Leap Year reviewed

I’ve spent about 30-45 minutes in Leap Year so far, and it’s one of the stranger platformer games I’ve played.

The game’s tagline, A clumsy platformer, clues you into what to expect. The jump mechanic is unique among platformers, in that your default jump is generally fatal to yourself. Fall height is what does it; and you can only safely fall one grid-height, approximately the height of your own body, without injury.

But your standard jump height is two grid squares, making it deadly most of the time if you try to jump without a good bit of planning first. You can’t control your jump height by a light press or brief press of the button. You always get the same jump no matter how you try to press the button.

So this forces creativity. A normal jump on level ground will take you up two squares, and drop you fatally onto the ground. So you can work around that by jumping up to a higher platform, one or two squares above your starting level, and thereby avoid falling too far. Or you can jump under a low ceiling, which prevents you from going too high, and thus land safely on the same level you started from. There are perhaps a few other ways to survive falling, if you can figure it out. But I don’t want to give away too much and spoil the puzzle aspect. Figuring it out for yourself is definitely where the fun is found.

The goal of the game is to collect numbers which correspond to the dates of the month of February, 2024, which is a leap year, so there are 29 altogether…. er, I think — I’ve only managed to get through the first 15 so far. Each date is a checkpoint, which you’ll respawn from if you die. You can expect to die a lot, because most stuff you’re thinking is easy and second nature in a jumping platform game is fatal in Leap Year.

The levels provide a solution for getting safely through, and it’s a puzzle to work out for yourself how. So this is pretty clearly a puzzle-platformer. It’s fairly non-violent, despite tripping and dying constantly, and failure is never much of a setback as long as you’ve touched a checkpoint recently you won’t have to repeat much.

The game does require a bit of planning and thinking through your actions, if only because you have to carefully consider how the rules work in this game, since they’re so counter-intuitive to how most platforming games work.

I found that the level design is a bit obtuse and obfuscated — there are walls and platforms that you can move through, but the game doesn’t make it obvious. You can discover these things readily enough through experimentation, but there’s little in the way of clues or signposts. Only the bare minimum is explained: arrow keys to move left/right, space to jump, you figure out how jumping kills you, and what the rules are for surviving. About halfway through, the game throws another mechanic at you: shift will allow you to bounce safely from a normally fatal jump height, and rebound to a taller than usual height than you can jump… but only under certain circumstances, which I’ve yet to completely figure out. So sometimes you can do the bounce move, and other times you can’t, and I haven’t figured out why, and I’m not sure if that’s because I’m a dummy, or because the game design has an issue, or perhaps because figuring it out is the game, and it’s meant to be a mysterious puzzle that I have to discover through trial and error until I experience gestalt.

I’m currently stuck trying to figure out how to get to the 16th. I seem to recall seeing the 16 flag once, early on in the game, and it seemed that it was out of sequence, skipping a lot of the earlier numbers, so I tried to get it but I couldn’t, and I’m not sure if that’s because I wasn’t meant to, or because I just didn’t understand the rules for how to move and solve the platform puzzles well enough to be able to do it. So I went a different way and ended up getting all the rest of the numbers in order, and now I’ve gotten the 15th and the map sort of looped around and I’m back in an area where I’ve been already, only I’m not quite sure how to get back, or where exactly I need to go to find the 16.

So I may need to start over and play through again, noting more carefully where I saw that 16. Or maybe I’ll figure it out eventually.

So what other tricks will this game offer me? I don’t really know, but it’s been pretty fun so far. A bit frustrating, and so unlike most platformers that I’m used to that I bet it will be a game that a lot of platformer players dislike. It can be frustrating in ways that won’t feel fair to players approaching it with the expectations of the platformers that they’re used to. It’s counter-intuitive, clumsy, and a bit clunky. But that said, it tells you straight up that it’s a clumsy platformer, so you can’t say they didn’t warn you, and if you play with an open mind and with the understanding that this is a platformer that is trying to explore the space that is enabled by subverting the usual expectations of the genre, then you may come to appreciate its subtleties.

The graphics are charming, crude abstract stick figures, clumsily hand-drawn, as though doodles, and if you enjoy children’s art, you’ll find it delightful. The background music is relaxing and pleasant to listen to, although I’m not at all sure how to describe it.

Leap Year is a bravely contrarian platformer that subverts expectations, but if you’re looking for something deliberately different, and you understand the design language well enough to know the difference between a poor designer who, ignorant of the conventional rules of platformer design, just creates something sloppy, unplanned, and poor quality, and a master designer breaking the rules deliberately in order to achieve something unexpected, then you may just enjoy this game for what it is meant to be.

Leap Year by Daniel Linssen released on Steam

I first encountered Daniel Linssen through Ludum Dare more than 10 years ago. He was using GameMaker and created a wonderful platformer called Javel-ein. Linssen has gone on to make many other games, all of which are amazing. He has quite a knack for design and for coming up with interesting and novel play mechanics. I love everything he’s created.

His latest release, Leap Year, just came out on Steam, and without having played it yet, I can’t give it a review, but I can without reservation give it a recommendation. For just $5, it is guaranteed to be worth your time and money. Go check it out.

On the state of general web search AI in 2024

I thought I would try asking Bing’s AI for help in finding a good bathroom sink.

A huge problem with the search is that the manufacturers and/or retailers don’t provide consistent, accurate, complete data on dimensions.

If you’re lucky, there’s an drafting diagram showing precisely all the relevant dimensions from top, side, and front. This is wonderful, but rare.

More often, if there is a diagram, it omits the dimension I’m trying to determine, which is the inner bowl depth. It’s difficult to get a good measurement by hand because it’s a curved surface. Plus even if you’re in a store and they happen to have it in stock, it’ll either be on a display, on a shelf too high to reach, and they won’t let you go up a ladder, or it’ll be in a box, and you can’t really open it, although I suppose you could whip out a box cutter and just do it like a barbarian. Or you could buy it, take it home, look at it, and return it, which is also a hassle.

