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.

Fuck.

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.

Selling on ebay sucks

It has for a while, now. This isn’t news.

Ebay doesn’t have resources to properly research Buyer Protection claims. They used to try to make the process fair, and required the buyer to provide evidence, including appraisals from allegedly neutral third parties. Proper arbitration is too costly in most cases, so they did away with all that, streamlined it, and now people can abuse the system by making a claim on the barest of pretenses, or even outright fraudulent pretenses, and there’s very little the seller can do about it to keep their money. You’re well protected as a buyer, but as a seller, you’re at the mercy of the buyer’s honesty.

That’s one thing.

Another thing is the outrageous fees that ebay is charging. Some years ago, the final value fee that ebay applied to your sale was 10%. 99% of the time the buyer would pay for the item using PayPal or a credit card, and there would be transaction fees in addition to the ebay Final Value fee. Typically this would be about 3.5% of the item, so your total cost of doing business on ebay would be about 13.5%. And it could be more if you paid for “value added” listing features, such as a reserve price, or additional photos, etc.

Ebay also included the cost of shipping as part of the “final value fee” even though the expense of shipping is yet another cost. So you’d pay for packaging, postage, maybe insurance, and whatever you charged the buyer for this, ebay took a slice of that for their final value fee as well.

If it weren’t for this, sellers could have listed a $10 item for $0.01 + (actual cost of shipping) + $9.99 shipping, and if ebay didn’t include the shipping costs in the final value fee calculation, the seller would have gotten that $9.99 overage on the shipping charge, fee-free.

It made selling small items cost prohibitive, which was a shame.

Ebay bought PayPal in order to collect the transaction fee side of the costs as well as their final value fee. So they were really getting about 13.5% on every transaction.

A few years ago, ebay sold off PayPal, and gradually phased out accepting PayPal for payments. Existing PayPal payment methods are grandfathered in, but it’s no longer possible to use PayPal as a payment method, otherwise.

A few years ago, the government finally stepped in and forced ebay to collect sales tax on all transactions, except for tax-exempt merchants such as charities, who had to file special paperwork proving they were tax exempt. You even have to pay sales tax on secondhand goods, even though sales tax would have been paid on the original purchase of the item, and thus shouldn’t be owed again.

Of course, ebay includes the sales tax that they collect on your behalf and send straight on to the government, and you never see, as part of the “final value” when they calculate their final value fee.

Oh, and they’ve raised the final value fee to $14.5%. So that’s why I call them Greedbay.

Ebay’s “greedbay” fees in action

Take this item I sold recently for $50 + tax + shipping. The postage was $9.13, so I’m getting a total of $59.13, of which I immediately have to pay out $9.13 for the shipping, meaning a net of $50 to me.

Sales tax added another $4.29 to the cost, and ebay considers that part of the final value, so they charge me 14.5% of 63.42, which is $9.48 — and not 14.5% of $59.93, in which case the feel would been only $8.96.

And if they didn’t include the cost of shipping in the final value, their fee would have been $7.25.

And if they had kept to the old final value fee of 10%, it would have been only $5.00, or ($5.91 with shipping included in the calculation)!

So if you look at it, over time ebay has gradually almost doubled the cost of their services.

I can accept the rationale behind charging final value fees that include the cost of shipping, but it’s outrageous to me that ebay thinks it’s right to include the cost of sales tax in their final value fee calculation.

As a seller, I hate this, but there’s very little I can do about it. There’s a few competitors to ebay, but none of them have the volume of customers that ebay has, meaning that sales are slower and fewer. And their fees aren’t much less — in part because if ebay is the standard they are competing against, then they think they only need to undercut them by a slight amount.

As a buyer, it’s outrageous to me that I have to pay sales tax on ebay for secondhand goods that have already been taxed once, at their original sale when they were new. Sales tax should never apply to secondhand items. This would encourage people to buy secondhand, rather than waste resources producing new items, which would be good for the environment.

GameMaker adjusts business model

Today GameMaker announced changes to their pricing and business model. Moving forward, they will provide three tiers of product.

The Free tier is intended for non-commercial use, and should appeal to educators and hobbyist game developers. And great news, the free version is not limited or restricted in terms of features in any way, other than that if you want to build a game for commercial release, you need to buy a Professional or Enterprise license.

The Professional tier is a 1-time $99 charge, and does away with the subscription model for small indie developers who want to make commercial games but have balked at paying a subscription for the tools to create them.

The Enterprise tier is still subscription-based, at $800/year, and enables game console builds for PlayStation, XBox, and Nintendo Switch.

It’s great to see GameMaker giving affordable options to smaller developers. Most of GameMaker’s traditional userbase has been non-professional programmers who wanted an simplified tool that is inexpensive.

