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I just finished staffing a speedrun marathon all weekend. Big Bad Game-a-thon was a neat idea people in the Kusogrande bad game tournament had to put on a marathon exclusively of speedruns and challenge plays of bad games. It was far more successful than we could have possibly dreamed.

A lot of people submitted runs, even people outside the niche of "Bad game" fans that we expected. We ever had some people who knew so many arguably poor quality games that we had to limit the number of submissions we allowed from one person. We managed to fill a 60 hour schedule with runs and have several backup runs on the side; that alone was a shock. Still as we put the word out we expected maybe 50 viewers at peak, nothing huge. Who wanted to see a marathon that intentionally ran bad games after all?

I'd been saddled with graveyard shift for emceeing. My original workload was supposed to be two four hour shifts of being on mic at about 3am local time. I work my own hours and have sleep issues anyway, so I volunteered for the grunt shifts. As the marathon started, though, we realized this was going to be a bigger deal than we thought. We had 200 viewers right from the word go, with the number steadily increasing as the event went on. Whew!

I ended up doing a little of everything: emceeing, chat modding, supporting runner setup, cutting highlights. Then some technical problems arose and I ended up developing some scripts to circumvent them. On top of all of that, I had one scheduled run in the marathon, and when we got so far ahead of schedule we needed to go to bonus runs, I had a second I was unprepared for put in (but it went fine~). In the end I was emcee, chat mod, highlight cutter, coder, technical support, runner setup, and a little bit of administration as the only awake staff member at 3am.

It was a blast. My first emcee shift, I was tense because the bot we had been using to control the marathon was having technical problems and the only person able to reboot it was asleep, but we were able to isolate the cause of the issue and some Twitch API scripting on my part made sure it never happened again; I'm proud of myself for that one. I'm not going to say I "Saved the marathon" or anything, but I'll take some credit for making things run smoothly. The staff even took time to thank me in the finale for my work, so that felt nice.

Downside: I'm tired as hell. I slept maybe 6 hours all weekend, grabbing a few naps during longer runs I found less interesting. I'm going to sleep like a rock when I finally calm down enough to crash.
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As part of my streaming project I played through Final Fantasy IV: The After Years. I'd been wanting to play this for awhile, despite hearing all sorts of warnings that it wasn't very good. I dove in blind and managed to play… most of the game without any sort of major assistance. Now that I'm on the other side (32 hours later, twice as long as every other FF I played for this event except for FF3), I can say that all the criticism is valid and warranted.

For those who don't know, FFIV:TAY is essentially FFIV-2. It takes place seventeen years after the events of FFIV and focuses on the son of Cecil and Rosa initially before branching out to the other FFIV characters and their families and friends. The initial release of TAY was episodic, and on mobile devices. It came out across most of 2008 in the form of a new "Tale" being released every few weeks as a separate purchase. The game was later released on the Wii and PSP. From what I hear, the PSP version is probably the best one if you're okay with the altered graphics.

So what's the problem with TAY? I suspect it's largely the original format. Episodic and mobile doesn't make for a solid RPG experience. Anyway let's break down what got my goat here.

First of all the game is extremely linear. In each Tale you are shepherded from place to place by the plot and conveniently placed guards and barriers. Once a Tale ends, you are kicked back to the main menu to begin a new Tale, and cannot access that content again unless you load a save inside that Tale and re-do it. For the first fifteen hours of play I can count two instances of having any real choice in where to go.

Due to the episodic format, most Tales end in a cliffhanger and nothing ever gets resolved until the very end. This would be vexing enough on its own, but most of the cliffhangers are produced in the form of a borderline fourth wall breaking insult to the cast and even the player. The end of most of the Tales involves a conversation that goes something like "What is your plan with the crystals?" "I don't have to tell you", fade to black. No, I'm not paraphrasing. "I don't have to tell you" and permutations thereof is the most common line uttered by the new mysterious antagonist. How much TAY teases you with the potential of new plot reveals only to have this antagonist and her block-of-wood personality slap it away while laughing at you is maddening. This is not how you create dramatic tension.

As an extension of the biffed attempts at dramatic tension, the writing is terrible. Most of the cast act completely inappropriate for their characters. Sure, it's been seventeen years since FFIV, but in that time I don't think Cecil would suddenly become susceptible to his dark side again, or Rosa would literally lose all personality. It just all felt wrong. Surprise twists are also telegraphed so hard I'm unsure their reveals were supposed to be surprises at all. It's all very hamfisted.