Often if there is a “depth” measurement reported, they are giving you the overall depth, from the top of the rim of the sink, to the bottom of the drain, which is an outside depth.

Why am I the only one who cares about this dimension?

You can chat with someone on the website, and they don’t know. They’re sitting on a computer at their home or in an office somewhere, they don’t have physical access to the product either. They’re polite, but helpless, really. All they can do is search for you and read the same info you can read. And a lot of the time they are not good at reading comprehension and miss the criteria you give them. And in any case they are not so motivated to search as exhaustively as you would be as a customer who will be living with the thing for the next 50 years.

A lot of the time web chat on ecommerce sites is timed, because humans cost money and they are trying to maximize value for shareholders by minimizing costs and maximizing productivity as measured by conversations completed, rather than by customers highly satisfied, and so will disconnect while you’re in the middle of a conversation. Instead of having a button to end the chat, it’ll just drop you when it decides you’ve been idle for too long. This is the most aggravating thing, because then you usually have to start all over and go through the same thing with a different associate who can’t just look up your previous chat because all the sessions are disconnected from each other, and it’s like you’re a new person to them.

Another aggravation with human chat is that sometimes they are required to follow a formal style that is supposed to come off as polite, but really just gets in the way of having a productive conversation.


I am looking for a [lengthy criteria]


Well yeah, that’s kinda what I just asked you to do, homes. Can’t you just get to it without all the ceremony?


So sometimes you can get something useful out of them, but mostly it’s like they can look at the same webpage that you can, and see the same information on it, and not be able to provide any more information or insight than that, because it’s the first time they ever looked at it themselves and they don’t know anything more about it than a random person off the street.

In the old days, a very long time ago, you’d walk into a store and there’d be some semi-retired guy who worked in the trades and they had like 35 years of experience installing the things and could tell you how to do it blindfolded, and they’d know every product like they were on the design team, like Marissa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny knows cars, and they’d tell you the exact model number of the perfect thing that is exactly what you want, and know the exact location of it on the shelf, and they’d be the salt of the earth and feel like your favorite uncle and best friend and a guy who really cares all rolled into one, and he’d look just like Earnest Borgnine, and would actually be him 7/10 of the time. And he could crack a joke, talk about baseball, juggle and make balloon animals, and he knew a guy with a pony and could come to your son’s birthday if you gave him $50.

But I digress.

Maybe that’s not so much a back in the day thing, but it’s the sort of thing that you might have seen depicted in a dramatic film about shopping for hardware, where things happened as some script writer idealized. We get confused so easily by reality and artistic representations of an ideal reality, it’s hard to keep them straight in our heads sometimes.

AI is in much the same boat, with respect to what information is generally available online, but I thought it might be quicker, and better at sorting and filtering.

But actually, AI is much worse than a human. Of course, Bing’s AI is searching the general internet, and not an inventory catalog on a specific ecommerce site. The best Bing seems to be able to do is a hodgepodge of various sinks that are of all different types, and do not match the criteria closely.

In Star Trek, the ship computer is really good. It’s what we think of as the kind of AI we’d like to have.

Kirk: “Computer: Give me a listing of all bathroom sinks, drop-in, white, ceramic, measuring no more than 20in wide by 17in front-to-back, oval or rectangular, sorted by inner bowl depth.”

**60s mainframe noises** COMPUTING


Kirk: Yes. But first tell me the last digit of Pi.

But we don’t have that yet.

I’d even settle for:


But there’s no global database of building materials like that, that I’m aware of.

So we have do do it the hard way. Or just settle for a sub-optimal solution, or a solution where the optimalization is unknown and unknowable.

Boulderdash by Andrew Davie

Boulderdash was a classic early 80s videogame. I remember seeing advertisements for it, but I don’t think I ever had a chance to play it. It was available on many platforms, and for some reason I think it was more popular on personal computers of the day (DOS, Apple ][, Commodore, Atari, Amiga) than it was on consoles.

Andrew Davie is a programming legend in the Atari homebrew scene. For the past year-plus, he has been developing a Boulderdash remake on the Atari 2600 that is incredible. It runs on a stock system, no special hardware mods needed, thanks to an ARM chip in the cartridge. That ARM chip is a significant power boost to the processing capabilities of the system, so really the console is just relaying controller input to the computer inside the cartridge, which uses the VCS’s Television Interface Adapter (TIA) chip to draw to the screen. The results are far beyond the normal capabilities of the 1977-vintage hardware. And the program does things that you have to see to believe. If you run this game next to a 2k launch title like Combat or Slot Racers, you wouldn’t believe that it’s running on the same exact hardware. It’s a 32kb ROM, as compared to the 2kb or 4kb of most Atari 2600 games.

Davie has announced through his website that he has obtained permission from the owners of the Boulderdash IP to release just 100 individually serialized copies of the game ROM will be produced, and they are not redistributable — this means that one may not legally obtain the ROM from anyone other than Andrew Davie, who is giving them away for free, but only for 100 lucky Atari fans. This is a must-have for an Atari collector.

It’s my hope that the Demo will be followed up by a full version of the game, hopefully in unlimited quantities. Nothing has been announced formally, but the “demo” label implies that there should be more to come. But it’s possible that the Demo may be all that he will be authorized to release.

The graphics are higher resolution than the 2600 is normally capable of displaying, very detailed, more objects on the screen, more colors, it has music, animation, parallax scrolling, asymmetrical playfields, everything that you would not expect to be possible with the stock Atari 2600 hardware. It’s literally incredible.

Atari acquires Intellivision brand

Atari SA announced that it has purchased the Intellivision brand and “certain games”.

What is Atari getting exactly?

  • One less competitor
  • The Intellivision trademark and brand
  • The incomplete, unreleased Amico platform
  • The Intellivision game library consisting of some 200-ish titles.

