Natalie Rambles About 2021

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The snow is inevitable. Darkness comes before the workday is done. I received my annual bonus. And I was just forced to subject myself to some marketing-mandated merriment. Meaning that it is once again time for the annual Natalie.TF year-end retrospective. Though, 2021 was a year that… just kind of passed me by. I got little accomplished. I only played 12 video games. And while a lot happened in the world and society as a whole, it was absolutely nothing compared to the endless year of 2020.

So, without further ado, let’s get started by talking about the world

Part 1: 2020’s Umabitious Successor

…2020 did not truly end until January 6th, 2021. Where hundreds of Trump supporters raided the Capitol in protest of the results of the November 2020 election. People died. The security of the nation fell into question due to the minimal resistance these attackers were met with. And those who did attack were often met with minimal punishment… because the overwhelming majority of them were white men, and white men get the premiere treatment in the United States of America.

Honestly, it was a bizarre experience seeing this unfurl in real time, as I was working in the lab at my old job when the news first broke. I was pouring xylene out of jars while sweating underneath my protective gear, when I started hearing about something bad going on at the Capitol. I only knew that something was happening, I had no knowledge of who was doing what, and I did not have the opportunity to look it up until about 7 PM Central time. 

Seeing this play out in semi-real time was a bizarre, almost dream-like, experience that I could probably convince myself was not real. But the world says it was, so who am I to argue? Now, there are myriad things that could be said about this event, but I think my biggest takeaway was how marvelously this event established that, yes, there truly are two different justice systems in America. Because if a bunch of black people did this same damn thing, they would all be dead or in prison.

I’m just glad that Trump scooted into irrelevance after this and was blocked from social media platforms. Hell, I have gone MONTHS without hearing about that repulsive man, when I could barely go more than a WEEK without hearing about him from 2016 to 2020.

Aside from that act of white man terrorist, the COVID-19 pandemic continued on, with new variants rising up as Delta ravaged India earlier in the year and now Omicron is ramping up, where it will potentially explode during the winter holiday season. Thankfully, vaccines have been distributed widely, at least in first world countries, and it is possible for people to safely exist in the same place with their masks off. The only problem, and reason why the pandemic still rages on, is the fact that there is a large enough population who do not believe in science or vaccines. People who choose to believe the theory that COVID is all some sort of overly convoluted conspiracy. I have mused why that is the case… but the simple answer is that some people are just broken, and cannot be fixed.

This all makes me increasingly doubtful that COVID will ever ‘go away,’ but I don’t really mind if things continue like this. I’m used to wearing masks, I’m fine with getting a booster every few months, and people in general have adapted to these new modern restrictions, as it has been nearly two years since they were hastily compiled and forwarded to everyone in the world. I’m just glad that there is some safety from this deadly virus and that so many things can now be done remotely thanks to changes in workflow and a widespread adoption of cloud-based solutions. 

However, physical goods still need to be transported, supply chains need to be maintained, and things have not been great on that front. Due to bad weather, poor harvests, and the adverse effects of climate change, the supply chain started taking a nosedive during the latter part of the year. One would have hoped that this would inspire people to recognize just how screwed the planet is and how desperately every nation needs to pivot to green energy… but that was not the case. Instead, the richest man in the world took a joyride to space. 

This was the point where I started comprehending the sheer daunting scale of wealth and power billionaires had, and how they are all a bunch of morally reprehensible cretin for not fixing society’s problems, despite having ample resources to do so. It makes me wish that laws were mere suggestions and governments had the ability to rob and seize the wealth of the richest people in their countries. Nobody needs a billion dollars, and when you have that many resources, you have an obligation to do something good with it. To use that wealth and resources to better the world. Unfortunately, wealth contaminates people’s bodies and brains, and turns them into something lesser. Something that could be considered a different species incapable of any true empathy. These people could solve world hunger, cure diseases, rebuild infrastructure, and so forth, but they choose not to.

I would say that this makes me want to see the United States, which has the largest number of billionaires in the entire world, adopt a socialist democracy form of government. Except I do not truly want that. Even though it would be a better system. Democracy… does not work as intended. People with power have the ability to influence, sway, of mentally poison others. I lost faith in the concept of democracy in 2016, and I believe it is a fundamentally flawed system, as you cannot trust the majority of eligible voters to be a sane or rational people, and you cannot cull the population of eligible voters without opening up avenues that can be exploited. 

Democracy is flawed because people are flawed. And the only governmental system I can really get behind is a benevolent dictatorship. Except that can only be truly achieved via a self-modifying AI that is capable of reviewing everyone’s needs and building a governmental system based on those needs, so that it can achieve the maximum amount of happiness and prosperity in the long-term.

