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There's been some discussion on Mikasa in the sub lately, both positive and negative, and it's led me to think a bit more about her character. In particular, I've been thinking about her character flaw, what it is exactly, and whether or not she's developed past it – and if she has, what that means for her in the final arc. Isayama once said that Mikasa is a character who 'expresses herself via actions and facial expressions quite a lot'. I sometimes feel that that's why a lot of her personal story gets overlooked – because she's not loud about it, and nor is anyone else. She's one of the most reticent characters in the manga and, more importantly, deliberately written that way. It's intentional on Isayama's part for Mikasa to mostly 'express herself via actions and facial expressions', and so, as difficult as it might be to follow, that's mostly how her personal journey is told. Because she doesn't say much, talks a lot with her fists, and is the team's natural and aggressive protector, it's easy to assume that there's nothing more happening there. Isayama clearly doesn't mean for readers to overlook her, but some inevitably do because she's not as obvious and outspoken as other characters. She's not like Eren, whose dissatisfaction with the world drives him to continuously push back, or like Armin, whose self-doubt and fear of responsibility constantly battle with his natural intelligence and sense of duty. She doesn't outwardly appear to suffer from the neuroses that afflict a lot of the others in the main cast. As a result, her development as a character isn't easy to track. Where does it start? Where does it end? What even is it? It's fair to ask, in Mikasa's case, whether she even has a character arc to begin with. What changes about her? Does she actually react in any way to her experiences and evolve as a result of them, or does she remain the same from beginning to end?
Fans' opinions on Mikasa's character are often based on her feelings for Eren and the actions she undertakes to protect him. It irks some readers that Eren is Mikasa's priority, and that her life seems to revolve around him. Because they consider this her character flaw, they expect that her character development is going to rectify this flaw; that she'll move away from Eren, whether physically, emotionally, or mentally, and find something else to live for. In a 2016 interview, Isayama said: 'Mikasa's growth probably involves separation from Eren'. People generally stop at that and go from there – they either believe that Mikasa can't grow as a person unless Eren stops being important to her, or that a Mikasa who isn't separated from Eren (emotionally, mentally, or physically) is inherently a flawed character. Isayama's explanation of the 'separation' he means is never usually discussed, even though he actually does go on to clarify it: 'Mikasa's growth probably involves separation from Eren. By separation, I mean she might be able to return to that ordinary girl that she used to be in childhood'. If the all-important 'separation' for her growth is about Mikasa returning to the 'ordinary girl' she used to be, it's worth asking what isn't ordinary about the girl Mikasa became, and when that change happened. And once that 'non-ordinary' quality about Mikasa becomes apparent, it can be identified as Mikasa's flaw; the deficiency in her character that we can expect her to overcome. Mikasa loving someone or wanting to protect them isn't in itself a flaw. It's a fairly ordinary, reasonable thing, and it's something plenty of other characters already display in the story: Franz wants to protect Hanna; Ymir, Historia; Eren, Mikasa; Kenny, Uri; Levi, Erwin, and so on ad infinitum. There's a reason that Mikasa's love for and general protectiveness towards Eren never changes. It's because it's not something she was ever meant to 'grow past' or 'get over'. It was never her flaw. Her flaw is fear. Mikasa's overprotectiveness of Eren is what isn't 'ordinary', because it's connected to her deep, abiding fear of loss. Her desire to constantly stay by him is pitiful because, above all else, it represents her fear and her mistrust of the world. And it's why her 'separation' from him is about more than just 'Mikasa finds something else to do apart from care about Eren'; it's a return to her being 'the ordinary girl of her childhood': a normal girl who isn't constantly fixated on how the people she loves can die at any moment: https://preview.redd.it/gpraaqxt1sq51.jpg?width=750&format=pjpg&auto=webp&s=dbcb1a366ae0b26f287143aa4d7e916d1c7b3c49
When Levi says they'll focus on one objective and that won't include outright killing Annie, Mikasa's one objection is: 'How many of our comrades has she murdered?' Mikasa has no problem being straightforward with Levi. If her first and only consideration was Eren, she'd voice it. She'd even get away with it, because they all need Eren at this point. But instead, she reveals that she has a separate, personal desire: avenging their dead. Mikasa wants to kill Annie for her own reasons.
Levi states that their goal is to retrieve Eren. He gives himself the main role of 'slash[ing] away' at the titan, meaning that he will be the one to actually save Eren, who is in the titan's mouth. And he gives Mikasa the job of distracting Annie. Mikasa accepts asecondary role in a planthat isspecificallyto rescue Eren.
And when she does break from the plan, it's not so she can go and get Eren herself. Mikasa risks the objective of the mission – and Levi, and Eren – by going in for the kill. Mikasa risks the plan to save Eren by acting on her own desire to kill Annie.
Two important shifts take place here for Mikasa. One, she entrusts Eren to someone else, as demonstrated by her action of allowing Levi to take the lead. Two, her focus stops being, even for a short while, Eren – as confirmed by her facial expression when Levi challenges her on it, because she doesn't seem to immediately realise she's even capable of that: The objective was: Forget killing the Titan. Rescue Eren. And Mikasa, for no matter how short a time, lost sight of that. The fearful, overprotective aspect of Mikasa's relationship with Eren is beginning to change, because her relationship with the rest of her world is beginning to change. With his rescue of Eren in the forest, Levi proves to Mikasa that other people are just as capable of protecting Eren as she is. And if she happens to take her mind off Eren for a bit, it doesn't mean he'll die. This is where the 'separation' begins. Mikasa starts to accept distance between herself and Eren; the distance of being able to trust others with him, of not needing to constantly be with him and personally oversee his safety. And it leads to this watershed moment in the Uprising arc: Mikasa. Whilst Eren has been kidnapped. And all they know is that he's inside a coffin with some random undertaker at some random inn. Maybe. In Chapter 4, Mikasa couldn't handle Eren being in a different part of the city from her during a mission because of how afraid she was that he'd die without her. In Chapter 30, she let Levi take the lead on getting Eren back, and was shocked when she realised that, even for an instant, she'd prioritised something else over him. In Chapter 57, Eren's been kidnapped, no one's been certain for two days about where he is or what's happening to him, and Mikasa is, well, as pictured above. The debilitating fear that used to tie Mikasa to Eren is gone for good. She's finally let Eren go, and discovered that it doesn't mean she'll lose him.
Post-timeskip Mikasa is in a good place, and long past the fear with which she faced the world as a young girl. She's with Eren, working with the Volunteers, and she and Armin are excited about the possibilities of the widening world. Then Eren effectively betrays the SC for reasons they can't fully understand, and, once again, Mikasa's world begins to change in alarming, unpredictable ways. https://preview.redd.it/y4f97ksi2sq51.png?width=346&format=png&auto=webp&s=a17a0410c8f25e97ee450b57d9636e5fc147b874 For the first time in a long time, she loses someone she loves. Eren's in jail and Mikasa remains by Sasha's grave, pondering the old words that bind her and Eren together: 'If we don't win, we die. If we win, we live. If we don't fight, we can't win.' Ironically enough, Sasha is the only character in the entire manga to have said those words apart from Eren and Mikasa themselves. And she's now dead as a result of Eren's fight. So what exactly is Eren fighting for, and what does winning that fight entail? This is the first time in the manga that Mikasa begins to doubt Eren, and the first time their bond has ever really been threatened. And not by the world, titans, or murderous kidnappers, but by Eren himself. The idea that there is beauty where cruelty also exists has informed Mikasa's perspective on the world since Eren wrapped his scarf around her. He showed her that it is possible for the two things to co-exist; for there to be human cruelty as well as human kindness, cold as well as warmth, life as well as death. But Eren is now showcasing the exact cruelty that Mikasa used him as a beacon against. What he's done is undoing what she believes in; it's not just that it's shaken her view of Eren – it threatens to undo Mikasa's whole world-view. In that same 2016 interview, Isayama spoke of Eren and Mikasa's eventual separation being ideological: 'If I were to draw the separation of Eren and Mikasa . . . Mikasa would have to endure the strain of being stuck between Eren and Armin. Even though she can sympathise with Armin, who considers things from a ''globalism'' perspective, it’s possible that she can't just let the more self-focused Eren go'. This ideological separation begins the moment Eren defects from the SC. It's from this point onwards that EMA's paths truly begin to diverge, and Mikasa in particular is presented with a choice that she's never had to face before. Of the two people she loves most in the world, does she choose the 'self-focused' Eren or the 'globalist' Armin? The choice she makes will most likely conclude Mikasa's character arc once and for all, and it's a choice that's been building since before the time-skip, represented by her interactions with two characters in particular: 1. Mikasa and Floch At the award ceremony in Chapter 90, Floch points out something interesting about Mikasa in what is otherwise an easily overlooked moment in the manga. Although multiple people were present on the rooftop during Serumbowl, he is the only one to explicitly draw attention to the fact that Mikasalet go. She resigned herself to losing Armin because Hanji convinced her that Erwin was more important to humanity and Mikasa's grief at losing him was something that would pass. https://preview.redd.it/oqjfh2gk2sq51.png?width=584&format=png&auto=webp&s=f13d8f9a80608e4ac8a85c30d3ddc79b751ad1dd Floch sees this as maturity, but the realisation that she was willing to let Armin go for the sake of humanity is something that Mikasa is shocked by. It makes her falter, and let go of Eren. Mikasa has always defined herself as Armin and Eren's protector; she's presented in the story as such, and she styles herself as such. She's the one who keeps Eren and Armin safe. But Floch's words make her realise that, on the rooftop, she was able to step away from that role – because her world has expanded beyond Armin and Eren. It has expanded to include Hanji and Levi and the other Scouts – and humanity. Mikasa is capable of making choices that hurt her deeply for the sake of a greater cause. 2. Louise and Mikasa Louise meets Mikasa on three occasions. The first time, Louise tells Mikasa she likes her because Mikasa saved her, and gave her something to strive for: 'You can't save anyone without power. It's okay for us to fight against unjust violence. That's what I learned' (109). In the same way Eren 'gave' Mikasa a motto to live by, Mikasa gave one to Louise. The second time, Louise tells Mikasa that she's happy to be by her side again, fighting for the same goal. Mikasa is ambivalent towards her. And she leaves her scarf behind, choosing to go and fight the titans without it. In between the second and third meetings, Mikasa talks to Armin. She asks him if he's really going to tell Connie to give up on his mother and let her remain a titan; Armin says yes, he is. When Mikasa asks what should be done about Eren, Armin replies that there's nothing to be done; he's a lost cause. After Armin leaves, Mikasa notices that the scarf is missing, and goes to retrieve it. The third and last time they meet, Louise is dying. She tells Mikasa that Eren wanted her to throw the scarf away, but she thought that she could take it to be close to Mikasa. Though she appears to sympathise with Louise's plight, Mikasa demands the scarf back from her. She walks away from Louise even as Louise tells her that she had no regrets, because she chased after Mikasa, devoting her heart. Each meeting between Louise and Mikasa mirrors, in an abbreviated way, the different stages Eren and Mikasa's relationship has gone through. 1: Louise's initial love and gratitude, and her taking Mikasa as an inspiration; 2: their fighting side by side as equals; and, finally, 3: their literal separation as Mikasa chooses to walk away. Louise reminds Mikasa of what Eren means to her. Mikasa never seeks to stop Louise from talking about her feelings; instead, she listens. She might not reciprocate, but she does understand. And her understanding Louise's love reminds her of her own. She walks away, but she takes the scarf with her. Despite what Armin said, and what Louise told her about Eren and the scarf, Mikasa chooses to keep a hold of it in the way she keeps a hold of the hope that Eren can still be brought back. Mikasa is capable of holding on to the person she loves even when he's gone too far. Mikasa Chooses . . . Mikasa Despite the apparently binary choice, Mikasa doesn't have to choose to side with Eren (allow the Rumbling to go ahead) or with Armin (kill Eren to stop him). She said it herself: there's a third option. Her way. Eren's wandered so far down his path that he's lost sight of Mikasa and of Armin; of what connects him to the world. Mikasa chooses, not to support him or to believe that he's a lost cause, but to remind him that walking away from his humanity doesn't mean that he can't turn around and walk back. Kruger said 'Anyone can become a god or a devil. All it takes is for someone to claim it for it to be true' (88). But if there's someone to challenge that belief, then the possibility remains of breaking the facade and setting the story straight – thereby freeing that person from the role they've either taken on out of necessity, or been assigned. It's something we've already seen happen. All it takes is for one person to question it, and the goddess falls apart to reveal an empty, unloved young girl, or the devil's mask cracks open to show the boy still grieving for the world he's lost. Ymir knows that Historia's faking it; Mikasa knows that Eren is kind. Each of them challenges the story that their loved one is telling in order to keep going: Historia to survive, Eren to achieve his dream. It took Mikasa years to truly overcome the cruelty she had seen as a child. Despite everything, she did, in the end, go back to being that 'ordinary girl'. She came to acknowledge that cruelty exists, as does death – but life must nevertheless be lived, people loved, experiences had, and faith kept. Seeing the beauty in a world that is inherently cruel is, and always has been, Mikasa's greatest strength. It's something she is capable of offering Eren, who no longer seems to believe in that duality, or in his own humanity. She can show him what he showed her; that the world isn't black or white, cruel or beautiful, dark or light. It's both. And it's possible to live with that.
Mikasa is no longer fighting to protect Eren from the world; she's fighting to protect the world from Eren. She's the person best suited to do that not only because she's his family, but because Eren's despair and anger at the world is what she might have ended up with herself. If any character was dealt a crueller hand by the world than Eren, or could have become as bitter about the world as him, it was Mikasa. But he stopped that from happening because his kindness showed her that the world, as bad as it was, had good in it. Little by little, Eren's abandoned that view of the world himself. He no longer sees both its beauty and its cruelty, but has confined himself to seeing - and acting on - only one. When they fought Annie in Stohess, Mikasa had to remind Eren that the world was cruel, because Eren had lost sight of that truth. Now, Eren's lost sight of another, equally valid truth; that the world, as cruel as it is, is also beautiful. That he, as inhuman as he thinks he is, is also kind. If Mikasa manages to 'bring Eren back', she'll have come full circle. She started off as a little girl who was seeking something, anything, to hold on to. She needed a saviour, and she got one in the form of Eren. In this scenario, she'll end as a saviour herself, someone who is now able to pass on the light that she once received. Her fear of the world and of losing her loved ones subsided; she managed to find the warmth she needed to carry on. She doesn't need Eren's scarf anymore – but he might need hers.
