I played Demon’s Souls again.

2021 has not been a big year for finishing games. Honestly, most of that is because I keep getting sucked into MMOs. Demon’s Souls is only the fourth game I’ve cleared, and the main motivating factor was that I chanced into a PS5 and felt like I needed to play SOMETHING on it.

Demon’s Souls was something of a revelation for me when I originally played it, back in 2016. I’d avoided the entire series based on tales of its legendary difficulty and hostile online elements, and only gave the game a try because (a) it was ten bucks on PSN and (b) I figured I’d get a funny blog post out of how bad I was at it.

I did not expect to persevere through the entire thing and then play Dark Souls 1-3 and Bloodborne immediately afterwards. So, you may imagine that I have a strong emotional attachment to the game, and I was looking forward to playing it again with the prettier graphics and what I expected would be a more active online community. (Strangely, it was pretty dead. At least I got to fight a player “Old Monk” a couple of times.)

Short version: the PS5 version is gorgeous and has some QOL features that don’t affect the actual gameplay but that smooth out some of the rough edges. The biggest of those is the ability to send items to the storehouse NPC from anywhere, without needing to go back to the Nexus first, which means that you never wind up in the situation where you need to start dropping things mid-level just to pick up a new weapon. 100% thumbs up on that one. Load screens are blink-and-you’ll-miss-them affairs, for the most part, and Bluepoint really used the heck out of the haptic feedback features on the PS5 controller – to the point where I temporarily turned them off during a particularly hairy boss fight because they were a little too immersive and I caught myself flinching at the sensations.

Speaking of boss fights, I had some leftover guilt from 2016, where I used every possible cheesy way to kill a boss, so for 2021, I made myself actually get up-close-and-personal with bosses that I had previously sniped to death from a distance. This made fights like Tower Knight and Armor Spider and the Storm King MUCH more fun, I gotta say. The only boss I resorted to cheap techniques for was King Allant, and I don’t feel too guilty about that because I fought him fairly originally and for some reason I just was not getting the rhythm of the fight this time and the run from the archstone was starting to wear on me.

I have a few small quibbles with the remake, and they’re mostly cosmetic:

Some of the enemy redesigns seem… overdone? Like, the Fat Officials had a creepy circus-clown vibe in the original game, while in this they are grotesque creatures covered in all sorts of pustules. They don’t really fit in with the rest of the enemies in the Boletaria castle zones, which is the most common place you see them.

I’m also not a fan of the new voice acting, not that it’s bad or anything. I just miss the way that some lines were delivered in the original.

What else… oh, healing items are weirdly heavy in the remake. For balance reasons I guess? And for some reason there isn’t a trophy for finishing the game with the good ending, though there is a trophy for the alternate “evil” ending.

My biggest shock, really, applies to both the original game as well as the remake, and it’s this: It may be the weakest game in the series. Not having replayed it since my original run, I had forgotten how many annoying boss runs there are, how crazy the weapon upgrade system is, and how much time you spend farming healing items in the beginning. Looking at the improvements that came in Dark Souls, which was only a couple of years later, Demon’s really feels like a prototype. It’s still a brilliant prototype, and I’m glad that it’s been rescued from its fate of being stuck on the PS3, but I had been remembering it through some extremely rose-colored glasses and the replay was a little disillusioning.

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Hey, we’re getting some Fatal Frame this year after all.

Two things came out of Nintendo’s E3 presentation that I am extremely happy about.

First, more Rabbids.

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was one of my favorite games from the Switch’s launch year, and the sequel looks like a blast. It also means I should probably play Mario Galaxy since it looks like a lot of the gags are going to be making fun of that series.

BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY.

Not only is Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water getting rescued from being confined to WiiU hardware, but it’s even coming to multiple systems. The graphics were intentionally a little low-fi on the original release, so it will probably look very similar regardless of where you’re buying it, but I will probably pick up the Series X release simply because I started with Fatal Frame back with the Xbox release of Crimson Butterfly.

It also raises the question, again, of who owns Fatal Frame. Obviously, Nintendo holds copyright on the ones they published for Koei Tecmo, including this one, and there’s a common wisdom saying that Nintendo is at least partial owner of the IP at this point, but the only legitimate sites I could find confirming that seem to link back to a blog post that doesn’t really give a source for its assertion, only that it is so.

