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Platform Tour v1.0.4 with WAVs (VB.NET 2003) 452 MB Windows XP, Vista, 7 Uses DirectX 9 RAM usage: 80MB Project Page
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Power II: The Island Demo (VB.NET 2003) 3.41 MB Windows XP, Vista, 7 Uses DirectX 9 RAM usage: 40MB Project Page
Blocks: Extended Renderer Version (VB.NET 2003)137 KB Windows XP, Vista, 7 No DirectX RAM usage: 20MB Project Page
Quadrill v1.1.2 (VB.NET 2003) 1.57 MB Windows XP, Vista, 7 Uses DirectX 9 RAM usage: 70MB Project Page
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Quadrill v3.1.1 (VB.NET 2003) 1.17 MB Windows XP, Vista, 7 Uses DirectX 9 RAM usage: 120MB Project Page
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Quadrill 4 Full (VB6) 4.52 MB Windows XP Uses DirectX 7 RAM usage: 80MB Project Page
Quadrill 4 Demo (VB6) 1.41 MB Windows XP Uses DirectX 7 RAM usage: 80MB Project Page
Jump-Cross (VB.NET 2003) 109 KB Windows XP, Vista, 7 No DirectX RAM usage: 20MB Project Page
Quadrill 3 full version (VB6) 530 KB Windows XP Uses DirectX 7 RAM usage: 50MB Project Page
Quadrill 3 map editor. (VB6), 200 KB
Syntax Highlighter (VB.NET 2003), 23 KB
Guide on How to Use the .NET programs on my website.

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Iceplug News

Jan 25, 2023, 00:14
My First Playthrough of Stellaris
During the most recent Steam Winter Sale, I saw a game called Stellaris for sale for $6. Since I had played a lot of Civilization V over the past year and Civilization V is billed as a "4X game", I figured I would give another 4X game a whirl. Unlike Civ V, Stellaris is mostly based on building a winning space empire rather than a terrestrial game, so there's no odd (but fun) historical idiosyncrasies to deal with (I'm talking about getting a really good Civ V build so much so that you end up discovering things like Nuclear Fusion in the 18th century). In addition, Stellaris can really just make things up wholecloth and I'm just along for the ride.

The game starts up where you can pick an empire and the differences are already evident. Naturally, I pick the "United Nations of Earth" since that's the only space empire that I would know of! I really don't even pay attention to any of the other options because I've never lived on any of their worlds.
The next screen is a smorgasbord of options that I have no possible way of understanding unless I've already played... with the exception of two: Difficulty and Ironman mode. The difficulty meter appears to start off at the 4th of 7 levels of difficulty (Civ V does this as well, except there are eight levels of difficulty, but you do still start off on the 4th one). I would much rather win my first game, so I slide the difficulty back to the 2nd level of difficulty, figuring that this will at least give me a bit of a challenge but that I should still be able to win. The Ironman option simply prevents you from making your own saves and that the game doesn't let you roll back any decision, with the bonus that you'll get achievements in this mode. Since I'm a sucker for Steam achievements, I throw this option on with almost no hesitation. Now, let's start the game!

In the actual game, you get plopped out onto a model of the solar system with our sun, Sol, in the center. You've got all of our planets and you even have Pluto and Haumea. Sadly, no Orcus, Quaoar, or undiscovered Planet IX, but that's fine. Some of these planets have what appears to be game entities around them; on further inspection, they're mining/research stations, producing empire goods. Then you also have Earth, which can be clicked on to produce another completely intimidating display. What do any of these options mean?

This is a good enough time to mention that there are tutorial options at the start: you can get the "Full Tutorial", which I just basically slammed the button for and didn't look at the other options. You essentially get slammed with a bunch of prompts for what research to engage in as well as ship commands. After a few minutes of being bewildered, I find the Situation Log guiding me to move my "science ship" to an adjacent star system. There's also some prompts for research which I get to select options for as well before I start the simulation. To note: the game runs like an interactive simulation environment where you can pause or run at one of a few speeds. I opt to run the game at "Normal" speed (for maximum immersion, perhaps) when not doing tutorial errands. The game can be paused while you make any number of decisions and commands before anything happens, so I set my science ship and assign research then start the simulation after about 20 minutes of faffing about in the game. During this faff time, I'm noticing that you move the viewport around by slamming the mouse cursor against the screen edge, which is not how it is in Civ V, and this means that the screen scrolls at some fixed speed, albeit based on how much it's zoomed in. You can also change the camera pitch and look at the solar system from above and below. This is almost certainly just aesthetics, but sure. You can click on the Sun and get useful (?) information about it (spoilers: it's not) and you can just zoom in and "hear" the Sun as well (also not necessary, but whatever).
More important than all of that is research. Unlike Civ V, there are three types of research: Physics, Society, and Engineering. You do research in these three eras just like normal research in Civ; when there is no research to be done, select one of the three options for the next thing to research. At this point, I'm looking for a tech tree; there is no tech tree, but I didn't know this at this point, so I'm just expecting that I'll eventually find it every time I select new research.

Anyway, my "science ship" is sent to survey Alpha Centauri, which we can now reach because we've apparently discovered Hyperlanes, which turn the galaxy into a giant graph and that interstellar travel is seemingly restricted to these lanes. We explore Alpha Centauri and get some nice stories about how much we've dreamed about visiting it and Proxima Centauri, which is nice, but of course makes me wonder that we've discovered Hyperlanes, but never tested them with unmanned probes? I guess we're just not going to think about that too much. There are also some anomalies that we find out while surveying, but I'll talk about those later. Anyway, Alpha Centauri gets surveyed and we plop a starbase on it to claim it so that we can harvest minerals. My next star that I see is Barnard's Star and I'm nerding out a little bit because I remember it. So we once again survey it, put a starbase on it, and start harvesting materials.
Anomalies happen during surveying and it seems like most of them just turn into extra materials (or, in some cases, research) to harvest. Occasionally, some of them mention the First League, a bunch of spacefarers that apparently were in space a million years before we were. I laugh a little bit to myself because I'm not convinced of the existence of spacefarers that have survived in space but have all kind of died out without visiting Earth and leaving just ruins and some artifacts behind. Nevertheless, there's a quest in the Situation Log for finding six artifacts from the First League.
There's a planet in Alpha Centauri that we can live on, so I'm directed to build a colony ship to live on it. It takes awhile to build the colony ship and another while to actually colonize the planet once the colony ship lands on it. Eventually, the colony lands on "Alpha Centauri Prime", and I get another look at that completely absurd planet interface menu. Again, not understanding what the options are, I build one of each of the five districts: City, Industry, Generator, Mining, and Agriculture. There's a different set of slots, so I build a research lab. At this point, my goal is just to prioritize research, because that usually works out for me in Civ V.
There's also a second planet in Alpha Centauri that can be "terraformed" so that we can live on it. This is, of course, a massive personal goal for me for some reason: at some point, we can research how to terraform planets. I'm keeping an eye out for it whenever I choose what to research since I still can't find the tech tree that doesn't exist.
I also discovered the Victory tab, announcing that an unknown empire will win the game on January 1st, 2500. This ranking is entirely based on score, so add that to the list of things to worry about later.

After surveying the two star systems that I know of (Alpha Centauri and Barnard's Star), I'm looking at these other star names and saying to myself, "What are these star systems? They don't sound familiar." Of course, I'm talking about none other than the famous star system "Dwumgar" and "Atausnyria"... you can tell how famous they are by how many Google hits you find for each. I'm thinking that they're new names for some of the more algorithmic star names that you'll find for a lot of stars. Back on topic, I was reluctant to explore and claim these systems because each star claimed was costing a resource known as "Influence" and it wasn't clear where this resource is coming from. Nevertheless, I went ahead and claimed them. I found a world with a "primitive" life form on it: the population had recently reached the atomic age but hadn't yet reached our level of space travel. Our option was to just place an observation post over the planet and get some research points: specifically Society Research points.
Next to Dwumgar, I find the star system "Procyon" and since it's a familiar name to me, I survey it. There's another planet to live on, so it gets colonized. Interestingly, after a few stars later, I find Sirius many hops away (I'm referring to Hyperlane traversal as hops from now on; if my interpretation of this connected star system like a graph from computer networking is bothering you, then sorry but not sorry). Sirius has another habitable planet that will get colonized. I'm thinking to myself at this point that "habitable" is such an obnoxious word to say out loud. Naturally, this leads to me vocally saying, "a habitabitable planet" every time I see it.
An anomaly in another inspirationally named star system gets me a new ship to add to my combat fleet, which I've realized that I've completely neglected... but at this point, there's nothing to fight, so I'm getting a bit leery on how my fleet should be looking. I'm noting that Civ V has barbarians that at least introduce you to combat pretty consistently; Stellaris doesn't appear to have any such system. I will eventually discover that it does.

