Feature Parity vs Profitability in Minecraft

It doesn’t need to be a long discussion. Two major things happened when Microsoft bought Mojang. 1) Non-profitable projects (and features) were cut loose, and 2) Realms. Minecraft “Java” isn’t a steady earner, because it’s not Lego. You buy one set and that’s all you ever need, everything else can be had for free. We’re seeing more of the same, now, with the introduction of Add Ons and the Minecraft Store, or whatever it is they’re calling it.

Tumbleberry and I didn’t have to spend any time discussing the matter; we decided that we won’t be selling ACME Resource Pack for money out of the blue, but now there’s a wrinkle: Microsoft has made it easy for us Average Joes to hop on in with our creative kit. Should we?

Make no mistake, I’m working on it; but of course it’s not my full time job and it will be a slow boiler. How many real users of Minecraft Portable Edition are there, anyway? Enough to warrant just less than 2K ratings on Windows Store, and by the way, that’s not a good sign for a game that must have something to the order of 50 million players. I stopped counting at the 40 million mark.

Minecraft is a mainstay, no question, but player fatigue has set in and Microsoft has got to know that in order to liven up the experience, user made content is required. They’re counting on our enthusiasm to prop up their payment model. I don’t take it as a good sign – either – that they were only able to rope a handful of content “partners”.

Do I sound displeased? Perhaps because I know Microsoft’s marketing history pretty well, but as such a visible public company… well, let’s just take a quick example: It wasn’t that long ago that Microsoft was hocking Windows Mobile phones, and since they weren’t selling, they figured they might pack-in MCPE. In a word, it failed.

Just this month they announced that they’re shutting down the Windows Mobile brand and its software support. That’s not good news, and Microsoft isn’t alone in their poor report with customers, but they’ve just got such a consistent history of not relating to us.

Hello Vista and Windows 8? Vista put their leading consumer Operating System on the brink, and yet they somehow managed to repeat the mistake? Big companies are capable of learning. Apple is nearly the most profitable company in the world. I don’t have the numbers, and I don’t care about them.

The point is that Microsoft isn’t learning. They’re canning more employees to “focus on the cloud”, and if you think that bodes well for Minecraft, don’t count on it. I’m hopeful, that’s why ACME Resource Pack will be sporting an MCPE version. Just remember, though, that Mojang is now a development division of Microsoft. They’ll only be there as long as they are deemed profitable.

Is that what Minecraft is really about? Something to think about.

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Humble Software – A Word to the Ware-y

As much of a deal hunter as I am, I typically wonder what the motivation for the sale is. Sometimes the candy is a little oily, the food is past it’s “sell by” date, or sometimes you’re getting last season’s software. There’s no mistaking that $12 dollars (USD) for over $500 of software is a blasted good deal, but just why would vendors make such an offer?

In the case of LastPass, CloudApp and Windscribe the lure is obvious; as subscription based services, this is a great hook to get you started on a regular payment schedule. Do yourself a favor, though, and mark your calendars when the renewal date occurs. You’ll save yourself some unpleasant surprises that way.

The rest of the package consists of fully functioning, licensed software and the catch isn’t as apparent. I’ll do a quick run down of my experiences with each of the hurdles and why it may be your best option to buy in now, especially if this is software you’ve been waiting for a good bargain.

Tier 1 (at $1)

Soda PDF is a budget conscious PDF editor and presents all of its features without trying to hook you into an upgrade, but for the price you don’t get any updates. If security features provided by PDF documents are important to you, look to Adobe. Otherwise, this may well give you the rudimentary tools you’ve been looking for. Otherwise, SumatraPDF will show up Microsoft’s system level tools easily.

(Sony) Magix Music Maker is pretty oily, where software candy is concerned. This hybrid DAW/Editor/Sequencer tries to fill the empty shoes of Garageband on PC, which is Mac only, for the foreseeable future. If you want to try out Music Maker, it is available for free via Magix’s website, with most features inaccessible. You’ll get an “in-app voucher” and coupon from Magix, for what little good that may do you. The good news is that you’re getting the Premium version and all of its features, so at this price, where’s the downfall?

