Making Things Makes Me Sad

Lately I’ve been finding the indie artists I see in my Spotify Discover Weekly playlist on Twitter and sending them DMs about how I enjoyed their songs. My trend towards empathy has been scaling upwards as I’ve gotten “””older””” and part of that has reflected itself in my thoughts on the process of creation. I can’t imagine what it’s like to make a song and posting it on Spotify, but I feel like it’s an extremely brave thing to do on such a saturated platform. I think the enthusiastic thanks I get in return for my DMs is a pretty good indicator that this is true.

I have mentioned now and again that I’m writing a novel about a bunch of gay kids with psychic powers. I said it’d come out in 2019, which is probably a mistake. I haven’t written for it in while. For once it’s not because I’m not sure what to write next — one of the perks of being on a second draft instead of a first, I guess. It’s actually because I’ve been pretty paralyzed at the idea of releasing the thing, just, you know, in general.

Anyone who tells you that you should just write for yourself is either a liar or already extremely famous. To act like your creations are not made with the intent of sharing them makes no sense to me. Obviously one should write for themselves in the sense that they create what they want to create…but creativity is a form of communication and expression. To that end, the idea of putting my all into this work only to have two or three people read it is enough to have me lie in bed and never get out of it.

I think my general lack of self-esteem does a good job of exacerbating this issue. You’re kind of expected to believe that everything you make is “good.” No one wants to hear about what you don’t like about your work — unless of course, you mention it after said work has become popular, in which case it’s seen as humbling. Hell, even writing this makes me feel like I’m being…hmm. Ungrateful? Which is a weird description, but pretty accurate, I think. It feels like I’m expected to just be happy with what I get when I finish this novel. But not addressing the fact that I want as many people as possible to read this stupid thing feels disingenuous.

I don’t know if The Freelancers will be great as I work on it. I don’t even know if it will be good. I don’t know if people will want to read it, or tell other people that they should read it. If creativity is a form of communication, lack of interest is a pretty good litmus test for quality, shallow as it sounds. I think this writing block has just been sitting here because I have to come to terms with the fact that the immense effort I put into making this book will not be met with much in return. I think that’s supposed to feel freeing, but for me it’s just depressing. Oops.

This is probably — well no, it is — the reason I’ve been writing so much fanfiction recently. The instant feedback you get from it is kind of addictive, I’m not going to lie. People know what Kingdom Hearts and Nier Automata are. The barrier of getting people to care about your characters and the world they inhabit is non-existent when it comes to fanfic, and all that’s left is for people to read what you wrote. That’s freeing, but it’s also not what I want, creatively.

A lot of this plays into how social media works, and vying for the attention and time of people with less and less of it. Most people don’t even read the most popular and critically acclaimed books that are coming out now. Why would they read this random thing that I’m writing? I don’t have a publisher. I don’t have much in the way of marketing skills. I am nobody, and I don’t see why I should continue to try.

Alright, PHEW, that all comes across as very depressing, which I don’t mean for it to be. It’s just been something I’ve been thinking about a lot. Hell I’m far from the only person who’s struggled with these thoughts. But I am struggling with them, so…regardless, I don’t plan on quitting any time soon, mostly out of stubbornness than anything else. I’ve come this far, all that’s left is finishing it, putting it behind me, and getting prepped for the next project. Because I think, regardless of how I feel about myself or my creations, I won’t be able to stop making things. It’s in my nature, as cheesy as that sounds. If you’ve stuck around this far, and you do plan on reading The Freelancers when it comes out, know that I’m extremely grateful. If you couldn’t tell, I’m kind of dying for validation here. Whoops!

Mint’s Smash Bros Moveset

Art by @bunnifuku on Twitter, check them out, they’re amazing!!

Well it’s a slow day at work and I’ve had this idea in my head for a while now, so I’m going to tell you about what Mint’s moveset would be if she were miraculously added to the Smash Bros Roster. There is no point to this post other than that it was fun to think about. Without further ado:

Overview

My idea for Mint’s moveset is based around two things she likes to do: skateboarding and music. She also streams, but I had no idea how to incorporate that into a set of abilities – maybe she’d shoot her harassment comments from Twitch at enemies, I dunno. The general gist is that Mint has two modes: Music Mode and Board Mode, that she switches between with her Down-Special.

