Nightshade for NES- A Deep Dive Into Mechanics


Nightshade for NES is, in my opinion, Beam Software’s best game. It’s basically a spoof of 1930s detective noir movies, with the sensibility of the Adam West Batman series. Beam made the…let’s say courageous decision to make a point-and-click-style game on the NES, and throw in some combat too. Suffice to say that, while the controls are frankly pretty janky a lot of the time, I love the game anyway due to the writing.

In fact, I love it enough that I dove into some of the mechanics and numbers behind it. What I found in my digging was, in my mind, pretty fascinating. Some of the systems interact in really unexpected ways, and there’s one glitch in particular that blows the whole thing wide open and leads to a speedrun that I think is pretty hilarious. More on that in a bit.


Nightshade’s popularity mechanic sets it apart from most other detective/hero games. Nightshade isn’t a superhero. He’s not even an insanely wealthy socialite a la Bruce Wayne. No, according to the manual, Nightshade is just an encyclopedia researcher (Yes, really) named Mark Gray who gets bored and decides to avenge the death of Vortex, the city’s previous costumed superhero. Because of this, Nightshade–that’s you in the game–starts off with zero popularity. You raise your popularity by fighting crime or doing other good deeds–saving people from fires, saving cats from high places, returning years-overdue library books, etc. You lose popularity by losing all your health, or doing things not befitting a crime fighter–peeking in dressing rooms, vandalizing dinosaur skeletons, yanking ladders out from underneath the painters using them, and so on.

More specifically, your popularity begins at zero, goes up to a maximum of 100, and is represented visually by a gauge near the bottom of the screen just above your health gauge. You cannot go above 100 or below 0; anything that would put you past those thresholds is simply lost. There are a bunch of things that get you popularity.

Beating Up Criminals

1 Popularity:

The Mummy in the Museum (Guarding the Star of Cairo Diamond)

4 Popularity:

Any “English Guys” (The blue guys in the bowler hats)–the fight in the Club with 2 of them gives you 8, or 4 per Englishman.

Any rats (Except King Rat)

The Ninja outside of Professor Sandleford’s house

Any spinning statues (The fights themselves give you 8, but the statues always come in pairs, meaning an individual statue is worth 4) except for ones Sutekh generates in the final battle.

5 Popularity:

The Ninja guarding the Ashes of Kitchie-Koo

8 Popularity:

The Ninja by the booths near the newspaper seller

The Ninja beating up the guy on the “Curio’s Killed the Cat” screen

The Ninja in the restaurant

16 Popularity:

The thug beating up Granny near Vortex’s Hideout

Each of the four Crime Bosses (King Rat, the Ninja Mistress, Goliath and Lord Muck), but not their re-fights if you don’t do the Dome sidequest.

Other Good Deeds

2 Popularity:

Give money to the bum to the right of the two painters (Interestingly, this does not actually decrease your money count. You can also only do it once–after that, the bum insists that you need the money for your fight against evil.)

4 Popularity:

Give money to the bum on the catnip screen (This does cost money and can be repeated as long as you have some)

5 Popularity:

Save the cat from the dog by throwing a bone at the dog outside the Bookstore

8 Popularity:

Return the Egyptian Book of the Dead to the library

16 Popularity:

Save the lady in the burning building

Coax Tibbles the cat down from the column (Specifically, you attain the popularity after you come down from the column and Granny thanks you) one screen right of the Bookstore

Reassemble the dinosaur skeleton in the museum after breaking it

As you can see, there are a lot of opportunities to gain popularity! This is good, because…

I AM NOT POPULAR. OHH DEAR. (OR: How to Lose Popularity Possibly Really Trying)

These things will lose you popularity!

-4 Popularity:

Open the left curtain in the Ninja Fashion Store (This can be done repeatedly)

Pick up the ladder from underneath the painter outside the Ninja Fashion Store

-8 Popularity:

Lose a life and get placed in a deathtrap (This only applies for the first four–the final, inescapable trap does not lose you popularity)

Wreck the dinosaur skeleton in the Museum

Popularity Gates

There are three locations you need a certain minimum popularity to get into.

  1. You need 34 Popularity to get into Vortex’s Hideout
  2. You need 41 Popularity to get into the Newspaper Archive
  3. You need 70 Popularity to get into Professor Sandleford’s house (You also must defeat the ninja outside)

Percent Complete–It’s More Complicated Than You Think

As you progress through Nightshade, the game keeps track of your progress. You can actually see this in the “System” tab in the menu. At the end of the game, win or lose, the game gives you your percent completed. Simple enough, right?

Well…no. More on that in a bit.

For now, though, here’s the complete (As far as I know) list of Things That Give You Percent in Nightshade, in ascending percentage (But not necessarily chronological within a group) order:

1 Percent:

Pick up the Urn containing the Ashes of the Ninja Mistress Kitchie-Koo (This also weakens all Ninjas, including the Ninja Mistress Crime Boss)

Pick up the Headpiece of the Staff of Ra

2 Percent:

Get the Book of Egyptology that lets you translate the hieroglyphics

Read the “Hail to Baast, Lord of the Cats” wall writing (We’ll come back to this one later on)

Try to pick up the Kitten on the column after giving it Catnip

Place a Dome on a Sacred Items (For a total of 8% for “doming” all four)

3 Percent:

Collect a Scarab (For a total of 15% for collecting all five)

4 Percent:

Pick up the real Staff of Ra in Professor Sandleford’s house

5 Percent:

Save the lady in the burning building

Save Granny from the thug near Vortex’s hideout

Save the guy from the Ninja on the “Curio’s Killed the Cat” screen

Coax Tibbles the cat down from the column (Specifically, you attain the popularity after you come down from the column and Granny thanks you) one screen right of the Bookstore (Yes, this is separate from the 2 percent you get for trying to pick Tibbles up, meaning the whole act of getting Tibbles down gets you 7%. I don’t think you can do the first and not the second, or vice versa. Nonetheless, from watching the “percent complete” RAM address and frequently checking the “System” tab, they’re definitely two separate events as far as the game is concerned).