Tier 2 (at $9+)

Corel Aftershot 3 and ParticleShop work as a unit, with ParticleShop functioning as an editor for Aftershot. I would call this an upsell pitch. Once you’ve got your hands on this RAW image editing suite, you’ll see its in-app advertisement for Aftershot Pro. That’s pretty crass, if you ask me. It does make another deal appeal, though, reducing the full price of the Pro version by 50%, or $40 (USD). All told this is a substantial markdown from the regular retail price of these products.

Painter Essentials 5 isn’t something I need, but as I haven’t tried it yet, I’ll have to withhold and opinion on it for now.

LastPass is a good deal for a 6 month subscription, but I don’t advise trusting master password systems as a rule. Save your money; don’t activate the account, and instead, use your imagination to invent passwords. Create a fictional character with their own answers for security questions, use words you’ll remember but no one will ever guess. If you put the keys in someone else’s hands, be prepared to lose them.

Tier 3 (at $12+)

Panda Antivirus comes with moderate recommendations, but it seems to be very fast and hasn’t dragged down the performance of my laptop at all. As a new user, only time will tell if this moderate investment was worthwhile. The asking price is fair enough to experiment with, however. Clam Antivirus also does a bang up job of protecting you from most threats out in the wild.

Windscribe is a name better suited to a high fantasy scholar hobbled over a pile of scrolls, than a Virtual Private Network client. I don’t know anything of this software’s reputation, but as it requires a subscription, be prepared to pay for its upkeep if you intend to continue using the service. If this one is too rich for your blood, you might consider TunnelBear, a free to use, cheap to upgrade VPN.

Magix Audio Studio 10 may be this bundle’s worst offender or saving grace. That all depends on how badly you need cutting edge audio editing features that you can’t get from open source software like Audacity. Also, Audio Studio 11 is a thing that Sony sells, so this looks to me like a way to make money on outdated – but still serviceable – software, and to induct new users into the fold. Anyone running with Adobe right now is laughing pretty hard, as Creative Cloud can be had for as little as $33 a month, on sale, but that still adds up to more than most of us want to spend.

There’s no questioning that users on a budget – and who isn’t – will appreciate this chance to fill the gaps in their paid software libraries, but be cautious about the limitations so you’re not caught at a disadvantage when you need this software most.

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Some effects here, a little story here… it’s a hero flick!

“Standard fare” was my parting thought after watching DC, and Zack Snyder’s latest cinematic outing in the shapely form of armor clad, whip wielding Wonder Woman. Certainly it was good, but Wonder Woman has never held my interest. Why? She’s boring.

I get the whole routine of her being beautiful, though in order to fight like that with her body tone she would require supernatural strength. She wasn’t exactly showing the muscle tone, if you get me. As I understand it this is quite the feminist parade, but I didn’t see it. That is to say, that’s not what they were aiming to achieve.

Yes she makes the point that Amazons writings conclude that men aren’t necessary, and being created by the gods to defeat Ares, that does make a whole lot of sense. That’s not to say Diana wasn’t interested in the co-star, Steve (Chris Pine). As they were formed out of clay, who would want to sculpt a funny looking man anyway?

Zeus could be tawdry that way. He knew his brother well; he could be a charmer, so it would be appropriate that the Amazons would have no interest in men… though from what I observed they didn’t much interest in each other, either. Matters of war held the highest of priorities. I’m sorry, but, duh.

Unfortunately for the film, Gal Gadot suited the role of the Amazon Queen (self proclaimed) ideally. That is to say, she echoed the bland characterization of the Amazon Heroine that has always been her Achilles heel. Anyone with a keen eye will be able to distinguish her from the animations they used in action sequences beyond her – or the director’s – ability, just as emotional connection seemed to be out of her reach. The most touching moment was just a half an hour in, and it’s a shame to say it flatlined for the rest of the film.

It was good, but for anyone versed in the goings-on of superheros will find this predictable, though the satisfying kind. I admit they didn’t bludgeon their way to our attention span, and though the script was dry, it was pleasant enough. It was a far sight better than that fiasco, Batman vs Superman, and a more solid step into international hero team territory than Captain America was.

DC Comics, regrettably, doesn’t have a long running consistent universe to draw upon, so they’re going to be pulling one together as they go. Or will it be as passe as The Yellow Submarine? Time, as it is said, will tell.