After claiming another star system that was unremarkable but close to home, I'm informed that contact has been made with another spacefaring empire. Of course, there's a whole procedure for how you learn to talk with these empires and I'm noting that in Civ V, you just kind of start speaking with other empires no problem despite the fact that you clearly wouldn't be able to understand one another. In Stellaris, an envoy has to be assigned to decipher their language and eventually, you learn their language and their identity. We meet the "Tendra-Zuhn" empire. They're all mushrooms with eyes and are very happy to see us. It specifically says that they're "Fungoid", so I don't question it... but they look kind of lions with manes, but they have flat faces. We're just going to be very nice to them and see what comes of our relationship. I'm also just assuming that because the difficulty is pretty low, I should just expect other space empires to just play nice and not rock the boat.
Now, unlike Civ V, where you basically end up having to research ways to be nice to other empires, you can kind of just dive in. The Tendra-Zuhn waste very little time volunteering to set up embassies, open borders, research agreements, defensive treaties, and non-aggression pacts. I just accept all of these. Later on, I discover that each of these lowers the rate at which I receive the resource known as "Influence", and then discover that "Influence" growth rate isn't produced from anything and is just always there. The rate is then lowered by going into agreements and such with other empires.

Anyway, I then elect to spend my Influence a bit more aggressively and claim star systems away from where the Tendra-Zuhn have claims, claiming more of these unknown star systems. The great part about writing this is that I can learn that some of these star systems definitely have more sci-fi lore than others. The Alpha Hydri star system hosts some exotic gases, which is a new resource that we have none of, but probably will have a future use. Then we find the Kiram and Braddam star systems. I chuckle everytime I say "Braddam"; I don't know why, but I just like the name. Just past Kiram, we find a black hole named "Gathri Maelstrom". I'm wondering who Gathri is and why he decided to name a black hole as a "Maelstrom". Nevertheless, we can get some Engineering research by studying the black hole. It's also a dead-end, so we can't go any further.

At this point, I'm noting that the only place left to develop is past Sirius. We find an archaeological dig on a satellite in the Poligar system; aside from that, the star systems past this point seem pretty lackluster in the resource harvesting department or the "habitabitable planets" department. Nevertheless, we slowly claim each of these systems in hopes that this is the right option. Eventually, we make contact with another space empire over past the "Theta Scorpii" and the "Berehynia" star system: the Imperium of Rothak. This empire is just upset from the start, immediately closing off its borders and basically doing the opposite of what the Tendra-Zuhn were doing. I notice that they are also claiming star systems in my direction, and Berehynia is quite a few hops away from Sol, so I don't develop out this way much further. Instead, I claim other systems nearby and get in touch with another empire...

Here, we discover the Commonwealth of Man; allegedly, some humans have left Earth many years ago and colonized a planet and somehow we both figured out hyperplane travel roughly at the same time? (Again, I'm not gonna question it... I'm just questioning it a little bit, okay?) They, interestingly enough, also close their borders, despite us not even being next to each other. So, there's nowhere left to claim; guess I'll just take advantage of the open borders of the Tendra-Zuhn and see what else is there.

So, there are a few hostile entities of low importance: some mining drones that others seem to be avoiding, a bunch of space whales, and some sentient gas clouds. There are some more black holes, some pulsars, and some neutron stars. I'm disappointed by how few brown dwarves there are in the game. There are also some more interesting star names: Arrakis (which I believe is the planet and not the star), Tybby, Uchxyke (looks impossible to pronounce and then realized I probably shouldn't be pronouncing it anyway), Ciue (not Clue), and then Lane, which is in a dead-end deep in a nebula. A little later we find Bellatrix, which is a star that has a "Tomb World" on it, which is apparently a planet that is deep in a nuclear winter or something similar. I'm wondering what the point would be of colonizing this system. I was not prepared for the star next to it though...

The next star to Bellatrix is Sol. I obviously didn't read it closely the first time, or I registered it as Soi (like Ciue, from earlier). I was confused getting the notification that Sol was surveyed and wondering aloud why I was surveying a system that I already owned. Zooming in, it looks identical to our Sol. The planets are even named Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, etc. Then there's Earth... except Earth is a Tomb World. I chuckle a little bit and say, "Nice social commentary", and then move on the next planet.
Anyway, after surveying some of these planets, the Galactic Community gets founded and suddenly, we learn of the existence of nearly every empire in the game. They're too numerous to mention here, but I will mention: the United Ozkox Alliance is the largest of them and they're not very friendly, and Qopinjaxian Empire, a bunch of slugs that are also friendly but militaristic. The victory screen is revisited and then I realize that I'm in 8th place; the Ozkox which are, by far, the largest empire discovered thus far is only in 3rd place. I'm confused at this point; there are two empires larger than the largest one thus far that are not in the Galactic community and one of them is poised to win the game.

At some point, the Imperium of Rothak decides that they want to "humiliate" me (so that they can get more influence), so they wage war. I haven't at this point paid hardly any attention to my ships except for one pirate fleet that spawned near Barnard's Star, so this war goes poorly. "Help, I'm humiliated", as my ships get destroyed by the 3K fleet power that the Imperium of Rothak sends at me.
Having experienced defeat in war, I take some time to understand the combat in this game. The combat lies somewhere between Yu-Gi-Oh combat (where you win if your numbers are higher than theirs, and your number doesn't change after battle) and Civ V combat (where your numbers get a little lower after combat if you win). You just need to have larger numbers than theirs if you want to win; my path to winning is that we're going to open three shipyards in the Berehynia station (which is near the Imperium of Rothak) and just pump out ships until I reach the empire cap. One of the obnoxious things is that if there is a fleet near the station when the ships are built, these ships get added to that fleet; otherwise, they make a new fleet. I'm looking around desperately for an option that will merge two fleets into one, but I can't find it. I neglected to mention a while back that part of the tutorial was to design a new ship. The tutorial just kind of beckons me to the ship design screen and leaves me there without a clue as to what I'm doing in it or what point there was to design a new ship. The ships I designed never seemed to be eligible for upgrades, so they end up getting outclassed but still contributing to my fleet. Unfortunately, these unupgradable ships were everywhere and part of every fleet, so I figured that they'll probably just get destroyed in some skirmish and we can upgrade them later. Regardless, this is one of those situations where the tutorial needed a little bit more focus. (The tutorial also didn't get me ready for war either; merely telling me about what the point of war was.)

Also, to prepare for war, I wanted to make a Federation. There is a system in this game where your planets produce a resource called "Unity", which unlocks things very similar to cultural policies in Civ V. The catch is that you can only fill out seven cultural policy trees. Federations are in one of the policy trees (the Diplomacy tree); I'm bemused as to why a seemingly important function is unlocked like a cultural policy and not something that you can just invest into independently. Nevertheless, I end up becoming eligible to creating a Federation. I want to make one with my favorite mushrooms, the Tendra-Zuhn, but apparently, they're somehow still at war with the Imperium of Rothak and you can't make a Federation with an empire that is at war, so I roll my eyes vigorously and continue plodding along.
Another obnoxious thing that Stellaris has is a cap to most of your resources. These can be sold for money (energy credits), but that also has a cap, as well, but you can then buy things like alloys to make ships and other special resources like exotic gases. There's also a cap on influence, for whatever reason, and if you're not building starbases, the only other thing to do is put claims on other empires territory. Now, there WAS a tutorial screen that describes what claims do; however, the other obnoxious thing that the tutorial does is gives you information on the screen with a single button that dismisses the dialog for the rest of the game ("Don't show this message again"). This is, of course, profoundly unhelpful if you opened the window accidentally. Most of the items in the resource list open up the market, but the Influence resource opens up the claims menu. Having no idea what I'm doing, I place some claims on four stars in the Imperium of Rothak territory; one star includes a habitable planet that Rothak has not colonized. Nothing appears to happen after making these claims, so I frustratedly open and close the claims window... which always helps!
The only other thing to do at this point is to send my science ships further back into Tendra-Zuhn territory and pass through the Qopinjaxian territory to see what other weird planets there are. Here, I encounter the "Tumbatoran Ancients", a small empire next to the Qopinjaxian Empire. They're incredibly friendly and open their borders to me immediately. This is, of course, followed by getting a look at their fleet with 383,000 strength! For reference, my fleet that I'm building up is at around 6,000 at this point; 383,000 is such an absurdly large number that I'm just registering them as someone to leave to their own devices. A quick glance at the victory screen shows the Tumbatoran Ancients are in 2nd place... which means that there's another empire just like them somewhere in the galaxy, but a little bit stronger! Maybe if we avoid fighting them, then this game will be easy. However, their score absolutely dwarfs the United Ozkoxen, meaning that they either need to die, or I need to really find a way to ramp up my score. Part of the score is economics, so the plan is to just increase trade value and hope that that works.
One of my admirals wants to do a fleet exercise next to the borders of the Imperium of Rothak that might upset them but give us some influence. I, having no idea what to do with my influence, think that this is a bad idea, but it should be fun, so... of course, I say yes. No war broke out and everything was fine!