Unfortunately, that’s full-on sci-fi shit, and I sadly cannot trust any human being with the power of a national dictator. I just said that human beings cannot be trusted with billions of dollars, so how could I say that one person should be trusted with millions of lives

…Cryptocurrency took off again this year, as represented with a “bull market run” during the first 4.5 months of the year. All before China said no to crypto in a major way, which kicked off a bear market, only for things to recover as Bitcoin surpassed $60,000, and then things took a dip again come December.

Now, I am a tax accountant who specializes in cryptocurrency, so I NEED to pay attention to this industry in order to service my clients. I have periodically given my thoughts on crypto over the past year and change, but I tend to aim for more of a moderate stance. I do not hate it by any means, but I am not a devotee of DeFi either. I think it has some good applications in theory, but it has been misused and abused by far too many people for it to maintain a truly positive image.

The environmental issue is the biggest for someone to get behind, as crypto consumes a lot of power. It also completely destroyed the consumer-level GPU market, and contributed to a global chip shortage, but that’s less important than using a nation’s worth of power for the sake of mining digital currency. Thankfully, people have been getting smart on how there are two major types of crypto, as I explained in a Rundown back in March

Proof-of-work crypto that uses oodles of electricity and is a bunch of environment destroying garbage. Meanwhile, proof-of-stake crypto leaves an insignificant carbon footprint in comparison. There is a good reason to dislike POW crypto and scamcoins, but legit POS crypto is generally fine, and I see no major problem with it as a medium to store, amass, and invest wealth.

Though, the biggest crypto-related talking point was the rise of Non-Fungible Tokens, or NFTs. After dealing with various clients who invest in these things, and reading a lot of things from people far smarter than I can ever hope to be, I reached two conclusions.

NFTs have no place in the games industry. They do not fix any problems, and anything NFTs do would be better done using an account system. Or, if you are super into the idea of selling assets, it would almost certainly be better to create something imitate something like the Steam community market. Not a cryptocurrency exchange.

Also, NFTs are not about artwork. They are not about ownership. They are not about being able to verify your support for an artist or anything. They are a financial trap, and a way for one group of people to extract wealth from others. NFTs are ponzi schemes where the originators amass wealth while those they successfully tricked are left with a worthless investment. While there is value in this for those at the top, the tastemakers who manage to get in and get out before the farm catches on fire, their business plan relies on one of two things: Perpetual growth or duping people into buying something that seems valuable, but truly isn’t. Combine this with all the market manipulation that happens in these worlds— where people try to make the market move by shifting assets between themselves and their partners— and it is all too easy to reach the conclusion that the world of NFTs is one big fat scam.

Now, does that mean I will do something crazy like not work with people who invested in NFTs or created bots to buy and trade them? No. Because All I do is help these people compile their trade histories, generate capital gain reports, and help them report their taxes as accurately and correctly as realistically possible. Or in other words, I’m just being lawful neutral here.

Part 2: Gamindustri 2021 Highlights (Not) For Children

When mentally reviewing the big events that happened in the games industry this past year, I immediately thought of how the industry is undergoing a rapid consolidation. Massive companies are buying smaller companies, expanding their influence, shrinking the industry, and making it harder for anyone to break into, let alone find success in what was once a moderately open industry.

How bad is it? Well, let me run through some of the highlights.

Tencent made out like a bandit this year, having acquired a majority stake in Klei Entertainment, a minority stake in Dontnod Entertainment, a minority stake in Bohemia Interactive, a majority stake in Yager, a full acquisition of Sumo Digital, a majority stake in Wake Up Interactive Group, a minority stake in Playtonic Games, and a full acquisition of Turtle Rock Studios. To top all of this off, Tencent announced a new western game publishing label by the name of Level Infinite. A curious (and generic) name, but one that makes it easier for them to hide their relationship and involvement in these projects in the event that westerners begin to turn on Tencent. Which they maybe should, as Tencent has been known to violate human rights.

Sony invested $200 million into Epic, who is 40% owned by Tencent. Epic Games also fully acquired Mediatonic and Harmonix, which also means these companies are technically owned by Tencent to a non-insignificant degree. Nexon made a minor investment in Bandai Namco, Konami, and Sega, though I don’t think they have any meaningful influence over these companies. 

Sony acquired Mousemarque, BluePoint, Nixxes, Firesprite, and Valkyrie Entertainment. Focus Interactive acquired Dotemu. Electronic Arts acquired Glu Mobile. Nintendo purchased Next Level Games.

Embracer “THQ Nordic” Group picked up a bunch of studios including Gearbox Entertainment, Aspyr Media, Easybrain, 3D Realms, CrazyLabs, DigixArt, Easy Trigger, Force Field, Ghost Ship Games, Slipgate Ironworks, Appeal Studios, Kaiko, Massive Miniteam, Frame Break, Demiurge Studios, Fractured Byte, Smartphone Labs, Dark Horse Media, Digic Pictures, Perfect World Entertainment, Shiver Entertainment, and Spotfilm Networx. Because they want to do something we in the suburbs call ’empire building.’