Defeat a Crime Boss (For a total of 20% for defeating all four. This does not apply for the re-fights if you don’t do the Dome quest)

Unlock and enter Vortex’s Hideout for the first time

10 Percent:

Unlock and enter Sutekh’s Hideout for the first time

Now, you’ll notice a few things here:

  1. Everything above only adds up to 90%
  2. “Defeat Sutekh and win the game” is not anywhere above.

Stick a pin in both of those thoughts.

Six Statuses To Choose From!

Your Status at the end of the game is determined by your percentage completed.

0-10: Complete Weed Status.

11-29: Failed Hero Status.

30-49: Apprentice Hero Status.

50-79: The People’s Champion Status.

80-99: Hero of the City Status.

100: Absolute Bonifide Legend Material Status!

(The typo in “Bonafide” is the game’s, not mine)

“But Emptyeye! You just established there’s only 90% to earn in the game! How can we, in a world where 100% does not exist, earn that most coveted Absolute Bonifide Legend Material Status!?”

Well, Friends, it’s time to talk about…

The Popularity Percent Intersection

Yep. That’s right. Your popularity metric plays a role in your completion percentage. In fact, it plays a big role. How big? Well, as much as a 70% influence, from a 50% penalty all the way up to a 20% bonus. Here’s how it breaks down. The first set of numbers is the popularity range; the rightmost number is the influence it has on your percent complete.

0-10: -50%

11-20: -25%

21-50: -10%

51-70: 0% (No change)

71-95: +10%

96-100: +20%

So as you can see, to get 100% completion, you need to play at least most of the game in terms of “doing things that give you percent” and end up at least pretty popular. For reference, the Any% speedrun ends at 55% completion–15% from the Scarabs, 20% from the Crime Bosses, 10% from unlocking Sutekh’s Lair, and 10% from ending up at roughly the 80 range in popularity after beating Sutekh.

Or at least….you would have to play most of the game to get 100% Completion….

Hail to Baast, Lord of the Cats!

So, let’s come back to this particular piece of earning 2% completion. You’ll notice there are a few items in the other lists that end in “…for the first time”. You’ll also notice that that phrase is conspicuously absent from “Read the “Hail to Baast, Lord of the Cats” wall writing […]”.

Yep. You can read it repeatedly. And get the 2% completion each time you do.

And there’s more. The final screen caps the Percent Complete at 100%. In-game, however, doesn’t. So you can repeat this often enough to overcome any Popularity Percentage Penalty that may befall you! You can also do it enough times to wrap your completion percentage around to 0, but maybe don’t do that.

You can see the logical conclusion of this here.

Other Mechanics


Very briefly, Health is also represented as a 0-100 number. 100 is the maximum, and it’s represented by a bar just like popularity. Eating a unit of food restores 8 Health.

One other interesting wrinkle about your health: It’s actually a different value in battle than outside of it. More accurately, when a battle begins, your health is copied to another memory address, and the copy is used in the battle. When the battle ends, the copy is put back into the “Out of combat” memory location.


First, outside of “You have food in your inventory” or “You don’t have food in your inventory”, there’s no in-game way to track how much food you have. That said, the game is tracking it internally in a memory address.

Food can be purchased in one of three places:

  1. Al’s Grocery Store, 1 unit at a time
  2. The Nut Vendor, also 1 unit at a time
  3. The Pizza Guy in the Sewers. The pizza is good for 15 units of food.

Besides recovering your health, you can use your food to feed the two squirrels outside of the library, feed the glowing red eyes in the sewer pipes one screen south of Al’s Grocery, and feed the rat in the 4th deathtrap (And in fact you have to in order to escape it). Operating food and the first two uses above all cost one unit of food; Interestingly, feeding the rat in the deathtrap doesn’t cost any food, though you still need to use the food to escape the trap.

Money, It’s a Hit

Like food, there’s no easy way to determine how much money you have, but the game is tracking it internally. Yes, it is possible to run out of money. Yes, this means you can, in fact, softlock yourself if you aren’t careful.

You begin the game with ten “units” of money–based on what NPCs in the game say to you and how this decreases, for simplicity’s sake, we’ll call these units “dollars” going forward.

Rescuing the guy from the Ninja outside of Curio’s Killed the Cat gives you another 15 dollars.

Pay Up!

The following things cost money in the game.

1 Dollar

Buying food from Al’s Grocery

Buying food from the nut vendor (You have to do this 3 times to advance in the game, so it costs $3 total)

Buying a newspaper from the girl

Getting a gumball from the gumball machine

Giving money to the bum on the catnip screen

2 Dollars

Buying the Egyptian Book of the Dead from the bookstore

5 Dollars

Buying the fake Staff of Ra from Curio’s Killed the Cat

10 Dollars

Buying the pizza from the pizza guy in the sewers


While you need money in your inventory for the following two NPCs, the game doesn’t actually decrease your money when you give it to them:

  1. Amanda in Larry and Amanda’s Fine China Shop
  2. The bum to the right of the two painters


Reflections on the Original Legend of Zelda

1986’s The Legend of Zelda (The U.S. didn’t get it until 1987) is a landmark in gaming. It’s the first in what would become one of Nintendo’s flagship series, second only to the Super Mario Bros. series.

Thirty-five years or so after its initial release, it’s interesting to go back and look at it in context of both the rest of the series it spawned, and in gaming in general. It’s also interesting to look at just how much is hinted at or signposted in-game and what’s relegated to the manual or supplemental materials.

A note: It’s been 35 years, but if you somehow still haven’t played the original Legend of Zelda and want to go in fresh, I will warn you there will be gameplay spoilers in this article. This is your opportunity to bail out now.