My science ship continues exploring unclaimed space between the Ozkox, Qopinjaxian, and Tumbatoran areas, and finds a wormhole. Of course, we can't go through wormholes unless we research them, so that's our next goal. I mentioned earlier that terraforming was one of my earlier goals. I found the terraforming tech and researched it earlier, but after getting it, I couldn't actually terraform any planets until I had the "Climate Restoration" tech. I thought that that was a massive bait-and-switch. Why would you let me learn terraforming, but keep the ability to actually terraform behind another tech with a different name? My goal of finding the tech tree is curbed by realizing that there are techs and culture policies that increase the number of options you can pick from when deciding on new research. What a truly bizarre system!

At some point, war breaks out again, but since I'm in a defensive pact with the Tendra-Zuhn and the Qopinjaxian, we all go to war with the Imperium of Rothak who is in a defensive pact with the Commonwealth of Man (I just refer to them as Mammon Machine at this point since they're so xenophobic and hostile) and Ozkox. I take my new fleet with like 15,000 strength and kind of just do a land grab on the territory that I want next to Berehynia. The starbases there are trivial to take down as they're all roughly at 300 strength. The other empires do a little bit of fighting that I mostly stay out of, except I do destroy one of the fleets of Rothak that was at about 1500. I capture and occupy about fifteen Rothak systems next to Berehynia. We've "occupied" these systems, but I'm trying to figure out how to make these systems mine. I'm assuming that I need to keep a fleet at each station that I want to have when the war is over, so I put some riffraff fleet at "Zarqon", which is one of the stars close to the Rothak homeworld, but there is the world's tiniest empire in a chokepoint between Zarqon and their homeworlds. Chokepoints are just a staple of navigating the galaxy with Stellaris.
I then take my fleet down and help my favorite mushrooms fight some enemy starbases as well near a wormhole in their allies' territory. I'm noticing that there are several claims made to these systems and I still don't understand what these claims are for. I still have the claims from earlier that haven't done anything...

Except once the war is over, I realize what they do: you only get the territory that you put claims on *after* war (and only if you occupy these territories at the end of war). I probably would have known that had the claims tutorial not require me to permanently dismiss the help window. After the war, I now have "a habitabitable planet" near the newly gained star system of "Mu Ophiuchis". However, since I only claimed four systems, I only got four systems, while Rothak retained the rest of the stars there (including one star curiously named "Belgium" that I thought about referring to as a Nether Star except that Belgium is not The Netherlands).
More curiously, after the war, there was a truce for many years where all of my ships can just go through their lands. This is completely different from Civ V where you get jettisoned out of the borders of a nation you're at war at when the peace treaty is signed. This new free passage allowed me to explore all of the Commonwealth of Man and find their funny star names: Deneb, which is familiar; there's Trappist, which is just the name of the telescope array (edit: an array of two telescopes); and a 'black hole' called the "Great Wound", which is a black hole with several black holes in orbit around it, and two hostile entities with 30,000 strength apiece. We found a disabled gateway in the Ozkox territories and another wormhole near a star named "Wouu" (Waow!). We eventually research how to traverse wormholes and discover that the wormhole from before led to the other empire that was in first place: the Hathgum Guardians.

I also discover that now I can start the Federation. I invite the Tendra-Zuhn into the Federation and we quickly pick up Qopinjaxian and some other unimportant empires. This Federation allows us to allocate several ships to the Federation. For some reason, these ships all follow my first fleet. I still don't understand why they do this; my 1st fleet is on a patrol and there'll just be this heavy armada just on patrol with my paltry fleet patrolling my own territory for pirates. After realizing this, I note that the Federation firepower is substantial; there's at this point about 100,000 firepower in this tangled mess of Federation ships and they're all following my 1st fleet with like 2,000 power.

After a third war breaks out about 20 years after the previous, I've placed claims on all of the Rothak territory near mine and some on their homeworlds. I've placed a spy network in Rothak and Mammon. A portion of the Mammon Machine has schismed into an independent nation that allies up with us (probably why the war got started). They are promptly subsumed by Mammon and Rothak claims all of their territory. Meanwhile, I'm in their base, killing all their dudes. The catch is that to claim one of the homeworlds of Rothak, I have to have my spaceships bombard their planet, which destroys parts of their army, but I then need to land an army on their homeworld to occupy it. This requires me to figure out how to make armies, which is again somewhere in the intimidating planetary interface. You have to specifically find the Armies tab and click Recruit (because the planetary guard cannot be sent into space). You can select from a number of sources to create Armies; the strongest units are at the bottom and there are way too many options available to recruit weak spacefaring armies. Eventually, I recruit an army of 1000 strength and invade one of the homeworlds of Rothak (my favorite mushrooms have already dispatched armies on their other two worlds and occupied them: they're so nice). We, along with the Federation, lay waste to all of the old territories of the Imperium of Rothak; the only place they have left is that small area that schismed from the Mammon Machine. I then send my battleship fleet and the Federation fleet that insists on following my 1st fleet to capture several starbases near the Galactic Market center, which has fallen under control of the Mammon M. I fail to realize that my 1st fleet is significantly faster than the Federation fleet and it gets blown up by a starhold next to Galactic Market center. The Federation fleet just kind of loiters in the area doing nothing afterwards. What a bizarre system!

The war ends with the old lands of the Imperium of Rothak becoming a gigantic vassal empire of dubious importance. More importantly, I've realized that the Federation always seems to follow the fleet that I have designated as "1st Fleet", so once my 1st fleet gets destroyed, I make a new 1st fleet full of battleships, each with about 2000 strength.
One of the other developments is that the Tumbatoran Ancients (they're in 2nd place) have for some reason declared war on Qopinjaxian, so now the whole Federation is at war with the Tumbatoran Ancients and we do not have the firepower to fight them (they're at 383,000, but the entire Federation Fleet is somehow right around 250,000 at this point). If I can somehow scrounge up about 140,000, we can do it. Fortunately, I realize that, between all of my riffraff fleets around, the strongest FIVE fleets can come together and get us up over 383,000. I've also realized that I can give fleets the command to follow other fleets. A couple of Rothak people have become leaders in our empire and increase the fleet firepower, which I find perhaps more amusing than I should. At any rate, I engaged with one of the Tumbatoran fleets and we put a lot of damage on them before they disengage (enemy ships automatically disengage when they start to lose the battle). Normally, this gives you debris, but since no ships were destroyed, we get nothing. The fleet returns annoyingly in about six months and I go to engage, but for some reason, they get my fleet split from the Federation and it just lays waste to the fleets entering into the system one by one. "Oops! Guess I learned my lesson for next time!" If this weren't an Ironman playthrough, then I probably would have considered reloading a save. Nevertheless, our fleets and Federation fleets need to be rebuilt from scratch.
Fortunately, the Rothak homeworld has a starbase with four shipyards. Since I have the alloys on me (I've been blowing my alloys on starbase defensive ships and upgrades since, as mentioned earlier, most of the resources annoyingly have upper limits on the amount you can hold), pumping out a good Federation fleet and a few personal fleets doesn't take much time at all. We quickly get our combined fleets back up to ~350,000 strength. At this point, a crisis befalls our galaxy: the Praethoryn Scourge attacks (amusingly) the Imperium of Rothak (who owns only five stars at this point) and it certainly looks like their empire is no more. They open their borders to us (I guess they want our help), but we can't get there because their territory is behind that of the Mammon M., who wishes to live up to their namesake and keep their borders closed to us while they get destroyed by the Praethoryn Scourge (which they aren't strong enough to defeat). I observe that the strongest ships of the Praethoryn Scourge are at strength 50,000 and there are as many as three together for a combined strength of 150,000! I'm thinking to myself, "This is how the game is on the second EASIEST difficulty?! The game expects me to somehow amass about 75 battleships in order to deal with this one threat to the galaxy?"
I'm sort of rolling my eyes at what is expected of me as the only option is to take my fully kitted 1st fleet with Rothak admiral and the Federation fleet which inexplicably follows it wherever, along with my other fleets (with human and mushroom admirals amongst them) and sit right outside the border to the Mammon M. waiting for the Praethoryn Scourge to let me go in. I do go in and take my fleet and Federation fleet through and annihilate the Praethoryn Scourge. There's also this overly long portion of the scourge where you have to bombard some planets infected with the scourge and each planet bombardment takes like an in-game year or two. Also note that Mammon M. kept their borders closed the whole time, so they just built up starbases and blocked me into the areas with the infested planets while I did all of the hard work.