Devolver Digital, the punk label of the video game industry, decided to narc up and become a publicly traded company and acquire four of their development partners, so now they are owned by the likes of NetEase, Sony, and Slater Investments, who all have minority ownership. 

And lastly, Grasshopper Manufacture, whose tagline is “Punk’s Not Dead” was acquired by NetEase.

Seeing this just makes me angry, as I know how things will end up, because I have seen the sorry state of major American media companies, telecom companies, food companies, and tech companies. Competition and free markets are good and to be encouraged, but when you enter into a faux monopoly or oligopoly, that’s when your industry gets into trouble, as the market no longer controls the industry. The industry controls the market. And I do not trust the corporate games industry to do… much of anything, since they cannot even respect human rights.

To me, the cumulative acquisitions were the biggest story of the year, as they will have major repercussions in the future. But for most people, the biggest story of the year centered around how Activision Blizzard was thrown into a pit of boiling tar after The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against the company for discriminatory practices. The lawsuit described a culture of sexual abuse, discrimination, and an instance where a woman was raped and later pressured into suicide. …But that was just the peak of this wretched iceberg.

I will spare you all the deplorable details, but they include the CEO threatening to murder a female assistant, the CEO’s connections to (known owner of child sex slaves) Jeffrey Epstein, garbage working conditions, routine layovers of staff in order to increase annual profits, lying to workers about the future of their employment, and an inglorious slurry of racism and sexism

I am not even going to bother dignifying these heinous transgressions with a response. All I will say is fuck Activision Blizzard, and I hope things get better in 2022. I hope the justice system does its job and punishes the abusers for their actions. I hope that CEO Bobby Kotick has enough skeletons in his closet for him to lose all his wealth and assets. And I hope that either Activision Blizzard is cleaned from its very core, or gets dissolved entirely. Unfortunately, I still don’t expect anything to happen, as this is the United States, which is more of a plutocracy than a democracy. 

Yes, Activision Blizzard is still in hot water for destroying evidence and the SEC is investigating them, but… you can make a government ineffectual if you pay them enough money. That’s what Microsoft did to the IRS, and what corporations do every day as they lobby to make their country favor them above their taxpayers.

Golly, I need something happy to take my mind off that downer, let’s see what we have—

Ooooh, this story! I LOVE this story! For those who forgot, the impetus for the Epic v. Apple court case was Epic trying to get a larger revenue cut from Apple for all Fortnite transactions made on iOS platforms. From minute one, it was a shit show where one billion dollar tech company was trying to screw over another billion dollar tech company. There was no instance where either winning would be a good thing… Which made me soooo happy to say that there were no true winners from this arrangement!

Epic needed to pay 30% of all money they collected from iOS users throughout this past here, and their developer account was frozen, because of course it was. And Apple was given a 90 day window to start allowing developers to include links to alternative payment methods for in-app purchases. …Unfortunately, that 90 day restriction was put on hold after Apple appealed the verdict

…DAMN IT! I really wanted Apple to get screwed over and for a ripple effect to be initiated where the 30%  cut became a thing of the past— Replaced with a far more reasonable 20% or 15% cut— BUT NO. Apple does not want to lose out on oodles of revenue, so they are going to keep squirming like a bunch of spoiled children until they get their way, or some judge tells them to sod off and kiss billions of dollars goodbye.

Grand Theft Auto III: The Trilogy – The Definitive Edition went on to define everything that could possibly go wrong with a remaster. The game was a rushed update of a group of 17+ year old games that was abundantly unfinished. Instead of using the original source code to remake and rebuild the games from scratch, the developers instead used the mobile versions as a base. The project was understaffed, forcing the developers to rely on machine learning to upres and revise various character models, textures, and assets. And despite trying to update the gameplay, it did not really work all too well, which could apply to EVERYTHING these remasters attempted.

Now, I am by no means directing my anger at the developer behind this project. Grove Street Games is a porting studio who almost certainly did their best with this title, and clearly wanted to make something grander and more ambitious than mobile ports they are best known for. They were onto something and, if given enough a few extra months, I’m sure they would have done an admirable job. 

But publishers Rockstar Games and Take Two… did not care. In releasing the game in the state it was in at launch, they expressed such disregard, such disdain, and such disrespect for the legacy of these games. For some of the most culturally important games of this era. Games that shaped the medium in a massive way, and inspired millions of game developers. 

I would say that Take Two and Rockstar should feel terrible for doing this to such important pieces of 21st century art, but I know that is impossible. Billion dollar corporations like them could not care LESS about artistry, historic importance, and respecting the work of those who brought them an unfathomable amount of wealth.

…New consoles came out last year, and people still can’t buy them. Supply chain issues have been a persistent problem for electronic devices, as people were setting up home offices, buying new appliances, investing in new cars as they moved out of cities and into car-dependent suburbia. Game consoles were naturally affected by this, and not only have people been unable to purchase a PlayStation 5, Xbox Series, or new GPU, but it is likely that things will not get better until 2023 at the earliest.

