Thursday, 20 February 2020

Hello there, Effective Altruism community!

I originally posted this on the Effective Altruism Forum as a way of introducing myself to the community

Hello there!
Ever since 2018, I've been increasingly interested in the effective altruism movement. The movement, at first just seemed like some really non-conventional, cold-hearted career advice. But I have learned that this is far more than just simple career advice. I will explain how EA affected my life-philosophy as well as my career ambitions (which is still tentative).
Keep in mind that this is not a post about my life-story, because I don't think I need to mention details about my life here - it is solely focused on my opinions on effective altruism. Nevertheless, it would be impossible to not at least mention a bit of my life since this movement affects that too.

Preface

I was first introduced to the movement in very late December 2016 through 80,000 hours and their career guide (now outdated), but I found it scary because when they said 'Do something that helps others' - I thought that I would need to abandon all my passions, which I will get to later on.
1 and a half years later, I took a sneak peek to their website and saw a post that consoled me which was the idea that you don't need to be a doctor to save lives, written by Gregory Lewis. Instead of having to spend a long time getting the needed qualifications, as well as doing a few years of residency, you can earn to give and save far more lives than an individual doctor could (with of course much less time spent training). The post also mentions that despite the increase in life expectancy in the UK, most of it was unrelated to medicine and more relevant to better housing, nutrition, wealth and a wholesome of other things.
I liked how the post was rejecting common notions and how it focused on doing as much good as possible rather than just doing good, therefore, it made me want to investigate 80,000 hours' website more and more. I started reading their career reviews, advice and ideas. At the time I was also aware that the advice 'Follow your passion' is really bad advice, pointed out by people like Cal Newport and Mike Rowe - which also made me agree with the ideas of Effective Altruism, since they don't find this advice very good either.
Back in school I was often told that altruism was sacrificing to do good: in order to do good you must have some kind of maytr complex. On podcasts with Rob Wiblin (from 80,000 hours), he has said multiple times that EA is not about sacrificing yourself to help others - in fact he says it would be better if nobody sacrificed at all to do good. EA is about just doing good, the sacrificing part is entirely moot.

How EA changed my philosophy on life

I've always viewed myself as a deep thinker and EA tends to cater towards these people. Especially when I watched Will McAskhill's video on EA and read 80,000 hour's post on future generations and the value of a life. Peter Singer is also someone who fed my deep-thinking mind. Although I don't agree with all of his ideas, I still think that they are enough to disrupt a consumer lifestyle that most people from 1st world countries tend to embark on. Like McAskhill, he also has a great Ted Talk (although I think he emphasises a bit too much on earning to give).
I have read his free audiobook "The life you can save" and I think anyone that is fed up of being rich yet unfulfilled should read it, as it gives detail into things such as the psychology behind charitable acts, which charity you should donate to and anecdotes from other people who are giving away. I like how Singer emphasises that even if you don't know someone else who is in dire need, that doesn't mean that you should just ignore them. If you can help them, it is clear common sense to help them otherwise, you're pretty much a fool.
He has even convinced me to work towards being a vegan since taking away, for example, a cow's life for a little bit of cuisine pleasure (even if they were killed ethically and grass-fed) when we have a number of vegan alternatives is pretty barbaric. Would you do this to your own pet if you felt a little hungry?
EA in general makes me think of living life in a better way. Many I know tend to live a conventional life of working a 9-5, 40 hours a week, earning money for frankly mostly pointless stuff like a big house or a super-expensive car and maybe a nice holiday to some exotic place, then go back to their jobs subconsciously aware that they are living a perpetual cycle of earning money, spending it, earning money, and it goes on and on. Try and add starting a family to the mix.
P erhaps though, they really enjoy their jobs, it's almost like a hobby, but even then - is it meaningful? Will it matter in the end? Sure they may have fulfilled their dreams, but what does it matter in the grand scheme of things? EA gives me another picture of living life, like doing work that could help lots of others and make them remember you for something, as well as having an inter-connected goal that is not just about fulfilling one's dreams. I wouldn't be happy if I fulfilled everything I would have desired to do (selfishly speaking, not accounting for helping others) - I would just search for more goals.
I am one of those people who don't think anything will 'matter' in the end (be it the heat death of the universe or the end of time). This might sound very nihilist of me and it very much is - but being a nihilist doesn't always have to be a bad thing. Pleasure feels good, such actions like going out with friends or saving a life and seeing someone smile feels good. The why and how we should have this is not known, but pleasure is still a good thing, therefore we should have more of it. This makes the idea of future generations very important as they could be living in a more just, healthier and enjoyable world than the world of today.
The goals of EA according to Will McAskhill from a podcast is something along the lines of 'As much good conscious experience as possible'. Which I can infer that even though the heat death of the universe may very well happen and nothing will be left. That won't happen for another billion years so there isn't really much point in worrying about such stuff. There is something more important than the end, it is ironically more of an immediate importance, despite the fact that future generations are important in my opnion.
It also show s that you don't need to believe in God, Allah, YVHV, Jesus, Angels, Demons, Heaven or Hell to be a happy person and give your life some kind of meaning. Helping others is a pleasure in itself, similar to playing a very fun and intellectually rewarding game or sport - you don't get rewarded anything other than the satisfaction of doing it. 