My perspective on Mikasa is that she's not a very obvious character when it comes to development, and so she sometimes appears static. And because so much of her drive is Eren, a lot of fans look to her relationship with Eren to change for proof that she's somehow developed. But Mikasa's obstacle, her personal flaw, isn't Eren himself, and never has been. Her flaw has always been her deep and debilitating fear about losing the people she loves – Eren and Armin – and her inability to really trust or love anyone apart from them. Mikasa's separation from Eren = her beginning to trust the rest of the world not to stab him in the chest, almost behead him, or eat him alive whilst she's not there. It's good for her because it means she stops being so terrified that she'll lose Eren, not because it means she'll stop loving him or wanting him to be safe. And she reached that point of separation a long time ago in the manga. It was fully realised the moment she decided to trust Levi during the Uprising arc, despite the fact that Eren was literally gone from her side and she had no way of knowing whether he was dead or alive. The final confrontation is where Eren and Mikasa's ideological separation, the one discussed by Isayama in the interview, will/won't occur. It – and its finer details – can unfold in a number of ways, and each one could mean something different for Mikasa's character. But her choosing to face Eren in this way is a natural culmination of her development until now. I've no concrete theories on what will actually happen once the Alliance reaches Eren, but I'm fairly certain that Mikasa is central to the resolution of this arc. And what with the way she's been written by Isayama so far, that's no bad thing. So, to finally end this ramble, I hope that this post at least offers people a different perspective on Mikasa's character and how it's changed over the course of the story. I look forward to reading any other observations/thoughts on Mikasa's development that people might have. Many thanks for giving mine a read!
Are either libreboot/coreboot completely safe from remote management attacks? If not, why?
Hi! I finally managed to wrap my head around IME and its dangers. So, it loos like the options are: 1- use different hardware altogether, such as riskV or power 9 2- use lbreboot/coreboot Regarding (2) I've read coreboot still contained binary blobs. Something about it being 'impossible' to remove because of restrictions imposed by intel. Is it the case for libreboot, too? Would it be fair to say libreboot is 'safer'? Are either completely safe, meaning are either completely removing the danger involved in remote management engines? Thank you.
Main tank here for the last 10+ seasons, main Rein. I’ve been trying to figure out why it feels so terrible right now, even with CC toned down. What I feel is that the massive amounts of damage in this game, matched by the massive amount of healing, has taken away a lot of the ability of a main tank to manage personal HP as a resource. One of the basic things I’ve always kept in mind as rein is safely facetanking damage, utilizing the 200 points of armor to reduce damage taken, and allowing that to be healed up. 300 hp has been my mental “safe spot” for judging my aggression. Lately, however, I find that even at full HP, I can never feel safe even just firestriking without the risk of going to extremely low HP or even dying. What I’ve sort of realized is that this mid-ground health doesn’t even really exist anymore. It feels like you are either being pocketed at full hp, or you’re dead, and there’s extremely little time in between. Once I noticed this, I thought “hey, maybe I’m just bad” so in the main tank streams I watch (super and cloneman, for example) I paid special attention to their health totals throughout games, and I noticed a very similar pattern. They would spend the majority of the time either above 400 hp while getting healed, or would immediately drop to roughly 100 hp, where either they’d have to get hard pocketed back to full or die. I think that the damage and healing creep has removed an entire tool (health management) from the tank role, leaving them more reliant on healers than ever before. Specifically, the idea of “facetanking” damage is just too risky now. I can’t alternate my health pool and my shield because there is too high a risk of getting bursted down even within short moments. I think DPS aren’t made as miserable by this because they’re naturally squishy, and by nature don’t want to be focused by multiple members of the enemy team, whereas with tanks that’s your base job. This also leads into CC feeling even worse because the short stun of a cree flashbang is absolutely enough time to get burst down without a bubble or pocket. I also think this is why double-shield is so prevalent, as a symptom of the fact that, with regard to HP pools, the idea of taking “safe amounts” of damage isn’t reliable, and so the best option is to take no hp damage at all, by only playing behind shield where it’s impossible to get burst without the warning of the shield breaking, and to have fortify/suck to keep you from being burst when that shield does go down. I guess basically, how I’d describe the problem I’m witnessing is that the damage and healing creep have made tanks feel far too squishy because of an inability to utilize the middle ranges of HP. As for solutions, I’m not sure the best option, outside of something like a % nerf to both damage and healing across the board, which obviously is an oversimplified solution, but something needs to be done imo to make tank hp pools relevant and not feel like quite such an alive/dead binary. Welcome thoughts, and for now, you can find me queueing support.
Going to keep this simple. EDIT: this isn’t simple and I should write a short story on this. I am generally risk averse. I hate losing $100 at the casino, I hate paying extra for guac at chipotles, I will return something or price match an item for a few dollars of savings. I am generally frugal. But, I somehow had no issues losing 10k in options... How I started I remember my first trades like they were yesterday. I was trading the first hydrogen run-up in 2014 (FCEL, BLDP, PLUG) and made a few hundred dollars over a couple weeks. I quickly progressed to penny stocks / biotech binary events and general stock market gambling mid-2014. I was making a few % here and there but the trend was down in total account value. I was the king of buying the peak in run-ups. I managed to make it out of 2014 close to break-even to slightly down. WSB Era March 2015 was my first option trade. It was an AXP - American Express - monthly option trade. I saw one of the regular option traders/services post a block of 10,000 calls that had been bought for 1.3 and I followed the trade with 10 call options for a total of $1300. I woke up the next day to an analyst upgrade on AXP and was up 50% on my position. I was addicted! I day-dreamed for days about my AXP over night success. I think around that time there was some sort of Buffet buyout of Heinz and an option trade that was up a ridiculous amount of %%%. I wanted to hit it BIG. I came up with the idea that all I needed to reach my goal was a few 100% over night gains/ 1k>2k>4k>8k> etc. I convinced myself that I would have no problems being patient for the exact criteria that I had set and worked on some other trades. Remember, the first win is always free. I was trading options pretty regularly from March 2015 until August 2016. During my best week I was up 20k and could feel the milli within reach. I can remember the exact option trade (HTZ) and I was trading weeklies on it. For those who have been in the market long enough, you will remember the huge drawdown of August 2015. I lost half my account value on QCOM calls (100 of them) that I followed at the beginning of July and never materialized. I watched them eventually go to 0. It was another 10,000 block that was probably a hedge or sold. In August 2015 there were some issues with China and all of us woke up to stocks gapping down huge. Unfortunately my idea of buying far dated calls during the following days/weeks after the crash went sideways. I quickly learned that an increase in volatility causes a rise in option prices and I was paying a premium for calls that were going to lose value very quickly (the infamous IV crush). I kept trading options into the end of 2015 and managed to maintain my account value positive but the trading fees for the year amounted to $30,000+. My broker was loving it. I tried all the services, all the strategies. I created rules for my option plays: 1. No earnings 2. Only follow the big buys at a discount (10,000 blocks or more). 3. No weekly options 4. Take profit right away 5. Take losses quickly 6. etc. I had a whole note book of option plays that I was writing down and following. I was paying for option services that all of you know about - remember, they make money on the services and not trading. I even figured out a loop-hole with my broker: if I didn’t have enough money in my account, I could change my ask price to .01 and then change it to market buy and I would only need to accept a warning ⚠️ for the order to go through. I was able to day trade the option and make money, who cares if I didnt have enough? After a few months of this, I got a call from my broker that told me to stop and that I would be suspended if I continued with this. By the way, I was always able to satisfy the debit on the account - so it wasn’t an issue of lack of funds. Lost it all. Started taking money from lines of credits, every penny that I earned and losing it quicker and quicker. I was a full on gambler but I was convinced that 8 trades would offset all the losses. I kept getting drawn in to the idea that I could hit a homerun and make it out a hero. I eventually hit rock bottom on some weekly expiring FSLR options that I bought hours before expiration and said to myself - what the f are you doing? I resolved to invest for the long term and stop throwing tendies away. The feeling was reinforced during the birth of my first born and I thought - what a loser this kid will think of me if he knew how much I was gambling and wasting my life. It was a really powerful moment looking at my kid and reflecting on this idea. I decided at that point I was going to save every penny I had and invest it on new issues with potential. Fall 2016 TTD, COUP and NTNX IPO ‘ed I decided I was going to throw every dollar at these and did so for the next few months. I eventually started using margin (up to 215%) and buying these for the next 6 months. They paid out and managed to make it over 100k within the year. The first 100k was hard but once I crossed it, I never fell below this magic number. 2017 - I did some day trading but it was mostly obsessing over the above issues. I did gamble on a few options here and there but never more than 1k. 2018 - SFIX was my big winner, I bought a gap up in June 2018 and my combined account value had crossed 400k by August 2018. I was really struggling at crossing the 500k account value and experienced 3 x 30-40% drawdowns over the next 2 years before I finally crossed the 500k barrier and have never looked back. I still made some mistakes over the next few months - AKAO & GSUM come to mind. Both of these resulted in 20k+ losses. Fortunately my winners were much bigger than my losers. I thought about giving up and moving to index funds - but i was doing well - just experiencing large drawdowns because of leverage. 2019 big winners were CRON SWAV STNE. 2017 / 2018 / 2019 all had six digit capital gains on my tax returns. At the beginning of 2020 I was still day trading on margin (180-220%) and got a call from my broker that they were tightening up my margin as my account was analyzed by the risk department and deemed too risky. Believe it or not this was right before the covid crash. I brought my margin down to 100-110% of account value and even though the drawdown from covid hit hard, I wasn’t wiped out. I stayed the course and bought FSLY / RH during the big march drawdown and this resulted in some nice gains over the next few months. I am constantly changing and testing my investment strategy but let me tell you that obsessing over 1 or 2 ideas and throwing every penny at it and holding for a few years is the best strategy. It may not work at some point but right now it does. I still day trade but I trade with 10k or less on each individual position. It allows me minimize my losses and my winners are 1-7%. I am able to consistently make between 3-700$/ a day on day trades using the above strategy. I still take losses and still dream about hitting it big with an option trade but dont feel the need to put it all on the line every month / week. I finally crossed into the two , club. I know people are going to ask for proof or ban but I am not earning anything for posting and the details about some of the trades should be proof enough that I kept a detailed journal of it all. I have way more to write but these are the highlights. Eventually I will share how I build a position in a story I love. I still sell buy and sell to early but I am working on improving. TL:DR - I gambled, lost it all and gambled some more lost more. I made it out alive. I have only sold calls/puts lately. The one common denominator in all successful people is how much they obsess over 1 or 2 ideas. Do the same. All the winners on this sub have gone all in on one idea (FSLY / TSLA ). Stick with new stories or ones that are changing and go all in...wait a second, I didnt learn anything.
AMZN Trade Retrospective: Collecting a $.37 Credit for the Potential to Make Another $50
There are different ways to trade in a choppy environment. Here’s a deep dive on how I attempted to use weekly options to trade a potential bounce in AMZN, and collected $.37 initially, for the possibility of making $50 more, even though the trade ended up being only an $.81 winner.
Last Thursday, 9/24, when $AMZN was trading at about $3000 a share, I was looking for a cheap way to play a bounce in the stock. During that time, my bias in the markets had begun to shift to a more bullish stance after seeing how the market had difficulty grinding lower. With that in mind, I wanted to play a potential bounce in tech. But I knew I didn’t want to pay a debit at all to play for a bounce that might not even happen, given how uncertain and choppy the markets had been, but I still wanted to set myself up to capture some large gains if AMZN did indeed bounce. Therefore, the strategy that made the most sense to me, was a Call broken wing butterfly. Given that I’m a very short-term options trader who loves trading weeklies, I was trying to look for a cheap butterfly for the upcoming week that I could put on for a net credit. After exploring the options chain, I came across the +1/-2/+1 3300/3350/3450 call broken wing butterfly for the Oct 2 series. This fly, at the time (on Sept 24), was trading for a total of $.37 credit. Meaning, by putting on that butterfly, I would get paid $.37, and the following scenarios could happen:
If AMZN decided to tank or hang out sideways and never get up close enough to the butterfly to expand the spread in my favor, then I’d walk away pocketing the $.37 credit
If AMZN slowly crept up to reach exactly 3350 by expiration, I’d not only get to keep the credit, but also be able to sell the butterfly back out for $50. Of course, it doesn’t need to reach exactly 3350 by expiration. If AMZN slowly worked its way up to near 3300, then the butterfly would expand very nicely as well.
If AMZN blew past 3400 by expiration, I’d see a loss, up to a maximum of $50 / spread (if $AMZN moves past 3450). That’s because the 3300/3350 long call vertical of the fly provides 50 points of coverage before I essentially start losing money from the 3350/3450 short vertical, up until that 3450 kicks in to cap off further upside losses.
So that is a rough outline of the potential scenarios that would happen with this trade. Given the choppy market conditions, I was ok with risking $50/spread (point #3), in order to not lose money if I’m wrong on direction (point #1), while at the same time, keeping myself open to the possibility of the butterfly expanding in my favor (point #2) for some potentially very large gains. But satisfying point #3 is tricky. I needed more data points suggesting that $AMZN wouldn’t surge higher early on in the trade. Because if $AMZN did surge higher early on in the trade, then while the 3300 long call would rise in value, those two 3350 short calls would also rise in value, and because there’d still be some time value left, they could be very juiced up and eat away at the profits of that 3300 long call, so much so that the 3450 long call won’t even be able to offset those losses, especially given how far out of the money that 3450 call is. AMZN on 9/24, daily timeframe Looking at the chart above on 9/24, we can see that AMZN was trading at around $3000/share. In order to reach $3300 (where the first long call of the broken wing butterfly is), the stock would need to
Breach the 38% fib retracement (~AMZN=3131) of the move from the 9/2 high to the 9/21 low,
Breach the 20MA and 50MA
Breach the 50% fib retracement (~AMZN=3211)
Breach the 61.8% fib retracement (~AMZN=3292)
before finally reaching the 3300 long call. All of these levels, I felt, should provide some resistance for AMZN to have to chew thru over the following week, before it even gets to the long call. And by that time, if AMZN did reach 3300, then the 3300 long call would still have a lot of extrinsic value left (somewhere around $20 on the last day), while the 3350 short calls would be very cheap (each around $5), so the entire spread could be roughly worth $10. Which would be great, because that means I’d be getting paid $.37 to make another $10. So with all of the above considered, I chose to take on that upside risk, for a chance to make potentially $50 (realistically I try to aim for just half of the max profit: $25, and start harvesting profits and peeling off the flies at around $5-$10), and that day on 9/24, entered the Oct2 3300/3350/3450 call broken wing butterfly for a $.37 credit. After entry, on Friday 9/25 and Monday 9/28, AMZN made steady progress upwards, from 3000 to 3175, breaching the 31.8% retracement and tagging the 20MA and 50MA from below. AMZN on 9/28, daily timeframe but this move wasn’t large and fast enough to expand the value of the 3350 short calls. In fact, theta did a great job draining those short calls, while the 3300 long call did a good job retaining its premium, so the butterfly had already expanded a bit in my favor, and I was sitting at about a small $1.00 profit.