It is so bad that I bought a pre-built computer with an RTX 3060 because it was cheaper than building a new PC myself. It is SO BAD that I sent my friend, Clavietika, my old Radeon R9 390, which nearly doubled in value despite being a 6-year-old GPU, so she could build her first PC. Yet despite this, developers are still making graphically demanding games… even though things are so bad that the developers of Final Fantasy XIV, one of the most popular MMOs on the planet, cannot get the parts it needs to create another server.

Speaking of servers, I would imagine that the servers used for Statia are being rented out for other purposes, as Google basically sunset the service. While it still works and games are still being added to it periodically, Google shut down their Stadia development studio before they shipped a single game. In doing this, they basically shut down the notion that cloud-only gaming was the future. Though, Xbox and PlayStation are both looking to get into the streaming game, and… that actually makes a lot more sense than Google trying to make waves in the industry.

With Xbox, PlayStation, and certain Steam titles, streaming is being touted as an option and a way to play. With these platforms, players do not need to purchase a streaming-only copy of the game. They just need to purchase the game, and then they can stream it. When you have all of these options, and the portability of the Nintendo Switch… there really is no need for a service like Stadia. Because the ‘Elite Four’ does everything better than Google does. 

…I wish that Sony or Steam were yellow instead of blue, because then the Elite Four comparison would be perfect…

The entirety of Twitch got leaked back in October, but despite this massive breach, people have more or less forgotten about Twitch’s subpar security systems, and now they are just angry at the platform for doing pretty garbage like… deeming the term ‘cracker’ to be a racial slur. …Okay, if ya’ll are gonna be a bunch of White Devils, you should at least be honest with yourself and swear some horns. Cracker is not a slur, a key part of racism is punching down, and if a term was ever used by slaves as a slight against their self-imposed masters, then, most likely, it is not a slur.

China continued to be a ripe little turd bungler of a country by introducing one of the most absurd restrictions I have seen since prohibition. China decided it was a good idea to limit gaming time for minors to one specific hour a day on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays

As I said when this story first cropped up in September: “When you give guidelines that are harsh or restrictive, you are basically telling people to find a workaround or way to circumvent these limitations. For example, this only applies to online games, so it is entirely possible for these children to instead find ways to access games with no online capabilities. Most likely by emulating console games or by purchasing DRM-free games. It is also entirely possible for these children to use a parent’s account to play these games (in China, you need to use a government-issued account for many services, including games), as adults do not face the same restrictions.”

“Limiting gaming time just urges children to spend their time with other leisure activities. It encourages them to talk to people on social media, watch shows, watch videos, watch other people playing games, or partake in myriad other activities.”

This policy was rolled out, as far as I’m aware, and I have no way to confirm or deny my original theory that Chinese children would devise workarounds so they could play video games, like kids typically enjoy doing.

Sony attempted to close down the PlayStation Portable, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Classic, and PlayStation Vita digital storefronts. This showed Sony’s utter disregard for their legacy as a distributor of art, the works that made PlayStation a household name, and the works that made them billions in revenue. Thankfully, this shutdown was averted due to public outcry, and Sony indefinitely extended the life of the PlayStation 3 and Vita storefronts. The PSP storefront was delisted though, but PSP emulation is in a great place, and all digital PSP titles can be purchased on the PlayStation Vita, so I do not consider that to be a material loss.

Now, this sounds like a happy ending, but I do not trust Sony to respect its legacy or past. That can change in the future, and in the event that they decide to add in full PS1, PS2, PSP, and PS Vita emulation to the PlayStation 5, I will praise them… for doing the right thing and what should be seen as the bare minimum.

Let people play old games on your new hardware, or else you are giving people carte blanche to emulate as many games as they damn well feel like. That ain’t how the law goes, but the legal system is all a bunch of crusty old bullshit, and I won’t respect it until it gets with the times and starts being just in accordance with the modern world and modern morality. I will follow it, but I will not respect it, or prop it up as being anything more than the antiquated trash that it is.

Part 3: I Only Played 12 Games in 2021…

In 2021, I got busy with work and related stuff, so I did not spend anywhere close to as much time as I wanted to playing video games. To the point where I only reviewed 13 video games in 2021. I’m not going to apologize for that, as this is my site after all, though I am a bit bummed that my output dropped so harshly, and for reasons I’ll get to later on. But for now, let’s briefly revisit every game I discussed on Natalie.TF in 2021.

Genshin Impact is a great game held back by its capitalist purposes.

I only spent about 40 hours with Genshin Impact during December 2020, and my impressions of the game were largely positive. My primary criticisms centered around how the game was clearly designed around certain monetization methods and, quite frankly, terrible summoning system. The game has solid combat, beautiful vistas, great production values, and is a major step forward for free-to-play live services that can be played on a mobile device. I would have hoped for this success to have inspired more player-friendly monetization methods, but that does not appear to have been the case. Within a single year, the game made 2 billion in revenue— over 3.5 billion if you include Chinese sources— So, clearly, the developers are doing something incredibly right from a monetization perspective… but you do not make that much money from a free-to-play game without ruining more than a few lives.