It looks like Atari intend to bring the Amico console to market. That’s a surprising decision, considering that they are now supporting the Atari VCS and Atari 2600+ systems. It might have made more sense for Atari to put Amico titles on the VCS rather than try to launch another console. Adding another misbegotten console to their lineup will not benefit the company — it will only serve to divide up the already tiny Atari customer base and increase the companies expenses in supporting another console that doesn’t have enough customers. Considering that Atari is just barely supporting the VCS, it seems crazy for them to split their customer base by resurrecting the Amico from the dead and trying to complete the promise made by Intellivision more than five years ago.

I think it makes sense to buy the Intellivision brand and IP, if it can be had for a bargain basement price. I’m not aware of which games Atari will now own, but whatever they are, having the rights to use those titles, characters and other IPs would be an opportunity for Atari. But what games are they? What unique game titles did Mattel produce for Intellivision back in the day, that would still hold value for nostalgic retrogamers today? I can’t think of too many. B-17 Bomber, Astrosmash, Shark! Shark! …that’s about it, really. And that’s… not much. Most Intellivision titles had generic-sounding names like “Football” or “Sea Battle” and none of them produced anything like a trademarkable, charismatic mascot to carry the brand.

Meifumado kickstarter resurfaces back from dead, releasing this summer?!

In 2022, I backed a project on Kickstarter for a video game called Meifumado. I donated $20, the cheapest level to get a copy of the game when it was finished. It looked promising. The graphics were pixel art, very detailed and it looked great. The combat animation reminded me of Shank, mixed with a bit of Samurai Champloo.

Immediately after they reached goal and the fundraising period ended, the developers apparently disappeared from the face of the earth, and it seemed like everyone had been had to the tune of some $48,000. People were pissed.

Today, developer OldBit resurfaced and posted a rambling, long-overdue update on the project page. The post is visible to backers only, so the short of it is that OldBit is located in Belarus, and was affected by the embargo on Russia and its allies in the days following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in March of 2022.

It’s odd to me that these events are linked, because man did it feel like Meifumado was a lot longer time ago than just two years ago. Apparently, Kickstarter doesn’t offer service to Belarus, and so to even get listed on Kickstarter in the first place, they had to partner with an intermediary in another country. Then they couldn’t get the funding transferred as expected after the embargo went into effect.

And… it took two years to provide this update? People were asking questions, for months, with nothing but silence, and they couldn’t respond for two years? Seems really weak. OldBit admits that they should have come forward to let backers know what was going on much earlier, and apologizes for it. I can’t say that the apology resonates with me, because there just isn’t any excuse after so long with no update. My confidence in OldBit was shattered, and I wrote off the $20 as a lost cause and forgot about the project.

However… OldBit says that they are close to having the project completed now, and will be releasing in the summer (it’s almost June, so that’s going to be rather soon if it indeed happens, but I’m not holding my breath; I’ll believe it when I believe it.)

If it does come out, and I get my copy for my $20, then I’m satisfied, and it’s certainly not any later than most of the other projects I’ve backed on Kickstarter, GoFundMe, or IndieGoGo. So from that standpoint, the only real difference between this project and most of the others the complete dead silence from the developers. And if that’s all it is, hey, whatever, right? Results matter, and if they do deliver the game they promised, it’s an unexpected nice thing. Like seeing someone you thought was dead, alive and well.

It’ll be anybody’s guess if the game is as good as the kickstarter pitch video made it look. But if it is, it’ll be something special.

Eulogy for a suicide

How many years ago was it? A lifetime, I guess.

There used to be a little hacker conference that happened once a year in Cleveland, Ohio, called Notacon.

The first time I heard about it was the second year it was held, and so I attended. I was just starting out in my IT career, and very interested in the subject matter due to a life long enjoyment of playing around with computers.

Sadly, I didn’t come away from the event impressed. It was very amateurish and low budget and seemed like something that some kids would try to pull off before they were ready, trying to imitate adults doing something for real. They had bedsheets for projection screens, none of the talks were happening at the times or in the rooms where the printed schedules had them. It was a pretty sorry event, kind of a clusterfuck.

Well, it was at that. But I shouldn’t have been so negative. I should have seen the potential.

Fast forward a few more years.

I think it was 2009. A guy I knew from the internet, who went by the name Aestetix, I enjoyed his livejournal and reading his thoughts on stuff, was coming into town and needed a ride from the airport. He was speaking at Notacon, which I think was in its 7th year (6th, I went and checked). He said he’d get anyone who helped him out into the conference as his +1. So I volunteered to do it. I wanted to meet this guy and I wasn’t necessarily all that interested in Notacon because of the impression I’d taken away form it. But I figured I’d give it another shot. After all, if they were still doing it four years later, they must have gotten better at putting it on.

I had a great time at Notacon 6. The event had grown up. I met some really interesting people. They were friendly, smart, tech geeks like me, except smarter and geekier and cooler and more friendly. They were better than me in every way, just about. I made friends, I was accepted. Aestetix took me around and introduced me to a bunch of people he was friends with, people associated with 2600, the hacker scene, the demo scene, the info sec scene. 2600 was something I’d read about and heard about for years. I got to meet some actual legendary people: Emmanuel Goldstein, Jason Scott, Dave Kennedy from TrustedSec, Dan Kaminsky, Adrian “Irongeek” Crenshaw, James Myrcurial Arlen, Jameson Lundy, Desirae Gillis, int80, Danyelle Davis, Mark W. Schumann, Joe Peacock, Sigflup, and Notacon’s organizers Froggy and Tyger.

And a young cartoonist named Ed Piskor.

Ed Piskor is dead. He committed suicide. I learned about it just a short time ago.

Apparently after some allegations emerged of some kind of sexual inappropriateness which I don’t know the details of, Ed posted a suicide note on Facebook and then took his life. I’m grateful not to know the details of that, either.

Ed’s suicide note claims that he was guilty of being stupid, innocent of the more serious things that were apparently alleged (and mostly only alluded to in the note), and that he was choosing to end his life not because he was guilty of what he’d been accused of, because of shame and because he felt that he couldn’t get his life or reputation back after what had come out.

