Queen Latifah finishes her investigation of Higgs Village and it turns out the place gets to be pretty creepy. It’s a pretty strong contrast to the comical bumbling we’ve seen from the scientists so far! The trip is a good one, rounding up some ammo, so it’s off to check out an experimental medical facility!

We’ve also got a new Monday Music. It was intended to be sort of jazzy in nature, and while I’m not sure I captured that, it’s definitely got some interesting points.

And Kenza’s in town, so she did a Personal Time video with me! Originally we meant to be talking about how we make our relationship work out over the distance, but instead we wound up talking about a variety of other things.

Anonymous said: A day without a post from you is like a day without sunshine.

Anonymous said: Is it fair that the FiW team is working their dream jobs in LA now, while you're in Kansas?

I actually live in an area that is both kind of nice and affordable. Short of the ridiculous humidity here, I’m not really jealous of anyone living in California. I’ve got family out in that region, and while it’s a nice place, it’s just like anywhere else in the fact that the question is how you live more than where. Although I will admit I wish Kansas had mountains like the ones you can find in northern California - I like skiing, but I have to get out of my own state if I want to do it and still get the beautiful scenery and everything.
.
That said, LA is currently in the middle of a D4 drought and the local farmers are suffering financially. They’re involved in a number of political battles to try to get more water down there to save the crops, and this is another situation where federal gridlock is reducing options. California is not the only place suffering from drought; Kansas has had issues with it too in recent years, but point is, it’s not like the streets are paved with gold in California unless you can personally pay people to pave them that way for you.
.
I’m not sure where there’s any info about where the FiW crew is living or the assertion that they’re “working their dream jobs”. I don’t know what their dream jobs are. I do, however, know that they’re promising to build a pilot episode for a cartoon if they get enough funding on Patreon. When I saw that, though, I was kind of confused where they’re standing on things or what their plan is.
.
I’ve got a friend who’s been interested in doing cartoons for a while now, and every now and then he chats with me about stuff he learns. He’s talked to show staff from the My Little Pony cartoon, and while they don’t tell him about upcoming surprises or anything he does pick up knowledge about the industry in general because that’s what he asks about. In fact, he contacted me just to ask some things about Youtube, how one makes a living there, and whether it’s possible to transition from Youtube to a television network.
.
From what I’ve learned, yes, it is absolutely possible to move from Youtube to working for Disney or someone else. I’ve heard the folks behind Gravity Falls actually started here on Youtube and drew attention from Disney, but in that case Disney approached them, not the other way around. Given the huge number of content creators on Youtube compared to the relatively small number of VIP staff at major television networks, this makes Gravity Falls an exception rather than a rule.
.
The most usual method to get a job working at a major TV network isn’t by making a pilot first and then trying to sell it to the execs - the execs tend not to have time for that, so unless you know people in high places it’s just not the way that things are done. Once you’ve established some solid connections and a lot of trust in the industry it’s a lot easier to get away with that sort of approach, but starting off the entertainment industry is saturated with thousands of hopefuls and it’s hard to get a voice heard in the crowd. I do not know if the FiW crew is connected - if they are, maybe they’ve got a solid plan. If not, it’s kind of unlikely their idea is going to take off, though not impossible either, of course.
.
The more common method is to submit an elevator pitch, which is just a basic outline of the show you want to put together. Most networks get a lot of elevator pitches, but if your pitch sounds promising and marketable, you may get a green light to go ahead and submit a screen play or script. There’s some significant thinning in the process here, and only a few scripts will be chosen to move on to the pilot process, with the pilot receiving a bit of funding from the network to make sure it’s a good product and not something hacked together on shoestrings and gum. They want the pilot to have reasonable production quality because once the pilot is done, they’ll do screenings with a private audience and gauge some statistical reception of the pilot.
.
If the pilot survives that process, they may go ahead and launch your show! Of course, note that they go from hundreds of pitches to a single show, and if your pilot is weak for any reason, you won’t make it. That’s also to say nothing of the fact that if you’re going to be working in traditional entertainment, you also need to join the unions involved in that sort of employment! The industry is highly exploitative, and while not everyone is out to get you necessarily, there are a lot of dirty tactics that can be used along the way, so there are contained some risks in being fresh and inexperienced.
.
It’s a fascinating career if they get into it, though. Over the course of doing my silly comedy work on Youtube and with the research I’ve done on Soul Reaver’s talent for the Let’s Play videos, I’ve started to look at some of the personalities in the industry as heroes, in a way. A lot of those people are involved in works that shape childhoods and form very striking emotional memories. Sometimes the performance of a single individual can nearly carry an entire production, and being that everyone involved are creative types I have to admit many of those people seem clever and colorful if not always super responsible. Their lives are very ordinary in most regards, but also fascinating stories. Stories about making stories.
.
It’s a complex field and one, I think, that is quite political. Pony parodies enjoy plenty of success because of the pre-existing success of MLP - or in our cases the rising success as we started our mockeries of the cartoon series, so it’s not like it’s a huge feather in your cap to have a large audience for pony parodies. I’ve noticed that the FiW crew also haven’t really made any attempts towards developing content that’s unrelated to ponies, either - even their Let’s Play series is “Silver Spoon plays”, which is likely not a legally protected use of the character since the Let’s Play doesn’t commentate on MLP or the character in a significant or essential way.
.
If I were them, I’d probably focus on gaining some experience with original content and see how that fares before proceeding forward with pitches to television networks. Youtube is nice in the fact that you’re technically getting your screening process when you want it, and people are free to be critical of your work when it goes online. If they know somebody important who will get them their cartoon on the air regardless, then I suppose it’s up to them to proceed as they deem fit, but otherwise I think it’s more productive to seek a personal voice and style and see how people respond to that in the first place. You can pitch to a TV network after your viewers tell you what needs polish!
.
On a closing note, I’ll address an ask I get every now and then from various hopeful people: no, I don’t really think there’s much of a chance at reconciliation between our crew and theirs in a professional sense. Petirep has hung out with them and doesn’t mind them personally, but really, I just don’t want to get involved in another project proposal with FiW. The last communication I received from them was a lengthy, condescending essay about why I’m a bad, dishonest person. It was made clear, in direct terms, that they’d never agree to anything in writing with me. Given a past record of volatility with them, there’s no way we could do any work without something formally in place, so it’s just not going to happen, and short of sharing some viewership, I’m not really sure if there’d be any advantages in trying to force it anyway!
.
It’s just a handful of pain-in-the-ass primadonna stuff, and we’re talking “pony famous” here. That means I could bend over backwards to get these guys in a project, but if they’re not providing a voice for Sweetiebot or something, I think that Alice and Allen are both better actors and have better vocal ranges. I know a lot of people want to see a collaboration happen, but for goodness sake, I do not think it’s worth the time and energy.

