Wednesday, March 21, 2018

We've Hit Peak Facebook

The good news is that Facebook is getting sued by its own investors, governments in the U.S. and EU are conducting multiple investigations and probes, and its own users are pissed at their privacy being breached. The even better news is that Mark Zuckerburg is handling it in all the wrong ways. We've hit peak Facebook.

And yet, that already happened before this slow-building fiasco took place.

Facebook as a platform has been losing more and more value as the company struggles to find anywhere and everywhere to place ads. The advertising model is slowly dying because people hate ads themselves. Intrinsically. They just suck. Ads on Facebook are saturated, and many big companies are pulling back their own spending and questioning the ROI. This means even worse things for the little guy. The reason Facebook wants to get into video as badly as it does, is because pre-roll ads on Facebook is the last frontier for growth.

What happened, and why does anything in the previous paragraph matter?

Because building your home on someone else's property is a bad idea.

I mentioned this at the end of last December, and it's proving true even three months into 2018. YouTube has no idea how to conduct itself, Facebook has destroyed small businesses on their platform, and Twitter can't destroy anymore bots without revealing they've been running on negative growth for several quarters now. Your digital real estate matters, and any reliance on a single platform runs into trouble when that basket is rocked.

This year is the year for people to take back ownership, or they'll be left on an over-valued island that is slowly sinking due to more and more ads dragging it down.

Of course, I say this as someone running his website on Blogger. A fair point, and even Google isn't afraid to dig deep into its inner YouTube and terminate someone without even a notice. But Blogger is a fine, if under-powered website builder, sword of Damocles aside. I save money on domain linking and HTTPS encryption, and the website is easy to use and customize. There's always WordPress (.org and .com), Squarespace, Wix, and plenty of others.

My website is my property, with quarterly reminders planned to back up my posts in case anything were to happen to them. This is the problem with using a website like Medium to blog. Yes, it has its own type of discoverability, but its also not completely under the user's control. Blogger, like many of these sites, it variable levels of control given up for convenience. The fairness of that trade off is up to the user to decide.

In the world of books, there is a reason why authors are flocking to service like BookFunnel to help sell direct to a reader on their website. Going a step bigger, it's the same reason why Target and Walmart are not choosing to slim down their store size, and instead using their stores as fulfillment centers for online orders. It's about establishing a direction relationship between creation and consumer.

And the world of online used to be this way, just a decade ago. The 2000s is characterized by the webcomic. Lots of people monetized their weekly comic strips through Google Adsense or other means. Don't forget, that was a winning strategy!

The dream was merch and ads, and then it became just ads, then ads and Patreon, and then just Patreon, and oh no, Patreon is sticking their hands in everyone's wallets! Stop! Bad Patreon! Get out of here you venomous snakes, and stop trying to nickel and dime everyone obscurity.

Really, it's a recent phenomenon for people to use platforms to host their goods. Facebook and Google made it easy and the terms sweet. Like how some bands chose a Myspace page instead of a website, so did small businesses choose Facebook pages. In both cases, the user was screwed. One look at seeing brands and retailers today shows that digital real estate ownership matters.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


At 3:30 in the morning, my shoulders and arms shot with pain. A reminder that several months ago someone rammed their car into mine in a head-on collision.

Even today, parts of my body hurt in interesting and unexpected ways. This week I can't wear a watch. When the accident happened, I saw the headlights coming towards me and I braced the steering wheel. The pain flares on and off. I have a Garmin fitness band that weighs even less, but I still can't wear it.

If I can't wear a watch, I can't write. That's not a complete loss. I've discussed here and on social media that life changes and so do we. A large part of my time and energy has been focused on medicine, and even then 2017 saw the release of Rivalry, The Hunt, Fragile Nights, and Frost. Not a bad haul if I do say so myself.

My work ethic means I at least finish several projects every year. 2018 will be no exception. An actual release date for Phantom Lights and the Wildstar: Forever Wanderers Omnibus is due soon. They're fun. This is fun. Writing is fun. Yet health comes first. Life comes first. And that's fine.

Don't let mental anxieties change that prioritization. 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Book Updates

An update on my production line, due to the fact I generally don't announce or talk about anything until it's good and ready. This list is split between Announced and Unannounced projects. Since I'm superstitious of talking about books, they are all given PROJECT names, unless they are sequels.

Announced Titles:

Phantom Lights MANUSCRIPT - 90% complete.

Wildstar: Forever Wanderers Omnibus - 60% complete. (Note: W:FW is a compilation of all current Wildstar stories. The last title to be added is Phantom Lights. I will be going back and making some tweaks to Led Astray, Knighthood, Dead Hunt, and Rivalry based on feedback from reviews. These changes will be minor, more or less making it easier to distinguish dialogue between characters.)

Unannounced Titles:

Wildstar Book 2 OUTLINE - 15% complete. (Originally, the outline was 70% complete, but that version was scrapped. This new take will be completed much faster than before.)

Wildstar Book 3 OUTLINE - 20% complete.

Fragile Nights Sequel OUTLINE - 3% complete. (This one isn't being rushed. Expect a long development.)

PROJECT: Stitches MANUSCRIPT - 30% complete.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Review: Romancing SaGa 2

Romancing SaGa 2
Platforms: iOS, Android, Steam, Windows 10 Store, PlayStation Vita.
Publisher: Square-Enix
Developer: Square-Enix, ArtePiazza

SaGa is not your typical JRPG. SaGa looks and plays like a JRPG, but it's anything but. It has a very peculiar vision of what an RPG is. The series is obtuse in the best and worst ways.

Square-Enix has many franchises, but the SaGa series is their experimental line. Nonlinearity and branching choices are series hallmarks, and Romancing SaGa 2 has a lot going on under the hood.