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Ghost in the Profit

There were eight people in the theater when my Dad and I went to see Ghost in the Shell’s live action adaptation. For some reason nearly every showing is in 3D, which doesn’t actually hurt this slow burning production. I know – slow burning action movie, right? GITS has a ponderous, ruminating pace that allows for instances of intense cyborg combat and deep introspection. The Major, aka Makoto Kusanagi isn’t a deep feeling sort; but is troubled by a past she is at odds with.

Mira Killian (…how subtle a name is that for a weaponized prosthetic body user?) on the other hand has falsified memories and serious mistrust of nearly all authority figures. She’s inexperienced, impatient and a perplexing mix of two movies and fifty two episodes of very differently paced story. She’s an action hero with programmable motivations, and… it isn’t long before the fascination of all the cybernetics wears off, and you realize just how watered down everything is.

The 1996 animated feature had deep introspective conversations about the nature of living things, and though it was also light on word count, maybe I’m spoiled by the quality of translations. This movie had dull writing, dumbed down for the North American target audience, and it was not welcome. Oh yes, the visual effects were spectacular, and deserve some kind of award. Too bad the movie was ten years too late to grab any attention. Culturally we’re tired of Anime’s ‘everything goes’ morality.

It was a good movie; the acting was good, the music was… forgettable, but there was a massive disconnect between the world and the characters that lived in it. Instead of a hero’s rise, which is what this was supposed to be about, it felt like Makoto was settling for something other than obscurity. Were the producers and directors so afraid of offending people that they watered down the transhumanist convolution to a piddling tale of phantom body syndrome? Pretty much, even though Mira is a fairly good match for Makoto, she’s not at her level of expertise, skill and professionalism.

Too much, too late, and more static than is necessary about a movie that wouldn’t even dare take a chance to make a real point about its source material so people could be offended. Here’s looking forward to Guardians of the Galaxy 2!

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Bold Curves now available @ Amazon KPD

I’ve been a busy little bee, haven’t I? Bold Curves can be purchased at Amazon in ebook and paperback form now, so do check it out. I’ve tweaked any issues I found in the Smashwords edition.

Also, I’ll be publishing another collection that features Every One Fight, Sector Bomb and some previously unpublished related short stories as Whitegraft Musings. As I’m value conscious, I realized Every One Fight wasn’t a good deal on its own. Keep an eye on this blog or my Patreon for more information.

If you’d like to see into my creative process, I’m posting pre-release artwork accessible to backers.

Ta for now~!

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Filed under fiction, marketing, novel, promotional, publishing, science fiction, stories, writing

Starlit Ruins – Published @ Smashwords

Sailor Rifts lives on in eBook form as Starlit Ruins, a free download at Smashwords. Maybe I’ll just answer the questions I think you’ll ask, right now?

What is it?
Palladium Rifts and I have a history. It was my first experience with intense story feedback; facial expressions are powerful indicators. So I used my fandom to lead them through a rescue mission of no less than the Bishoujo Sailor Senshi. This is that ‘infamous’ fanfiction novel I called a darkfic, back then.

Why re-release it now?
It kept nagging at me. Really. Over the course of two years I worked at it in fits and starts. I’d pour over a chapter and tear apart some dialogue here, realize I used “realize” far too often. I made all kinds of mistakes one does, inexperienced. It wasn’t done right, or justice.

Where can I get it, how much does it cost?
It’s free. You can download it from Smashwords directly, or from iTunes, the Kindle Store and more. Follow the link and grab your copy in your preferred format.