Chromo XY is a TSF game by a bunch of normies.

When creating a piece of genre fiction, one typically needs to have more than a surface level understanding of the appeal in order to do things properly. You need to personally become a fan, see what creators have done right and wrong, and internalize a greater understanding of the subject matter. And Chromo XY is definitely a TSF, or in this instance ‘turned into a girl’, story by a dev team who did not really get the appeal of the genre and delivered something that was competent, yet unremarkable. It does not do anything unique or have much of a creative vision, which is pretty much the last thing I want to see from any work of art.

Princess Connect! Re:Dive is a good mobile game I tried for a week.

Princess Connect is a fairly big mobile game in Japan, and I decided to play it out of sheer curiosity, as I wanted to know what systems it had, how its storytelling fared, and how exactly one makes an auto-battler an engaging experience. In return, I was met with a cute game that prioritizes team building, grinding, and amassing a large party above anything else. And a story that left me baffled with its presentation, yet held some interesting ideas and concepts hidden beneath the surface. I think it was worth checking out for a short while, but I still have zero intention of ever returning to the game.

The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is a corporate remake of a game made with virtually no corporate oversight.

Link’s Awakening is a frustrating remake. While it does make numerous quality of life improvements, and is almost inarguably the best version of the game, it both does not do enough and does too much. The game’s design feels dated in innumerous minute ways. The toyetic artstyle does not truly match the game’s whimsical yet existential tone. And while it does a lot to improve the controls and sheer playability, it feels like a game halfway through an identity crisis.

Palladium is another new TSF dream game!

From C.R.E.A.M., the developer of Student Transfer Scenarios Never and Empyrée, Palladium is a promising TSF visual novel that I played back in April. While only one route was available in that release, I still found the title to be a fulfilling and heartfelt body swap filled love story featuring many of the same things I loved about C.R.E.A.M.’s prior work, iffy grammar and all! Plus, unlike last year’s promising newcomer, this one actually looks like it is going to receive semi-regular updates!

Illia’s Mansion is the wackadoo Press-Switch offshoot, and it was a pretty great time.

Illia’s Mansion is a chaotic, confusing, and convoluted TSF romp that goes off the rails from minute one, filled with reality warps, body swaps, and an absolute bevy of transformations, all of which is given structure and heart with its cast of believable characters and the level of presentational polish I have come to expect from Press-Switch

re:Dreamer is still a work-in-progress masterpiece, but it’s WAY better than where it was a year ago.

re:Dreamer was a game I wanted to love in 2020. But in 2021, after a major overhaul and slew of updates, it became a game I actually love. It still has a few years to go before it’s completed, but based on the build I played in June, the game offers enough substantial content to warrant a playthrough, and said content is… great. It is a narrowly focused ‘guy becomes a girl’ TSF story, but it benefits from this focus and the sheer level of detail and dedication its creators invest into the game. The writing and characters impressed me, the presentation is impressive, both because of and in spite of its placeholder assets, and I look forward to checking out where the game is at by 6/3/2022. 

Yes, I’m dropping the release date here and now, because what better day to review this game than 6/3? …Get it? Because of… Rule 63? …No? Well, I thought it was cute

Class of ‘09 is a reminder that anything can be a video game if you slap some menus on it.

So, this is a bit of an odd one. Class of ‘09 was the video game debut of filmmaker, comedian, writer, and voice director Max Fields, who is probably better known as SBN3. Instead of being more of an interactive experience, Class of ‘09 is more akin to a 5 hour long comedy album with a visual novel backdrop where the player changes which track plays next every few minutes.

As a comedy album, it is one steeped in late 2000s culture that mostly centers around an unhinged teenage girl as she goes around canceling pedophiles, suffering from toxic friendships, getting people killed for being idiots, or killing herself like a straight G. It is a peculiar story that has some iffy subject matter, and I think the game would have been better as a more linear affair instead of this plate of spaghetti. But the game was still thoroughly enjoyable, consistently funny, and auditorily appealing.

Student Transfer is a dream game that keeps on delivering.

If you are reading Natalie.TF, you are probably here partially because of Student Transfer. I am one of the few people who talks about this game outside of its designated channels, and it is a major part of my output. Student Transfer is a robustly detailed TSF visual novel with oodles of creativity, an expansive cast of versatile characters, and doubles as a story-telling platform with dozens of quality stories that expand and extend the life of this game with the introduction of new subject matter, concepts, and creative voices. I love this game, hope it never goes away, and will keep on reviewing it until either it dies or Natalie.TF dies.

