## Monday, 6 December 2021

### D07完食感想

D系列終於完結了。

(另一個不得不提的本土系列小說是同樣用英文字開頭－－Q－－的特工系列，不過人家也有自己的苦衷，我們苦苦強求結局也沒用。不知道如果當年乾脆利落地收尾的話大家的評價又會變成怎樣呢？)

D01<<愛因斯坦被摑了一巴>>有著無數會被我銘記的元素。

D01的世界觀是一個很貼地的香港：舊式屋村、超任紅白機、在巴士上談情說愛(我好像在網誌裡寫過？快忘記了)、還有那個紙醉金迷的八九十年代香港。這些都比我所長大的年代要舊一些，但不妨礙我很早就對那個時代的香港有所向往，所以對這些文中這些描述並不陌生，甚至有點親切感。

D02緊接著第一集在翌年出版，在同學間依然掀起熱潮。無奈後天航瘋狂拖稿(這是事實)，一直還在等的就剩下幾位書蟲。再到後來離開了校園，手上讀本的讀者就只剩我一個。但有些東西比如支持足球隊，當你開了個好頭它總是會吸引你支持下去，D系列就是其中之一。

D系列從一開始就是神祕學大雜燴，卻又能揉合現代科學的觀點加以詮釋(當然經不起嚴謹科學的推敲但這不重要－－發射劍氣又可能跟弱核力扯上關係呢？)這種有趣而不覺尷尬的筆觸一直都是這系列的亮點。正如倪匡先生所言，這是難得雜燴起來還好吃的作品，即使拿掉神怪還是好看(具體字眼忘了)。明明不是推理小說，文中卻是伏筆處處，在決戰前夕一次過unwind給你看的爽度甚至不比決戰本身差。你以為「只要我不尷尬，那尷尬的就會是你們」是最高境界嗎？不，最高境界是「你以為會很尷尬，但一下場你除了鼓掌甚麼也記不得了」。

*

## Monday, 15 November 2021

Both entering level 29 (aka the kill screen...or the second transition) with 1.15m, Richy proceeded and scored another 200k using the rolling technique. (Source: CTWC Twitch stream)

*

CTWC2021 has just concluded. Pretty low profile comparing to to last year. Although admittedly I had time last year to watch the whole tourney due to some coincidences.

Still I got the chance to have a quick glance on some of the group stage fights of those veterans, and of course caught the live stream for the finals today. Dog performed so consistently that although we found his opponents sometimes outperforming him he met no real troubles in overall. Now a reigning champion, but it's hard to tell whether he will win as well next year, and the 7 times champions Jonas will always be the legend to be remembered.

So, anything special about CTWC2021 comparing with the 2020 ones?

Many focused on how rolling would destroy hypertappers (the era of DAS is for sure gone forever), but the tournament showed that rolling has a long way to go before such style starts to outperform in general.

The output of rolling has been inconsistent, as shown by the performance of rollers in their daily practices or even during the qualifiers. At best you see Richy scoring another 200k+ post level 29 and at worst you see others topping out at 100k. The aggressiveness brings you survivability in the worst condition, but they do not always bring you the cleanest of the boards.

That leads to our second observation: hypertappers are still evolving in consistency. When hypertapping was first introduced it was sought as a way to handle bad situations from level 19. Then it was used to grind a little more from level 29. But people realized the most efficient way of hypertapping is to get aggressive in regular (level 1-28) gameplay for more Tetrises -- but not overly aggressive. What we observed this year is a big step by hypertappers edging closer to optimal efficiency, a balance between scoring and consistency. Dog in particular showed that top level hypertapping could reach 1.1-1.2m regularly which would always give you at least a 3-1 if not 3-0.

We would expect the same development trail for rollers. In the experimenting stage they get to solve bad situations from level 19, then the second step is to grind a hell lot more from level 29. Rollers this year already grind quite a lot out there but it's just not consistent enough. The same goes for rolling at lower levels. They have not been able to control as precise as hypertappers so their Tetris efficiency is dragging them down, so they need to devise a way to score properly as well. The strategy could be completely different from hypertapping strategies though -- the frequency and accuracy of making inputs makes the crucial difference.

As an intermediate solution, some rollers took a hybrid approach using hypertappings before level 29. This is a sensible way of playing considering that hypertapping could probably perform close to optimal with hypertapping already so there is no need to take the risk. The only problem is to transform into the rolling stance during the light speed gameplay.

How long would it take before rollers start to boss over hypertapping in both the pre-29 and post-29 phase? This is hard to tell. It took hypertappers a few years before it finally sentenced the death of DAS, and the improvement made these two years after Joseph first won the tourney, is still significant. It may not take as long for rollers due to higher exposure to public, higher attention as a game and more top level fights held regularly and so on, but it will take some time for sure.

