August Mid-Month Short Story Challenge

Thank you to everyone who participated in last month’s short story challenge. While I only had my link to share, a couple of people reached out to me with Google Docs of their story contributions to the challenge. As a result, I wanted to do the challenge again this month for those interested.

Your prompt is below. If you do decide to blog your short story, link back to me and I’ll be sure to promote it where I can.

  • Suggested number of words: Limit of 2500 words
  • Your theme: Write about someone who is learning the history or lore of a sacred weapon, spell, or symbol.
  • Seven words to work into your story: army, oracle, squid, voltage, sparkling, duet, deeds
  • Genre: Fantasy/Sci-Fi
  • Rating/Content Limitations: None

Your story should be posted on September 1st. Good luck and happy writing.

Assessing Fire Emblem Awakening Skills

It’s been a while since I did a proper Fire Emblem post on this blog. At one point in time, I had this grand idea that I’d do a whole series comparing Fire Emblem: Awakening with Fire Emblem: Fates. Here’s the thing though — Fates wasn’t as good as I’d hoped. While it’s an okay game that I enjoyed playing through a couple of times, its relatively boring storyline, strange weapon forging system, and limited reclassing options took away from some of the game’s improvements[1].

Awakening, though not a perfect game, is easily one of the most replayable games I’ve ever played. Part of the appeal to the game — along with the great storyline and engrossing characters — is the ability to build characters with skill sets to suit your play style. Although I would love the personal skills mechanic from Fates to be added to Awakening, there’s still plenty you can do with the five skill limit that your characters have.

This got me to thinking though. What are the best skills to have in Fire Emblem: Awakening? In a game with 84 skills available even before you consider DLC, you certainly have plenty of options at your disposal. I took a look at all 84 skills and considered their usefulness in the main game, importance as inherited skills, activation rates, accessibility, and personal preference to put those skills into 9 tiers with roughly 9 skills in each tier. This post focuses on the importance of these skills in the main game, as wireless play can be a whole different beast.

Tier 9: Replace As Soon As Possible

The Skills: Speed +2, Skill +2, Magic +2, Strength +2, Rally Skill, Rally Speed, Rally Magic, Rally Strength, Rally Luck

The Why: Despite the fact that much of the Fire Emblem gaming community loves the Rally skills[2], I personally can’t stand them. They waste an action for a promoted unit in exchange for +4 of one stat (with two notable exceptions). It’s rare that such a boost will turn the tide of a level or even one battle. You’re better suited to having other skills. If you must have a Rally skill, there’s better options than the five in this group. As for the +2 stat boosts, you’re generally not using them deep into the game. If you must though, use the survival boosts rather than offensive ones.

Tier 8: What You’re Probably Replacing Second

The Skills: Odd Rhythm, Even Rhythm, Underdog, Beastbane, Tantivity, Focus, Defense +2, Resistance +2, Rally Defense, Rally Resistance

The Why: The Defense and Resistance skills for Rally and stat boosts are slightly better than those in tier 9 for survivability, so they get the bump to tier 8. Odd and Even Rhythm only work 50% of the time, which limit these otherwise average skills. Similarly, Focus and Tantivity are limited by the fact that your unit has to be all alone to gain benefits from them, which isn’t a common play style for Awakening. Underdog is a useful skill for Donnel and Donnel alone, but it pales in comparison to his other skill options. Beastbane is handicapped both by the plethora of other units and weapons that deal with mounted units, as well as the fact that taguels are just awful as a class.

Tier 7: Weaker Niche Skills

The Skills: Wyrmsbane, Pass, Relief, Outdoor Fighter, Charm, Discipline, Patience, Special Dance, Hex, Solidarity

The Why: Wyrmsbane gets ranked higher than Beastbane because manaketes are at least competent statistically, even if you’re probably not using Nowi and Nah in that class. Special Dance, Charm, and Solidarity are useful on the adult units that get them, but they have limited usefulness in inheritance[3]. Pass and Relief are similar skills in that their usefulness comes most commonly behind enemy lines, which is situational at beast. Discipline is great in the early game, but you’ll drop it once weapons are maxed. Patience and Hex are avoidance impacting skills, but there’s better options out there. They’re good in conjunction with those other skills, but they’re not required. Outdoor Fighter would be better if more outdoor maps had choke points, but that’s not the case.

Tier 6: Above Average Early Game Skills

The Skills: Avoid +10, HP +5, Luck +4, Indoor Fighter, Despoil, Veteran, Rally Movement, Prescience, Anethema

The Why: All of these skills except Rally Movement (a promoted unit skill) and Despoil (requires a class change) come very early in the game with units you can acquire relatively easily. That said, aside from Luck +4, which helps Olivia’s survivability in her recruitment chapter, none of these skills are critical for units to keep past mid-game. Avoid +10, Prescience, and Anethema are similar in function to Patience and Hex from tier 7, just stronger or less situational. Indoor Fighter is helpful due to choke points on indoor maps, but it’s still not a great skill overall. The only skills I can see keeping end game are HP +5  and Veteran, but only if you have nothing else better to replace them with.

