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Dear users who have me in your "Follow" lists,

I am trying to fix some very long-standing issues with the listing of my user reviews by "editing" them - so inadvertently, GlitchSpot will notify you of my "edits".

Please bear with me, or you might want to just remove me from your "follow" list if you don't want to be inundated by notifications. I can't do anything about them on my end.

Battlecruisers and Space Monsters as Party Members

(I suppose that the inane blog title would already give away what I am going to talk about in this blog post, but really, please read on.)


Firstly, I have to say here that I haven't really been blogging for a long time. I won't write blogs about my non-gaming-related personal life here, and when it comes to gaming, there are few things that I am really concerned about these days. I suppose that I care little about many issues in gaming beyond how much they can amuse me.

However, just recently, I realized that one of my few recurring yearnings - possibly ever since I played a certain Wing Commander game (I can't recall which) - is a certain kind of game with gameplay and settings that are so niche that it probably won't ever happen.

Before I move on to the body of this article, I have to say here too that this blog post is going to be a perpetual work-in-progress. Sadly, nowadays, I don't have the temperament and determination to write entire blog posts and proofread them before putting them up for viewing.

With that said, thank you very much for actually reading this sentence.


The hypothetical game that I am referring to is a space sci-fi role-playing game - and no, it is not Mass Effect.

If you would like an easier description which utilizes existing games, it would be like Nexus: Jupiter Incident except that the player's party can explore the galaxy.

Instead of party members being actual persons, they are entire ships with their crews. Both the ships and crew members are party members too, albeit most of the emotional appeal would lie with the latter of course (some ships would be sentient).

As for the "world" which they would explore, it would be a big-ass galaxy instead, where each "map" would appear as a star system which the party can move freely in. There would be no sh*t like mountains and rivers to block exploration.

Yes, I agree, it's just too damn radical and daunting to work - but one can dream, right?

(Of course, I would be huffing and puffing a lot of hot air and mere wishful thinking if I don't elaborate on how this might work.)


Even with a sci-fi setting, coming up with a premise which rationalizes how a fleet of ships can come together like a rag-tag band of misfits which most RPG adventurers are can be difficult. Even more difficult is coming up with a reason for such a fleet adventuring about a galaxy like a party of adventurers would about a fantastical land.

The best premise which I could think of is a variation of what has been done in rather many games with space sci-fi settings already; essentially, the galaxy (no, it will not be an entire universe) is populated by a bunch of disparate petty empires and free colonies which have too little trust in each other to have any long-term collaboration.

It's an intellectually cheap setting, I know, but it's convenient enough excuse for a motley crew of crews and their ships to come together into a rag-tag fleet of awful misfits, which is of course the best kind of grouping because it makes for good fodder for any other story tropes.


As with any adventuring party, there must be a "seed" member: the first person, or few persons, of the group to come up with a cause and rally others around it. In the case of this hypothetical title, it would have to be a ship and its crew, and cooking up an excuse for it is a doozy.

After going through several scenarios, I have decided that the least corny way to introduce this ship, its cause and its faction is through a roll-call of sorts. This "protagonist" ship has been given the task of rounding up the last few active ships of a diminishing faction (more on this later) by visiting their ports of call.

(There will be more elaboration on this faction later; it should suffice to say for now that the ships and their crews do not actually have a common home.)

This roll-call serves a sombre, almost-depressing start to the prologue, but it should be calm enough so as not to be too confusing.

Of course, the next part of the prologue would have to be of the "shit happens" trope. Any more of that slow start and the prologue would be rather boring. However, this next part would have to be explained later.


Really, let's face this: few people could wrap their heads around gameplay with full six-axes motion. There has to be a tutorial of sorts to teach newcomers about the essentials.

However, I personally would not like a test-range scenario where the ship is shoehorned into doing a mandatory performance test, or an early-game fight with immersion-breaking pop-ups telling the player what button to press and such other shit.

I intended for the commanding officer of the protagonist ship to be already a naval veteran, whom I doubt would appreciate a mandatory performance test. Then, having an early game fight where the player might just do poorly despite the instructions would just make such a character look bad.

Fortunately, this is where the setting of crews and ships as party members would come in handy. The new ensign of the protagonist ship would be the character undergoing the tutorial instead, specifically in a simulation, and the commanding officer is given the choice of taking on the role of instructor in said simulation while the ship goes on an uneventful transit between star systems.

This can then be used as a disguise for the choice of either accepting or rejecting the tutorial; if the player accepts, the CO temporarily replaces the usual instructor for the simulator to personally supervise the ensign, but if the player rejects it, the CO lets the usual instructor do the job and the player can skip to the next part of the prologue.

(This article is a work-in-progress, and probably will ever be.)

Gameplay Complexity - Boggling or Amusing the Beholder


The screenshot that best sums up Men of War's complexity. It's not the only game with sheer complexity of course.


Recently, I had been playing Men of War (2009).

Before I bought its license, I had been aware that the game had been noted for having really thick layers of complexity. I am a sucker for complexity though, and I certainly am having fun doing things like having individual soldiers do ammo runs. Of course, this blog post is not merely about Men of War.

Despite what I have just said about complex games, I am aware that the same complexity that amuses some also happens to turn away others. This is what I would like to write about in this blog post.


There are game-makers that are aware that they need to make games that are different from the rest, or have their products dismissed as me-toos or run-of-the-mill. One of the ways that some of them go about achieving this is through stacking layer after layer of gameplay elements to give the player many things to consider. However, this can be a proverbial double-edged sword.

There are considerably many kinds of complex gameplay that turn off some people, but of these, there are three that I believe are the most contentious: a deluge of data, an uncomfortable hybrid of many genres, and complicated perspectives. Some games have a mixture of these.


There are games that just pile information and statistics on the player. 4X strategy games are particularly notable/notorious (depending on your opinion) for doing these. Even in this genre, there are some that are to the Civilizations franchise as Risk is to Snake-&-Ladders, to use an analogy concerning board games.

A good example of this is Hearts of Irons III. As an illustration of this game's complexity, I will include a screenshot of it against one for the latest Civilization game, Brave New World.


Click the above picture to enlarge it and have it boggle your head. (Sorry, if this takes too long to load. I had deliberated over whether to include this picture or not, but I believe that it is a convenient illustration of Hearts of Iron III.)


You probably won't need to click on the above picture to enlarge it.