Rollers or not, the overall performance still improved by a lot. Remember what I describe the Koryan match as the most epic ever game with 1.1m each? Well, we have 1.2m each games this year and a hell load of 1.1m each games. Still I think that battle last year remains as the more dramatic ones, but higher scores are higher scores. We observed a major performance boost this year, and I expect the same to happen next year. The only uncertainty is that when lockdown is over for major countries, will the tournament be held completely online anymore? Does that affect out-of-America players? This is even a harder question to answer, but we will see next year.

## Tuesday, 9 November 2021

### Exposure of LETFs and why we don't need cash in the portfolio

Since when did I last wrote financial/stock market stuffs? Probably not since 2008. That doesn't mean I stopped interacting with the market though.

One major change is that ETFs (exchange traded funds) have been much more popular since 10 or 20 years ago instead of ETNs or traditional mutual funds. Simple index funds like SPY and QQQ started around 2000 and we now see similar products all over the world: 2800 (tracker fund) in Hong Kong is nothing new, 0050 (TW top 50 tracker) in Taiwan proved more efficient than most investors, and we even find these products in Tokyo, a traditionally conservative place (they just set up more regulations this year on ETFs!).

But what I wanted to cover today isn't really about index funds, but those leveraged ones (LETFs). No words are needed to describe how they separate themselves from other leveraging methods: they automatically leverages/deleverages themselves on a daily basis. Since their introduction around 2010s, leaders like TQQQ (3x Nasdaq100) has accumulated much popularity, gaining even more attention on every major drawdown.

The ups and downs of LETFs are apparent: you are under leveraged gains (the gains themselves are compounded which magnifies with time), but are also under leveraged risk. Due to volatility decay and the asymmetry of the rise and fall, the return (per unit time) multiplier is always below the leverage ratio and the risk (sd p.a.) is always above the leverage ratio. That gives a lower Sharpe ratio. Of course this is to be expected -- it is impossible for us to leverage a certain portfolio at risk free rate.

Facing these elevated risks are two kinds of people: the yolo apes who are happy to take the risk and went all in TQQQ, and the boogleheads who try to take advantage of the LETFs but also maintaining efficiency in overall. For those who are going all in there isn't much to say -- you probably don't have many alternatives with similar return, and TQQQ is probably one of the best choices. But for those boogleheads the strategy can be extremely diversified.

In light of the classic 60% equity - 40% bond combination, people seem to be applying the same ratio for their leveraged portfolio, and it seemed to work: if you consider TQQQ and TMF (3x 20yr bond) only, max Sharpe occurred at a 55/45 ratio but 60/40 gives almost the same ratio. If you backtest the thing since the beginning of the Nasdaq index, a 60/40 portfolio would beat any other portfolio, including the all in strategy (this is mainly due to 2000 and 2008, admittedly. But who can assure that it won't happen again?). It is also noteworthy that similar conclusion applies if we replace TQQQ by UPRO, the 3x S&P LETF.

The question is, why? Why does the ratio carries through upon leveraging?

To answer this allow me to introduce exposure, another keyword from the title.

Exposure is a fancy word of leverage ratio, but also applies to a specific component of the portfolio rather than the whole thing. To be precise, a certain portfolio's exposure on a product X is the movement per X's unit price change while leaving all others constant.

For example, QQQ has about 10% of MSFT. That means if MSFT rises by 1% then we would expect a 0.1% corresponding change in QQQ. In a similar way, since TQQQ is leveraged by 3 times, it has a 30% MSFT exposure. A 1% change in MSFT would lead to a 0.3% change in TQQQ.

Amazingly, exposure adds up even among independent tickers. Continuing from the above example let us also introduce SPY which holds approximately 5% of MSFT. If your portfolio consists of 50% TQQQ and 50% SPY, then you will have a 10%*3*0.5+5%*0.5 = 17.5% exposure of MSFT.

And now here is the main principle: portfolio with equal exposure (in all assets) would act identically upon tracking errors due to expense ratio, compounding effect and volatility decays.

The error are all long term tracking errors so the statement holds if it holds in a daily basis which is apparent: if two portfolios have equal exposure in every asset, each of the asset would contribute equal influence to the two portfolios.

Still, the difference between two portfolio with identical exposure due to the above errors are minimal. Given a portfolio suppose we up-leverage part of it and de-leverage another part of it to achieve the same exposure. The elevated risk and decayed return of the up-leveraged part is offset by the opposed effect from the de-leveraged part.

Let us consider the following two portfolios:

1) 50% TQQQ and 50% QQQ
2) 100% QLD

Both portfolio have 200% QQQ exposure so we expect them to act almost the same, and we now calculate the effect of decay on the two profiles.

