The Huge Problem With Octopath Traveler

Square-Enix’s new RPG Octopath Traveler is out today, and it’s awesome. Great storylines and characters, fun gameplay, awesome graphics and music. It’s a retro RPG fan’s dream come true. Well, almost. There’s no doubt it’s a great game, but there is a glaring issue.

The game totally fails its entire premise.

So the title of the game references that there are eight main characters (octo), and they are each on their own quest (path), and are traveling around the world. It’s a weird title, but I suppose it makes sense.

So that’s the whole concept of the game, the main draw. Keep in mind that Square-Enix decided to name this game not after the storyline or anything, but after the main gameplay gimmick. And a gimmick is indeed what it is, and I’ll explain why shortly.

It’s really cool that you get to choose who your main character is. That’s a neat feature. And every character has a different opening cutscene and different starting location in the world.* These are awesome things that really fulfill what Square-Enix was going for.

However, this is not the first Square-Enix game to do this exact thing, though: Seiken Densetsu 3, the sequel to the acclaimed Secret of Mana, did it in 1995 and much better.

You see, in Octopath Traveler, the whole point of the game is choosing a character, going on their opening adventure, and then traveling around the world, recruiting the other characters, teaming up, and experiencing their adventures as well. This is the game’s main appeal.

The game doesn’t even try to give you a reason for these characters uniting.

In Seiken Densetsu 3, after you choose your main character, you do their adventure, and then at a sensible point in the story, you meet the other characters, and they join your party for a good reason, explaining their motivations, and it makes sense that these characters’ paths would cross during the story that’s being told, and that they would join each other.

2
Seiken Densetsu 3. You choose 3 characters. The first one is your main character, and you’ll experience their opening adventure that sets them off on a journey, and then will meet your other characters at reasonable points in the story, and they will have a decent reason for joining you when they do.

But in Octopath, every character’s storyline is so unique and separate from anything happening in the world, that there is literally no reason whatsoever for them to join each other. But they do anyway. And it’s not even explained in-game, which is awful design. All it would take to fix this would be some proper dialog, to explain some reason why the character joining you would be seeking some additional help, and why your main character would be interested in helping. But we don’t get that.

When you visit a new town, you’ll see the joinable-character just standing around. When you talk to them, you simply get a popup window asking if you want that person on your team. There is no reason to say no. You are then given the option of viewing that character’s intro cutscene, the same thing you would have witnessed if you had selected that person as your main character.

Other than the starting location and the first quest you go on, there is no real point to “choosing a character.”

You will get to see every character’s story from beginning to end, so it doesn’t really matter who you chose at the beginning. Your main character will never be able to leave your active party, so I guess that forces there to be a point?

The worst part is that some of these characters don’t even want help. While Alfyn is a nice, chatty guy, and you can imagine he would welcome the company of some random adventurers to help him out, Therion for example consistently makes a show of wanting to work alone.

Yet, without very much dialog at all, Therion will suddenly do a 180 and join a large group of travelers he doesn’t know, as he prepares to sneakily break into a mansion. It’s not just out-of-character for him to accept help, but it doesn’t even make any sense for the kind of adventure he’s about to go on. Worse still is that my main character was Ophilia, the kind and brave cleric who was raised in a church and is on a noble pilgrimage. She would never, ever join up with someone like Therion, and would probably try to stop someone like him if she knew of his plans.

The most-common criticism I’ve seen of the game is that it’s repetitive, because you are  playing character’s backstories over and over, but it’s worse than that because there is no reason presented that explains why these characters would join up. It’s most obvious during cutscenes, where only the relevant character even appears. If you’re doing Therion’s quests, none of your other characters will appear in cutscenes or have any role to play whatsoever. Just having your other characters appear in cutscenes, even off to the side and offering no dialog, really isn’t too much to ask for.

Nail in the coffin: you HAVE to play the game this way.

You might be thinking that because every character’s storyline is so unique and separate from every other character, it would be better to just do one character’s storyline from start to finish.

TOO BAD! At the end of each character’s “chapter 1,” they’ll likely be around level 5. But guess what the recommended level is to start chapter 2? Around level 25. And leveling up makes a big difference in this game, even just being a couple levels below the recommendation might make a certain story chapter impossible. You can either grind forever to get through one character’s whole story, or play the other characters’ stories (which is what you’re expected to do).

