Inflation vs. Scams

These are rough numbers as the tax structures vary wildly.

Inflation in North America is at crazy highs right now, near the 7% mark. This has a massive impact on people with limited disposable income (read: middle class and lower), as they are now faced with making much harder decisions. They are likely making the same income, but the value of their dollar is much less… fuel in particular. Odds are if you live outside an urban centre, a truck is in the driveway. At $300 per tank, that really limits options. There are only a few possible counters to inflation that actually work at a larger scale and unfortunately, pay raises is not one of them (it is an outcome though!) The primary tool to manage inflation, in a neoliberal market, is borrowing rates.

Why? It’s because inflation is not caused by the bottom, but the top. Inflation is a market correction for an overvalued economy, which is grown from speculation. Speculation is funded through easy access to credit. Let me rephrase this a bit. Let’s say you took a $10k loan from the bank… you’d probably pay 5-7% interest because it isn’t backed and isn’t large enough. Let’s say you take a 2nd mortgage and get $500k instead, that rate is likely to be closer to 1.5%. You can do the same with other forms of equity, such as other investments. These lower rates were seen as stimulus after the crash of 2008.

So let’s pretend you borrow $500k at 1.5% in 2010 and invest it in the stock market. By 2020 you would have made a ~160% return. Invest in real estate, and the returns are similar (2020 – current you would have gained an additional 50%). Depending on where you are, you are taxed at a different rate on your gains… over here you pay on only 50% of those gains at a nominal rate – which effectively means you are taxed at ~20% on all the gains. To break even on the 1.5% borrowing rate, you need to make ~1.7% return. This is a machine to print money. And once you made that money, you can leverage it to make more money. The problem here is that access to the seed funding to invest at these levels is next to impossible to acquire for people without assets to leverage. It’s not possible for someone making minimum wage, trying to put food on the table, to get approved for any meaningful loan without crazy interest rates.

The mean wage during this same period increased by about 40%. If you worked and were not able to invest, then you were making less money than someone who didn’t work and solely invested. If you worked and started at 500K, you’d have gained ~600k (pre-tax) by the end. If you didn’t work and solely invested, you would have started with 500K and gained 1.3m (pre-tax) by the end. By investing once and never touching it, you would have gained twice as much as a worker. By doing nothing. That’s our version of capitalism.

Crypto is like this, except access is much easier to acquire. 1 stock of Apple is $145 today. You can buy any amount of crypto you want, it’s all broken into smaller pieces. Have 5$, you can buy crypto. Bitcoin only hit $1 in 2011. In 2020 it was worth nearly $30k. If somehow you had invested $500k (not technically possible, but the argument is the point) in 2010, buy 2020 you would have $15b dollars (Sep 2020 to Feb 2021 Bitcoin went from 8k to 55k). For a lot of people who have no concept of what investing is, and simply focus on the % returns, crypto seems like the simplest thing in the world.. it just prints money. Except the value of crypto is not linked to anything but the value of crypto… and therefore almost exclusively inflated and therefore extremely volatile to trends.

If by chance, you had 5k invested in crypto and you needed that money suddenly because of inflation pressures, then you would take that out to spend it. If enough people do this, then it deflates the value in the currency. In the stock market, the % of trades required to impact the market are massive, and there are balances to reduce the impacts (generally). It is really hard to have a run on the market. In crypto, a totally unregulated market, there are no such controls and runs are extremely common. Enough that the market has dropped ~40% value since Jan 2022 (hell, Luna lost 99% value in 24 hours). The stock market as comparison is down ~10%.

The larger problem space is that it may appear that people are playing the same game, the truth is simply that the rules are different. The value of crypto in particular is based on the last person who invested, making it effectively a giant ponzi scheme (as evident multiple times). The stock market is certainly bad, but there is something on the other end of it that is tangible.

Back to the original point… if you want to tackle inflation it’s not about pumping more money to people at the bottom… they don’t have disposable income in the first place. It’s about removing the amount of easy money entering the top, who are made up entirely of disposable income and are frankly gambling against a house that has been paying out at a crazy rate for nearly 40 years. They don’t care an ounce that gas costs triple… it could cost $2000 a tank and they wouldn’t know (they would from a profit perspective if they are running a business). The outcome of inflation being controlled is that the non-stop increased in costs are reigned in, which would then allow for incomes themselves to catch up.

