This week’s Topics:
- Natalie Rambles About another TSF content creator
- Natalie goes into frustrating detail about downloading files from the internet
- The continued dread of being a Pokémon fan
- The remaster/remake/revision of a classic visual novel trilogy
- The history of Final Fantasy XV (and Luminous Studios, I guess)
- Why Natalie barely got anything done this past week
Rundown Preamble Ramble:
Natalie Remembered That SapphireFoxx Is A Thing
I have been on something of a tear with TSF preambles this week, so let’s keep this trend going by talking about a particular creator who I think back to every few months. Sam Mokler, or as he is better known as, SapphireFoxx. And by ‘talk about,’ I mean ‘let’s do a bit of a history lesson centered around how I learned about him!’ Because Natalie is an old lady and loves telling long winding stories with paragraph-long tangents.
Starting with some establishing context, I have been into TSF stuff since the summer of 2008. I spent something like an hour a day searching for stuff. Browsing through then-decade-old Fictionmania stories. Trekking through Writing.com interactive fiction, before that site went to complete doo-doo. Searching through TG caption sites— especially ones without nudity, because what sort of freak would want to look at naked people?
But the place I did the most exploring was DeviantArt, where I would spend hours every week scrounging for every bit of TSF, or rather TG, content on the site. I maintained a massive collection of favorites, followed every creator I even sort of fancied, and developed a ‘refined appreciation for art of all skill levels.’ Which is a nice way of saying that I learned to appreciate illustrations even when they weren’t very good. …And most of it wasn’t.
Because of how most of the TSF stuff I was fixated on was limited to the mediums of text, images, and comics, I was always excited when something else promised a TSF element.
Video games were basically a no-go zone outside of schlock like X-Change (this was before I discovered Press-Switch by the way). At least unless you are willing to stretch things to an extreme level and count stuff like 1992’s Avenging Spirit for GameBoy. Or that potion from Fable II where the player character could permanently change their sex as a reward for clearing the endgame. Which definitely did not inspire me to clear that game twice so I could have an MtF and an FtM character.
Early web video was mostly a bunch of crap, with the only standout exception I can remember being Wand of Change and some 3D animations made using Lionhead Studios’ The Movies. Body swap and transformation clips were also a thing, but I was mostly interested in the ones in languages that I couldn’t understand. They were enigmas wrapped in mystery, but I always told myself that the ‘real thing’ could never live up to the promise of these clips. But then I looked up the source of that Japanese pool body swap camera clip, and was greeted with the wonderful RCT-024. An anthology porno film so good that I ripped it off… twice!
As for animation… Oh gosh. Brain, help me out here… There was that one bride on a train TG sequence. That French TG short film, Geraldine. The animations of TheTGArtist who, no exaggeration, was the best TSF artist in the western scene for a few years… before she erased her account.
Now that I have haphazardly set the stage, while indulging in my own nostalgia, imagine that, in November 2012, a new flash animator suddenly appears on DeviantArt. A platform not really well known for video of any kind. This was the debut of SapphireFoxx.
Looking back, the initial animations were very… ‘kid learning how to use Flash and still developing their artstyle.’ If you were big into Newgrounds in the mid-2010s, you would have seen a lot of stuff of a similar quality. However, not only was SapphireFoxx making things, he was doing so regularly, with a new animation dropping about once every two weeks, and his quality was improving at a good click. Hell, they were getting so ambitious that, a mere 6 months after dropping his first animation, he started adding voice acting. Now, the voice acting was about what you could expect from amateurs with bad mics and bad direction circa 2013, but still.
SapphireFoxx’s ambitions were high and, after making animations for 10 months, he decided to make TG animation, and comic, production his full-time job. Now, any modern person would assume this meant the Patreon route, but I don’t think Patreon was even a usable service at this point. Originally the plan was to use ads, but Google thought he was making porn (he wasn’t), so SapphireFoxx went the web 1.0 route and create a subscription-based website.
This basically locked me out of his work for a good while, as I didn’t get a job until June 2014. But come 2015, I started subscribing to the site, and I continued to be impressed by the growing visual quality and artistic ambition of these animations. This turned SapphireFoxx into part of my daily rotation for a good while… and then on May 22 2015, SapphireFoxx came out as transgender.