First, the plot. From the game itself, only imagine this in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS because computer etiquette wasn’t a thing in 1986: “Many years ago prince Darkness “Gannon” stole one of the Triforce with Power. Princess Zelda had one of the Triforce with Wisdom. She divided it into “8” units to hide it from “Gannon” before she was captured. Go find the “8” units “Link” to save her.” Good enough to get you started, and really all you need. According to the manual, though, there’s more to it. This all takes place in the land of Hyrule, which may or may not be one region in a larger world (According to Legends of Localization, the Japanese manual implies this, while the U.S. version just kind of refers to the whole world as “Hyrule”). After Ganon (Yes, the manual spells it with one “N” in the middle, and this is his name for the rest of the series) steals the Triforce of Power, Zelda not only splits the Triforce of Wisdom into 8 pieces, but sends her nursemaid Impa to find someone with enough courage to destroy Ganon. Impa gets ambushed by Ganon’s minions, but is saved by…a boy named Link. Impa tells Link the tale of Zelda and Ganon, and Link resolves to save her.

Gameplay-wise, since this is the first game—and since video and especially console games as a medium are still rather new at this point—there isn’t a “Zelda formula” or “Zelda tradition” yet. But it’s still interesting to see the foundations of that being laid here. If I had to describe the “Zelda formula”, I’d do so as follows: You travel through an overworld to find a dungeon. In that dungeon, you find an item that either lets you through the rest of the dungeon, or allows you to find and/or access the next dungeon. That item is then frankly rarely used for the rest of the game. Repeat until you get through the game.”

While there are surprisingly few “Transport Items” in The Legend of Zelda—really, in terms of “major items”, it’s just the Raft, Ladder, Recorder to an extent, and arguably the Candles—you can see the prototype for what would become “classic Zelda” at points in this first game. If you’ve never played it, the game’s dungeons are called “Levels” in the game. And sometimes one “Level” item helps find the next level. For instance, you get the Raft in Level 3, and you use it to access Level 4. You get a Red Candle in Level 7, and can use it to burn a bush to open Level 8.

But while this sometimes holds, it doesn’t always, certainly not as often as in later games. You get a Bow in Level 1, but it isn’t all that helpful until Level 5, and not strictly necessary until Level 6. You get the Recorder (Sometimes also called the Whistle) in Level 5, but it opens Level 7, not Level 6. Several dungeons have items that, while helpful, aren’t required to beat the game.

It’s also fascinating how much the game presages an open-world paradigm before that was really a thing. From the jump, you have access to almost the entire overworld and five of the first eight Levels, though you won’t be able to complete two of them. The only guidance on whether or not you should be in a given area is the strength of the enemies you face. This is especially true of the extreme northwest of the overworld, where Lynels (Sword-shooting birds) are extremely durable and can kill you in two sword throws…which can’t be blocked with your default shield. The non-linearity carries over to some of the Levels. Keys to unlock doors can only be used once, after which the key is consumed and the door stays open. But keys carry from Level to Level, and you can simply buy more keys in some shops in the overworld. Plus, while you can follow the obvious paths and get through the Levels, especially in the early ones, use of bombs to get through walls will enable you to make off with several keys from those Levels to more easily explore later ones. The game encourages exploration and trying things in a way a lot of the later series doesn’t.

At the same time, though, you can start to see conventions take hold here. Helpful or not, each dungeon does contain at least one item, though some have two (This would not survive to future entries in the series). Every dungeon has a “boss enemy” one room before the Triforce piece in it, and beating the boss grants you a Heart Container, a maximum life increase. One of the temporary items you get is a bottle of medicine that completely refills your life, an idea which would survive in the form of refillable bottles in subsequent games.

But there are a number of things that didn’t survive past this first game in the series as well. Besides some dungeons having multiple items, the concept of the Blue and Red Candles, where the Blue Candle is only usable once per screen visit while the Red Candle gives unlimited uses, was something only seen here. The use of Rupees as arrow ammo is also something you only see here. Honestly, ditching the first one in particular is a good thing—having to continually reload screens to search for secrets by burning one tree at a time wasn’t challenging, it was tedious.

And of course, a discussion of the original Legend of Zelda wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the second quest. This is something very few games have ever done that I’m aware of. This isn’t simply a New Game + mode—dungeons are in completely different locations and have different methods of opening them, the dungeon layouts are completely altered, and some enemies have been powered up from the First Quest. And yet none of these are the cruelest aspect of the second quest. To sum it up in four words: “All bets are off”.

Level 1 starts off innocently enough, although you’ll meet one of the powered-up enemies right off the bat—Stalfos, the skeleton enemies, can now throw swords at you. But it’s Level 2 where the gloves really come off. Going through the Level, you’ll completely explore it, probably finding the Triforce piece, but not the major item in it. Your only clue to what to do is a room divided into three columns, the center column seemingly leading to a dead-end. Trying to bomb the wall does nothing. As it turns out, the layout of the room is the intended signpost—you have to push against the southern wall of the room, eventually walking through it. This is otherwise never hinted at in the game, and it’s the first time you’ll walk through a wall in this specific fashion (You can walk through a wall in the overworld in the first quest, but it’s obvious right away once you begin walking through it, unlike here.). It won’t be the last, though it is the most famous, the true “Welcome to Second Quest” moment.

Level 3 is relatively light difficulty-wise, but it does throw a few monkey wrenches at you. The first is that the “Grumble Grumble…” enemy isn’t strictly necessary to progress—it just leads to the Magical Boomerang. The second is that the boss isn’t immediate adjacent to the Triforce room. There are two more rooms you have to get through to claim your prize. This is the only time in either quest that happens. And all of this is a warmup for Level 4.