Tier 5: Healers and Killers

The Skills: Hit Rate +20, Lethality, Renewal, Slow Burn, Gamble, Dual Strike+, Dual Guard+, Miracle, Healtouch, Demoiselle

The Why: There’s not a ton of good healing classes in Awakening, so you’ll likely find yourself using the healing skills less frequently than most other skills. Miracle is awesome in permadeath mode, but only in that mode. Healtouch and Renewal aren’t skills I typically keep until end game, though that’s more a function of my dislike for the War Monk and War Cleric classes than anything else[4]. Dual Strike+ is a good skill, but since only Chrom and Lucina can get it, it’s hard for me to rank it higher. Dual Guard+ is more available, is overshadowed by Great Knight’s Luna ability. Lethality is my favorite skill in the game, but is also has the worst activation rate of any skill in the game, so I can’t rank it above this tier. Slow Burn, similar to the Rally skills, is loved by many Fire Emblem players, but games don’t last long enough for Slow Burn to fully take effect. Demoiselle is the only skill in the game that allows you to avoid critical hits, which pairs well with male units running Miracle for extra bulk. Gamble and Hit Rate +20 are acceptable skills, but I usually find myself replacing them with one of the skills in the next four tiers.

Tier 4: Niche Skills and Crits

The Skills: Bowfaire, Counter, Movement +1, Rally Spectrum, Defender, Wrath, Astra, Locktouch, Zeal

The Why: Unless you have a unit in the Assassain class, Bowfaire isn’t worth your time to learn, as hit rate is more critical for Snipers and Bow Knights[5]. Rally Spectrum is the only Rally skill worth a damn, but considering the amount of skills Robin and Morgan can pick up, good luck slotting it somewhere. Locktouch is 100% situational, but indispensable when you need it for door or chest-heavy maps. Wrath and Counter are loved by those who play a melee heavy style, but they’re limited by a need for low HP (which is hard to do for Berserkers thanks to their inherent access to HP +5) or low defense (which isn’t terribly common for those with Berserker access). I’d rather take Zeal’s lower crit boost and call it a day. Astra would be much higher up if it had a better activation rate, but it’s a good skill nonetheless. Free movement is always good, and Movement +1 is one of the few movement skills a non-flying unit can pick up. Defender is terribly underrated, as you’re picking up +7 overall stats along with any pair up bonuses you’re already getting.

Tier 3: Avoidance Is Your Friend

The Skills: Axebreaker, Lancebreaker, Swordbreaker, Acrobat, Luna, Deliverer, Tomebreaker, Quick Burn, Vantage

The Why: All of the -breaker skills give you +50 avoidance if the foe is using a specific kind of weapon, making them stronger than any other avoidance skill in the game by 20. Even though they’re situational, they’re so strong they must be considered top-tier. Acrobat and Deliverer greatly boost movement for infantry/mounted and paired up units, respectively, which is great for quick strike offense. Luna is one of the better offensive skills in the game, but is inferior to Aether due to its lack of healing (despite having a better activation rate). Vantage is one of the few early game skills you’ll want to use in the end game for units with access to it. Quick Burn is far superior to Slow Burn thanks to the fact that most battles don’t go beyond 7 turns, giving you extra avoidance early in a battle.

Tier 2: Damage Boosts Galore (Mostly)

The Skills: Lucky Seven, Swordfaire, Tomefaire, Axefaire, Lancefaire, Bowbreaker, Ignis, Aether, Dual Support+

The Why: Lucky Seven is Quick Burn on steroids, though it lasts half as long. The -faire classes all give +5 damage when using that weapon type, making them end-game staples and good inherited skills if there aren’t better options. Bowbreaker is better than all other -breaker skills due to all flying classes having a weakness to bows. Aether would be one of the top skills in the game if more than Lucina, Chrom, and Lucina’s sibling got access to it. Similarly, Ignis triggers at a great rate, but only Robin and Morgan can access its overpowered abilities. Dual Support+ is broken as all hell, but considering only the extremely uncommon Valkyrie class can access it or pass it down, that caused me to place Armsthrift in the top-tier over it.

Tier 1: God-Tier Skills

The Skills: Rightful King, Galeforce, Aptitude, Lifetaker, Vengeance, Aegis, Pavise, Sol, Armsthrift

The Why: Rightful King allows all other skills to activate 10% more of the time. It’s wonderful on Chrom[6], Lucina[7], and Brady/Inigo. Aptitude is only accessible to Donnel and his child, but it gives the best growth rates in the game. Aegis and Pavise are chance based skills that lower damage received while Sol and Lifetaker heal you while attacking. Armsthrift saves your weapon durability with the best non-100% activation rate in the game, which is important because only the Falchion and Parallel Falchion are indestructible. I feel like Vengeance should have had an activation rate of Skill divided by two instead of Skill times two, as it triggers almost constantly on child units who have it. And then there’s Galeforce…a skill so broken that they had to make it DLC in Fates just so you wouldn’t beat the game in your sleep. Since nearly every female parent has access to the Galeforce skill and since all children except Lucina and Morgan are tied to their mothers in Awakening, nearly every child unit can be given Galeforce with proper planning. This essentially assures you taking 2-3 full turns for your entire team per every one turn your enemy gets. Galeforce is crazy.

 

What are your favorite Fire Emblem Awakening skills? Do you disagree with my tier list? Sound off in the comments.

Foxtails

This post is a response to July’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others.