However, on Tuesday and Wednesday, AMZN began to stall out. By the end of Wednesday 9/30, when it looked like AMZN was putting in a topping tail, I decided that AMZN might not be able to make it near 3300 by expiration Friday, so I wanted to take in a bit more credit while I still could, before theta drained more of that 3300 long call. At the time, the spread was trading for almost $2. That’s when I made a slight adjustment to the spread and sold the 3300/3310 call vertical. AMZN on 9/30, daily timeframe This essentially rolled the 3300 long call up to 3310, and I was able to collect a small $.44 credit for it. However, this adjustment did open me up to an additional $10 of risk to the upside, because now, the long call vertical portion of the butterfly is only $40 wide (instead of $50). Still, with only 2 days left for AMZN to go higher, I felt comfortable taking on a bit more upside risk knowing that theta is going to be working hard to drain those 3350 short calls if AMZN did decide to surge higher. And at that moment, I actually wanted AMZN to move more towards my fly. My deltas were still positive, and the risk graph showed that a move towards the short strikes of the fly would expand it by another $4-5 by Thursday. So after this adjustment, the trade stood at a $.81 credit, and the profit potential on the fly was now $40 instead of $50. Which is still pretty good.
On Thursday, AMZN showed some strength and closed above the 50% fib (3211), which meant that if on Friday, AMZN worked its way up to around 3300, the fly could potentially be worth $5-10. Things were looking good (on any continued bullishness, the next target for AMZN was the 61.8% fib retracement at ~3300). So I left the trade alone without making any more adjustments. AMZN on 10/1, daily timeframe
Unfortunately, on Thursday night, news broke out that Trump was diagnosed with Coronavirus, and the market fell lower. By the open, AMZN was already trading at around 3150, roughly 150 points below the fly. The spread had instantly lost all of its value, so I basically let it expire worthless and walked away pocketing the $.81 credit. https://preview.redd.it/mpwrkjpk6xq51.png?width=4096&format=png&auto=webp&s=8dd7f4da7b000b2266ab57a3c23c1863f9423704 While the trade did not work out as well as I had liked, the important thing to note is that I was able to get paid even when the trade didn’t go in my favor. With options, there are ways to trade an underlying to a certain target without ponying up a debit, albeit at the cost of introducing tail risk, while offering the possibility of very large upside. This may be a style of trading that one can consider employing when the outlook of the markets is uncertain, as long as the trader is willing to make the necessary adjustments to control risk. Which leads me to the following section:
What if AMZN decided to surge very early on during the trade? What if AMZN had surged to 3300 with 4-5 DTE, hence juicing up the short calls and causing the butterfly to take on large negative deltas?
Even though the position would be very theta positive, I would pony up the debit to cap off the upside risk by buying the 3400/3450 call vertical, hence turning the 3300/3350/3450 broken wing butterfly into the 3300/3350/3400 balanced butterfly. From there on out until expiration, I would look for ways to reduce the debit incurred from that adjustment.
But what if AMZN tanked afterwards? You could end up getting whipsawed.
I’d rather be safe than sorry and make the necessary adjustments to avoid getting run over, because I don’t like playing the hope card. I could always undo the adjustment and look for ways to collect back more credit (at the cost of introducing risk elsewhere), depending on my new directional bias on AMZN at the time.
Your maximum loss is so large, $5000. I’d never make that bet, I would never risk $5000 to make $5000.
This style of trading is not for everyone. There are different ways to perceive risk. I don't really think of risk as binary as “max gain vs max loss”. If the trade goes against me, I’m not going to open myself up to the possibility of eating the maximum loss. I’m going to manage that risk and make sure that I don’t lose any money at all on the trade. Basically, I’m not going to just put on the trade, walk away to the prayer room, and come back at expiration and hope that AMZN expired at 3350.
Why not just join thetagang and slap on iron condors / credit spreads in this environment? You could’ve collected more credit by selling a 50 point wide put vertical with your bounce thesis.
Different traders have different styles. I personally don’t like pure premium selling strategies. I’d rather have long options in front of the shorts to open myself up for some large upside and convexity in the P/L curve, rather than limit myself to the concavity of pure premium selling strategies. Having long options in front of the shorts also helps me sleep better at night.
It’s hard to read this. Is there a more visual explanation?
Here’s a video on it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8uq76fZ3EME TL;DR - I used weekly options to trade a potential bounce in AMZN, and got paid $.37 initially to do so, for the possibility of making $50 more. While the trade did not pan out, I walked away pocketing $.81 for being wrong.
A proposal to eliminate the spread of COVID-19 in Ireland
This is a long one. There is no TL;DR, but Google tells me it should take about 10 minutes to read. Or, you can skip to The Plan - Summary if you want the bullet points. But why should you give this any time at all? My background is in data analysis. Making sense of numbers is what I do for a living. I have been studying COVID-19 since I was locked down in March and the experience has been frustrating in equal measure. The difference between what was happening on the ground, and the story that the media told was genuinely alarming. The government / NPHET never even tried to stop the virus getting into the country, and no one held them to account for their (non)decisions. The disastrous consequences are all around us, and much of it was preventable. Six months later, and the country has barely moved on. The ‘experts’ have no goals and little control over the virus. The media frame every issue as a crass binary choice between more or less restrictions and are otherwise happy just to have people to point their fingers at. The government / NPHET has nothing to offer the people, other than admonishments to do better and repeated cycle of restrictions. Meanwhile students, artists, the over 70s, small business owners, the entire events and hospitality industries, and regular people who cannot WFH have been left swinging in the wind. Some have been evicted, others are relying on drugs to get by. This situation is not just a problem for one or two parts of our society: this is a widespread degradation of our quality of life. If I can do anything to help, I feel obliged to try. Context As I see it, we have three choices:
Give up = ‘herd immunity’ / Great Barrington Declaration
Take the path of least resistance = ‘Living With The Virus’ (living in fear of the virus)
Solve the problem = elimination / eradication
I won’t argue over technocratic definitions like ‘elimination’, ‘eradication’ or ‘suppression’. These distinctions are semantic in an environment of oppressive civic restrictions, mass unemployment, waves of business closures, and general misery. Whatever gets us to a place where we can live our lives as normal (or close enough), and the public health infrastructure can take care of the virus, that’s what I’m aiming for. This proposal cannot work without public support. No proposal can work without public support. Public adherence is the single most important variable in the equation, yet it is the one that the politicians and the media and the ‘experts’ have ignored. FG burned through a lot of goodwill in the first lockdown (and money, and resources, and lives…). Instead of vilifying people who aren’t adhering to the rules, policymakers need to recognise the sacrifices that the people made (which were subsequently squandered) and they need to earn that trust back. This proposal cannot work without support from the North. That doesn’t mean that we need to convince them to adopt our plan. It means we need to convince them that the goal is worthwhile and achievable. From there we can work together to coordinate our policies. Managing our own affairs with competence, would be a good start. Picking up the phone to talk to them, instead of trying to browbeat them through the media, would also help. Irrespective of your goals or beliefs, some facts are certain: there will be lockdowns, there will be government spending to support the economy, and the virus will demand public health resources. All of that will happen in the coming months and years, whether we have a plan or not. The question is whether those resources are used to solve the problem, or whether they are wasted on a plan that keeps us going around in circles. So yes, there will be lockdowns in this proposal, but they will not be FG lockdowns i.e. lock them down and throw away the key. Through intelligent policies and a greater mobilisation of resources, we can do so much more with our lockdowns to reduce the burden on the people and make their experience more tolerable. Indeed, that trade-off always exists in public policy: better policymaking = happier people. Which is why the politicians usually get the blame, and rightly so. We need to move to a more ‘war time’ mindset. Not because we need a shared enemy to unite us, but because we need to mobilise every possible resource at our disposal and focus it on the single most important issue affecting us all. We need more tests, we need vehicles for mobile testing units, we need facilities for quarantines. Wherever there is spare capacity, we need to find a way to put it to good use. We need to take most of the power away from the narrow-minded medics, and get the rest of our society and our civic infrastructure involved in planning e.g. community representatives, legal experts, business leaders, An Garda, the army etc. People want to invest in their communities, they want to help their friends and neighbours. There are people all over the country who would rather be volunteering as part of a national plan to get rid of COVID-19, than to be sitting at home on the PUP, going crazy listening to the ‘experts’ – who failed to prevent this – talk about more lockdowns. We need to harness that latent energy and build it into the plan. One of the most important factors that is within our control, is the degree to which policymakers communicate with the people. And I mean real communication, not press releases or attention-seeking speeches from the other side of the world. We need to talk to the people, listen to them, answer their questions, take their feedback on board. The people aren’t stupid. They know a good plan when they see it – which is why few are paying attention to the ‘Living With The Virus’ stuff – and they have valuable information that can help make that plan work. Underlying these points is a need to create intelligent rules, and to enforce them strictly. Strict does not mean harsh. Strict enforcement is not authoritarianism, and it is not an invitation to a fight; it is simply administrative competence. In the context of a contagious outbreak, administrative competence is the difference between life and death. I’ll finish this section with the caveat that all parameters are suggestions or placeholders. The exact numbers will depend on resources, on more data and further analysis, and on input from communities and other stakeholders – all of which is within our control. The Plan – Summary Like any problem in life, if you can’t solve it directly, you break it down into smaller, less complex parts. Instead of putting the whole country into lockdown and trying to eradicate the virus from the whole island at the same time – a miserable experience for all – we should go county by county until the job is done. We seal off a county, flood it with resources, clear it of COVID-19, and then let it reopen as normal. We repeat the process for neighbouring counties and then combine them when they are cleared, to create a larger ‘Cleared Zone’. The process continues and the Cleared Zone keeps growing until it covers the whole island. This approach allows us to focus our resources on one area at a time (nurses, doctors, tests, volunteers etc) instead of spreading them over the whole country. We can be more comprehensive in our testing and quarantining measures, and more confident in our plans. Short, sharp, strict lockdowns work best. By maximising the ratio of resources to population, we also lower the burden on the people. In particular, we minimise the amount of time that people spend in lockdown, and the less time they spend in lockdown, the more likely the plan is to work. This structured approach also makes it easier for us to measure our progress and make reliable forecasts. We can allocate our resources more efficiently and plan our responses more effectively. Observers can watch our progress and judge for themselves whether it is a good idea (i.e. politicians in the North and / or protestors in Dublin). Perhaps most important of all, the structure makes it easier to explain the idea to the people and get buy-in before anything happens. We can outline the plan, explain how it works, explain how it compares to the alternatives, and then give them realistic estimates of what would be required and how long it would take. Then we can hear their feedback and take the conversation and planning from there. I have heard any people talking about elimination and ZeroCovid, but do any of them have a plan for getting to zero? Or a plan to get the people on board? Step 1: More structure and responsibility from leaders Step 2: Less uncertainty, easier decisions, better outcomes, less stress for everyone Step 3: Profit. Elimination. The Plan – Implementation We isolate a county and lock it down for an initial 3 weeks. An Garda man the county borders. They are supported by the army, who provide boots on the ground so that An Garda aren’t stretched. Most routes are closed off so that all essential travel goes through a few well-manned checkpoints. If we do a good job with planning and communication, there won’t be much work to do. We test systemically high-risk households and high-risk individuals early and often i.e. large households and essential workers. With help from local volunteers, medics screen as many people as possible every day. We use multiple measures and repeated applications to improve the quality of our results. We want to identify and remove cases at the earliest possible point, both to reduce the chance of further infection, and to protect the individual’s health. Low risk confirmed cases (young / healthy) go to a safe and comfortable quarantine. Local hotels and guest houses could be used, ideally before we invest in building quarantine facilities. Local taxis, kitted out with extra protective equipment, could take them there. High risk confirmed cases (older / comorbidities) go by ambulance to local medical facilities as required. During this period, we work with local politicians, community leaders, residence associations etc to ensure that everyone is looked after (in reality, these conversations will have started weeks before). We get our neighbourhoods communicating, looking out for each other, making sure they’ve got enough food or heating or whatever else they need. Local volunteers and taxi drivers can do odd jobs like sending packages, collecting prescriptions, lifting heavy stuff, or just checking in on people. If it is feasible, we can even invite local artists to play gigs for people in their streets or apartments. Towards the end of the second week, we begin a mass testing program with the ultimate goal of testing every person in the county (scale depends on resources). Once we have completed the tests and cleared the confirmed cases into quarantine, we can begin a slow, staggered opening process. We must be especially conservative at this point to ensure no slippage. When one county is clear, we move to the next one, and repeat the process. When we have cleared two bordering counties, we can join them together in a bigger Cleared Zone and the process continues from there. Eventually the Cleared Zone covers the whole country, except Dublin (or more realistically, the Pale). What would the other counties do while they wait for their turn? I’m assuming that, they would be doing whatever the ‘Living With The Virus’ plan dictates. This proposal succeeds in line with what happens in the sealed off zones, so I am more concerned with them. However, it would speed up the process if the bordering counties could be encouraged to get a head start. If the plan is going successfully, I’m confident they would. With its population density and its complexity, Dublin / the Pale will be the last county to be cleared. However, given that every other county would be cleared by that point, and with so much effort having been put in, it might make more sense just to burn Dublin down. We could go with a concrete mausoleum as per Chernobyl, but it might be easier and quicker if we just raised the city and started from scratch. The country needs to rebalance, so it’d be two birds with one stone. Or maybe we call that plan B. Dublin’s plan A would follow the same principles as for the rest of the country. Break it into smaller parts, focus resources on one area at a time, use layers of risk measures where precision isn’t an option, and get cases as early as possible, using whatever resources available. By that stage the rest of the country would be clear and the demand for medical resources low. We would have learned a lot along the way, and we would have plenty of ammo to throw at the problem. In general, the more resources we have, the faster we can move. The county by county approach that I have outlined above is too slow. With greater resources, we can increase the number of counties that are being cleared at any one time. One option is to work by province. Another would be to define the zones with respect to observed travel routes, in order to reduce the risk of leakage and reduce the inconvenience on local communities. At the end of the day, lines have to be drawn somewhere, and some people will inevitably lose out. The better we communicate with people in advance, the lower the burden on the people and the more of these problems we can avoid. Following on from that, one of the skills we need to take from this crisis is the ability to isolate and quarantine regions. Whether it is a city, a town, a county, a specific building, or even the entire country, we need to be able to seal it off and control movement in and out. This is an essential tool for outbreak management – whatever the outbreak and whatever the disease. The same goes for individuals. We need to be able to create and operate safe, comfortable, and effective quarantines, and to do so at short notice. It should be a matter of national embarrassment that FG and NPHET couldn’t even organise a quarantine in a pandemic. The whole process might take 3 to 4 months. That means we would have cut off all non-essential air travel for that time, but it doesn’t mean the whole country is in lockdown for 3 or 4 months. The lockdown is staggered, and the individual’s experience will depend on their location and their place in the ‘queue’. The first group of counties to go into lockdown will also be the first to come out. Once they have eliminated the spread of the virus, they will return to a normal, although somewhat isolated, society. The experience steadily improves as more and more counties join them in the Cleared Zone (or steadily deteriorates, depending on your county pride). While the first group is in lockdown, the rest of the country continues as normal i.e. living with the virus. Everyone watches as the first group goes through its lockdown (just think of the #banter). Several weeks later, as the first group is opening up, the second group is preparing to go in to lockdown. As the second group comes out, the third group goes in etc etc and the staggered lockdowns roll like a wave across the country. Every county goes from Living With The Virus -> intelligent lockdown (needs a better name) -> Cleared Zone. The earlier you are in the queue, the less time you spend Living With The Virus and the more time you spend in the Cleared Zone. The individual would only be in a strict lockdown for a matter of weeks, maybe 3-6 depending on the complexity of the region and the resources available. For counties with smaller populations that have shown that they can do a good lockdown, it will be quicker. For Dublin, it will be slower. Strengths I think this proposal has a lot of strengths. It’s a plan, for a start. We haven’t had a plan since this thing began (the FG lockdown wasn’t a plan – it was the inevitable consequence of not having a plan). The leaders take more responsibility to lower the burden on the people, it mobilises idle resources, and it fosters communication and community across the country. These are three strengths that I want to emphasise. 