Without effective altruism

Originally I planned to be a freelance Indie game developer, because I've made games for quite a few years, and still do now. I also like the freelance lifestyle of how flexible it is, rather than sitting in an office from 9-5 and having to go through rush-hour, I can go on a pleasant walk if I feel like it or travel around working remotely. It's still my passion, but I also want to learn about the Effective Altruism movement and develop a similar passion to the one I have for Computer games.
Video games definitely have value in them, as they can be enjoyed by loads of people and like books, board games, movies and whatever art form exists out there, they can provide a very provocative message. But I believe that they don't solve the all world's problems in the same way as Effective Altruism does as it directly solves the problems as opposed to, at best advocating them. Think about this: Would you rather play video games instead of visiting the doctor to cure your blindness?
That being said, I would still like to make money out of making games, if anything for advocacy and or earning to give.

What do I plan on doing?

I don't really know how I can help in any direct way. Without giving away too many personal details - I'm looking for an apprenticeship in the tech industry since that is a largely growing industry and it is something I'm good at. Tech is often used in EA, not limited to things like websites and data science - as well as problems like AI. Even the type of thinking used in EA is not too different from writing software or gathering data.
I run a blog which, although mainly I write posts about the development of my games, I also write about EA (in a series called "Selfish Effective altruism" because you can be an altruist for very selfish reasons). I find writing as engaging as making games (I used to write fiction books when I was in primary school to secondary school). The posts about EA aren't meant to be too scientific (because of my lack of access to scientific studies/ literature); they are more of intended to encourage people to look up such topics and create some discussion. In the process, I even learn about the problems I write about because I have to research them. 

Conclusion

This post is my introduction to EA, I hope anyone reading this can perhaps relate in some way or another. I'm not experienced at EA and I'm still a newbie to the movement. Nevertheless I think I was introduced to this movement at the right time since it is still a niche movement and I could help promote the movement.
I will be doing a bunch of cross-posts, putting EA posts from my blog to here. I'm also working on a post about Bitcoin and crypto-currency, which I hope to publish later this month - if you want to suggest problem ideas worth looking into, please let me know.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post!
That's all from me!

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Bounty Hunter III Update #3: Area (near) completion + New character

Hello there!
Here is some more Bounty Hunter III progress.

Preface


Some progress has been going on in Bounty Hunter III, I've implemented most of the main areas into the game, progressed on the story and added in a new main character. There are also a few ideas that have been bouncing in my head about gameplay.


Implementing the environments


I've included almost all the environments that will be in the game. The way I will go around doing this will be similar to how I implemented the environments in Bounty Hunter II which is all at once, albeit with horrible and rushed textures.