Anonymous said: Are you moving to Europe, or is Kenza moving to the states. What are the pros and cons of each?

Currently our plans are to move to Europe! The primary reason for that plan is because Kenza and I are still fairly uncertain about our futures financially, and we worry about our chances for success as the recession drags on for the lower 80% of society. As things have been, the younger generation has fared the worst after the housing crisis - we still have a pretty staggering rate of unemployment, and those jobs that have been created are paying notably lower wages. It’s affecting everyone, and the situations of some of my friends don’t put me in the most optimistic mood about the direction the US is headed. After all, if today’s youth are tomorrow’s families and today’s youth is somewhat stricken with poverty, I worry how well tomorrow’s families will do.
.
By and large, the US has a much stronger middle class than most places. The country used to rate at the top in terms of middle class, in fact, but has recently lost that distinction to Canada since Canada has a much more stable political situation and has traditionally kept tighter controls on their banking institutions. What that means for us here in the States is that, if you can afford it, being middle class means owning a larger home, a car, and a bunch of other things that many people in Europe may avoid due to increased costs. It’s cheaper to live a wealthier lifestyle here in the States.
.
However, although the cost of living is less, at the bottom rung the challenge of making ends meet is worse in the US than in most developed nations. A lot of Europe offers publicly funded education, healthcare, and adequate transit, which means the poor don’t have to pay their own way to have those things. If you lack the money, you can skip buying a car and instead rely on a bus or a train. Similarly, if you didn’t make it quite where you hoped for in life, it doesn’t mean your children are now out of luck - you can still send them to school and they can be engineers or scientists if they have the aptitude. In Denmark, Kenza actually gets a salary to go to school, so not only is her education paid for but she’s treated like a valuable investment to the country. I have to admit, that’s a very appealing prospect to a young couple discussing where we want to settle down and have children - stuff like that is also why Sweden has been a very popular choice for immigration in recent years.
.
English is common across Europe, but I’ll still need to learn the language of whatever country we settle down in, and at this point in my life it’s pretty difficult to learn Danish or Swedish phonemes. I’ll probably have a thick accent for a very long time, or maybe my entire life. Meanwhile, Kenza is pretty sharp with her English, and although she’s got an accent it’s very mild. This is more specific to us than to the countries, but it’s something we think about.
.
The US has some rather clunky rules when it comes to living outside of the country, however. Namely, I would have to file taxes every year with the US even though I’d be living outside of the States. If Kenza and I share a bank account and file jointly as a married couple, the US looks at her income as well, and if she winds up earning enough money, they’ll demand she pay them taxes, even though she wouldn’t be a US citizen in the event we move to Europe. The US is one of very few countries that does this to people, so we’ll have to manage our finances carefully if I move abroad. If we fail to run through the hoops correctly, we’ll be fined, and then those fines will begin to gather interest. I’ve read stories about families not even realizing they’d been fined until they owed crazy gross sums like $40,000 in yearly penalties and accumulated interest. It shouldn’t be a big deal unless Kenza and I wind up living fairly comfortably in the first place, but my options are to keep track of all the latest laws regarding living abroad, or I’ll have to expatriate, which is pretty expensive.
.
In terms of broad country finances, the US still boasts a very competitive economy in terms of the amount of leverage it can exert over the world, but I haven’t been seeing many positive reports about this. It’s been great for exploiting people, but it seems a number of our multinationals are proving Queen Elizabeth right when she said, “Gratitude is not collateral.” Many large US companies are starting to undergo a process called “inverting”, wherein they buy a number of shares in a country abroad, then relocate to that other country for a tax break. The harm it does is felt most profoundly by the state the company used to reside in - Walgreens plans to leave Illinois and that will cost the state a lot of tax money. There have been demands for Congress to take action against the rising number of inversions, but it’s gridlock on capitol hill, so they’re ignoring it, just like they’re ignoring a lot of other problems.