1 It provides clarity This might be the most important point. Uncertainty is painful. Uncertainty is a cost. Even if the bad thing is unlikely to happen, just the fact that it is a risk, or that it could happen means that you live with a cloud over your head. Suffering is bad enough on its own, but suffering for an unknown length of time is torture. And if that period is determined at the whim of a politician or an ‘expert’, that is a recipe for society-wide anger and even civil disorder. With this proposal, we can forecast the length of the period of lockdown with greater accuracy. The people will be able to understand what is being asked of them. We can make plans around resources required versus those available. The economists can make forecasts. Businesses can plan their finances. The people can plan their weddings, book their holidays, get back to training, sign up for courses, and have things to look forward to. At the end of the day, any successful proposal must remove the uncertainty and provide meaningful clarity to households and businesses. 2 Never let a crisis go to waste This plan will require tools and capabilities like rapid local testing, safe quarantines, rapid isolation of towns and regions, emergency decision-making frameworks etc. If we don’t have a capability, then we need to build it. When people say ‘never let a crisis go to waste’ this is what they mean: you build the tools in the crisis that will help you protect yourself from the next one. Nature works the same way. You lift weights until the muscle fibres tear, then they grow back stronger. We build aerobic endurance by pushing ourselves to a limit, then our body naturally reacts to increase the limit. A vaccine works similarly by stimulating antibodies for the disease. Well, we need a civic emergency vaccine for Ireland. These tools are the antibodies that will protect us next time. The sooner we build them, the better. Now is the time, not later. 3 It's the only way we can protect the economy The risk to the economy isn’t the next few months of revenue. We can borrow to cover lost income in the short run. The real risk is a wave of defaults that precipitates a financial crisis. As more individuals and businesses are put under financial pressure, more borrowers will default on their debts. But one man’s debt is another man’s asset, so as the borrowers default, the lender’s financial situation also deteriorates. Defaults are contagious, and if a wave of defaults threatens a major lender, the entire financial system will be at risk. Only an elimination plan can protect the economy. Along with the virus and the uncertainty it creates, we need to eliminate the risk of financial contagion. Weaknesses Could ya be arsed The End Goal Think about what’s on the other side of this… This is a massive challenge – the kind that defines a nation. However you think of your community, this would give you something to be proud of for generations. It would be like Italia ’90, except 10 times bigger, because we would be the players, we would be the ones making it happen. We’d become the first country in Europe to eliminate the virus. And of all the countries in the world, we’d be doing it from the largest deficit too. Those Taiwanese and Kiwis made it easy for themselves with their preparation and their travel restrictions and their competent leaders. Our challenge is much greater than theirs, but they show us what is possible. Have you ever wanted to scoff at the Germans for being disorganised? Wouldn’t you love to have a reason to mock the Danes? Aren’t you sick of hearing about New Zealand? Let’s make the Kiwis sick of hearing about the Irish! If we take this challenge on, the world’s media will be on us. The FT, the Economist, the NYT, the Guardian, Monacle, Wired, the New Scientist, China Daily, RT, Good Housekeeping, Horse and Hound, PornHub… all of these international media empires would be tracking our progress, interviewing key people, reporting daily, willing us on. The world is desperate for good news, and we can be the ones to give it to them. We would become a model for other nations to follow. They would take the Irish model and adapt it to their own situation. Instead of us copying other nations, they would be copying us. Instead of a pat on the head for the diddy little Irish fellas, we would be literally LEADING THE WORLD. Back at home, we get our lives back, and society can breathe again, free of restrictions. The over 70s come out of hibernation. The students go back to university. The protests stop because people go back to work and we announce an inquiry into what exactly happened in February and March. The pubs go back to being pubs. Our hospitality industry is taken off life support. The tidal wave of bankruptcies is avoided. We can play sport and celebrate the wins. We stop talking about things we can or can't do. Just imagine that first session... And imagine how good it would feel knowing that you had worked for it, and knowing that you had set the nation on a better path for generations to come... I think it’s worth a lash! Don’t you?
The Challenges of Designing a Modern Skill, Part 3
Okay, Wendy’s or Walgreens or whoever, I don’t care who you are, you’re listening to the rest.
Introduction to Part 3
Welcome back one last time to “The Challenges of Designing a Modern Skill,” a series where we discuss all aspects of skill design and development. In Part 1, we talked about OSRS’s history with skills, and started the lengthy conversation on Skill Design Philosophy, including the concepts of Core, Expansion, and Integration. This latter topic consumed the entirety of Part 2 as well, which covered Rewards and Motivations, Progression, Buyables, as well as Unconstructive Arguments. Which brings us to today, the final part of our discussion. In this Part 3, we’ll finish up Section 3 – Skill Design Philosophy, then move on to chat about the design and blog process. One last time, this discussion was intended to be a single post, but its length outgrew the post character limit twice. Therefore, it may be important to look at the previous two parts for clarity and context with certain terms. The final product, in its purest, aesthetic, and unbroken form, can be found here.
3-C – Skill Design Philosophy, Continued
3-12 - Balancing
What follows from the discussion about XP and costs, of course, is balancing: the bane of every developer. A company like Riot knows better than anyone that having too many factors to account for makes good balance impossible. Balancing new ideas appropriately is extremely challenging and requires a great respect for current content as discussed in Section 3-5 – Integration. Thankfully, in OSRS we only have three major balancing factors: Profit, XP Rate, and Intensity, and two minor factors: Risk and Leniency. These metrics must amount to some sense of balance (besides Leniency, which as we’ll see is the definition of anti-balance) in order for a piece of content to feel like it’s not breaking the system or rendering all your previous efforts meaningless. It’s also worthy to note that there is usually a skill-specific limit to the numerical values of these metrics. For example, Runecrafting will never receive a training method that grants 200k xp/hr, while for Construction that’s easily on the lower end of the scale. A basic model works better than words to describe these factors, and therefore, being the phenomenal artist that I am, I have constructed one, which I’ve dubbed “The Guthix Scale.” But I’ll be cruel and use words anyway.
Profit: how much you gain from a task, or how much you lose. Gain or loss can include resources, cosmetics, specialized currencies, good old gold pieces, or anything on that line.
XP Rate: how fast you gain XP.
Intensity: how much effort (click intensity), attention (reaction intensity), and thought (planning intensity) you need to put into the activity to perform it well.
Risk: how likely is the loss of your revenue and/or resource investment into the activity. Note that one must be careful with risk, as players are very good at abusing systems intended to encourage higher risk levels to minimize how much they’re actually risking.
Leniency: a measure for how imbalanced a piece of content can be before the public and/or Jagex nerfs it. Leniency serves as a simple modulator to help comprehend when the model breaks or bends in unnatural ways, and is usually determined by how enjoyable and abusable an activity is, such that players don’t want to cause an outrage over it. For example, Slayer has a high level of Leniency; people don’t mind that some Slayer tasks grant amazing XP Rates, great Profits, have middling Intensity, and low Risk. On the other hand, Runecrafting has low levels of Leniency; despite low Risk, many Runecrafting activities demand high Intensity for poor XP Rates and middling Profits.
In the end, don’t worry about applying specific numbers during the conceptual phase of your skill design. However, when describing an activity to your reader, it’s always useful if you give approximations, such as “high intensity” or “low risk,” so that they get an idea of the activity’s design goals as well as to guide the actual development of that activity. Don’t comment on the activity’s Leniency though, as that would be pretty pretentious and isn’t for you to determine anyway.
3-13 - Skill Bloat
What do the arts of weaving, tanning, sowing, spinning, pottery, glassmaking, jewellery, engraving, carving, chiselling, carpentry, and even painting have in common? In real life, there’s only so much crossover between these arts, but in Runescape they’re all simply Crafting. The distinction between what deserves to be its own skill or instead tagged along to a current skill is often arbitrary; this is the great challenge of skill bloat. The fundamental question for many skill concepts is: does this skill have enough depth to stand on its own? The developers of 2006 felt that there was sufficient depth in Construction to make it something separate from Crafting, even if the latter could have covered the former. While there’s often no clean cut between these skills (why does making birdhouses use Crafting instead of Construction?), it is easy to see that Construction has found its own solid niche that would’ve been much too big to act as yet another Expansion of Crafting. On the other hand, a skill with extremely limited scope and value perhaps should be thrown under the umbrella of a larger skill. Take Firemaking: it’s often asked why it deserves to be its own skill given how limited its uses are. This is one of those ideas that probably should have just been thrown under Crafting or even Woodcutting. But again, the developers who made early Runescape did not battle with the same ideas as the modern player; they simply felt like Firemaking was a good idea for a skill. Similarly, the number of topics that the Magic skill covers is so often broken down in other games, like Morrowind’s separation between Illusion, Conjuration, Alteration, Destruction, Mysticism, Restoration, Enchant, Alchemy (closer to Herblore), and Unarmored (closer to Strength and Defense). Why does Runescape not break Magic into more skills? The answer is simple: Magic was created with a much more limited scope in Runescape, and there has not been enough content in any specific magical category to justify another skill being born. But perhaps your skill concept seeks to address this; maybe your Enchantment skill takes the enchanting aspects of Magic away, expands the idea to include current imbues and newer content, and fully fleshes the idea out such that the Magic skill alone cannot contain it. Somewhat ironically, Magic used to be separated into Good and Evil Magic skills in Runescape Classic, but that is another topic. So instead of arguments about what could be thrown under another skill’s umbrella, perhaps we should be asking: is there enough substance to this skill concept for it to stand on its own, outside of its current skill categorization? Of course, this leads to a whole other debate about how much content is enough for a skill idea to deserve individuality, but that would get too deep into specifics and is outside the scope of this discussion.
3-14 - Skill Endgame
Runescape has always been a sandbox MMO, but the original Runescape experience was built more or less with a specific endgame in mind: killing players and monsters. Take the Runescape Classic of 2001: you had all your regular combat skills, but even every other skill had an endgame whose goal was helping combat out. Fishing, Firemaking, and Cooking would provide necessary healing. Smithing and Crafting, along with their associated Gathering skill partners, served to gear you up. Combat was the simple endgame and most mechanics existed to serve that end. However, since those first days, the changing endgame goals of players have promoted a vast expansion of the endgame goals of new content. For example, hitting a 99 in any non-combat skill is an endgame goal in itself for many players, completely separate from that skill’s combat relationship (if any). These goals have increased to aspects like cosmetic collections, pets, maxed stats, all quests completed, all diaries completed, all music tracks unlocked, a wealthy bank, the collection log, boss killcounts, and more. Whereas skills used to have a distinct part of a system that ultimately served combat, we now have a vast variety of endgame goals that a skill can be directed towards. You can even see a growth in this perspective as new skills were released up to 2007: Thieving mainly nets you valuable (or once valuable) items which have extremely flexible uses, and Construction has a strong emphasis on cosmetics for your POH. So when designing your new skill, contemplate what the endgame of your skill looks like. For example, if you are proposing a Gathering skill, what is the Production skill tie-in, and what is the endgame goal of that Production skill? Maybe your new skill Spelunking has an endgame in gathering rare collectibles that can be shown off in your POH. Maybe your new skill Necromancy functions like a Support skill, giving you followers that help speed along resource gathering, and letting you move faster to the endgame goal of the respective Production skill. Whatever it is, a proper, clear, and unified view of an endgame goal helps a skill feel like it serves a distinct and valuable purpose. Note that this could mean that you require multiple skills to be released simultaneously for each to feed into each other and form an appropriate endgame. In that case, go for it – don’t make it a repeat of RS3’s Divination, a Gathering skill left hanging without the appropriate Production skill partner of Invention for over 2 years. A good example of a skill with a direct endgame is… most of them. Combat is a well-accepted endgame, and traditionally, most skills are intended to lend a hand in combat whether by supplies or gear. A skill with a poor endgame would be Hunter: Hunter is so scattered in its ultimate endgame goals, trying to touch on small aspects of everything like combat gear, weight reduction, production, niche skilling tools, and food. There’s a very poor sense of identity to Hunter’s endgame, and it doesn’t help that very few of these rewards are actually viable or interesting in the current day. Similarly, while Slayer has a strong endgame goal it is terrible in its methodology, overshadowing other Production skills in their explicit purpose. A better design for Slayer’s endgame would have been to treat it as a secondary Gathering skill, to work almost like a catalyst for other Gathering-Production skill relationships. In this mindset, Slayer is where you gather valuable monster drops, combine it with traditional Gathering resources like ores from Mining, then use a Production skill like Smithing to meld them into the powerful gear that is present today. This would have kept other Gathering and Production skills at the forefront of their specialities, in contrast to today’s situation where Slayer will give fully assembled gear that’s better than anything you could receive from the appropriate skills (barring a few items that need a Production skill to piece together).