Atari’s Mr. Run and Jump previewed

I’ve been watching the live stream of Zero Page Homebrew’s preview gameplay of Mr. Run-and-Jump on the Atari 2600.

Mr. Run and Jump exists in two editions: a modern game (available on Steam, the modern Atari VCS, XBox, PlayStation, and Nintendo Switch) and an de-make version programmed for the Atari 2600, and sold on physical EEPROM cartridge.

It’s really cool that Atari did a de-make, a nod to the still-living 2600 console, which will turn 50 years old in 2027.

I’ve played the Steam game, and it’s pretty challenging. I did not get very far into it, using keyboard input for controls makes it especially challenging. The gameplay and graphics seem to be done well, and I’m going to have to plug in a gamepad and give it another try soon. It’s basically just another 2D side-scrolling platformer, and doesn’t really break any new ground, at least so far as I’ve seen so far, but it is a solid, competently made game.

The 2600 version is a bit less solid, less competently made, but still has some appeal. It has issues with sprite flicker, which could have been addressed and arguably should have been. And there are a few places where I’ve seen level design issues that can result in soft-locking the game (you can get trapped in a pit too deep to jump out of, with no way to die and the only way out is to reset the game).

It’s a decent looking game otherwise. The classic run of the Atari didn’t really have anything quite like this game, the closest thing to it perhaps being Pitfall!, but Pitfall really feels less advanced and Mr. Run and Jump feels more polished and modern due to the jump physics and overall play mechanics. Some of the challenges are a little too difficult to be fun, but that’s a matter of taste/opinion.

There’s some homebrew games that have come out in recent years which provide similar gameplay but are even better, such as: Game of the Bear, Xanthium, Ninjish Guy, and Knight Guy in Low Res World. Based on what I can see, I would put Mr. Run and Jump in the middle of the pack among these. It’s really difficult to rank them because rankings like this are incredibly subjective, but I think that Mr. Run and Jump is maybe a little better than Xanthium, and Ninjish Guy, but Game of the Bear and Knight Guy are all a bit better executed.

I will reserve the right to revise this rating when I receive my copy and get to play it for myself, but it looks like this game is probably a solid B.

MyArcade Atari GameStation Pro hands-on

I pre-ordered the day it was announced, 7/31/2023. The original ship date was supposed to be 10/1; this was quickly moved up to 9/1. My delivery date was supposed to be 9/5. 9/5 came and I still didn’t have a shipping number; Amazon finally acknowledged there was a delay. The listing on amazon.com went offline for a few weeks, then came back, with a new launch date of 10/31.

I started hearing a few weeks ago (early October) that units had showed up in Costco and were selling for 20% off. I still didn’t have a shipping number from Amazon. I don’t have a Costco membership, so it didn’t do me any good, but then I heard that these were at Target retail stores, so I went to my local store and they had them. I canceled my order with Amazon, who were still telling me that they were delayed in shipping these and couldn’t tell me the truth about a shipping date. Always 2-3 days from the point I contacted customer service to ask for an update on when my order would ship.

I bought one at Target, and played it a bit today, and I’m not as impressed as the reviewers who received advanced copies of the system were. In fact, I’m totally disappointed.

The main problem seems to be with the controllers. They do not feel good.

Previewers said that they had some weight and felt like quality sticks, and gave me a false hope that this system would be worth buying. I don’t agree. The joysticks are lightweight and while not exactly flimsy, they don’t feel robust, either, and the joystick switches do not have satisfying travel, and buttons do not have satisfying click. The joystick sensitivity felt off, and I didn’t feel like I had the fine control that I expected — and received — from original hardware.

Worse, the tiny buttons on the base of the stick which are used for menu, game select, and start, are prone to accidental presses, which can abruptly end the game in progress and restart it or return you to the main menu. This is a disaster for user experience — a game should never be one easy accidental button press away from being abruptly ended.

And many of the games MyArcade picked to include in the system’s built-in library simply are not well suited to the controller.

All of the Atari 5200 games are seriously compromised by the fact that the GameStation joystick doesn’t have a 10-key pad like the original 5200 joystick, nor does it have an analog joystick. You can’t play a game designed for play with an analog stick with a digital joystick worth a damn. And any functions that depend on the 10-key pad are simply not supported at all. RealSports Baseball is a decent game on the 5200, but on the GameStation Pro it’s terrible — batting relies on the analog stick, and the 10-key pad is critical for pitching and fielding. It’s a tragedy — the Atari 5200 had a decent library of games, and most people don’t know it because the original console didn’t sell well.