There is no model that fixes this without changing the way the people who manage the majority of wealth are taxed. (Top 1% own ~40% of income, bottom 50% are 20% of the income. Top 1% = assets >$5m, annual income of >$500k). If you were in a hockey stadium with 20,000 people, 1% of those people would fit on a single articulated bus.

There are larger reforms that can help here… but the people who have benefited the most from the broken system are the ones running the system. Crypto was a great option to say “here’s an option for the plebs” (Poilievre in Canada said “ can also let Canadians opt out of inflation, with the ability to opt in to cryptocurrencies.”) If you’re voting, and finances are of any interest, dig a bit. Soundbites are fun and all, but the actual decisions that make a difference… been a long time since that’s happened.

When the Parents Leave the Room

Not gaming related, at all.

I love my kids, truly. They can drive me crazy at times, and I am more impressed than much else when that happens. Both are wildly curious and get an absolute joy of testing boundaries. Frankly, I wouldn’t expect less from them if they want to have a “successful” life – folks aren’t just going to hand them things after all. Their reaction to those boundaries is certainly different, in that one will find the sneakiest way around them, while the other will try to brute force their way through. As parents, we need to apply a different response to both approaches, which can be quite exhausting. But ultimately fulfilling (that’s the plan at least!)

If we are not present, then they have a sort of lord of the flies approach to getting things done, which effectively spirals down to baser instincts and emotional outbursts. It’s a bit like a game of one-upmanship, where one crazy stunt enables the next one to be a little bit crazier. It always ends poorly, and then we adults pick up the pieces. It’s arguably better now, as they’ve gotten older and have more tools available to them, but neither are teens yet, so there’s truckloads of maturity to go.

Why does this matter? Well, there’s a need of enablement for childish behaviour. We’ve all been at a restaurant with a kid acting up to a crazy degree. Normally we just brush it off, part of the age bit. There are times where you might speak up, either trying to help the (likely exhausted) parent, or just to set some additional boundaries. It’s ok to act out, it’s an emotional reaction to something. The response to that event is the important part, so that there’s some learning afterwards.

Where the wheels of the bus fall off is when adults are doing this, and the adults in charge encourage that behavior. In no sane place on this planet would people storming the capital, breaking doors, be considered “normal”. It shouldn’t be acceptable to scream obscenities at someone like Westboro Baptist Church does. Or to threaten/bomb/kill people. There are “rules” to ensure society works and we respect each other. That only works if everyone agrees and supports those rules. If a group decides those rules only apply to others and not themselves, then thankfully society has a term for that.

In the more moderate spaces, those folk get shipped into corners and ignored or excluded. That is a challenge with 24/7 propaganda news channels, and near impossible with our current iterations of social media. This can happen to the most sane person too, if you brainwash / gaslight them enough. We’ve all got enough stories of people stuck in some sort of conspiracy theory rabbit hole.

The US is likely to revert a 50 year old decision to enable support for abortions at the national level, and instead move it to the state level. (I have my views.) Some people don’t agree with this and have opted to protest outside the judges’ homes. In an orderly society this would be seen poorly and folks would be admonished and told to return home. But not in the US, where even killing people you disagree with is somehow acceptable if you can prove (now this is an interesting word) you feel threatened (to the broadest sense). It’s really quite spectacular from the outside, as there are certainly ripple effects across the globe. The US prime export is culture after all.

It’s a sad space, where even those trying to apply some level of sanity to events are simply shouted down. Further when folks are elected solely on their ability to make a scene. I get the frustration and the boiling point. Things are objectively worse for my kids generation than they are for my parents – across nearly every single imaginable metric. I’m not following how having more yelling somehow accomplishes anything to fix that problem, other than inciting more yelling and worse.

Perhaps there’s a chance that the adults have not all left the room and that there are people that actually want to help others. It’ll be an interesting ride until the adults come back into the room.