Level 4 just messes with your head. For one, the obvious item in this Level is the Magic Book, which serves as an upgrade to the Magic Wand. The Magic Wand you probably don’t have yet, because that’s tucked away in Level 8 of this quest. For another, there’s a key tucked behind a lava river. You need the Ladder to get it. Which, again, you probably won’t have on your first trip through this Level because that’s in Level 6. And neither of these is the worst part. You’ll probably finish the dungeon, confused why you’re a few rooms short of completing the map, and exit wondering why you can’t find Level 5 anywhere.

Well, you need the Raft, which is in Level 4 along with the Book. Where? You have to walk through the north wall of the Triforce room, through a couple more rooms, then push a block in a room full of them to finally claim your prize.

The puzzles peak here, though the combat gets even more difficult in the later levels, especially Level 5 and 6 of the Second Quest. And there are still plenty of one-way doors, walls to walk through, and even staircases to come in the later levels. Making your own maps in addition to the ones provided in-game (Or finding some online) is probably a sound thing to do; it’s what I did this most recent playthrough. Even with some of the pre-knowledge I had at my disposal, I’m definitely glad I did.

Oh, one last thing–at least some of the U.S. manual is actually wrong in terms of what the items do. Again from Legends of Localization, the two biggies are that the Magical Shield blocks swords in addition to rocks (The regular Shield you start with already blocks rocks), and that a supplemental description for what the Recorder does is completely wrong owing to a botched translation (It also calls the Recorder a “Whistle”).

Looking back at The Legend of Zelda, it’s fascinating and amusing to see how much they got right from the jump. It’s also amusing to look back at stuff that, were it to be in a modern Zelda or Zelda-like game, would get criticized as, if not “objective bad game design” (Some of the one-way staircases that send you back to the start of a dungeon; the walk-through-the-Triforce-room-to-the-Raft puzzle), just flat out mean in a not-fun way.

But either way, I’m glad it exists, and I’m glad I get to look back on it and think about it in this fashion.

Rest in Peace Jonas Neubauer

If you don’t know the name “Jonas Neubauer”, I’m frankly a little unsure how you found this. But a brief primer: Jonas, or “NubbinsGoody” as his Twitch stream was known, was a pillar, maybe the pillar, of the Classic Tetris community, specifically NES Tetris and its Classic Tetris World Championship.

Let’s start there. The Classic Tetris World Championship has been in existence for just over ten years, since 2010. In each of the eleven editions of the CTWC that have been held so far, here were Jonas’s results:

  • 2010: 1st
  • 2011: 1st
  • 2012: 1st
  • 2013: 1st
  • 2014: 2nd
  • 2015: 1st
  • 2016: 1st
  • 2017: 1st
  • 2018: 2nd
  • 2019: Top 32
  • 2020: Top 16

So in each of the first nine editions of the tournament, Jonas took 7 firsts and 2 seconds. Obviously, 7 titles is the record, one not likely to be broken for a long time (If ever) for reasons I’ll get into later. And even in 2018, Jonas played better than he’d ever played before, especially in the finals. It just so happened that his opponent in that final, Joseph Saelee (Who is currently second all-time in CTWC titles with….2), played even better. And Joseph got into NES Tetris because of Jonas, and learned a lot from him too. More on that later as well.

In 2020, despite only making the top 16, Jonas again probably played even better than he had prior to that. While numerous players had passed him in terms of sheer physical ability (Yes, this is absolutely a thing in NES Tetris. Oversimplifying to the point that Classic Tetris aficionados would be justified in calling me out on it, the quicker you can tap left and right, the more options you have in deciding where to place your pieces, and the longer you can afford to wait for the precious longbars you need to make Tetrises), his mental command of the game was still unmatched in my opinion–he made moves, tucks, adjustments, etc. I had never seen from anyone before or since. The thing is that the community exploded between about 2017 and 2020, in large part thanks to Jonas himself.

As for 2019, yes, that was a shocking result. But talking about it some time after the fact, Jonas noted that sooner or later, a Tetris player, even a world-class one, is going to have a bad tournament. To him, the actual shock was that he managed to hold out for almost ten years before the “bad tournament” debt finally came due for him.

Which brings me to the main reason I’ll miss Jonas: His humility.

During, especially, the later stages of his 2010-2017 reign, as streaming and the like really took off, Jonas shared his Tetris knowledge with the world in the form of various “Tetris 101” videos, and his livestreams. He wanted people to know how he played the game, and as mentioned earlier, people like Joseph used those videos to improve their own game (And elevate NES Tetris to an even higher place). On the rare occasions he lost a match, he seemed genuinely happy for his opponent to beat him.

After his elimination from the 2020 tournament, the first thing Jonas said in his interview was “Great commentary today!” The second was “[Let’s] keep this short; this is my opponent’s day today.” That, to me, speaks to who Jonas was–always humble, always full of positivity.

Allow me a digression. I promise this will relate back to Jonas and Tetris, although Tetris now seems like the least important part of his legacy.

If you ask me who I think the greatest golfer of all-time is, I’ll give you one of two answers depending on my mood that day. They’re the same two answers most would give to that question, I imagine. If I’m prioritizing sustained career excellence, I’ll answer “Jack Nicklaus”. If I’m going for sheer “This is not even fair” level of domination at the person’s peak, I’ll answer “Tiger Woods”.

Now, if you ask me who the most important golfer of all-time is, that’s a lot simpler: I answer “Arnold Palmer, and you’re stupid if you think otherwise”.

Palmer was the golfer who brought golf to the masses for the first time. Golf on television, and arguably sports on television, is a thing that happened primarily due to Arnold Palmer. There is no Nicklaus, Woods, etc. without Arnold Palmer. And his influence extended off the golf-course too–he was the highest-paid athlete in the US in terms of endorsement money for nearly 30 straight years until Michael Jordan finally overtook him in the early 1990s.