NEO: The World Ends With You is a sequel 14 years in the making that miraculously lived up to its legacy.

The World Ends With You is one of my favorite games of all time, and I was both excited and nervous when I started to play its sequel. On one hand, I wanted to play this game for 12 years. On the other hand, this could have very well been a disaster that did not understand what made the original as endearing or good as it was. Thankfully, the game pulled through, delivered a game that I liked better than the original, and while it had numerous areas where the game could have done a bit more, it still did just about everything I truly wanted it to.

The characters are a lovable bunch of dorks. The story is laced with intrigue from the get-go. The game has my favorite combat system seen in any action RPG. Hell, maybe any game period. And the fact that the game was not lambasted with awards and nominations for best presentation is a gosh darn crime, because this game has style for days! The slick comic-book-inspired dialogue sections. The crisp cel-shaded character models. The vibrant visual effects. The stylish setting that morphs as the player saunters through it. And the energetic soundtrack that, despite the occasional dip, I also like better than the original. 

It is an amazing game— please buy it— and this is easily, without a doubt, my 2021 game of the year.

Metroid Dread is the game that made me realize I don’t like 2D Metroid as much as I thought I did.

Metroid Dread was a sobering experience for me. As while I love the majority of things Metroid Dread does, I get hung up on the minutiae— the little things— to such an extent that I do not look back on my time with the game fondly. It is a quality action exploration game, but that almost makes it worse, as I can picture a better version of this game in my mind. One without the garbage collectible puzzles with stupidly small margins of error. One where the normal mode is more accessible to newcomers or less dedicated players. And one that does not constantly block off older areas for no good reason.

Pokémon Brilliant Diamond is a conceptually wrong video game.

The developers of Brilliant Diamond chose to remake an objectively worse version of an existing game, and only change a notecard’s worth of things. To me, that alone doomed this game to be a lackluster experience, and it is. For all the work that the folks at ILCA put into this project, it is a title that was misdirected from the start, and suffers from the gameplay and pacing issues they copied without thought, foresight, or a desire/ability to change things for the better. It is an upsetting and underwhelming experience that left little to no lasting impression with me other than a vague sense of sadness.

Dragalia Lost is a game I spent a solid 700 hours on this past year, and I still love it.

I wrote over 40,000 words about Draglaia Lost, what I love about it, and what about the game I wish would change. You might be wondering why I subjected myself to such a project, when pretty much nobody cared. Well, the answer is simple: because I freaking love this game!

I love its characters, I love its storylines, I love its simple inputs, I love its complex yet comprehensive mechanics, I love its progression systems, and I love its aesthetics. It is a game that has routinely made me feel rewarded as I continue to invest time into it. Plus, by seeing the game shift and evolve over the past 2.3 years, I feel like I have learned more about what constitutes a ‘good game’ from Dragalia Lost than any other title I’ve covered on Natalie.TF.

Though, it has arguably become something of a… problem in my life, as I spend hours on the game every day between dailies, farming, co-op, and new content drops, such as the new roguelike mode, Enter the Kaleidoscape. But despite this, I still have every intention of sticking with this game until it dies!

Part 4: Natalie’s (Lack of) Accomplishments – 2021 Edition

At the start of 2021, I released a list of priorities and goals for 2021 and, despite thinking that this was a reasonable set of things I could do, I completely failed to do most of those things. So let’s take a moment and recount my failures and my excuses for not doing things. Because, as my teachers always used to tell me: There are no reasons. Only excuses!

Now, I covered my bases right from the gate and announced the following excuses early on:

    • I am working more hours, limiting the amount of time I can invest into Natalie.TF.
    • My posts have become longer and more laborious than they were in previous years, and I cannot release 10,000 words of content on a weekly basis.
    • Throughout 2021, I am going to be working on my next novel, Psycho Bullet Festival 2222. The production of this story will be a priority of mine, and in order to secure a planned 2022 release window, I need to dedicate a lot of time to writing and revising this project.

All of these remained true. I worked more hours this past year than ever before, and unlike my older jobs, I did not have downtime where I could write stuff while at work. My manner of writing has become longer and more detailed, for better or for worse, and while I can write 3,000-5,000 words a day, doing so is difficult when working an irregular schedule with a lot of starts, stops, and mulling about while waiting for someone. And I have been working on Psycho Bullet Festival 2222, which is set to release on 2/2/2022.

All of these things staggered my output, but there is ONE thing that really put a wrench into my plans and limited my productivity. In July 2021, I made friends with a Colombian trans woman who goes by the name Clavietika, and… when I make friends with someone, I have this terrible habit where I invest copious amounts of time into them. Between chatting with them until I know them on an intimate level, sharing information about my own warped self, and helping them with their personal issues. And by god, I have never met someone as riddled with problems as Clavietika. She is overflowing with problems, requires a lot of tender love and care, and is hopelessly dependent on others, as she cannot stand to be alone. Dealing with her, trying to help her with her money and psychological problems, and introducing her to a world of video games she never had access to, it takes up at least 10 hours a week. 10 hours that are not being invested into Natalie.TF.