AAA Game Dev Math is Bonkers

Somehow, Outriders hit 3.5m players at launch and has didn’t turn a profit in by Dec 31st

I’m piling on the Square Enix mystery math tour here, but it’s frankly astounding at how poorly finances are managed in that company if millions of games are sold and it isn’t enough. A brand new IP… clearly competing against its own games (Marvel Avengers) in a looter/shooter genre is beyond baffling. It sheds some further light on why Square Enix sold off so many IPs last week… their financials are a mess.

I’ve been on the wrong side of a contract in the past, and in most of those cases its the small print that gets you in the end. There’s no word of lawyers in public, but one would have to assume that there are some interesting conversations being held in the backrooms. Not much different that Fallout: New Vegas missing the bonus payment by about 1% on Metacritic.

Stories like these make you wonder why anyone would want to be at a large dev studio, or try to make a deal with the devil” to get over the hump. Maybe it’s just a parachute to get out of the grind? Some crazy hope that you are going to be that exception? Blind faith? Perhaps it’s simply the lesser of evils.

Games are a weird microcosm of other pieces. They are a massive entertainment industry, nearly $120b worldwide. Money makes for some interesting choices…

Acti-Blizz Numbers

I’m on nearly 4 months since my last Blizzard post (the MSFT buyout), and I’m certainly not missing it! While I’m certainly on record for armchair designing WoW, the business portion is equally fascinating.

We’re at the saturation point of the pandemic, where the large spike of “hermits” has ended. People are going outside and spending less time in front of screens. This is a challenge as the pandemic itself stretched out the pipeline on any development. So there were more consumers eating away at products that were taking longer to generate material. Eventually, something has to give.

Blizzard in particular here has had troubles launching much during this timeframe… and obviously struggling as a company as a result. Between the last results and this one, WoW saw Eternity’s End come about, the announcement for the next expansion Dragonflight, and attempts to drive interest in Diablo Immortal beta in June (simultaneous PC launch, and ~4 years since it was announced).

The financials this quarter were not good. 2m less monthly users. 43% less revenue. And that’s compared to Q4 where nothing launched. Those are painful numbers. In the aggregate, they’ve managed to lose nearly 20% of their userbase this year alone, and about 40% across the last 4 years.

The future isn’t looking so bright either. Overwatch 2 was delayed, and what people have seen so far is very “meh” in terms of being more of an expansion than a sequel (which is a mountain in itself). Diablo 4 is nowhere to be seen (hopefully they are paying attention to what Lost Ark did well). Dragonflight doesn’t have a release date or pre-orders (typically, you can buy it 1yr ahead). I have a lot of fundamental design questions on that expansion…but others are better equipped at that.

Perhaps we’re nearing that turning point where AAA game development is simply no longer sustainable. Where development for the sake of numbers has run the course. Where the indie scene can show that passion and smaller teams can have more success – and that there’s the potential for a sustainable market.

Square-Enix Sells some IP

I guess we’re simply in that age where there’s little ground in the middle for game development. Either you’re indie or you’re AAA. Reports of Square Enix of selling a rather large IP portfolio are going around, including Tomb Raider, Deux Ex, Hitman, and Thief. Embracer bought this package, for a relatively low price of $300m… low when you recall they bought Gearbox (Borderlands) for $1b.

What doesn’t appear included are the Marvel licensed games, either Guardians of the Galaxy (which was well reviewed and sold decently, but “missed targets”) or Marvel Avengers (which was neither well received nor sold well). That honestly makes sense, as there’s no way Disney (which certainly puts the Kingdom Hearts cross-over under new light) was going to give any sort of control to SE to decide where that went. Perhaps this is similar to Telltale Games and their over-paying for IP vs. the projected returns.

Of note, Tomb Raider and Deus Ex also didn’t hit sales targets. Tomb Raider has sold nearly 20m copies… so maybe I’m just bad at math that this isn’t good?

All of these seems to be couched in SE wanting to invest in: blockchain, AI, and cloud. I’ll break these into smaller pieces.