So… I guess I didn’t know him all that well. But I knew his work. And I thought he was a bright and talented man, and I liked him. He was a familiar face on my Facebook feed and on my YouTube recommendations, and in that sense, I felt like I knew him. But I really didn’t.

I first met him when I attended his talk at Notacon 6, where he talked about drawing his first comic, Wizzywig, about a young hacker. I thought it was really well written, and a decent amalgamation based on the lives of several real-world hackers whom I’ve heard of and read about.

Ed was nervous to be talking in front of a group of people, and it showed. He was very young and new in the industry. I talked to him afterward and bought copies of his books that he had for sale. He was so reverent of the subject matter. He said he just hoped that he got it right, and he admitted that his biggest fear was that the people he was trying to tell a story about wouldn’t accept what he had done, mashing up their biographies. He was afraid that others would say that he screwed up the depiction, didn’t get it right.

I don’t know that I was ever inside the world of hackers enough to be able to say this with any genuine authority, but I told him not to worry about that, that from what I could see, he did justice to the subject, and captured the spirit of the times and the culture of hacking in the 80s and 90s very well.

Ed inked a portrait of me, in his own style, on the inside of one of the issues of Wizzywig that I bought from him. I had long hair, round glasses, and was wearing a hoodie, as was my style at the time. I followed him on Facebook, and we occasionally commented on each other’s stuff.

I watched Ed’s career take off. After Wizzywig, he wrote a series called Hip Hop Family Tree, which was maybe his best work. He told the story of the hip hop music scene, and drew the book in a style that “sampled” and “remixed” the art style of Marvel Comics artists of the 70s and 80s, particularly Jack “King” Kirby, creating homages to classic comic book panels and covers, replacing them with hip hop luminaries. It was thorough and deep and really well done. It won awards and brought him fame and I guess maybe a little fortune. It was wonderful to see him taking his talents to where they could lead. His art had improved to a whole new level, and you could see the absolute love and, I’ll say it again, reverence, for the subject matter — both the music and the medium of comics.

At this point Ed had come into his own, so to speak, and had developed a public persona that was a bit bolder and more confident than the rookie artist I had met a few years prior. I suspect that he was aware that he was presenting himself to the public, and chose to make himself entertaining. He adopted a kind of standard uniform, wearing Pittsburgh Pirates jerseys and hats, nerdy horn rimmed glasses or sometimes sunglasses, and usually something paying homage to his favorite hip hop and rap act, especially Public Enemy. I’m not sure how “real” this version of Ed was, but it was the version of himself that he seemed to inhabit when he was putting himself out in public. I suspect that it was an amped up version of who he wanted to be when he wasn’t feeling shy or nervous.

Ed went on to do a re-telling of the entire history of the X-Men, called X-Men: Grand Design. This was a hugely ambitious project, intended to organize, streamline, and re-tell the convoluted history of something like 40 years of X-Men stories. It was the kind of project a kid who grew up reading X-Men comics might dream about doing. Well, he pitched it to Marvel, and they took him up on it. Rather bold. But it showed how much cachet he had earned with the accolades he had received from Hip Hop Family Tree. Ed’s career was hot.

As such it was a bigger project than I’m really capable of judging. I read some X-Men comics in my day, but the amount of material there — decades and decades of multiple ongoing books, made it a daunting project to read, let alone write and draw. Chris Claremont, Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee, and yeah some of the more classic books, reprints from Stan Lee’s time writing the book in the 60s. X-Men were some of the hottest comics for decades and attracted all of the top artist and writing talent. Ed took that material, consolidated and streamlined it, and re-told it, tightening the continuity, and paring it down to what he felt was its essence. It might have been a bit more ambitious than anyone could have handled. I think he was trying to do for X-Men what he’d done for Hip Hop, but I’m not sure it was quite as successful.

Next, Ed went into horror and gore comics, and produced a loving homage to them with his Red Room series. Ed had some connections to underground comics, having been something of a prodigee of Harvey Pekar, and having a kind of lineal connection to R. Crumb through him. And this pedigree gave Ed a bona fide street cred connection to non-Code adult comics which, by their very nature, were controversial and touched on adult topics, from sex to politics to drugs to racism, and were independent rather than subscribing to any particular orthodoxy or ideology. Underground comic books were not about super-powered heroes fighting crime and saving the world. They were about all kinds of things. Mainly they were a medium for the artist to express themselves and their opinions and philosophies on life.

And part of that underground comics scene was devoted to extreme gore and horror themes, stuff that the government had tried to crack down on, and whose resulting crackdown caused mainstream comics to be considered kiddie fare for decades after… until a generation of kids raised on comics grew up and started writing “dark, gritty, real” comics in the late 80s and 90s. Characters like Batman: the Dark Knight, Wolverine, and the Punisher offered a “mature audiences” take on the spandex tights superhero books that kids of the 60s and 70s grew up with. But even then, the non-code books from the independent small presses that constituted the underground were something far and away different. And Ed had an obvious, obsessive fascination with these taboo books and the topics they explored.

Now, Ed’s Red Room work one was not one that appealed to me for its subject matter — I was never into gore or horror movies when I was a kid. And these were especially, gratuitously sick books. He posted panels of his work in progress to Facebook regularly, and I was always surprised that Facebook didn’t take them down for violating Community Standards on violence, nudity, you name it. This was a story about a serial murderer who would imprison and torture victims, vivisecting them for a sick sexual thrill, with basically nothing left to the imagination.

I admit I kindof started to wonder about Ed around this time, and considered reaching out to him and asking him what could possess him to create that stuff, but I didn’t know how to, and not have him just outright reject my attempt at outreach, and tell me to fuck off. After all, he was already committed to the project, and it wasn’t like he could turn back from it by the time I had heard about it. But man the shit he was drawing was twisted, almost inspired in how extreme it was. He was really pushing extreme gore to a level I’d never seen before, and despite not liking the genre, I had seen my share of it. I think, though, that Ed was drawing on a rich history of material from the underground comics that I’d occasionally seen at shops and conventions, as well as slasher films, true crime books, real life serial killers, and that sort of thing. I knew kids in my school days who were into slasher movies, and I figured this was just one of those things that some people were into, but not me, and so I left it at that.