I stood at the end of the bike path and stared out into the park before me. 18.5 miles done, 18.5 to go.

I walked my bicycle through the grassy park and toward the picnic area on the far side of the park. I leaned its emerald frame against the support posts of the gazebo and walked over to the nearby water fountain. The chilling liquid flowed forth from the silver spigot and hit my lips with its icy touch. My face flinched back instinctively from the shock before I went back in and took a couple of long drinks from the water’s flow.

I knelt to the ground, adjusting my shoes around my feet in an effort to limit the soreness that would develop on my ride home. With calm and purposeful movements I learned as a teen, I unlaced the top holes on each side of my shoe, weaving their plastic coated aglets back through those top two holes, creating a loop I could swoop the opposite lace through. For whatever reason, this configuration of shoe tying always made my feet less sore after a run or a ride. At the bare minimum, the placebo effect was strong with this ritual.

As a warm summer breeze blew in from the west, I grabbed my bike and hopped on, pedaling back up the path via which I had arrived a few minutes prior. June was hardly my favorite month to be outdoors — I strongly preferred a jog through the vibrant October foliage or a hike in the frigid January air — but this seemed different.

For weeks I had been battling this feeling that I was missing something. It took me a while to put my finger on what exactly was lacking. At first I chalked it up to being overworked and under caffeinated, though a long weekend and copious amounts of espresso later, I was still perplexed, albeit shakier. I took a short vacation from my day-to-day life to clear my head, however by the end of my time away, the feeling had only become more pronounced. It was as if a ghost from the past was calling out to me, beckoning me to seek it out. Yet no matter how loud the ghost yelled for me, I could not recognize its source, its name, or its purpose.

I decided to take one last shot at finding where this feeling was coming from. Perhaps I was acting quixotically in hoping that there was some silver bullet that could kill this nagging feeling. It was a phase. It would pass. All things do. Yet, despite knowing this fact, or at least believing in the passage of all feelings, factual belief or otherwise, I set out for a place I hadn’t been in nearly a decade and a half.

A little under three miles up the path from the gazebo, I came to a road crossing. The bike path was leaving town — this would be the last road I’d cross for four miles — but not before crossing over a tiny street that saw virtually no traffic. In one direction, I could see the side street end on the main street of town. There were three or four houses on the street, all bunched at the corner of the primary road. In the other direction, the road continued on for around two hundred feet before becoming a dead end. A bench sat on either side of the end of the road, often serving as a final stopping point before the park for any biker or runner needing a breather.

In my youth, I had stopped and sat on those very benches countless times. When running, they provided me with a place to sit for a few minutes before I finished my workout. If I was biking, particularly with a group of friends, the benches where a place for those of us who rode faster to pause for those who moved at a more leisurely pace. But those weren’t the moments that I associated with this place in the archive of my mind. At the age of 14, it was where I had my first kiss.

Mallory was my third girlfriend, but my first kiss. This is important only because at the moment when everything happened, I had neither had a girlfriend or a romantic kiss of any sort. Granted, I had been exposed to sloppy kisses from my great aunts that smelled of equal parts cigarette smoke, day-old hollandaise sauce, and that one old lady perfume that no one knows the name of but every seventy-year-old white grandmother who carries two Bibles in her purse seems to use. Those kisses were the stuff of nightmares. Mallory’s was not.

A group of eight of us had decided to bike the entire trail over a two-day span. Our parents all dropped us off at my friend Steve’s grandparents’ house, which was at the opposite end of the trail from the park with the gazebo. We’d ride that afternoon to Mallory’s house, which was just minutes from the park. We stayed there overnight, then rode back to Steve’s grandparents’ so that our families could pick us up the following afternoon.

On the second day of the ride, Steve decided that he wanted everyone to race back to his grandparents. Most of the group took off and rode as fast as they could, but Mallory and I didn’t feel like trying hard. We stopped at the benches and sat for fifteen minutes or so, watching as the sun melted the dew off of the giant foxtails growing in the unmown grass beyond the road’s turnaround. Mallory leaned her head into my shoulder, resting there as we watched the droplets fall or vaporize, depending on their size. Her strawberry blonde hair still smelled strongly of the campfire from the night before.

As we got up to leave, Mallory gripped my hand and pulled me towards her. We only kissed for a moment, but in that moment, time stopped. I know its cliché to say, but everything around me evaporated from existence. All that there was in that moment was Mallory, me, and that slow, soft kiss.

It ended as soon as it began. Mallory laughed and jumped on her bicycle, pedaling off as quickly as she could into the distance. I gave chase after her, catching up around a mile later. We eventually caught up with everyone else, save for Steve, who won his own race convincingly. Despite that middle school kiss, Mallory and I wouldn’t date until graduate school. I married her seven years later.

As my mind drifted back from long-gone days to my adulthood quest to free my mind, I parked my bike and sat down on the same bench Mallory and I had sat on as teens. It wasn’t literally the same bench — the rotting wooden benches had been replaced by nicer composite ones some years back — but the view was the same. Giant foxtails fading into farmland, dew clinging to their edges like tears on eyelashes. In the distance, I heard thunder echo through the sky. Even if I was bound and determined to relive that moment where I found that first glimpse of love, the world was not going to melt away for me today.