3-15 - Alternate Goals
From a game design perspective, skills are so far reaching that it can be tempting to use them to shift major game mechanics to a more favourable position. Construction is an example of this idea in action: Construction was very intentionally designed to be a massive gold sink to help a hyperinflating economy. Everything about it takes gold out of the game, whether through using a sawmill, buying expensive supplies from stores, adding rooms, or a shameless piece of furniture costing 100m that is skinned as, well, 100m on a shameless piece of furniture. If you’re clever about it, skills are a legitimately good opportunity for such change. Sure, the gold sink is definitely a controversial feature of Construction, but for the most part it’s organic and makes sense; fancy houses and fancy cosmetics are justifiably expensive. It is notable that the controversy over Construction’s gold sink mechanism is probably levied more against the cost of training, rather than the cost of all its wonderful aesthetics. Perhaps that should have been better accounted for in its design phase, but now it is quite set in stone. To emphasize that previous point: making large scale changes to the game through a new skill can work, but it must feel organic and secondary to the skill’s main purpose. Some people really disliked Warding because they felt it tried too hard to fix real, underlying game issues with mechanics that didn’t thematically fit or were overshadowing the skill’s Core. While this may or may not be true, if your new skill can improve the game’s integrity without sacrificing its own identity, you could avoid this argument entirely. If your skill Regency has a Core of managing global politics, but also happens to serve as a resource sink to help your failing citizens, then you’ve created a strong Core design while simultaneously improving the profitability of Gathering skills.
3-16 - The Combat No-Touch Rule
So, let’s take a moment to examine the great benefits and rationale of RS2’s Evolution of Combat: This space has been reserved for unintelligible squabbling. With that over, it’s obvious that the OSRS playerbase is not a big fan of making major changes to the combat system. If there’s anything that defines the OSRS experience, it has to be the janky and abusable combat system that we love. So, in the past 7 years of OSRS, how many times have you heard someone pitch a new combat skill? Practically no one ever has; a new combat skill, no matter how miniscule, would feel obtrusive to most players, and likely would not even receive 25% of votes in a poll. This goes right back to Section 3-5 – Integration, and the importance of preserving the fundamentals of OSRS’s design. I know that my intention with this discussion was to be as definitive about skill design as possible, and in that spirit I should be delving into the design philosophy specifically behind combat skills, but I simply don’t see the benefit of me trying, and the conversation really doesn’t interest me that much. It goes without saying that as expansive as this discussion is, it does not cover every facet of skill design, which is a limitation both of my capabilities and desire to do so.
3-17 - Aesthetics
I don’t do aesthetics well. I like them, I want them, but I do not understand them; there are others much better equipped to discuss this topic than I. Nonetheless, here we go. Since the dawn of OSRS, debates over art style and aesthetics have raged across Gielinor. After all, the OSRS Team is filled with modern day artists while OSRS is an ancient game. What were they supposed to do? Keep making dated graphics? Make content with a modernized and easily digestible style? Something in-between? While many players shouted for more dated graphics, they were approached by an interesting predicament: which dated graphics did they want? We had a great selection present right from the start of OSRS: 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007. People hungry for nostalgia chose the era that they grew up in, leading to frequent requests for older models like the dragon or imp, most of which were denied by Jagex (except the old Mining rock models). But which era was OSRS supposed to follow? Jagex elected to carve their own path, but not without heavy criticism especially closer to OSRS’s conception. However, they adapted to player requests and have since gone back and fixed many of the blatant early offenders (like the Kingdom of Kourend) and adopted a more consistent flavour, one that generally respects the art style of 2007. Even though it doesn’t always hit the mark, one has to appreciate the OSRS artists for making their best attempt and listening to feedback, and here’s to hoping that their art style examination mentioned in June 2020’s Gazette bears fruit. But what exactly is the old school art style? There are simple systems by which most players judge it in OSRS, usually by asking questions like, “Would you believe if this existed in 2007?” More informed artists will start pointing out distinct features that permeated most content from back in the day, such as low quality textures, low poly models, low FPS animations, a “low fantasy” or grounded profile that appeals somewhat to realism, reducing cartoonish exaggerations, and keeping within the lore. Compiled with this, music and sound design help that art style come to life; it can be very hard on immersion when these don’t fit. An AGS would sound jarring if its special attack sounded like a weak dagger stab, and having to endure Country Jig while roaming Hosidius suddenly sweeps you off into a different universe. But coming back to skill design, the art, models, and sound design tend to be some of the last features, mostly because the design phase doesn’t demand such a complete picture of a skill. However, simple concept art and models can vastly improve how a skill concept is communicated and comfort players who are concerned about maintaining that “old school feel.” This will be touched on again later in this discussion under Section 5-2 – Presentation and Beta Testing.
3-18 - Afterword
Now we’ve set down the modern standards for a new skill, but the statements that started this section bear repeating: the formula we’ve established does not automatically make a good or interesting skill, as hard as we might have tried. Once again, harken back to the First Great Irony: that we are trying to inject the modern interpretation of what defines a skill upon a game that was not necessarily built to contain it. Therefore, one could just as easily deny each of the components described above, as popular or unpopular as the act might be, and their opinion could be equally valid and all this effort meaningless. Don’t take these guidelines with such stringency as to disregard all other views.
5-0 - The OSRS Team and the Design Process
If you’ve followed me all the way here, you’re likely A) exhausted and fed up of any conversation concerning new skills, or B) excited, because you’ve just struck an incredible skill idea (or perhaps one that’s always hung around your head) that happens to tick off all the above checkboxes. But unfortunately for you B types, it’s about to get pretty grim, because we’re going to go through every aspect of skill design that’s exterior to the game itself. We’ll be touching on larger topics like democracy, presentation, player mindsets, effort, and resource consumption. It’ll induce a fantastic bout of depression, so don’t get left behind.
5-1 - Designing a Skill
Thus far, Jagex has offered three potential skills to OSRS, each of which has been denied. This gives us the advantage of understanding how the skill design process works behind the scenes and lets us examine some of the issues Jagex has faced with presenting a skill to the players. The first problem is the “one strike and you’re out” phenomenon. Simply put, players don’t like applying much effort into reading and learning. They’ll look at a developer blog highlighting a new skill idea, and if you’re lucky they’ll even read the whole thing, but how about the second developer blog? The third? Fourth? Even I find it hard to get that far. In general, people don’t like long detail-heavy essays or blogs, which is why I can invoke the ancient proverb “Ban Emily” into this post and it’ll go (almost) completely unnoticed. No matter how many improvements you make between developer blogs, you will quickly lose players with each new iteration. Similarly, developer blogs don’t have the time to talk about skill design philosophy or meta-analyse their ideas – players would get lost far too fast. This is the Second Great Irony of skill design: the more iterations you have of a lengthy idea, the less players will keep up with you. This was particularly prominent with Warding: Battle Wards were offered in an early developer blog but were quickly cut when Jagex realized how bad the idea was. Yet people would still cite Battle Wards as the reason they voted against Warding, despite the idea having been dropped several blogs before. Similarly, people would often comment that they hated that Warding was being polled multiple times; it felt to them like Jagex was trying to brute-force it into the game. But Warding was only ever polled once, and only after the fourth developer blog - the confusion was drawn from how many times the skill was reiterated and from the length of the public design process. Sure, there are people for whom this runs the opposite way; they keep a close eye on updates and judge a piece of content on the merits of the latest iteration, but this is much less common. You could argue that one should simply disregard the ignorant people as blind comments don't contribute to the overall discussion, but you should remember that these players are also the ones voting for the respective piece of content. You could also suggest re-educating them, which is exactly what Jagex attempts with each developer blog, and still people won’t get the memo. And when it comes to the players themselves, can the playerbase really be relied on to re-educate itself? Overall, the Second Great irony really hurts the development process and is practically an unavoidable issue. What’s the alternative? To remove the developer-player interface that leads to valuable reiterations, or does you simply have to get the skill perfect in the first developer blog? It’s not an optimal idea, but it could help: have a small team of “delegates” – larger names that players can trust, or player influencers – come in to review a new, unannounced skill idea under NDA. If they like it, chances are that other players will too. If they don’t, reiterate or toss out the skill before it’s public. That way, you’ve had a board of experienced players who are willing to share their opinions to the public helping to determine the meat and potatoes of the skill before it is introduced to the casual eye. Now, a more polished and well-accepted product can be presented on the first run of selling a skill to the public, resulting in less reiterations being required, and demanding less effort from the average player to be fully informed over the skill’s final design.
5-2 - Presentation and Beta Testing
So you’ve got a great idea, but how are you going to sell it to the public? Looking at how the OSRS Team has handled it throughout the years, there’s a very obvious learning curve occurring. Artisan had almost nothing but text blogs being thrown to the players, Sailing started introducing some concept art and even a trailer with terrible audio recording, and Warding had concept art, in game models, gifs, and a much fancier trailer with in-game animations. A picture or video is worth a thousand words, and often the only words that players will take out of a developer blog. You might say that presentation is everything, and that would be more true in OSRS than most games. Most activities in OSRS are extremely basic, involve minimal thought, and are incredibly grindy. Take Fishing: you click every 20 seconds on a fishing spot that is randomly placed along a section of water, get rid of your fish, then keep clicking those fishing spots. Boiling it down further, you click several arbitrary parts of your computer screen every 20 seconds. It’s hardly considered engaging, so why do some people enjoy it? Simply put: presentation. You’re given a peaceful riverside environment to chill in, you’re collecting a bunch of pixels shaped like fish, and a number tracking your xp keeps ticking up and telling you that it matters. Now imagine coming to the players with a radical new skill idea: Mining. You describe that Mining is where you gather ores that will feed into Smithing and help create gear for players to use. The audience ponders momentarily, but they’re not quite sure it feels right and ask for a demonstration. You show them some gameplay, but your development resources were thin and instead of rocks, you put trees as placeholders. Instead of ores in your inventory, you put logs as placeholders. Instead of a pickaxe, your character is swinging a woodcutting axe as a placeholder. Sure, the mechanics might act like mining instead of woodcutting, but how well is the skill going to sell if you haven’t presented it correctly or respected it contextually? Again, presentation is everything. Players need to be able to see the task they are to perform, see the tools they’ll use, and see the expected outcomes; otherwise, whatever you’re trying to sell will feel bland and unoriginal. And this leads to the next level of skill presentation that has yet to be employed: Beta Worlds. Part of getting the feel of an activity is not just watching, it but acting it out as well - you’ll never understand the thrill of skydiving unless you’ve actually been skydiving. Beta Worlds are that chance for players to act out a concept without risking the real game’s health. A successful Beta can inspire confidence in players that the skill has a solid Core and interesting Expansions, while a failed Beta will make them glad that they got to try it and be fully informed before putting the skill to a poll (although that might be a little too optimistic for rage culture). Unfortunately, Betas are not without major disadvantages, the most prominent of which we shall investigate next.
5-3 - Development Effort
If you thought that the previous section on Skill Design Philosophy was lengthy and exhausting, imagine having to know all that information and then put it into practice.Mentally designing a skill in your head can be fun, but putting all that down on paper and making it actually work together, feel fully fleshed out, and following all the modern standards that players expect is extremely heavy work, especially when it’s not guaranteed to pay off in the polls like Quest or Slayer content. That’s not even taking into account the potentially immense cost of developing a new skill should it pass a poll. Whenever people complain that Jagex is wasting their resources trying to make that specific skill work, Jagex has been very explicit about the costs to pull together a design blog being pretty minimal. Looking at the previous blogs, Jagex is probably telling the truth. It’s all just a bunch of words, a couple art sketches, and maybe a basic in-game model or gif. Not to downplay the time it takes to write well, design good models, or generate concept art, but it’s nothing like the scale of resources that some players make it out to be. Of course, if a Beta was attempted as suggested last section, this conversation would take a completely new turn, and the level of risk to invested resources would exponentially increase. But this conversation calls to mind an important question: how much effort and resources do skills require to feel complete? Once upon a time, you could release a skill which was more or less unfinished. Take Slayer: it was released in 2005 with a pretty barebones structure. The fundamentals were all there, but the endgame was essentially a couple cool best-in-slot weapons and that was it. Since then, OSRS has updated the skill to include a huge Reward Shop system, feature 50% more monsters to slay, and to become an extremely competitive money-maker. Skills naturally undergo development over time, but it so often comes up during the designing of an OSRS skill that it "doesn't have enough to justify its existence." This was touched on deeply in Section 3-13 – Skill Bloat, but deserves reiterating here. While people recognize that skills continually evolve, the modern standard expects a new skill, upon release, to be fully preassembled before purchase. Whereas once you could get away with releasing just a skill's Core and working on Expansions down the line, that is no longer the case. But perhaps a skill might stand a better chance now than it did last year, given that the OSRS Team has doubled in number since that time. However, judging from the skill design phases that have previously been attempted (as we’ve yet to see a skill development phase), the heaviest cost has been paid in developer mentality and motivational loss. When a developer is passionate about an idea, they spend their every waking hour pouring their mind into how that idea is going to function,especially while they’re not at work. And then they’re obligated to take player feedback and adapt their ideas, sometimes starting from scratch, particularly over something as controversial as a skill. Even if they have tough enough skin to take the heavy criticism that comes with skill design, having to write and rewrite repeatedly over the same idea to make it “perfect” is mentally exhausting. Eventually, their motivation drains as their labour bears little fruit with the audience, and they simply want to push it to the poll and be done with it. Even once all their cards are down, there’s still no guarantee that their efforts will be rewarded, even less so when it comes to skills. With such a high mental cost with a low rate of success, you have to ask, “Was it worth it?” And that’s why new skill proposals are far and few between. A new skill used to be exciting for the development team in the actual days of 2007, as they had the developmental freedom to do whatever they wanted, but in the modern day that is not so much the case.