Currently, if Jonas isn’t thought of as the greatest NES Tetris player of all-time, he’s certainly in the conversation, especially if “sustained career excellence” is your metric (Again, 7 victories in 11 tournaments. No one else has more than 2; Joseph Saelee and 1-time champion Harry Hong are the only other people to even make multiple finals). As the years pass, I expect people to eventually raise the bar in NES Tetris high enough that that is no longer the case. But to me, he’ll always be the Arnold Palmer, the reason for the community’s growth. As I mentioned earlier, Joseph Saelee was inspired to play NESTris because of Jonas. And that’s true of pretty much the entire community. Much like with Arnold Palmer (Or, to move to another field, The Beatles), if a person isn’t into NES Tetris because of Jonas, they’re into it because of someone inspired by Jonas.

But again, that’s the least important part now. The world lost a great Tetris player. But more importantly, it lost a great human.

Rest in Peace, Jonas.


How I Became a Certified AWS Cloud Practitioner

Roughly ten days ago, I passed my Amazon Web Services Certified Cloud Practitioner exam. This is the story of how I managed it.

I first started “Studying” for this over a year ago, when it was made clear that my place of employment was looking to include AWS in its future plans. I took Amazon’s Cloud Practitioner Essentials curriculum during roughly the middle of last year, and augmented that with some PluralSight courses both about AWS Fundamentals and about actually taking the exam.

It wasn’t until about 2 weeks before my September 30th exam, though, that I got serious about studying for the exams. To that end, I purchased (On sale for about $12) a set of practice exams from Udemy. There were six exams included in the package, and I took the first one beginning in roughly the middle of September.

This is an accurate re-enactment of me immediately before, during, and immediately after taking that first exam.

To take a step back, Amazon’s certification exams work similarly to the SATs. The score range is 100-1000, on a scale, and you need a minimum score of 700 to pass. The scale is based on the fact that the actual exam draws from a bank of thousands of questions, and some questions are harder than others. The practice exams considered 70% to be a “passing” grade, even if a 700 doesn’t necessarily correspond to getting 70% of the questions correct, and the extract for the exams recommended trying to get 90% or better on the exams to not have any issues with the actual exam.

My score on the first practice exam: 69%.

The part of me that will eternally be in middle school thought “Nice.”

The part of me that wanted to actually pass this exam to advance my career thought “Uh oh.”

The good news about the package of exams I bought is that it was an excellent teaching aid on its own. Of course the review told you what the correct answers were. But it also went into a lot of detail about why they were correct. Even more importantly, it detailed why the incorrect answers were wrong. This helped me get a feel for the types of wording to expect on the actual exam, and how to filter out wrong answers.

I took to making flash cards with key concepts. Rather than just the answers to the questions, I would make a card with, say “What is Service A?” or “Contrast Service B with Service C”, with a sentence or two about each–just enough to cover key concepts I might be asked about. The good news about the Cloud Practitioner exam is it emphasizes breadth over depth. There are a lot of services to know about, but as long as you know a brief summary of each (What it is, what it does, a potential use case or two–IE “Amazon Simple Storage Service, or S3, is a method of storing files on EC2 instances. It’s best used for static files, or static assets of a dynamic website like pictures. It can also be used to hold backups of databases, but isn’t good for storing live databases themselves”), I found that that’s enough to get you through the exam.

Still, there are a lot of services, so even working up enough knowledge to get that far took a while from where I started. After the embarassment of “failing” the first practice exam, I resolved to work on the other five, one per day, studying what I got wrong so I could hopefuly fix it.

Practice exam #2 yielded a score of 70%. Well, at least I “passed”. I guess you could say I improved as well, technically.

Exam #3 was a hard one. I failed that one too, with a 67%. This was where I started panicking a little bit, as it felt like I wasn’t remembering or recalling what I needed to.

For Exams 4 and 5, I felt that begin to change, as I scored a 78% on both. Still not great, but I was at least trending upward.

Exam #6 was just hard, and I barely “passed” it with another 70%.

Still, the exam was in about a week now, so I re-took between 1 and 2 of the practice exams per day. One thing about the course I picked is that it re-shuffles the order of the questions in each test, lessening the chance of being able to pass the practice exams by just memorizing or writing down the answers.

Nonetheless, my second attempts at the tests went a lot better–I improved anywhere from 15 (a 78 to a 93 on test #5) to 23 percent (A 69 to a 92 on test #1) on a given test. Test #4 remained the easiest–I only missed some question on it, giving me a 98, while Tests 3 (67 to 86) and 6 (70 to 87) remained the hardest. Because of my method of study, I was fairly sure I was retaining the concepts, but my scores, while well above 70%, were below the 90% recommended to “pass with confidence” about half the time. Plus, I still had the worry in the back of my mind that I was just memorizing question answers, which I was definitely guilty of on a couple questions.

Taking the Exam

I opted to take the exam via online proctoring through Pearson VUE. Online proctoring for the exams is pretty strict–you’re required to take pictures of your test space, you can’t have notes or anything else up, and you’re not even allowed to use multiple monitors. For these reasons and more, I opted to take the test from my bedroom. Even then, I had to cover a mirror in the room.

The other thing is that once the test starts, you’re not allowed to leave the field of vision of your webcam until you’ve finished the test and shut down the testing software.

The good news is that you know basically right away if you pass the test or not. I finished the 65 questions in roughly 35 minutes…

And obviously, I passed! I later found out that my score was 893, which sounds about in line with “Yes, I actually remembered the concepts and not just the answers to specific questions”.

So I’m happy. The next step is Amazon Cloud Architect Associate certification, which I’ve already started working toward and would like to get in the next six months or so. We’ll see how that goes…


Game Review- Infested

Icom’s “MacVenture” series is a classic set of four point-and-click adventures that, in a lot of ways, predicted and influenced where the genre would go. Among other innovations, they were the first games to represent your inventory in pictures, and gave you a specific set of commands to use (“Look”, “Use”, “Open”, etc.). This was a welcome respite from the previous norm, where you would have to play “Guess the exact syntax the game wants you to use to advance” (Which Homestar Runner and later TV Tropes would call “You Can’t Get Ye Flask“).