Ed did a YouTube channel with another comics artist, Jim Rugg, called Cartoonist Kayfabe. Wherein they would talk about comics and promote the medium by looking back at its history. They discussed their favorite books and influences, and reviewed newly published material, and occasionally they would have on guests from the industry, names such as Sergio Aragonés and Rob Liefeld. They were always so respectful of the craft of drawing comics, but they could also point out examples of where an artist swung and missed, too. It was usually a 20 to 30 minute video podcast, sometimes going up to an hour or more, just depending on what they had to talk about and how much they got into it. I liked seeing what they were up to each week, and appreciated that what they were doing was helping to promote the art and the industry they were in, it seemed like such a positive thing.

So “shocked” doesn’t begin to describe how I felt when I read the news that Ed had died. I am still processing this news, and writing this is part of that process. I do not have any insider knowledge about what happened, or what lead up to his decision to commit suicide. It’s been many years, well over a decade since I spoke to Ed in person. I am nonetheless terribly saddened to learn that his light has left the world. And I haven’t yet come to grips with what darkness must have hastened its departure.

To read what little he put into the suicide note about it, it sounds like from his perspective he was misunderstood and misrepresented by his accusers. I am not privy to what it was that they perceived, exactly, but I can well appreciate how they might have received him if he was trying to be flirtatious with someone and said things that came off as creepy. From what I’ve read about it, what Ed was accused of was inappropriately attempting to groom a fan and aspiring artist was 17 at the time — Ed would have been in his late 30s when this happened. So, yeah, that’s legitimately creepy, I’d say. Sure, age of consent laws wouldn’t make it a crime, and in another century it would have been pretty “normal” for age differences like this, but this is now, and just because it’s not criminal doesn’t make it inappropriate. Apparently Ed had used his fame/success and connections to big names in his industry to try to add to his allure to these women. And, I guess there’s more to it than that. But a lot of i is starting to get taken down as I write this, so I’m not sure I can find out all the details.

Maybe that’s for the best; maybe it’s none of my business. But at least for a short time this was all coming out in public.

But be that as it may, some women (at least two, but it sounds like maybe there were more) came out and shared their stories, and it blew up. Ed’s career imploded. He lost a book deal, an art show deal, and his partnership with Jim Rugg, all in quick succession. And for a guy who probably loved comics for his entire life going back to his earliest memories, and had devoted his entire life to becoming the artist he had become, to see that all fall apart in a matter of days or weeks, I’m sure was too much for him. It must have felt like his life had already ended. And so with nothing else left, he must have felt that there was nothing left for him.

Sometimes guys can be creepy, and they have no bad intentions behind their botched or unwelcome attempts at approaching someone for a little romance or a sexy fling. And then, some guys are genuinely bad people who end up being womanizers or even rapists or serial killers.

I don’t know the other side of it, and I probably won’t ever unless I go digging for it, and I don’t think that it’s something I want to do. I really hope that wasn’t who Ed was. I really hope no one is really like that. But I know that in this world, there are people who are like that. Ed drew some sick shit in his Red Room comics, and he could be prone to some pretty juvenile humor, and a lot of it could be inappropriate. So I find it plausible he could be a creep, or at the very least come off as creepy.

So I can imagine… I just don’t know what to imagine.

Anyway, my imagination isn’t really relevant in this story. The facts are what matter. I don’t have them.

I am here to record a sense of loss for the man I met when I was still young, whose work I knew, and whose career I followed, and counted myself a fan of.

I’m not here to defend what Ed may have done. And I’m not here to pass judgement on him; I will leave that to those who know what he did, as they are entitled to do.

For them, I am sorry for whatever happened to them, for whatever Ed might have done. It is terrible and disturbing to think about, especially not knowing exactly what it was.

And for Ed, I am sorry that it was something that he felt merited taking his own life.

A pair of remade sequels, perfected

In 1987 a pair of NES games had noteworthy sequels: The Legend of Zelda, and Castlevania. Both games were successful and popular, yet as the years went by they came to be regarded as flawed games that aged, let us say, less well than nostalgia would have wished.

More than 35 years later, two fan-made projects to remake and pay homage to these classics have been released.

Zelda II Enhanced Edition: Link is Adventuresome

Hoverbat has created an incredibly faithful homage to the Legend of Zelda franchise’s sophomore entry, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. A remake and expansion of the original, Zelda II Enhanced: Link is Adventuresome is available (for now) at itch.io. I’m not going to link directly to it, but it is not difficult to find. Created in GameMaker Studio 1.4, it runs on Windows. It’s one of the most impressive projects made with GMS 1.4 that I’ve seen — right up there with the Mega Man Maker project and Hyper Light Drifter.

The game boldly reimagines the original, taking license to fix a number of “quality of life” issues and add new content and challenges while looking, sounding, and feeling exactly like the original did on the NES. I’m blown away at just how well the Zelda II engine has been reimplemented in GaneMaker. This game is a must play for anyone who enjoyed the original version in the late 80s.

Zelda II is remembered these days as being the (so-called) “worst” of the Zelda games on Nintendo hardware. (No one counts the Philips CD-i games,which were truly awful, as official anymore). While many LOZ fans defend Zelda II, it’s not unreasonable to call it the least-best Zelda game in the mainline series. But to call it a “bad” game is really unfair. At the time of its release, it was the most highly anticipated a video game, a sequel to what was probably the best video game ever made to that point in time.

As a sequel, it daringly changed up the formula and offered a completely different experience to the player. Featuring side-scrolling action, and introducing a new magic system and RPG-like elements like leveling up, it was an ambitious and innovative game. It was extremely challenging, and it was imperfect, to be sure, but it was extremely popular and well received by gamers at the time.

