What I'm Playing: Echoes of Mana

Click thru Pre-Registration at the bottom for App Store/Google Play links, you should still get pre-reg bonuses for this first week, but I don't know when it ends.

It's by Squenix and developed by Wright Flyer Studios, who previously did Another Eden and DanMachi, both of which got years-long runs on my devices, and I love the Secrets of Mana series, so I'm willing to give this a try.

The art and music are beautiful as usual. It's just nice to wander around and look at.

Gameplay, it's a mix of good and disappointing. The main game hub is a crappy^W beloved peasant village initially overrun by patchwork goblins, standard click-on-all-the-menus to collect coins/gems/whatever to pump up your party, summon from a gacha pool, combine duplicates to upgrade characters. The game so far is fairly generous with general-purpose "dolls" for upgrading anyone. Once you get thru chapter 2, you can "ascend" the dumb one-star main character and start upgrading them. Apparently every character can be upgraded to 6-star, maxed out, so there's no wrong choices, just faster or slower ones.

The quest system is very linear, click on the next box and do a visual-novel-like story or a fight scene, collect rewards, repeat forever. There's a big set of training/resource "dungeons" (just 1-2 rooms so far) for levelling and getting upgrade materials. The game forces a tutorial down your throat, so every so often you just have to do whatever obvious process it's teaching you.

I very much miss Another Eden's open world, wander as a cloud, random fights or giant world bosses in each area. That was a great game, this is merely good. DanMachi started great, but it had only linear combat quests, and then added dozens of alternate costumes to the chars (mostly girls) which all had to be collected and levelled up, which was a pain in the ass, and the PVP in it was very "get the new meta char and win". Let's hope this doesn't go down that money-making hole.

Characters from the gacha are a mix of new to this installment, and classic Mana characters, and some are guaranteed drops, you're not going to be pulling forever to get that one rare char. Your party is 3 main characters and 3 backups who take their place if someone is KO.

The fights are the good part. You control one of three in your party, drag around to move, there's several attack/skill buttons: base attack, powerup attack, group combo attack, and 3 skills. You can switch who you control at any time, the others work on very dumb AI, so make sure they're tanky and probably melee, because they'll walk up and melee anyway; there is a battle strategy control on each char, but it doesn't change much, so I leave it on Balanced or Damage Dealer for the front-liners, and I mostly run Popoi, the fireball-throwing sprite from Secret of Mana.

There doesn't seem to be any overly complex mechanics so far, the elemental mana board system is a stat powerup grid but it's pretty simple. One thing to be aware of is each character uses a different elemental "coin", so spread the elements out in your party. I currently have:

  • Popoi (Salamanda = Fire)
    • Quilto (Lumina = Light)
  • Duran (Gnome = Earth)
    • Hawkeye (Shade = Dark)
  • Serafina (Undine = Water)
    • Raxa (Sylphid = Wind)

I also have Primm (Sylphid = Water) who I like, but she'd conflict with Serafina, and isn't as damaging.

The backups are really only riding along for experience right now, I rarely die. I did have a few deaths, and then I used the mana boards to bump up HP, CON (phys def), and SPI (mag def). Almost everyone can use every stat, except STR is for physical attack, INT is for magical. Gonna be a lot of grinding in the resource dungeons to improve these, but gives you a clear goal to work on every day.

You can buy a few healing/powerup items from the shopkeeper every day, currently 3 candy & 3 chocolate (S & M heals), and assign them on your party Items to keep you alive a little longer.

The cash shop is pretty expensive ($20, $30, $40 packages!), and as usual I start Free-to-Play and only pay in if I'm still playing after a few weeks. We'll see, my patience with gacha games is limited.

I didn't record a fight, it's too chaotic to really show in screenshots. The demo video on the official site is pretty representative.

There's apparently a co-op feature, and friends, which I'll look at later. I don't think there's PVP.

On Reddit and elsewhere, I see people complaining about load times, and I don't see it on iPad. There's a 1-3 second load screen to get back to the game hub from any feature, otherwise everything is instant. I think this is an artifact of using emulators or really slow old Android devices. Get a device not in your box of Cracker Jacks, and it'll be fine.

A Computer is Like a Violin


Finally we come to the question of what to do when we want to write a program but our idea of what is to be done, or how to do it, is incompletely specified. The non sequitur that put everyone off about this problem is very simple:

Major Premise: If I write a program it will do something particular, for every program does something definite.
Minor Premise: My idea is vague. I don't have any particular result in mind.
Conclusion: Ergo, the program won't do what I want.