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Filed under digital publishing, fiction, freebies, marketing, novel, science fiction, writing

So White and the Seven Dopes

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Filed under art

Writing, Music, Reviews and HonestGamers.com

Where have I been since the beginning of the month? Waiting for Paypal, mostly. Nonetheless, I’m back, and I’ve been busily writing, studying, working on music and reviewing games. Here’s a breakdown with links (which open in a new window):

Reviews

Kirby’s Epic Yarn (Wii)
The Wii was never a doomed platform; it sparkles with possibility and is home to some of gaming’s most iconic motion controls. Well, the controls that people actually enjoyed. Masahiro Sakurai took the road less traveled, however: There are no motion controls in Epic Yarn. [Read More @ HonestGamers.com]

Chocobo Racing (PSX)
About the last thing I expected from Chocobo Racing’s stuttery menu was a thoroughly enjoyable story mode and racing well tuned enough to warrant many playthroughs. And competition with friends. And more playthroughs. Chocobo Racing could have one of the best story modes of any racer I’ve ever played. [Read More @ HonestGamers.com]

Final Fantasy IX (Steam/Windows)
There’s a monkey in 18th century finery who’s going to try and steal your heart, but not before Vivi clambers into it. Romance is the language of Final Fantasy IX, and a happy-go-lucky attitude is its vehicle. IX is Shakespearean in more than its presentation; after the consequences of war, genocide and the subjugation of races are the stage for presentations of human truths and nature. [Read More @ HonestGamers.com]

Music

Remasters at Soundcloud
I’ve been remastering a selection of classic tracked mods for an upcoming album, and posting the pre-release results on Soundcloud. 1998: Sailor Rifts HD sounds pretty good …. pretty much the way I always thought it should sound, but could never accomplish with an eight channel module. I’ve released the aforementioned and: T2K Sugar & Spice HD and Cold Effects HD. [Hastypixels @ Soundcloud]

Writing

Sliver of Light
Still in progress and week by week the manuscript nears completion. If there’s any development, you’ll see it here first. My Patreon’s a little on the quiet side, but I’m still working on what to make “exclusive”. In the mean time, I’m just doing what I do. Once again, thank you for your links, feedback and time!

Be safe, friends.

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Filed under digital publishing, gaming, marketing, promotion, review, trideja

Chrono Trigger – The Underdog

This article was originally featured at HonestGamers.com

Where I Began
I have a vague recollection of the first time I picked up a Super Nintendo Entertainment System controller that vaulted me into Chrono’s distinctive reality. Memory can be vague, and I could imagine that it was in the company of a friend, or with a “Rental” sticker on the cartridge; perhaps it was the time I relived the adventure in retelling to another Role Playing Game fan who had yet to discover the ground breaking, time travelling tale.

That is perhaps part of the inspiration for Chrono Trigger, I could easily ascribe such, logically. However, my experience with the game was probably not much different than yours. I ran around, stole lunches, drank competitively, beat up a robot; checked on the girl I’d knock over first and definitely did not wait around for her to decide what candy she wanted.

Then I was judged summarily guilty as a subversive terrorist against the Kingdom and locked up in a tower. What a morning! To suggest I wasn’t have a great time would be a mistake, even though I learned, much to my chagrin, that the game was taking notes about my choices. That there were tangible consequences to my actions was a lesson I did not forget.

I didn’t care for a second that it was genius world building, mechanics-in-story seamlessly interwoven. This is a game that defined how time travel mechanics, world building and character design needed to work. No one aspect of its design received less attention than any other, and this is apparent even in detailed analysis.

Chrono Trigger is a masterwork of pixel art, eight channel orchestral character themes, strategic turn based combat and some of the most memorable characters you’re ever likely to meet. With character designs by Akira Toriyama, music by Yasanori Mitsuda and Nobou Uematsu, this is no doubt the console’s most ambitious title. Many of RPG gamings most familiar tropes got their start here, even if it did not originate them.

A Fantasy of Power
Chrono Trigger’s defining quality is its ability to allow you to become invested in your choices. Even if you don’t care, personally, for Marle, the rudderless princess you knock over, concern for her life and your impact upon it places you squarely in the middle of events. Your personal involvement with each of the characters not only dictates how much work you put into them, it also determines the outcome of the game.

To quote Nick Fury, “Ever been in a war, Councilman? Did you feel an over-abundance of control?” Each choice you make has an ever outward scaling knock-on effect that draws you to an apocalyptic conclusion seemingly beyond your control. You can escape death, rescue the princess, thwart the tyrant and even befriend the monster, but can you prevent the destruction of all humanity? Perhaps the ultimate answer we seek is addressed by Chrono Trigger: We can decide the outcome of the future.