Save for a quick burst of rain, my ride ended uneventfully. I loaded my bicycle and drove home slowly. It wasn’t a race, after all. I arrived home shortly before dusk, unloaded my bike from the bed of my truck, and began to pedal up the road, just as I had nearly every day for the last year.

I stopped at an iron gated cemetery, locking my bicycle to the fence outside. I entered by foot, taking the same robotic path I always did — twenty-three steps forward to the first footpath, turn right, one hundred and six steps forward, turn left, then nine steps forward. I came to a stop, reached into my pocket, and removed the giant foxtail heads I had picked from the grass by the bench. I placed them on Mallory’s grave and kissed the headstone, hoping that somewhere…wherever she may be…she was feeling the same way she did when we both had our first kiss.

A Quick Podcast Note

Hey all. The Everyone Is Funnier Than Us podcast has come to an end. Even though it wasn’t totally official, I’ve known the writing was on the wall for nearly two months now. Hell, I even hinted at it in this post.

I’m looking to start a new project in the not too distant future. We’ll see if it happens. I do want to thank everyone who took the time to listen to us, to share your feedback, and care about what we had to say. It really was extremely appreciated.

Mid-Month Short Story Challenge

Looking for responses to this prompt? Here are some:

Mine – https://thattinywebsite.com/2017/08/01/foxtails/


Over the past few months, I’ve been trying really hard to figure out what I want to do creatively. I’ve struggled to find something that spoke to the writer and creator in me. I’ve had multiple projects over the last year or so fail pretty hard and get me down. So on July 4th, I took to Twitter to try to get ideas as to what to write about.

At the recommendation of long time reader Tabitha, I want to try something to engage whoever out there might be reading this blog. I know that there’s not a ton of you out there, but I would love to interact and engage with you through creative writing. After all, creative writing was one of the first things to give me an outlet for my mind and make me care about writing. I’ve always loved writing communities I’ve been involved with…so why not try to build one here, however small that community is.

I’ve listed a short writing prompt below. Feel free to take it whatever direction you’d like. I’ll be posting my response to the prompt on August 1st. If you link back to this post, tell me about your prompt response, or write your own piece inspired by the prompt, I’ll try to share it along with my short story on the 1st (likely by adding links to that post, as well as this one, when it goes up). Didn’t see the prompt until well after the deadline has passed? Still shoot me a note or a link back. I’ll add where I can.

  • Suggested number of words: 1000-1500
  • Your theme: Recapturing a long-lost feeling
  • Seven words to work into your story: Gazebo, hollandaise, archive, caffeinated, quixotic, aglet, campfire
  • Genre: Your choice
  • Rating/Content Limitations: None

The Truth Resists Simplicity

As a child, I frequently heard a specific refrain when there was food on my plate that I didn’t want to eat.

“Eat X food. Don’t you want to grow up to be big and strong?”

I was always baffled by that sentiment. Did I want to grow up to be big and strong? That seemed silly to me. I just wanted to be normal. Whatever that meant.

To my mom, growing up big and strong had a very physical skew to its meaning. Throughout most of middle and high school, I was a long distance runner. I didn’t crack 150 pounds until shortly before graduation, and only then because I had chosen not to do track my senior year. Every time I saw my mom, she complained that I looked emaciated, saying that I needed to gain weight if I wanted to stay healthy. The last time I saw my mom in person was around four years ago. At the time, I was near the largest I’ve ever been, coming in at around 240-250 pounds. My mom’s response? I only needed to put on a few more pounds to look “normal”[1].

To my first stepmom, growing up big and strong meant learning how to be physical, both in life and sports. Choosing cross country over football wasn’t just a sign of weakness, it was damn near treasonous. If my stepbrothers were bullying me, it was my job to punch them back. No one was going to help me, nor were they going to care that said stepbrothers were ten and thirteen years older than me, respectively. Drink up the milk, young Tim. It’ll help you in a fight.

But why did I need to be big and strong? Why did it matter? Put simply, there’s evil in the world. If you can’t stand up for what you believe in — and what you believe in is what is right — why bother living?

Over the past few years, I’ve come to the conclusion that understanding and standing up for what you believe in is critically important. With that said, if you cannot also learn to listen to, communicate with, and attempt to understand those who have different points of view than you, you’re only doing a disservice to yourself.

I want to grow intellectually. I want to find a better understanding of the world around me. The world around me is extremely complex. It’s changing on a daily basis around each and every one of us. And if I’m not doing what I can to learn about the world at large — eating my knowledge vegetables to grow up big and strong, if you will — I’ll grow up to be intellectually weak. I won’t be able to adapt and to learn about those around me. I won’t be able to be empathetic towards someone who is different from me, especially in a world where empathy is sorely lacking.

As much as I enjoy social media, it’s a toxic thing. Twitter in particular seems to bring out the worst in people from all walks of life. If you’re not trying to be as radical, hateful, and obnoxious in your point of view as you can be, you’re not going to generate a following there. I’ve watched countless people I used to respect go down the road from being a normal human on Twitter to being a caricature of their former self. Only now they were filled with more rage than before. Some of it is the current American political climate, sure. But when you’re in an echo chamber where you only hear what you want to hear, anger gets amplified. People who don’t agree with you start to look less and less human. Everyone on the right becomes a fascist. Everyone on the left becomes a communist. And everyone in the middle, regardless of where on the continuum they fall, becomes little and weak because they’re perceived that they aren’t capable of taking a stand.