So, everyone thinks, programs aren't expressive of vague ideas.

There are really two fallacies. First, it isn't enough to say that one doesn't have a particular result in mind. Instead, one has an (ill-defined) range of acceptable performances, and would be delighted if the machine's performance lies in the range. The wider the range, then, the wider is one's latitude in specifying the program. This isn't necessarily nullified, even when one writes down particular words or instructions, for one is still free to regard that program as an instance. In this sense, one could consider a particular written-down story as an instance of the concept that still may remain indefinite in the author's mind.
This may sound like an evasion, and in part it is. The second fallacy turns around the assertion that I have to write down a particular process. In each domain of uncertainty 1 am at liberty to specify (instead of particular procedures) procedure-generators, selection rules, courts of advice concerning choices, etc. So the behavior can have wide ranges-it need never twice follow the same lines, it can be made to cover roughly the same latitude of tolerance that lies in the author's mind.

At this point there might be a final objection: does it lie exactly over this range? Remember, I'm not saying that programming is an easy way to express poorly defined ideas! To take advantage of the unsurpassed flexibility of this medium requires tremendous skill-technical, intellectual, and esthetic. To constrain the behavior of a program precisely to a range may be very hard, just as a writer will need some skill to express just a certain degree of ambiguity. A computer is like a violin. You can imagine a novice trying first a phonograph and then a violin. The latter, he says, sounds terrible. That is the argument we have heard from our humanists and most of our computer scientists. Computer programs are good, they say, for particular purposes, but they aren't flexible. Neither is a violin, or a typewriter, until you learn how to use it.

Apple Destroys App Store History

Note, currently all my old apps like Perilar, DungeonDice, etc. are off the store. They all still work. Apple wants me to pay $100 extortion, recompile a bunch of old code that maybe takes minutes, maybe hours or days of catching up to "modern" APIs, before I can resubmit.

And once they start requiring Monterey instead of Big Sur, I have to buy new hardware to even do that, my iMac just misses the deadline for support (but they still give me a notification a couple times a month to "upgrade" to Monterey, so smart & classy).

And my reaction these days is basically "fuck you, App Store". I could pay them nothing, and spend that effort on my Mystic Dungeon Club Javascript games, or my Scheme games (shipping real soon now!), and then I'm the only one who can disappoint me. Most of my JS stuff works on an iPad just fine; I'm not really inclined to try resizing for iPhone or Android, but in theory they'd work, too.

My little Glitch.app, full of mostly-not-allowed tools which I don't distribute but sideload, doesn't currently run, and I think I can get it to reload on the free account. If not, I guess I don't glitch. I could probably rewrite a lot of it in Pythonista, assuming that survives the App Store-pocalypse.

I have no problem with Apple's 30% cut, 15% would be better but hey, whatever. It was a nice storefront for a few years there, anything less than the 50% cut retail takes was warranted.

But every other part of the App Store policy is so noxious, all that's left are shovelware predatory gacha games from China, "social" (masturbatory pictures of yourself) network garbage, and AAA studio teaser games, but not the real games. And now they're just gonna make it impossible to get anything from the good era.

I literally use my iPhone now as a, uh, phone. It's almost back to the 2007 release set of Apple apps, because nothing else is any better. The iPad has several more useful tools, and I worry that they'll be removed by this policy.

Android fanatics, note that you are not helpful:

Earlier this month, the Google Play Store similarly announced it would begin limiting the visibility of apps that
“don’t target an API level within two years of the latest major Android release version.”

A Schemer in Common Lisp Land

I got my Land of Lisp tshirt (shop is now closed), and thought for my weekend goof-off I'd read thru the book again and try actually using the Common Lisp examples; before I'd just converted it on the fly to Scheme, as I usually do with any Lisp stuff. But doing this exposed me to a fairly annoying environment, so I've been writing up my notes, function equivalents, workarounds. And I'll keep updating this page as I do more with it:

I had thought going in, maybe CL would be usable for some projects. But now, I know there's no way I would try to use this in production.

What I'm Reading: William Hope Hogson's The House on the Borderland

Cited by H.P. Lovecraft as one of his major influences, this was written in 1908, Hogson was a failed sailor, physical fitness enthusiast, failed poet, and writer at which he had some success, mostly with his later Carnacki stories. This and The Night Land are the two most directly applicable to weird tales and fantasy/horror gaming; I read both of these last back in the '80s, don't remember TNL as being anything deep, this one I remembered as a weird tale worth rereading.