Music Mode

Mint’s Music Mode is more long-ranged and slower than Board Mode. In this mode, Mint carries a microphone on a stand and uses it in her attacks like a bat or staff. Her smash attacks have long range because they shoot out musical staffs, but they don’t have as much launching power. Good for controlling the stage on the ground and hitting enemies from afar.

Special: Mint blasts a soundwave from her mic. The longer the button is held, the more damage and range the attack gives off.

Up-Special: Mint transforms into a set of musical notes that fly about. It’d have the same sort of control and speed as the bolt from Ness/Lucas’ PK Thunder, and would be invulnerable until the last few frames where she de-transforms. It doesn’t do damage.

Side-Special: Mint’s mic turns into a guitar, and she slides forward while strumming it, doing damage to anyone she passes. If the button is held, Mint stays in place while shredding the guitar, causing musical notes to shoot out in front of her.

Down-Special: Transformation. Takes about 55 frames to switch to Board Mode.

Board Mode

In Board Mode, Mint swaps out a mic for a skateboard. This mode is much more physical, and has great aerial movement, with Mint performing tricks in the air to do damage. Very good for racking up damage, before switching to Music Mode and finishing people off.

Special: Mint does donuts on her skateboard in one spot. The faster you tap the Special button, the faster she goes, before ending with a finisher that does extra damage. Has slow start-up.

Up-Special: Mint shoots upward on her skateboard. She can’t use the attack button, but if you rotate the movement stick, she’ll change the angle on her skateboard, doing damage to anyone that gets close.

Side-Special: A grind rail appears in front of Mint, which she hops onto with her skateboard. If you tap the attack button while grinding, she’ll spin, doing extra damage to anyone trying to approach her.

Down-Special: Transformation. Takes about 55 frames to switch to Music Mode.

Final Smash

Mint’s Final Smash changes depending on what mode she’s in. In Board Mode, she’ll smack you around with her skateboard at high-speed, Great Aether style. In Music Mode, she hops onto a stage and starts an impromptu concert, with the crowd that swarms in to watch damaging the enemies on screen.

Colors

Each palette would be based on other Vocaloids:

  1. Mint, Green
  2. Queen, Grey
  3. Hatsune Miku, Light Blue
  4. Megurine Luka, Pink
  5. Ren/Lin, Yellow
  6. Kaito, Dark Blue
  7. Meiko Sakine, Red
  8. Gumi, Green/Orange

And just speculating, she’d probably be Mid-Low Tier based on the movelist I’ve given her. One person would take her to Top 10 at EVO causing a surge in popularity before everyone drops her again. Board Mode would be used 80% of the time unless the Smash Ball is included, especially because Board Mode would have a very fast Down-Tilt spike with the board.

This will never happen obviously, but we should still get Miku in Smash Bros…preferably with the leek.

Alright, see y’all.


Alliance Alive

Oh Alliance Alive. I’m very sad that nobody played this game because Legend of Legacy was a doozy that probably warded people away. This is because it was bad, I mean that it was bad. It was hampered by obfuscated systems and the complete lack of a plot, and was a huge grind to get through. Did you know that some characters had secret affinities with certain weapons? Now you do!

Alliance Alive arrived to fix Legend of Legacy’s, well, Legacy. And wow does it do a fantastic job with that! There are so many aspects that got fixed that it’s less of a spiritual sequel and more of a spiritual redo.

So why do I love Alliance Alive so much? Let me count the ways:

A combat system that finally makes sense. Where Legend of Legacy had too many systems that didn’t make sense, Alliance Alive has a bunch of systems that are all laid bare in their entirety, while also easing up on the complexity. Everything is defined by formations and roles, no more secret systems to speak of. It harkens back to a nice little blend of Romance Saga and Final Fantasy II, speaking to the pedigree of the game considering its developers. It’s extremely addictive to set up a bunch of different formations to change your strategy up on the fly. Also the bump to five active party members instead of 3 is a huge improvement. Speaking of Party Members…

An Alliance with Soul. Your 9 party members, like, talk to each other! It’s wild! They have lines and a personality and everything! And they’re all really charming! I can’t remember their original names because you can name them whatever you want from the Status menu, but I’m particularly fond of the Daemon Fox lady and the young scientist girl. Their interactions are a lot of fun. There’s also a plot to speak of (written by the same person that wrote Suikoden II) and it’s actually pretty engaging, concerning a human uprising against the daemons that have them under their thumb. It’s not mind-blowing by any means, but there are enough mysteries to keep you enthralled.

