OP-ED: Don’t Ban Things Just Because You Don’t Like Them

This post has been on my mind for a few months now. Like others, it’s being written in advance for posting. But in a way I’m glad, because I’ve already written it once and retooled it. After some consideration, I think the best way to go with this post is to be short and sweet.

There’s been a real rash in the last decade or so of folks seeking to “remove” what they don’t like from the public sphere. Various methods are being used, from twitter mobs that go after creators to try and get them removed or banned from communities or positions, to the latest incarnation, which is to use politicians and laws to block or remove things simply because one disagrees with them.

I wish I were joking. Kentucky just passed a law that, as I understand it, gives state politicians ultimate say over all public library funds and what they go toward. The implication made by the supporters of the bill is that it will allow them to examine what books are on public library shelves or requested by readers and then block all library funding until the “problematic” titles are removed. A similar bill is being pushed in Idaho that would launch an investigation into public libraries of that state to find “problematic material” and remove it from the library (likely, from what I’ve gathered, along with punishments to the library and staff for offering such “problematic” literature).

Continue reading

Things I Miss from Covid

I realize that title sounds a bit strange, or maybe even upsetting. Just bear with me for a moment. There were good things about the Covid-year, by which I mean 2020.

Yes, I know that Covid-19 isn’t gone yet. It’s still sweeping through places—even my hometown—leaving pain and sadness in its wake. We’re still not through this. Not entirely.

But a lot of people are content to pretend that we are. And while there are good reasons for the pandemic to be over … there are bad ones as well.

Yesterday, I was out for a bike ride. Long-time readers know that I’m a regular bike rider. I live near a river trail that runs through a good chunk of the city I live in, and it’s a great way to get some fresh air and exercise.

But I noticed something as I was shooting along this trail. Something that took my brain back to some comments I’d made during 2020, at the height of lockdown. See, this trail takes its course past several very nice parks, each of which has playground equipment such as swings and slides.

And I noticed, with a bit of sadness, that a decent amount of this equipment was, in the early evening, unused.

Continue reading

OP-ED: Merit and Accountability in the American Workplace

This post has been a while in coming, and I mean that to a degree most of you likely won’t expect. This, right here, these words you see before you, account for the third time I have written out my thoughts on this subject, the prior postings either being too disorganized or too negative and downbeat to ultimately find their way to the site.

Yet the topic kept circling back. Whether it was because of the constant barrage of, to put it kindly, angry or entitled posts I would see on social media from a particular group, or because I was in the opposing group those type of posts regularly attacked while also knowing (and seeing) firsthand what things were actually like, the topic kept coming back in my head. Though arguably, it also likely has much to do with firsthand experience I’ve had working at various jobs, seeing directly for myself how abysmal things have gotten … as well as how doggedly those who benefit from the current status quo fight to defend it.

Which I think is perhaps where things went wrong. Both the prior attempts to write out this post contained example after example, all first-hand, of how working in the US has become, well … awful. The problem was is that the post didn’t do anything constructive. It aired a litany of sins, pointed fingers … and then that was it. Not exactly great content. So after the second post had been a dud (which was last night), I stepped back and analyzed this latest attempt, and decided to come at things from a very different angle. Yes, I could throw stones, and there’s more than enough ammo to go around. But that won’t fix anything, because those who understand already know what’s gone wrong, while those who should understand have already insulated themselves from the issue and are often living a lifestyle dependent on never admitting the issue in the first place.

Ultimately then, there’s little reason to writing yet another post that airs the problems that are already there, whether or not they’re acknowledged. But a post that’s about the constructive, a post that is to those who will, slowly but surely, taking those same positions encouraging them to not dive into the same self-serving behavior and discussing how the US economy is harmed by such self-centered mindsets? Well … maybe that can do something. Just maybe.

So let’s talk about the idea of merit, the concept of accountability, and how both are vital to the US economy … despite being something that’s been largely ejected from the modern job market.

And look, I know there will be plenty of those that have, as noted above, insulated themselves from the reality of what’s going on out there. They’ll come at this post with torches and pitchforks, ignore most of it or attempt to leave a comment that’s effectively a giant strawman, or something else.