Hey, this is all spoiler. Read the book, I think it's fantastic, but flawed, and I can't talk about that without spoilers.

From the Manuscript discovered in 1877 by Messrs. Tonnison and Berreggnog in the Ruins that lie to the south of the Village of Kraighten, in the west of Ireland. Set out here, with Notes.

The Framing Device: Two young men on a camping vacation in Ireland find a ruin around an endless pit, and an old manuscript diary, which they read. At the end, they question the local guide and find out some of the events of the manuscript match an old-timer's story. Woo-ee-oo. I'm glad the "let me tell you a story someone else told" device went away, it was also used in A Princess of Mars and far too many of H.P. Lovecraft's stories, where a story by the protagonist is more immediate.

The Recluse: An old man (name never given) lives alone. Almost. His sister Mary who has nearly no dialogue, no purpose except to explain how a man can live without having to cook for himself. And a dog, Pepper, who is the hero of the story, not quite an impossibly smart TV show dog (a half-century before Lassie will be invented). He comes to remote Ireland to buy a shunned house where he can have peace and quiet to write. This largely seems to consist of him sitting in his den reading all day, with dog by his feet, which is a fine lifestyle I engage in myself.

The Monsters: Investigating the OTHER vast endless pit at the far end of the gardens, monsters come up. Hero dog and old man flee back to the house, a siege fit for any monster/zombie flick ensues, including a few cunning tricks by the monsters and the Recluse. This entire initial section is basically enough for any other novel; it is perhaps a little fast at introducing and dealing with the monsters and attacks, but happily he's not some tedious typical paid-by-the-word Victorian writer. Almost too much so, it reads like any modern action-horror book, 30 years before Lovecraft or Howard got to this point in their writing.

The Visions: Mary denies knowing anything of the weird. I'm not sure how to take that. Was she driven mad by the monsters? Is the Recluse crazy? … Maybe? Next is a long out-of-body experience of seeing the universe. We find out just how important the House is, if not why. The Recluse learns more of the Pit, and exploration starts off very D&D-like, arming up and carrying a stack of candles, and then goes completely off from expectations. Another vision begins, which has horrific consequences.

The Love: Here's what I don't understand. He's seen, essentially, a faerie queen, or a ghost, and fallen for her, and cannot stay with her. The sections about her are almost incidental, and yet drive his later behavior. If she'd been inserted at the start of the visions, even driving them along, she'd make more sense. If there was any way for him to reach the Sea of Sleep, or her to reach out, that'd tie her into the story. As it is, it's just a weird "and also ghost lady".

Again Visions: Time passing and the ultimate fate of the Earth and Sun, and a reunion of planets and the House in an arena at the end of time. Which may be taken to mean the titans are playing games with mortals, the arena house is a reflection of the real house, like we may use miniatures and models to represent a game. And then back in the present, everything is lost, a final confrontation, which no heroic dog or old man can stop; if the things beyond this reality want to strike you down, they will.

The visions are hard to read. It's often not clear what's acting on what, which planet or sun is being seen at any time. The overall flow works, but the details are unfinished. Would they even make sense if they were more coherent? The Love's role is unclear, and a man just enamored of a faerie lady isn't fitting with the vast cosmic scope of the visions, or the fairly earthy monsters.

★★★★½ - must-read, but half is too weird to understand.

Also, the poem at the start, is "Shoon of the Dead". I'm sure Shaun of the Dead is named for Romero's Dawn of the Dead, but it's odd.

MysticDungeonClub returns

I've been neglecting server maintenance for, uh, like a year now? Because <waves hand at everything>.

So anyway after much effort this week I got the MysticDungeonClub back up.

It's a bunch of web tech toys, but I plan to get back to posting more of these, I have a couple of "new"/old ones never published, and I'll be putting the long-neglected vrmicro there. I think I can get archive.org's emulators there, too, and then I can just put my ATR files and an emulator in a page! There's web-based Scheme interpreters, and they can go there, too.


This is a post for Twitter users. Your yearly reminder that Twitter is run badly by terrible people, it's getting worse, and you're in a neverending cycle of hell, doomscrolling.

OR, you can come over to Fediverse. If you were on app.net back in the day (or really, micro.blog last few years), I can invite you to appdot.net or you can join anything on the fediverse.party, or join Mastodon - just don't choose mastodon.social or other >10K user instances, try to spread out a bit. We're all safer if we decentralize! Don't just put a different Man's boot on your neck!