5-4 - The Problems of Democracy
Ever since the conceptualization of democracy in the real world, people have been very aware of its disadvantages. And while I don’t have the talent, knowledge, or time to discuss every one of these factors, there are a few that are very relevant when it comes to the OSRS Team and the polling process. But first we should recognize the OSRS Team’s relationship with the players. More and more, the Team acts like a government to its citizens, the players, and although this situation was intentionally instated with OSRS’s release, it’s even more prominent now. The Team decides the type of content that gets to go into a poll, and the players get their input over whether that particular piece makes it in. Similarly, players make suggestions to the Team that, in many cases, the Team hadn’t thought of themselves. This synergy is phenomenal and almost unheard of among video games, but the polling system changes the mechanics of this relationship. Polls were introduced to the burned and scarred population of players at OSRS’s release in 2013. Many of these players had just freshly come off RS2 after a series of disastrous updates or had quit long before from other controversies. The Squeal of Fortune, the Evolution of Combat, even the original Wilderness Removal had forced numerous players out and murdered their trust in Jagex. To try and get players to recommit to Runescape, Jagex offered OSRS a polling system by which the players would determine what went into the game, where the players got to hold all the cards. They also asked the players what threshold should be required for polled items to pass, and among the odd 50% or 55% being shouted out, the vast majority of players wanted 70%, 75%, 80%, or even 85%. There was a massive population in favour of a conservative game that would mostly remain untouched, and therefore kept pure from the corruption RS2 had previously endured. Right from the start, players started noticing holes in this system. After all, the OSRS Team was still the sole decider of what would actually be polled in the first place. Long-requested changes took forever to be polled (if ever polled at all) if the OSRS Team didn’t want to deal with that particular problem or didn’t like that idea. Similarly, the Team essentially had desk jobs with a noose kept around their neck – they could perform almost nothing without the players, their slave masters, seeing, criticizing, and tearing out every inch of developmental or visionary freedom they had. Ever hear about the controversy of Erin the duck? Take a look at the wiki or do a search through the subreddit history. It’s pretty fantastic, and a good window into the minds of the early OSRS playerbase. But as the years have gone on, the perspective of the players has shifted. There is now a much healthier and more trusting relationship between them and the Team, much more flexibility in what the players allow the Team to handle, and a much greater tolerance and even love of change. But the challenges of democracy haven’t just fallen away. Everyone having the right to vote is a fundamental tenet of the democratic system, but unfortunately that also means that everyone has the right to vote. For OSRS, that means that every member, whether it’s their first day in game, their ten thousandth hour played, those who have no idea about what the poll’s about, those who haven’t read a single quest (the worst group), those who RWT and bot, those who scam and lure, and every professional armchair developer like myself get to vote. In short, no one will ever be perfectly informed on every aspect of the game, or at least know when to skip when they should. Similarly, people will almost never vote in favour of making their game harder, even at the cost of game integrity, or at least not enough people would vote in such a fashion to reach a 75% majority. These issues are well recognized. The adoption of the controversial “integrity updates” was Jagex’s solution to these problems. In this way, Jagex has become even more like a government to the players. The average citizen of a democratic country cannot and will not make major decisions that favour everyone around themselves if it comes at a personal cost. Rather, that’s one of the major roles of a government: to make decisions for changes for the common good that an individual can’t or won’t make on their own. No one’s going to willingly hand over cash to help repave a road on the opposite side of the city – that’s why taxes are a necessary evil. It’s easy to see that the players don’t always know what’s best for their game and sometimes need to rely on that parent to decide for them, even if it results in some personal loss. But players still generally like the polls, and Jagex still appears to respect them for the most part. Being the government of the game, Jagex could very well choose to ignore them, but would risk the loss of their citizens to other lands. And there are some very strong reasons to keep them: the players still like having at least one hand on the wheel when it comes to new content or ideas. Also, it acts as a nice veto card should Jagex try to push RS3’s abusive tactics on OSRS and therefore prevent such potential damage. But now we come to the topic of today: the introduction of a new skill. Essentially, a new skill must pass a poll in order to enter the game. While it’s easy to say, “If a skill idea is good enough, it’ll pass the threshold,” that’s not entirely true. The only skill that could really pass the 75% mark is not necessarily a well-designed skill, but rather a crowd-pleasing skill. While the two aren’t mutually exclusive, the latter is far easier to make than the former. Take Dungeoneering: if you were to poll it today as an exact replica of RS2’s version, it would likely be the highest scoring skill yet, perhaps even passing, despite every criticism that’s been previously emphasized describing why it has no respect for the current definition of “skill.” Furthermore, a crowd-pleasing skill can easily fall prey to deindividualization of vision and result in a bland “studio skill” (in the same vein as a “studio film”), one that feels manufactured by a board of soulless machines rather than a director’s unique creation. This draws straight back to the afore-mentioned issues with democracy: that people A) don’t always understand what they’re voting for or against, and B) people will never vote for something that makes their game tougher or results in no benefit to oneself. Again, these were not issues in the old days of RS2, but are the problems we face with our modern standards and decision making systems. The reality that must be faced is that the polling system is not an engine of creation nor is it a means of constructive feedback – it’s a system of judgement, binary and oversimplified in its methodology. It’s easy to interact with and requires no more than 10 seconds of a player’s time, a mere mindless moment, to decide the fate of an idea made by an individual or team, regardless of their deep or shallow knowledge of game mechanics, strong or weak vision of design philosophy, great or terrible understanding of the game’s history, and their awareness of blindness towards the modern community. It’s a system which disproportionately boils down the quality of discussion that is necessitated by a skill, which gives it the same significance as the question “Should we allow players to recolour the Rocky pet by feeding it berries?” with the only available answers being a dualistic “This idea is perfect and should be implemented exactly as outlined” or “This idea is terrible and should never be spoken of again.” So what do you do? Let Jagex throw in whatever they want? Reduce the threshold, or reduce it just for skills? Make a poll that lists a bunch of skills and forces the players to choose one of them to enter the game? Simply poll the question, “Should we have a new skill?” then let Jagex decide what it is? Put more options on the scale of “yes” to “no” and weigh each appropriately? All these options sound distasteful because there are obvious weaknesses to each. But that is the Third Great Irony we face: an immense desire for a new skill, but no realistic means to ever get one.
6-0 - Conclusion
I can only imagine that if you’ve truly read everything up to this point, it’s taken you through quite the rollercoaster. We’ve walked through the history of OSRS skill attempts, unconstructive arguments, various aspects of modern skill design philosophy, and the OSRS Team and skill design process. When you take it all together, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the thought that needs to go into a modern skill and all the issues that might prevent its success. Complexity, naming conventions, categorizations, integration, rewards and motivations, bankstanding and buyables, the difficulties of skill bloat, balancing, and skill endgames, aesthetics, the design process, public presentation, development effort, democracy and polling - these are the challenges of designing and introducing modern skills. To have to cope with it all is draining and maybe even impossible, and therefore it begs the question: is trying to get a new skill even worth it? Maybe. Thanks for reading. Tl;dr: Designing a modern skill requires acknowledging the vast history of Runescape, understanding why players make certain criticisms and what exactly they’re saying in terms of game mechanics, before finally developing solutions. Only then can you subject your ideas to a polling system that is built to oversimplify them.
Seekers Beyond the Shroud is a Solo modern day occult RPG, written by Alex T. for Blackoath Entertainment. I first stumbled upon it on Kickstarter in October of 2019, and immediately backed it. There are few deliberately designed Solo RPG's, and its promise of solo rules, robust system, and setting was irresistible. I received my print copy this summer, but haven't had a chance until recently to play it. Now that I have, I wanted to do a quick review of the game, based on both my reading of it as well as the couple of sessions I've been able to play. While most of the review will be discussing the book itself, I'll include some notes on my play experience in spoilers. Layout and Design The book itself is solid. The cover image is cool and evocative--and the art in general is very well done. I only backed at the softcover level, but it's a solid and well designed layout. Actually, better than some of the recent games I've bought from more established companies. Setting It's modern day London. Your character has gone through some traumatic and horrifying experience that awakened them to the greater supernatural world. After much searching, you have come to the Omphalos, a secret town populated by mystics, monsters, and other...things. There, you begin your journey of both personal enlightenment and personal power. Character Creation Seekers uses the 6 classic attributes--Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, and Charisma, with Will replacing Wisdom. The scale is from 1-20, with all starting at 10. You then get an additional 20 points to further customize your character. I ended up putting my points into Dexterity, Will, Intelligence, and Charisma. I figured Will and Intelligence are key to any aspiring wizard, and--desiring to do something different than a rogue bad ass--I was hoping that Dexterity and Charisma would give me options to solve issues with something other than direct violence. This would become an issue later on. Next, you have "Secondary Attributes"--Hit Points (Con x10) or Sanity (Int x10) and the like. Then, you have Skills. They're pretty much what you would expect, a mix of combat and non-combat. You have 250 points to spend on the skills, but are limited to no more than 50 in any skill at creation. Some skills have a base value derived from your attributes (for example, One-Handed Melee starts with a value equal to your Str+Dex, while Persuade starts with a value equal to your Charisma X2), while other skills--the mystical ones--begin at 0 and can only be increased through gameplay. If you use a skill 5 times, you can make a Skill-Up roll. If you roll above the current value (i.e.: fail), you add 1 point to the skill. Given that I had a decent Dex, my combat skills were decent to begin with. I wanted to play an "ordinary joe" kind of character, so I spend my points on skills like Technology, Linguistics, and Persuade. I finally caved to my min/maxing tendencies though, and ended up boosting Parry and Sneak as high as I could, with a smattering of points in other combat skills. I had quite a few in the mid-40's, so my "mild mannered accountant" was surprisingly dangerous. Or so I thought. Backgrounds After the basics are done, you roll a d10 for your Background. Each provides and in-depth backstory for your character, and details the traumatic and often horrific moment that set you on the path of magic. Each also provides various penalties and bonuses that further modify your character. I rolled the "Near Death Experience"--my PC was a workaholic who almost dies of a heart attack. While "dead," he encounter a horrific spirit that he just barely managed to evade. Upon waking, he through aside his career and sought out some explanation for what he had seen. He has a bonus to Psychic Combat--which is used in the Astral Plane--but a penalty to his Constitution and Charisma. I had left my Con at 10, so it dropped to 9, and my Hit Points also dropped from 100 to 90. I wasn't worried though, as I had intended to be more sneaky and charming than tough. He said foreshadowingly. Combat Combat is relatively simple. As you approach a foe, you make an Initiative roll on a d20. Each foe has a static Initiative value; if you beat it, you go first and if not, then they do. If you beat them on the first turn, you have a chance to surprise or avoid them entirely. All combat rolls are done by the player. If an enemy attacks, you need to make a defensive roll (Parry, Dodge, or Find Cover) to avoid their attack, and you make your offensive roll (like One Handed Melee) to hit them. Certain foes are Veterans, and apply penalties to these rolls. Different types of weapons do different amounts of damage--like 2d10+10 for a pistol. In the intro adventure, the PC gains a "talent" that grants them a flat +25 to their damage from then on. Most foes have roughly 100-130 Hit Points, so even with the player bonus, it can take quite a few rounds to get through even minor enemies. The Mystical World The next few sections are some of the most interesting, describing the Astral World, Magic, Summoning and Binding Spirits, and the like. I haven't had a chance to really dig into this aspect of the game, however. The Omphalos and Scenarios The core of the game is the Omphalos, a hub of trade, commerce, knowledge and intrigue. Here the PC can buy and sell gear, learn new knowledge, encounter the strange denizens of this world, and get missions for various factions. There are four listed in the book, each with their own agendas and philosophy. Each has constant need for "foot soldiers" to do various unsavory tasks for them, and as you gain Favor with each, they provide various bonuses and spells and other benefits. >! So, I finished the intro scenario, had some knowledge of the greater world, and had been introduced to the Omphalos. Time for the first "real" adventure! First, I roll on the Emphalos Daily Event table and got "quiet day"--things are calm today, and prices are low. I have only a few obols (the currency of the magical realm), so any discount is nice. Then I roll for Encounters, and get "pickpocket." There's no roll to avoid this, so my PC loses 100 obols. This is more than I have, so I am no broke. Desperate for work, I see who is hiring. There are 4 factions, and each might have a represented in town that day, based on a roll of 7+ on a D10. I roll for each, and only one is present, the Causa Scientiae a particularly rational and Order focused faction. I then roll for the Scenario--I get "recover." One of their artifacts has fallen into mortal hands and is in a museum. They want me to recover it for them. Given the setup, there will only be mortal guards--which is nice--and they don't want me to kill anyone. In fact, each guard I kill will cost me the possible Favor reward with the faction. Works for me--I don't want to kill anyone either.!< I could refuse job, but risk losing Favor with them. Given that they are the only ones hiring today, I'm loathe to refuse. Plus the job seems up my alley--no magics needed (and I have none), and I should avoid all combat. Since other types of mission are "kill everything on site" or "kill everything and cast a really tough ritual" I figure I'm unlikely to get a better mission. Next I go to the scenario design. There are a number of possible locations, and each has a unique setup, Events, and Discoveries. This is probably my favorite part of the game. I roll some dice, get a list of rooms and locations, and then create a simple map for my explorations. I know given the setup that the artifact in question will be discovered in the 16th room. But, a roleplayer is gonna roleplay, so I decide my PC will make a beeline for the Archives, assuming that the object surely must be there. And, if not, it will have the necessary paperwork showing where the object is. Each room has unique odds for three different types of encounters--Enemies, Events, and Discoveries. I begin at the Entrance, and have no enemies but an Event reveals Drug Fueled Goons--apparently the guards here are all high as hell, and have a bonus of 20 to their Hit Points, but a -10 to combat. So, tougher to kill, but easier to hit and avoid. The next room I enter is the Lobby, and there's a guard present. The guard rules state that they will attack on site. I could use an alternate rule that lets you talk past human-type foes but, well, I am breaking in and they are all drugged the hell up, so I stick with the basic rules. Still, I try to avoid them but fail in my starting initiative roll. The battle begins, and the dice are on my side. It's a running gun battle, but I'm able to kill the guard. When he's wounded, he calls for backup, and the dice gods are still smiling at me, and I make it through that battle without any injuries. I'm upset at my failure to avoid combat--and losing Favor with my client--but after some nasty battles in the intro adventure, I start to think I'm getting things sorted out. I continue exploring and even manage to successfully sneak past a guard. As I'm exploring one of the administration offices, I run into another one. This time I can't avoid him, and another fight ensues. This time, the dice don't roll so well. He quickly gets the better of me, and I end up taking a lot damage. And with only 90 Hit Points, it's far more than I'm comfortable with. I decide to run. To run away, you need to roll a D20 and, like initiative, and beat their Dexterity but even still they get a free attack on you. Not that it matters, as I fail to disengage. After two rounds spent trying to run away, my PC is shot dead on some secretaries desk and my game came to a close. Concluding Thoughts Seekers Beyond the Shroud is a very interesting game. Obviously, a ton of thought, love, and work has been poured into this game. And there is a lot I love about it--the world, the discussions on magic and spirits, the mission setup system--all top notch. But, there are some things that didn't quite work for me.
Skill resolution. The binary pass/fail doesn't really interest me, particularly for a Solo game. This is purely a personal preference, however.
Skill improvement. 5 usage of skills or 5 combats (for combat skills) to have the chance to increase a skill by 1%? Character progression seems like it would be glacial. Not that I would know, since...
Combat is brutal, and tedious. Not only does even simple combat take several rounds (each requiring an Initiative Roll, a defense roll, an offense roll, and various damage rolls), but they are fairly generic without a chance to meaningfully do anything different or interesting. Also, while the game embraces an "old school" philosophy that not all fights should be fought, this runs counter to both the Scenario design (where "kill all foes" is a pretty common goal), and the System itself. Combat is assumed, after all, and avoiding it requires two separate rolls, neither of which will have a more than 50% chance, at best, of success. And failing either results in combat which requires sheer luck to disengage from.
The Scenario and the system felt...disjointed. This is another purely subjective point, I'll concede, but I didn't like how I had to "dungeon crawl" my way through the Museum. I like the idea of a museum unknowingly having a mystical artifact and my ex-accountant having to figure out how to steal it, without killing anyone. I'd love to do a solo game where I need to assemble a crew to try and help me (can I trust them?), try to locate where the artifact is, do some recon, plan the heist, try to get and get out without drawing attention. Sounds like a fun heist game that could at any moment fall apart. Walking around room by room killing guards didn't seem to do the setup justice.