To all those posters: Tough. You’re welcome to go shout at your personal echo chambers about why “merit doesn’t matter” or “merit matters, but everyone else is just inferior” or whatever other cockamamie excuse you feel works. Knock yourself out. But don’t expect to be taken seriously here, or given a soap box to shout. Fair warning.

For the rest of you, let’s talk about merit.

Continue reading

OP-ED: Not Every Popular Thing Goes with Every Other Thing – Or Why We Should Stop Shoving Dark Souls into Everything

This piece is going to aggravate a few people. I’ll state that up front because I know it’s going to aggravate them because I’ve already expressed this opinion elsewhere and had some people express very much that they disagreed with it.

But it’s a pretty straightforward opinion, and I’ll back it up as best I can. It basically boils down to a recent gaming experience (a rare reminder of one of my hobbies) that could be best summed up as “Stop shoving Dark Souls into everything, especially where it doesn’t fit!”

If you’re not familiar with the title offered there, I’m going to note that I don’t have a problem with the game itself. Dark Souls is a series (as well as a style) of game developed by FromSoftware that’s built around a very punishing, precise, methodical style of play. Your character is not agile and limber, but stiff and committed, unable to break free from an action they’ve committed to. Enemies are tough and on equal or better footing to the player. The result is a gameplay style where you must make very concise, clear, methodical choices—usually about when to roll, block, or strike—with a very limited window for error and even less leeway for actually making an error.

Effectively, every enemy is a sort of “trial and error” experience of learning when to strike and when to roll out of the way, with the message “you died” being a frequent companion to the player. You learn to watch every enemy’s tells, and you learn precisely when to counter, dodge roll for i-frames, or attack … or you’ll die. Again and again.

Here’s the thing: FromSoftware has devoted a lot of time to making this punishing, methodical style of gameplay work. It’s a game style that lends itself to a lot of rough edges, from cheap shots to badly designed combat encounters. And I make this bit clear: FromSoftware has worked very hard to make these rough edges as smooth as possible, taking out cheap shots, making sure enemies fall victim to the same physics that the player does, etc. The result has been a very successful series, to the point that a lot of players who are fans of it consider it the “original” hard game (to which those of us who played something like Ninja Gaiden Black just chuckle and roll our eyes). If you’ve heard anyone talking lately about Elden Ring, well that’s because it’s FromSoftware’s newest release in the market, and it’s tearing up the charts as it is a very well-realized evolution on the formula that’s made them such a success. Millions and millions of copies sold, the latest in a line of popular stylized combat games.

Now, I’ll state something up front before diving into the meat of this discussion: I don’t mind that these games exist. Dark Souls and the like are certainly not my cup of tea, with their slow, plodding combat, i-frame design (a practice I’ve never liked in almost any game I’ve played) and the design of being locked in whatever action you most recently set out to do. But I don’t mind that others enjoy the polished experience that FromSoftware provides. That’s fine. You play Dark Souls. I’ll play the liquid smooth, tough-as-nails Ninja Gaiden Black instead.

What I do have a problem with is every other developer out there going “Hey, this game is really popular. Why don’t we shove that gameplay into a game that has no reason to have it? It’s popular, right?”

It stinks of executive meddling or developers not understanding their own game, and I hate it.

Continue reading

A Tribute to the Greatest MP3 Player Alive

Some of you might be wondering why I didn’t title this A Tribute to the Greatest MP3 Player that Ever Lived, but there’s a reason for that!

But first, really quick, and before I get into this small tribute, I do want to offer a quick update about yesterday’s post, as some of you might be wondering what point it served. Well, it’s pretty straightforward: I’ve noticed that if one searches “Axtara” or “Axtara – Banking and Finance” you get the store pages, and the news page on the site that announced its release … but you do not get any of the reviews or previews.

So I made that post designed specifically for web crawlers looking for search results. With a little luck and some work, in a few weeks it’ll be one of the top search results, so anyone looking for Axtara will find the store pages, and a free preview of the first three chapters to read, nice and easy.