What that translates to is walking around the circle-shaped world in a circle, doing everyone’s chapter 1, and then walking around the world in a circle again, doing everyone’s chapter 2, and so on.

The game is constantly pulling your attention away from the most recent exciting events you’ve experienced. Even though all of your characters are very motivated to accomplish their goals, having just gone through some dramatic inciting adventure, they will just abandon everything and go along with some random group of people, without a word. The cast of characters is incredibly diverse too: Primrose is really serious, and Alfyn is goofy — would they actually get along well enough to travel together? Many of these characters are so different that I can imagine a good writer could create some hilarious shenanigans to throw them into, allowing us as players to see these very-different people forced to work together. But we don’t get that.

Despite being well-written, interesting characters, none of them interact with or have anything to do with each other, but they team up anyway, and that’s the only way to play the game.

There’s still hope.

As I mentioned at the beginning, the storylines themselves are really great, the characters as individuals are great, the gameplay is great, the graphics are great, the music is great. There are some little flaws, like how character abilities aren’t very creative or useful– Provoke and Duel are the same thing, they let you fight NPCs, but what’s even the point of fighting an NPC??? Guide and Allure are also the exact same thing, getting an NPC to join you. But these flaws are very tolerable when the rest of the game is great.

My only hope is that, after completing every character’s story, there will be some mega adventure that actually does unite all of them, gives them a reason to be together. I haven’t gotten very far in the game yet, so I’m not sure. It could be that the game just sort of ends when you complete every last character’s final chapter. That would be lame.

Final thoughts.

I’m totally fine with having to use my imagination to think of what kinds of interactions these characters would have together outside of cutscenes. In fact, that’s usually a big part of the fun in a ROLE-PLAYING game. But it’s really hard when the characters don’t interact at all, ever. Adding to that is how some characters would clearly not even be friends with each other, because they are so different in personality and motivations. So I kind of can’t use my imagination, because there’s nothing to go off of.

No regrets on my purchase, though. The game’s format actually reminds me a lot of monthly comic books. For you non-nerds, here’s what I mean: each month, a new issue is released. Let’s say you like reading Batman, Superman, Flash, and Wonder Woman. The stories told in their comics are all totally separate from each other, and when you finish the issue, you want to move on to the next. But you have to wait another month before you can read the next issue for any of the characters you like. So you go from reading, for example, Wonder Woman’s issue for that month, to Batman’s, even though their stories are unrelated. They are still good stories and you like the characters. Putting it into this kind of thinking helps me enjoy Octopath Traveler a little more.

* These are also features in the game I’m developing, which I implemented before I heard about this game, but now when my game comes out, people will think I copied Octopath’s good ideas.  I’m just complaining a lot. Maybe that’s the whole reason I’m writing this article. I’m a jealous, awful man.
Advertisements

Features of the next Zelda game after Breath of the Wild

I haven’t written a blog post for fun in a long time! I have been playing a lot of Zelda: Breath of the Wild lately and was thinking about what I would like to see in a sequel. Here’s my list:

Experience points and leveling up

You would gain EXP not just by defeating enemies, but also by discovering new locations, finishing quests, crafting successfully, and pretty much everything you do.

And when you gained a level, you would get a certain number of “skill points” that you could allocate towards any number of abilities: Hearts and stamina are obvious ones, but also things like swim speed, climb speed, stealth armor rating, and elemental resistance. Increase one your skills enough and you’ll get perks like the ability to swim up waterfalls, faster run speed at night, complete elemental immunity, and so on.

Something I find very annoying in BotW is that I’m constantly changing my armor for the situation. I’ll wear the Stealth Armor while regularly running around so I can pick up bugs easily and run faster at night, but as soon as I want to climb I switch to the Climbing Gear, and then if I get in combat I change to the Tunic of the Wild, and if I’m swimming I change to the Zora Armor, and if it starts raining I put on the Thunder Helm. It’s so annoying! I’m always switching armor! It would be so much better to tie these skills to your character, rather than the armor that is equipped.