Which paid off, because a large part of the score calculation is your contribution to destroying "crisis ships" (heretofore unexplained, of course, in any tutorial, including the idea that the galaxy will suffer a crisis: of course, spoiling it isn't necessary, but a little more explanation would have went a long way). After I valiantly (?) flew deep into lands tainted by the scourge, I was now in first place and primed to win the game! Feeling relieved, I sort of go into autopilot and hold out until the endgame. The Federation leader cycled over to one of the other Federation members and I once again blew most of my alloys on starbase updates to hopefully coast the last 80 or so ingame years to the winner declaration...

Yeah, that coasting to the endzone doesn't happen in Stellaris. Here, about five years later, the Tumbatoran Ancients decided that they want to play the game to win and start building up their empire. They and their 383,000 strength fleets start waging war against the Ozkox Alliance. Since they're with Mammon M. and, to a much lesser extent, the Imperium of Rothak, all of them get drawn into war. It is revealed on the contact screen that the Tumbatorans now have the designation of an "Awakened Empire". They are distinctly different from the other empires that we've been able to negotiate with or conduct espionage against, but are somehow in the same competition to win the game (the Praethoryn Scourge is never in competition to win the game as the victory is intentionally postponed until it is eliminated). So, this is of course, very odd.
Regardless, no empire is strong enough to defeat a single fleet from the Tumbatorans, and the Ozkox are slowly whittled into nothingness... more annoying to me is that the Tumbatorans now have a higher score than I do. Tons of Ozkox refugees are flocking to my planets in record numbers and I'm throwing houses up everywhere to try to make something of this. Other than that, since the Federation isn't at war with the Tumbatorans, there seems to be nothing we can do except watch in horror. Mammon M. also gets overtaken by the Tumbatorans as well as the Imperium of Rothak (what a way to go out). So, I come to the conclusion that there's only one thing we can do: go to war against the other fallen empire, the Hathgum Guardians and *hope* that we can learn something from them that will help us out. Fortunately, we're at a point where, if I pool almost ALL of my resources, I can scrounge together a fleet that is stronger than ONE of the Hathgum fleets (they have multiple, of course, and I lose if they're together). So, after pooling my 420,000 strength fleet, we park outside the Hathgum lands. Interestingly, another empire proposes the war before I do, and we all agree to go to war against Hathgum. We destroy some of their ships and get Dark Matter technology and it looks like an easy win...

...until the Tumbatorans declare war on Qopinjaxian and then we all go into war with THEM too! At this point, I'm invested in defeating the Hathgums, so that they are no longer an issue. This harder said than done since they have multiple homeworlds and they're much stronger than other ones we've seen thus far (perhaps I should have built up a truly absurdly powerful army to go along with my huge fleet; don't blame the tutorial for this one... okay maybe a little bit). More significantly, the Tumbatorans are now invading the territories of my favorite mushrooms, the Tendra-Zuhn, and now my focus is split on defeating the Hathgums and defending Earth from the Tumbatorans. Again, with my entire fleet, I can destroy ONE Hathgum fleet or ONE Tumbatoran fleet. My entire fleet also moves much slower than theirs, so the cards are not in my favor. Eventually, the Tendra-Zuhn homeworld is under attack, so I withdraw my fleet and post up next to my homeworld (which is uncomfortably close to their homeworld). Whatever planets we captured from the Hathgums are almost certainly going to go back to them.
Now, the war between Hathgums ended early, so I did manage to keep one planet of theirs, but this planet is now surrounded by their territory and we're still at war with the Tumbatorans, who'll just swing one of their 400,000-strength fleets over and get it. More pressing is that the Tendra-Zuhn territory is dropping rapidly and I'm really just on defensive. Annoyingly, my ships tried to do some pathfinding to get back to Sol, but some of them failed and decided to teleport right in front of the Tumbatorans. Maybe the Tumbatorans pulled a clever trick or something? I may never know, but it did tilt me off the face of the galaxy as now I was down to 280,000 strength in my combined fleet total, and they're now going to be parked in Sol.

Eventually, the Tumbatorans start sending fleets towards Sol. My 280,000 fleet is now combined with the Star Citadel near Sol to help defeat each fleet that comes in. Again, each of their fleets are around 400,000 and I'm just on defense. I'm pumping out battleships as fast I can, going massively over the fleet capacity which doesn't seem to have much of an effect, to be quite honest. Backup arrives and now I've got about 350,000 around Sol. Every Tumbatoran fleet that arrive gets served and then I immediately go back to repair.

And then the Tumbatorans decide that they're going to send two/three fleets with each at 400,000. I just slap the Pause button and ask, "How in the world do you expect me on the second lowest difficulty to deal with 800,000 fleet power?!" Well, there's only one thing to do: you sit there and watch your ships get destroyed, your planets get destroyed, all of your hard work gets destroyed, as the Tumbatorans take all of your star systems. Morbid curiosity is now the only reason to continue the scenario. Streams of refugees from planets I've never heard of now landing on the Rothak homeworld since Earth is being destroyed. They also got Braddam (pour one out for Braddam while chuckling)! I called myself setting up a new line of defense at Sirius, but it really doesn't matter if they just send 800,000 fleet power that we have no reasonable way to defend yourself against. As I'm watching my empire burn to the ground, I'm thinking back to that one time we had enough power to wipe them out before this happened and wondering, "You have exactly one time window in a 300-year period to stop this from happening and if you miss it, you're screwed?" Eventually, with like two years left in the game, Tumbatorans propose a peace treaty, saying "Okay, I think we may have gotten a little bit out of hand". The game of course ends with me holding on to Berehynia and all of the Rothak homeworlds, and some other unimportant star systems (including Belgium). The Tendra-Zuhn have been reduced to what looks like one planet and multiple disconnected starbases.
After war, I'm just looking at their one territory next to mine like, "Yup. Not sure what we were supposed to do about that one!"

Naturally, January 1st 2500 rolls around and unsurprisingly, the Tumbatorans win by tripling their score! And that's Stellaris! You spend about fifty hours of real time playing a normal interesting and intriguing game for 220 years and then you get owned! I power slam the endgame button as soon as the Victory screen shows up, like "I'm about to delete this game".

Despite my protests, I did thoroughly enjoy the first 220 years. Upon playing a new game, most of the options now make sense, and you have the ability to turn off awakened empires.
That being said, the tutorial is definitely not adequate for preparing you for this game. Most of the tutorial screens tell you things you might need to know but definitely not *when* you need to know them. Forcing the tutorial screens to terminate with a "Don't show me this again" and no "Dismiss" option means you paradoxically miss out on more information by being curious.

Ship designing is completely unexplained and the interface is not very intuitive, either. Each ship has several types of builds that are described vaguely and not thoroughly enough that you might understand a situation in which a particular ship is more effective. You can design the ships in more detail, but why would you need to do that? After watching some videos on YouTube, it's revealed that lasers are more effective on hulls and armor than rockets and missiles, which is completely the opposite of how I envisioned space warfare to be: lasers that overload the shielding system by providing pinpoint thermal energy and rockets and missiles which blast holes into the hull and armor. That is NOT how combat works in Stellaris! Shields block lasers a lot and armor/hull block missiles and rockets a lot.
The planetary interface does not present information at equivalent levels of importance. Districts are shown with small filled-in rectangles, with a varying number of slots depending on the planet; special buildings are permanently capped at twelve, with further caps based on the number of city districts or the population size and no way to get more than twelve. The creation of armies is exclusively located on the Armies tab, the third tab, which shows the planetary guard and nothing to prompt you that the Recruit tab creates armies that can invade other worlds.
The second tab of the planetary interface is for prioritizing jobs and seeing jobs breakdown. I'm sure that's important, but I'm also sure it's not as important as creating an invasion force for other planets. As many things that can be automated in this game, it's bizarre that army recruitment is so well-hidden. I still have not used the fourth tab. Maybe one day.
Of course, the amount of firepower that you're expected to be able to muster is never conveyed unless its already too late. Being invaded by some fleet, you get to see how much firepower you should have had before the invasion happened. In contrast, Civ V lets you know when other civilizations have reached a certain era; you're never truly surprised when other civilizations have fighter planes because you know what era they're in. I think the only thing that guides you to how much firepower you should have is the galactic community resolution which puts empires under 50% fleet usage in breach of galactic law, which confusingly makes it seem like having a low fleet usage might somehow be a good thing (less resource spent on ships, perhaps).
I'm sure there's a reason for orbital bombardment taking as long as it does, but it is exceptionally boring, even on the fastest simulation speed.
I'm also sure there's a reason for science not having tech trees because I guess beelining Battleships might be a bit too much. It is a bit of a system and research automation seems entirely random.
The difficulty system doesn't seem to matter as much as I feel it should. I feel like I shouldn't be hopelessly losing the game on the second lowest of seven difficulties. In fact, on my replays, turning off awakened empires did more to the overall difficulty than the difficulty setting seemed to do. I think that fallen empires are fine, but awakened empires are much too overpowered. In addition, a tutorial going over combat strategies seems helpful. Even if it's just like a one-off or a scenario game that shows how to combat enemy ships moving along the same galaxy graph, something that illustrates the power of a large fleet or a fleet tactically built to be more effective.
The game definitely has the signs of a game that has improved upon itself too much that getting into the game at this point is much harder than it was initially. Convince me that awakened empires were in Stellaris 1.0 and I'll take my comment back but just be completely confused. In fact, I'll look it up myself.
Overall, Stellaris is a great and beautiful game with settings that are too harsh for a first-time playthrough.