The Civilizations franchise, especially its fifth iteration, may be somehow easier for more people to like because of its prettiness and streamlining over its predecessors. However, the likes of Hearts of Iron remain unapologetically dense in numbers and letters.

I am not saying that I don't like Hearts of Iron. I have played one or two of them, and I love how they reward long-term planning. Yet, I would also tell you that I have fallen asleep while playing them, and not just a few times. They can be that dull.

Now just imagine how daunting that a game like Hearts of Iron can be to any person that does not happen to already like such meticulously designed games.

That is for the consumer's side of the issue. The issue can also affect game-makers too. As elaboration, I would like to use X-COM: Apocalypse as an example, against its successor, XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

X-COM: Apocalypse was probably a troubled game from the start, according to hindsight by Julian Gollop. From my personal experience with the game, it tried to do many things - but many things were just left incomplete, or just could not be reconciled with the rest of the game.

For example, one of the worst things about the game is that ground vehicles were just hopelessly clumsy and limited in mobility. Furthermore, the game designers did not appear to have considered the likelihood that ground vehicles would be quite terrible against UFOs.

When coupled with complaints by Julian Gollop that the other people who worked on Apocalypse could not comprehend what the programmers are trying to do, one would probably be quite convinced that Apocalypse was too ambitious in its scope of complexity for its own good.


You might just mistake this map of Mega-Primus as a circuit board diagram.

Compared to Apocalypse, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a lot simpler and streamlined in comparison, with far less information and other things for the player to worry about.

Now, I have to disclose an admission here: I still personally consider Apocalypse as the most sophisticated of the X-COM games, and until now I still refuse to drop the hyphen when referring to the franchise. Also, I do happen to sometimes scoff at Enemy Unknown's rather simple gameplay (in my eyes, at least).

Yet, I am also aware that Enemy Unknown did what most of the previous X-COM strategy games just could not do; being more accessible to more people and a lot easier to develop for platforms other than desktop computers, apparently. This is what a consumer product should be like if it hopes to ship properly and sell well.


There had been more than a few games that had been criticized as having identity issues. These games have gameplay that could not be easily considered as belonging to one genre only.

Of course, it has been argued that these games ought to be lauded for doing something that is not often done, especially when they try to cross two seemingly incompatible genres together.

Yet, they would be hard to defend when they could not convince everyone that they particularly excel at whatever they do.

For elaboration, I would mention two game franchises: Jowood's Spellforce and Relic's Dawn of War II. These two can be considered as being on opposing ends of the spectrum of the complexity of genre-hybrids. Both are notable for trying to combine RTS gameplay with RPG ones, yet both are also notable for not being able to be convincingly stellar in showing the best that either genre can offer.

The first Spellforce game can be very difficult to like for fans of base-building RTS games. Its strategy-game aspect can be clumsy, what with its lack of tools to form units into coherent formations, lack of any way to directly control the usage of special abilities by units and its halfway-there implementation of unit production. Its role-playing side is let down by cookie-cutter quests, often linear plot-flow and some other oddities, one of which is shown in the screenshot below.


The player character can waltz into towns with a considerably large and gaudily colored army in tow, yet the townsfolk wouldn't bat an eyelid.

More importantly, the player has to juggle armies and kit out the player character at the same time, while pursuing quest lines and defending bases from monstrous onslaughts. It is not an easy game for people who have problems multi-tasking.

The sequel is much better refined, but by then, the first Spellforce title had convinced some people that genre-hybrids are just too ambitious.

Dawn of War II and its expansions, despite being apparent genre-hybrids, are not considered by everyone as terribly complex. In fact, they are quite simple to grasp for most people, having done away with genre-related tropes like base-building and actually consequential stories for RPGs.

The franchise may be a lot more accessible and a lot less clumsy than the likes of Spellforce, but it also does not portray the strengths of the genres that it belong to. In particular, Dawn of War II and its expansions do not have stories that are memorable to players, which are elements that are important in RPGs.


Dawn of War II's story campaign has vibes of both genres, but borrows only a few elements from each to concoct an experience that followers of Warhammer 40K would find run-of-the-mill.

Much of the issues with genre-hybrid games can be traced back to the game-makers themselves. While they can - and ought to - be praised for following their own visions for the game, the end-product may not necessarily convince everyone that it is a job well-done.


I have to confess here that I am having some trouble coming up with a short phrase to summarize the elaboration that would follow. "Complicated perspectives" is the best that I could come up with, though I would caution here that the phrase "complicated" does not necessarily carry a negative stigma.

With that said, there are perceivably complex games that do not swamp the player with data or require the player to keep in mind gameplay tropes of more than one genre. Instead, they require the player to perceive the gameplay in ways that are far from the mainsteam norm.

Perhaps the most iconic of these is the small and niche subgenre of strategy games that apply the full six degrees of freedom to units. The best example is the Homeworld franchise, followed by Nexus: The Jupiter Incident.

The simplification of the pitch-black void of free-space as a 2-D plane is not to be found in either. You will not get space-ships moving like space amoebae or traditional base-building with a space sci-fi disguise from them.

Instead, the player has to maneuver and direct space ships in all three dimensions. Ships have to rotate so that they can bring most of their weaponry that are mounted across their hulls to bear on the enemy. Attacks can come from any direction. Ships can follow the flow of nebulae to hide themselves from other ships.

Unfortunately, both games can cause vertigo in people that are not used to tracking objects that can move with all six degrees of freedom. Add to this the need to compare the orientation and location of objects relative to other objects in these games' fictional space, that these games are not for everyone is a statement that is difficult to deny.


There are more dazzlingly confusing screenshots than this one for Homeworld 2.

There is another game that I would like to mention here, and it is called Achron. It requires the player to keep in mind concepts such as "grandfather paradoxes" and other chicken-or-egg considerations.

I have yet to play it for reasons that I think are best expressed through including the trailer below in my blog post.

Please click on this if GameSpot is giving you a glitched video-embed.

Now, I had done more than my fair share of save-scumming and save-game divergences, but I find this game daunting, even before having played it. That's coming from me, a person that happens to like games that would give some others headaches or nausea. Then, there are jargons like "meta-time".


I would say here that I used the phrase "closing passages" instead of the usual "conclusions" because I don't believe that the subject matter of complexity in games can be seen through anything other than opinionated proverbial lenses.