.
And that, of course, is another thing that makes Kenza and I both nervous about the idea of moving to the States. Federal programs are being sidelined as a consequence of political gridlock, and some of them are pretty important. Funding for federal highway systems is being demolished, farming subsidies have questionable futures, and a few important organizations have been leaderless since our politicians have taken up a policy of “no negotiations”. What’s alarming is that the gradual breakdown of federal programs is what the Tea Party appears to be aiming for by intent, so I’m not saying to myself, “Oh, this will all be over in one election cycle.”
.
Worse, the politicians perpetuating some of the problems are going nowhere. It’s so challenging to campaign against an incumbent that the average seat in Congress is all but untouchable. There’s not really much of a democratic process, and some of these guys are going to hold a seat until they crumble into dust. Whatever change in attitudes the general public may want, it’s not coming until the passing of a generation at minimum. Maybe longer, because I also worry about the prevalence of corruption caused by our super-charged lobby system which allows private interests to write, promote, and pass their own laws, to everyone else’s detriment.
.
That said, Scandinavia and Europe are not free of their own problems. The US and Europe took similar but different approaches to handling the recession. The US provided bailouts and stimulus to the country’s wealthy elites to get them back on track, and it worked out wonderfully. The rich have never been richer and they’ve made massive gains since the recession. The US programs did everything they were intended to do - except revitalizing the middle and lower class, but I often wonder if anyone in politics really believed that an absurd wealth disparity would help the middle and lower class in the first place. The feudal era wasn’t all that great for the serfs, so it’s not like a huge gap between rich and poor has ever been a positive thing. It was like that for centuries and continues to exist in many places today, so it’s not as though there’s no history to look at, and it wasn’t really until the average person began to hold spending money that we started seeing major technological and industrial booms.
.
Much of Europe, meanwhile, has been trying to cut back on social programs. The objectives are similar - both the US and the average country in Europe are taking top-down approaches to rescuing the economy. The US by spending on the rich and Europe by enforcing austerity for the poor. Neither method has been particularly successful at getting the economy moving, but I think it has a lot to do with the fact that your average politician is one of the world’s elites, and elite is his or her social circle. They’re rescuing the people they know and easing the burdens they feel, and in so doing they undermine the human foundations of their countries - a good leader should normally take the brunt of a difficult situation, but I don’t think most of the world’s leaders have shown much promise or responsibility throughout a decade of financial trouble.
.
So the bottom line? When I look at the way things are going and the uncertainty of things today, I can’t really tell where it would be best to stay. Obviously the US is powerful, influential, and has a lot of international purchasing ability, but I’m not seeing much of that potential being used to the benefit of the country’s larger population, and I can identify a lot of alarming signs of deep systemic corruption. Meanwhile, things could easily go sour in Europe if they continue to push against social programs that make financial mobility more realistic, and the EU is having a variety of problems and conflicts. Europe has been no less a victim of wage suppression and unemployment than the US, so there’s no telling if one region would recover more adequately than the other or if they’d just recover at the same time, assuming recovery. However, knowing that instability, Kenza and I would like to take comfort in the knowledge that, even if another financial bubble pops, our kids can have their shot at education and a bright future in their own time, and we can only gain that peace of mind outside of the US. The bottom rung in the US is worse than the bottom rung in Europe, and I have no personal illusions about how close I am to the bottom right now. I wouldn’t want to bring Kenza to my country only to offer her a worse life and fewer options to our children.