Grandmastery
The heads of the creative team behind Trigger are considered grandmasters of their respective art. Their music, character design, pixel art and world design have inspired countless people to try their own hand at it. I submit there is no greater achievement than that. Let us not forget that the programmers also achieved an incredible feat on the aging console.

I remember being astounded that I could talk to someone and then run around the screen with the dialogue page still on screen. At the time I called it “multitasking”, though in truth it’s probably closer to task switching. Ever the techhead, I was impressed at the performance of that little grey box. Spell effects were impressive, many of which filled the screen in a showy fashion not before thought possible.

To say that these developers and creators were at the top of their craft is a fact, and they pushed the SNES to its limits and proved it still could awe the fans … without the use of any in-cart accelerators, I might add. There is no substitute for creative talent, and Chrono Trigger stands as a testament to that fact. So why is it so easily overlooked?

Progression and Heroism
I stared in heartbroken awe as Chrono’s sixteen pixel tall figure was disintegrated by Lavos’ vicious attack. Then, as Undertale would say, I was “filled with determination”. I had rescued Marle from death, and didn’t believe for a moment that he would succumb. I knew in advance that he was locked as the first party member for a reason.

It wasn’t cynical anticipation; I knew something terrible was going to happen. I’d watched games try new things and was curious what was next. Excitement may be a strange attribution to player death, but I trusted Chrono Trigger to continue to give me choices. When given the opportunity to restore the timeline, I got right to it. I know now I didn’t have to bring him back, but here’s the thing: When I play Chrono Trigger, I can’t bring myself not to.

I feel obligated to bring order back, to restore what is ruined, to vanquish darkness and win the day. I know it stems from the deeply rooted sense of right I have within me, and here’s something else: I’ll never try to get any of the other endings. Stick with me, I’m going somewhere with this.

Your Ending
There are thirteen distinct endings in Chrono Trigger, and each can be effortlessly pursued thanks to New Game+, which grants you all of your prior equipment. You can defeat Lavos at less than half of your party’s maximum strength. That is a clever hint; all of the game’s potential has not been exhausted, and neither has yours.

In 1995, no one was told Chrono Trigger had multiple endings. The Internet was slow and communication was sluggish and not centralized. Translation: We didn’t have Facebook, Skype, Discord or any social media forum of significance. I don’t know how long it took for word to get around about alternate endings, but our perception of the game as complete was transformed. I didn’t have access to Chrono Trigger to explore the other endings, so for me, it was, but I don’t recall wanting very much to pursue them.

Did I find the man in the spacesuit underwhelming? Mechanically, not at all. “Core Lavos” can still be a tough fight if you’re not on your toes or privy to its defenses. Akira’s designs have a tendency toward silliness, so I wasn’t exactly surprised. Defeating Lavos, though, isn’t the point of the game.

Cause Without Root
The emotional resonance we talk about as reviewers, players and critics, is a blustery way of saying “I felt that.” Determination to win was what the characters, quests, music and art gave me. I remember feeling joyous – happy-sad – when Marle was re-united with Chrono. It may be ironic that Chrono Trigger doesn’t have a lot of emotional resonance.

All of its storytelling force comes from its ability to make you want to complete the goals that you own. They aren’t your goals; they’re preset, and can be broken down into a flow chart of relatively simple cause and effect events. We know that doesn’t lessen their meaning, because we make simple choices all the time. The difference is we get to see the resolution, or conflict, that comes of those choices in a short time frame.

Stories struggle with multi-universe scenarios. Chrono Trigger’s successor, though not direct sequel, Chrono Cross, is a branch of that narrative root. Players, when presented with forty characters to chose from, would chose not to play the game. Would a direct sequel have worked better? Would it even have been possible? I doubt it; other games have tried to recapture the magic and been panned in the attempt by critics and fans alike.

Chrono Trigger speaks to the power of our choices, and the uncertainty of consequence. Perhaps if it had just one ending, it would be more favourably regarded. It does not pretend that your choices do not matter; that there is only one possible outcome. It takes a risk and entrusts you with the fate of everyone within its world.

Why do I call this an underdog? Chrono Trigger changed how RPGs played and our expectations. It is easily glossed over as one of the best RPGs of all time, possibly because of its signature art style and narrative themes. When the world had moved on to Final Fantasy Tactics, critics still recognized Chrono Trigger’s deeper influence.