Having significant complexity in games is not necessarily a design pitfall. Some people, such as I, actually prefer very complex games. However, this is ultimately just a personal preference. More importantly, it is undeniable that the more complex a game is, the more difficult it is to be accessible to newcomers.

Tutorials and scenarios with gradual learning curves can ease the difficulty of figuring out which does what. Yet, these in turn require the player to have the patience to undergo these lessons, and not everyone can be expected to be that patient.

Personally, I am all for the creation of streamlined games like XCOM: Enemy Unknown, if only to introduce the newer generation of game consumers to their genres that had gone through long figurative sunsets. It is my personal hope that afterwards that they would clamour for more sophisticated and thus more complex follow-ups.

'Games for Health' - A Nice-Sounding Take on the Impact of Gaming

The title refers to a particular conference that is in favor of educational and medical uses of games and gaming technology.


Who would have expected a D-Pad to be next to a stylized stethoscope?


The conference is not recently conceived; it had started way back in 2004 and only obtained more publicity years onwards. This was likely due to attention from the press, such as Washington Times (which is a conservative media group, mind you), that has an interest in showing the brighter side of gaming after having gotten tired of the rants from the likes of Jack Thompson.

Games for Health also happens to be backed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation - which I personally find to be a surprise because that Foundation had spoken out against many perceived vices, such as drinking, before. That the Foundation would see something good in video games is refreshing to me.

[spoiler] (In case you are a darksome person who seeks out anything dirty about anything bright, you may want to know that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is currently one of the parties involved in a recent fund-soliciting scandal in the USA. Also, you may want to know that another Johnson-&-Johnson philanthropic endeavour, the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, has slipped from a high four stars in 2005 to just two on Charity Navigator in the present day.) [/spoiler]

However, I wasn't without misgivings, as is typical of a person that has encountered so many too-good/wholesome-to-be-true things. These misgivings will be described later where relevant, though I would say here first that I ultimately find nothing to scoff at about Games for Health.

The matters that the conferences have highlighted are:

Simulation & Modelling:

In all its conferences, Games for Health, through its Ludica Medica event, has never failed to mention that the game engines that happen to power games are also apparently of use to medical research, specifically for purposes of simulations and virtual modelling.

The ones who have participated are people from higher institutions of learning, specifically those that have programmes for game design and development, such as the University of California and University of Minnesota. They also include indie/contractor game developers, such as Breakaway Games (which is unfortunately associated with Electronic Arts for having worked on less-than-stellar games such as the Kane's Wrath expansion for Command & Conquer).


It's rather difficult to believe that someone who worked on that crazy EA LA game had worked on dental-work sims too.

I am very glad that there are indeed people that are interested in developing games for such purposes; I will make a conveniently related plug for Clinical Playground here.

Yet, here's one peculiarity that I have noticed: the participants in Ludica Medica do not appear to include a single high-profile entity from the mainstream gaming industry.

In fact, I have yet to find any big-name game-makers that you (the reader) and I know of from our common hobby that are actively involved in such work. If they are involved, they often act as mere (paid) licensors, such as Epic Games, whose engines are being used in more than a few projects, such as HumanSim, but otherwise they do not have a direct hand in it.

Aid Technologies:

There are ideas that concern the adaptation of gaming devices and peripherals for use in assisting the physically challenged. Examples include adapting the designs of video game controllers into the controls that paralysis-affected patients can use to operate motorized chairs, or monitoring systems that make use of camera peripherals for gaming.

Speaking of camera peripherals, Microsoft - yes, that Microsoft - did chip in to have a speaker for a keynote address in the 2012 conference for Games for Health. The topic was how Kinect can be helpful in physical rehabilitation.


Picture of Dr. Crounse here because GameSpot's shitty video-embed feature doesn't always work.

Now, I can hear your chortle there - I know, I snickered too, especially at the use of "Kinect" as a verb. However, before you act like some NeoGAF cynics, you may want to know that Dr. Bill Crounse is quite earnest in pursuing or highlighting the use of computer and information technology for purposes of medicine (though it has to be disclosed here that he was not fantastically great at running businesses).

(On a side note, you may want to know that Microsoft has had long relationships with the healthcare industry, especially in IT work that involve sharing patient and treatment data, i.e. tele-medicine. In other words, not every policy-maker at Microsoft is a heartless asshole.)

Of course, it is not just Microsoft peddling its technology at Games for Health's conferences. There is Oculus VR, which, via its CEO Palmer Luckey, is pitching the use of Oculus Rift for the treatment of PTSD and physiotherapy, according to an informal interview conducted by a YouTuber at the conference.

(I would have embedded the video here if not for GameSpot's perennial break-downs of blogging features.)

It is in this endeavour that the gaming industry has a more significant hand in, though its involvement is arguably not yet high-profile and neither has it produced any convincingly fruitful advances in medicine. Still, at least the technical know-how of the gaming industry is being put to some other practical use than just churning out yet another entertainment product.


This is perhaps where the gaming industry has a high-profile in, as highlighted in Games for Health's 2013 conference, though not as a keynote address this year.

Gamasutra article has mentioned that out-of-the-norm games like Papo-&-Yo, Depression Quest  and That Dragon, Cancer (which Carolyn Petit happens to be enamored with) have been given a spotlight by Games for Health, mainly for their heavy themes and stories that people that have gone through traumas would easily relate to.

However, not everyone would appreciate the mention of the likes of Surgeon Simulator, which does not exactly have therapeutic value for the player (though it may have plenty for watchers).


If "laughter is the best medicine" adage is to be believed, watching Danny O'Dwyer might help you cure cancer.

However, there are a couple of issues that may just dog this endeavour indefinitely, and which Games for Health unfortunately does not highlight.

The first is the need to secure licenses for patients to play these games.

Of course, there are programmes such as Penny Arcade's Child's Play that is putting games and toys into the hands of patients (though I should remind you that Child's Play is still an unaudited charity), it remains to be seen whether there would be a game-maker that is altruistic enough to want to develop therapeutic games and let them be used for rehab work on a non-profit basis.

I do hope that in the future, Games for Health might just have a keynote address featuring one such game-maker though.

The other issue is a much more uncomfortable one.

Now, I am much aware of - and am not afraid to make mention of - the criticism that such games can receive from perennial sceptics; one of the harshest criticism is that someone is trying to make a buck out of his/her or others' personal trauma, fictional or real.