Weapons won’t break

I actually thought weapons breaking was a cool feature in the game. It certainly made combat more interesting, and I never felt like I was at a loss either, knowing how fragile every weapon was. But that’s also the biggest problem– especially once you start expanding your inventory, which can be pretty dramatically improved if you have collected even just a few Korok seeds, I always had so many weapons that anytime they broke didn’t really make a difference.

The Trials of the Sword DLC, in which you improve the Master Sword to the nth degree only made the feature worse– because after doing that part of the game (which, admittedly, is something only the hardcore players will ever do), you basically don’t even need to use any other weapon again.

It would be awesome if we could craft or find a weapon, and just stick to it. Also, it would be great if all weapons could be upgraded equally– so if you want to be using the Soup Ladle sword and Pot Lid shield at max level with max stats, you could, if you upgraded them enough. Speaking of that…

Armor should be cosmetic

I already mentioned how annoying it is that you have to constantly change armor in the game, but something else that bothers me is how cool some of the armor looks and yet I almost never wear it. The Hylian Tunic looks really great but is one of the most useless armor sets in the game. Certain DLC armor that can never be upgraded goes just as unused, like the Phantom Ganon Armor, or my personal favorite, the Lobster Shirt.

It would be very cool to have a sort of character creation at the beginning of the game, where you can decide Link’s hairstyle (I love seeing Link with a frazzled man-bun while wearing the Desert Voe Headband but I only ever wear it in the desert!) and his outfit. And you can change them at any time, just like in Splatoon 2.

Able to play as a boy or a girl

l
Linkle.

When BotW was first revealed, Link’s new appearance was so effeminate that many fans thought it may have been Zelda, or that you may be able to play as a female character. I think one of the reasons they made Link androgynous was so that every player could recognize a bit of themselves in him, but he was still canonically a man, and referred to as such throughout the game.

Weirder characters in the Zelda universe like Linkle prove that there definitely can be female versions of Link, and we should be able to play as a male or female character in the next game!

Better sidequests

Breath of the Wild has 90 sidequests, but every single one of them is garbage. They aren’t memorable or fun and you often aren’t given enough direction to complete it. That said, there are 42 Shrine Quests, and 20 Main Quests that are all really great, but there are tons of sidequests and they are just lame. I would rather have them removed and replaced with even just a few more shrine quests.

That’s it!

If they make those changes and keep the open world style of the game, I would be all about it. I mean, I’m sure I’ll be all about the next Zelda game anyway, this is my favorite game series of all time.

Trolls Aren’t Only On The Internet

Apparently, trolls don’t just exist online anymore, as some of us seemed to think.

Let’s talk about this newly-released Jimmy Kimmel video.

For most of my life, people thought that Internet trolls were merely a vocal minority– recognizing that the actions of one person can ruin something for everyone, you know? And in an online space, it’s hard to maintain control or reprimand someone for misbehavior. Folks have always said that, if not for the anonymity of the Internet and the sensation that you aren’t interacting with an actual human being in front of a different computer screen somewhere else, trolls would not behave the way they do.

In other words, everyone has expected that, in trolls were face-to-face with those they were interacting with, then the very worst examples of human cruelty we see them perform online wouldn’t be replicated.

But this video from Jimmel Kimmel shows that everyone who thought that trolls were only on the Internet, have all been wrong.

Kimmel gathers together a diverse group of six extremely racist people, that you can’t actually believe really exist and have united an absurd belief, to see what would happen if they met an actual family being supported by current DACA laws (that our very-corrupt government is trying to xenophobically and racistly take away).

What Kimmel was hoping would happen was that these racist people would see this very-American family and feel compassion, perhaps some amount of guilt. The experience would make them uncomfortable, make them question why they vehemently opposed DACA, when all that law serves to do is allow people like this family to have a life (and still not an easy one at that).

Instead, the six racist guests literally point their fingers and shout at the couple and their infant daughter, saying all the usual racist things that racists say. You’ll notice none of them talk to or listen to the couple, but talk at Jimmy Kimmel only.

The state of people’s modern behavior is worse than we all thought. The trolls who post disgusting, heartless things online do not exist solely on the Internet. They share those horrible thoughts in their offline lives as well, even directly to the faces of the good people they hate.

Here’s a scene from The Big Sick.

That kind of thing isn’t fictional. There are horrible people in the world, who come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, who say the most racist, awful, and hurtful things directly to people they have chosen not to like based on the color of those peoples’ skin. Or based on some bizarre belief they are superior for other reasons.