We’ve got a new episode of the Mentally Advanced Series online! In today’s episode, a bunch of bison in feather headdresses get angry because pony settlers are building an orchard in the desert. The bison don’t use the land for much of anything, but it’s a matter of pride. The pony settlers, meanwhile, feel this is the best place to have ruined crops and starvation. It’s up to an intrepid horse hero to negotiate a solution!

We’ve also got a new Monday Music! It’s actually the same upbeat guitar piece played at the end of the MAS episode.

Raziel finally makes his way to Janos after a lot of jumping and the occasional death, only to find that Janos has just as many questions as Raziel does. Of course, Janos has a completely different line of questions.

We’ve also got an episode of Personal Time wherein I talk a bit about some strategy games I like and dislike and the reasons why I either continue to play them or stopped. Among the list I talked about, I forgot to mention Civ 4, which is a great one I’ve played with Kenza a few times! Kenza has her own opinions of how I play the game.

And that said, Kenza is here in town visiting me! She may help us out with videos, but while I show her around the area and devote time to her visit, the video schedule will be messed up a bit. I still intend to get two episode of the Mentally Advanced Series online this month and I’ll do my best to update throughout the week, but updates are likely to be a bit spotty over the course of the visit.

Anonymous said: Hearing you talk about strategy games makes me think you have thought about this matter pretty much. What would you say are the most important design philosphies/rules for a good strategy? And did you have any ideas for a strategy game if you could make your own?