Also due to the episodic nature, you're forced to traverse the level 10 to 25 expanse a dozen times. Each time you get a character up to a level that they feel reasonably powerful, the Tale ends and you're forced to start a new Tale with a new cast of level 10s. It gets very grating to not ever get to feel powerful unless the plot dictates it.

Speaking of which, in each Tale you will be in at least two battles that are forced losses. Some of these are just mind numbing… Battles you could win that are forced losses by plot, enemies suddenly pulling out abilities they shouldn't have. Eventually the game just gives up and makes the "You lose now" attack KO the party without even doing damage. At least twice I ended up in fights I thought would be yet another forced loss, only to game over because it wasn't. You've messed up your writing when that happens.

Finally on the writing front, about half the Tales just feel completely pointless and irrelevant. Porom's Tale is all flashbacks to when Palom and Porom were kids. Edward's Tale is nothing but traversing the Underground Waterway three(!!!) times. Edge's Tale is 80% about four comedy relief ninjas you'll never in your right mind use again. Yang's Tale tells the amazingly coherent story of Yang and his daughter having to traverse a dungeon to find fuel for their sailing ship-- If you think you misread that, you didn't. It's that stupid.

So okay, the writing and the pacing are terrible. That's all, right? Nope. If that was all, I think I would have found it to be a semi-enjoyable one-time experience just out of my love for Final Fantasy IV. Once you reach "The Gathering", which imports all your progress in the Tales into a combined story line that runs to the end of the game, the game throws you up against a brick wall.

See, I've mentioned TAY was initially episodic a few times now. Part of this is the inclusion of a "Challenge Dungeon" in each Tale. The intent was to provide the player with something to hold their interest between Tales, but in the combined release ten years after the episodic trickle of content, there's no point to explore them. Each CD provided no plot information or progress, and the loot you get would quickly be outclassed the next time you have access to those characters. To finish a CD, you usually need to be close to 40. It's a grindy time sink. I skipped them.

The Gathering and Finale seem to assume you've done them. The Gathering is just that: you're given a party of four people dictated by plot (Edge, Rydia, Luca, and Golbez if you're curious) and must go find the rest of the cast (and other stuff) to prepare for the Finale. If you begin this Tale with your party in the 20-25 range, you'll get pasted by practically every battle laid out in front of you. Also, every cast member you rescue has some plot reason for being unable to assist you; you never even fill your empty fifth slot. Everyone you pick up just sleeps on the airship until the end of The Gathering. So you're stuck with this party whether you leveled them, want to use them, or neither.

After The Gathering, you pass a point of no return and are given access to your whole cast. You can assemble any party of five you want, finally! Hooray! At this point I was sixteen hours (over many days) in and had forgotten the capabilities, equipment, and whatnot of most of my cast. Though I already had a party in mind I wanted to use. In any case, you're placed at the top of a fifty(!!!) floor dungeon for this. Elevators are spaced every five or so floors, allowing you to return to the ship and restock and rearrange your party. So really it's closer to ten five-floor dungeons.

This is where the difficulty curves really slap you in the face. Most of your cast, you left at the end of their Tale at level 20-25, probably didn't do their CD, and probably didn't use them in The Gathering unless you got lucky with your planned party versus plot requirements. Once you set foot in the final dungeon, the expectation is you're around level 40. I was 20-35 depending on character, so the very first boss in Floor 2 (of 50) just utterly wrecked me. It's here I got so tired of the game and progression that I stopped and grinded for three hours on floor 1 of the dungeon, reaching level 45 on my entire party. This would turn out to be exactly sufficient to finish the game.

The moral of this story? If you don't do the CDs, expect to need to grind several hours in the same one tiny room of the final dungeon to get your party viable. That's not all though. In three specific instances in the final dungeon you will need a specific party. One of these is a big side-plot climax, in which four of your party slots are decided for you. I had to grind a second time because two of these mandatory members were still level 20. That grind was only an hour, though.

So what is the final dungeon? What is in there that's so massive that it needs to be a fifty floor marathon? Probably the worst plot twist in all of Final Fantasy. See, it's revealed to you (spoilers coming) that the crystals in not just the FFIV world, but every classic FF, were placed there by the same singular progenitor who is now coming to reclaim them and destroy any world that has not evolved enough for his experiments. As a result, the final dungeon contains the canonical crystals from FFI through FFVI, and each crystal is guarded by a throwback boss. You fight the four fiends from FFI, the four dark crystal bosses from FFIII, bosses from FFIV you haven't encountered yet in the Tales, and bosses from FFV and VI including Gilgamesh and Doomtrain. It's…. really, really stupid and there's no good reason for it aside from "HEY REMEMBER THIS?!" They even had a chance to make Ultros and Gilgamesh hilarious, and their writers just dropped the ball. It was so disappointing.