Recently, I have created a map to help me envision the environment and the general direction characters may go. It looks like those overworld maps in classic RPGs like Final fantasy, Chrono Trigger, Shin Megami Tensei, etc. I have tried doing world maps on paper, but it felt much harder to do since I would easily make a mistake and I would need to constantly rub things out. I think it's easier to make maps on something like Tiled (which I used to make the levels of Bounty Hunter 1 and 2) because I can easily erase things, stamp tiles rather than having to draw every single detail from scratch.

With some of the environments, I would like them to be very spacious, allowing for open combat rather than the closed-in environments from Bounty Hunter II, where you had to fight a bunch of enemies in order to progress. Of course, I still plan there to be fights like these, especially if they are relevant to the plot, but I want to allow the player to feel more free to leave some enemies behind and maybe fight some but keep moving on.

This can give the game a faster pacing and feel less repetitive. Although I do feel that there can be some challenges in implementing optional combat like trying to not have enemies go where they are not supposed to go. I also want to make it so that the player can't just waltz out of certain areas - otherwise the immersion of a dangerous environment would be lost.


Story progress


I've been working a lot on the story of Bounty Hunter III, the specifics are more mapped out than before although they need polishing - this was achieved with the help of the aforementioned map. I used this map to jot down numbers representing the order of where the main story will take place, with squiggly arrows representing the route that the main characters will take to get to the next point. As of writing this post, I'm implementing bits of the main story into the game using a flag named "story" so that different events can happen at the same place depending on the value of this flag. This would have been impossible with Bounty Hunter II's engine, since the game is very linear. There was only one time in that game where you go back to somewhere you went before. A pretty crude method was used for this: Making a copy of the map and creating different events for it. 

Although I do write some scripts of certain interactions between the characters, I do this with the intent of seeing how the story plays out, when I write them in the game - I pretty much improvise.

Last time I mentioned about creating two endings for the game, that's now 3. Without any spoilers, there will be a bad ending, normal ending and good ending. The way you get them depends on what you do in the game, usually relating to exploration and talking to other characters. Through these I would like to reward the player for exploring with some lore and word-building, this would fit the less linear style of game I would like for Bounty Hunter III. If you have played Othermind, you will get a snapshot of what Bounty Hunter III may be like. Since I've said several times that Bounty Hunter III will be a conclusion to the series' continuity, multiple endings only seem fitting to this and I can avoid the issue of cutting multiple branches that some sequels have to their originals (like Shin Megami Tensei II).

Another bit of progress to the story lies in a new character...

Introducing Beth the hacker


For those of you who have played Bounty Hunter 2, the major characters were Peast and Milbert. I'm adding in a new character called Beth. She came from an NPC who appeared early on in the game who advises Peast where to go next. I thought that this character could play a larger part later on to give the player a surprise. A few mental brainstorming sessions later, I came up with the character Beth who is a hacker that plays a large part in the story.

Unlike Peast or Milbert, she's not going to be directly playable - because she doesn't specialise in combat. She's more of a pacifist than either of them, relying more on hacking things and communication than violence. I've had ideas of her operating snipers like Alyx Vance does in Half life 2 episdode 1 and 2 where she helps clear some enemies, Beth wouldn't operate the snipers with her hands, she would operate them using special software on her laptop.


New game mechanics?


I have implemented the code for swimming mechanics for the main character to give some variety to the gameplay. The player cannot attack whilst swimming, they have limited oxygen (if they drown, they will go back to their last non-water area like Zelda: Breath of the Wild) which could give the player a new layer of challenge as they calculate how far they can swim and try to avoid any projectiles if there are ranged enemies nearby where the player is swimming.

Another mechanic I have thought up of (and partially implemented) is rock-climbing, where the main character can scale rocks. Like the swimming mechanic, the player cannot attack and have an oxygen meter (yes I have tried rock climbing myself and it can be quite tiring). The player can jump off by pressing the jump button, they won't take fall damage so don't worry.

I don't know if any of these will be in the final game, but they seem like good additions of making gameplay have more variety. Just need to be careful that I'm not putting too much on my plate, since I also have implemented puzzles with locked doors as well so I should do something with that too. Perhaps this should be a focus that I should have with the game's design -  a mixture of combat, puzzle solving, jumping from platform to platform, swimming and climbing.