  • Cloud. I gravitate towards Stadia in terms of cloud-streaming games. This is the logical end point of gaming, but we are still a good 10 years away and limited by the speed of light. It would make no sense for SE to invest in a cloud distribution model… that is entirely saturated by Steam and EGS.
  • AI. This does have appeal in terms of enemy AI, or in procedurally generated content as a response to player actions. There are many patents in the works for this, though I would expect EA to take lead here. (There’s a foreboding aspect of training AI in combat simulators, no?)
  • Blockchain, which in this case is almost exclusively in the leverage of NFTs. See, the concept of NFT is that you can prove ownership of a unique item, but the reality is that it’s a massive scam with dozens of examples that point towards a modern ponzi scheme.

This isn’t a SE obituary, more like a divestment of western games from their repertoire. All we’re going to see now are the RPG franchises we’ve seen so far… Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, Star Ocean, Kingdom Hearts. Or perhaps, they are going to change their accounting team math, so that investments and projected returns are closer to reality.

Odd way to start the week.

Lego Star Wars

2005. That’s when the first one came out and pretty much blew my mind as to how Lego may actually be cool again. It it the right blend of action, humor and nostalgia… and the timing was right before Episode 3 was released to cinemas. It effectively created an entire genre, which is astounding when you stop to think about it.

Over the years I’ve picked up various iterations of these Lego games. Batman, Marvel, Harry Potter, LotR among them. I completed each one’s main story without fault, and spent some minor amount of time collecting the extra bricks along the way. Yet, the only one that ever hit 100% was the Original Trilogy version. There’s a rather laser focus in that series, where nearly all the levels are linear, and the options while wide, are still limited. Unlocking more red bricks to add larger stud multipliers still feels like a gold rush. Just had the right amount of dopamine hits. Games since then have opted to go wider, notably the Harry Potter and Marvel games. It just feels like a never ending amount of content, and frankly gimmicky efforts to get any extra collectables. Tedious.

The Skywalker Saga has been out a few weeks now. I picked it up and have played some with the kids, some alone. It’s hard to explain how much I have the original trilogy’s layout tattooed in my memory. I could probably play it blindfolded. This version is the same story, but told in an entirely different method, with voice acting throughout (no more gibberish!).

Most notably, the camera is no longer fixed, so you’re in a fully 3D world now.. It sounds relatively minor, but it really changes the approach to level design. Plus the improved graphics make the gameplay the same quality as the cutscenes… it’s quite impressive. The older versions had a diorama-type layout, with relatively linear and contained environments. This isn’t open world in the typical sense, but much more fluid. As a result of this, there are many fewer vehicle-based quests as they were meant to give the semblance of “bigger” – I am rather happy with this change.

Second, the character differences are dramatically shrunk here. Force users, mechs, bounty hunters, stormtroopers, and scavengers are the only types now. Flyers, double jumpers and other niche skills are no longer present. Well, that’s not entirely true… as there’s now dialogue/quest options that require characters of a given faction to trigger. The net result is that there are simply more viable characters to play with, and once you complete the main game, pretty much 100% of the rest of the game is open to explore. – This is a big QoL change as it removes a lot of tedium.

The world itself no longer has a single central hub, and instead covers 24 planets related to the 9 episodes. Each planet has its own hub and space sector, which lead into the various story arcs. The hubs themselves are full of things to collect – bricks, characters, ships. Either you get it outright, or need to complete a small quest. Space is also pretty neat, you can eventually fight/capture capital ships in neat small activity. – This feels like bloat, in the same vein as Ubisoft add map icons to fill time. It’s a good hour+ per hub.

Which brings me to the last change, which is the introductions of quests. They could be very small things, like ride a Gonk 10 feet to a platform. There are medium ones that are on the same planet, or in the adjoining space. Then there are the long ones, which require visiting multiple planets, or going through a few space battles to the next bit. – I generally dislike this change as a completionist. It’s just not possible to 100% any specific zone until you pretty much hit 50% on every other one… this likely won’t bother most people.

In the end, I still think that the Original Trilogy version is the best of the bunch, primarily because of the very focused design. The Skywalker Saga fits just under that, primarily for the QoL changes brought about, but suffers from the sprawl … which is sort of understandable when you’re covering 9 movies. In that context, it’s a generational leap for the platform, and a good foundation for anything else that comes in the future. Very impressive.