Of course, this accusation does not hold water when levelled at games that can be played for free, such as Depression Quest (though there is something akin to a "please donate" button on its website). When this is the case, the critics can be conveniently shouted down as the ignorant cynical assholes that they are.

However, it is difficult to dismiss this accusation when the likes of Papo-&-Yo, which is based on its creator's childhood worries, still carry a price tag. Certainly, it can be argued that money is needed to cover the costs of making any game, but this argument is not so effective when the tugging - or shredding - of heartstrings are involved.


Visual symbolism (notice that gnarly tree in the dude's own home) won't deter hard-hearted people from questioning Ryan Green's motives for his upcoming game.

It is an issue that can result in ugly debates and arguments, but I, for one, do not wish for this issue to go away and I will not certainly skirt around it. The Games for Health conferences appear to do just that, unfortunately.


It may be difficult for someone that has known gaming mainly for the entertainment that it provides to empathize with efforts to apply the talent and technology behind video games for Hippocratic purposes. However, conferences such as Games for Health at least shows that things that we know, namely games, do not necessarily have to be utilized for single-minded purposes.

The efforts highlighted by Games for Health offer a glimmer of hope that something impactful and good would be produced from the game industry than just inconsequential amusement. The wise (or jaded) can see the stumbling blocks ahead of course, but if there is anything that is worth being naïvely wishful for, this would be it.

E3 2013: No Steps Anywhere for Consumer Rights, Not All Stakeholders Present

It's been a while now since E3 2013 - I believe that enough time has passed to see any development in issues that arose during that yearly event.


If you do not know already, Microsoft's terribly aloof Xbox division had attempted to hold onto its position atop its own figurative cloud of hubris, but has since made an about-face. Of course, it is doubtful that this change has convinced everyone that Microsoft has a change of heart, if it has one in the first place.

Some, such as Chris Watters during this episode of GameSpot Gameplay, have noted that Microsoft Xbox has already prepared the resources and facilities for its not-well-received policies, and it is not likely to let this go. This may sound like something a tin-foil-hatter would say, but it would hard to dismiss such trepidation as paranoia considering that Microsoft had already made the first step by devising those policies.

Moreover, Microsoft Xbox may have shown its spiteful side by returning to its old policies on digitally purchased games and scrapping a plan that could have made for an incentive to get an Xbox One. The Kinect is non-negotiable to Microsoft Xbox too.


If this console-maker wants to have an edge against Sony Entertainment, it might want to consider reinstating that plan and devising an alternate model of Xbox One without the Kinect and thus a lower price.

Both would be convincing steps forward for consumer freedom, though at this time, that Microsoft Xbox cares about such things would seem so far-fetched.


As for Sony, they have earned the (likely short-lived) adoration of many people, including Tom McShea, (perceived as) resident sour-grape of GameSpot, just for saying that they will not have the same policies for the Playstation 4 as Microsoft has (had) for the Xbox One.

However, Sony has not really announced any unprecedented concession to the customer or consumer in general. In fact, you may want to be reminded of a certain announcement by Sony regarding a requirement for online features.

This can be seen in the fine-print at 0:12 of the video below - ironically one that was made to trump up the (likely temporary) advantage that Sony's products have regarding perceptions of consumer freedom.


I have the impression that some legal hounds at Sony Entertainment happened to have noticed the potential problems that would come from consumers who might have lofty expectations from seeing this video and have included the fine-print to stave these off.

That "it is time to charge" (to quote a Sony suit) for online multiplayer on the PS4 may seem comparable to what Microsoft Xbox has been doing for a long time, but it would be difficult not to see this as another fee stacked on the customer when one considers that online multiplayer on the PS3 did not exactly have one.

You may also want to be reminded of Sony's track record of keeping promises about its products; it is spotty at best. To cite some examples, you might want to be reminded of gradual removal of features from the PS3, such as backwards compatibility for disc-based games and OtherOS.

Of course, backwards compatibility is not in the PS4 and might be replaced with cloud-based equivalents instead. There is still no news on features like OtherOS though - that remains at best, a lost opportunity to utilize the PS4's x86 architecture for more value-added features (such as emulators).


Other than mentions of multi-platform titles and computer-only games such as Rome: Total War II and Company of Heroes 2, there is little if anything exciting to look forward to in the computer gaming scene at E3 2013.

Some of the biggest market-share-holders for gaming on the computer platform are absent from E3 2013, or if they are present, they mentioned little that would excite consumers who primarily use the computer platforms. To cite a few examples, Valve is again mostly absent from E3, and CD Projekt is at E3 to do little more than promote its flagship games.

There is even less noise from the likes of GameStop's Impulse, GamersGate and GameFly's Direct2Drive, much less those that are typically associated with the indie scene such as Desura and Green Man Gaming.

Recalling E3 for 2012, there was some attention on gaming on the computer platforms, but really, it oriented around "free-to-play" games. For E3 2013, the spotlight on computer gaming dimmed - again - apparently because it is overshadowed by attention that is given to the upcoming console platforms.

(Side note: You may want to be informed of the speculation that Valve is planning something that Microsoft has ditched.)


Although E3 2013 is convincingly a lot more eventful than E3 2012 and that E3 is still used by its participants, especially the two aforementioend console-makers, to emphasize their policies, many important stakeholders, especially those in the computer gaming scene, are not and have not been interested in E3 for a long while.

Couple that with Nintendo's reduced presence in favor of Nintendo Direct, one would wonder how relevant E3 still is beyond generating a lot of hype for the high-profile participants that still believe in the Entertainment Software Association's trade show.

Be Wary of First Impressions: A Bit on Don't Starve

You may be aware that there has been some noise about Don't Starve going around, especially from the indie game community and the supporters of the underdogs.

Yet I would tell you this: you may not necessarily have a favorable hindsight about the game if you are on the verge of being enticed to play this latest game from Klei Entertainment.

That said, I would mention my very brief two-cents on Don't Starve; this is not a review, of course - that's for me to write much, much later, and with far more text than this blog post would carry.


There is some hulla-baloo in the indie community about the comparisons made between Don't Starve and Mojang's flagship product or Re-Logic's baby. However, I would tell you this: no one is absolutely right on whether or not Don't Starve is comparable to either game.

The hardcore purists of Don't Starve would tell you that Minecraft or Terraria is child's play compared to Don't Starve, but that's only because they play their sessions on either the default settings or if they are even more sadomasochistic than one would expect, the even harder settings.