The truth resists that simplicity, as it does with most simple explanations. There are very, very bad people in this world. Every group has its terrible people. Yes. All of them. Even the ones you, dear reader, belong to. And we cannot let those terrible people dictate our lives. But we also must remember that change does not occur overnight. Drinking one glass of milk doesn’t make you big and strong. Making one phone call to your congressman doesn’t solve all of the political problems. Seeing the actions of one side of the political spectrum and saying that your side could never do that because you’re not like that doesn’t fix anything.

Time, understanding, patience, and compassion fix things. Those attributes must be exercised towards everyone — ESPECIALLY those who are not like you. Otherwise, what’s there left to grow up for?

Nostalgia: Am I Doing it Wrong?

One of the bigger pieces of video game related news that came out over the past few weeks was the announcement of the Super NES Classic Edition. As a follow-up to Nintendo’s NES Classic Edition, the re-release of the SNES was met with quite a bit of excitement from a lot of people in my peer group. While the NES Classic was largely a draw to those slightly older than me, the Super Nintendo was the primary game console for a lot of people around my age (along with the Nintendo 64 for those slightly younger than me).

The first time I had a Super Nintendo in my home was the fall of 1999. My cousins had a Nintendo 64 and a PlayStation. With the news of the PlayStation 2 that year, my aunt gave their old Super Nintendo to me and my brother, while my younger cousins got the old NES. Not only was the Super Nintendo my first introduction to video games in general, it was also my first real in to the world of gaming — video or board.

The first game I played on the SNES — and still my favorite to this day — was Madden 96. According to original reviews of the game, it was one of the more difficult football games of its time, yet I always found the game incredibly fun to play[1]. I played a handful of other games on the console, including 6 of the 21 announced release games for the console, yet none of the games I actively cared about are part of the SNES’s re-release. The closest thing to a game I loved that’s coming out on the Super NES Classic is Street Fighter II Turbo, but I could get emulated versions of Street Fighter for the WiiU if I wanted it badly enough.

For most of my life, I’ve been a sports video gamer. Yes, I’ve been a fan of strategy games like Pokemon, Fire Emblem, Brave Frontier, and Civilization, but a good football, baseball[2], or hockey video game would keep me engaged much longer than any other game type. It’s why I’m still playing my Xbox 360 copy of NCAA Football 12 nearly six years after its initial release[3]. The problem with sports video games is that even if their gameplay is still good years later, the nostalgia they bring doesn’t exactly stand the test of time.

The aforementioned Madden 96 was the eighth installment of what is now a 29-edition series of video game series. When you’re releasing a new version of the same game every year with nothing more than minimal tweaks and updated rosters, it’s hard to build up nostalgia for that title’s gameplay and/or cast of characters. It’s part of the appeal to games like Half-Life series, where there hasn’t been a release in over ten years. Even when a series has sequels (think the Mario and Zelda franchises), you’re still drawn into them because the story is different enough with each passing game.

I never got nostalgia for that reason. The games I cared about at a young age are still out there, just with newer graphics and updated rosters. Even the non-sports titles are still long enough series that I don’t feel the need to go back and play original titles — unless of course there’s a reason in a newer game I’m playing to do so[4].

As a result, I feel like part of me is missing out on the nostalgia others my age are feeling for the Super NES Classic. The games I played on the original console aren’t being re-released, while the game I like the best of those being re-released is just…meh.

Am I the only one feeling this way? Can you develop nostalgia for yearly series-based video games? Am I just crazy? Sound off in the comments.

One Year of Being a Published Author

June 27th, 2016 was a monumental day for me. It was the day that my first book, An Epilogue to Innocence, went on sale. It was available at that time via direct purchase on Kindle, as well as available for pre-order via CreateSpace and Amazon[1]. I’ve shared quite a bit about the publishing process, as well as the twist and turns things took both before publishing and after. If you care about reading those stories, click on the links in the previous sentence. What I’d rather do today is to have a bit of reflection on my book, on being an author, and on what I could have done well/did do well in the process.

When a fellow author found out I was going the self-publishing route, they gave me a bit of advice regarding sales. They told me not to expect to turn a profit, rather I should expect to lose money — potentially a significant amount — if I took my book to market. While their statement was technically wrong, the spirit of needing to temper my expectations for my book’s sales was correct. My book broke even last December, as sales related to a charity drive I did were just enough to edge into profit territory.

That said, even with a handful of sales this year, the amount of money I’ve pocketed is minimal. I went from first draft to published product with minimal financial cost on my end. I’ve run zero advertising campaigns anywhere that I had to pay for. Every review that’s been written for my book either falls into the category of pre-release readers who wrote reviews or people who have submitted their own reviews out of their own kindness. My costs were the cost to have the book edited, the cost to get a ISBN from CreateSpace, and the cost to have a handful of copies shipped to me that I in turn mailed out to people I had promised copies of the book to. With all that said, I think the amount of money I’ve personally made off the book is enough to buy a Chipotle burrito for my wife and I. No guac or drinks though[2].