Art progress


Quite a bit has been going on in the art side of things, I'm working with my friend Joe to animate the sprites of the enemies and the main characters. I'm giving him more control here to design his own enemies, for example this one on his Instagram. This approach to art can put more bargaining ideas on the table.

He also helped me design the soldier enemies where I asked him to sketch out some concept designs which I would use to draw as a sprite. I used a combination of his concept art to come up with the final design.

Most of the game's graphics still look like utter rubbish, but I want to prioritize designing the areas and implementing the story. Thanks to the fact that I'm no longer a 1 man team, I can have some artwork done by the time the game has all the main story implemented.

Conclusion


At the moment I'm trying to implement the game's story as well as refining the it. I'll also think about coding in some of the enemies into the game. I'm hoping to get the game in a rough "playable from start to finish" state by the end of this month or somewhere around March. That way I can have more time to focus on art, sound and polishing.

In other news, later on this month I plan to post another installment to the Selfish Altruist series I've been working on for over a month now - the subject will be regarding Bitcoin.

That's all from me!

Monday, 20 January 2020

Announcing the release of "Arm strong - Episode 3"

Hello there!

I would like to announce that the 3rd and final episode of Arm Strong has been released!
Funny thing, the first game I release in the 2020's is an episode to something I already made.

Will she survive the fall? Play this and find out!


Unfortunately, I did not make as many levels as I'd hoped (13 out of 20), but to be fairly honest I was starting to get sick of making more Arm Strong episodes. I don't like to work on something more than I would like to.

That being said, I feel like this is the most polished out of the episodes since I rigorously play-tested each individual level and did a whole lot of refinement to make sure that they are challenging but not impossible. Despite the lower level count than I expected, I think it's better to have fewer better levels than lots of half-baked ones.

Thankfully I'm done with Arm Strong once and for all and you can enjoy all of these episodes (or not) here. Now I can work on Bounty Hunter III and a few other projects!

Expect to get some updates on Bounty Hunter III next month!

That's all from me!


Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Some retrospective job hunting advice

Hello there! Welcome to my first post of 2020.

Although I'm still searching for an Apprenticeship/Job as of writing this post, I've learned quite a lot about how people get jobs and the honest insane difficulty of the job market. Of course, mistakes were made and this post will relay some of these mistakes so you don't have to make them yourself.

Let me get things straight, it is not easy getting a job or an apprenticeship. Even the 'menial' jobs like McDonalds are hard to get into.


Everyone's floor is a different level


Although getting a job isn't easy, I think everyone has their own financial floor depending on qualifications or experience. I do want to expand on what I said about the fact that getting a McDonalds job is not easy, maybe it might be for some because they looked convincing enough to the hiring manager to get a job there. From my experience I was rejected from McDonalds for unexplained reasons after I had an interview there.

Others might be overqualified for McDonalds, and perhaps something like an English teacher in an Asian country (japan pays quite a lot) or a Spanish country etc is what they may call a 'bottom floor'. Perhaps someone may have had a job before and they can fall back on it if their more ambitious plans fail. You can see some ideas here (which is where I got the floor idea for this section from), although for most of them I'm either not willing to relocate, don't have the qualifications or they are too risky for a job meant to serve as a 'backup option'. I wouldn't ever want to serve in the army if it means killing people just for some money in my pocket. Even then, you still need to pass an interview stage for these kinds of things.

Enthusiasm is everything


People think that qualifications are everything and the kind of university you go to is pivotal to your success. Although it can play a role in getting an interview, this is ultimately useless after you get into the interview because in order to impress the employer, you need to sell yourself to the employer. By that I mean talk about how you can contribute to the job and why you should be hired rather than Tom over there. Practicing interview questions and how you would respond to them would be a great start. This is a little bit like practicing for a play minus the hammy acting. Things like "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" (yes, some menial jobs even ask this question), "What are your strengths/weaknesses?", "Why do you want to work at this company?", may pop up in interviews so make sure you research the company well - look at their history, mission, projects, blogs or news reports about them Recruiters can help you with things like these, because it is in their best interests to get you a job and you can sign up with as many as possible.