If the player is to set the settings to very favorable conditions that do not apply overbearing pressure on the player to spend his/her efforts on merely surviving, e.g. no hound attacks and such other wussy choices, he/she can well play the game like Minecraft - and get bored quickly.

Don't Starve is strictly a 2-D game that uses sprites and it doesn't even have a grid-like system for building things as seen in either Terraria or Minecraft; in other words, it doesn't have the gameplay elements that is needed for artistic expressions such as those that could be achieved with either Terraria or Minecraft.

On the other hand, a player with a lot of time to burn can attempt to create art out of the map system, but I don't think that anything more could be done.


You can attempt to create some weird silhouette art from uncovering the fog-of-war, but don't expect praises for having so much time in your hands.


There are those persons that take pride in playing very difficult games and persevering in them. They may even consider that "success" in such games is a badge of honor or something equivalent that makes them stand out from other gamers.

Well, in the eyes of wiser people, their experience with these games make them stand out alright - as stupendously stubborn and perhaps even perversely determined people.


If you so much as touch that second button ("Customize World"), you may be called all kinds of things by the purist fans of this game.

The default settings of Don't Starve's world-generating feature generally makes the game tougher and tougher as the player character survives for more and more days, purportedly to match the increasing experience and familiarity of the player.

Also, it would appear that major content updates for the game introduce much tougher biomes or new mobs that are more troublesome than the last ones.

Sure, they come with new rewards - but they often require players to jump through a few hoops. For example, the new Cave biome comes with renewable sources of rocks and flint stones, which were non-renewable before, but they have to be obtained through obviously dangerous rockfalls.

Also, Klei Entertainment nerfs reliable winning strategies regularly, the most notable nerf being the drawback that was introduced to make Meat Effigies riskier to use.


Not as good an insurance policy anymore, eh, Willow?

Also, Klei Entertainment nerfs reliable winning strategies regularly, the most notable nerf being the drawback that was introduced to make Meat Effigies riskier to use.

It would take a special kind of person indeed to keep looking forward to and liking the kinds of things that Don't Starve would throw at oneself.


That would be something that the hardcore, unapologetic fans of this game would say to you when they try to encourage you to play this game.

I would tell you this though: if you don't take the wussy (but probably wise) way to learn about the content in this game by checking the Don't Starve wiki whenever you see something weird and bizarre on-screen, chances are, your dude/dudette DIES from your lack of knowledge and/or stubborn refusal to read spoilers.


When TV Tropes uses Don't Starve as illustration for one of its entries, you know that this game is HARD.

In addition to the excuses that Klei Entertainment has used to paraphrase its refusal to include built-in game-saving as rogue-like gameplay, Klei Entertainment also has an excuse for not including a tutorial or official manual with the game package that can be summarized as follows:

"Learning is rewarding" - of course.

TAKE-AWAY: If you want a very, very convincing survival game, Don't Starve is indeed one. However, if you want Don't Starve to be a rewarding game, you have to be a glutton for punishment.

P.S. I am aware that even though this blog post is not exactly favourable towards Don't Starve and Klei Entertainment, I may well have promoted Klei's game anyway. I am conscious of this, and I will say that I happen to support Klei's efforts to create a very convincing survival game - even if I don't personally like it.

P.P.S. I am still affected by the LiveFyre comment glitch.

Compromise - Least Bad Solution for Nintendo's YouTube Plans

I would like to put forth my figurative two-cents on this particular issue concerning Nintendo's latest business plans.

Personally, I would prefer that Nintendo of America and those opposed to it declare truces with each other, back off from their stances and sweep the issue under the rug until it rears its ugly head again - hopefully until after the unlikely event that human civilization as we know it no longer needs money.

(I wish that I was completely joking about that, but I am digressing.)

If they still want to be at loggerheads with each other then, then they, and anyone with a stake, such as the "Let's Play" video-making folks, should compromise and go for the win-win solution of sharing revenue.

That is because any other outcome (barring that everyone just drops the issue and goes on business-as-usual) has everyone losing.


Before going further, I would remind people that the notion of property is one of the oldest lynchpins of human civilization. If the newer aspects of modern civilization, namely freedom rights, are allowed to trump it, then we are going backwards, just like we would if property is to ascend above freedom rights.

That said, Nintendo is certainly thinking that it is entitled to revenue that is generated by YouTube videos that feature its properties. A legal argument against this will be terrifically difficult to formulate, but if litigation is pursued anyway, then we run the risk of having Nintendo harden itself, and a hardened Nintendo will very likely be an ugly Nintendo.

You may want to be reminded that Nintendo of America had signed the letter to the Congress of USA in support of legislations that protect IPs. There is not any strong evidence that Nintendo had thrown its weight behind SOPA or withdrew support from it, but it just might think of having a more blatant official stance if the likes of Lamar Smith brings that bill out of the shelves again or creates a new similar bill while Nintendo is contesting a legal challenge against its attempts to claim all ad revenue for said YouTube videos.

In other words, we risk having this issue being blown into something bigger if it escalates into a legal battle.

If Nintendo loses, there is of course the old-but-difficult-to-dismiss expectation that a Nintendo bereft of a potential source of income becomes weaker and lousier at making games; money is how the likes of Nintendo gets the resources and ideas to make games after all. A weakened game-maker is rarely a good thing for anyone with a stake in the gaming industry, the people who make those Let's Play videos included.

Of course, one can just say "f*ck Nintendo", but not everyone hates Nintendo, is it? We can look elsewhere other than Nintendo, but such antagonistic scenarios are likely to repeat with other game-makers instead of Nintendo until the involved parties learn to hand figurative olive branches to each other.


That would be awful, because it would turn into a lose-lose outcome for certain.

To elaborate, there could be a boycott of Nintendo's properties by YouTube content-makers, since they don't get any income from making videos featuring Nintendo's properties if Nintendo gets to eat all the advertising revenue. Barring die-hard Nintendo supporters, they have no incentive to make videos on the game-maker's products, especially if they depend on the ad revenue for their livelihood.

Nintendo, and any other game-maker that has similar plans, can forget about being paid for marketing work that it does not fund.

However, the ones that would lose out most are game consumers who are doing research into possible purchases. They may well lose the sources of information that those YouTube videos featuring games could have provided.

In addition, such an outcome may well stall the advent of a new kind of career that is being formed in this Age of Information, namely that of people making a living making videos on the Internet.