Supply Management Systems

Supply chains are notoriously complex, but fundamentally a simple thing. People make things, people buy those those things. The people orchestrating the sale want to find a price that meets their operational costs, and people buying things want to find value. Both need information in order to make those decisions. It’s why there are grocery flyers right? Find the best deal on canned soup and whatnot.

In the larger sense, most large scale retailers dominate the sales market and can both set and negotiate better supply prices. COSTCO and WalMart operate with this model… they will just buy all your stock but pay you half price for it.

Supply Management Systems start at the bottom of the pole, with a laser focus on raw goods. They have a few purposes:

  • protect the market from wild price fluctuations
  • give the producers some semblance of guaranteed income and an effective quality floor
  • give buyers an effective “floor” for the lowest price and assurance on quality
  • proposes protections to the national market from external “flooding”, typically through an import tax
  • supports the internal development of new products

Canada has supply management on major agricultural goods – grain, eggs, milk. This means that all large size eggs are bought from suppliers at the same price. There’s been a bun fight for quite a few years about the dairy market, as it hasn’t been as flexible as it could have been. There are specific types of cheeses that simply are not made in Canada and the import fees make it so that we likely never will see them from other countries.

If you’re a consumer, this can be seen as a bad thing as there’s less variety and you are “technically” paying more for the product as no one can undercut. The problem here is that of personal bias. You getting the cheapest possible eggs means that it’s a race to the bottom for the farmers to cut every corner possible to beat the next guy, or just close up shop. You may win, but the farmers lose and eventually there just aren’t remotely enough farmers left.

Second, is the protections it provides to a national economy. Dairy is a great example. Wisconsin, a single state in the US, produces 50% more dairy than all of Canada combined. Wisconsin doesn’t have supply management, and the farmers there are over-producing dairy, to the point of dumping stock. (They are subsidized, so it actually costs less to pump and dump the milk than to produce less milk.) Without a supply management system in Canada, they would flood the entire market are put most of our farmers out of a job… or force the government to subsidize equally.

Subsidization is an interesting topic in itself. The US subsidizes nearly everything because it’s functionally easier to control at a global scale as compared to import taxes, and can be done at the state level.

The best global example is crude oil, which is traded globally. In the US and Canada, we are both nearly self-sufficient in production, marginally in refinement. The lack of a supply management board (and the extreme power of OPEC) means that it makes no sense to sell locally when you can sell internationally at 4x the rate. If you’re wondering why the war in Ukraine impacts your gas prices, it’s because oil prices are “managed” internationally instead of nationally. Capitalism dictates that companies maximize profits over all else…they could sell it locally but that would be a significant loss if they instead sold it on the global market.

As with most things today, complex systems are reduced to soundbites. I’ve barely scratched the surface of the topic, and there are certainly multiple improvements that could be applied to the systems. Fun times.

The Netflix Dilemma

In some news circles, it came to note that Netflix lost subscribers for the first time in 10 years, and that their stock value dropped ~20%. In addition, they are looking at cracking down on password sharing (making the plans “household” rather than “family”) and examining a pricing tier supported by ads. These are interesting business aspects of a company that feels obligated to their shareholders to maximize growth and profits.

Streaming has existed since the days of Napster. People wanted content on demand and without commercials. Pirating was simply a necessary hassle to get there. Steam figured this out a long while ago. Netflix read those tea leaves quite well and offered a price-attractive option…

I’m old enough to recall, and have used, Netflix’s mail order system. I was there at the dawn of streaming. The pickings were slim at best, with maybe 4-5 things you’d actually heard of available. Time went on and Netflix dominated the scene with some rather impressive network routing choices to make sure the streaming experience was positive. The catalogue expanded to have more options of both familiar TV favorites and a decent selection of major films. Then they opted to develop their own series (Orange is the New Black), or pick up some stragglers that had niche appeal (Black Mirror). While binge watching was possible before with a DVD set, you could really binge an entire series with a couple clicks.