The Alliance System. People have been saying that Ni No Kuni II is like Suikoden II, but when it comes to closeness, I’d say Alliance Alive hits that mark a lot closer. About 9 hours into the game you unlock the Alliance System, wherein you set up 5 Guilds on your giant Ark ship. You then recruit members for your Alliance in different areas and assign them to the different guilds, which increase their power and help you out. The way you recruit these people is part of the fun — one human with an obsession with wanting to become a daemon joined when I switched my active character exploring the map to one of my daemon characters and talked to him. Another joined after we kicked their butt in a fight. There’s an addictive “collect ’em all” quality to grabbing all these characters, and I’ve essentially put the main quest on hold to find them at the moment.

A World Map. For real! And rather than just running around, you get a cool little glider that you can use to strategically fly from place to place to access secret out of the way areas, like new spots to build Guild Towers and guild members to recruit. It’s very cool (although the game can lag a bit if you’re moving too fast).

QOL Stuff. You can save anywhere! If you need to backtrack, 9 times out of 10 the game will fast-travel you there if you want! All the stats are explained this time (I’m serious, Legend of Legacy was bad)! You can change character’s names! The enemies are all visible on the map! You can chain battles to expedite grinding, if you want to grind at all!

JRPG Nostalgia. I guess this all culminates to one single feeling I have about Alliance Alive: it actually pulls off that nostalgia for the SNES/PS1 era of JRPGs. Something about raiding a hot spring to save a bunch of talking frogs felt like peak Final Fantasy IX to me, and that’s very much a good thing. It even has secret party members! There’s no obnoxious fanservice, no tedious sidequests that feel like padding, and every system in the game makes sense to include, letting you put as much or as little time into it that you want (seriously, you can completely ignore that Alliance system if you want to). And it does all that without hewing so closely to those SNES/PS1 JRPGs that it doesn’t actually do anything interesting or new. It’s just a really good game that feels like it was made with love, in my humble opinion.

Now that Alliance Alive is getting ported to the Switch, give it a shot! It’s definitely the most slept on game of 2018, and I highly recommend it!


Hyper Light Drifter

I wanna preface the below with the understanding that I don’t think Hyper Light Drifter is a bad game. It is demonstrably not. Honestly, my standards are so low at this point that as long it’s not filled with gross loli shit or racist under/overtones, then your game is probably fine in my book. BUT HLD (or Hyper Lightmension Driftunia if ya nasty) has a lot of design decisions that I think are very interesting but that I found myself not agreeing with, enough that I’m making a whole blog-post about it.

For the unitiated HLD is a succesfully kickstarted top-down action-exploration game that is pretty hard to define in terms of its inspirations. It feels like it takes bits of everything from traditonal SNES JRPGs to Zelda to — and I’m sorry to say it — Dark Souls. It has no plot to speak of, really. Sure, you can speculate, but unlike Dark Souls, which has a plot you can piece together with some digging and a Vaati video or two, that’s pretty much impossible with HLD, because there’s not a single line of dialogue in the game outside of tutorials. We’re going to get back to this.

Hyper Light Drifter is beautiful. It’s one of the best looking 2D games I’ve ever played. Every pixel is lovingly crafted and purposeful. The fluidity of the animation as the Drifter cuts through enemies never stopped being engaging as I played through the game. Every setting is distinct in its aesthetic and carried a different variation of the overall melancholic tone that the game provides. The music is also fantastic, with brooding synths that sound like they came straight out of a Blade Runner film but without all the Asian fetishization.

Those are my highlights. But that said, moment-to-moment I found myself frustrated with Hyper Light Drifter.


What’s the Point?

Let’s get back to that part about HLD having next to zero plot. This can be fine as a design decision. Shadow of the Colossus has so little dialogue, it probably all fits on a double-sided 8.5 by 11 sheet. The problem is that even SotC has an easy to understand goal. Obfuscation doesn’t equal a compelling world to explore in. Dark Souls’ environmental design and even its inventory descriptions give you some idea of what’s going on and your place in its world.

