what I wanted to do with that. I eventually settled on incorporating some tension between Brendan and his father, Norman, since many fan theories involving the Norman from the video games do the same thing. I went through a ton of tweaks on the idea, and currently I have a pretty good concept formed of how the relationship between Brendan and Norman is supposed to go throughout case 4 - kickstarted by a plot twist that I want to reveal right at the end of case 3.

... actually, wait, no. I did pick a murder mystery to go with for case 3, but I only had the "day of the crime" stuff nailed down and I just wanted to get something going. A scene not two far into the case's story involves a conversation between Phoenix and Brendan (Phoenix being one of Brendan's assistants) about his dad. Brendan sums up for Phoenix why he dislikes his father, and in this canon it's due to a misunderstanding over a competition victory.

Over the years, I took that and fleshed it out in my notes.

But I didn't flesh out case 3's mystery nearly as well. I wanted a Pokemon to be the murder - since it was a human in the first two cases - and I didn't want to scrap and start the case over because I'd already gotten a lot done and I didn't know how else to approach this - and starting over would almost certainly kill my momentum, I thought. I wanted to get something /out there/ before interest died completely, because to be honest, I crave feedback. Positive validation. Wooooo. (This is the part where I try to persuade you to leave a comment, but I guess I shouldn't bother.)

And I just. Kept. Getting. Stuck.

So as I write this, I've had this /one story/ in development for /six years/ and counting, and it's not looking like I can finish it any time soon. I don't know if I'll /ever/ finish it, despite currently sitting on the *last trial* of case 3, desperately trying to tie everything in the case together so I can move on to the damned plot twist and start *really* working on case 4, because *that's* the part of the story I really want to show everyone and the part where I've had so many ideas come and go it's ridiculous and I need to breathe. Inhale. Exhale.

So this is the question, folks. Hopefully some of the above made sense. Is it time to move on?

Case 3 has been fermenting for five years. Chances are case 4 will take about as long, no matter what I convince myself of otherwise. Somewhere along the line, I lost interest in actually *writing* the thing, even if I continued to have ideas for it and felt eager to show them to people. Indeed, I did try to show my notes to two people, and I got basially nothing in response. I don't know if they ever cared about BNAA, but they certainly don't seem to now. And why should they? It's clearly going nowhere, for starters, and if they want to get their Ace Attorney or Pokemon fix, they can just *play the games* and find stories of infinitely better quality than what I'm producing.

I tell myself I really want to finish this. I tell myself that I have too good an idea for a father-son relationship story to let it die. I tell myself that *someone* else wants to see how this thing ends, even if it's just one person.

I just don't know if I can write any more.