Since we’re doing news, editing on Starforge is now in full swing, and in addition Patreon Supporters will have another chapter preview coming soon. But not yet, because they’ve got The Minstrel and the Marshal for the moment, and that’s plenty of story to keep them occupied.

All right, that’s it for news. Let’s move on to the post: A tribute to the greatest MP3 player ever made.

Yeah, I know this is going to ruffle some feathers. But hey, my site, my opinion. Are you ready to see the image of the greatest MP3 player ever made? Here it is:

That’s right. The best MP3 player ever made is the oft-mocked Zune.

Continue reading

OP-ED: Labor and Ownership

Hello there readers! I’m taking a bit of a momentary break from Starforge editing to write this post and give myself a bit of time to decompress (though don’t worry, I’ll be back at Starforge shortly). This is a topic that’s been on my mind, coalescing, for several months now as shortages, particularly of the “worker” variety, have continued to make the news day after day.

Today’s particular musing comes from an actual—if short—conversation I had the other day with an individual who was very angry about the “worker shortage.”

A little bit of background for you; basically what they offered to me: This individual owned a local small coffee shop/kiosk, and was very angry about their current inability to have someone staff/work it. Apparently it was small enough that it could be run by just one worker, but they currently couldn’t find that worker. No one wanted to work for them.

Wait, it gets better. See, their little rant volunteered the information that they considered the job “minimum wage.” After all, they explained, it’s ‘just a coffee shop. No one should be making a lot of money from that. But now,’ they continued, ‘thanks to the laziness of entitled workers who think they should earn more, I’m not making my money from the coffee shop!’

As this was a group discussion, several people quickly asked questions which led to more information being offered—though based on the reactions that occurred, I believe this individual thought things were going to go very differently. Among this information we were given the following:

  • The owner made quite a bit more per hour just owning the shop than the lone worker did. In fact, they seemed to consider it a large portion—based on their wording, I’d guess at least half—of their yearly income, which was again, from their words, at least six digits.
  • Despite this, they refused to work in the shop itself, to the point that they would rather have the shop closed and be losing all that income than go work the position themselves because ‘it’s a low-tier position, I can’t be expected to degrade myself with that.’ It was also suggested among their words that they didn’t know how to do the job either: They’d just bought the setup and expected someone else to do it.
  • The owner themselves had no interaction with the shop other than paying the bills, the paycheck, and collecting the majority of the money.
  • They used the phrase ‘unAmerican’ to describe the concept of having to work at their own shop, and used the specific phrase of ‘it’s my right‘ to describe their relationship with employees and not being required to labor with the business.

After volunteering this information, they were both shocked and a little offended when few took their side. Instead of pity—though a few like minds did offer that—they instead found themselves challenged. My own voice was one of them calling out to the contrary to their claims, and I made a very pointed statement: Was it not entitled to own a store that they believed should only pay minimum level wage, that they themselves refused to work at, yet demand more than a minimum level wage for in essence, doing nothing other than throwing money at the place to start existing? I compared this to the concept of “The world owes me a living,” as this business owner believed it “beneath them” to be the one working the store, and yet wanted the majority of the reward for someone else doing that work.

I never got a response. The owner just left, apparently realizing that the particular audience they’d found was not sympathetic to his desire to be, in effect, the lazy grasshopper from The Ant and the Grasshopper.

But something they’d declared did stay with me. Not because I think it’s correct, but because I think it does serve as a source of so many of the problems facing the United Stated (and, by cultural extension, a lot of other countries). This concept that simply having “ownership” of a thing means that one is “owed” everything that comes from it … even if they’re not at all willing to put in any of the work or requisite knowledge.

Continue reading

Halo Infinite: A Home Run, a Bunt, and a Strike All at Once

Yep, it’s a gaming piece.

I don’t feel too bad about this because I don’t often talk about my other hobbies on this site, so I figure breaking the mold every once in a while is fine. Maybe some of you aren’t interested, but that’s fine.