Three of the four games in the MacVenture series, Shadowgate, Deja Vu, and Uninvited, would later see NES ports (The fourth, Deja Vu II, would be released on the Game Boy Color as part of a Deja Vu I & II collection about a decade later). These changed the UI somewhat, replacing the pictorial inventory with a text list, but would become iconic in their own right–they were later re-ported to PCs as a collection called 8-Bit Anthology Volume 1, complete with their infamous Nintendo of America censorship.

It’s these NES ports that inspired GrahfMetal’s Infested, a point-and-click adventure with an interface very similar to the NES ports, but just different enough to be legally distinct. The UI has a futuristic shine to it, which is fitting for the setting of the game.

You play as a resident of a space ship. You wake up out of stasis thanks to screams coming from elsewhere on your ship, followed by an eerie silence, all of which may or may not have been a dream. Fortunately, you know who you are, which puts you ahead of 90% of video game protagonists who wake up at the start of their adventures. Unfortunately you quickly realize that the screams and subsequent silence were real. It’s up to you to figure out what happened and stay alive.

Infested sneaks in a number of references to those old MacVentures, especially Shadowgate. If you’ve never played one, though, don’t worry–they’re just easter eggs, and you don’t need to pick up on them in order to complete the game. As one example, your mission briefing, where you learn about “Commander Lakmir”, is an homage to Shadowgate, which had a similar intro with a wizard named Lakmir.

Point-and-click adventures, especially old-school ones in the style of early Sierra Online games (Even Sierra toned down the sadism in their later adventure games), get their difficulty from two main factors. The first is “Ways to die”. Infested is packed pretty tightly with these. Death looms on almost every screen, especially early on. I wrote a Twitter thread not long after I first played it; within that thread, I highlight four of those ways to die. And the first time death catches you, you’ll wish it hadn’t–the image is comparable to the corresponding image in Shadowgate or Uninvited.

Fortunately, the game mitigates the frequency of your demise in a couple different ways. The first is allowing you to save wherever you want. The second is the penalty for a death. Said penalty is essentially non-existent; dying kicks you back into the room before the one where you met your end. You even get to keep the item you used to kill yourself, if doing so is what caused you to die!

The second main factor in a point-and-click adventure’s difficulty is whether or not the puzzles are logical, and whether it’s easy to find the items needed to solve said puzzles. Infested is pretty forgiving here, to the point you can intuit what you need to do in a few puzzles without ever finding the in-game hint for them. This was actually my main irritant with the game–in the puzzle I missed the hint on, examining the elements of the puzzle will cause the game to imply you’re closer to the solution than you actually are, confusing you when you try to do what the game says to do next and nothing happens. Regarding the “moon-logic” nature of adventure-game puzzles, Infested is pretty fair. I’m not a point-and-click afficionado, and except for one puzzle in particular where the intended solution was probably not what I would have done with the combination of items in question, everything either made enough logical sense that I didn’t question it, or the game gave more obvious hints toward the solution.

You may hear Infested described as “A ‘short’ tribute to MacVentures”. Honestly, its length is roughly in line with the games it pays tribute to, especially once you know how to get through them. The game contains, by my count, 31 rooms to explore. That’s slightly smaller than Shadowgate (Which had roughly 40 rooms from a quick search), though not by enough to be called “short” by comparison. The sequence to complete the game requires you to go back and forth between rooms, but you can use knowledge from previous playthroughs to get through subsequent ones faster if you’re the speedrunning type.

In all, the 3-person team behind Infested did an excellent job creating a game in the spirit of the MacVentures. The music definitely helps in bringing that “ICom feel” back, particularly the harsh theme that plays when you die. And since I was extremely young when those games were first released, this was really my first game I played through in this style totally “on my own”, and it didn’t frustrate me enough to want to throw my laptop through a window (This is a good thing).


Reflections on Doki Doki Literature Club!

I seem to be slowly turning into That Visual Novel Guy.

Anyway. Most of this will go behind a cut, mainly due to massive Doki Doki Literature Club! spoilers. I mean, more than the Steam/Twitch tags and content warning already spoil it.

Continue reading

Episode 6: Van Halen’s 5150

In 1984, Van Halen were one of the biggest bands on Earth. By 1985, they were on the verge of breaking up, as vocalist David Lee Roth left to pursue a solo career and try his luck in Hollywood. After a couple asks that went nowhere, they settled on former Montrose vocalist Sammy Hagar as Roth’s replacement. Replacing a vocalist, especially one with the stature of Roth, is always a dicey proposition, but did Van Halen make it work? Come explore their 1986 album 5150!