Wednesdays will be home to Reviews, Rambles, and short stories. I will release these on an ad hoc basis, and I may go several weeks without a Wednesday post, depending on how busy or inspired I am at the moment.

Okay, so here I covered my bases, but I still feel bad about how spotty my Wednesday output was throughout the year, as there was a 40 day gap between Riley Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Assistant – Student Transfer Scenario Review and Natalie Rambles About Dragalia Lost: 2021 Remix – Ch 1: Story and Aesthetics. I mean, I was working on stuff, the Dragalia Ramble was 40k words, and I was busy with tax season deadlines, which basically doubled my usual work hours. I worked over 180 hours in the month leading up to 10/15/21, instead of my usual 100 hours, which obviously cut into what I could do for Natalie.TF. So, in a sense, it was not my fault… except for how it totally was, as I did not plan around this inevitability.

I will continue to release Student Transfer Scenario Reviews every quarter, as they are among my most widely viewed content, and I enjoy the act of exploring what the Student Transfer community has to offer.

I later revised my approach for Student Transfer Scenario Reviews in order to put out ST content on a regular basis, but I ultimately failed to put out many ST related reviews this year. Now, these ST Scenario Reviews are easy for me to write, and if I am hyper-focused, the turnaround time for these can be split across two days, easily. With one day being playing and writing and the other being the editing and publishing. But every day I spend working on ST is a day I do not spend on something else. And while ST continues to be a big priority for me… I’d sometimes rather focus on writing my own stories than reading someone else’s.

Reviews of Press-Switch, Student Transfer, and P.D.A. – Personal Data Altercator will remain top priorities of mine, and I will try to get reviews out a few weeks after the release of new builds. 

Done and done. My Student Transfer Version 6.0 review came out 8 days after launch and my review of the Press-Switch offshoot, Illia’s Mansion, got a review three days after release. Meanwhile, P.D.A. is ‘soft-dead’ until the developer gets back on their horse and puts out a new build.

A second review of re:Dreamer by Dream Team Studios will be released after the developers have overhauled the title’s introduction and added enough content and improvements to warrant a second review. I am foregoing a review until then, as I do not want to reiterate the same criticisms seen in my June 2020 review of Version 0.3.5

Done! I reviewed Version 0.8.1 back on 6/3/21! Game’s great now! Go play it if you haven’t!

My 2019 novel, The Saga of Vincent Dawn, will be re-edited and released on Natalie.TF. Like my previous novels, chapters will be released on a weekly basis on Fridays, starting on February 5, 2021, and ending on May 14, 2021.

Mission accomplished! Volume 01 hit its 2/05/21 release date, Volume 15 hit its 5/14/21 release date, and a post-mortem Ramble hit on 6/23/21!

The Randoms series of short stories will be renamed to TSF Series and will be edited and revised throughout Q1 2021. 

I got the date wrong… but I did rebrand TSF Series and I edited a bunch of installments, so… Objective met!

Short stories set in the worlds of my novels Verde’s Doohickey, The Malice of Abigale Quinlan, Psycho Bullet Festival: The Odyssey of Abigale Quinlan, and Psycho Shatter 1985: Black Vice Re;Birth will be released throughout 2021.

HUGE FAILURE!!! I prepared outlines for these stories, but I did not have the time to write them, as I’d estimate that they would amount to a 30,000+ word project. I have every intention of writing these stories, but I am not sure when I will get around to it, given my tentative plans for 2022.

Detailed summaries for Verde’s Doohickey, The Malice of Abigale Quinlan, Psycho Bullet Festival: The Odyssey of Abigale Quinlan, and The Saga of Vincent Dawn will be released throughout 2021. This is being done to prepare for the release of Psycho Bullet Festival 2222 in 2022, which will directly reference events in and feature characters from all four of these novels.

I decided against this approach and instead chose to change the structure and format of Psycho Bullet Festival 2222 to include detailed backstory chapters where characters describe the events of these novels, while shedding light on new details and perspectives. Or in other words, despite being a sequel to all of these stories, I am trying to make Psycho Bullet Festival 2222 as approachable as possible to all readers. Thus defeating the need for these summaries.

Psycho Shatter 1985: Black Vice Re;Birth will be re-edited in late 2021. I am doing this because I originally wrote this novel without the use of a grammar editor, and there are hundreds of grammatical errors in the version of the novel currently available on Natalie.TF. A summary of the novel will also be released along with these re-edits.

I said I would do it, and I did it! …Except for the summary, because there would be no true point in issuing a summary for a novel this obscure… yet!

In other words, my accomplishments in 2021 were pretty much this:

That’s… pretty much it though, and that does not seem like a whole lot compared to what I got done in 2020. Though, curiously, despite putting out less content, my stats continued to trend upwards. This data is from 12/18/2021, so it is not a true end-of-year total, but it’s close.