It’s probably a moot point, since whether or not Nintendo owns the IP they have certainly been footing the bill for the last several releases, but it’s odd to see this one in particular go multiplatform.

With this, the last thing I personally would like to see brought forward to modern systems is the Splatoon 1 singleplayer mode. It wasn’t particularly deep, but it’s one of my favorite examples of a campaign that teaches you a bunch of systems and then hands you an absolutely marvelous boss as a sort of final exam.

There was some other stuff in the direct, but not much of it was particularly aimed at me so it didn’t really stick. The Breath of the Wild sequel got a vague date of “2022” which is also the year we’ve been told to expect Splatoon 3. My guess is that both of these are going to come alongside new hardware, whether that’s a DSi-style mid-generation spec bump or an entirely new console. Hopefully it will be backwards compatible.

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arrrgggulululululululghamf

guhurururrururuhuh. wbaududuleneifnguh.

WANT

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I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords.

Let me be clear about one thing: When it comes to the robot uprising, I am 100% for it. The way we’ve been running the planet over the last couple of years have me completely on-board with the idea that the watery fleshbags are no longer suited to the task.

In addition, visiting my doctor recently really brought home the sad truth that over a year of being a couch potato and blaming a global pandemic for it have made me rather more of a fleshy fleshbag that I would like to be, and that I should do something about that.

To that end, I have naturally volunteered myself as tribute to host an AI parasite, depicted here:

Now, I have been somewhat resistant to the notion of owning an Apple Watch in the past, because honestly they didn’t seem to do all that much that your phone didn’t already do, and you need to charge them every night which is kinda ridiculous for a watch.

Also, I really don’t like watch-form-factor fitness trackers. I previously had a Fitbit One, which was a very handy little device that clipped on to my pocket and that encouraged me to actually get exercise occasionally and that unfortunately wasn’t working very well after nearly a decade of using and recharging the same internal battery. I would have liked another, but sadly it has been discontinued.

Also, Amazon had a brief sale on the Apple Watch at the exact same time as I was trying to figure out what to get instead of a Fitbit, so I got to save a hundred bucks.

It’s… well, frankly it is annoying and naggy as all get out, with occasional bits of positive reinforcement that offset some of the “you should stand up now! hey, it’s time for a walk! hey, now that you’re home, wash your hands! call your mother! eat your broccoli!” and so on and so forth.

Honestly I rather like broccoli but that’s not the point.

What is the point is that I have been “closing my rings” for a few weeks now:

…and my workouts have gone from this:

to this:

…which seems like progress!

So, in short, I am nothing but the host for an advanced and annoying computer parasite, but it seems to want to have a HEALTHY host and I guess I’m good with that.

And also it is kinda black magic how I walk into my home office and press the power button on the PS4 controller paired to my Mac and it wakes up the Mac and there is a clicky sound from my wrist as it unlocks the Mac while the screen is still warming up so I am completely logged in by the time the monitor has turned on. So that’s neat.

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Bootstrapping, WoW style.

wow_p2Back on WoW after taking four months off because the game had felt a little stagnant. In that time, they’ve made some QoL changes that have reduced the grind a little and made the central goal (your character has numbers, and those numbers could be bigger) a little easier to work towards.

I had a long bit in here on the details of that, but if you’re already playing WoW then you’re probably familiar with the addition of the “Valor” currency and if you are not playing WoW then you probably do not need several paragraphs on what that is and how good it is.

Moving on.

The last time I posted anything about WoW, I had made the career change from being a healer – the guy whose responsibility it is to keep the green bars full – to being a tank, or the guy whose responsibility it is to make sure that the green bar that is generally being emptied is his.

There are red bars. Those belong to the Other Guys. I don’t worry about red bars much.

I had also spent a far amount of time raving about how I’d been able to gear up via PVP battlegrounds, as opposed to running dungeons and raiding. I stand by my opinion there, by the way. It’s great that you CAN get gear via PVP, and it’s very similar to the system in Final Fantasy XIV where the bulk of your equipment comes from repeating content to earn currency to buy just the specific piece of armor you want, rather than relying on randomness and luck.