I like the games a lot, so I can definitely point to elements I like. I feel like the biggest thing that should be done with a good strategy game is to make sure that every faction in the game has equivalent tools and a core army composition to base their strategy around. Or, essentially, all players need something cheap and reliable as a go-to response and attack unit.
.
In original Starcraft, your core units were the hydralisk, the marine, or the dragoon, all of which could respond to any threat at any time. They could attack land and air units, which was essential because Stracraft had air units that could simply hover over your base and shoot everything to death if you couldn’t respond. In original Starcraft, of course, the earliest air units were all light and only threatening in numbers. In Stracraft 2, the threat levels from air units was escalated by giving them powerful spells and more potent air-to-ground specialization. This was paired up with the issue that the Zerg have weak AA in general, which pigeon-holed them into always having to fret over that weakness.
.
Designing factions to be weak to certain kinds of attacks or during certain periods of the game as a matter of “faction diversity” is a very poor philosophy because it actually doesn’t promote diverse strategies or diverse play styles. What you wind up with are situations where the average game is a struggle to either exploit or hold during the period of weakness, and since exploiting that period of weakness is one of the easiest times to win the game, most people make such an effort. This has led to a high prevalence of what you call “timing pushes” in SC2, where players run by a template playbook to reach the exploitative point where race ‘x’ will have a very hard time producing enough units to hold off unit ‘y’. Learning a good timing push had the tendency to carry even very poor players pretty high in the league, because learning when your opponent is weak as a matter of design is a lot easier than figuring out how to overcome a deliberately intended weakness.
.
At the highest levels of play, you see the exploitable weaknesses smooth out a little due to good management and a lot of scouting, but at the more casual levels you find players hating the situation. Nobody likes to nervously watch the game timer knowing that at the whatever minute mark, you opponent could arrive at your base with something that you will not be able to respond to if you’re not already prepared to deal with it ahead of time. A common complaint is that, unlike the pros, the average player can’t always tell what’s coming just from a quick glance at the enemy base, so those timing pushes are functionally deadly.
.
On the complete opposite end, you have Supreme Commander. When I first started playing that game I felt that there was very little diversity between factions at all. Every race built the same tanks, AA guns, artillery, and so on. Or so it seemed on the surface until I got a bit further into the game, at which point I discovered that Supreme Commander has an absurd learning curve and way too many useful tools for players to fall back on playbooks too often.
.
Although the game provides similar core units to every faction, Supreme Commander creates diversity by offering unique abilities and small tweaks to the functionality of the weapons. All four factions have an artillery weapon in the early game, but the Aeon artillery is more precise for taking out selective targets, the UEF artillery has more HP and is tougher to destroy, and the Cybran artillery less accurate but has a broader AOE and an EMP effect that stuns its targets. So you find that although all factions have the same type of units, those units function differently according to the doctrine the whole army is built around.
.
What you wind up with is that players engage in numerous small skirmishes around the map because players can take comfort in the knowledge that, no matter what they run into, their own units are theoretically capable of overcoming the enemy given a good position and the right amount of support. Where you find your variety is the way the players try to secure that positioning based on their unique capabilities. The various factions do, of course, also get units that are unique to their faction, but those unique units are for support, not for winning the game by a certain timing window. Whether the unique unit is a light gunship, a boat that makes a shield dome, or whatever, that unit typically can’t win the game by itself, but it will expand your tactical options.
.
The opposite methodology that SC2 uses, where each unit is meant to hard counter another unit, means that at no time save the late game can you be comfortable in your army’s real ability to handle any threat. At the game’s release, a popular composition was marines, marauders, and medivacs, because marines could kill anything and marauders could kill armored targets while medivacs healed friendly units. It was a composition that was more capable of handling threats than any composition the Protoss or Zerg could muster, and the supreme advantage of tactical flexibility made the Terran race seem much stronger than the other factions. This created a huge hurdle for the dev teams because neither the marauder nor marine could be nerfed, or else the core of the entire race would become soft and easily defeated.
.
What they ultimately decided on was to nerf many Terran support units while buffing the support units of the other factions. Of course this led to complaints too, because although it does lead to a statistical sort of balance, when playing it makes the game feel very poorly balanced. Any and all units tend to feel too strong or too weak at any given time, depending on which units are engaging what.
.
This led to the widely reviled tactic of creating “deathballs”, which was most prominent among Protoss players who found their absurd levels of specialization forced them to clump together a range of useful units. Because rock beats scissors, scissors beats paper, and paper beats rock, the most logical strategy is to build an equal army of rock, paper, and scissors so that your force is formless and capable of attacking any target you have an issue with. A deathball simply has the broadest tactical strength and wound up being the go-to for a lot of players, which led to very boring games where one player would spend the entire game playing defensively until they reached the final stages of the game and could complete their deathball. If you attack before you can get scissors in your army, there was always the risk that your opponent’s paper could cover your all your rocks and leave you vulnerable to a set of scissors your enemy obtained at an earlier stage of the game.
.
For those who played SC2, obviously there’s more than three units so it’s a bit more complex than rock paper scissors, but the metaphor suffices. All three factions are not granted equal, flexible tools. They’re granted only the tools that the devs felt that faction should use to specifically execute an intended strategy, and sometimes those intended strategies sound better in theory than they work in practice.
.
It’s not essential to have every faction be given very similar units, as is done in Supreme Commander, but it is important to make sure that every faction can respond to a variety of threats with their core army composition. To arrange a faction that can’t easily fight off air units until two minutes after air units hit the field is just very, very poor design. That’s not reasonable balance and it isn’t fun for the average player. SC2 also has issues with map design, their lobby system, the campaign story, and a variety of other areas, but the thing I always hated most was how clunky and irrational the armies felt in terms of their unit choices. Some units should be specialized, but not so heavily overspecialized that their niche role becomes obsolete within thirty seconds after they hit the field. Every faction needs some core units that can establish a legitimate, controlling presence outside of your own base, without support from the bulk of an army.
.
Balance is hard to achieve, but games like Supreme Commander demonstrate that you don’t have to force the player to follow one specific strategy every game if you want the factions to feel diverse and unique. In fact, it’s probably better if you don’t try to force specific strategies on a player. Design each army with tools to respond to any problem, and to make faction diversity, build the tools around a doctrine. Every army needs AA, but the way the army designs its AA guns can say a lot about their mindset and doctrine. An army that isn’t building AA guns because “the other guys are doing that and we don’t want to be like them” is just childish. Never give your players a strategy and tell them, “these are your units to win with this strategy” because a singular strategy is not a military doctrine. Give the players a doctrine and a broad set of tools and say, “Any strategy that works for you can be achieved with what we have, but bear in mind we rely on a theory of mobility/durability/stealth/whatever”.