Really I consider it a cardinal sin to try to link FFs together like this in fan fiction, let alone an official FF title…

So, thirty hour mark. I've suffered through completely pointless Tales, having my progress reset to level 10 each Tale transition, awful writing, five hours of forced grind because of difficulty curve whackery and forced party changes. I'm five floors from the finale. What's left? Two of the biggest, pointless DPS check bosses I've ever seen.

Once you reach the FFVI floor, you're in the home stretch. Here though lies the most sudden, sharp, jilting difficulty jump known to man. I was level 60 at this point, having started at floor 1 at 45 and just not really run from much as I progressed. I was gaining maybe one level per section; the experience curve had turned into a wall. I was clearly not intended to level much more than this. I expected most of the final fights would be easy, and they were until here. Enter Ultima Weapon.

Ultima Weapon is a mandatory, progress blocking boss that fights like a superboss. He has two abilities that can instantly kill any member of the party, Meteor, physicals that hit for 4,000 damage, and a Bahamut-like countdown mechanic that ends in a 5,000 damage to all megaflare. At this point, with my "endgame ready" party, my beefiest character had 4,700 HP. Megaflare is a wipe, and he can begin the charge to cast it at will. I was unable to knock him down before he cast it, and only by the good grace of Edward having Hide did I not totally wipe. It was a 20 minute battle on its own. I've killed Omega in FFV faster than that! For those curious, the boss prior to him is Doomtrain, whom I clowned in two minutes with Flares from Palom. What a difficulty spike!

Just after you managed to scrape by Ultima Weapon, the game has one more middle finger for you: a battle with Bahamut and the mysterious antagonist. Rydia is required to be in your party for this; even at level 60 she won't survive what either of them dish out; so she's a dead party slot. You also almost have to do this fight on a moon with Black Magic down, so she's doubly useless.

So how's this fight go? The antagonist is invincible and immune to all status effects. Bahamut does what he does: a 5 count before casting Megaflare and wiping you. This is a DPS race. Reflect? Nope, in this reiteration of the fight, the antagonist will cast Black Hole just before Megaflare, the two coming out as a single move. Once the clock hits 0 you're dead. So you have to win this DPS race with four party members, while the invincible antagonist is throwing Tornado, Quake, Slow, Confuse, and Meteor at you. Good hecking luck.

This all happens five floors above the bottom. The next five floors are total filler, feeling like dummied or prototype content. You walk through winding halls of a new tileset, where there are no random encounters, no loot, nothing. This could have been a single straight hallway and been just fine. Though there is a purpose for this that comes later, I guess. In any case my point is this: after coming off the high of beating Bahamut, you're forced to cool down with five floors of nothing, not even music. It really ruins the hype for what's coming-- though the final boss would ruin the hype anyway.

The final boss is introduced as a sudden new foe much like Zemus in FFIV. He has no real backstory, he's only mentioned in side-discussions with who you thought was the main villain until now. He even has the same "use the crystal to begin the fight" gimmick Zeromus did. There's nothing to say. He's also weaker than Ultima Weapon in every way. It's really a disappointment after barely scraping by Bahamut and Ultima Weapon.

So it's over when you beat him, yeah? No. As the dungeon begins to collapse (because why not make him a load bearing boss) you're forced to flee back through the five floors of nothing you descended, with the boss chasing you. At the end of each "battle", plot happens to tie up some loose ends. The writing is terrible, the design is terrible. I think the apex of bad framing here is when one of the plot characters tries to help you by casting Protect on you just before you're forced by the game to flee the battle. Thanks? You can't lose these fights, they're just excuses to let the former antagonist "save" you by sacrificing itself.

The denouncement cutscene is twenty minutes of nothing. Most of it is framed around the four ninjas you don't care about. One funny point though is you're forced into a mock training battle between Cecil and his son and, if you're like me and unequipped everyone you weren't using, they're just punching each other until the game cuts the scene ten turns later. I'm pretty sure that's supposed to go faster than that! Even the closing cutscene has bad story/engine framing.