On the other hand, much like FFXIV, it means that gearing is boring as all get-out. It turns out that I really ENJOY the dopamine hit that comes with a lucky drop, and with WoW’s transition to Personal Loot, where the loot is handed out by the game as opposed to being distributed via any sort of player-determined system, the dopamine hit doesn’t come with the guilty feeling of depriving someone else of a new toy.

So, since my first tank had geared up via PVP, the action of running dungeons could never come with the glee of a new shiny. And I love dungeons and I love new shinies.

So I started a new tank. By which, I mean that I started a character of exactly the same class and specialization as my existing tank, but on the opposing faction since WoW is holding steadfast to its ridiculous two-faction system and by doing so there was no possibility of feeding my new character items from my existing character.

This tank has gone through a much more reasonable path. I got them to level 60, which is the current cap, and I did the introductory quests in Shadowlands until they had a suit of armor that was enough to get them into the very lowest-level dungeons, and I ran a bunch of dungeons until I had maybe half a set of dungeon gear?

At that point, I hadn’t had great luck on dungeon drops and wanted to move on to Heroic, so I bent my rules a little bit and did some PVP to buy low-level PVP armor for the slots that I had missed. Mostly this was my two “trinket” slots and a shield, because shields are one of the most important items a tank can have and I wasn’t having much luck looting one.

After that, I ran every one of the Heroic dungeons in Shadowlands once, and my luck improved nicely. I didn’t actually replace either of the trinkets OR the shield from Heroics but I got enough pieces for other slots that I was able to supplement with some purchases from the in-game auction house and sneak into LFR, which is WoW’s lowest tier of raids.

I managed to pick up two pieces of gear from LFR. One I looted, one pity piece handed to me by someone who had gotten it as a drop and wasn’t going to use it.

Then I started Mythic Dungeons. These aren’t as easy to get into with lower-end gear, because you can’t simply queue for them. You need to either start your own group or apply to an existing group, and all the group you are applying to sees is your name, your class, and a number that represents how good – or, in this case – how bad your gear is.

I applied for a bunch of groups. I got into a couple. I actually got some loot. My tankiness was slowly improving.

Then I started making groups. I advertised every one with the tag line “Newbie tank. Expect death.”

wow_p4

It was astonishing how quickly they filled up, and how mellow the people who joined them were. For the toxic reputation WoW players get, there are some pretty relaxed people mixed in, and those are the sort of people who will join a group advertised like that just to see what’s going to happen.

wow_p5

After enough of this, I was starting to get almost completely geared from Mythic dungeons, with a couple of pieces from Heroics sticking around just to be annoying, and I had done it without relying on the PVP grind to get there.

wow_p3

At this point, I felt like I had proved my point to myself sufficiently, so I went and logged back on to my original tank, with the intention of moving them over to the other faction and retiring my experimental tank as redundant.

…but, it turns out that I really can’t give up how GOOD my original character looks as an Alliance space goat, and faction-changing them would mean changing their race. So, it looks like I am going to have an Alliance tank and a Horde tank and I just get to decide which I am going to play based on my mood of a day.

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I’m Catching These Again

Pokémon Shield, AKA The One With The Rainbow Pony Pokémon, marks my third time with the series.  I started with Pokémon Moon, which was more or less an impulse buy based on upcoming international flights that were going to have me stuck in airplanes for something like 20 hours, moved on to Pokémon Black 2 based on fan recommendations, and now I’m trying out The One For The Switch, though I suppose it’s actually the second one for the Switch.

I’m pretty sure that the way I play these games counts as Playing Them Wrong, because I tend to start at my humble home, get handed one of three otherwise-innocent beasts that I am going to whip into shape, pound the crap out of various kinds of wildlife for a while, and then see the end credits and stop playing.  I understand there is a whole crazy postgame, but that’s for people with way more time on their hands.

So anyway, from the perspective of a guy who plays these things for the story campaign, it’s a pretty neat upgrade, visually, from the older titles.

You get some Expansive Scenery Teasing Your Future Destinations

and some random cute details like these cutouts you can stick your face through

and in general the world is just a cheerful and pretty place to run around.