Jan 12, 2021, 14:17
Starting things off unfortunately this year with a group of presidential seditioners invading the Capitol. Whereas we theorized about any number of adversaries invading the US Capitol, we saw it live last Wednesday.
The security implications are widespread, with several death threats sent out to congresspeople, several people passing away on both sides, and defectors within one of the highest government buildings in the country, the country was essentially pantsed in front of every other nation in the world. Yet, despite this, it's ridiculous and upsetting seeing people and even the congresspeople targeted by the aforementioned attacks now going through the mental gymnastics to try and explain away or minimize the severity of what happened. Perhaps, we should have already seen this coming by how the nation reacts to mass shootings against how Congress reacts to mass shootings. Despite very present threats and dangers to society, we still see lawmakers dragging their feet.
How did we get here? Probably with the president "openly hypothesizing" about what could happen if his followers march up to the Capitol. This, unsurprisingly led to a bunch of seditionists at the Capitol. Why would the president want his followers to march up to the Capitol? To help him win the election that was already decided two months ago because he believes the election was stolen. The president (and his press secretary) spent immense amounts of efforts convincing the people that his administration believed mattered to get the intended results. Unfortunately, instead of convincing the courts who could matter, they spent time convincing the general public, who certainly would not be in a position to pore over "hundreds of affidavits of voter fraud", and certainly not able to do it from their televisions. This leads to people who believe that the election was stolen: they wanted to believe it was stolen beforehand and became radicalized over the idea that it was stolen after being constantly fed unsubstantiated statements of voter fraud.
Can you read these affidavits? Can you determine if the dead person mentioned on page 350 is actually dead or were they just declared dead because they didn't answer the front door at 1:30pm?
But we knew this was going to happen, because the president never said that he would accept the election results anyway, so it is unsurprising that the president would then reject the election results.

Sep 14, 2020, 22:42
Terrible Storm With An Underwhelming Name
About a month ago, Iowa was hit with a terrible windstorm that caught everyone by surprise. Around 11am on Monday, August 10th, I observed that it was becoming incredibly dark outside and that dark ominous clouds were building up overhead. This was a bit surprising because the weather forecast five hours ago did not make any mention of extraordinary weather. I had preserved the daily forecast at 6am, which only mentioned that there was about a 50% chance of rain; no severe weather warning, tornado warning, high wind advisory, or anything else. The weather that would occur over the next hour until about 12pm would be nothing short of extraordinary. Notably, while there was a considerable amount of rain, the winds were nearly a hundred miles per hour. I observed the Internet becoming unavailable, thus ensuring that I would be unable to get a weather forecast more recent than the one from 6am. The electricity followed soon after, leaving me with little to do other than to observe the fury of the storm that I suddenly found myself in. I observed transformers exploding, large tree limbs falling off, debris being thrown into people's yards, and the sounds of structures being put to the test. The shed in my backyard would never be the same. The weather was very similar to a hurricane, something that I have already lived through, thanks to Hurricane Katrina back in 2005. Differences, however, were in the duration of the storm (only two hours tops, versus Hurricane Katrina which lasted at least six hours), the windspeed (slightly less, based on what I remember from how the trees looked from being hit with the wind), and the lack of warning (a hurricane allows people days of preparation beforehand).
After the storm hit, my house was without power for the next three days (compare to Hurricane Katrina, where I was without electricity for two and a half weeks). Power would be sequentially restored to areas of the city, but I wanted to have electricity to charge my laptops and phone. After about three days of no electricity, I realized that the electricity would probably be restored to the university's Electrical and Computer Engineering areas, so I went there and charged my laptop. Unbeknownst to me, the electricity to my own house would be restored an hour after I left home. Well, that's fortunate. I never lost my water after the storm and Internet access returned along with the electricity. Contrast with Hurricane Katrina, where we lost water for five days and Internet access was not restored with electricity.
After getting the Internet back, I immediately search for what just hit us. It happens once every five years and it's called a "derecho". At this point, I'm upset: we just got hit with cataclysmic windstorms and someone named these after the Spanish word for straight/right? How underwhelming. Someone should have renamed these things "Vientos Mortales" or "Perturbaciónes del Inframundo". "We got windstorms that look like straight lines. What should we call them? 'Straight Line Winds?' No, that's too basic. Make them sound exotic. Oh, I got it! We'll say them in Spanish because that's not a common language!"

Aug 3, 2020, 23:00
I got myself tested for the Coronavirus this weekend after experiencing a few cardiopulmonary oddities. Essentially, I felt pressure on my heart, my lungs felt partially filled after a deep breath, stomach and back pains, and a little bit of a cough and sore throat. Fortunately, my COVID-19 test came back negative and suddenly most of those problems disappeared. It's the weirdest thing!

Apr 22, 2020, 11:48
I Finally Beat Final Fantasy 7
Yesterday, I beat Final Fantasy 7 for the first time. It is not an exaggeration to say that the hype for the remake raised some inspiration for me to go back and finish it off. So, before I'm completely engrossed in the FF7 Remake, I want to talk about the original.

This entry contains spoilers for the original Final Fantasy 7 and contains no spoilers for Final Fantasy 7 Remake.

First off, FF7 is not my favorite Final Fantasy. On a good day, FF7 would be in my top five, but more often than that, it's not. FF7 competes with FF4 and FF9, but is definitely above FF5. Of course, simply saying that FF7 is not my favorite Final Fantasy doesn't really mean much, but there's a reason for it, and that's what I'm going to talk about here.

My biggest contention with FF7 is that it always seems juvenile. It embodies the spirit of a child that is trying to be edgy and doesn't quite understand the world it's living in.
Granted, I did not play FF7 when it was released in the late 90s. In fact, when I was in high school, my friends mentioned that they were playing FF7 on their Sony Playstation, whereas I purchased a Nintendo 64, under the faulty assumption that all of the series on Super Nintendo would naturally continue over onto the N64. I wouldn't get around to playing FF7 until 6 years after graduating high school. I suppose that, if I played FF7 when I was still in my "formative years" (13-14 years old), I would look back on it a little more fondly. (It would have then been either the second or third Final Fantasy that I would play, in close contention with FF1, which was only $10. Granted, this would require me to have a Playstation 1, which was a no-go, as video game consoles were almost unaffordable -- the N64 would be enough.)
Regardless, I played FF7 at the age of 22, well after graduating college, being accustomed to the internet, living in the world as a self-sufficient adult, and after already playing through numerous FFs (at this point, I had played FF1, FF4, FF6, and FF8). I approached FF7 expecting improvements on FF6 and knowing that it will be a little less refined than FF8. I was well-aware of the blocky character models but otherwise kept myself unspoiled on FF7. I was not prepared for the other oddities that FF7 would present.

For starters, one of FF7's notable features is what felt like gratuitous swearing. FF7 stands out between FF6 and FF8 as having a lot of swearing. Most of it felt unnecessary. Yes, FF6 had the one #$&@# that you had to look for, and FF8 was grown enough to at least keep itself uncensored. FF7's swearing immediately came across to me as pathetic Internet fanfiction or a Jerry Springer show, where I wanted to ask, "Why is this presentation like this? Have the inmates taken over the asylum?" All of the swears made sense for the most part, but that's not the point. It would take me several years to understand that the reason that FF7 reminds me of "pathetic edgy fan fiction" is actually because this fan fiction is modeled after FF7 rather than the other way around. Nevertheless, the overreaching edginess of FF7 is one of the first things that tainted the FF7 experience for me. I find people who write favorably about FF7, describing the swearing as 'endearing' and making note of how vulgar each particular character is in the game. I'm definitely not one that will look at swearing with great excitement. The swearing in the game is, however, decipherable, for the most part. There's one line, in particular, in Rocket Town, where it looks like Cid's cat just walked across the keyboard (seriously, it's like 15 symbols and then there's a 'T' in there).