Famously, a chip shortage made it very hard to come by during the Christmas season that year, amplifying the demand. It wasn’t a perfect game, the main complaint being that some of the secrets and solutions to puzzles were too cryptic and made buying a guide book necessary to win the game. And while these criticisms are certainly valid, they don’t stop Zelda II from being one of the top releases in the storied history of the NES.

This fan remake addresses much of these issues, and improves the quest design in ways that surpasses the original. It’s essentially a re-telling of the original game, which looks in most ways exactly like the original, but with embellishments. That’s all I really want to give away about it; there’s a lot of new things to discover, and some things have been changed, but pretty much all for the better.

There’s no chip shortage this time, but we all know how protective Nintendo has always been with their IP, so probably don’t expect the game to be available indefinitely. Get it while you can.

Transylvania Adventure of Simon Quest

The Transylvania Adventure of Simon Quest project, demo available on itch.io and coming soon to Steam, started out as a remake of the 1987 Konami classic, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest.

Originally it was intended to be a faithful remake that addressed numerous problems with the original, which suffered from a poor translation, cryptic puzzles, numerous programming glitches and errors and weak boss fights. Despite all these shortcomings, the core game concept was strong: a non-linear adventure quest with a day/night cycle, towns full of shops and people to talk to, hidden secrets and puzzles. Exploration, a sense of narrative progression, building your power, and finding secrets/solving puzzles were given emphasis roughly equal to the action-based elements of fighting undead monsters.

The remake project ended up evolving into its own thing, rather than trying to remake Castlevania II, it’s become a completely new game, albeit one which owes much inspiration to the original, and is a wholly new game built with the same engine. It feels just like the original, with a look, sound and feel so much like the original, you’d think that they brought the original development team back.

You definitely will want to get this one, too.

Is it too much to hope that someone will do this for Metal Gear? A properly done remake of Metal Gear, which was a hit on NES despite being ridden with numerous bugs and glitches, has been on my wish list for quite some time.

140: A late review

140 is a synaesthetic rhythm puzzle platformer indie game released in 2013. I remember it getting favorable reviews, and bought it, but like so many people who buy games on Steam, I didn’t play it for a long time. I finally got around to it, and I’m glad I did.

So far I’ve completed the first four levels.

The design of this game is so, so good. Let me tell you that straight off. I’ve never played a game where the various design elements are do tightly and intricately interwoven. The graphics are abstract, shapes and colors. The background of the levels animate in sync with the music, which has a strong beat, I presume, of 140 beats per minute. The platforms and obstacles in the game move in synch with this beat as well, so if you are attuned to the music, it helps you time your jumps and when to move to avoid death and achieve success.

The title of the game symbolically represents the 3 states of your avatar. 1, represented as a rectangle, or square, is you when you are motionless. 4, represented as a triangle, represents you when you are airborne, jumping or falling. And 0, represented as a circle, is you when you are moving, rolling on the surface of the ground. Thus, the title serves as a subtle reinforcement of the basic play mechanics: wait, jump, run. It’s brilliant.

The game uses this subtle, abstract visual language pervasively throughout the game, communicating to the player without words what they are supposed to do. This lets you discover the game on your own terms, and you don’t feel like the game is ever holding your hand or hitting you over the head with tutorials. The early stages of the game are simple and very gently pull you in to learning how to read the visual cues, as if instinctively.

The result is that you get get really deeply immersed in the action. As you learn how you can move, at just the right time the game provides you with a new challenge, and it’s up to you to work out for yourself how you’re supposed to overcome it. There are pits to jump over, ledges to jump up to, moving platforms, disappearing and reappearing platforms, platforms that alternate between being safe and being deadly, ceilings that will crush you, platforms that have a trampoline effect that will bounce you with a super jump in rhythm to the background music. There are keys which you can pick up by jumping into them, and you can carry them to a circular “doorway” which the key will unlock, changing the level in some way, activating dormant platforms or introducing some new play mechanic or transform the level to up the challenge.

It’s a combination of hand-eye coordination, rhythm, and figuring out puzzles for how to get through the obstacles. At the end of each level, there is a special challenge, a kind of boss battle, where you have to quickly learn a new puzzle mechanic and master it, handling iterations of the obstacle repeatedly until you’ve succeeded in defeating the level.

The first four levels were a fairly quick play, I probably completed each one in about a half hour or so, dying a lot, and taking breaks here and there. It felt like after the fourth level I had won the game, but after watching what seemed like some kind of ending, I found myself back in the starting room, which serves as a level select, and discovered that there appears to be another four levels waiting to be unlocked and played.

I started the fifth level (or is this more of a “second quest”? and found that now instead of moving to the right, this level seems to be all about moving to the left, which for some reason feels less natural and therefore more difficult. I guess since English is read left-to-right, and most platformer games tend to follow the convention established by Super Mario Brothers, and treat scrolling to the right as “forward”. It makes the level seem more difficult than it really is. The obstacles are simple, but then I died and instead of starting over at a checkpoint the game kicked me all the way out back to the starting level select screen. So it’s super-hard, you have to beat the entire level on one life, no mistakes. Yeah, this definitely feels more like “second quest” level difficulty increase. Well, as much as I died in order to get through levels 3 and 4, I have no idea if I’ll be able to get through level 5 at all, so this might be as far as I get.

I really enjoyed the challenges of the game, and have a great deal of appreciation for the style and design of the game as a whole. Everything feels so purposeful and deliberative, like every single thing in the game was done just as it was after a good deal of thought had been put into it — its purpose in the game, how it relates to other elements of the game, and how to tie those elements together to make everything seem like a unified whole.

It does seem a bit brief, but if the difficulty continues to ramp up from levels 5-8 as it has from 1-5, you might well never get to see all the game has to offer.

Everyone should give this one a try. It’s timeless and will be just as good another 10 years from now as it was back when it was first released.

Hot chocolate

I like to drink hot chocolate. That’s not unusual, lots of people like to drink hot chocolate.