Unfortunately, it kept the thing I disliked most about Moon, which is that you start off by picking the cutest possible critter and it very quickly evolves into something less cute.  I want to roll up to the final boss and stomp him with the power of d’awww and the game does not want me to do this.

Still, while I now have Emo Teen Rabbit, I vaguely remember looking up the final form of Scorbunny and at the very least it doesn’t go full professional-wrestler like my kitten did in Moon.

I actually “started” the game a few months ago, mostly because I wanted to get some limited-time freebies while they were being offered, but only played up to the point where the Mystery Gift option became available so I could collect the freebies.  It wasn’t until yesterday that I finally got out of the starting town and started knocking off Gym Leaders.

Yes, and you have become something of a hot topic among fan artists, Nessa, and most of it exceedingly lewd.

Doing this has made me come to a realization, as well.  See, I’ve always seen the games described as painfully easy, and so it’s been a little embarrassing whenever I’ve gotten to one boss or another and just gotten curb stomped.  I don’t remember hitting any particularly hard roadblocks in Moon – just a couple times where I got sent packing and had to come back with a different team – but I had to resort to a strategy guide to get me through the final boss gauntlet in Black 2.

This time, however, I took advantage of the import features of the game.  This involved a painfully-obtuse series of apps to get my Black 2 Pokémon into the 3DS using the “Pokémon Transporter” app, then “Pokémon Bank” to get the Black 2 and Moon Pokémon into Nintendo’s 3DS online storage solution, and finally “Pokémon Home” to get them out of the 3DS online locker and into the Switch.

Not all of them came over, of course, but the effect is that I have hundreds of little bastards at all level ranges and that I pretty much have pre-leveled Pokémon of any type for when I need them.

So, when I rolled up on Nessa’s water gym, I didn’t need to go out and scour the countryside for Electric-types to counter her, I just one-shot all of her Gym Trainers with an imported Pikachu.

Then I stomped her team with the same Pikachu, this time like 50 feet tall. I had five other critters behind this one, just in case, but they turned out not to be necessary.

So… yeah.  It’s been kind of a cakewalk so far, and Nessa’s badge means that I can now use imported ‘mons up to level 40 and the next gym is a fire gym and OH LOOK I have two water types already in their mid 30s.

Anyway, it’s pretty good times.  I’m just hoping the story pops off a little beyond the “go become the best that ever was” schtick.

 

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Corporate Woes

Just a bit of a personal rant today. I apologize that this is not up to the typical standards of… I have no standards, do I? So that’s all right then.

My day job is, roughly speaking, technical support, but fortunately for my sanity it’s technical support at a very high level. Most of my time is spent reviewing log data for junior members of the team when they hit a stumbling block, and on the rare occasion I’m actually talking to a live human it is usually a network admin, architect or – on one memorable Sunday – a CEO who had come in to the office and discovered that they were in the middle of a network breach and took it on herself to lock things down so she didn’t need to call in her employees on the weekend.

Side note, I would probably help this woman hide a body if she needed it hidden, just on the assumption that anyone who treats their staff so well probably had a really good reason to have a body that needed to conveniently disappear.

It’s a pretty decent gig, actually, and pays well enough that my normal budgeting process for a new tech toy is “do I want it? Well, let’s just buy it then.”

(sent from my iPad Air 4)

There is, however, a problem. There’s always a problem, after all, and in this case it’s a VP who really dislikes the group of techs at my level. We’re …scruffy? I’m not sure if that’s the exact word I’m looking for, but it’s a start. We’re on the older side, most of us have been doing this job for a minimum of a decade, and – worst of all – we’re in Oregon and this VP really wants the work to be done out of his home state, to the point where he actually moved our department to his home state and moved all of us to remote work in what was universally understood as a temporary solution until he could hire people locally.

Then came the ‘Rona, or the Wu-Han Flu-Clan, or Corona-Chan, whatever you want to call the Great Pandemicing of 202X. Suddenly, EVERYONE was a remote worker. For extra fun, the people he had hired locally to train up to our level turned out to have career ambition and almost all of them moved on from their junior support positions after a little while… but to different companies, not to more senior support positions in the same company. So we have only become more valuable over the last year.