The more, the merrier


Don't think that if you sign up to just one recruiter everything is cool - it's often better to sign up to multiple to get the best chances. I made this mistake when applying to apprenticeships - thinking that I could only sign up with one. You could miss tons of opportunities that other recruiters provide that others may not.

Having more people you know would also be very helpful since loads of jobs are not advertised (60%). This would be quite useful if you have more experience and are looking for something more niche. Perhaps they work at a company that you may desire.

Don't expect to get a job right away


When people apply for universities, they expect that as long as they get the grades (among other things) they will be able to start their course on September. For the most part, a job is not like that. A job can start in February, November, August or any other month. The good thing is that you don't have to wait for a certain time window, the bad thing is that jobs are competitive. Don't let that put you off though! Graduates will face this anyway, sooner or later.

Job hunting is more like a selling process, it takes time and patience. You have to wait for opportunities to pop up and apply to them. Especially if you plan on getting a very specific job, since it might be rare for such specific vacancies to exist. Or you can meetup with people you know and ask them if they know anyone who works in your chosen field. You never know, you might meet someone who will get you a job you desire.


Conclusion


Getting a job is not easy, not even the ones that society says is 'menial', because even in something like retail you'll need to have good customer skills and cope with stress. I hope this blog may be of use to those who are looking for jobs. Good luck! You're going to need it!

That's all from me!

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

2019 in a nutshell

Hello there!

2019 was a pretty moving year for me, since I've left school and am now looking for an apprenticeship or a job.

Unlike past summaries of the years that I've made, I'm not going to explicitly tell about good, and the bad. I'd prefer to just talk about the year in general, since bad and good things will always happen. I have learned that it is not always black and white - it can be a shade of grey, in other words a negative can be spun into a positive or vice versa.

2019 in a nutshell

In 2018 I did want to get a job/apprenticeship but since then, I haven't been successful in getting one, its a tough world out there - tougher than I thought, even with minimum wage jobs, there are loads of people applying. And I did try a lot of things, I've tried handing out CVs, on-line applications, recruiters etc. I did get a few interviews (including places like McDonalds) but unfortunately I didn't get any offers. I don't really care though, I'm just glad I got the interviews and got to experience them. Through an organisation that a friend referred me to (since he was friends with a nice lady who worked there), I did get volunteer work at a community café on most of the Saturdays in the holiday, and that was pretty cool - I liked it and it gave me some good experiences since every time was different from the last. With that being said, despite a lot of tries, I couldn't get paid employment.

A thing that annoys me about menial jobs is that people make it look like it's for the unemployed and it's easy to get, maybe it was for those people, but I've had an interview with McDonalds, and they rejected me. I do want to make a separate post about how hard it is to get a job and what I've learned thus far about getting a job. Not going to lie though, there are definitely parts of being unemployed which I enjoy like being able to think about what I truly value in life and how to live a meaningful one (I'll get onto that later), having a lot of time, not needing to deal with the broken education system and working on this blog as well as my games.

A job isn't necessary for me at the moment since I live with my parents, and I'd rather live there than live in a shoddy apartment like some University students (though most of my secondary school friends who are at university, live with their parents), who have to rely on a government loan to pay for their accommodation.

That being said, I don't plan to stay unemployed for a long time though and end up like Satou from "Welcome to the NHK" where he is a 'hikikomori' (Japanese term for reclusive) for a straight 3 years, that wouldn't' be good.

I didn't get to travel as much as I would have liked back in 2018, though I did go to Italy for my A-level photography trip and France in the summer. Unfortunately, I couldn't go to Japan due to the cost of going there. Perhaps next October could be a good time to go there since it's cheaper, though the country wouldn't look as pretty and more cold but I guess I wouldn't mind, don't know if it's a guarantee though.

I'm not as cynical about social media as I was back last year. Although I'm still skeptical of social media, saying that it would be a cause of teenage suicides is a very dubious claim. Regardless I have no regrets of deleting my DeviantArt and still have none of deleting my Twitter. It feels like less clutter that I have to worry about in my life.