I have a problem. I cannot make a decent cup of hot chocolate. I mean, OK, I can, it just takes more effort than it should.

It’s 2024. This should be a solved problem. Maybe it is, but I can’t figure it out.

I used to boil water, add cocoa powder, and drink it, and that was fine. But a few years ago I learned that hot chocolate made with milk is a lot better. And I started getting picky about the cocoa mix and caring about the ingredients list. This would prove my undoing.

I went to one of those fancy coffee shops, one that wasn’t a chain. It seemed like a well run business. One that I could respect and feel good about spending money in, and was worth driving farther and spending more to go to. They didn’t just make tea and coffee for you and sell it to you for consumption right there. You could also buy the stuff and take it home and make it for yourself. That seemed convenient. I bought a container of real cocoa powder which I believed would make an authentic, superior cup of hot chocolate, and felt confident that whenever I was at home and the mood struck me, I would be able to reliably produce a satisfying cup in a short amount of time with convenience, enjoyment, and minimal mess.

I wasn’t even a third of the way to shangri-la. Or wherever the fuck you can get a good hot chocolate at home. Let me tell you.

Heating milk is more complicated than heating water. With water, you basically can’t fuck it up. You get a container, you fill it with water, you apply heat, the water gets hot, you’re good.

With milk, things are complicated by the sugars, fats, and proteins in the milk and how they react to being heated up. Basically, you don’t want to get the milk too hot. You can scorch the milk, and the milk will get this disgusting skin on the top. Scorched milk creates like an advanced polymer bond with the walls of the heating vessel, and you basically need to take out a grinder and polish the shit off to get it clean again, or I guess if you want to you accept defeat gracefully you can just learn to love the brown stains on the insides of your heating vessel. It’s up to you, it’s a free country.

Me, I want to finish with my cleanup and be indistinguishable from the starting state, so that I can preserve a sense of eternal youth and renewal. Building up brown scorched milk on the inside of a sauce pan that I could just throw out and replace every so often when I grew sufficiently disgusted with it is not an approach to life that I would consider. I mean sure the metal could be recycled, but I take it seriously when you buy a pan and they tell you it will last you the rest of your days and can be handed down to future generations. Apparently this means I am hard to please and may never truly be happy.

Anyway, for a while I tried using a sauce pan and put it on my gas range, turned the heat on low and tried to eyeball it to see when it seemed warm enough to use to make hot chocolate. I quickly learned that the human eyeball is not an ideal instrument for measuring temperature. I tried dipping a finger into the milk at various points and learned that this was also not optimal. It occurred to me that there were thermometers, so I tried using one of those. This was a bit of a breakthrough, as it it afforded a repeatable, reliable method of quantifying temperature. I could even leave the thermometer in the milk and monitor its temperature in realtime. This was the start of something.

You might be wondering why I didn’t try using a microwave oven. I don’t own a microwave oven, because fuck microwave ovens. So that ruled out using a microwave oven. Microwave ovens are not for me.

I recognized that a key to hot chocolate happiness would be if I could create a good cup consistently, and that knowing the number of the temperature would be a prerequisite to achieving this. So I wasn’t exactly sure what temperature I should be targeting, but I knew that through trial and error and many thermometer readings I would be able to quickly hone in on the ideal temperature for hot chocolate, my way.

Very early on, I learned that a boil was definitely not necessary. I also learned that bringing the milk to temperature quickly was not necessarily in the best interest of quality. Rather, you want to bring the milk to temperature slowly, gradually, and if you can do this it helps to reduce aggravating the proteins and causing them to turn brown and form that gross skin.

I came to recognize that heating milk on the stovetop was going to be a lot of work. Or rather, would require that I watch the milk like a hawk, and take great care to ensure that I turn the burner on to the precise level that wouldn’t heat the milk too quickly. And that was not easy, because I have a pretty basic oven that was built to be cheap and last a long time and be reliable and safe, but not necessarily be the easiest to dial in to the exact same flame level every single time you turn it on.

Maybe there was another way.

I considered an electric kettle. I had used them to heat water and they worked well for that, although as we’ve already established, that’s a lot easier. But what I liked about the electric kettles is that they have built-in temperature setting and will shut off reliably at the desired temperature. So I thought, why not use an electric kettle.

I tried one, and found that unfortunately most of them are engineered to bring water to temperature as quickly as possible. The way this works, apparently, is that there’s a heating element at the bottom of the kettle, which turns on and heats up to a temperature well in excess of the set temperature you’re trying to get the water to. The heating element then dumps heat into the mass of water contained within the kettle, and through convection the water heats up to a uniform temperature, although probably at any given moment the water very close to the heating element is probably much hotter than the average temperature of the water throughout the kettle. So — you guessed it — this temperature is high enough that it will cause chemical changes in the milk proteins, resulting in scorching and that yucky skin.


Further product research led me to knowledge of the existence of another type of device, called a milk frother. These are used by coffee aficionados, of which I am not one, to produce specialized coffee that use heated milk. That sounded promising. These frothers didn’t just heat the milk up, though, they agitated it to create a foam. This was irrelevant to me, but wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I researched an eventually bought one. A Maestri House CJG8XLAFV Integrated Milk Frother MMF9201 – Moonlight White. It seemed like it would do the job. It was a small unit, holding 400ml of milk, which was just the right amount for a single cup. And since I’m not running a restaurant, and am not a glutton, or a frequent host of hot chocolate parties, that seemed like the right amount for me. It had target temperature settings of 120, 140, and 160 degrees. Fahrenheit, of course. And it was only about $60. I thought for sixty bucks, it would probably solve all my problems. I felt excited, an impending happiness that I had not yet known.

I bought the thing. And it was delivered to my door a few days later. I opened up the package and tried it out. And I learned some new things about the subjective sensation of temperature which frankly I had not been expecting, and therefore surprised me.