Now, this is not too unusual in retrospect. There is a good chunk of people into TSF/TG, establish themselves, and later come out as trans …But SapphireFoxx was one of the biggest creators to do this, and one of the first to do so this publicly. It was the first proper ‘trans HRT journey blog’ that I was exposed to, and… I found it inspiring.
Here was this guy who makes pervy animations, who was just a few years older than me, and even looked like me, starting his own gender transition. As someone who was teetering on whether they were trans— and had been for years— this pushed me right over the edge. By coming out as trans, SapphireFoxx gave me the confidence and relatability to realize that I was also trans. This resulted in an… almost parasocial relationship. SapphireFoxx, in my mind, was a trans woman cut from the same cloth as me.
…Now, you probably have noticed that I have been referring to SapphireFoxx using he/him pronouns, and that is because he announced he detransitioned on September 28, 2017. For the record, this was three months before my facial surgery was scheduled and I was set to start presenting as female full-time.
…This was not a good day for me, and after I heard that news, I started to resent SapphireFoxx. Back then, my opinion and understanding is that detransitioners were… basically traitors to the transgender community. To 2017 Natalie, detransitioners were the enemy. They delegitimized trans people, provided another way for bigots to criticize trans identities, and were ‘the anti-transgenders,’ whatever the hell that means. But now that I have gotten a couple years wiser (and after watching Mia Mulder’s excellent film-length essay on the topic) I just view it as something that will happen, and part of people’s journey to self-discovery.
Still, this bitterness stayed with me for years, and only started to fade away fairly recently when I was doing some file management and found the 127 videos and 1,815 comic pages from back when I subscribed to SapphireFoxx. Skimming through them, I was reminded of just how much effort, creativity, and skill had to go into these works. There is so much that SapphireFoxx, and his team, created over the years, and they produced a truly remarkable library of works that… I have all the respect in the world for.
Now, that might be an… overly generous takeaway given the quality of some snippets I included in this post, and I will admit that the artwork can often be… not good. A lot of the stories can be pretty cheesy. Animation never looked truly fluid due to its reliance on models. The pacing is so slow that it darn near necessitates boosting the playback speed. And despite having some legit-ass voice actors, like motherfucking Chris Nioshi in some of the animations, the voice work was cheesy at best.
However, something that I have been gradually trying to teach myself is that ‘even in bad, there is good.’ That even if something has a lot of problems or flaws, that should not prevent or discourage someone from finding the positives in any work and appreciating them. And with SapphireFoxx’s work, I find a lot to appreciate. A lot of ambition and good ideas that, even if not executed especially well, are executed to a conclusion, and executed with a clear intent to make something more.
Also, I simply cannot hate someone who introduced a character, a witch who was turned into a cat statue, who says she is “the one responsible for all the transgender people who have ever existed.” That shit is so buck wild that it circles around from being offensive to being hilarious. It has been a running joke in the back of my head for years.
…Now, I should preface, or I guess postface, by saying that I have not watched or read anything that SapphireFoxx has produced since 2017. I actually considered doing this wild Natalie Rambles About SapphireFoxx, where I go through everything he (and his team) have ever produced. But that would literally kill me. Hell, the fact that there is a backlog of five years worth of content actually made me incredibly hesitant to resubscribe.
Why? Well, it would take me a long-ass time to watch and read everything that has been produced in that time, and it would take me a less long but assier time to extract it.
You see, I am a profound file hoarder, and I try to avoid TSF related subscription services. Because if I subscribe to something, I want to download everything I am gaining access to via my subscription. Which, considering all comics and all the animations SapphireFoxx has made over the past decade, that would be a hellish experience.
…So I decided to resubscribe and download a good chunk of SapphireFoxx’s stuff.
Why Downloading All of SapphireFoxx’s Stuff Is A Hellish Experience
(Natalie Spent 8+ Hours Downloading SapphireFoxx Videos)
Let’s start with the comics. The images for the comics could theoretically be downloaded using a domain-based download utility, but I’m not sure how that would work for a subscription-based website. I tried messing around with things, and even when trying to batch open URLs, the site’s security seems pretty strict, and I kept getting logged out when doing squirrely things. So I think I would need to go download every comic page, one by one, like a pauper! I have wasted hundreds of hours of my life doing that in the past, and I’m not going to waste a couple more. Not in the era of HakuNeko and Hentai Doujin Downloader.