Failure. Failure needs to be part of any game system, because otherwise it's not really a "game." And death is the ultimate failure, which gives combat meaning. But there has to be a middle ground between "you can't fail" and "oh, you didn't roll significantly better than average for the past 8 dice rolls, so your character is dead and the game is over." I don't know how to square this particular circle.
I'll probably give the game another shot. But, instead of playing an average guy awakening to a wider world, I'll probably go with a more "badass" character and hope he can survive the first few missions. In Seekers, knowing ancient languages is nice, but real mages know how to use a Glock. TLDR Seekers Beyond the Shroud is an interesting Solo RPG of modern occult shenanigans. it has a lot of very interesting and fun mechanics to bring the game to life, but suffers from some bad editing (make sure you play through the intro scenario or you WILL miss a key "PC Bonus") and an unforgiving system. Still, worth checking out for any Solo gamer interested in more contemporary game.
The morning alarm woke up Ghen. With an annoyed sigh, he stretched out his arm and silenced the foul-sounding chirps. Slowly sitting up in bed, he let out a deep yawn and got to his feet. Running a couple of chitinous fingers along his antennae to stimulate them to life, he made his bed and then went to his closet. Today was a work day, so he needed his suit. Once the pants were on, he stretched out his wings so that he could button up the shirt, then relaxing them once all the buttons were secured. Dressing for the day was done, now for the morning meal. Entering his kitchen, he took out the chilled leftovers of the evening meal last night and popped it into the radiator, first defrosting and then slightly cooking it. During that process, he also fished out a ceramic cup and placed it in his brewer, serving himself some synthesized caffeine. His idle thought led him to being amused that, when eaten directly off a plant, it has a concentration that could kill him three times over. But after going through some refinement and roasting, all it does is make him hyper. Once the meal was put together, his plate of heated leftovers and a cup of almost-piping-hot cup of Xia's, he took his time to enjoy it. His communicator vibrated. When he looked, he found it was from his boss. "Hello?" Ghen answered. "Ghen, the meeting's been moved up to a few minutes from now." His boss, Xkik, announced. "Apparently higher up has something important they want to say. We have a terminal ready for you, I'll message the login details." "Wha-, what's so important?" Ghen asked in bewilderment. "Did a water line rupture or something?" "No, nothing like that." Xkik replied with a slight chuckle. "It's actually about the rumors we've been hearing. That human corporation wanting to acquire us? That's what they're talking about." Ghen could feel everything inside his thorax drop to the floor. "That must mean it's true then, right? Did we get sold off by the Queen to this company then?" "Show up to the meeting and you'll get your answer." Xkik said simply. When he finished, Ghen got the notification on his communicator. There's the login details, allowing him to remotely attend the meeting. "They're about to start, hurry up." Once Xkik disconnected, Ghen worked fast to login and set up the remote viewing. Once everything was done, his screen started transmitting the meeting room. It was already packed. And off by the main board, he saw his answer. There was a human, resting against the wall on his two legs. Standing right in the center of everyone's view was the coordinator, Tizx, watching the clock periodically. As soon as the meeting's start time was reached, the coordinator began. "Alright everyone. I realize that this was rather short notice, so I want to say how appreciative I am that you made it. Now then, let's just get right to it. For some time now, many of you have been hearing rumors that a human corporation has been interested in us. Why? We never really knew. We're just an organization responsible for finding, extracting and providing water to the colony here all under the direction of the Queen herself. Well, as of now, I have the answer for you. Why don't I let Ryan say that?" Stepping back, Tizx motioned for the human, Ryan, to take over. With a nod, Ryan practically bounced over and then took the position. "Good morning to you all. I hope my Zazk is passable, heh. Anyways, the answer to those rumors, is yes. Terran Galactic Company is indeed interested in you all. Which now leads to me. I'm here to announce that, effective yesterday evening, this water company is now a subsidiary of Terran Galactic Company, under the name of Zilia Water Delivery." Many other sub-coordinators broke into hushed conversation, no doubt speaking their thoughts with each other about this move. Ghen could only wonder if this was even a good thing. What will the humans do? Will he still have his job? Will he have to learn how to deal with the ruthless humans? "Now, I am well aware this is quite the...uh, change." Ryan continued. "That's why I'm happy to inform you that, no, nothing negative or detrimental will happen to you. You just have new people to answer to. Operations will continue as normal, everybody here will still keep their jobs. The only real change any of you will personally experience is that Coordinator Tizx here will now report to someone else. On behalf of the Terran Galactic Company, we are extremely excited and are looking forward to working with you all. Thank you for your time." A week later. At least Ryan wasn't lying. After the initial shock wore off, things went back as they normally did. There were no terminations, no reductions in annual pay or anything. Nothing really changed. At least until this new meeting was called. Ghen was at the worksite this time, so he took his seat and watched as, once again, Ryan led the meeting. "Hello again, everyone!" He said cheerfully, his Zazk noticeably improved. "I hope I didn't end up looking like a liar, right? Everything's still normal, all that?" All the zazk in the room confirmed, providing comments to their pleasant surprise as well as lingering thoughts. "Awesome! Awesome." Ryan said jubilantly, his fleshy mouth revealing his bone-white teeth. "Now then, you're probably wondering why I'm here again, right? Well, I got another fantastic piece of news for you all! Two, actually. I'll start with the first: Zilia Water Delivery has just completed its IPO. The company is now publicly traded!" Ghen and the others voiced their confusion, having no idea what in the name of the Queen Ryan was talking about. What was Ryan talking about? What's an IPO? And why exactly is being publicly traded such a significant thing? "Oh, you guys don't know any of that?" Ryan asked in surprised confusion. After everybody confirmed, he let out a quick huff as he began his explanation. "Well, to begin, IPO is short for Initial Public Offering. Basically what that means is that, before today, Zilia was privately held. Only certain individuals could buy and sell shares here. But now that we're public? Literally anyone can buy and sell shares in the company, hence us being publicly traded." "Uh, what's a share?" Ghen asked, still completely lost. "Oh, boy..." Ryan muttered under his breath before returning to his peppy image. "To simply put it, a share is short for having a share of ownership in a company. When you buy a share, you're buying a piece of ownership, and when you sell, you're selling that amount." "So wait...if someone buys a share, they're a co-owner then?" One of the other team coordinators asked. "If they get enough, yeah." Ryan nodded. "You need a lot though, and that really depends on the company. If I had to give an answer though? I'd say usually you need to have a lot more shares than a lot of people combined to be officially a co-owner, but we call that being a majority shareholder." "And how do we do that?" Ghen asked, now growing curious but still not understanding why such a concept exists. "Simple. Buy shares." Ryan said simply. "And that leads into the second piece of awesome news. Zilia's corporate has a product in mind, a premium-package of water delivery. Instead of the usual water that you pump out, filter and ensure its potable before delivery, with the premium package, not only will you get that, but you'll also get all of the required nutrients and vitamins the zazk body requires! And they feel you guys have the best expertise and understanding to pull it off! So, here's what we're offering as a good-faith bonus: A 25% increase to your annual salary as well as being given stock options." Ghen wasn't sure about the second part, but the salary definitely got his attention, as well as everyone else's. Although his job was considered to have a good pay, Ghen isn't going to say no to a higher salary. In fact, he's been focusing his work on getting a promotion so he can come home with even more credits in pocket. "What do you mean by stock options?" Ghen asked after some time. Ryan let out that smile again, the one that revealed his teeth. "If you choose to transfer over to the new group, you'll be provided 50,000 shares in Zilia itself. Why's that awesome? Let me walk you through it. Right now, our last closing price per share was 3.02 credits. And if you have 50,000 shares during that time, you're sitting on 151,000 credits, if you cash it out immediately." "And why shouldn't we?" One of the coordinators demanded in an ambiguous tone. "Because the price per share changes a lot." Ryan explained promptly. "When we got done with the IPO? It closed at 2.73 a share. Right now? My money's on the closing price being 2.99 a share. However, we are extremely confident in this premium package being successful. If it does? Well, my bet is that the share price will skyrocket to 3.12 a share. If you hold those shares and the price gets to what my bet was? You'll instead get 156,000 credits. Just by holding onto them, you just made an additional 5,000 credits!" "And what if we have more shares?" Ghen questioned, now getting excited at the prospect of free money. "Even more money!" Ryan laughed a bit. "And don't forget about dividends, but that's for another time. The premium group is gearing up right now, we just need the workforce. If any of you wants in, I'll be back tomorrow with all the forms needed to make it official. Take the day and tonight to think it over, yeah?" Everything else melted into a blur. Ghen was practically on autopilot that whole day. Was this the secret to the humans' incredibly massive economy? How so many of them have amassed so much money out of nowhere? All you had to do was just buy this share out of a company and you get more money without even working? As soon as he got home, Ghen knew what he was going to do during the night. After feverishly looking through the galnet, now having the human race connected to it, he looked and gathered up as many books that were translated into zazk as he could find, all talking about the human economic system. The last time he undertook such an intensive study was during his primary education phase. And during his search, he even found forums on the galnet that were completely dedicated to the human's economy. All of them talking about strategies on what company, or stock, to pick. How to analyze a company's performance to determine if it was worth the money, or it had potential to grow over time. And that was when he discovered the humans found another method to the extremely simple buying and selling process. There were humans and some other immigrated aliens who made five times what Ghen could receive over a simple month just by watching the share prices during trading hours, and then buying and selling them at the proper times. Ghen's mind was just absolutely flabbergasted. He thought it was just some strange concept only aliens could make, but no, not with the humans. They've practically made their economy into an art or a science. No, not even their economy. Everything. If humans can see a way to make money off of it, they'll do it. And if there isn't, they'll look for a way. Healthcare was monetized. Galnet services, transportation, shopping at the store, they even made all of their utilities into profit-oriented companies. And it was there that Ghen paused, the realization slamming into him. Everything was monetized. Which means, if you don't have the money for it, you're not getting it. Right? Are the humans truly that ruthless? So obsessed with making money? To the point that they're willing to deprive their own people of the absolute necessities if it's a source of credits? Ghen let out a scoff. There's no way. Nobody is that cruel and callous. He's never been to the United Nations. He can't rely on what a bunch of random people on the galnet says. He decided that from here on out, he'll only go as far as saying that humans are a little obsessed with credits, nothing more. ... There he was. Ryan, sitting in the office provided to him. And there was a rather large line leading to him. Looks like word got around. Although, the line wasn't as large as he expected it to be. Maybe the others thought it was just a ruse? That there's no such thing as making free money by spending it on such a made-up concept? Ghen only knows that, if it is a ruse, it's an extremely elaborate one, where all of the humans are in on it. And he believes that's just extremely ridiculous. At the end, if he's unsure, he'll just take the transfer for the very real increase in his very real salary. And although he spent a very good chunk of the night reading up on how humans do things, he's still going to play it smart. He'll leave his 50,000 shares alone and see where it goes from there. "Good morning sir." Ryan greeted warmly once Ghen took his seat. "Now, name please?" "Ghen." He answered, barely keeping his nerves down. "Alright...and what's your position at this location?" Ryan questioned after scribbling on his form. "I monitor the pumping stations near the extraction sites." Ghen explained, staying on point. "To be more specific, I check to see if they're in need of maintenance, as well as reading the flow rate that's determined by the calculators installed there. If there's too little for what's needed, I pump out more. And if there's too much, I pull it back a little." "Nice...and how long have you been doing it for?" Ryan complimented with a nod. "As of tomorrow, ten years." Ghen replied, voice quickly changing to minor awe once he realized that fact. "Excellent. Do you have anyone in mind you'd like to replace you here?" Ryan questioned after another scribble. "If you don't have anyone, you're free to say so." Ghen took a moment to think it over. A bunch of names went through his mind, but one stuck with him. "Tilik. He's just been accepted here, but he's learned quickly. Very attentive and he always catches something subtle. I think he'll do really well in my position, even better actually." "Tilik, really?" Ryan questioned with a little shock, going through his completed forms. Ghen felt a short sense of panic in him. Did something happen, or was Tilik actually transferring? His answer didn't take long to reveal itself. "Right, Tilik was actually one of the first people to want to transfer here. He's actually requested to be part of the testing teams specifically. Do you have a second choice?" "Um...no, actually." Ghen replied, feeling a little ashamed. "Tilik was my only choice, to be honest." "Hey, don't worry." Ryan said assuringly with his hands raised. "Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes, there's just nobody up to snuff, right? 