I am aware that some of you have more than enough scorn for such people to utter statements such as "Get a real job!" - among other far less courteous remarks - but some of us actually like seeing new kinds of careers coming into being.


If Nintendo has any wisdom, it may want to consider proposing the sharing of revenues. It is more than likely to run into opposition anyway, of course - there will always be people who believe that they are fully entitled to all of the revenue from the advertisements that accompany their videos, as well as those who believe that Nintendo should be reamed.

However, I like to believe that most of those opposing Nintendo's move to attempt to claim the ad revenue in their entirety would reciprocate if Nintendo was to propose sharing of revenues.

If they could shake hands and work out the proportions of their shares, this agreement can even turn into a partnership of product promotion, e.g. Nintendo gives them preview builds of games to make videos with and such. That would give the likes of Nintendo more partners to highlight their products with, in addition to the established gaming sites.

Most importantly, the regular game consumer would benefit from this, as there would be richer sources of information on games, upcoming or existing.

Here's hoping that Nintendo and the opposition would come together for the win-win.

P.S. My account is still afflicted with one of the glitches that have been reported here, so I won't be able to reply in any way in the LiveFyre thread below.

Maybe Film-Makers Can Do Something with Games: A Remark about Wreck-It-Ralph


Customary opening picture to let you know what I am really writing about. Picture includes insignificant cameos.

IMPORTANT FOREWORD: This article is perhaps better directed at those who have seen and still remember the movie, as I am rather averse to describing scenes in a movie with anything more detailed than vague statements.

Now, I have to admit something here, if you haven't heard this already: I am very jaded about film-watching.

Perhaps I had been watching one too many films that I had once found awesome that everything else that came later felt bland to me - such as Brave, which I find to be filled with one too many story devices that I have seen before.



At least, the sales-witch was entertaining to me. [/spoiler]

However, I am personally glad that once in a while there is a movie that slaps me silly for thinking that I have seen everything to see in movies. It so happens that the latest one is a game concerning movies.

I mean movie concerning games. I am not going to edit this out.


I have to admit here too that I am one of those people whose first thought that comes to mine when they hear about game-related movies is an expletive. I certainly have thought the same about Wreck-It Ralph. I suppose that I don't have to tell you much about movies with video game licenses that give the impression that they are only there to feed off their license sources' popularity.

The irony that Fix-It Felix Jr. and many other games mentioned in the film are almost completely fictional could have made me less suspicious of Disney's product, but that Disney is jumping on the bandwagon of the dubious marketing stunt that is faking things about entertainment products of the past did not make me any less skeptical and cynical towards this film.

Here's another thing that I have to admit: I had immediately despised Wreck-It Ralph when I heard that it "celebrates" games and video game characters. Such cameos seemed like yet more frivolous promotion and popularity-exploitation to me, and I would say that my impression of these cameos did not change after having watched the film.

That gaming is now starting to become accepted culture (and thus profitable for the likes of Disney), barring attempts by some parties that are trying to demonize it, made me even more leery of this film.

All of the above prejudiced me enough to forget about Wreck-It Ralph after I learned about it.


Some almost-expiring 75%-discount coupons for a cinema franchise had me picking months-old Wreck-It Ralph out of the rest that the occasional anti-hipster in me could care less to name.

I did not pick 3-D of course. To me, that's still a fad, though I suppose that some time into the future, there may be an astoundingly refreshing 3-D film that slaps me silly for thinking of it as a fad. This is not a joke, by the way.

Another thing that I have to admit here is my bias towards animated films. I really don't want to see familiar faces in films anymore, as much as I like certain actors/actresses; familiar voices are alright to me. That is why I tend to pick animated films instead of the rest as they tend not to have characters looking like their voice talents.


Yet there are exceptions.

On a near-related matter, I have to say here that film-makers who are making films with game licenses don't seem to consider that some actors/actresses could never even come close to looking like the game characters that they are portraying. They tend to make live-action films anyway, and that irks me a lot.


Most of the movie was dull to me; it was trope after trope.

There is yet another "anonymous group" of conflicted people sitting on chairs in a circle. Fictional characters living in digital worlds that are visualized as facsimiles of the real one was done yet again in this film.

Ralph was yet another initially villainous character turn jaded, and this coming a few years after a certain other animated movie.



However, I do appreciate that movie just for this scene. Damn, the facial expressions!


The appearances of cameo characters were ultimately inconsequential and at best little more than gags and nostalgia-bait. I certainly did not bother to spot this-and-that game character in the movie's scenes.

The true antagonist of the film was perhaps easy for experienced movie-goers to pick out even before said villain was revealed due to the inclusion of a certain speed-related (and hazardous) past-time as a story element.

The elements about the film that I appreciate the least are the inclusion of a femme fatale and her unlikely love interest and yet more savagely destructive bugs. I find these tropes very tiresome.

Then, there are perhaps some pokes at gaming culture and its Internet-based half, specifically when one character misheard/mispronounced "Duty" as "Doodie". This is perhaps not a coincidence, and if it is indeed a poke at Activision's money-printing franchise as I suspect, I do not appreciate it as such poking is yet another tiresome, juvenile fad in the gaming community.

I find it disappointing that the rest of the movie is so run-of-the-mill when compared to the two moments that will be explained shortly.



I know the plot tool of having one's trusted friend betray oneself right in front of one's eyes and doing so with great regret is nothing new in stories, but this is encountered more in dark and dour stories, such as Games Workshop's very not-kid-friendly flagship franchises that are Warhammer 40K and Warhammer Fantasy.

Even though I suspected what was going to happen when I watched a certain someone pass a certain MacGuffin over to Ralph and requesting a little chat, I was still doubting whether the story-writers could include such a dream-crushing scene in an otherwise kid-friendly movie.


Surprisingly nasty scene coming up.

After that, there was that quip by that certain betrayed character. It was just simple words, but I find that utterance tied into the game's video-game-related themes/tropes so well.

Whoever wrote this scene, in my eye, wrote a master-stroke of a scenario.

Most of what comes after that, in between this heart-wrenching scene and the very ending, would have diluted the strength of this moment for me, if not for some more simple words that Ralph himself utters right at the end.


Who could have expected a brute like him to spout such philosophy? :P

Again, these few lines, which I consider master-strokes too, tie into the video-game settings of the movie.