So, with no way to directly replace us and the sudden reversal of the stigma traditionally attached to remote work, he has had to find some new ways to demonstrate that we’re not as valuable as all that. To be fair, this isn’t entirely without merit. If you have any employee or group of employees who are valuable to the point where they can’t be replaced, then you have a potential point of failure that should be addressed.

The first thing he did was to pass down the directive that we should be measured through metrics typically applied to agents at a call center, with the most critical one being case closure. Again, this is fair. You want some evidence of output from your well-paid techs, and for several months my team cheerfully hit the case closure goals, defined as both direct cases, which we worked on directly, and indirect cases which represented every time we were called in by another team to help them with something.

…until last week, that is, when we were told that indirect cases would no longer count towards our case closure rates. Furthermore, this new measurement standard was applied retroactively to all previous months, meaning that the team now appears to have drastically missed our goals for every month for the last year. Like, at best we have hit about the 50% mark on what we’re supposed to be hitting. Our direct management has been falling over themselves to tell us how this may LOOK bad, but they understand that we do a ton of work that isn’t represented in this numbers anymore and we shouldn’t worry… but it seems pretty likely that their bosses are going to use this as an excuse to reduce headcount to match the amount of work represented by this new formula.

The really fun part of all this, if you think of it, is that it’s a move that incentivizes us to not help, or to actively refuse to help, any team that reaches out to us for assistance. After all, if they start regularly failing to solve problems, their cases will be moved to our team at which point they will become DIRECT work which we will get credit for.

So, frustrating week. And, since I want to continue getting paid, I need to figure out how to be on the right side of the see-saw when it gets cut in half, which necessarily means that I need to find ways to promote myself over people that I have worked with for years.

On the plus side, I binge-watched the entirety of “The Quintessential Quintuplets”, “Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs”, and “How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord” in the last couple weeks, and I am probably going to be grinning like a maniac for the next month or so just from the residual good vibes. It’s remarkable how far some high-energy high-fanservice anime can go to relieve stress.

Also, an old friend is dead-set on teaching me how to play about a dozen different variants of poker, and my eternally-suffering wife recently decided that she is going for her motorcycle endorsement so we can BOTH have scooters. Life outside of work is pretty much nothing but positives lately.

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Fatal Frame 20th Anniversary: Preparing for Disappointment

Considering how many big franchises saw their debuts – or at least highly significant entries – in 2001, this year is going to see a lot of “20th Anniversaries” that companies can use to extort some nostalgia-fueled dollars our of our collective wallets.

Fatal Frame will hit the 20 year mark in December, and – let’s be honest – Koei/Tecmo isn’t super likely to do anything to commemorate the occasion.

But what if they did?

Honestly, considering the state of the Japanese console market these days, the most likely acknowledgement is going to be a Japan-only mobile game with heavy gacha elements somehow integrated.  If we get lucky, we’ll get a Switch reissue of Maiden of Black Water.  I’d actually be OK with that since it’s almost the last WiiU game I can’t play on anything else.

Hopefully with better box art.

Getting a reissue of Maiden of Black Water AND a new game?  Now we’re starting to get in to hell-has-frozen-over territory.

But, what if KT decided to really dig in and put out some remasters?  Well, the series has been pretty much inexorably linked with Nintendo since, like, 2008 so it’s likely we’d only see remasters of entries that came out on a Nintendo platform.  That’s Crimson Butterfly, Mask of the Lunar Eclipse and Maiden of Black Water.  That drops the first and third games, but is still a pretty good bundle.

The odds of getting a bundle of the first five games, all tied up in a bow and delivered as a convenient Switch download?  I’m not even sure I have a metaphor for how unlikely that is.  On the other hand, I got a collection of Saturn strip mahjong games ported to the Switch.  Fatal Frame has to be slightly more popular than that.

Maybe we’ll get the Xbox versions of the games added to backwards compatibility?

The only thing I think I can say for absolute certain is that “Spirit Camera” is going to remain completely forgotten as a one-off barely-above-tech-demo-level 3DS experience.

Eight months to go, anyway.  Lots of time to get ready to be let down.