'Kay, so, last question. Is there anything specific you'd like to do when given the transfer?" "If you need someone monitoring new pumps, I'd be happy to do that." Ghen stated. "So basically same job but with better payoff, am I right?" Ryan grinned. "I hear you. Sometimes, we're just not paid enough for what we're doing. I know I think that sometimes. Uh, our secret, yeah?" "Yeah, our secret." Ghen nodded, thinking it'd be better to have friendly relations with the human, just in case. "Awesome. Back on topic, that's it." Ryan announced, placing the form on his pile. "We'll give you a call when you're accepted." "Oh, uh, that's it?" Ghen questioned with a shrug in shocked surprise. "What, expecting a question like, why do you want to transfer?" Ryan chuckled a bit as he leaned in his seat. "You can bullshit all you want, but we both know the answer. Sweet money and stock options. Not saying that's a bad answer of course, just that it's pretty obvious." "I suppose it is." Ghen commented, realizing the point. "Also, you mentioned this...dividend? Is that for Zilia shares?" Ryan laughed a little bit before nodding. "Yep, announced before I came here. About 0.43 per share. Want to know why that's awesome? Instead of waiting for the proper price to cash out your shares, now? The company pays you for each share you hold." "A...Are you serious?" Ghen demanded, flabbergasted. Ryan nodded with his now-trademark grin. "Dead serious. If you get the transfer, and get those 50,000 shares? A little head math...right, if you hold onto those, in addition to your salary, you'll now annually be paid 21,500 credits, if you keep it at 50,000 shares. Only you can decide to sell or buy shares." Ghen just stood there silent and motionless, no idea of whether to believe it or not, to which Ryan just laughed. Once he walked out of the room, he managed to snap back to reality. Again, just focus on the very real pay-raise. He'll deal with the other parts later. After he returned to his spot, he spotted Tizx approaching by his desk. The coordinator seems to be as casual as always. "I saw you in that line a bit ago, Ghen." He said as he leaned on the desk. "Guess you're really taking that human's word?" "I mean, I don't know about all this share business or what not." Ghen began with a shrug, his tone sounding a little defensive. "But I mean, having a bigger salary? Course I'm going for it when I can. And if all this magic credits turn out to be real? You realize we can live like the royal servants, right? Get the best cars, the nicest food and all that?" "I'd be very careful, Ghen." Tizx warned in a sudden shift in tone. "Don't trust those humans. The way they just...obsess over money? Come up with more and more insane ways of getting credits? I don't know, it just makes my wings twitch." "You think this is a bad idea?" Ghen asked with a little surprise at the change-in-demeanor. "I think you should be careful, with the humans, and with what you're saying." Tizx replied, straightening his posture. "I wouldn't put it past those Earthmen to backstab you if it gets them a few more credits. And we all know how the royal servants get if any of us lowly commoners start thinking we can break into their circle." "I hear you, I'll be on my guard, promise." Ghen stated with a nod. With a confirming nod of his own, Tizx returned back to his duty, walking past Ghen's desk. Several weeks later. Everything became so much better. Ghen got the transfer. He didn't need to relocate to a new residence either. And after he was walked through into learning how to manage his stock account, and seeing that new form of payment in his hands, he already felt as though he made the best decision. But it was only when he decided to take those shares more seriously that he became privy to what he was given. After receiving the dividend payment, and actually seeing it was real, valid credits after transferring it to his main bank account, all he could describe was the most powerful high he ever felt. While his first thoughts were to buy himself a royalty-class car, some nicer furnishings for his home, or even a better home entirely, he ended up going the smarter route. After going back to his stock account, he discovered that Zilia's shares rose to about 3.22 credits in price. Knowing that this was the easiest money he could ever make, he took all of his dividend earnings and bought more shares in Zilia, bringing him to owning 56,891. And from his new regional coordinator, a human named Dylan, tomorrow is the grand release of the premium package. For just a monthly rate of 14.99 credits, the tap water will now include a sizeable portion of all nutrients and vitamins required in the zazk physiology. Still, Ghen has to admit. He's not entirely sure why anybody would want such a thing, if they'd even go for it. But, as long as he's practically swimming in easy credits, he won't pay much attention to it. And just like when he was intensively studying the basics of how the human economy worked, he barely got any sleep. His mind was constantly thinking about the things he would buy. Or rather, what other stocks to put his credits into. Even now he can still hardly believe it. Just spend your money on some, make-believe thing and, if you wait long enough and picked the right stock, you'll get more than you spent back? His mind even wandered onto what human colonies, or even their homeworld, Earth, was like. If everybody was making so much money, what kind of things would they offer? What kind of ridiculous service or product or item can you get? He's even debating on joining some forum and just asking around. Explain how he's new to how humans do things and was wondering what he should expect if he's successful. By the time he felt like he can go to sleep, the binary-stars of the system were rising from the horizon. After getting out of his bed and changing to clean clothes, his mind returned onto what-ifs. What if he bought better clothes? He's had his eye on that human brand of luxury clothes, Tessuti di Venezia, that's been all the rage amongst the royal servants. Or maybe he can go on vacation and just check out Earth for real? It was a short ride to his workplace from his home. After getting stuff his stuff and preparing to walk through the doors, he heard the roar of a car grow louder. When he looked, he saw the sleekest and quite possibly the coolest looking car he's ever seen. Each time the engine revved it would startle him, both from how harsh it sounded as well as just how intense it sounded. And after it parked, he saw the doors pop out and then slide along the body back. And there, he saw Tilik, the seat literally turning and extending out a bit before he got off. As soon as he saw Ghen staring, he struck a rather prideful pose after putting on his lab coat and then sauntered over to Ghen. "What do you think?" Tilik said, without any doubt inviting praise or compliments. "D...Did you actually buy that?" Ghen asked, unable to tear his eyes away from the car. "You're Queens-damn right I did!" Tilik laughed happily. "Thing takes off like a starship, has temperature-controlled seating, all-in-one center console, barely any bouncing on rough roads. Hoof, best decision I've ever made!" "How much did that thing cost?" Ghen asked after letting out an incredulous laugh. "Five million credits." Tilik replied, earning an absolutely shocked stare from Ghen. "And thanks to the incredible salary I have, in addition to all these shares and dividends, I'll pay back the credits I borrowed in no time!" Ghen needed a few moments before he could speak again. "All I've been doing is buying more shares." Tilik laughed and then patted the now-envious monitor's back. "Smart man. I got a little carried away, yeah, but not anymore. Any spending credits I got, going right back to investing. That's what it's called right, investing?" "Yeah, it is." Ghen nodded, feeling a fire light up in his thorax. "And also? Today's the day that the premium water thing is being released. Here's hoping it starts out well, right?" "Oh it will, trust me." Tilik chuckled as they both began making their way inside the workplace. "Lots of research, lots of study. By the Queen, so much of it...it'll make your head spin." And after hearing that, Ghen had a moment of realization. "Hey, Tilik? How did you get such a nice position anyways? Weren't you just studying under me before the humans came along?" Tilik let out a sigh after opening the door. "I'll be honest, I never wanted your job. Not because it's boring or terrible, just...I didn't suffer so many sleepless nights in the science academy just to be a glorified button pusher. This is what I've always wanted. Doing science, solving problems rather than just applying the solution, you know?" "Wait, you got an academic certificate?" Ghen questioned, completely floored. "How did you end up beneath me then? I should've been answering to you!" "Simple." Tilik gave a heavier sigh. "A royal servant was asking for the same job I was. Take a guess at who got it." "Ouch. Good thing the humans came along when they did, yeah?" Ghen was taken aback. He never heard anything about a servant taking a job at his place. "Looks like you're proving yourself to be well suited." "By the Queen, of course I am." Tilik nodded. "Like I said, I nearly broke my wings through so many nights, got certified top of my class, all just to get pushed to the dirt because someone who was born into a particular family wanted the same thing I did? I know I'm smarter than any of those empty-skull servants back in the Center. I know that, whatever, uh...corporate? Yeah, whatever corporate wants out of science, I will xeek give it to them." "Well, let me know how things go in the lab." Ghen said, admiring his drive as they neared the main office floor. "Because this is where the button pusher needs to go." Tilik let out a laugh as he nodded. "Hey, how about we meet up at Queen's Fine Eatery tonight. I'll pay, yeah?" Ghen, at first, wanted to admonish him for choosing such an outrageously expensive place to go. But he quickly realized that, he truly is good for it, thanks to the humans. "Well, hey, if you're paying for it." ... It was a fantastic opening. After being told what news sites to keep in mind for stocks, he first heard it from Dylan, and then got more detail on Business Today. There was such a massive demand right from the start that Zilia needs to increase extraction just to meet it. But what really got his attention was the effect it had. Zilia Water Delivery's share price just blasted off. After seemingly holding steady at about 3.15, by the time he got home and logged onto his account, it already reached 7.04 a share. The calculator on his account told him that he got a value-gain of 54.26%. Never in his entire life had he felt such...joy. With all of the shares he currently has? He's sitting at 400,512.64 credits. He knows that it is woefully pathetic compared to what the royal servants have just in their pockets, but the fact that he has such money, just by owning some intangible concept? Why even work at Zilia? Why doesn't he just sit at home, figure out what companies to invest in and make his money that way? What's even the point in working a real job, getting a pathetic pay when you can just take the money you have, determine where to spend it, and get triple back? All just sitting on your wings at home, researching? He was so wrapped up in his excited high that he completely forgot he was going to meet Tilik at Queen's. After quickly and haphazardly putting on his nicer clothes, he got to the place only a few minutes late. Tilik was there by the guide, no doubt having been waiting for him. As soon as he strode up, Tilik's wings stiffned out some. No doubt he must've seen the numbers as well. "I can see your wings, Ghen." Tilik began with an excited chuckle. "Made some serious credits?" Ghen let out an incredulous scoff, struggling to find the words for a moment. "Incredible. All I'm going to say." "Likewise." Tilik chortled some before nodding to the table guide. "All here. Table please?" "Right this way, sir." The guide said politely. It was a short walk, travelling between round tables. The vast majority were populated by zazk, but Ghen was surprised at seeing a few humans here as well. No doubt corporate workers checking out the local food. He did spot them having bowls filled with some kind of mass. Some were brown, others white with what looks to be black specks on them. They arrived at their table. A rather nice one, affording a view out the windows into the busy colony streets. Once Tilik and Ghen settled in, the guide handed out the menus. "May I suggest our rather popular option for tonight?" The guide began. "Human ice-cream. Ingredients sourced from Earth itself. Very cold, but incredibly sweet, and coming in many flavors. The most popular amongst us is called vanilla-bean. The vanilla itself soaks in the cream for much of the process, and then the innards sprinkled on top of it near the end. Rumor has it that the Queen herself has demanded personal shipments of such a treat straight from the home of vanilla, an island on Earth named Madagascar." Ghen didn't even spare a single thought. "Vanilla bean ice cream then, please." "Same." Tilik seconded when the guide glanced to him. With a slight bow, the guide proceeded to ferry their orders to the kitchen. Thankfully it was just a short wait before the guide returned, carrying a large plate containing bowls of ice cream. Ghen could feel the saliva on his mandibles as the bowl was placed before them. He could just feel the cold air around that glistening mass of sugary goodness. The white snow decorated with the black dots of vanilla bean. Once the guide left them, Tilik and Ghen both dived in at the same time. As soon as the ice cream entered his mouth, touched his tongue, he exploded in incomprehensible bliss. The sweetness, the smooth and creamy mass, even the taste of vanilla he wasn't sure about was just absolutely delightful. It was so overwhelming that his entire body limped, slumping in his seat as he was forced to ride on the surging tide of joy and happiness sweeping over him. Tilik was no different. He too was taken completely by the effects of the ice cream, his wings fluttering some against the seat. Ghen could hear some noise. It was the humans they passed by. They were chuckling, grinning, and glancing over at them discreetly. Unlike the two zazk, the humans seemingly just enjoyed the ice cream as if it was just another nice dessert to them. Or perhaps they couldn't allow themselves to succumb to the high? And as soon as the wave of indescribable bliss and happiness subsided, Ghen knew. He just knew. This was the life. He wanted this. The ice cream was just the beginning. So many things denied because he didn't have the credits, or worse, not the blood. Because he was just a drone in the great Collective, even if he had the credits, he wasn't allowed because of what caste he was born in. That fire that sparked in him when he saw Tilik's new car? It exploded into a raging firestorm. And when looking into Tilik's eyes, Ghen could see the same. He was on the same page as Ghen was. Both of them were sold. They have the credits. And the humans? If you can pay for it, they'll never discriminate. All they cared about is if you have the money. And by the Queen, Ghen and Tilik will endeavor to amass as much credits as physically possible. The rest of the night faded into a blur. A blur that evokes only one thing. Bliss. It was only when he walked through the door of his pathetic hut that Ghen's mind snapped back to focus. His mandibles felt sticky. And he felt a weight in his stomach. How much ice cream did he eat? Whatever it was, he ate such volume that the lower-section of his throax extended and rounded out, visible even under his shirt. He felt something odd in his pocket. It was a receipt. 43,000 credits for ten bowls of vanilla bean ice cream. Was that ten bowls for both of them? Or individually? Ghen didn't care. He's good for it. Returning back to his calculator, he acted upon the decision that he had made at that eatery. He's acquiring as many books about investing and stock trading as he could find, frequent and study all the discussions and arguments presented by other like-minded individuals such as he, all to ensure he can live the good life. And he had a very good feeling Tilik was doing the exact same thing. Well, first, the gurgling in his stomach, as well as the feeling of something rising demanded his attention. Looks like he'll need to take the night off to let his stomach get back to normal. Three Years Later. Ghen looked out beyond the horizon, seeing the colony that he grew up in. On the far side was where his old house was. With only a simple robe on, made from the finest silk from Earth's nation-state of China, he relaxed in his seat. It was a long road. Stockpiling credits from pre-existing investments and from subsequent pays, he and Tilik made it. From having only half a million in assets and cash, now transformed to over eight-hundred million. And now, his call contracts on American Interstellar? They've just announced a breakthrough in their next generation of warp drives, reducing the speed coefficient even further, resulting in far faster travel. And with that, their stock price climbed sharply. Another hundred million credits in the bank. Soon, very soon, he and Tilik are about to become the galaxy's first zazk billionares. But that's not enough. There are many humans who are billionares. Only those he can count on one hand are considered trillionares. He's going to break into that circle. He and Tilik. Looking beyond the colony, he saw the abandoned building of the workplace he transferred to when the humans arrived. Turns out, the reason for such a high demand was that the humans also slipped in sugar to the tap water. As soon as that broke, many influential royal servants demanded investigations and outright banning of Terran Galactic Company's influence over the former government division. Zilia's stock price plummeted. But thanks to an advance tip from his human coordinator, Dylan, he and Tilik made a put contract. And that's where they struck gold, as the human saying goes. Dylan warned that if they were citizens of the United Nations, they'd be investigated and convicted for insider trading. But, since they weren't, and the Collective were only just introduced to capitalism, there's no risk at all. Now the colony is going through a withdrawal phase, Zilia has been dissolved and reformed back as a government division and are currently at work re-establishing the standard, plain water delivery. "Well, shit." Tilik muttered as he walked up to Ghen's side, taking well to human speech. "Looks like you win. American Interstellar's announcement really was a good thing. There goes a million credits. Ah well, the Royal Shipyards will make it back for me soon." "Oh? Did they just go corporate?" Ghen asked curiously, glancing to Tilik. "Hell yeah they did." Tilik chuckled, sitting down. "Queen and her retard servants fought it hard, but Royal Shipyards is now officially a human-style corporation. And, to a surprise to all the xenophobes in the galaxy, they're already being offered contracts for ship production. That'll raise the stock price pretty good." "What's that human word...?" Ghen muttered, already having a reply in mind. "Dick? Yeah, calls or suck my dick, Tilik." Tilik roared in laughter. "Already made them. Forty credits a share by this day next month." "I have half a mind to go thirty." Ghen chuckled. "Either way, until then, I heard from Dylan that he knows a guy who knows several prime human women who happen to be into zazk." "You're interested in women?" Tilik said as his wings fluttered. "With how often you tell me to suck you off, I'd have thought differently." "Oh, I always thought it was you who was into men." Ghen responded dryly. "Just wanted to be a good friend, you know? Considering how you never seem to make it past, Hey sweet thing, I'm rich you know." "Oh, go fuck yourself." Tilik countered with a little laugh. After he stopped, wings stiffened, he looked to Ghen. "So, know any royal servants we can put the squeeze on for more revenue streams?" "I got just the one." Ghen nodded, sitting up. "Fzik. He's been fighting to control the ice cream trade. Worried it's a corrupting influence. Got done talking with the human CEO of Nestle earlier. If we clear the way, he'll know how to squeeze a little more gains in stock price when he makes the announcement." Tilik's wings stiffened even more, signaling his approval. "Alright, time to throw some credits around, yeah?" AN: Sorry for the period of no updates. College is starting up, lots of stuff to clear and work out. Not sure why but I just got a bug up my butt about incorporating money and the stock market into a short. Here it is. Sorry if it seems abrupt, character limit fast approaching. Let me know how you guys think about it!
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