I don't know who is credited with these two moments. However, I doubt it is Rich Moore as he is mainly an animator; Moore's student, Jim Reardon, is the kind that makes parodies out of popular works of fiction; I don't know who Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee is.

If none of them can be credited with these two scenes, that would leave Clark Spencer, who is known for having been a producer for some animated films that would have been thoroughly run-of-the-mill if not for certain similarly heart-wrenching moments. Of course, it can be argued that the contribution of producers to their films are hard to trace.

Now, if only the rest of the movie can be written in such ways.

TAKE-AWAY: I wish that film-makers will just shed the tendency to exploit that other entertainment industry and focus more on what they do best: making films. Specifically, they should throw any tendency to make use of their licenses to market their films, and instead focus on creating what they believe would be particularly memorable moments - just like they would do for any other film, if they have the calibre to keep this in mind all the time.

Whoever that thought of those two scenes in Wreck-It Ralph certainly had, and I would say that the sub-segment of films that concern video games is a lot better off with the likes of this movie being in it.

P.S. I am aware that I haven't made a blog post for a long time; that is because I feel that it is pointless to do one when I cannot reply to any responses, which in turn is due to a glitch that prevents my posts from appearing in LiveFyre threads, including the one that you might write a post into below. However, I suppose that I was impressed quite a lot by these two moments in Wreck-It-Ralph that I was inspired to write this anyway.

P.P.S. I recall that a certain GameSpot editor wrote an editorial about Wreck-It Ralph. Can anyone recall it exactly?

Merry Christmas, 2012!

Season's greeting to those who celebrate Christmas in whatever form!


Shameless plug for art upload here.



Oh, and I wish you a happy Gregorian new year too. :P

Chalk Talk - Some Hopes and Doubts on New Generation Consoles


Cover Shot (Exact original image source uncertain)

(Note: I am aware that the picture may well be the result of some person's imagination.)



Firstly, I am not a frequent consumer of console hardware or console games. However, I do acknowledge their appeals though, especially that of consoles being mainly dedicated gaming hardware.

Personally, I am wary of the proprietary restrictions that come with being a (legitimate) consumer of console products, but I do recognize the conveniences that are provided by these, such as being able to send faulty hardware for refurbishment (albeit for a fee), as well as the ease of design that developers get from having to work with systems with specific (albeit somewhat limited) technical designs.


I also find this very convenient for moving a player character about a 2D plane.

In other words, I am a lot more open to console gaming than you would think.



First things first: the technical designs of console machines will make it likely that game designs eventually hit a technological barrier. When this may happen is debatable, of course, but it is difficult to argue that it won't happen for certain. Besides, there had been generations of console machines that are more sophisticated than their forebearers that came along to usurp their predecessors as the dominant products in the console hardware markets, thus making it difficult to refute this claim.


Non-game products are intended to extend the life cycle of console machines.

Of course, I am aware that console-makers are resorting to adding non-game-related functionalities to the console machines. However, this effectively turns them into general home entertainment devices, away from their roots as dedicated gaming machines. This may not be pleasing to puritan gamers of course, but any wise person would realize that these people are no longer the target customers of console-makers.

Personally, I am in favor of these decisions of the console-makers, as the console machines have the technical prowess to support applications other than just gaming. I find it wasteful if all those electronics are dedicated to only segment of digital entertainment. Yet, even these non-gaming applications will hit the aforementioned design barrier eventually.

That said, returning to the matter of next-generation consoles, having consoles that are more advanced than the current-generation ones would allow for even more applications, which of course means more variety of entertainment options to be had for the customer.

Perhaps more importantly, more advanced technology allows for more sophistication in the games that would be designed for these machines. Of course, this statement is ultimately just a forecast, based on examination of previous generation consoles and their games. One could argue that the only improvements so far have only been aesthetics, though another can argue that games that were once limited to the computer platforms are already appearing on the consoles, namely the shooters, the simpler ones of the real-time strategy genre and of course turn-based strategy games.

On the other hand, it remains to be seen whether consoles would be just playing catch-up with the computer platforms or not when it comes to offering variety in games.

It would be easy to presume that next-generation consoles will be more technologically sophisticated in order to offer more variety in games and non-game products. However, there is the doubt that there are ...


Now, I am not one to have no skepticism and be all "glass half-full" - or "all-full", if I would be deluded enough to think that there cannot possibly be any issues when I do not have any information or guarantee that nothing could go wrong.

(Yes, there are people like these - namely those that say that "console-makers have learned lessons from the past" or that "the next-gen consoles won't be expensive" when they do not have any concrete data to support these claims.)

The only way to clear these doubts is by having more information on these next-generation consoles, but all there are to be had seem to be merely unverifiable statements and images that may or may not even be true.


Hopefully, the differences that next-generation consoles have compared to their predecessors are not just only aesthetic. (Orbis is not entirely confirmed to be the PS4.)

There is little if anything concrete on the designs and specifications of the next-generation consoles that Sony Entertainment and Microsoft Games are developing, and whatever claims there are, if they are true, only pertain to designs that are still on the figurative drawing board.

Then, there are the games that would come in the wake of these would-be new consoles. Looking back at the history of past generation of consoles, console-makers made use of launch line-ups of games that are convincingly different from those for previous-generation ones to market their new consoles with.

The Wii U, if it can be considered a next-generation console (and there are many opinions that express doubt at this or even outright denial), could be seen as having failed to do this.


After all, the confirmed titles for the Wii U include many games that have already debuted on other platforms, or are continuations of franchises that have been around for a long time.

There is a silver lining to the Wii U's line-up of games, of course, such as ZombiU, which has a control option that I find somewhat refreshing, namely moving the Wii-U gamepad around for finer aiming, as opposed to using only analog sticks (which I do not consider to be practical enough for this purpose). Moreover, the usual control options for console games are still there on the gamepad, e.g. the usual D-pad layouts and analog sticks.


The use of two screens (one on the TV and the other on the gamepad) may allow for features that are infrequently seen in video games, like tracking and manipulating two objects of interest separately and independently of each other (which is a feature that some games for Nintendo's current handhelds have done already, I am aware, and perhaps which the VITA and PS3 would do).

I am very much aware of the jeers that these are just "gimmicks", if you are thinking that I do not. However, I would say here that if not for these gimmicks, console machines would just be playing catch-up with the computer platforms, as suggested earlier. (I am also aware that the more snobbish of PC elitists would love to keep claiming this.)