Again, coming off of FF6, with its fleshed-out magical beings (races) such as Moogles, Kappas, Chocobos, and that one Sasquatch, FF7 features its own magical beings. And then, there's Barret. My reaction to Barret was sort of a slide from relief to disbelief. My reaction to Barret over the course of the game went something like this: "Oh, Barret is black. Well, at least they're putting the black guy front and center this time." (This is, because FF7 came in between FF8's Kiros, Laguna's voice of reason, and FF6, which had a relatively homogenous cast of humans.) Then Barret started swearing and yelling, and I thought, "Oh, cool, he's already angry." Then Cloud and the rest of Barret's group AVALANCHE (why is AVALANCHE in all caps?) are ridiculing Barret, and I thought, "Oh, cool, he's not even to be taken seriously." Then I found out that Barret has a gun for an arm and I thought, "Oh, cool, he can be permanently perceived as a threat." (*) At this point, I wondered if there would be any aspect of Barret that's not just a complete stereotype of a black man. Will they have Barret dance or eat chicken and watermelon (the answer is "no", by the way, probably because it would be a bit much at this rate).
The story of Barret gets interesting with the introduction of Barret's noticeably not-black daughter, Marlene. My next question is, "Okay, how did Marlene happen? Please don't tell me that Barret is also aggressively procreating." Again, this is at the bar 15 minutes into the game. While you don't see that many people in the game at this point, it's still very noticeable that there aren't that many black people wandering around in the game. In fact, I wouldn't see another black person for essentially the entire game. Yes, there are a few black people in Wall Market (**) and then there's the antagonistic Rude, but neither of them are as black as Barret are (perhaps, for artistic purposes), and are still few and far between. Even when you get to Barret's hometown, you still don't find any of Barret's family. Naturally, Barret gets wrongfully convicted of a crime and gets thrown into prison with the entire party. (This part of the story questionably works well, but I in my first playthrough wasn't entirely thrilled about this part and even in subsequent playthroughs, this part still bothers me. Perhaps its because Barret is mistaken for definitely-not-black Dyne, even though Dyne has already been in prison for long enough to decide who gets to leave prison somehow [someone please help me understand this part].) After the events of Corel Prison, Barret's familial relationship reaches the point at which it will be for the rest of the game.
Again, I saw people write favorably about Barret: "This is the only black man in FFs history" back in 2006, emphasizing that this is not only how Final Fantasy thought to represent its first major black character, but also how people would relate to black characters of Final Fantasy. FF8's Kiros is an afterthought and, while equally familyless in FF8, at least lives in a world with more than two people of the same race. FF10 prominently features antagonistic, but well-intentioned, Dona, among other black NPCs. But yet, everyone's favorite game contains my least favorite character archetype and I have never been able to look past it (* big stars here *).

-Side note-
In fact, it's still strange in retrospect how Barret is the only major character in the game that lacks a family. Throughout FF7, you see Cloud's mom, Tifa's dad, both of Aeris's parents, both of Nanaki's parents, and even father's of Yuffie and Vincent, to some degree. The only other characters that seem devoid of family are Cait Sith (through cognizance of Shinra Spy Reeve, although you won't ever learn enough about him until late in the game) and Cid (perhaps it's too late for Cid to start now). To note, not a single black character in Final Fantasy will ever have a visible family member until FFXIII.

-Gameplay and Story Conflict-
Known generally as ludonarrative dissonance, where one word almost never exists without the other, FF7 features two general cases of this.
The first one works questionably well: how is Cloud an Ex-member of SOLDIER, one of Shinra's elite fighting agencies, equally as capable of dispatching Shinra troops as almost completely untrained members Barret and Tifa? This gets more pronounced as the Kalm flashback clearly demonstrates Sephiroth easily dropping four-digit damage on any single enemy: why doesn't Cloud join your party dealing most of the damage? Other Final Fantasy games have happily had people join your party several levels behind and unable to contribute to battle until dozens of battles later after a few levels up. Perhaps it is a good indicator that Cloud isn't quite the person he claims to be. It struck me as odd that Cloud had so much qualification in battle for being not terribly remarkable, but it didn't register to me that this could be part of the narrative. Even in retrospect, having Cloud start the game off at, for instance, Level 45 would be a little much, so I still can't rationalize making Cloud more competent at the beginning anyway.
The second instance is Shinra's combat capability. The machines that Shinra employs are all progressively harder to defeat as an individual unit. Consider that Air Buster is a relatively dangerous machine with tons of explosives and guns mounted onto it and the party completely vaporizes this machine. Hundred and Heli Gunners attack from the questionable location of *the adjacent elevator* rather than on the party's actual elevator, but otherwise goes down just as quickly as other machines to this point. Motor Ball, aside from a very stylish entry, slowly inconveniences the party with fire attacks and maybe attacks with its considerably weaker *spiky wheel base*. Your party leaves Midgar and otherwise avoids conflict with Shinra for almost a whole disc worth of battles until we get to the Huge Materia mission, where we, after destroying a few things that are questionably Shinra's machines, get to fight Shinra's ultimate wartime robot, Carry Armor. At this point, we've been mopping the floor with Shinra's machines. Carry Armor, on the other hand, has the special ability to *grab your characters*, which renders them completely helplessly in combat. In addition, it now owns the singular skill Lapis Laser, which deals an unprecedented amount of damage. Why didn't Shinra make machines this competent in Midgar?
Of course, one may say, "Well, the game would be impossible if Carry Armor guarded the first reactor and just held your party to death." Firstly, Guard Scorpion isn't the only Shinra machine the party fights in Midgar. A mechanical boss battle at some point in Midgar that even was able to be made more annoying with Slow, Stop, or Paralysis would possibly indicate this. Secondly, Carry Armor represents Shinra learning how to best deal with your party. Shinra unconvincingly making a machine that suddenly is able to unilaterally incapacite your party members would make more sense if it could have been derived from an earlier machine. For instance, if Carry Armor inflicted a stronger version of Reno's Pyramid, then it would reflect things learned from Reno and Midgar a lot better. (Side note: why does Reno stop using Pyramid after the top of the Sector 7 Pillar? Reno becoming significantly less vicious in battle sort of make the Turks seem a lot more ridiculous than perhaps the "cool" that they were going for. Rude is still pretty cool and well done. Side Side Note: I always registered Rude's movement for what was supposed to be adjusting his sunglasses as either pointing upwards or deadpan fist pumping; alas, you can only do so much with FF7 PS1 graphics). As it stands, it seems completely ridiculous that Shinra made a machine that can grab you to the point of incapacitation and there's nothing that your party can do about it. (Side note: you can argue that Carry Armor is analogous to the Tentacle boss in FF6. That battle is different in two ways: firstly, Tentacle is an organic boss, not a machine, and secondly, Tentacle cannot unilaterally grab your characters. Tentacle must first slow your characters before a second Tentacle can successfully Seize your characters. A character wearing the RunningShoes is consequently incapable of being Seized. FF8 features no such enemy that can unilaterally incapacitate your party members, perhaps reflecting a lesson learned here.)

-Cait Sith-
Cait Sith, the Shinra spy, meets your party in Gold Saucer, and essentially forces itself into your party. One can only wonder why or how Cait Sith got there, but don't worry about that. Cait Sith then gives the Shinra Turks the key to the Ancients very openly at Gold Saucer. The party cannot do anything about it because Cait Sith has Marlene hostage. While the party's actions are acceptable at this point, why does Cait Sith out himself very openly to give the Turks the Keystone at Gold Saucer rather than at the Temple of the Ancients? Why are we treated to this sentimental scene with Cait Sith grabbing the Black Materia as the privilege of being the only mass-producible entity at this point? More importantly, why is Cait Sith no longer used by Shinra after the Temple of the Ancients to, for instance, steal the Huge Materia? It seems like this point was thrown away just to cast suspicion on Cait Sith and put Marlene back in the story.

To be honest, my first playthrough ended in Wutai after recruiting the optional character Yuffie and taking the Tiny Bronco to Wutai island only to have my materia stolen(?) and to have to search for Yuffie in the city on the other side of the island. While I could leave at any time, I reacted unfavorably to having to do this quest when I wanted to explore the world that was just opened up to me. I saved over my only file in Wutai and, upon realizing I was stuck, I stopped playing for several months. My second attempt avoided the entirety of Wutai like the plague (although I still recruited Yuffie, she also stayed out of my party). It was only this most recent playthrough where I completed the story. I realized essentially while walking to Wutai that the payoff was almost certainly not going to be worth the hassle as my past memories were coming back.

-Game control issues-
Targeting during battle is pretty rough for the first 3D Final Fantasy that Squaresoft would release. Selecting an target is based on their locations at the time you press the button. Most battles are set up with the enemies on the left and your party on the right. However, given that enemies and friends alike dash across the battlefield to their target, this means that *sometimes* pressing toward the desired team will target the wrong team. I've got several bullets shot into Tifa because I wanted to have Barret shoot an enemy in the backrow, but Tifa somehow appeared in between two enemies in that short amount of time. Fortunately, FF8 reverted this back to enemies' initial position and that this was largely unnecessary in FF6.
I also played the game on fastest speed with Battle Mode Active. It made a lot of battles very difficult; items were mostly a no-go, as the in-battle Item Menu only shows three items at a time (I had to memorize where the Phoenix Downs were after every Item sort so as to not get completely killed by the enemy). I turned on Cursor Memory, but it resets after each battle(?). While I acknowledge that Battle Mode Active with maximized Battle Speed was probably a self-inflicted handicap, selecting items from the Menu with so few options available was a bit of a challenge.