Fediverse has better social interaction, you can choose to look at just your home (people you follow), Local, or the entire nearby Federated feeds; some days Federated's too much. Dip my toes in and see if anyone interesting is up there, otherwise just see what my friends are saying. You can post world-wide, local, followers-only, or "direct" (not quite private, but close). You can block & report people, or block an entire instance if they're all assholes.

The tech is better. Most instances have a 500-char post limit, some have higher limits, and some allow Markdown or raw HTML markup (most don't, tho). Quote-tweeting doesn't really exist (screenshot-dunking is a reportable offense), threading actually works. You can enable some local & global trending tags, but don't. Search is deliberately less useful, to prevent bad actors from searching keywords and attacking you in a private conversation. If you want it to be searchable, add hashtags. It's not 100% secure from scanning bots for ads or "research", but they're uncommon.

The culture's probably a bit of a shock if you spend all your time in the shit. People have their own interests, but aren't generally screaming about every disaster. There's, on the mainstream instances anyway, no fascists, tankies, transphobes, or Republicans (they've been exiled to "truth.social", a Mastodon fork without federation). You'll have to find actual news sources instead of random links promoted by Russian spambots.

Couple of get-started guides for you:

And I'm here:

I promise you it's much nicer than what you're putting up with now.

comic by KC Green

What I'm Reading: Rudy Rucker's Million Mile Road Trip, Juicy Ghosts

I read MMRT late last year, just finished JG.

  • Million Mile Road Trip: Teen slackers behave more like '60s-80s teens than Millennials or Zoomers; they're actually independent, run around doing their own thing with only minimal parental influence. Zoe's a jazz trumpeter, boyfriend Villy wants to be a rock star and has a big ugly purple car (I bet he does). Weird subtly non-Human cousin Maisie, and UFO cult are introduced. Aliens come out of nowhere, as they so often do in Rudy's books. There's another, bigger Universe, "Mappyworld", and the aliens want the slackers, and Villy's little brother Scud as tagalong, to do a "million mile road trip" (title ref 30-ish pages in).

It gets weirder from there, as usual. The cosmology and physics are bizarre, more like one of Greg Egan's math-Universe books without the math. Strange aliens are everywhere, UFOs aren't at all what we normally think, and a super difficult quest. Lot of "teen romance", sex without understanding the consequences (not judgmental, just literally they don't understand what happens!)

Entirely normal interaction:

"Via my teep slug, I wit your brother was laid low by a Freeth." says Filkar. "And you took a coward's way out. Here's solace: oft a Freeth seeks only to stun, and not to slay. Let us therefore suppose that Villy is hale. How do you regain face? Return bearing the benison of a teep slug."
Scud goes for it. The slug is an add-on. A power-up. He extracts the dusty spice jar from his jeans and drops a caraway seed onto flat Filkar. The gingerbread man bucks and shudders, absorbing the seed's fragrant biochemical essence and, very clearly, feeling the better for it.
—Rudy Rucker, "Million Mile Road Trip"

But then eventually it falls apart, you can't actually narrate a million miles of driving (or flying), it's just too much. The book could be 1000 pages instead of 400-ish and it wouldn't be enough. You can see the exact paragraph where Rudy went "uuuuuuhhhhh… wtf now" and basically skips to the ending. The final Boss Fight is hard to follow, in spaces without space, time that doesn't pass, and everything's resolved too fast.

It's so rushed in parts, and so overly ambitious it can't be complete. The characters would be better a little older, On the Road was about Jack Kerouac's adventures in his 20s (and written in his '30s), making the sex, drugs, jazz, and murders less skeevy.

The book web page has notes with a lot more background material that didn't make it in.

So, I like this, I want to love it, but it falls short of that. ★★★★☆

  • Juicy Ghosts: Go read his speculative-science-newage-philosophy book The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul and the short story Juicy Ghost on his Complete Stories page. You've now read 90% of the novel. There's a few new characters introduced after the assassination of "Treadle" (Trump), and the biotech world kritters are interesting (but sort of recycled from Freeware). The biotech houses are neat, but never explained in much detail. There's a bit of a war scene, and some infiltration/hacking, and everyone wins yay. The Notes on Juicy Ghosts are better than the book; and Rudy's paintings help a lot, I wish he'd put more of those in the e-books, instead of just the line sketches that also work in print. ★★☆☆☆ can't really recommend reading the novel.