My annual views broke over 300,000 viewers by November, visitor count went up by over 17,000 people, and while comments took a dip from 152 to 94, I still consider that a lot of comments. I consider ANY amount of comments to be good.. 

Much of this traffic was from older posts, and nearly everything that broke 1,000 views was in some way related to Student Transfer, Press-Switch, re;Dreamer, or some other TSF related post of mine. I’m not surprised, as very few people talk about TSF stuff as publicly as I do. 

The only exceptions were Home Page / Archives, the About page, and my 15,000 word 2020 analysis of ShindoL’s Metamorphosis, which saw over 9,000 views. Most of them were probably image-based referrals, as I posted roughly 50 images from the comic as part of my analysis/summary. I could probably see more details as to how viewers came across this individual post, but I do not pay WordPress enough for features like that.

Daily visitors naturally went up as part of this overall boost in viewerships, with spikes appearing during the release of new builds of Student Transfer and traffic slowing down during the first quarter because… I do not know why. I obviously like seeing my numbers go up, but I have this creeping feeling that these numbers were not deserved, given how little I put out in 2021.

While my word count per post stayed consistent, I released over 60 fewer posts in 2021 than I did in 2020, and put out nearly 250,000 fewer words of content. That is a massive downgrade by all accounts, and while I can excuse 100,000 of those words and 35 posts because I republished three novels in 2020, as opposed to one in 2021, that still means I put out 150,000 fewer words of content, and… I would feel real crummy about that, except I am working on a new 130,000 word novel, and I was not working on a new novel, at all, throughout 2020.

So, in a sense, my productivity has not truly gone down that dramatically in regards to sheer word count. It’s just that things are not being evenly distributed between years. …Also, I still delivered over 40,000 more words than I did in 2019, which is nothing to snuff at. That’s almost a novel.

…That being said, I do have one massive regret. The fact that I largely abandoned TSF Series and went a full year between TSF Series #004-2: It’s a VoRE Christmas and TSF Series #012: Boxfort – An Escapist Transsexual Fantasy. Also, I did not add a single entry in Efu Efu Efu: Fan Fiction Funsies in over a year. I do not have a reason more complicated than I was too busy focusing on one mega project that I left these smaller projects aside… which brings me to an ultimatum regarding 2022.

Part 5: Look Into the Exotic Untamed Future

So, what are my plans for 2022? Well, that’s a tricky one. The way I see it, there are two things I could choose to focus on for 2022. I could choose to work on my seventh novel, The Dominance of Abigale Quinlan, and finally, after what would be 7 years, put an end to the story I started with Verde’s Doohickey. Or, I could live up to my promise from last year and work on the short story expansions for Verde’s Doohickey, The Malice of Abigale Quinlan, Psycho Bullet Festival: The Odyssey of Abigale Quinlan, and Psycho Shatter 1985: Black Vice Re;Birth. The outlines are written, and it would only take me… 30 days of uninterrupted work to get them all done.

I could make a commitment now, but I would rather wait until after I finish Psycho Bullet Festival 2222 before I decide anything. As I might want to follow up on the cliffhanger ending of Psycho Bullet Festival 2222 ASAP and finish a project I originally outlined in 2015. Or I could choose to work on short stories as a means of giving myself a break after working on such a massive project. 

I do not know yet, but I will announce my plans on 3/31/2022. 

Beyond this major project, what do I plan on working on? Well, I want to stay true to my tentative promise to review Student Transfer Scenarios every other week, as I think that is generally sustainable. Unfortunately, I am struggling to squeeze in time to play new games. I technically play video games every day, as I play Dragalia Lost, but it is hard for me to sit down and commit to a game. Because if I’m playing a game, then I’m using up time I could just as easily spend writing. And… I actually like writing more than video games.

Now, that is a pretty bold claim, and a surprising one for me to say, but… I realized something as of late. Writing is a way I can express myself, structure my thoughts, and bring my ideas to life. When I write, I feel like I can be myself with no physical barriers. When I write, I get to create other worlds, craft a story, and go wild with whatever concepts and characters my mind can conjure up. When I play video games, I get to explore other worlds, experience a story, and engage with a series of entertaining systems, among other things. 

I love video games— I have since I was 6 years old— However, if I was in a hypothetical do or die scenario, I would give them up in favor to keep writing and keep creating my own things.

…Actually, I might not be able to do any of this, as my mother and boss are getting on my ass for not taking the CPA exam. I don’t want to take it, as I hate bulk memorizing information, I hate auditing, I find law profoundly uninteresting and roundabout, and I don’t want any additional responsibilities. Unfortunately, everybody wants me to, so I might have to give up on the things that make me happy to satisfy the desires of others who think they know what I want more than I do.

…Okay, I think that’s enough depressing crap for one post.

Until 2022, see ya!

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