Speaking of that charity drive, it was definitely both the most rewarding and most disappointing part of my first year as a published author. On one hand, I got to donate a bit of money to a cause I care a lot about — the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. On the other hand, the amount of money raised through the charity drive fell short of one-quarter of my mental goal for the drive itself. Limited advertising was definitely a reason for that, however I also think that other deserving causes got far more attention than suicide prevention in the wake of the 2016 US election. Had I hitched my wagon to a different cause, I think it would have done better. But suicide prevention is a cause I care a lot about, so I have no regrets about choosing the AFSP for the donation.

As for my book itself, shortly after I published, I saw a video from someone (I think John Green?) talking about how the most stressful part of being an author is seeing people misinterpret work you’ve written, and since it’s already published, you can’t change it. That idea, combined with the fact that I re-read my book so many times as part of the publishing process and wished I had changed some things, made me go back and think about each of the short stories in the book.

  • Ljepota Oni Izlučivati – This story ended up being one of the few in the book that I didn’t have any strong opinion changes about even after a year after the book went to market. If I had the opportunity to do it over again, I wouldn’t have led off the book with this story, however it definitely would have stayed. A year on, no one has found the hidden storyline within this story, so I feel like it was written really well for what it was meant to be.
  • Phosphor and Fear – This was the original story that was supposed to start the book, however I was convinced not to lead the book with it when someone told me that no one’s going to want to keep reading the book if I lead off with depression art. Unnecessary mental illness jokes aside, I think this story would have benefited from being a bit longer, particularly after the story’s time skip. The fact that I’d go back and change this one to make it longer has impacted some of the work I’ve done over the last year, particularly the first two chapters of the AI Project series that I posted this spring.
  • A Delayed First Date – Meh. It was a good premise. I took a risk trying to write from a point-of-view I didn’t understand. Even with research and interviews to try to write it better, this story hasn’t aged well to me. I mean, it’s fine. It’s not boring. I still love the concept. But I don’t like this specific story as much as I used to.
  • Soma – It was my favorite story before I decided to compile the book into a published entity. It’s still one of my favorites I’ve written a year on from publishing the book (though not my favorite anymore). I really need to keep focusing on adding heavy amounts of emotion to my writing. When it works, it really works. This is one of the stories in the book that I’ve received almost unanimous positive feedback about. Nothing I’d change here.
  • Elk Ridge – I’m so confused by this story and the reader reaction to it. Both me and my editor thought this was the weakest story in the book, even after adding quite a bit of length to it. Yet most people who have given feedback thought it was one of the better stories in the book. The ending is what seems to be divisive. I personally hate the ending and would re-write it if I had the chance. The whole ghostly spirit being released from a demolished building angle is kind of cliche and the longer it’s been since I published[3], the less I like it. Readers liked it though. I have no idea what people want.
  • The Strongest Feelings Are On the Inside – The reaction to this story was by far the most surprising of any story that went into the book. I received ZERO negative feedback on this story prior to publishing. Considering it was one of the few stories that had been on the blog prior to going in the book, this was doubly confusing. People were split down the middle as to what they thought was the biggest issue with this story — either it was too long compared to the rest of the book’s stories[4] or they were upset that the story’s main villain was bisexual. Remember what I said about stuff getting taken out of context? In context, it’s a story about a woman who loves someone of her same sex who doesn’t love her back and she doesn’t feel totally comfortable with it because of her religious background. She then tries to repress it with a deeper dive into cult-like religious practices to try to “fix” herself. Then, when her love dies, she has a mental break, using her warped religious views to exact revenge on those who hurt her beloved, going so far as to kidnap a lookalike and treat that lookalike as if she were the departed woman. Then the villain chooses to die once she finally has closure through that surrogate. That wasn’t the takeaway by some readers though. It’s a learning experience on a lot of levels.
  • Awkward? – The other story in the book that I didn’t particularly like but people loved. It was the closest thing to a light-hearted story in the book, and it was only included to serve as a change of pace following the previous story. Most people thought it was funny. I found it corny. If I did it all over again, this and A Delayed First Date would be cut in favor of making other stories longer.
  • Use As Directed – Along with Awkward First Date, this is the story I did the most research for prior to writing it. I’m really happy with how it turned out. Feedback was largely good, it had a neutral ending that I liked, and apparently I did a decent job at representing a perspective of someone with a mental illness fairly and objectively. This story makes me happy.
  • Laments of a Disillusioned Twenty Something – Oh my fucking god I was so whiny in this story. I’d re-write this story to be something more like what happens in one of the two storylines of Janus if I had it to do again.
  • Tia – This has become my favorite story in the book over time, however as one reviewer said, they really wished it was longer. I agree. It’s a very powerful story, but I could have done so much more with it. Definitely my biggest disappointment story-wise for that reason.

As for me and how being a published author has impacted me…it really hasn’t. As I mentioned, there hasn’t been a financial impact of any kind. It’s not like my social media life has taken off[5]. Even though I still a see a copy or two of my book purchased every now and again, the book sits largely dormant now. I definitely haven’t been able to make a career change to be a full-time author…not that I’d be able to if currently proposed healthcare plans pass anyway.