Editor’s Note: Despite telling herself this and writing this Sunday, February 26th, Natalie has downloaded over a thousand pages of SapphireFoxx comics.
Now, if someone could create a bot that manually scraped pages, one by one, to avoid triggering any security threat, and save all LINKs to images containing “Page” in their filename, that could work. But then you would need to implement something that avoids downloading the lower quality SD pages… Or I guess you could just filter the results by resolution and delete anything you don’t want. Sadly, I am not a programmer, so I do not know how to go about doing that.
As for the videos— the animations— Those were another matter. Relearning how to download Vimeo videos, which is what SapphireFoxx.com has been using for a good while, I eventually came away with the following instructions:
- Open up the Chrome developer tools with F12 and go to the network tab.
- Go to the page with the embedded video this will cause the network resources to populate. Eventually, you will see a ‘document’ file containing “player.vimeo.com” right click this file and save it as a TXT file.
- Open the TXT file, preferably with something that can open URLs, like Notepad++. Within this TXT file, there will be a bunch of links, but the only ones that actually matter begin with ” https://vod-progressive.akamaized.net “. You want to open the link that directs to the 1080p, or highest resolution, version of the video. Then, once the link is open in Chrome, you should be able to right click the video file and save it as an MP4.
This worked… but I quickly discovered that it only works on certain videos. Specifically, videos released prior to Wild West Manhunt 2 on May 17, 2022. After that video, I was no longer able to download 1080p versions— the max resolution dipped to 720p— which eventually dipped to 360p. Then, with An Untrusting Fiance – Episode 12 on October 17, 2022, the “vod-progressive.akamaized.net” links disappeared altogether. I don’t know if this is a video archival thing for Vimeo, or if this was something SapphireFoxx.com did to discourage people from saving private copies of videos.
Now, the SapphireFoxx Beyond videos— the same videos but with pornographic content and actual nudity— locked behind a higher $15 subscription tier, are not stored on Vimeo. Instead, they are MP4 files stored directly on the SapphireFoxxBeyond domain, and are way easier to access. Open up developer tools. Go to network. Play the video. Wait for the MP4 files to populate. Double click the name of the file you want (the one ending in 1080p). Let the new tab open. Right click save as, and you’re done. Hell, you don’t even need a SapphireFoxx Beyond subscription so long as you have the link. You just need the link itself!
The SapphireFoxxBeyond videos seem like an objectively better and easier way to download videos… Except there are TWO problems.
One, the video files are not compressed very well, so the typical video file winds up being over 1 GB, when the biggest Vimeo file is less than 400 MB. For me, this would be a problem, but I learned how to compress video using FFmpeg last year, and x265 (HEVC) is a miracle worker for compression. I tried it with one video, and it wound up being almost a tenth of the original size.
Two, I could only reliably download one video file at a time, which I’m guessing is some sort of security feature. What is the solution to this? Um… there is none. Just download one thing again like it’s 1997!
In conclusion, downloading and archiving someone’s work can be a nightmare. If you make a bunch of stuff then, for the love of all that is holy and milky, PLEASE let people download a bulk archive of your stuff. The internet is a fickle thing, a lifetime of work can be erased in an hour, and if people are paying money to access something, you should just let them download the damn files. Hell, back when I ran my own shitty TG caption site, you know what I did? Create a MediaFire directory to download my 350-ish captions!
Pokémon Presents Dread & Chores
(Pokémon Sleep Re-Announced and Pokémon Scarlet & Violet DLC Announced)
Shifting to something more topical, this week saw a Pokémon Presents presentation, and there were really only two announcements that captured my attention. The first being the re-announcement of Pokémon Sleep. A title that was first announced in 2019, but likely went through significant redevelopment, as apps sometimes do, before becoming a… daily chore where you catch Pokémon by registering your sleeping patterns.
…I’m pretty sure there was a divergence point in time where people changed their sleeping habits, but I never got the memo. I stay up late, sleep like a rock, use a 20-year-old alarm clock to wake me up with garbled radio static around 8:00, and have never used a phone in bed outside of when I was recovering after surgery. But based on the mere existence of Pokémon Sleep, there are apparently people who need to gamify the very idea of going to bed and waking up. Which sounds like a farfetched dystopian concept, but everybody I’ve made friends with these past few years have had an… affection for sleep and using their phones in bed. So I’m probably the weirdo for not being broken.