First, let me say that the Maestri House design seems pretty smart. The heating element is contained within a base, which you can mount the kettle on, so the heating element is not directly in contact with the milk, which is for the best, and honestly a really good idea. The inside of the container has a little spindle in the center, and on this spindle you can mount a little wire agitator, which spins while the unit is in operation, stirring the milk, and generating the froth. It’s really clever. There is no mechanical linkage that causes this thing to spin. It seems to be done through magnets and a current generated by the electricity in the heating element. So no mechanical linkage means a completely sealed container that doesn’t have a chance of leaking.

That is, unless you overfill the container. See, as milk froths, it occupies a greater and greater volume. And also as the agitator spins, it creates a vortex and the resulting centrifugal forces acting on the milk cause it to climb up the walls of the container, like a frothy milky tornado. And if you add too much milk, this tornado threatens to, can, and will, escape over the top of the kettle. Which is a problem. You don’t want that. So, to hopefully avoid this problem, the designers at Maestri House thoughtfully and helpfully put a mark on the inside of the vessel that says “Max Fill”. As though to suggest that when adding milk, the level should not exceed this level, lest you run the risk of spillage.

Here’s the thing about that. They put the Max Fill mark too high. Or, they made the walls of the kettle too low. Either way, if you put in that much milk, it will overflow. The kettle has a lid, but the lid isn’t really sealed, and milk will make its way out, spilling over the top. And if you weren’t watching, you’ll find that your milk frother is sitting in a big puddle of warm milk on your countertop. And this is a major inconvenience. If you have homeowner insurance, make sure that it covers you against milk tornadoes. If it doesn’t, then you better fill the frother well below this mark. What’s a safe level? Well, you can try to figure that out, and then try to remember it each time you use it.

I thought I’d try just not using the frother. Who needs froth? I just want warm milk. So I removed the agitator, and the manual says that it’s not needed. The thing I found out about that is that without the action of the frother, the milk doesn’t really circulate. So what ends up happening is, the milk close to the heating element in the bottom heats up to the temperature it’s set for, and convection alone doesn’t mix this milk around and result in even heating. The rest of the milk, not adjacent to the heating element, ends up remaining cool. And so the average temperature of the milk ends up being well below the set temperature. And then when the unit reaches temperature and turns off, it turns out that the milk temperature is really well below what you were going for. So, really, it turns out that you really better use that frother to stir the milk so that the warmer milk would mix and evenly heat up the entire volume of milk in the kettle.

But wait. There’s more. It’s not enough that the thing overflows. It also doesn’t feel like it’s as warm as the indicated temperature. Like, if I put water in my electric tea kettle, and set the temperature to 140, I get water that feels like it’s pretty warm. If I stick my finger in it, it feels hot, and I can’t stand to do it for more than a very brief amount of time and I’ll burn myself if I try to do it longer.

With the milk frother, the same temperature feels almost cool. It’s warm-ish, but it’s not going to burn me. If I put my finger in it, or gulp it down, I feel like it’s just barely warm enough to count as warm and not disgustingly tepid. The reason for this, I have come to believe, has to do with the froth. The milk itself might be the temperature indicated, but all the air that has been mixed into the milk by the frothing action isn’t hot. And it’s a considerable amount of air. And it cools the milk down rapidly, and the result is that room temperature air mixed with hot milk results in milk that feels cooler than it really is. You get a sensation of the average temperature of the air and the milk together. So 140F, which could scald you if it was just the milk, ends up feeling like maybe 90F, which is not hot. The Maestri House frother maxes out at 160F, but this feels like maybe 120F. If you drink the hot chocolate immediately and quickly, this is maybe acceptable. But it’s really at the bottom end of the range of what’s acceptable.

The one thing I’ll give the frother credit for is that it doesn’t scorch the milk, and I don’t get a skin on the surface. However, the sides of the kettle do end up getting kind of a thickened milky slime that you’ll want to wash out after every use. So that’s not really great. Like, of course I’m going to need to wash the thing out after use. But if I don’t do it immediately, this milk scum is going to dry out and harden, and make cleaning it much harder. It’s way better to rinse the thing out before that happens, so you quickly learn that you need to do it immediately after pouring the milk into your mug. So then you spend a minute or two rinsing out the kettle, and by the time you’ve returned your attention to the mug, you find that the milk has already cooled to a temperature that basically sucks for enjoying hot chocolate.

I came up with an ingenious hack that works around this, but it feels convoluted and wasteful. Nevertheless, I will share it with you. It involves heating the mug. The easiest way to do that is to pull it out of the dishwasher as soon as the dishwasher is done washing it, and everything in the dishwasher is hot as fuck. If you don’t have a dishwasher, you can also just heat some water to boiling, put it into the mug, wait for the water to transfer heat to the mug and get it nice and warm, and then dump the water and replace it with hot frothy milk when the milk is ready. That way, the milk will stay warmer because it doesn’t end up getting heat sucked out of it by the un-warmed mug.

The downside of this hack is that you end up running two different kettles, one for water, one for milk, and you end up feeling like this is wasteful because you’re just throwing out hot water. But you do get a halfway decent hot chocolate this way. It’s just a lot more effort than it should be. You have to fill the milk kettle, not too much, and you have to time the water so it’s hot sooner and fill the mug with it and give it time to warm up, when dump the water, wipe out the inside of the mug so it’s dry, refill with milk, rinse the milk kettle, add cocoa powder, stir. And only then do you get to enjoy.

At that point it’d be easier to walk down to a coffee place and order one. This gives you the illusion of possibility that you might have a social interaction, which could be rewarding. Only that never happens. Nobody talks to people. Just the barista, but they’re just taking your order. And now you had to get dressed and look presentable. And while that may help you feel human and allow you to believe that you’re a functional member of society, it’s just more effort and doesn’t actually pay off in any real way.

So. I’ve been through a lot. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve experienced and grown. And yet, I don’t feel like I’ve reached my goal. I feel like I’ve invested capital and time, and yet what I have to show for it still leaves much to be desired. It’s taken up way more of my time than I ever thought it would, and still I don’t have the success that seemed so straightforward and achievable when I set out.