I’m still writing though. I’m working on a couple of different projects as a writer, as well as trying to get some work together as a copy editor. If anything my real job prevents me from writing as much as I want or need to due to mental fatigue. That said, it’s largely been a positive experience, in spite of my gripes. I’ve learned you can’t please everyone, even if you have the best intentions. I’ve learned that I can produce quality work. And I’ve learned above all else that I love writing — even if my family still doesn’t know I’m a published author, even a year on.

5 Ways to Revitalize the Pokemon Go Gym Scene

Edit: Niantic announced massive changes to gyms this morning following the posting of this article. I’m going to keep the article up for sake of discussion of both the ideas here as well as discussion of Niantic’s announced changes.

Though the initial frenzy of popularity that came with the release of Pokemon Go is gone, the game still has a dedicated core base of players. This group ranges from the hyperactive players who spend money on the game to the player who picks the game up once per day for their bonuses, to somewhere in between. As someone who falls solidly into that group of casual, but still somewhat serious players, I couldn’t have been more excited than when I saw that Pokemon Go would be closing its gyms on June 19th (today, as this post is releasing) for “remodeling”.

What will be entailed in the remodeling is up for debate. Data miners on various sites had found code in the game suggesting limits to a specific Pokemon in a gym, however that find has not (yet) amounted to anything. I’ve seen suggestions from various people online with ideas from putting limits on gyms one trainer can be in to changes to the way CP[1] is calculated. That’s to say nothing of the prevalence of spoofers[2] and gym shavers[3] in the game.

I wanted to present a few different ideas that I think could be improvements to the current gym system as it exist. While the problems with the gym system are by no means Pokemon Go’s biggest problem, they do seem to be the most significant problem Niantic is willing to address.

Idea 1 – One Pokemon Per Evolution Line Limit

Let’s lead off by addressing the alleged fix to gyms that was found in code (briefly) a few months back. The current Pokemon Go gym scene features seven Pokemon pretty much everywhere — Blissey, Snorlax, Gyarados, Dragonite, Vaporeon, Rhydon, and Tyranitar. These Pokemon are the seven highest CP Pokemon currently available in the game[4], with two of the Pokemon — Blissey and Snorlax — benefiting from a relative dearth of strong counters to their presence. A solo player, particularly a casual one, has little hope of taking down a high level (6-10) gym is there are more than two Blissey and/or Snorlax present.

One potential solution for this is to set a limit to one Pokemon per evolution line in a single gym. This plus side to this is that players would stop seeing gyms with 4-5 Blisseys in them on a regular basis[5], potentially promoting greater turnover in gyms. On the down side, this likely also means that players would still see 6 of the 7 highest CP Pokemon[6] in a gym on a regular basis. Now those last four spots would be filled with some combination of Donphan, Heracross, Golem, Lapras, and Exeggutor — or pretty much what is seen as occasional filler now.

Idea 2 – Encourage Themed (Mono-Type) Gyms

In every generation of Pokemon until Pokemon Sun/Moon[7], one of the main story lines of the game was to defeat all of the gym leaders in the game’s region before going on to face the Elite Four. If you haven’t played the main games of the series, more about that premise is in my theorycrafting post here.

One of the notable things that was true of all gym leaders/trial captains in the mainline games was that those leaders featured teams that had Pokemon all of a specific element. Whether you were facing Sabrina’s psychic types in Red and Blue, Maylene’s fighting types in Diamond and Pearl, or Valerie’s fairy types in X and Y, you generally knew what you were getting yourself into before you went into a gym[8]. One possible way to improve gym play would be to have gyms rotate what type of defenders are allowed to be in them. For example, let’s say that a specific gym was a water type gym. All three teams could attack that gym with whatever Pokemon they wanted to in order to take over the gym. However, when placing defenders in the gym, they would be restricted to Pokemon with a main or secondary typing of water.

At the end of that seven days, the gym changes to a new typing for defenders. There’s two ways to do this. One would be to kick out all defenders and to set the new typing at random. The second would be to set the new typing based off of the most prevalent secondary type in the gym, then kick out any Pokemon who don’t fit that typing. I’d prefer the former personally, but would be okay with either.

Idea 3 – Randomize Kickout Order

My third idea for improving the gym scene in Pokemon Go is also the one that is now probably the least likely to occur, as it would have been the easiest to implement under the old system. Under the previous gym system, when a team was attacking a gym, defending Pokemon were kicked out in order from weakest to strongest. While this was a great idea in theory, all it ultimately did was to lead to the gym shaving issue I brought up earlier.

If whatever revamp is being done to the gyms is not a major change, I would encourage Niantic to have some level of randomization to the order that Pokemon get kicked out of gyms.While there don’t seem to be a ton of spoofers and gyms shavers where I play, the few I do see are very noticeable, as you’ll find the same group of people in the same gyms after they’re done (typically in the same order with the same Pokemon). Battling a gym down with your alternate account to get your main account in a gym? Have fun with the roulette wheel that could knock one of your friends out in the process.

Idea 4 – Set Tier Limits in Gyms

The main series Pokemon games have a robust competitive gaming scene, thanks in part to competitive battle forums like Smogon and larger world tournaments that occur. These tournaments generally have some sort of tiered system that sets limitations as to what Pokemon, moves, and items can be used within a battle. Aside from the fact that items cannot be used in battle and that legendaries are not in the game currently, Pokemon Go does not feature such limitations.