Next up, we have the main announcement that people cared about, as the DLC for Pokémon Scarlet and Violet have been revealed as The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero. Much like with Sword and Shield, this DLC is divided into two parts that will likely be set in their own isolated mini environments. The first installment, The Teal Mask, will adopt a Japanese festival theme and debut this fall. The second part, The Indigo Disk, will take on sci-fi school aesthetic and come out this winter. As to be expected, new legendaries and new Pokémon in general will be locked behind this DLC, and also new outfits, so players can dress their little avatar up in a suit. Finally!
If I sound unenthused about this, it’s because I am. With my review of Pokémon Violet, I swore off the Pokémon series until the series brought back the mechanics and features introduced in Pokémon Legends: Arceus. This means I will not be purchasing this DLC, as I know I will not enjoy my experience, and my time would be better spent working on my writing projects.
That being said, I do plan on playing Pokémon Violet this weekend to finish up a few things. Endgame guests. Breeding some starters to sell on the Pokémon Home marketplace (because I refuse to pay for Nintendo Switch Online). And catching Paradox Virizion, who they decided to distribute exclusively via a limited time Tera Raid Battle, because of course they did. I am not planning on doing this because it sounds fun, but because I feel I need to.
Honestly, so much of the process of engaging with the series nowadays feels like upkeep for something that I inevitably cannot keep up with. With all the version exclusive legendaries and store exclusive Pokémon, I’m pretty sure someone is only meant to get all Pokémon by doing two playthroughs of every game. Which… actually would explain a lot of the criticisms with the story/structure of Pokémon games, if that’s what people are doing.
Never Ever Remember To Play 7-17-11
(Never7 and Ever17 Remakes Announced)
If I were to write a list of visual novels that I feel I should play, I would wind up with a list so long that it would take me a decade to go through them. Even if I treated playing them like a full-time job. However, some of the visual novels at the top of that list would be the Infinity series by KID. A collection of visual novels developed by people who went on to work on titles like Zero Escape, AI: The Somnium Files, Root Double: Before Crime * After Days, and so forth. I actually still have copies of the first two games, Never7 and Ever17, on my computer, but I never committed to actually playing them.
Part of me hoped that a re-release would inspire me to actually check them out, but I did not know how the rights worked out after KID closed in 2006. I considered this a pipe dream… but then MAGES director Makoto Asada, in a Dengeki interview, announced that the studio is working on remakes of Never7 and Ever17. No specifics have been mentioned, and it seems like this project was just recently greenlit, but it’s still great news for visual novel fans, and will make these classic titles far more accessible.
That is the good news. But the bad news is that it seems that the original team will not be involved, with series writer, Kotaro Uchikoshi, expressing surprise at the project’s announcement. Which seems like an odd decision, as the script is likely going to be changed and modernized, and it would be nice to see Uchikoshi act in a hands-off role at the very least.
Natalie Rambles About The History of Luminous Productions
(Luminous Productions Is Consolidating Into Square Enix)
Oh boy. I guess I need to go through that game’s history yet again. So, one of the stories that caught my eye this past week was how Luminous Productions, developer of Final Fantasy XV DLC and Forspoken, was being merged back into its parent company, Square Enix. And I don’t think I can properly explain the ‘significance’ of this without talking about the history behind this studio.
While it was only technically founded in 2018, the story of Luminous Productions truly begins with the announcement of Final Fantasy Versus XIII. A title that Square Enix announced in 2006 for the upcoming PlayStation 3 with a CG cinematic trailer that promised a darker, more realistic, and overall different take on the Final Fantasy series.
At the time, and even now, I think this looks utterly amazing… but the game itself was not in full development at this time, and would not be for another five years. This was due partially to technical limitations, but also due to how the director, Tetsuya Nomura, was juggling multiple projects and struggled to reconcile a true vision for what this game was supposed to be. If I may interpolate things, I would say he had an idea for an aesthetic and a vibe, but when it came time to actually make it into a game, the structure just was not there. Which is something that I think most creators with grand ambitions can empathize with.