And then some interesting bits started happening. Series that garnered larger appeal were cancelled within a week of launch, effectively making a season a pilot episode (quick, name me 3 series cancelled on any other streaming service). The user interface simplified the voting process to thumbs up only (a precursor to YouTube’s removal of the downvote I suppose). The prior historical selection was picked up by other streamers – the loss of Friends was very noticeable. New offerings were thinning out, or perhaps becoming more global in appeal. Other streaming services came about and offered objectively great content. Heck, Disney+ was driven almost entirely on the Mandalorian, and The Boys drove a ton of folks to Amazon. The ground shifted subtly over time. Netflix no longer was the only fish in the sea, and the idea of simply gobbling up all the possible content wasn’t really much of a viable strategy.

These changes cost money, and if you’re not able to get more people into the system, then you need to charge existing people more. The average annual price increase has been 5%, over 10 years. It’s still less than $20 a month, which is a fraction of the cost of cable. Yet, it’s also competing for eyeballs and pocket change from a half dozen other streaming services. Which brings us back full circle to the cable days of paying out the nose for the odd chance something good is on.

Netflix is at an interesting crossroad. They are still the pack leader, at least in the global sense. If they veer one way, it gives an easy out for other streamers to follow. Losing subscribers means losing a fair chunk of revenue, let alone shareholder ire. Choices are present to either stem the losses, or find a way to reverse course. Yet Netflix is not operating in the same space they were 10 years ago, or even 5. Netflix doesn’t have a flagship product (Stanger Things may cause a bump, then a drop)… and folks know that they can easily cancel and return if something does show up. They had managed to build a brand loyalty, where consumers had a hope that something new was coming around the corner, or that a series would continue in a little bit if they just stuck around. Years of that was investment has been lost, and I can’t think of any example where that was successfully recovered.

The choice appears to be how best to survive, and nearly all of the options are going to sting.

Return to Dyson Sphere Program

Steam has me clocked at a few hundred hours on this game, across multiple playthroughs. Probably the game with the most time outside of an MMO. I took a break after that, given that it was (and still is) in Early Access. There is a veritable sea of garbage games in Early Access… Dyson Sphere Program is an absolute gem.

Since the last time I played the game has added:

  • Improved blueprints (my last playthrough had blueprints, but they were still quite wonky)
  • Way more variety in terms of planets / systems.
  • Ability to customize the mecha (Syp could probably spend days in this thing)
  • Pilers to stack items on belts
  • Improved belt controls and warning systems when things stop working (supply chains that are 9 steps long are insanely complex to troubleshoot)
  • Proliferators, which allow for a boost to productivity for a material/energy cost
  • A rather astounding amount of bug fixes/optimization so that your CPU doesn’t melt.
  • A new Dyson Sphere construction interface
  • Achievements / milestone structure. Some of the achievements can be considered “hard mode”, which require a gas giant with fire/ice in the local system to beat the clock.

DSP is a graphical spreadsheet designed for solo play. That may not sound interesting, but if you like solving number and logistical issues, holy cow. Factorio is the gold standard in this field, but now in 3D and a much larger toybox to play in.

When I last posted about the game, I mentioned that there was a lack of clear content for the end game, as well as a significant “stall” period just prior. I would say that those issues are partially resolved, and it’s primarily related to the concept of scale.

Imagine you’re running a small bakery. It’s complicated enough, managing the ingredients coming in, the production of the goods, the building/lease, employees, and financial portions. Small business owners have it hard, because they usually need to manage it all themselves. That step to franchise or company, where you expand to more locations is where things turn sideways. You simply don’t have the time to manage the details, so you delegate and set out rules. Shortages at one store may impact the other, and so on.

DSP has this similar issue. Your starter planet has everything but Titanium, an absolutely essential component to enter the mid-game. It’s not a choice, you need to leave the planet to find it, then transport it. Technically, you could manually mine and transport, but the scale needed means you need to automate – or build another mini-bakery. You need the mining tools, smelters, power, and a transport hub.

Once that part is sorted out, you live in the mid-game, where it’s about scaling up your production lines to build more. A batch of solar sails takes 25 elements, that need to be harvested and refined a half dozen times by tools that require those same elements to construct, transport of material, and power. And you need well over 10,000 sails to “complete” the game.