This year I started to learn a lot more about the "Effective Altruism" movement, I also read the audio book "The life you can save" by Australian philosopher Peter Singer. The cool thing about this book is that no matter what job you are in, anyone can make a difference by contributing a certain amount of wealth to the poor. Although earning to give is not the most high-impact option, it's still pretty high impact, especially to those in far poorer countries than places like the UK or the US.


Beyond the 2010s and into the 2020s

I'm hoping that next year, as well as the next decade, I can learn more about Effective Altruism and learn about ways that people can directly contribute to the well-being of others. I would also like to write more blog posts like the one I did on China, where I raise awareness to certain things which might be important in the world. I can also practice writing long-form blog content this way, it is quite enjoyable to make too.

As I've written in one of my other posts about being vegan, I would like to be vegan - or at least make more efforts to becoming vegan. I'm trying more foods that don't require any animal products let alone meat (unless it is clean meat).

I'm also thinking of travelling more locally, by that I mean around the UK. The hiking that I did with some people I know increased my confidence of going to other places in the UK rather than just London (where I live).

I would also like to finish and release Bounty Hunter III by November 2020. My development plan is to get all the locations in the game by around February/March 2020 as well as adding in a good amount of the story. During all of this, I'll have Joe create the background tiles and the animations with my assistance and guidance.  Like Bounty Hunter II, I would like the game to be fully playable around May (or earlier) of that year so I can spend a lot of time polishing, play-testing as well as putting in additional content if needed.

On the topic of game development, I would like to put more effort into marketing my games. Itch.io has a page where people can promote their games, my concern with this is that I might sound like I just want attention. But I guess that I should try it nonetheless, maybe I can learn a great deal about marketing and making my game stand out.

Getting an apprenticeship or job would also be great if I get one next year, since earning money and gaining experience would be a good step for me as well as a way to meet new people.

Conclusion

Yet another decade ends. And a new year is starting as well as a new decade, it's surprising how long the 2010s felt for me. But every year for me feels faster than the last, it's a very weird feeling. Although I'm quite uncertain for what the 2020s will be like, let's just hope that despite people who claim the world is getting worse what with climate change, the UK under Boris Johnson and the such like, the world can hopefully improve and we can prove them wrong.

Farewell 2019 as well as the 2010s,
and have a happy new 2020 as well as a happy new decade!

That's all from me!

Monday, 30 December 2019

Bounty Hunter III Update #2: The game so far in 2019

Hello there!
As I've mentioned in my last post, Bounty Hunter III's development is still alive and well.

Looking back, I'm surprised I haven't made a Bounty Hunter III post since June! Time passes by quick does it not? This update will have more pictures than words because I think that a picture can explain what 1000 words can.

One thing I regret about the state of this project this year was that I wish I did something similar to what I did back in 2017 with this game's predecessor which was a public alpha. Maybe not public but still, something that has can be played like a real game - something you can loose and win.

Although the majority of Bounty Hunter II's code in the month of its release is vastly different to the 2017 public alpha, it was still something you could play and did have polish to a certain extent. If I put up Bounty Hunter III right now, it would be pretty unpolished and boring.

I've written several basic ideas of what the story will be including the driving force of the plot, the main characters and even two endings.

I did mention about an ally character the last time I posted about this game, but who is it?

It turns out it is Milbert, the main antagonist from the 2nd game! Yes, he turns good after all of that trouble he put Peast through. Not only that, he's also a playable character that helps Peast with puzzles as well as combat.

Without further ado I will show you a bunch of screenshots from BHIII so far:

Peast in a snowy forest

I don't think so...
Peast's new sprite

Nice view of black from the mountains

Near the hospital

Peast on the beach of a tropical volcanic island



A simple button puzzle


After Milbert and Peast press the switch

"Hey can someone get rid of all of these boxes?"

"Leave it to ME!"

"Thanks Milbert, but where's the rest of the map?"


"Step back now, HUUUUAAAAGGGGHHHHH!!!"

That's all from me!


Friday, 27 December 2019

Redefining talking systems in RPGs

Hello there!
I've done quite a bit of thinking about incorporating talking systems into RPGs, because a lot of them involve killing others for EXP.