However, based on the first real gameplay trailer from January 2011, the game was shaping up to be something that… looks like what I picture in my mind when I hear “PS3 game.” The restrained color scheme, the limited lighting effects, the janky looking gameplay with the ability to man vehicles for turret sections, and the flat blurry texture adorning the grass. I mean all this as a compliment though, and I wish that this game was real…
Sadly, development was not going well at this point. Developers were demoralized, new people did not want to join the team, and there was a general lack of direction. As such, Square Enix decided it was best to restart the project. The first public sign of this was when the game was rebranded as Final Fantasy XV with an E3 2013 trailer that… looks nothing like Versus XIII or final product. And the second was when the title of director was handed over to Hajime Tabata. A man who previously handled handheld entries like Final Fantasy Type-0 and Crisis Core, who wisely looked at the game and said ‘this is not working.’
This led to a development restart based on what Final Fantasy XV‘s in-house and in-development engine, Luminous Engine, was best at, and what could feasibly be developed within a few years. Development was a mess, as there were so many different ideas at play, and the game was shaping to be something the likes of which had never been attempted by Square Enix up until this point. However, after a full bloody decade, the game was finally released… and it was met with a less than stellar response.
Final Fantasy XV, like many modern AAA games, was released in an unfinished state. There were gaps in the story, the game ultimately felt as if it was missing an opening chapter— an analog to Final Fantasy VII’s Midgard— and there was a lot of… open world bloat, let’s say. About a week after this, and before most people completed the game to form full opinions on it, Square Enix announced that they would support and update FFXV with a robust DLC roadmap.
Now, the post-launch roadmap has become a much… disparaged element of modern AAA titles. Not because post-launch support isn’t a great thing— it is— but because DLC roadmaps have been used to justify shipping barebones titles, and can lead to an underwhelming first experience. Plus, these roadmaps get delayed so often that there’s reason to be skeptical of any roadmap pushed out by a developer without a proven track record.
With Final Fantasy XV however, the roadmap successfully breathed new life into the title, and the result was a significantly better product than the launch game. It expanded the world, characters, story, made quality of life improvements, and even came with its own multiplayer mode, because why the hell not? In fact, the DLC was so successful that, following a re-release as Final Fantasy XV: Royal Edition, Square Enix decided to reward the team behind it.
On March 27, 2018, Square Enix announced the formation of Luminous Studio, a subsidiary headed by FFXV director Hajime Tabata, and one that promised to develop new AAA titles. Then, just over a week later, Square Enix announced that Luminous would develop a second series of DLC for Final Fantasy XV in the form of FOUR new DLC episodes.
Doing so really showed their commitment to this game and universe. It made many hopeful that, within due time, the game could become something that fully lived up to the promise set by the initial reveal and pre-release coverage.
…But then in November 2018, Square Enix took an axe to Luminous Productions. They wrote off an extraordinary loss of $33 million dollars, canceled three of the four new DLC episodes for FFXV, and Hajime Tabata left the company… What?
Even now, 4.5 years later, I am still baffled by what happened here. Less than 8 months after being formed, it seemed like Luminous Productions was on the brink of destruction. Companies don’t just cancel major DLC projects like this part way through development and kick out a seasoned director who shipped a seemingly unshippable game. Something happened, but I don’t believe the story has ever been told. However, it’s Square Enix, so the likely answer is managerial stupidity, as Square Enix has made so many mistakes over the years it’s a wonder they are still around.
Upon canceling this DLC and ending support for their biggest title of the generation, Luminous was tasked with creating a new IP. This resulted in 2023’s Forspoken, which… did not do well critically. Commercially, I doubt it met Square Enix’s absurd expectations, but it did break into certain sales charts, which is something. …Though, I highly doubt that it managed to move a million copies. I already talked about how bad its opening is, and I struggle to believe that the memes elevated its sales.
After having their direction abruptly changed 7 months after formation and shipping a not so successful title, I was not too surprised when I heard that the studio would be no more. However, this does not mean the employees will be laid off. They will be retained, so Square Enix can make use of their experience on AAA titles. This is infinitely better than a studio closing, but I still find it unfortunate how the studio was handled, and think that, looking back, it should have never been its own thing. I wish I had some profound takeaway to offer but… all that I can say is that I wish that someone with more sense than a bag of rocks were leading Square Enix.