There is no logical, sensible reason to discriminate. Feelings of superiority are always wrong, and you will notice that anytime you meet someone who thinks they deserve more, or are more worthy, than a specific group of other people (whether it’s people of color, people who are LGBT, women, people who are homeless or in poverty, people who have been to jail, people of a certain religion, etc., etc.), they are really hard to get along with. I can guarantee you that no one in the group Jimmy Kimmel assembled would actually be friends with each other.

Discrimination does nothing positive. It creates barriers and sows distrust. It prevents us from getting to know different, interesting people, who we can learn from and enjoy celebrating life with.

Just be good, damn it. If your beliefs involve the condemnation of someone else, they are wrong and should be changed. And you CAN change your beliefs.

Here’s a Ted Talk from Megan Phelps-Roper, who left the obviously-discriminatory Westboro Baptist Church, and now works as an advocate to help others do the same. Hopefully this video is helpful to people who would like to make a difference on these kinds of issues, as well as those who hold harmful beliefs towards others.

100
You have to click it to get to the video. I can’t embed it.

“Me too”: A brief, incomplete explanation of how patriarchal culture makes sexual assault a systemic problem

Many of my close friends on Facebook, and some of my favorite people I follow on Twitter, have been posting the status “Me too.” Since the recent revelation that famous film producer Harvey Weinstein is a serial sexual predator, there has been a lot of conversation about the prominence of sexual assault in our society. I have always had a lot of thoughts and feelings about sexual assault, and now that my heart is being broken seeing how many of my friends have been victims of it, I think that now would be a good time to put my thoughts on blast. And in order to do that, I need to spend a lot of time talking about our patriarchal, male-dominant society.

Quick note: This post isn’t going to bash men. Some men are freaking awesome. But some are awful, and the awful ones ruin it for everyone, men and women alike. Also, men aren’t the only ones who commit sexual assault, nor do they only commit it against women. I’ll touch on that a bit later in the post.

First thing’s first: all of history. Remember how long it was before women were given the right to vote? At every step of history, women have been denied power. And then we never had a female president until 2017.  Oh, sorry, she won the election by a lot, but didn’t get elected. All throughout history and up to this very day, women have been treated as lesser than men, and are less likely to be in positions of power than men. This has always been intentional. I assure you, if men wanted to be inclusive of women, there would be more women in politics, in STEM, and in other male-dominated, respectable fields of work. Unfortunately, the reality is just the opposite.

pic1
Mia Fey, a strong and well-written female character in the Ace Attorney video game series, is heavily sexualized. Her large breasts and cleavage, as well as the Marilyn Monroe beauty mark, were a deliberate design choice to cater to a male-dominant culture.

Second thing’s second: all the media ever. Across every type of media, and in every genre, women are expressed as sexual objects. There’s a reason why people are lauding that recent excellent films like Mad Max: Fury Road, Star Wars VII, and Wonder Woman have great female lead characters. Women have never been portrayed as strong or independent. In films throughout history, the protagonist is often a man, and the MacGuffin to be obtained is a woman. In TV commercials targeted at men, women are used as a sexual object to draw men’s attention. In video games, there is a trope known as “chainmail bikini” which describes how female characters, inexplicably, wear only sexy outfits and yet are somehow as versatile as heavily-armored male characters. Even female characters who are powerful and well written are still sexualized– see the image of Mia Fey to the right. I can go on and on. Magazines: Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issueand there are others a lot worse than that. Sports: our culture really only cares about male-dominated sports like football, but even if you watch baseball, soccer, or something else, it’s all men– if you want to see women’s sports on TV, you really have to look for it. Because of how infrequently we see strong female characters in any media, and how often we see them portrayed as sexual objects, and how long all this has been going on, our society has normalized the idea that women are supposed to be sexy, and men are supposed to lust after them, and they are something for men to earn.

Third: the normalization of presenting women as lesser, and as sexual objects, starts young. Men’s very upbringing teaches this. When boys at the playground tease girls and chase them, adults will cutely look at each other and say, “He has a crush on her.” It might seem innocent and cute at that age, but by encouraging that behavior in boys’ formative years, well, just guess what it turns into. Not “respect for women,” I’ll tell you that much. Here’s a radical idea: let’s teach boys to flirt with girls by, I don’t know, being kind, instead of teasing or insulting them.