Preface

There was an Extra Credits video that I encountered a while ago, where they talked about making non-combat in video games as fun as combat. It was uploaded well before Undertale came out.

Undertale was the game that first intruded me to this concept, but it certainly was not the first game that had this concept, as there were games like Shin Megami Tensei which it got the idea from in the first place. I thought of making a game similar to Undertale not long after it came out, but I didn't feel like I could do anything original with the formula. I thought of putting a talking system into a game version of my book 'Evermoral' but the game never came into fruition, partly because of low experience at the time.

That was until 2017 when I came across "Jojo's Bizarre adventure" on the SNES based on a manga of the same name, where you can go through the whole game without killing a single person thanks to the 'talk' option. Admittedly the gameplay was fairly simple and bland where the talking system was not any different from killing. But it made me think that perhaps talking systems could be like combat except without violence, hence I started to think about talking systems in RPGs again.

The way talking systems functioned in the Shin Megami Tensei games (including Persona 2 and 5) was that it was used for recruiting demons and also avoiding combat which frankly I think is far more ethical, interesting and less tedious than trying to catch that particular rare legendary Pokémon by lowering its health and then wasting 100+ Ultra-balls to catch it.

With that being said, I think that the talking system in the Megaten games though important, are a small slice of the game-play pie. You can't talk your way out of a boss battle; you need to deal with them with violence. I think these games utilize the talking system far better than Undertale (or its successor Deltarune - though it is too early to say for the latter), you'll learn why in the next section.


Unrealistically talking smart

Talking systems in games like Undertale and Deltarune are rather simple. They sound innovate on paper, but in practice, in my play-through of both of these games, especially Delatarune's first chapter (in which I didn't even get a game over at all) sparing an enemy was no more complicated than killing it. It involved a lot of routine tasks like spamming 'Spare' or pressing one option that allows you to spare them a turn after.

This is one of the reasons I think these games (at least game-play wise) are pretty overrated and hyped. Not to say that these games don't have their merits, they certainly do but that's besides the point of this post.

A challenge one can get into when developing a talking system for an RPG using Undertale/Deltarune's foundation is that the 'act' options are very context-sensitive: For each enemy there is a specific set of actions you need do which gets quite easy if you know the pattern. These patterns can be mastered pretty quickly.

Since these 'act' moves do not use any kind of stats, it makes the RPG aspect of these games moot. Undertale might as well as be a visual novel with some RPG elements and a Touhou-style dodging system. There also isn't really any reward if you spare the enemy other than some money which can't be used to buy anything useful (given that you are going on a no-damage run).

Neither is killing an enemy, there is very little point to leveling up in Undertale, the late bosses can't even 1 hit kill you - even if you are level 1. I presume that this is to make the game possible for pacifist players but I can imagine ways to make leveling up important for pacifist game-play regardless, more on that later.

That's enough of me critiquing Undertale/Deltarune. I'll move on to Persona 2 and 5.

You can also spare enemies in Persona 5 and 2, with the former involving you putting the enemies down in order to get a "Hold up!" where you can either do an all-out attack where every active party member attacks the enemy or you can negotiate with them in traditional Megaten fashion, where you have dialogue choices and you need to choose the right one to have them join you, give money or items.

In Persona 2 you don't need to put enemies down, there is an option called "Contact" where you can negotiate with them. The interesting thing about Persona 2's system is that you can make the enemy happy, eager, scared or angry depending on your actions. If you anger them they will go fully hostile on you and you have no other choice but to deal with them the traditional way. Another interesting aspect is that you can use any party member you like to do the talking or use multiple at a time. Each party member will have their own actions which will stay the same regardless of specific enemy, but each enemy reacts differently to them.

This is easier to implement in the game than if one were to cater every single character's actions to each individual enemy. The gameplay would feel more organic and not feel like it is scripted. If you fully entice or make them happy, they can give you money or other cool things.