Plus, this post is a little late. Halo Infinite has been out for over two months now (between the campaign and the “free” multiplayer). Granted, the post didn’t come up before now because by the time I’d gathered these thoughts, I was on vacation, and I was not breaking that to post my musings on Halo Infinite.

But hey, the vacation is over now, and while this post might be a bit late rather than near launch, at the same time there’s a single advantage to that. See, the first few weeks after Infinite came out it was hard to find anything negative being said about it that wasn’t immediately dogpiled by ravenous fans who were just happy to have a Halo game again. But now that the honeymoon is over, more and more leeway is being to express discontent with some of the frankly baffling decisions from the newest Halo title.

Of which there are many. Personally, I find Halo Infinite to be almost exasperating in its competent, yet insane execution. I say insane because there’s almost no other word for it. It’s hard to otherwise articulate the amount of failure packed inside this package alongside spot-on success, bundled together with elements that have been fully omitted in favor of a “We’ll get to that later, we promise” note from the devs that frankly, no is certain we’ll ever get.

Comparatively then, Halo Infinite is akin to a car from a manufacturer like Lamborghini, only upon receipt of the car we find that while the engine is a work of art, the transmission is from an old 1940s Chevy, the tires are from Wal-mart, and half the instrument panel doesn’t work, but we’ve got an IOU from the manufacturer that promises it will be along before long and maybe even for a low price!

It’s a home run, a bunt, and strike, all at the same time. Let’s talk about it.

Continue reading

Why You Won’t Be Seeing My Work on Serial Story Sites

Hey readers! Really quick, before I get started on this post, don’t forget that if you’re a Patreon Supporter, there’s a poll going right now to determine the name of a new arms manufacturer in Starforge! Go vote!

Okay, now that you’ve done that … So yesterday someone upon encountering my work for the first time asked a question that I’ve heard before, which goes a bit like this: “Hey, is any of your work on any of those episodic release writing websites where I can just read a chapter a day/week for free?” For those of you who’ve never looked at or for such a thing, yes, these places exist.

And no. None of my work is on any of them (and if it is, it’s been stolen). Nor do I plan on having my work on any of them.

Now, some of you might be asking “Why?” and that’s a fair question. I had one individual (not a writer, imagine that) suggest that all the “real” writers were on Royalroad because that was “where the money was” and if I was ‘serious” about this writing thing, I should look at going there.

Well, they were correct about one thing. That’s where the money is. Just … not for the creator.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with services like RoyalRoad or the newly-arriving Vella (Amazon’s service which they’ve several times begged me to join) they’re basically a serialized story service. Think of the basic setup a bit like a fanfiction site (though with a lot more money at stake) in terms of delivering readers categorized content, easy to search and find.

But now take it one step further. Rather than one-off stories or completed work, the goal here is to hook readers on serialized content that’s produced as rapidly as possible. So a reader comes to the site and finds, for example, a romance story that updates with a new chapter every day or every week. The goal of the site is to get that reader coming back every day or every week and reading the new chapter, which triggers their ad revenue. Or better yet, said reader can become a premium reader and pay a little bit each day to read ahead, as the story itself is usually a couple chapters ahead. As long as the reader is willing to pay a fee (a buck or two, usually) for that story each week, they can read the next chapter “before” the rest of the world.

And when you look at it like that, it doesn’t seem that bad. Not from the reader’s perspective. They can log in, read their new chapter each day on their phone, confirm that they’re paying for it, and come back again the next day.

But here’s the thing … If I wanted to do that system … I could do it right here on my website. In fact, I did, except that it was free entirely, with no fees or ads, with Fireteam Freelance. Of course, it wasn’t identical. People had to load my webpage rather than an app to check the latest chapters, and there was no way to become a “premium” reader and pay money to look ahead.

Outside of me being able to set up the same process on my website, however, there’s another reason you’ll never see me on sites like RoyalRoad or Vella.

They’re made to bleed money to the siteholders. Not to authors/creators.

Continue reading

OP-ED: Let’s Not Throw Away What We’ve Gained – A Thought on 2020

Hello readers! Just a quick thought post here to finish off the month. A sort of combination “look back” along with some thoughts on things.