Fourth: let’s talk about women’s clothing for a second. One of the cruelest questions you can ask a woman who is seeking help after sexual assault is, “Well, what were you wearing?” That question implies a few things:

  1. That you being sexually assaulted is your own fault, and
  2. You were asking for it to happen, and
  3. If you wore a sexy outfit, you should be ashamed of yourself.
pic2
Sweatpants might be considered the laziest, most unattractive clothing, but that won’t stop a sexual predator from preying on someone.

The reality is, women have been sexually assaulted REGARDLESS of the clothes they had on. Definitely check out this photo gallery of perfectly normal clothes women wore when they were sexually assaulted. It is worth noting, however, that sexual predators will identify a woman’s sexy outfit as an invitation to have sex with her, even though obviously the clothes are not a form of consent. And in some cases, it doesn’t even matter if you’re awake, as Brock Turner demonstrated.

Let’s talk about consent for a second, since I just mentioned it. Without consent, you can’t have sex with someone. Unfortunately, I never received proper education about consent until I was in college, and I imagine that hasn’t changed. Consent is something that every person needs to understand from a very young age. Because once puberty hits, the desire will be there, forever, and without a proper understanding of consent, people will become predators before they even realize there might be a problem with touching someone without permission.

Let’s bring alcohol into the consent conversation. A woman who is drunk cannot give consent, because being drunk means you aren’t thinking straight. And yet, many men use alcohol as a tool to get women to have sex with them. I’m always so grateful when my male friends offer to buy me a drink at the bar, because it destigmatizes the idea that buying a drink for someone is code for trying to loosen them up so they will have sex with you. Ugh.

Speaking of parts of male culture that don’t make sense, let’s talk about President Trump’s leaked Access Hollywood tape. Our commander-in-chief disregards all criticism of his boasts about committing sexual assault by calling them “locker room talk.” Now, that sounds like a weak excuse because it is. But I would have to say he wasn’t wrong– even though men do not talk to each other at all in the locker room, that IS how men talk behind closed doors.

In my life, starting around puberty age and ending after college when I chose my adult friends much more carefully (and only for that reason), any time I was in an exclusively male setting, the conversation was always about women and how hot specific women are. When women are present, men know how to be charming. But take them out of the environment and men’s attitudes towards women become vulgar and cruel. It always made me uncomfortable, and I’m not the only one– but I often do feel like a minority in that regard.

Sadly, it is extremely difficult to stand up to other men in these all-male settings. Because many of the gross men are making similar remarks, you as an uncomfortable man immediately get shutdown. In addition, you’ll be ostracized and bullied. Because of how much it feels like it won’t make a difference, and how it’s such a high risk, the uncomfortable men don’t speak up. And I am really ashamed to admit this, but all men typically stick together and won’t warn the women in our lives that the other men we know are creeps. There were many times in college when I could have warned a woman I knew about a certain guy who said disgusting things about her in private, but didn’t. I am sorry. I can be a better ally, and I try every day. For any woman reading this, if you were to ask a male friend if he knows any other guys who would probably commit sexual assault and should be avoided, he would probably say no. But he knows exactly who those guys are. Men don’t warn women about other men. Remember Trump’s disgusting admission of sexual assault? Well, if Billy Bush had any decency, he would have shared what he was told with the world right away, and especially once Trump ran for office. But hey — men don’t warn women about other men, even when we know other men are sexual predators.

And like I mentioned earlier, it’s a societal problem, and some of these awful men have been so inundated with lessons from history and media and their upbringing that they would never even think what they’re talking about and doing could be seen as sexual assault. That doesn’t make sexual assault okay, obviously, but that’s a big reason why it’s so common– many men just don’t even know what sexual assault or consent is.