A long story short: there's a reason why people say TAY is miss-able, even for people who really love the FFIV canon. It's not worth playing even then because the game actively tries to ruin what you'd love about the original FFIV by forcing you to revisit dungeons, bosses, and then caps it off with a plot reveal that basically invalidated FFIV's entire story. I'm glad I played it, but I don't plan to ever touch it again or recommend anyone else do the same.
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Awhile back I changed the colors I use in my speedrun timer. I kind of quickly glossed over how it was for accessibility and to let colorblind individuals be able to more easily tell the difference between splits. After witnessing and being involved in a discussion with some other speedrunners on the topic I thought I'd expand a bit.

Background: What a speedrun timer is, what splits are, etc )

The problem is the colors used by default in speedrun timers aren't very distinguishable for people with certain types of colorblindness. An alternate color set has been floating around the scene for awhile, most recently improved by HalfCoordinated. You can see a showcase of it on his Twitter here. This palette moves 'good' and 'bad' splits further apart on the spectrum to increase hue differentiation, and make it easier for a colorblind person to tell them apart. It also utilizes a feature of LiveSplit to make 'gold' splits appear in a transitioning rainbow.

I took this a step further and proposed adding this more accessible palette to the default layout list in LiveSplit. This was an operation I thought would manifest as a simple pull request to the project's GitHub page, but the developers chimed in with some ideas to even further expand the concept, and this is where the discussion started.

As I said, green, red, and gold is pretty deeply embedded in the community. So embedded, actually, that some people dislike the more accessible palette out of concern that it causes confusion for people who aren't "with it" enough to recognize what the new hues mean. Other criticisms include that colorblind people are used to it already, that colorblind people can use other data in the timer to differentiate (such as the actual split time), and that adding another feature to timers just for the sake of a small audience isn't worth the effort and code bloat.

I'm not here to argue by proxy with these objections, I merely list them to outline my next point: that these objections are exactly why I want the more accessible palette to grow in adoption. Arguably it's NOT a "big deal", colorblind people CAN use additional data to figure out what's going on, and it MAY cause confusion, but all of these concerns are transitional. For me this isn't only about suddenly breaking down a barrier that prevents colorblind people from getting involved in a good run (though it will help!); it's about bringing an issue to the forefront that most people don't think about.

When I changed my split colors to something close to HC's palette above, I got a lot of questions about why from people who had never considered the default was impossible for some people to differentiate. It sparked discussion and thought. This small change, which ultimately only made a small difference to 1 or 2 of my viewers, made 4 or 5 of them think more about accessibility for a moment. Maybe one of them walked away with the understanding that green/red is sub-optimal for accessibility, and will remember that the next time they design something.

It's just colors, and it's just redundant data that can be sussed out via other means if you can't differentiate the hues, and all my viewers understand how my splits work with or without colors, but it's something I have control over that could make more abled people think a little bit more about disability. I guess that's the big deal for me.

That's why I want to see it become the default for more streamers.
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Pointless Mastodon stuff )

That all out of the way, stream stuff I have coming down the pipe... I'm running in Handheld Heroes on Friday. I feel ready for my Rolan's Curse II run, but Dicing Knight is RNG incarnate and the game itself could just decide I will not finish my run. I'm trying to make peace with the fact that I may have my first ever mercy-kill in a speedrunning marathon, but really I'm also practicing backup strats as hard as I can. Nervous, just the same.

After that, I'm going to start a personal streaming project, to break up the monotony of speedruns and such. After all my Four Job Fiesta runs, of which I did four this year, I've had an itch to go back and play other Final Fantasy titles I have in the past, and visit ones I never finished. When I made a list of what I wanted to stream, it basically included every pre-Playstation title, with the exception of 2. So I decided to just stream all of them: 1-6, Mystic Quest, and why not throw in the extended IV gaidens and Tactics.

That's going to be a long project but I don't have to stick to it every stream. I can weave speedrun streams and other stuff between chipping away at it. Besides, it gives me an excuse to code yet another weird stream overlay widget: a custom timer for it. I mean, I won't really need a speedrun timer, but I do want to track how long the journey takes.
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After my last post I guess it probably sounded like I was excited to get Twitch Affiliate, and I was really. I got it today and have spent the past few hours considering the ups and downs of accepting the offer. In the end I decided to decline it (or more accurately: leave it sitting unanswered until such time that I decide it's more apropos), which I'm sure will come as a shock to most people who stream, or watch my stream.

The whys of the matter are kind of a mess in my head but I'll try to lay them out for people curious.