Is it preservation that has caused Squaresoft, and now Square Enix, to shut down every reinterpretation of its work? Three dimensional worlds do not suffice, novels of great respect, nor even a modest upscaling or remastering of the original assets behoove. Their narrow path of marketing does seem puzzling in the face of so many remasters of their other franchises. Let’s wrap this up.

Conclusion: Infinite Inventory
Chrono Trigger is a seminal classic. It has a novel presentation that relates the power and powerlessness of choice. Its music is some of the industry’s finest, and extolled strong female characters well before it became an industry focus, thanks to Lara Croft (also released in 1995). It continues to sell in a largely unmodified form, ported to many platforms.

It’s greatest weaknesses are indeed simple: Akira’s particular art style may just rub you the wrong way; the main storyline is uncharacteristically short. Some music themes can overstay their welcome, rarely exceeding a minute in length as was typical of the SNES. Multiple endings can be a chore to pursue.

Nonetheless, this is widely regarded as a must play, and is available on mobile for Android and iOS. If you’re retro-curious, it was also ported to PlayStation One and Nintendo DS with additional features including animated cutscenes, additional endings and more. ‘Nuff said.

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Filed under article, gaming, good things, history, my view, opinion

1000 copies and a new manuscript.

So it’s been two years since I self published Every One Fight, Bold Curves, A Thief at the Gala and Sector Bomb. How have my books fared?

Not too badly.

Between them all, just short of 1000 copies have moved across the digital storefronts through which Smashwords distributes my works. I probably avoided looking at those numbers because it’s not a comfortable thing to do. They’re not hundreds of thousands, not even tens. I’m not disappointed.

Consider that there’s been zero dollars spent on my ad campaigns for these books, which were short lived and social media fixated, er … centric. That’s actually a lot of books, and some of you actually keep them in your library. Thank you.

Anyone who follows me here, or on Twitter, may or may not know how much work I’ve been putting into Sliver of Light. I canned the blog “Cobalted” because I needed to rework it, and because I plan to sell it. That’s right, I’m fishing for an Editor. Those sales numbers confirm my suspicion: I’m good, but unrefined.

Like a piece of coal, you know, I need to be compressed … probably a lot … to bring out the inner gem. Oh, that’s … yeah, not inner gem. Lesse … I need to be put under pressure to bring out my best work. I won’t do that to myself; other writers might but I’m not one of those. That’s okay, because I’m also not clinical enough about my own work.

Editors play an important role in the writing world, and they will as long as we write. So, my submission goes out tomorrow to the first publisher on my submissions list (which admittedly is more in my head than it is recorded anywhere). I’ve been updating my Patreon page more than this blog, so be sure to check that out and consider supporting my work if you’re interested.

The numbers say you are, and I like that they are numbers.

While I’m here, I’ll pass along the word that I’ve been game reviews for HonestGamers.com for six months now. I’ll cross post an article about ChronoTrigger as evidence … it’s a nice community and the readership is respectable. What have I covered? Well…

Front Mission Evolved (PC) – Read
Dust: An Eylsian Tale (PC) – Read
Audiosurf (PC) – Read
Audiosurf 2 (PC) – Read
Chroma Squad (PC) – Read
Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest (SNES) – Read
Final Fantasy IV (PC) – Read
Rogue Legacy (PC) – Read
The Ninja Warriors (SNES) – Read
Half Life 2 (PC) – Read
Skyborn (PC) – Read
Stardew Valley (PC) – Read
Black Mesa (PC) – Read
The Swapper (PC) – Read
Half Life 2: Episode Two (PC) – Read
Guacamelee! Super Tubro Championship Edition (Wii U/PC) – Read
Half Life 2: Episode One (PC) – Read
Front Mission 4 (PC) – Read
Mighty Switch Force! Hose It Down! (PC) – Read
Transistor (PC) – Read
Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed (PC) – Read
Monster Loves You! (PC) – Read
Chocobo Racing (PSX) – Read

Sorry for the backlog! It’s all for your interest, anyway. Enjoy, and take care of yourself.

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Filed under digital publishing, freebies, gaming, marketing, novel, personal growth, promotion, publishing, review