Anonymous said: So as a majority of your answers are really long, I challenge you to answer every question you get with a 1 word answer

Impossible.

Anonymous said: What happens to all the questions you don't answer?

I agonize over them for a long time, and then presumably a little fox picks them up, one by one, and carries the questions away to the desert to be put in a library with a giant talking owl. The giant owl is really cranky that people use the knowledge to compete with each other, so in a fundamental way it’s like the owl never actually does anything with the knowledge it comes to possess. You’d think an owl that collected even a single history book would know exactly what people might do when one tribe so much as invents steel while the others are still using copper.
.
What makes an owl believe that well-adjusted, rational people would look for a legendary, hidden library in the middle of a dangerous uncharted desert anyway? Additionally, if earth benders can’t bend platinum but they can still easily defeat a robot made out of platinum by just flipping it on its back, how did Asami’s father skip straight to metal fuselage planes with ordinance capable of sinking a battleship? Actually, a better question for all of “Avatar: the Legend of Kora” - when did the logic of your show’s universe lose all its internal consistency?

After stalling for time long enough, Queen Latifah decides there’s nothing to do for her predicament but scour the wastes for ammo. Jumping at anything even modestly resembled a dangerous noise, she’s eventually chased by the mere threat of danger to Higgs Village, which is actually kind of a nice place, it turns out!