It’s time for the SHOW NOTES!
0:00: Intro and Theme Song
0:22: About me and the podcast.
0:41: Introducing our band: Van Halen!
0:55: The mythology of Van Halen’s INSTANT MASSIVE SUCCESS!!
1:16: The reality is it wasn’t quite that simple.
1:57: But when they did break, they broke big.
2:11: Why? Their singer. Also their guitar player.
2:23: The origins of Eddie Van Halen’s two-hand tapping guitar technique.
2:44: Van Halen sustain their success until 1984…
2:59: A digression into the inspiration for this episode’s intro.
3:43: HEY BROSSENTIA! Van Halen are about to run into trouble!
4:13: Specifically, now they don’t have a singer!
4:19: Ah, the first-album-with-a-new-singer. The classic Divisive Album!
4:52: Who could replace David Lee Roth? Patty Smyth?
5:14: Or how about DARYL HALL?
5:46: No, they went with Sammy Hagar instead!
6:06: Which didn’t exactly surprise Hagar. Hagar was a confident man.
6:16: There were positive signs when they demoed some new material…
6:27: Introducing this episode’s album: 1986’s 5150!
7:03: The opening of “Good Enough”, the album’s opener.
7:15: The chorus of “Good Enough”, and some discussion of the song.
7:51: A third excerpt from “Good Enough”, and discussion of this spoken-word section.
8:17: This monologue is more light-hearted than Roth’s tended to be.
8:28: Introducing the album’s first single: “Why Can’t This Be Love”
8:40: The start of “Why Can’t This Be Love”.
9:05: Discussion of the 80s keyboard-oriented smoothness of this song.
9:31: Maybe the worst lyric we’ve ever heard on this podcast, and discussion thereof.
10:03: Let’s hear it again, but this time listen to the drums!
10:16: Those electronic toms sound…a little out of place with everything else.
11:09: Of course, 1986’s popular consensus disagreed with my nitpicking.
11:20: An excerpt from and discussion of “Get Up”, song number 3 on 5150.
12:13: Introducing the second single from the album, and playing an excerpt from it.
12:47: Another excerpt from the song….
13:08: Which is obviously called….”Dreams”.
13:29: An excerpt from near the end of “Dreams”.
14:04: Discussion of the last segment of the song.
14:50: “Dreams” was a hit too, but it had a B-side….
15:01: …which was “Inside”, the album’s closer.
15:07: An excerpt from “Inside”.
15:34: What I’d actually make The Divisive Albums Podcast given a do-over.
16:19: Discussing what the band were going for with “Inside”, which was….
17:09: Did you guess “Making fun of their previous singer”? You’re right!
17:16: Turns out Roth and Van Halen were not BFFs after Roth’s departure.
17:34: Another excerpt from “Inside”
18:06: Introducing the third single from the album, “Love Walks In”
18:40: Discussing “Love Walks In”‘s chart performance, and what it portended for the band.
19:03: How’d 5150 do? It did well!
19:30: Like “Van Halen’s first #1 album” well!
19:47: Like “Crushing David Lee Roth’s competing solo album” well!
20:03: What happened after that, and Where Are They Now?
20:55: Final Thoughts
21:20: Outro and Social Media. Twitter, Website, Discord, Patreon, The Music For Two Podcast, E-Mail

Also, thanks to MercuryZelda for becoming a Patron!

Other Links:
The Classic Rock interview/retrospective I mentioned
A Rolling Stone interview where Sammy Hagar looks back on 5150.
Sammy Hagar’s Live from Daryl’s House appearance. The discussion about Daryl potentially joining Van Halen and the “Eddie’s funky” line come about 33 minutes in.

The American Dream–The Idea and the Reality

Earlier today, I started reading The Tao of Writing by Ralph L Wahlstrom. I’m about a third of the way through it right now. Thus far, and I don’t expect this to change very much, the book is half philosophy, half how-to-write book. It argues that the way writing is traditionally taught in schools (Strict grammatical rules, having to outline, five paragraph essays, writing in a strict beginning-to-end style–essentially, focusing on the form and structure instead of the expression of ideas) sets people up for failure, and that just brainstorming and letting ideas flow will yield, if not a masterpiece of writing, at least a start from which a good idea can probably be pulled and expanded on.

But the writing technique part isn’t the most interesting part of what I’ve read thus far. No, that’s this passage about 10% of the way through the book on the Kindle Edition:

“[The Brazilian literary activist] Paulo Friere saw that illiteracy prevented the Brazilian peasants from being heard, from having a voice in the politics, economy, and culture of their country. When he began his literacy circles in which indigenous peasants learned to read and write through pictures and music, through their own culture, his success so frightened the Brazilian oligarchy that he was exiled. Freire discovered that literacy and culture, when taken together, are a power, liberating force. They can free a people politically, and they can free each of us from the bonds that hold us so rigidly in place.”

This got me thinking about the US and its treatment of the poor (And the young, for that matter. I like to imagine that today’s “Oh shut up you complain about money yet have NO problem buying that IPHONE!” had a rough equivalent ~70 years ago of “Oh stop complaining you had NO problem saving up and buying that fancy REFRIGERATOR of yours!”, such is the necesity of some kind of connected device nowadays). For as much as people like to peddle “The American Dream” and “You can be anything you want as long as you work hard for it” and so on, the fact is that you can do everything right and still have nothing to show for it at the end of the day. It’s also a fact that resources are easier for some to come by than for others. For me, “self-enrichment resources” like books (Such as The Tao of Writing!) are pretty easy to come by. Heck, a branch of my workplace has a local Toastmasters group if I ever feel like working on my public speaking/leadership skills! But for others, especially people living in poor areas that may not have easy access to, EG, a library, it’s a lot harder. And it’s not just a matter of lack of motivation. It’s a matter of, if you will, “The American oligarchy” making it as hard as possible for poor people to rise above what others see as “their station” in life.

Part of it is we have this tendency to romanticize suffering and toil as a part of said American Dream, and think everyone should suffer as we suffered. “*I” worked two jobs all my life, I don’t see why *those people* can’t *also* work two jobs, they must just not WANT IT enough!” for instance. Ignoring the fact that even finding two jobs that can work around one another’s schedule isn’t easy even for someone like myself, why should anyone *have* to work two jobs just to survive? Just because I did?

We claim that we want people to help themselves, then try to make it impossible for them to actually do so, by doing things like cutting education funding, funding to public libraries, and so on. And it sucks.

Book Review: Write. by Karen E. Peterson

Write. by Karen Peterson is a book that, unlike the last book I read, focuses almost exclusively on the actual writing process. More precisely, it’s a book about overcoming writer’s block. To the extent it covers aspects like finding an agent and publishing, it does so only in the context of writer’s block, IE “Are you not writing because you really don’t have any ideas, or because you’re afraid of later steps in the process…or could you even be afraid of potential success?”