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Console Names, Confusing:

I didn’t expect to be joining the ranks of next-generation console owners quite so soon after launch, because – what with the worldwide semiconductor shortage, Corona-chan keeping everyone at home, and stimulus money flying around – it seems like every console that rolls off the assembly line rolls right into the minivan of a waiting scalper for immediate listing on eBay or Craigslist.

On the other hand, I was out of soda, and that’s why I was in our local Fred Meyer this morning shortly before 8 AM, walking past the Electronics department at the right time to hear the following exchange:

“Hey, you guys have any PS5s?”

“No, but we do have the Xbox One X”

“Don’t need those, thanks”

…and I stopped, because Microsoft stopped shipping the Xbox One X months ago, and I watched one half of that conversation disappear towards the exit, and then I went in to talk to the clerk.

“Say, did you mean you have the Series X?”

“Whatever it’s called, the new one, we just got some.”

And that’s why I have this black obelisk-looking thing sitting on my desk, copying games to the internal SSD as I speak.

Last time we had new consoles launch, back in 2013, I pre-ordered a PS4 and had it on launch day and… well, I had Resogun to play, and Call of Duty: Ghosts, and my wife bought me the new Assassin’s Creed and the new Need for Speed for Christmas… and that was really all I had to play for most of the next year.  It was not a spectacular launch year.

In late 2014, I got a new Oneechanbara, which was pretty good, and then the floodgates really started to open in late 2015.

This time around, I plugged the console in, went through a frankly pretty cool setup routine consisting of “sign into the Xbox app on your phone.  Now have the phone near the Xbox.  Now go away, human, the electronics are having a conversation”, and when it was done it told me that I already had five games in my library that had Series X versions.

Plus Game Pass, of course.  It’s kind of a shame that I played through The Medium on my modestly-specced Windows laptop instead of waiting a couple of weeks, because I’m given to understand that it is quite the looker.

Anyway.  The first thing I plan to do, once everything has finished copying and updating and so on, is to load up the Series X version of the Master Chief Collection, and hopefully it will import my save, and then I am going to jump directly to The Silent Cartographer and shoot some random Covenant.  I can’t think of any better way to christen a new console.

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14 Years Blog

Big anniversary today.  Not, admittedly, as big as the 10th anniversary which Nintendo celebrated by releasing an entirely new console and a pretty decent Elder Scrolls knockoff, but still a day to commemorate.  I did so by walking to the local mom & pop sandwich shop and getting a turkey sub with some potato salad on the side.

Which is possibly the whitest lunch combination ever, in many ways.

Since getting the platinum in Dark Souls II a couple weeks back, I really haven’t been playing many games.  When there’s a new event in Love Live! School Idol Festival, I boot that up and play it enough to get the event UR and SSR, and a side effect of that is that I managed to finally finish the last “collection” goal.  That’s not too notable to anyone who doesn’t know how much goddamn grinding it takes to get six-hundred-and-fifty-freaking-cards to max level, though.

It’s a lot.

I’ve also been playing The Medium, though I haven’t upgraded to a Series X yet so I’m playing it on my Windows laptop, which was – I thought – a fairly powerful piece of kit.

The Medium is putting that to the test in a lot of ways, so I’m going to fall back on blaming the game for not being very optimized for current PCs.  It will probably look gorgeous  in five years or so.  If anyone can actually buy a new GPU in the next five years.

Even at 1080p and – no joke intended – medium settings, it’s a decent looking game, and if you have Gamepass Ultimate there’s no reason not to give it a spin for free.

The funny thing for me has been that I associate Eastern European developers – and Bloober is from that big swath of “used to be part of the USSR” countries – with Hidden Object games, which The Medium is objectively NOT… until it’s asking me to go and find a screwdriver that I can use in place of a door’s handle so I can open the door so I can get to the dumpster behind the door and use it to climb up on a ledge so I can get through a broken window.  That’s pretty much a sequence that could be taken from any Artifex Mundi game ever.

Later in the game, I had to follow instructions on a note to assemble a photo developing station and then develop a photo at it.  I present this factoid without further editorial comment.

Anyway, happy fourteenth birthday to Baud Attitude.  Next year is going to be the big fifteen, which coincidentally is the age I was when I thought that “Baud Attitude” was a cool nerd pun.

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