The original joysticks for the 5200 were pretty terrible, too, but mainly that was due to being engineered to be cheap, which meant they were fragile and broke easily. The non-centering analog stick was also not a good design choice, but could be overcome through practice or by buying a 3rd party controller with a self-centering stick. The sticks included with the GameStation Pro just simply aren’t the type of controls that the games for the 5200 were designed to be controlled by, and that entire section of the game library is basically unplayable. I mean, you can start a game, but you’ll be frustrated, denied the real experience that the game’s original development team delivered to the original platform it was built for.

The menu screens are inadequate as well. The thumbnail images of the game box art are terrible low-res images that are just barely readable. The “About” info on the screen is just a brief paragraph of some 25-50 words or so, and not complete instructions. Many of the games are simple enough that you can just figure them out by playing, but that’s no excuse. Storage is cheap, and MyArcade easily could have included full manuals for each game title. But they didn’t.

The tiny dial for controlling the paddle games doesn’t feel good — I tried a game of Super Breakout, but the paddle wasn’t smooth, and I lacked fine control. The experience is terrible compared to how the game played on 1977 hardware, and it’s a travesty.

Tempest, an arcade game controlled by a spinning knob, doesn’t use the paddle dial, it uses the joystick, and it feels completely off, and basically unplayable.

And there are trackball games on this system, which just don’t play well with the substituted joystick.

I’m not sure how many of the 200 built-in games are actually playable, as in designed to be played with a digital joystick with up to 3 buttons. But whatever fraction of the built-in library does, pretty much most of them will simply not play as well as they did on original hardware.

I have to wonder if anyone who was involved in the design and engineering of this product ever played the games on original hardware. They picked too many games (even one is too many!) that weren’t supported by the input device the provided, and it just screams WHY.

Why pack in 200 games and give such a terrible experience of them? Even the games that nominally do play with a digital joystick don’t feel very good due to the travel and click characteristics of the hardware MyArcade provides.

The games from the Atari 2600 and 7800 libraries are a lot more playable. Both systems used a digital joystick, no 10-key pad, and 1 or 2 buttons, which will work with the included sticks. But even then the included sticks don’t feel as good as the original CX10, CX40, or Atari 7800 Proline sticks did, and you’ll be frustrated by how imprecise they feel.

The Arcade library will be a mixed bag as well. Many of the Arcade titles are obscure, black-and-white era games that are really interesting as historical artefacts, but they deserved better treatment than they receive, thanks to the poor feel of the joysticks.

Verdict: D. Do not buy.

Even for $100 it’s just not worth it for the experience you get. It would have actually been better if they had not included the games that wouldn’t play well with the included joysticks.

Maybe a fun device to “hack” with a sideloaded SD card, but even then it’d be better to pick one up secondhand or on clearance.

TOTK Diary 58: Gloom Hands

I haven’t played the game in over a month, because I’ve been too busy with other things. I’ve been wanting to get back into the adventure and advance in the quests, but I’ve been away for so long now that it feels like I’m going to have to review my old entries to recap where I’ve been and what I’m doing. Which is great, that’s the whole point of my keeping these diary entries.

In the meantime I wanted to post something, and I was just ruminating about this, and thought it was worth sharing…

One of my favorite new enemies that they added to Tears of the Kingdom is the Gloom Hands.

They’re super creepy and the first time I encountered them, I thought they were fantastic. I didn’t know too much about how they worked, I just kept my distance as much as possible, climbed to high ground where they weren’t able to reach me, and hit them with distance attacks. But later on I got into melee with them, and found that they pick you up and squeeze you, draining your life and afflicting you with Gloom sickness, which has the effect of draining heart containers from your life bar, temporarily.

If you kill the Gloom Hands, a Phantom Ganon sometimes will appear, seemingly to enact vengeance on you for defeating the Gloom Hands. Or maybe the Gloom Hands are like Phantom Ganon’s herald.

My initial take on Gloom Hands was that they were Wall Masters, only they appeared in the open spaces in the overworld, and not in dungeons. And I loved the callback to LOZ1 part of that.

I also immediately connected Gloom Hands to the Gloom plague that came with the Upheaval, and connected it with the Underworld, because that’s all plain and obvious.

I think a missed opportunity the designers could have taken advantage of was that the Gloom Hands should drag Link into the Underworld, if they manage to grab him and hold him for long enough.

Imagine being grabbed and abducted into the underworld, weakened by the drain of the Gloom sickness, only to be dragged downward through the earth, in a manner opposite of the Ascend ability you gain, creating a neat “bookend” to the design idea of Ascend. And once you’re pulled under, they drop you into that world, and rather than finish you off, they just drop you, leaving you weakened and lost in some random part under ground where you have no idea how to return to the surface, and you are forced to explore and rely on stealth as you fight your way out.

That would have been really great gameplay, and I’m sad that they just grab you and squeeze you until you break free or drain to 0 hp and die. They could have done more with them, and I wish that they had.