Without these gimmicks, there would be nothing to differentiate games on console platforms from those on the computer platforms. Of course, others (likely the same snobbish PC elitists) can argue that whatever the console platforms can do, the computer platforms can do, but I am not seeing any concerted effort by hardware- and game-makers to develop the same gimmicks for the computer games market (for which the same snobs would say that these gimmicks are not wanted, of course).

(Side note: Much of what the more outspoken of PC elitists say are bitter, sanctimonious and exaggerated arguments that are often not substantiated by hard data and unarguably relevant facts, by the way.)

It remains to be seen if Nintendo and its game-making partners would utilize the potential behind the Wii U's gimmicks, but if Nintendo wants the Wii U to be as successful as its predecessors, it had better provide support for game-makers who have ideas for the Wii U, and not just help them port existing IPs over to the platform.


With more advanced technology, the new consoles would be more expensive than previous consoles which use older technology. This is a difficult-to-deny statement.

Of course, one can argue that the next-generation consoles would likely use technology that had debuted years earlier to cut costs, much like what had been done for the current-generation ones, but they would still likely have price tags that are higher than the current price tags of current-generation consoles (which have since dropped in asking price since their launch, by the way).

If this is so, this will ever pose a hurdle in getting consumers who are used to the current-generation consoles' prices to buy the next-generation ones.

A (rather naive) person could say that console-makers would sell the next-generation consoles at a loss to cut down its asking price and spur sales, while compensating by making money off the software products for the consoles. The same person would point to the past (again) to bolster this claim.

But here's a catch (I like saying this, I admit): the next-generation consoles have to offer products that have not been offered for previous- and current-generation consoles in order to be seen as offering something new. Otherwise, it would be seen as just recycling things that have already been done before.

Another catch is that investors may not allow this to happen. The likes of Sony Entertainment have sold some of their consoles at losses, promising investors that there would be pay-offs down the line from having a wider customer base for its software products. Although this move certainly did not turn out disastrous (at least for the PS3), the pay-offs have not been consistently substantial either, upon examination of Sony's yearly financial statements and the segments on its Sony Entertainment subsidiary.

Of course, if one is to look at somewhat-related facts, Nintendo appeared to have persuaded its investors to allow it to do this for the Wii U, citing the same promise of compensating by software sales (albeit this was reworded as "combining sales of hardware and software"). However, it remains to be seen if Sony and Microsoft can do the same without investors baulking and thinking that their executives have gone bananas.


On a not-entirely-unrelated note, this is popularly thought to be a hint at Donkey Kong, but the kanji above him (which Iwata said is a reference to Nintendo's work culture that is oriented around "creating something unique" - and another Donkey Kong game is certainly not "unique") may suggest that this is a sarcastic jab by Nintendo's leadership at its skeptics.


I believe that the worst outcome that could happen is that the next-generation consoles are not really more technologically advanced. They might turn out to be just repackaging and restructuring of existing console technology in some new shell.

(Having gimmicks in addition is not the worst outcome to me. At least the gimmicks make the console remarkable, for better or worse; this is still better than recycling, which would be boring.)

I know, it is quite difficult to believe that this can happen for Sony's or Microsoft's next-generation consoles - but we do not have any guarantee that this would not happen, do we?

Using the example of the Wii U again, it has been argued, such as by the likes of Bitmob, that the Wii U is only "next-generation" because it is a successor to the Wii, and does not have other "qualifications" of being next-generation, such as having convincingly "better" technical specs than the PS3 or Xbox 360, and that its main difference is it having gimmicks in its control options.

Then, there are counter-arguments - usually by Nintendo's supporters, such as Nintendo Life - that the next-generation is "about the experience", that is, the utilization of gimmicks for gaming experiences that are more than just a single lonely gamer holding a conventional controller in one's hands and sitting on a couch.

I am using a lot of quotation marks here, because those who are putting forth these arguments do not seem to be aware that there is no empiric definition of what is "next-generation", much less any consensus. They are making unilateral definitions of what is "next-generation" as they see fit.


That there are all sorts of outlandish concept art for the next-generation is, to me, another indicator that people don't really know what "next-generation" really is, if it is anything other than a loosely-coined term.



Personally, I consider consumer-friendliness to be the most important aspect of any product.

Unfortunately, this aspect is also the reason that I am not too eager to peruse some console-makers' products - specifically Microsoft Games' and Sony Entertainment's. (You may want to notice that I am referring to specific subsidiaries of the corporations that are Microsoft and Sony.)

Neither of them has gained my confidence. The legal agreements that customers have to accede to in order to receive services from either of them require customers to use their products in ways that are only sanctioned by Sony Entertainment or Microsoft Games, or else lose privileges for customer support and online services (i.e. Sony's PSN and Microsoft's Xbox LIVE), as well as face possible lawsuits if they publicly reveal ways to use their consoles that are not condoned by either console-maker.

I cannot stomach these (especially the lawsuits), and therefore when I was faced with the "take-it-or-leave-it" deals that they have, I leave. That is not to say that I haven't used their products before though - I thank my friends for letting me mooch off them for an hour or two with some console games that caught my interest.

Therefore, it is my hope that Sony Entertainment and Microsoft Games would at the very least, be like Nintendo when it comes to relationships between customers and them, i.e. being laid-back, having their figurative hands off the customer and letting the customer do whatever he/she wants with the console machines.

Otherwise, the likes of Ouya can always claim to be "better" than what they can offer, despite criticisms that arise from Ouya's requirements that its games be either "free-to-play" or demos, to cite just one perceived setback (which I do not personally see as a problem, but I know some other people do).

After all, Ouya is having collaborations with open-source organizations like XBMC and Google Android - something that remains unheard of for Sony Entertainment's and Microsoft Games' consoles (or at least not that I know of; I am having difficulty finding info for any such collaborative project for the Xbox or Playstation).


These two mascots might never appear next to the logos for the Xbox or Playstation.

I am not saying that I would be supporting Ouya whole-heartedly and without reservations; besides, I didn't contribute to its Kickstarter project. However, I can say that I have far less aversion to Ouya than I would PS4/Orbis or the XBox 720/Durango, which I expect Sony Entertainment and Microsoft Games to shackle with stifling legal agreements.


That's all that I would write for now. I may update this blog post with more things if you would leave a suggestion. That said, happy Thanksgiving, Deepavali and Muharram for anyone who are celebrating/observing them!