Look, there’s no denying that 2020 was a brutal year for just about everyone. A global pandemic, the first of its kind in a century, swept over the Earth, and things went nuts as a result. Borders closed, the economy went into a complete tailspin, jobs died by the truckload, millions became homeless, over three million people (and still counting upward) died … 2020 was, without a doubt, one of the nastiest years on record for many (I mean, I broke four ribs—TWICE).

But it wasn’t all bad. And I’m not trying to excuse the year, mind. That’s not the point of this at all. Nor am I saying “Hey, ignore all that awful stuff because of this one good thing.” Conditions out there are still awful for many, covid-19 hasn’t quite eased its grip on us yet, and there’s still plenty of fallout from the disaster of last year that needs to be dealt with. Sands, in the US we’re still on the cusp of about ten percent of the population becoming homeless. That’s a major problem that needs to be dealt with.

But I do want to take a moment to reiterate something I said last year about when this all does end: That we not let things go back to “normal.”

I bring this up again because I’ve seen it being pushed lately, with the vaccine rollout in the US being what it is, that we can “finally” return to “normal.” People are excited and ready to “go back to the way things were.”

But you know what? I think that’s a mistake. Yeah, there were plenty of bad things about last year. A titanic number, in fact.

But there was a lot of good too. And I think casting that aside to “go back” would be a mistake.

Continue reading

OP-ED: Why Starcraft II’s Campaign Design Isn’t That Great

So yeah, this post isn’t going to be about writing. This post is one that has been on my backlog for around six months and I just never got around to it because there were other things to write about. Calling this is a “non-issue” is pretty accurate, really. Almost, but we’ll get into that. Starcraft II has been out for almost eleven years at this point, and there aren’t many people picking it up new.

However, because it’s been out for that long, I’ve had enough time to play through the title in question more than once and note the subject of today’s post.

But before I get into that, some quick news updates. First, Starforge. Starforge work continues to be the number one thing I’m working on right now, and I’ve almost finished up another major section. Likely will have by the end of this week/start of next week. Stranded remains a weekend project, as does another project, but once again I’ve been having burnout struggles, mostly because Starforge is a titan of a project that’s a bit all-consuming of my every thought and focus.

Speaking of which, I’ve now had multiple people in the real world notice that I’ve been “off” for a few weeks and tell me I need a vacation. Which … yeah I can’t deny. So I might be taking a week off sometime soon, just for mental health reasons. Though even that’s dicey because I’ve got so much to do …

Yeah … I think they’re all correct that I need a break of some kind. But Starforge! Both the cause and the solution, I think. After this, I’m going to write a few small books to relax.

In other news, speaking of small books, Axtara continues to review well, as do the rest of my books. Sales have hit a bit of a slump lately (someone suggested “summer” and people hoping quarantine was on its way out as possible reasons) but across my work the reviews are staying high. And outside of that? There really isn’t any news. So back to the rest of this post.

Okay, so this is one of those rare posts where I talk about one of my other hobbies, in this case gaming, and I want to talk about Starcraft II today. Now, as I said, this is an old game, but it still gets brought up a lot because it’s one of only a few RTS titles that still manages to have a decent following (the genre being somewhat dead these days).

Now personally, I’m not a huge fan of Starcraft II‘s approach to the genre. It’s a game that takes rock-paper-scissors balance to an extreme conclusion, an edge where a unit will do 250% damage (or more) to a specific unit it’s meant to counter, making army composition a case of “one-upping” the other guy with hyper-specialization (for the record, I prefer Relic’s Dawn of War approach where unit type bonus never exceeds 25% and other factors like accuracy and cover come into play).

But one thing I did enjoy was Starcraft II‘s (SC2) much-lauded campaign. At least … the first few times. But I still see it brought up as a stellar example of RTS single-player achievement whenever people bring up RTS campaigns. On the one hand, that’s good … but then on the other, I worry developers will take the wrong lessons.

Enough beating around the bush. Let’s dive into the meat-and-potatoes of SC2’s campaign and why it’s not as good as everyone remembers.

Continue reading