The game does a great job to get you to the mid-point, then the scaling/optimization challenge really comes into focus. Finding material and the mechanisms to transport is one challenge (the materials to build a hub are not cheap), but the real kicker is powering the whole thing. Power, at scale, is dramatically improved from prior versions, yet still a massive hurdle. Prior, you were putting in piecemeal progress, adding production and then power, and then production. There are now more and better balanced options for power, and the odds of a cascade power failure are dramatically reduced.

Scaling + the QoL changes to production allow for a relatively quick view into production chain issues. If you’re not producing sails, you should be able to quickly point to where that is breaking down (like circuit boards). This smooths out the transition from mid-game to late-game and reduces the need to simply wait it out.

Late-game… this portion is not fully improved yet (well, the sphere design interface is a lot better), though there are more options with stacking and proliferating to improve the logistical capacity. You do more with less space, which is a good thing, though the power / moving stuff around issues increase exponentially. Where you’d love it to be viable for say a production planet, the reality is that it’s just not doable until you have more power than you need with a complete Dyson Sphere. Focusing on boosting research is really the only change I see right now, which is certainly of benefit, but really quite hard to fully manage.

The good thing about DSP is that it encourages experimentation, especially with the advent of blueprints and QoL design tools. It is very hard to paint yourself into a corner… you could certainly slow down progress, but to cancel it outright… I don’t quite get.

If I had recommendations it would be to reduce the cost of Energy Exchangers so that they are more accessible in the mid-game. That single change would improve the ability to move energy sources between planets at some level of scale, which is the primary cause of frustration for expansion. The time between having a working starter planet and then a minor form of production elsewhere is still too long. I’d also recommend that Planetary Logistic Stations have 6 slots of material instead of 3. In their current form, they serve zero purpose as their upgraded form (Interplanetary) has 5 slots and the ability to leave the planet, and the cost upgrades are negligible.

Without question the game is better now than it was nearly a year ago. The next big update will be a combat function, which I understand to be the last significant item before full launch. Combat will be entirely optional, so in that context, the game is about as “feature complete” as you can think if you want to avoid that piece altogether.

Chrono Cross on Switch – Quick Thoughts

Long story short, I played a crap ton of Chrono Cross when it came out. Like 100% playthroughs multiple times type of time. The only other RPG that fits into this category is Final Fantasy 10. I take no issue with stating that I tried emulation, but the main point of issue was the video resolution issues between the gameplay and the menu… for some reason it resized and played havoc with my displays. When I learned it was coming to the Switch (other platforms too, but honestly, this is best suited to mobile space), I picked it up on launch.

At a really quick level, the game sports updated visuals that work most of the time. There’s clearly a fair chunk of AI scaling applied, which does mean some blur shows up often enough, and makes the character sprites “pop” more than I recall. You also get access to the fast forward option that only NG+ gave prior, which has a very marginal amount of use. Auto-battle is there too, but it’s not a whole lot of use because you can generally avoid fights you don’t want to pick.

At it’s core, the rest of the game is mostly untouched. The same characters, skills, balance, abilities and so on are present. This is a visual remaster, not a remake in any sense. Which brings me to a very interesting part of my experience.

It would appear that the original engine is still the foundation for the game, including visual rendering. The has an effect that there are framerate issues, if not outright stalling of the game. This typically only happens as the world transitions from map to battle, but it also happens when certain spell effects occur in battle. The net effect is that the game performs worse than the original, and absolutely worse than any emulated version I have played. It’s more than playable, don’t get me wrong, but it’s also extremely jarring.

Square-Enix has a horrendous track record when it comes to milking older games. It’s a strange path, where they are premium priced and generally perform worse than emulated versions (not to mention the recently released pixel versions CUT content previously released). Say what you will about Skyrim being on every device made, but the game works.

I’m sure there will be optimization along the path here, but this also gives a tremendous argument against Nintendo’s model for monetizing nostalgia (including their subscription service). The modding community is delivering some crazy quality and ease of use options… and if the Steam Deck or similar products can reach more of the market, that will eat into this world very quickly.

This nit picking aside, the game is still as good, and as confusing, as it was when it launched in 1999. It won’t go on sale for the Switch, nothing ever does, so maybe wait a bit until they patch in performance issues.