This kind of negotiation system is quite interesting as it offers a good amount of challenge. But this gameplay alone would not make use of the other character's stats let alone be a good way of making the game challenging. Fortunately, looking at the Jojo I mentioned in the beginning there is a way to make the talking system as fun as the combat without compromising stats.

What I will suggest would also make sense even from a combat perspective.


Unorthodox way of beating bosses


When I was trying to beat the Hell Biker boss from 'Shin Megami Tensei: Lucifer's call/ Nocturne', I constantly got my head handed to me. The boss had moves like "Hell Exhaust" which not only damages the entire party, but also cancels any buffs that my party had. If that wasn't enough, the biker would use "Hell throttle" which would increase the number of times he can attack per turn - easily obliterating my party within a turn, the biker would also cancel out any stat de-buffs that my party inflicted on him with "Dekunda".

At that point I looked up the Hell Biker's stats on the Megaten wiki and found out exactly how much MP he had (stuff used for moves). So I decided to do something ingenious and have the main character and another party member that knows a skill that can drain the bosses' MP and use the other characters to pass to give the MP draining characters more turns.

So I kept draining the biker's MP until it was 0. At that point, he still used those moves but there was a key difference: He did not have sufficient MP to execute them. He was almost helpless, he could not use the hell throttle, exhaust or dekunda.

Although, his melee attacks were still pretty strong, but I could easily offset those with some agility buffs to make it so that the biker misses more. With ease my party defeated him, that was it.

What I can draw from this is that if an enemy's MP, SP or whatever variable is used for stronger skills is depleted, they are pretty much useless. They can barely do anything other than the moves that consume HP or melee attacks - essentially snapping the whole battle in half.

I thought that perhaps this can be a good way of stopping an enemy in battle because if they have no MP, they are almost useless. Using the inspiration from Jojo, I thought of a smart way of how a talking system could be created.


War of words


As I said with my criticisms of Undertale/Deltarune's deconstruction of leveling up, even if you don't plan on killing any enemies, leveling up is still important. Talking and negotiation is a skill, not just consisted of simple patterns to impress someone and then the battle is over.

It involves a lot of failure and practicing, much like in real life. This is why I think that talking systems in RPGs should be something more than just picking a bunch of choices.

My idea of putting talking systems in RPGs is a rather simple one - make it like using elemental moves except with talking instead of fighting.

Since MP (or equivalent) is important to executing strong attacks, perhaps the talking system could lower MP. The enemy, once their MP is exhausted, could eventually be so 'tired' that they give up and you gain the opportunity to spare them. But you may argue, "This is no different than killing them" - and you might be right. Fortunately I have another trick inspired from Lucifer's call.

If there are large sums of enemies, they will reprimand you if you talk to a fellow member, in LC you would need to kill most of the opposing party in order to talk to the demon you would like to.

With my system however, you would need to lower all the enemies' MP or kill them if you want them to not block your sparing. These allies would also be covering a member with 0 MP by restoring it, so you would need to be careful if you are locking on to one enemy and trying to spare them right away.

Another way to separate lowering MP from lowering HP is that the character with the lowered MP can get below 0. They can still fight or talk but they can't use any skill moves. Furthermore, the character with SP below 0 sometimes waste turns, similar to the mother series when enemies or non-playable party members waste turns, trying to pay off  'Stamina debt' (a bit like anaerobic respiration when the muscles aren't getting enough oxygen).

If players choose to defeat the enemy, lowered MP can be very advantageous to defeating the enemies much like what I mentioned with the Hell Biker boss. Perhaps to counter this, the AI could be more defensive, relying on their friends to restore the MP, as I have mentioned before, use talk moves on the players to make it harder for them to use any powerful moves on them, or a melee attack.

Conclusion


Since I don't see talking systems like this in a lot of RPGs (or at all!), I thought it would be a good idea to propose my own idea of what a good talking system would be composed of without trying to sacrifice what makes the depth of combat so interesting in the first place.

In other news I'll make a blog post about Bounty Hutner III, since I haven't posted about that game in ages. Don't worry! It's still in development, I haven't canceled it. It's going to compose of screenshots rather than a lot of text, because I believe pictures can explain what thousands of words can.

That's all from me!