Why not implement them? Sites like GamePress already do tier lists for top defenders and attackers. Why not have Niantic implement these limitations into gyms? Similar to the mono-type gym idea from earlier in the post, gyms could have rotating tiers on a weekly basis. One week, meta Pokemon like Blissey and Snorlax could be put in the gym with no limitations. The next week, the gym would switch to underused Pokemon, limiting your choices to Pokemon like Raichu and Butterfree. The next week, the gym could be a Little Cup format, filling the gym with Vulpix and Staryu. Different gyms in the same area could have different tiers running at the same time to further enhance play.

Idea 5 – Add in the Special Attack and Special Defense Stats

I get the purpose to the CP number. It’s meant to be a simplified calculation to help people who have never picked up Pokemon before to get acclimated to how the game works while still playing Pokemon Go. But CP makes strong Pokemon weak while making otherwise average Pokemon amazing. Remember Blissey? In the main games, it has the same base stat total as Kingdra. In Pokemon Go, Kingdra’s CP is approximately 3/4 of Blissey’s.

Is that to say Kingdra is a better Pokemon than Blissey? Not really. Objectively it’s not. But by combining Special Attack and Attack into a single attack stat, as well as doing the same with defense, Niantic has put Pokemon with widely skewed stats such as Blissey in a position to be light years better than those with more balanced stats like Kingdra.

The solution? Add in Special Attack and Defense. Blissey remains a wall against psychic/water/fire/other heavy special attackers, but becomes extra frail against strong physical attackers like Machamp (who it already has a weakness to) and Kingler. Meanwhile, Kingdra goes from being an afterthought to being a semi-viable attacker, particularly with STAB[9].

 

I’d like to hear from those of you out there who still play Pokemon Go. How would you improve the gym scene? Is there a particular idea on the list above you love or hate? Sound off in the comments.

My Dental Journey

One night in late November of 2015, just after Thanksgiving, I couldn’t get to sleep. My mouth, my jaw, and my head as a whole were all in severe pain. You know how if you go to the hospital because of pain the doctors/nurses/other staff will ask you to rank your pain on a scale of one to ten? A score of one is a barely noticeable pain, while a score of ten causes you to be unable to move. I’d rank this specific pain about a 21[1].

I’ve had my share of dental problems in my life. I chipped a tooth for the first time in 8th grade during academic challenge practice[2]. I bit into an apple and suddenly one of my canine teeth[3] had a bit flake off. It didn’t hurt and it hadn’t happened before, so I really didn’t think too much of it. Those little chips continued to happen numerous times over the course of high school. Mostly they occurred from eating, though I did chip a tooth twice in wrestling matches, so at least I got to be a walking trope occasionally[4].

My first trip to the dentist came sometime around when I was five. I couldn’t tell you much about it other than my first trip to the dentist came on the same day as my first trip to the eye doctor. That was also my last visit to the dentist until I was 21, when received a root canal on a tooth that had split. Hooray for the American healthcare system and parents not having insurance during my childhood.

Though there was a definitely lack of being taken to the dentist in my childhood, to say I had poor dental hygiene would be an understatement. Though we had toothbrushes at my dad’s house[5], I could count on one hand the number of times a year I actually saw my dad/stepmom/a step sibling brush their teeth in a given month. On the bright side, at least we had toothpaste. Brushing my teeth was a requirement at my mom’s, though there were quite a few times we used straight baking soda, table salt, or diluted hydrogen peroxide rather than actual toothpaste[6].

In my twenties, I was better about brushing my teeth than I was as a kid, though that’s an extremely low bar to pass…and I didn’t pass it by much. A typical week when I lived on my own featured me brushing my teeth once or twice. Total. For the whole week. After moving in with my wife, that number went up to (generally) once per day, though there were some days that didn’t happen still due to being tired, being lazy, or just not caring.

That brings us to November of 2015. As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, this occurred over Thanksgiving weekend, so it’s not like many places — dentists or otherwise — were open. So I hopped myself up on Aleve and Orajel, then went on about my weekend until we could get me a dentist appointment early the next week.

The dentist’s news wasn’t good. My wisdom teeth were what was causing my current pain and they definitely needed to come out. But the decay in my mouth was severe. In addition to needing numerous fillings, root canals, teeth pulled, and either bridges or implants. Said simply, my mouth was in bad shape. Below is a picture of what it looked like in December 2015 following wisdom tooth removal, pulling three other teeth, and a cleaning. Warning: it’s ugly.

Over the course of the next 18 months, I had a lot of dental work done. I had two more teeth pulled from the point where the picture above was taken. There was at least one (though I think two) gum resection surgeries. I had four implant posts put in. There were numerous fillings, temporary crowns, permanent crowns, and root canals done. In early May of this year, one of the first completion steps finally happened. I had five permanent crowns and an implant put in as part of a three-hour appointment[7]. Needless to say, the difference from where I was at in December 2015 is noticeable.

Granted, I still don’t know how to look at a camera, especially when taking a selfie. And despite the numerous appointments over a year and a half, I’m not done yet. I’ve still got one more implant post that needs put in, as well as four more implants that need to go into my mouth. But it’s progress. For the first time since I was 13 or 14, I can smile without chipped teeth showing out of my mouth. Seems like a good thing to me.