With how much our society has been talking about sexual assault lately, I have been hyper conscious of my actions around women, so here’s a quick story: I met a cool woman at a bar this past weekend, we talked a lot and hung out late into the night. Even though it was perfectly amicable, and nothing sexual happened between us, I sent her a text the next day apologizing if I had done anything that made her uncomfortable. And she sent me a text back, indicating she was super confused why I would say that. I had embarrassed myself by apologizing– I knew I hadn’t done anything even remotely wrong, and so did she. But after reflecting on all these recent events, I was worried that even I might be so inundated with inaccurate views about consent and sexual assault that I could have flirted too aggressively and made her uncomfortable. Better to risk embarrassing myself than have hurt someone, I thought. Still, I’d rather have not embarrassed myself at all! But that’s how influential and overpowering male culture is– I didn’t even trust my own self, because I’m a man and I’ve been around male culture my whole life, and I know what kind of person emerges from that culture.

Let’s talk more about influence. Sex and money and power are often all talked about in tandem. Have you ever wondered why Game of Thrones has so much sex but is still a good show? George R. R. Martin was smart enough to observe that sex (or, rape, more accurately) has often been the primary method by which men prey upon women in order to feel a sense of empowerment. And money goes right along with that; most men are civilized enough to know they can’t brute-force a woman to have sex with them, so they buy women things and flaunt their wealth in order to attract women. Sometimes they just pay for prostitutes outright. Have you ever noticed how there aren’t male prostitutes? In the world of men, having more money often means getting more sex. Obviously, that’s bullshit, but it is an often-shared idea, that as wealth increases, so too does the frequency of sexual encounters. Men who make a lot of money tend to believe they have not just earned the money, but earned sex with whoever they want. And they will get angry and forceful and commit sexual assault when women reject them. This tweet explains the same concept a bit more artistically than me.

pic3
Would you dare grab this man’s genitals, when he could crush every bone in your body with ease?

Speaking of tweets, Terry Crews, an all-around nice guy actor and former NFL player, recently made headlines by revealing that he has been sexually assaulted too, and recognizes the difficulty that goes along with that. You would think, as a man, and as a very physically intimidating man at 240 pounds, he wouldn’t ever be victim to sexual assault. But unfortunately, it happens between men constantly. Not nearly as much as women, but I’m still going to use the word constantly. Even if it’s playfully pulling down someone’s towel or slapping them inappropriately in the high school locker room after the game, it’s still sexual assault. And when that shit never gets addressed or condemned at that somewhat-more-innocent level, it turns into a much more harmful, serious kind of sexual assault later on.

And don’t forget: at its worst, there is widespread cover up of sexual assault. See: the Catholic church. Just like how men don’t warn women about other men, and men like Terry Crews haven’t come forward until now, there is always a cover up. Despite sexual assault being rampant and happening to everyone and ruining all our lives and the lives of those we care about, no one talks about it. And when people do, they are criticized and have their lives destroyed further, after already going through something terrible. Especially for women.

Lastly:

Me too.

I won’t share my full story here, but I was once taken advantage of by a “friend” while I was really drunk. It really screwed up every facet of my life for months, and I know many women have a far worse story than me, and have more than just one story.

We’ve heard about that “1 in 4” statistic. But I don’t think it’s 1 in 4 women who are sexually assaulted. I think it’s 1 in 1. Sexual assault is a systemic issue and it affects everyone. We all need to keep using our voices to stand up for what’s right.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and please don’t let the conversation stop with Harvey Weinstein.

Reviewing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

BOTW-Share_iconMy horse died. It wasn’t even an epic, valiant death. I was fighting a simple moblin along a forest path while riding my horse, and the creature swung at me with a big sword and killed my horse. It was very unceremonious. However…

Right before that battle, I had just fought and defeated something called a Guardian, a tentacled robot that is one of the hardest enemies in the game. It was the first time I had tried fighting one, and I succeeded. I was riding my horse for that battle too, and there was a frightening moment when the robot shot a laser beam at me that set my horse on fire and almost killed me. My horse and I both survived and we won the fight, but were injured. I knew it was time to bring my horse back to the stable so he could heal up after this intense battle, but instead I was curious about a nearby forest path I saw, and I went in that direction instead. That was where I encountered the moblin who delivered the killing blow to my horse. It was my fault that my horse died, because my thirst for adventure overcame my desire to take proper care of him.

In Breath of the Wild, you can tame and keep any number of horses, but this particular horse was the very first one I ever tamed. I had named him “Boko” because I rescued him from a bokoblin. He was immediately very friendly to me, as if thankful that he was no longer being used for malicious purposes by a bokoblin anymore. Our “bond” rating had reached 100 before I even bought a saddle for him.