To start, as I said in my last post, I'm not in it for the money. My viewer max is 20 and of the 10 or so people that watch me regularly, I know the financial states of about half of them and would feel utterly bad taking a cent from them for any purpose. That kind of shoots a hole in my "some people want to interact by cheering" argument, when I would feel bad if people actually did it.

In addition, having money involved would just change how streaming feels for me. If you've picked up on subtle (or not so subtle) cues from me, I'm a massive socialist. Streaming and gaming is where I go to get away from capitalism and money for a bit. Just knowing bits/subs were there would change the entire feel of streaming for me, I know it. I thought I could address this with the charity angle from my last post (and I STILL think that's a good idea, don't get me wrong), but now that the option is in front of me, I feel like it won't.

Speaking of the charity option: Twitch has a hook in their Affiliate agreement that says they're not obligated to pay out anything until your account has $100 in it. This is pretty standard for this kind of agreement: an entity doesn't want to drown in transactions for pennies, and if they have a minimum on transfers, they get some extra scratch slushing in their coffers before they have to transfer it. I don't ever expect to receive $100, so even benefiting charity is out of the question. What's more, in the layover period between cheer and receiving the money, I'd feel on the hook for that contribution; more mental load on me for what should be a fun hobby.

Speaking of contract hooks: their content exclusivity terms would change how I stream and submit PBs to leaderboards. I don't want that.

So my grand plan of "Stream for bits for charity" is shot full of holes. What about benefits? Sub isn't on the table right now, so my one sub icon isn't attainable right now. When sub rolls out I may reconsider. Transcodes are enticing, but I already get them by merit of being a regular streamer with a not-zero view count. If I stop getting them due to priority shifts in Twitch's systems, maybe worth considering? But even then, I stream NES games...

Finally there's the arguably most silly thing for me: Twitch wants all my tax info. I'm not a tinfoil hat type but, to be frank, tying my legal info into my online presence just feels weird to me. Also since they do that, that would introduce additional tax burden on the few bucks I do get.

Long story short, the benefits are very small in exchange for a lot of small, but present, mental burdens on me. Before the $100 minimum payout and the realization that I already get transcodes, I was on the fence on the matter. With all the info I have now I'm pretty strongly in the "No thanks" camp. It boils down to "I don't want to make this about anything but games and fun". Ah well, it was a neat idea while it lasted.

I do still want to try to "do good" with my stream. I just need to find a better way.
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Twitch announced their affiliates program today. The short of it is they're giving some partner benefits to non-partnered streamers, including bit tips and some limited subscription features in the future. It's all very undefined right now but as I understand it, Affiliates will make less money than Partners, and be given fewer social-impacting features (fewer sub emotes, no custom cheer emotes, etc).

I live in Silicon Valley, California, meaning I would have to become a very large streamer for the funds to make a dent in my cost of living. So as it sits, financial gain from Twitch is not even a possibility for me or a remote thought on my mind. I consider this lucky really in that I've never been tempted to go "All in" on streaming to try to make it big. I wouldn't have a snowball's chance in hell anyway because I stream obscure retro speedruns :)

As such, I had it in my bio for awhile that if someone really, really feels the need to tip me, they should donate in my name to the SPLC or Trevor Project instead. This works for me. However, there's two untapped opportunities here.

Number 1: Some viewers enjoy donating/subbing to streamers because it increases their level of involvement in the stream and the alert strokes their ego a bit. A lot of people consider $5.00 a fair price to pay to feel more involved in their entertainment medium, and in a way I think this actually improves viewer retention. What I'm saying is that if people like tipping/subbing, why not give them the opportunity?

Number 2: That revenue stream, no matter how small, could be put to good use like charitable donations. This would actually boost the effect of point 1 in that a donator or sub would get the benefit of feeling more involved with the stream AND know their money is going to a good use rather than just my discretionary budget.

So the thought on my mind has been this: open up for tips/subs/cheers/whatever, don't ask for them, don't promote myself, and make it clear I don't get the money. Anything I happen to take, whether that be $0, $5, or $100, gets rolled into a fund I use to make charitable contributions (and probably match myself to a point). My thoughts on where to direct these funds come down to...

  • YouCaring. I'd probably focus on gender issues, because that's where a large amount of my personal activism lies.
  • Activism and protection groups like the SPLC; the specific org decided by current events at time of consideration.
  • Other streamers who are doing "emergency" events and struggling financially.
  • Charity speedrun events to buy off incentives that look like they won't make it.

...and hey, if you don't trust my judgement in where to direct funds, no one says you have to tip/sub. It's not supporting me, after all.

If I make Affiliate I may do this.

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