Good Parts.
One of the strongest parts of the game undoubtedly. The battle and theme songs are all well-placed. Several of these songs I heard of well before I played the game the first time, even back in ~2006. Some I remember hearing in this most recent playthrough that I forgot were in the game and was pleasantly surprised to hear them again. There're a lot of songs that only play in one very specific part of the game (those are the ones that I forget are in the game). Some of my favorites are the JENOVA theme and the music in the Northern Crater. I'm also a big fan of the Battle Square music (although, that song is one that I've listened to a lot outside of playing FF7).
One thing I really liked that I don't see in a lot of other games is Mt. Corel, which features very sentimental music playing while walking through an incredibly hostile area. It sets a mood that is hard to describe, but it is a very unique feeling that has stuck with me through many years.
The only gripe I have with the music is that the town music seems uninspired (like, Rocket Town needs its own music, given that other fairly important towns like Costa Del Sol, Upper Junon, and Nibelheim all have very unique songs, but Mt. Nibel and Sector 5 Slums have the same song). Wouldn't it suck to live in a town with the generic town song? Despite this, FF7's town music diversity does fit pretty nicely between FF6 and FF8.

-Materia System-
Final Fantasy 7's materia system feels a lot like a more refined upgrade to FF6's equipment-magic leveling system. In FF6, a lot of somewhat mundane skills are blocked off by endgame espers that you won't get to until it's too late (in particular, you get Flare after defeating Doom Gaze, which requires a considerable effort even to fight the first time, much less the second time when you're actually able to considerably damage the thing before it runs away). In FF7, on the other hand, your characters can theoretically learn Bolt3 before ever leaving the first stage. Another thing to note is that the AP costs work really well. Despite having these materia for the entirety of the game, I learned top-tier magic at a point in the game that would reflect a somewhat natural time to have them. The daunting nature of seeing that you need 24000 AP to learn Life2 is completely lost when you learn it in the final level (assuming you've had it equipped this whole time).
In addition, Materia opens up a lot of possibilities in FF7 that is unlike any other game. Sure, maybe the All materia is a bit contrived (you had the ability to select multiple targets at the beginning of FF6), but then you have Elemental and Added Effect (in FF8, these each split to Atk-J and Def-J variants, learnable only by getting AP on the correct GF), not to mention the more out-of-control Materia that you get near the end of the game (Steal as Well, what in the world?; Mega All, what in the world?; Master Command Materia, lol). And then you have the Underwater Materia.

-Storyline Events-
As much as I discussed the issues that I had with the story, it is still a good indicator of a story how thoroughly you can go into specific points. For instance, I can only discuss how strange it is that Cait Sith outs himself as a Shinra Spy unless there was enough of the story holding it up to that point. My first playthrough was vaguely cognizant of a rich storyline that I wasn't terribly interested in while playing. However, there were a few points which really brought out the FF7 storyline.
Aeris's death is pretty obvious. I played FF7 relatively spoiler-free, so the surprise of seeing Aeris's death caught be completely by surprise. Seeing the party naturally get enraged at Sephiroth and solemnly carry Aeris off to her burial (at sea?) was pretty powerful. Another, not often mentioned portion of this fight, is that you fight a somewhat nasty boss while you're still reacting to Aeris's death. This, in my opinion, is a concept that hasn't been touched on in any other Final Fantasy. A boss battle juxtaposed directly while your characters are "progressing through the stages of grief" to serve as a "keep your wits about you" is superb narrative construction and I always look forward to that point.
Other points are Elmyra discussing how she became Aeris's guardian is presented in a very stylistic fashion. Part of what makes the presentation work is how it is presented in what I would call a 'fairly PS1' manner. It is essentially the only part of the game that is presented like that. There are other points which reflect it a little bit, but the Elmyra-Aeris scene is still pretty standout.

That's essentially all I have about FF7. Replay value for FF7 for me would be based on fighting every enemy and leveling every Materia. My first playthrough (2006), as mentioned earlier, ended with me stuck without my Materia in Wutai when I wanted to explore the world. The second playthrough (2006) died to Safer Sephiroth. I remember watching Super Nova and I'm pretty sure I died shortly afterward. My third playthrough (2013?) just ended out of disinterest after getting to Icicle Inn. My fourth playthrough (2020) would be the one that ended in success. For comparison's sake, it took me three attempts to beat FF8, and it's hard to pin down the number of FF6 attempts, mostly because I rented the game a few times, but I would say that it took 2-3 times to finish FF6. Regardless, I'm glad I finally played it and added some closure to this point in my life. Carry Armor sucks. I'm sure your opinions are different than mine, but I wanted to give you reasons as to why I feel the way that I do.

My favorite Final Fantasy list is something like this:
FF10, FF6, FF8, FF12, FF4, FF9, FF7, FF5, FF13 with the other Final Fantasy games being too different to really group in with the others. Maybe FF9 and FF7 are in fluctuation, possibly with FF4, but I definitely like FF12 more than FF4, FF9, and FF7. FF5 is definitely lower than FF7. FF13 is in the position that it is mostly because I haven't played it recently. I avoided the online Final Fantasy games (FF11 and FF14), I have played neither FF3 nor FF15, and I have not finished FFX-2. FF1 and FF2 are their own games.
Asterisks in the above list are indicative of things that the FF7 Remake is taking in a different direction.

Feb 19, 2020, 9:22
The topic of "strat hiding" came up again so I wrote a little bit about it.

What is "strat hiding"? There is a simple definition of "strat hiding", which is simply 'hiding strategies from the community'. Naturally, there's more to it than that, because while a lot of communities are looking for strategies to improve their run, at some point the community gets so big that they're almost certainly not scouring every single run to find the fastest strategy. One could, in this regard, "hide" a strategy effectively in plain sight, but this isn't how "strat hiding" is used. Rather, "strat hiding" is implied as more malicious and self-serving, where a runner intentionally keeps their strategies to be secret. But why would runners keep their strategies secret from the community?

The simplest reason is to get world record. While the rest of the community is perhaps stuck in a mindset where a particular route must be the fastest, one runner redefines the route to finish the game faster than anyone else and obtain the world record. There are a few things to pull from this. The first is that the runner is going for the world record while his community is effectively in the dark. It puts a spotlight on the community's failure to develop the fastest strategy. It demonstrates that the community's general speedrun routes are fallible. But more than that, it demonstrates the distances that some are willing to go just to get the world record.

It's easy to ridicule someone for wanting the world record, but it's naive to assume that having the world record has no value. If you, with an interest in speedrunning, look up any video game, the first things that you find are 1) on Youtube, usually, the person who ran it at the most recent GDQ and 2) almost anywhere else, the person who has the world record in this game. Let's look at, for instance, Super Mario World:

On YouTube, you find "Super Mario World by mystakin in 1:37:40 - GDQx 2019" (this isn't the most recent run, as SMW was run as "One-Mind" at AGDQ2020); on Google, you find "The current 96 Exit speedrun record of Super Mario World is held by speedrunner Lui". (Thanks, Wikipedia.)

This information shouldn't be terribly surprising, given any amount of time being involved in speedrunning. It also shouldn't be surprising that some may try to lie, cheat, and steal their way to the top (see any number of videos involving spliced runs getting WR). In this regard, "strat hiding" is small fish compared to cheating. Nevertheless, "strat hiding" is still a way to get world record with demonstrable effort.

If it's so bad, how can "strat hiding" be mitigated? For starters, since "strat hiding" is (not by definition) done in order to get world record, the idea is that one could diminish the importance of getting world record to diminish the effect of "strat hiding". This is possible, but not nearly to a viable extent. One example that comes to my head is Super Mario 64. Everyone knows about cheese having the world record, but let's not forget that cheese primarily runs the 120-star category. There are other categories that exist in Super Mario 64, but I don't hear about them nearly as much as I do about the 120-star record. 120-star isn't even the most popular category if you go by number of runs - 70 Star and 16 Star all have more runs, with 16 Star having a staggering 2000+ runs. Who's got the console world record in 16-star? Maybe you know, but I had to look it up: the current record holder is Dowsky. Hard efforts don't seem to equate to high-visibility event scheduling or organization on your behalf in these realms. Now, it's unlikely that the community intentionally made it that way; this subordination of categories are, more than likely, just an effect of having one or more really popular people playing one category, in particular.