This story is why Breath of the Wild is a perfect 10/10 glorious masterpiece. I had an emotional connection to that horse. In this game, the world is so fully alive and so real, with characters who have daily lives and schedules and do things like run indoors when it starts raining, and with animals who flee if you run up close to them or shoot an arrow towards them, and it so powerfully adheres to its own laws of physics and chemistry, that you will create your own stories and adventures.

No one else will ever have the adventure that I opened this review with. It simply can’t be replicated. The game world is insanely massive and will be full of experiences that are wholly unique to each player. The combat and exploration are very fun. I generally hate the idea of “crafting” in games, but the cooking in Breath of the Wild is actually really easy and enjoyable.

The game is an absolutely flawless fantasy-survival simulator and I have a lot of trouble putting it down, even after around ~25 hours in. Get it.

*Bonus review: the Nintendo Switch is an amazing console. I use it exclusively as a handheld (though the main feature is that you can easily switch between playing on your TV or using it as a handheld), and it’s the best gaming experience EVER. The 3DS and, formerly, the Game Boy, were great but this is the first time that home consoles, with their meatier content and better graphics, have become playable on the go or around the house, and that’s amazing. Other reviews whine about lack of Netflix, or a wonky left Joy-Con, but that’s all made-up. They aren’t real problems, and this console has already created and allowed for some of the best gaming experiences I have ever had in my quarter-century life.

Building My Very Own Tiny Home

I have been homeless for 6 (six!) months. I live in my mini van. Thing is, there is a housing crisis in Los Angeles. Housing is absurdly expensive and not-at-all plentiful. In addition, getting a legit, salaried job is hard. You need more than just ambition and a bachelor’s degree.

In order to live as prosperously as I can during this insane time of my life, I took a few weeks and spent several dozen hours renovating my mini van, converting it into a full-fledged tiny home. It was a project I desperately needed to do, because even though I had kept everything clean and tidy and well-organized prior to making these changes, there were so so so many things in my car-home that could have been a lot better. I was lucky enough to temporarily stay with a friend so I could work on these renovations.

20161227_150718
First, I took everything out of my car. Which was literally everything I own… I had already been living in it for 4 months by the time I decided to do this crazy project. I parked in a Home Depot parking lot and took this photo. The space is approximately 3′ 6″ wide x 6′ long.
20161227_154117
Inside Home Depot, I bought all of the wood I would use for this project. This picture doesn’t properly convey the massive amount of wood I purchased. That is a huge amount of wood. Each of those boards was nearly twice my height.
edit-this
And because those boards of wood were so massive, when I loaded them into my car, they couldn’t fit. Every plank was too long. It would have been really dangerous to try to drive back to my friend’s house and get to work. So that meant…
20161227_163550
…I would have to cut the wood down right there in the parking lot. Thankfully, I also bought a saw and a tape measure while at Home Depot. All this just so I could shut the back door all the way. I regularly referred to the saw as “Saw Gerrara” because Star Wars Rogue One was about to come out, and I am a huge nerd with no carpentry skills.

 