SaGa wants to be replayed, it wants every person's playthrough to be unique and personalized. At the same time, it wants everyone's path to be a valid path. Want to create a team of magic users? Go for it. All swords? That can work. Rapiers only? Groovy.

Romancing SaGa 2 follows a family line throughout the centuries battling the seven legendary heroes. The player chooses an emperor or empress at the start screen, and the game begins at the start of their lineage. Each generation will advance the kingdom, opening new spells, equipment, and techniques.

Gameplay follows a straightforward path. Every generation skip you can pick from several heirs, and within that generation several scenarios appear. They can be tackled in any order the player wants, but once several of them are completed, a

As each emperor dies, all their experience inherited by the next emperor. So don't worry about dying.  It's not a game over, but a retry. Think of something like the Souls series, and you'll understand the gameplay loop SaGa goes for.

This remake of Romancing SaGa 2 brings HD visuals from backgrounds to sprites. Luckily, Romancing SaGa 2 avoided the RPG Maker look some of the mobile Final Fantasy remakes have been given. Side-by-side comparisons show an accurate likeness to the original. Even in full screen, the pixels hold up clear.

Note: Initially, the Steam version was just an Android port, complete with the on-screen buttons still there. A patch has come out that removes those buttons while also having labeled controller support on the menus. If you go on Steam, you'll see a lot of negative reviews about these things when they were present.

In addition to the revamped visuals, new dungeons, extra classes, New Game +, and a new scenario are all featured in this game. Now, will the game tell you how these systems work? No. Not at all.

A lot of people play up the difficulty of the SaGa games. This is a bad way to describe them. SaGa games are hard. They'll absolutely throw a mega boss on an under-leveled party, but every encounter has options. This requires a different mindset. Abilities are learned through Sparking, which means a light bulb appears over their head through RNG. The more swords they swing, the more likely they'll spark a sword ability. The more bows they use, the more bow abilities they'll have. Stats also increase in this manner.

This RNG helps promote an individual's style of playing. Whatever you choose, your characters will improve and get better. A typical JRPG is about grinding until your party's numbers until they are bigger than the enemies numbers. Battles in Romancing SaGa 2 resemble more puzzles than anything else.

The scariest part for new players is the fear of grinding. SaGa uses a global encounter meter, which means the more fights the player is involved in, the more difficult all enemies become. This plays more like a tightrope act, where if the player grinds too much, the general monsters will be difficult, but if they grind too little, the bosses will be too strong to overcome. Grinding is just a habit in RPGs that has become the standard. After every battle, every single character will return to full health. If they reach zero health, they lose one Life Point from the number that they have. Once all Life Points are gone, permanent death.

This sounds like a scarier mechanic than it is. Emperors inherit everything from the previous generation, so there is no real loss, and party members can always be recruited again. The generation skip means you'll always be going through party members, which means your party will should always be topped up on LP.

Scenarios and castle management also play a large role in how the game will play out. Branching events will alter the gameplay experience. Choosing certain quests may mean the next dungeon is easier, but at the cost of something else. Certain events don't trigger unless you build up the correct resources in your castle. Certain bosses change based on how many encounters the party has faced. Some bosses will appear based on sheer luck.

Due to the number of scenarios and knowledge about them, this means there isn't any true way to play. A game like Persona is built around min/maxing a schedule of school work, studying, sidequests, and grinding in dungeons, but SaGa does not. Party member formation, building the Magic research Facility, making the correct friends, these are all variations to the quest at large. Play, lose, learn, repeat.

My verdict for Romancing SaGa 2 on Steam is a high recommendation, with the knowledge that this is a SaGa game. Even in 2017, a remake of a SNES game feels fresh, which is a testament to Akitoshi Kawazu's insane vision. There isn't another RPG like this. A real one-of-a-kind. The ability to play with a controller is a good reason to choose the PC version over the mobile version. If you love old school RPGs with high difficulty and can look past the port job, Romancing SaGa 2 will give you an experience you didn't know existed.

This wouldn't be a SaGa game if the mechanics weren't obtuse. Here I'll give you some tips and tricks to make your experience a little more comfortable.

Don't grind. SaGa games don't like grinding. There is a reason they completely heal you after every battle. Forward momentum is key! Every fight is supposed to be about resource management and a little bit of RNG. Don't worry if you don't feel in control. Hidden stats make sure you don't fall into unwinnable situations. Save scum if scared.

Sitting on the throne is how you build your empire. Sit often and see what you can make.

Stop running into battles! When you run into battle, your formation breaks. If you're using a certain formation to keep your glass cannons in the back, you'll find that the battle starts in you in a free-for-all formation. Take care of your surroundings and run when you have to run. If enemies are close, slow down before you engage.

Sparking. You don't have levels, and levels don't matter. All that matters is the light bulb above your head. The light bulb takes place when a character learns a new skill. Learning anything has a little bit of RNG, so you never know when a spark is going to happen. The probability of a spark taking place increases as you encounter a tough enemy. If all you do is grind low level enemies, your probability to spark drops. Again, don't grind.

LP means life! There are a few rare items that will restore LP to characters.

If characters tell you they're good at one thing, that's what they're good at. Many of the scenarios allow access to new classes, such as martial artist, pirate, ninja, thief, so don't be afraid to experiment with new characters using new formations.

Building new areas or researching new weapons and armor will be based off number of battles fought. Grind a couple of battle out and see if progress is completed. Another hint, make sure to check on your Orchid often, so the tree will grow and kingdom revenue will increase.

Magic doesn't spark like skills do. Instead, use of magic at least once per battle will level up that element. Once a "global" level of magic reaches 15 in each element, go to the Magic Research Facility that must be built and learn new magic. The global level is the cumulative levels all party member add, so even previous generation increase this number.