Secondly, from simply a prospective of self-worth, giving your community a strategy is much less likely to lead to anything of merit than getting a world record. What incentive is there to give your strategy to the community if your community will just separate your name from your discovery and give your strategy to the "rightful" world record holder, who will then demonstrate your strategy on stage at any speedrun marathon without any reference to you. One positive counterexample is the run of Control by Bryonato at AGDQ2020, where he makes numerous references to members of the community who discovered specific tricks (see 33:33). Despite this, Control is a game that was released less than a year ago and definitely has fewer runners than perhaps most games on the GDQ games schedule, so it's easier to know who to accredit for any given strategy. What can be said of games that have been released more than five years ago with more than five years of speedrunning strategies developed? How easy would it be to note who came up with the strategies that were important five years ago in Super Metroid? Is it easier to know who came up with the strategies five years or is it easier to know who had the world record in Super Metroid?
Unlike the previous suggestion, giving more self-worth to people who come up with strategies to encourage them to share is a lot easier: devote more resources and acknowledgments to them, list the tricks discovered in a speedrun with the people who discovered them, and/or give people reputations for discovering good and efficient strategies. One of the examples that comes to my mind is sockfolder, who is seemingly the only person well-known in the speedrun community simply for coming up with strategies. There are certainly other sockfolders within the community that are cast by the wayside because no one credits them for their discovery.
How often do you see people on stage at speedrun marathon that just present the game speedrun as if they came up with everything? I'm guilty of this as well. Once the discovery is separated from its discoverer, there's almost no way of reassociating the two. Community historians are essentially occupied only by keeping up with who had the world record and possibly *when* strategies are released, all celebrations of the handful of people who ground WR attempts on the unnamed discoveries of the community until they got their world record.

Thirdly, even the name 'world record', devoid of any context, implies that it is the ultimate goal of speedrunning. I don't think it is much of an embellishment to say that most people get into speedrunning with the goal of getting a world record (and ostensibly to make friends along the way, despite the fact that "strat hiding" and straight-up "cheating" exists). At this point, however, it would be essentially unfeasible to rename 'world record' to something else. If the speedrunning community had simply called them 'fastest runs' to begin with, then we probably wouldn't have this issue. Such is the folly of having years of established precedence. That isn't to say that no one has tried. The label "Fastest Known Time" never really caught on, perhaps for having three words and a less-than-desirable acronym, but is more representative of what speedrunners are going for. Personal Best is a humble title, but it is still personal and not presentable by the game's community as a whole.

I bring this up because, personally, I find the entire idea of strat hiding as evidence that communities operate a lot differently than mine, perhaps at these high levels. To me, if someone in my community comes up with a strategy that is faster than other strategies, then sure, let them have world record. Let them partake in victory recognition. Once your "strat hider" has world record, their strategies are still clearly visible (save for a few world record holders that made their world record private after getting it verified, which is, perhaps, grounds for immediate verification revocation), so if you're really committed to "forwarding your community", you observe and reclaim the world record for yourself. It wouldn't be like me to sit atop the community world record throne of popular decree, have one of my community servants fetch me a strategy that will let me keep the world record, and then take all of the credit for myself.

Jan 10, 2020, 20:19
I've been a little behind in uploading to the site recently. I've been preoccupied with schoolwork and research. Honestly, it feels like I'm about to end in disappointment. Nevertheless, I can't give up. We've also made it into the year 2020, where hindsight reigns supreme. Now, don't do anything this year that you might regret!

Oct 8, 2019, 9:54
How To Get Further Into Speedrunning
I remember the common answer to the question, "How do I get into speedrunning?", and the answer was to just pick up your favorite game and a timer and play it.

So, what does this entail? Simply play your favorite game over and over, in hopes that, as you start completing it with faster times, you will somehow "get into speedrunning". This then raises the question, "What does it mean to get into speedrunning?". Well, if we follow the expected results, "getting into speedrunning" simply means that you have started speedrunning as a hobby. This didn't really require any advice though; it's simply emulating what you see others do. More than likely, an individual gets into speedrunning by watching the big events like GDQ, et al, and is wondering, "How do I get into speedrunning so far that I can perform a run like this one at GDQ?"

Getting someone just to do speedrunning is incredibly simple that it should go without saying that you're just going to play the game over and over until you can do it quickly. Leaving all of the important details in between "playing the game fast" and "playing on the GDQ" stage would naturally cause runners to think that you can just submit the game once you're going fast enough.

At this point, you hit the GDQ wall: you have perceived a need to submit to GDQ to continue your quest to get into speedrunning, but it's so hard to get accepted into GDQ. How people make this jump: submitting directly to GDQ as if it's the next step in speedrunning, get rejected, and then quickly stop speedrunning?

To stop from losing these runners, it would help if we gave them some guidance on what to do once they've started speedrunning and getting times that they're proud of. Instead of submitting to GDQ and getting your hopes up, why not submit to one of the countless other marathons that exist? These smaller marathons are both more likely to accept your run and more likely to establish some sort of community inclusive to new runners.

GDQ is a very big marathon; even getting a run in doesn't necessarily lead to finding community. Yet, there's an undeniable appeal to getting a run: demonstrating what you've spent years working on to 80,000 people, raising money for charity with your work on the GDQ stage, and, perhaps most importantly, having the work that you've done be validated by the most scrutinous speedrunners. This validation is, I believe, the most salient part of "getting into speedrunning". It often gets conflated with "having a lot of viewers" or "making lots of Twitch bucks" by more dismissive personalities, but getting your hard work validated is an important step that shouldn't be taken lightly.

Smaller marathons are a great way of building up to that point. GDQ rejections are six-month period of introspection with little guidance over what to be introspective on. Smaller marathons are happening every time, with varying levels of turnaround. Some marathons will take your submissions and, within two weeks, you'll know if you're in. Since the turnaround period is so short, you'll probably have fewer other runners to compete against and you'll have a better chance of getting in.

Sadly, the only way of learning about the existence of other marathons is usually by hearing other speedrunners talk about them, and there's not that many speedrunners that talk about marathons during their submissions period. The end result is that you don't learn about them or you learn about them too late for submissions, so you have to wait for them the next year around.

So, I'm going to try to combat this, despite the fact that my message won't reach to most new speedrunners, since they'll probably be checking people from the nearest GDQs. Every Sunday, to make people aware of marathons, I have a listing of marathon submissions periods, begin dates, and end dates. The difficulty here is that most of my information comes either from Twitter or Speedrun.com, and there are still other marathons that slip my radar.

Note that I am not opposed to GDQ. It is important to note that GDQ is essentially the forefront of the speedrunning community; the appeal that speedrunning has is almost always based on people and things that occur at GDQ. There are, of course, a few exceptions, but by and large, GDQ is the place to go to see what speedrunning will become. I believe that it's important to observe what speedrunning can be rather than to try to hold it back with what you want it to be. That being said, GDQ doesn't need me to defend it.

I'm also not opposed to having people submit to GDQ. Some people are, however, unnecessarily critical of GDQ submissions, though, and I spoke out about this last time. People will submit to GDQ for a number of reasons: acceptance, money, fame, or charity, and you can't really blame people for trying to get something that GDQ can totally give.

The smaller marathons also need attendees. Sure, they're not GDQ, but they're better for new speedrunners than being stuck in the cycle of having a good speedgame but nothing to do with it. Smaller marathons are essentially in the same boat as smaller streamers, looking for visibility, but ultimately getting ignored by the more influential presences within the greater speedrunning community.

Toxic Positivity pushing people into failure cycles. I couldn't think of a good word for it, so I settled for toxic positivity. The idea is that people are always encouraged to submit to GDQs despite the fact that they're at a noticeable disadvantage. With brand new speedrunners going head-to-head with seasoned speedrunners in competition for acceptance at GDQ, there will definitely be a lot of rejections. Being positive and encouraging them to submit greatly underestimates the affect on their morale when they inevitably get rejected by the definitely-less-positive GDQ selections board. At this point, they're more than likely wondering what the next step is: should they continue playing this game or will they have better luck playing a different (better*) game. The feedback they're looking for isn't given to them. Of course, I'm not advocating for toxic negativity, but speedrunners also need guidance after they're told "Just pick a game that you like and a timer and play it a lot".

*This, of course, leading to self-doubt. If I can't pick a good speedgame, maybe I'm not cut out for speedrunning.

One wonders if this part is purposefully left ambiguous to make the community more niche.

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The story of Iceplug:
Iceplug - sting ray (NOT A MANTA RAY!) that swims in cold waters, usually near the poles, though mostly in the south, near Antarctica. The average babies are born at about a foot long and wide (they look like squares) and are usually a light orange and translucent. After about 6 months, they become more opaque and start to take on a bluer color. Their tail can grow to almost 5 feet, and the adult Iceplug grows to about 25 feet. Not to be outdone, most adults create stashes of coral in their homes and forge them into tridents (which are actually quite effective weapons).

Feedback? E-mail me (Iceplug) at blackout119(at)yahoo(dot)com. Be sure to include a descriptive subject, and the first seven characters of the subject must read Website, otherwise I may move it into the Spam/Junk folder. I strive to reply to all e-mails at the end of the day, but I definitely respond to them at the end of the week.