20161227_174138
I had never sawed thick wood before, and it took me 3-4 hours. Day turned to night.
20161227_181528
Eventually I was able to fit all the wood into my car.
20161227_181830
Stupidly, I made these permanent nicks in the back bumper of my car, while sawing. Saws are sharp.
20161228_104435
On a new day, Saw Gerrera and I got right to work. I didn’t have a proper workbench or wood shop to use, so I just leaned the wood sheets upright against my car.
20161229_130601
After considerable hard work, I bought this little guy from the clearance section of Walmart because I fucking earned it. Best 50 cent purchase ever.
20161229_150254
Also at Walmart, I bought some stuff. From left to right, there is a carpet, a bunch of hinges and locks for the furniture (I’ll explain more on that later), curtains and curtain rods, and 2 dressers that I’d have to assemble myself. I don’t know why I thought that a blue carpet would go well with red curtains; I really just wanted a splash of color in the place and figured that would do it.
20161229_175020
I began building the frame of the tiny home. You can already tell how bad I am at carpentry.
20170104_211622
After a certain amount of sawing and screwing-in nails, I got these very painful red marks on my hand. Hand blisters? They hurt a lot and took weeks to heal.
20170104_200038
When it would get too dark out to keep working, I’d go inside and work on the furniture.
20170103_180010
I decided to use door hinges as a means of connecting the dressers to the floor of the home. If I ever tried to drive around without these large pieces of furniture being nailed down, they’d go tumbling and probably break a window or something. So this was a really important step.
20170105_140535
A new day of measuring and laying down the floor. You can see that I did an absolutely terrible job with the saw. But it turned out stable in the end, which was all I cared about.
20170105_144128
I still had a ton of wood leftover so I piled it up in the car…
20170105_153127
…and placed it in the nearest dumpster. This particular dumpster was already full so I just laid my trash on top of everything that was already in there.
20170105_154017
Then it was time to install the curtains!
20170105_163307
The first splash of much-needed color.
20170108_102940
Hey, remember that tall 4-drawer dresser I assembled? It didn’t fit. Here it is on its side, about to be transported by me to the dumpster. I think I made 3 or 4 trips to that dumpster during this project.
20170108_112721
Thankfully, the smaller dresser did fit, as did my nifty treasure chest, next to it. I also installed the carpet. There are ropes across the drawers of the dresser because, in motion, those doors would be flung out if they weren’t restrained by something.
20170108_112750
In order to make the carpet fit, I had to cut it up into chunks, and it made a big mess.
20170108_180749
I nailed some baskets into the walls to use as shelves, and put some more storage containers along the wall, and bam! Tiny home completed. I have plenty of room for everything I own, it’s extremely well-organized, and I have more room to move around, and to sleep.

So there you have it. That’s my tiny home. I have been living with these renovations for a month now, and it has made my life supremely easier and better. However, homelessness is still extremely stressful. I still have to be stealthy to avoid having the cops called on me by frightened neighborhood folks. I still have to pee in a bottle, and find a good opportunity to dispose of my piss later. There is still no electricity or running water, which are awful things to have to live without. I still have to spend a lot of time on the street, and in LA, the other homeless people here are crazy. Like, a violent and scary kind of crazy. I have been threatened, and seen homeless people threaten each other, on an almost daily basis. So I really need to get out of homelessness. It’s not safe. It’s not comfortable. It’s extremely unnerving and risky. But at least the horrible, painful, slow process of reaching a better life has become a little bit more bearable now that I have a much more genuine tiny home.

 

 

Revisiting the Historic Women’s March

I should have posted this sooner, but I thought that the massive protest known as the Women’s March, held in major and minor cities all over the country, would be the talk of the town for at least weeks to come. I was wrong. It turns out that in Trump’s America, each weekend is a new major protest, following week after week of unbelievably corrupt actions coming from Washington.

In any case, here are some simple photos and stories from the brief time I spent at the Women’s March in Los Angeles.

20170121_135656
I took the metro to get from Santa Monica to downtown LA. It was my second time ever using the metro here, and the first time doing it by myself. I spotted this pretty green mountain and thought it made for a nice photo.
20170121_140755
And the clouds that day looked like snow. It was a beautiful afternoon.
20170121_142305
Still on the metro, I saw this smashed Trump pinata as I got closer towards downtown, hanging from someone’s balcony. The day was about to get weird.
20170121_143221
I arrived later in the day, so lots of folks were already there, trying to leave. The size of the crowd was immediately obvious.
20170121_143858
One of the first things I saw was this recycling bin full of protest signs. Some people, disrespectfully, threw trash into it also. The first thing I thought was, “Is this a ‘take a sign, leave a sign’ program?” Nah. Protest signs were simply littered all over downtown, often not even in bins or trash cans.
20170121_145531
This photo does not convey how tightly everyone was packed into the same crowd. It was hard to breathe, and I am amazed I even got out eventually.
20170121_145542
The stage where they had speakers, singers, and more was massive. This was the best angle I could get.
20170121_152322
There was an awesome wall made out of the protest signs. It was just radical.
20170121_152334
Here’s a closer look at a small section of that wall. It’s rather vulgar, but so is the fact that the president of the United States has bragged about committing sexual assault, and then refuses to take accountability for it, and says those who accuse him of sexual assault are “looking for attention.”
20170121_160435
And of course the metro ride home was much more packed than the ride there. It was really hot in there.