…I feel like I should transition into talking about Final Fantasy XVI now, but I was never really attracted to any part of the title other than its namesake. Even if I was, the easiest way to make me disinterested in a game is to mention it has a dedicated ranking mode.
Back 2 Crypto Hell
(Natalie Has Been Busy With Crypto Tax Work)
Most of my time this past week was consumed by writing this Rundown and doing my day job, as I wound up putting in two ‘day-long shifts.’ Which means I started work at around 9 AM and kept working until midnight or later, while taking breaks for lunch, dinner, dishes, showering, and grabbing snacks. What was I working on? Crypto stuff.
As I have said many times in the past, I am a cryptocurrency tax accountant, and crypto accounting can be a ripe pain in the ass. Partially due to how obscure cryptocurrency is by nature, partially due to a lack of standards with reporting from exchanges, and partially due to complex transactions where only some information is stored on the blockchain.
However, the real issue I had these two days was with crypto tax reporting platforms. There are a LOT of platforms that people use to accumulate their cryptocurrency transactions and generate reports. Companies use them for cryptocurrency bookkeeping, as you DO NOT want to try and account for crypto in QuickBooks— that is a genuine nightmare. Traders use them to track their holdings. But every person who is involved in crypto pretty much needs to use them to generate taxable items. Airdrop/staking/mining income, expenses paid for in crypto, trading fees, and, of course, capital gains.
Crypto reporting platforms are still relatively new— less than a decade old— and every platform has its own quirks. They have their own user interfaces, their own specific terms for classifying transactions that may, and things that they… simply are not made for.
I only really started doing intensive crypto tax work in 2019, and since then, I have used nine platforms, which I’ll just rank from best to worst rather than offer a summary of each one.
…Of these nine, I would only recommend the top three, and I would STRONGLY advise that people steer clear of the last two. I only briefly used Accointing, and ditched it after realizing it lacked the reporting and categorization capabilities needed to supply an accurate accounting for business purposes. But I would rather not give it a second chance.
As for TaxBit, I have only used it for one client and… it is a real piece of crap.
Much of the problem with the platform is that it is designed around using the cost basis methodology of HIFO by account/wallet. A reasonable form of specific identification in most instances, but when dealing with something as messy as crypto, it doesn’t really work. HIFO is fine— often the most beneficial from a tax perspective— but the ‘by account/wallet’ approach really does not work with crypto.
Under this methodology, all transfers out must happen before transfers in, and they cannot happen at the same time. If 24.99999999 ETH is deposited into a wallet and 25 ETH is sold, then TaxBit will report that sale of 25 ETH as having a basis of $0 until the user manually adds in 00000001 ETH. For the record, 00000001 ETH is a fraction of a fraction of a penny. This means that even relatively clean data needs significant cleaning up, and no other platform I have used has been a fraction as restrictive as this.
This needless rigidity made for a tedious time when I was working on this client’s 2016 to 2021 data last year. It was unpleasant, but it worked. …So, imagine how pissed I was when I started working on their 2022 data this past Wednesday and I saw garbage data for 2016 to 2021. New transactions were added in 2016 to 2021— for some bloody reason— and even when I removed them, I still encountered errors. Not because I was not recording transfers properly. Not because of timing differences. Not because of an actual missing basis. Not even because the software takes five minutes to reflect the changes made to a single transaction. Something that I rarely ever see from crypto platforms unless I loaded them with over 40,000 transactions (which is the only part that really sucks about Koinly).
Instead, the actual problem is that TaxBit does not know how to add and subtract. Just look at this example right here:
ETH was clearly purchased by selling BTC, so the ETH would have basis. It transferred between three different accounts, losing a small and utterly immaterial amount of ETH along the way, before being sold for AION… But TaxBit cannot follow this transaction, and decided to assign a $0 cost basis to the sale. Why? I HAVE NO IDEA!
The platform was behaving inconsistently, and I got so fed up with it. After working with it for 6 hours, trying to fix 2016 to 2021 activity, I realized it would just be easier to move everything to CryptoTaxCalculator. And you know what? It was! Cleaning the data for migration took an hour, and cleaning up 2016 to 2021 took about four. Still a LOT of time, but I did not feel like I was LOSING MY MIND like I was with TaxBit.
So, in conclusion, Tax Bit? More like Tax Shit!