HLD doesn’t have this in any way. Why are you going around killing these enemies? What is the village hub you go back to for upgrades? What are these skeletal titanic remains doing in the world? A little bit of mystique is great in getting the imagination going, but you can’t just stop there. There has to be some thread that players can go down to answer at least some of these questions, even if they’ll never be solved fully. It hearkens back to the unforgiving, hostile environments of a game like the NES Legend of Zelda, where everything is out to kill and you don’t really know why, but doggone you spent money on this cartridge and you’re going to finish it. It’s just not something I’m into personally. By the time I fought the last boss, I assumed I was supposed to feel something about the events that followed. But with no understanding of the stakes towards the conflict I had just been through, I just sort of…blanked out.

You Zig, I Zag

“But Mint,” you say with an exasperated sigh. “The plot is just window-dressing for the main focus, which is clearly the combat, you cheeky tart!”

Alright, fair, fair. And I will say that when all the pieces come together, HLD flows in a way that feels great.

Dancing through bullets, dodging past enemies before cutting them down with your sword can be exhilarating…in the right circumstances. But it takes a long time to get there. Combat is stilted and slow unless you upgrade yourself with a particular set of skills from the main hub of the game. It’s totally possible to miss these upgrades. The only reason I knew of them was that I spent a bit of time researching where best to put the upgrade points I had collected after finishing the first dungeon of the game.

The Chain Dash is a move so fundamental to the core of Driftunia’s design that I was baffled that it wasn’t immediately available in the Drifter’s tool-set — it was like having to level up for the block and dodge roll in the original Kingdom Hearts. The same can be said of the Dash Shield, which lets you move through energy shots with the right timing, and the Sword Deflection, which does exactly what it sounds like against enemy projectiles. The game became infinitely more fun after I built this toolkit, but I don’t feel it should have been “built” in the first place. Getting upgrade parts to improve your character is a staple of the action-exploration genre, I won’t argue that. But as I mentioned, with a myriad of upgrade choices to choose from, you might completely miss these skills. Couple this with a lack of i-frames, busy screen-effects, and some bosses that were more a chore than a challenge to fight through, and you have a game that is definitely mechanically sound, but not built with the sort of tempo I’m interested in when it comes to action games.

Image result for not my tempo
forgive me for this one, I recently rewatched Whiplash, heh…

Nooks and Crannies (and more Nooks)

And so we find ourselves in the third pillar of Hyper Light Drifter’s design: exploration. Again, I want to make it clear that I don’t think that any of what I’ve talked about up to this point is particularly bad. It’s just not for me. And this applies with HLD’s exploration as well. A lot of the game’s hidden areas are based on the old-school design philosophy of “bumping into all of the walls until you find a wall that’s not actually a wall.” As you get into the game proper, you’ll find yourself wondering if the forest of trees to your left is actually a game border or a spot that takes you to a new screen just out of reach, with goodies to peruse. I’ll admit that I sometimes felt pretty good about finding these spots, especially as they led to new beautiful areas and bits of currency that brought me one step closer to a new item. But by the end of the game, I was getting a bit tired of it all, bumping into one object after another and destroying every item in every room to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. Some of the secrets are pretty obvious. Others are so obtuse to reach that you’ll find them either out of sheer luck, or by checking a guide.

This isn’t as big a cardinal design sin as the inability to keep track of everything. You’ll find lots of areas that you’ll need to backtrack to after gaining a certain number of keys, and you have no real way of remembering them unless you make a note outside the game, or, again, keep a guide handy. I unlocked two monoliths. How many are there in total? No idea. I didn’t feel any incentive to explore much outside of the critical path because I knew I’d forget where everything was and had no idea how much progress I was making for the extra stuff.


I guess the general thesis I’m making after writing all this is that HLD really wants you to care — about its characters, its world, and its mechanical systems — but doesn’t do enough for it to earn that care. It’s simultaneously aloof and open, wanting you to dive into everything it has to offer but not really giving you a reason — or even, depending on your prior preparation or luck, the tools to do so. I didn’t hate my time with Hyper Light Drifter. But I didn’t love it either. I didn’t feel much of anything, and I think that’s a shame, because it’s a game that, with a bit more time, is definitely something I could see myself loving.