The book’s approach to writer’s block is a bit of an unusual one. The book, which has a copyright of 2006 in the Kindle edition I read, approaches writer’s block as a function of the left brain versus the right brain, and goes off of the now discredited theory that hand dominance is related to brain dominance, IE that left-handed people are right-brain dominant, and vice-versa. It does turn out that brain activity is asymmetrical–generally speaking, the right brain is the emotional center of the brain, and the left brain is more dedicated to languages, both spoken and visual (Such as sign language). The book’s science is rather suspect in that regard, asking you to perform a bunch of exercises with each hand, one right after the other, and see how the answers differ as a result. Peterson shares the results of her exercises, which do differ between hands, and the appendix of the book includes extra copies of the exercises if you want to repeat them.

Though the underlying science is less-than-rock-solid, which calls the starting thesis into question as well, the interesting bit is that the conclusion and Peterson’s suggestions for overcoming writer’s block are rather sound. The book argues that the right side of the brain, besides being the emotional center of the brain, is like a toddler–it wants what it wants, it wants it now, and it will throw tantrums if it doesn’t get what it wants. In terms of writing, Peterson argues that the right brain wants to write the Great American Novel, all at once, in one big chunk of time–and since big chunks of time are difficult-to-impossible to come by, the right brain decides it’s better to just not write at all. The solution, then, is to take whatever time you can steal away to write, even if it’s an hour a week–waking up ten minutes early here, writing during your lunch break there, and so on–and, in doing so, to undergo the process of writing. And the process of writing can be just about anything–writing your book, yes, but also writing supporting documentation (Character bios, outlines, etc.) for the book, or as a last resort, revising parts of the book you’ve already written.

It’s a fascinating book. I’ve discovered two things as I’ve branched out and begun reading books that would broadly be described as “self-help”. The first is that there’s nothing new under the sun, so to speak. I’ve picked up on common themes and concepts in several of these books, even though the books are by different authors. The fact that these, for lack of a better word, motivators tend to mentor one another and, thus, pass their philosophies down through the generations no doubt helps this. But the second thing is that several of the more recent books I’ve read have gone to unexpected places only tangentially related to their core theses. Sonya Renee Taylor’s The Body Is Not An Apology discusses how racism persists in different ways in modern society, and how it’s regarded as acceptable to do so, for instance (And no, it’s probably not what you think). In Write, it’s the right-brain/left-brain theory in general, and how most people aren’t brought up with what she regards as the proper balance of each, in part because parents aren’t perfect.

And despite the shaky starting ground, I do like Peterson’s conclusion and some of her suggestions for getting yourself to write, such as giving yourself 20 minutes of reward time for every 20 (Or 10, or 30, or whatever number you pick) minutes of productive writing time. She also suggests some smaller, healthier habits that can help you get through writer’s block, and put you in a better mood besides. These are things like drinking green tea instead of caffeinated sodas, or going for a brisk 5 minute walk now and again. And I appreciate the “be productive in whatever blocks of time and discipline you can muster” encouragement–I’m writing this review in small bursts between browsing the internet, my old nemesis, for instance.

While I don’t think I’d recommend this book on its own, I’m not sorry I read it as one book in a Humble Bundle that contained about 25 books in it. To be fair, not all of those books will directly relate to me, but nonetheless, I find the exhortation to write to be one I need to hear on occasion.


Book Review: Write That Book Already! by Sam Barry and Kathi Kamen Goldmark

I recently purchased the Humble Write Like a Writer Book Bundle (Still on-sale for a couple more days as I write this). Since one of the things I’m trying to do is spend less idle time on the Internet (See this for a brief explanation), I figure writing up reviews of some of these books while I’m on the computer is as good a use of my time as any. I may go back and review some of the other self-improvement books I’ve read lately.

In any event, the first book I read in this bundle was Write That Book Already!: The Tough Love You Need To Get Published Now by Sam Barry and Kathi Kamen Goldmark, who are BookPage’s Author Enablers. The e-book edition of the book, which I read, was published in September of 2012, and the original book is copyright 2010 (Note the foreword from Maya Angelou, who passed away in 2014).

Write That Book Already! is an accurate title, but it doesn’t fully do the book justice. Yes, the book does tell you to, well, write that book already, and it makes the point that the only way to do that is to sit down and write the book (Or short story, or whatever). But it also takes you through the full publishing process–it distinguishes fiction from non-fiction in terms of how you pitch your book (Short version: Non-fiction tends to be more relaxed in terms of submitting concepts for books you haven’t actually written yet). It also discusses how to find an agent, how to find a publisher, and what the publishing process actually is. Throughout the book, the authors provide humorous examples, some fictitious just to show the process and what to do or not to do, some real. one example is handling a call from an agent who wants to represent your book. There are also peeks into the lives and jobs of some of those agents, publishers, etc. involved in the process of making the book. It even goes into how to help your publisher promote your book (Though while the authors acknowledge the rapidly changing internet landscape, there is nonetheless, an of-its-time reference or two–at least one reference to Myspace, for instance).

Of course, not everyone goes the “Get a publisher” route anymore, and the book details self-publishing as well, how to go about it, and the difference between self-publishing (Technically, setting up your own publishing company) and vanity publishing. It also notes when each may be appropriate (There’s nothing wrong with using a vanity press to print up a book about your family history and give it to family members, for instance).

The book’s first appendix is a useful source of further reading both in terms of books about writing, and of books to draw more general inspiration from. Authors like Stephen King, Amy Tan, and Dave Barry, among others, give some picks in each of these categories, including some I’ll likely check out once I run out of Humble Bundle books to read.

The advice is focused around writing a longer-form book, as opposed to a novella or short story, although there is one example of an author who had more success pitching their short story collection once they turned it into an actual *collection* with a common theme, as opposed to just “Whatever short stories they had laying around”.

That said, the advice of “Just freaking write already; nothing else happens until you do that!” is universal to all authors, or really any creative types like artists, musicians, game developers, etc. Ideas are great, but they’re also useless if you don’t get them onto paper/canvas/code/whatever. In short, I recommend this book. It’s a pretty quick read, around 200 pages plus appendices, and it sprinkles enough humor in throughout to be engaging.