Suppose QQQ rises by $x$ one day and drops by $x$ on the next day. Then QQQ drops by $x^2$ in overall. On the other hand, the first portfolio takes a drop of $5x^2$ while the second one takes a drop of $4x^2$. We can see that their decays are really close to each other only differing by $x^2$. Sure this is still the same order as the ordinary decay, but the coefficient is greatly compressed. You can argue the same for expense fees as well as the compounded return.

(Note that the above example shouldn't be interpreted as "the decay of a 2x ETF is 4 or 5 times the underlying ETF" because you are not comparing when underlying ETF is at the original price, so it is natural for the LETF to drop more to reflect such shift. If we alter our method, either by boosting the up-day or to give it another day to rise back to the original price level we will get a much smaller decay. Take the above example again: the first portfolio will suffer a decay of $3x^2+O(x^3)$ and the second is of $2x^2+O(x^3)$ when QQQ is at 100%. This is the truly decayed part.)

Due to convexity and Jensen's inequality, the above always holds when comparing portfolios with identical exposures but distinct leverage irregularities. On the other hand using the same argument, we can see that the compounding effect favors portfolio with higher leverage irregularities.

In practice however, it is more often to see that portfolios with less leverage irregularities perform better. A possible explanation is the asymmetry of the rise and fall again. A decay lost of $-x^2$ and a compounded gain of $+x^2$ gives a net gain of $-x^4$. Small but accumulate over time.

As a result, even though portfolio of identical exposure behaves almost the same, it's still desirable to reform the portfolio to achieve a homogeneous leverage ratio.

If we treat cash as a 0x etf, then we shouldn't hold cash at all -- instead, spend these cash to deleverage the rest of your portfolio for that extra bit of return.

For example consider a 40% TQQQ 40% SPY 20% cash portfolio. If we are to deleverage it using the 20% cash it could become 60% QLD 40% SPY. Backtest shows that the altered portfolio gives 0.5% more return per year with a drop of 0.6% in risk. Note that TQQQ and QLD has the same expense ratio so the altered portfolio is winning even with higher fees!

Three possible portfolio with identical exposures but different cash levels (0, 20%, 30%).
Taken from portfolio visualizer.

Now if we operate the other way round: we up-leverage the portfolio to free more cash, what can we do? We are certainly not leaving these cash alone because we know that would leave the portfolio inefficient. Instead we can buy something else using these cash.

Something important that solves our question at the beginning: why does the 60/40 ratio carries through?

(Cont.)

## Wednesday, 20 October 2021

### #NoNeoNFT (2): the Neopian government's role and the future

Kacheek is one of my earliest Neopet. The other is Meerca.

We consider the developer/Neopian government as a stakeholder than they keep on producing goods and sell them at a rate much lower than the market price. They also give out lots of freebies to stabilize the low end economy. When necessary, they give out top tier items worth hundreds of millions of NPs to other players.

Human players would not do that.

It is a fact that the Neopets team has not been doing a great job recently: they didn't push enough updates amid of the flash dump, and many traditional events were removed. But in theory, this economy works, and works under the supervision of the developers.

The existence of such centralized government is directly contradictory to everything NFTs or blockchain based platforms are trying to achieve.

Or rather let us shape the question in this way: we know that the NFT setup would not be beneficial when it comes to the need of a strong lead, then what's the other advantages that we should take the NFT setup over traditional platforms, or even just to rebuild the original site?

Fundraising for OG Neopets? Yeah people "claim that some are ready to pump millions in" but what next? Is the money really entering Neopets' pocket assisting the development?  Is it a consistent source of income? Who's gonna invest if old players hate the idea? Would it be another scam just like the recent scandal on old game cartridges? These are questions the metaverse doesn't like answering.

Community driven content? Maybe and maybe not. Neopets as of now is already full of community driven contents. Game mechanics are of course not community driven in Neopets as they shouldn't be anyway.

More importantly, if we have the metaverse with completely new contents "for Neopets", is it the Neopets that we desired? Or is it just another game that contains the once beloved Neopets-images as a selling point?

*

Commercially Neopets is never a great success as everyone would have thought with respect to its popularity.

The first 5-10 years of Neopets coincides with the PC era. The game gained so much popularity across people of that generation and outlasted (many) other virtual reality competitors. However they weren't generating as much influence as expected: almost all merchandising were in America. NeoCash was introduced as early as 2006 but barely inaccessible to most because online payment was not a thing back in the days. The translated versions of Neopets got discontinued during Neopets' golden days despite its great popularity among those countries.

The game quickly declined when the PC era shifts to the smartphone era. The company was sold to JumpStart (is it the one making educational CDs back in the days?) in 2014. They made some changes to the UI, promoted NC and made also some app version of Neopets which were all immediate failure.

We could see that the development of the game failed to keep up with the Internet trend. When NPAPI was going to phase out, they took no action but replaced the development team completely. When flash was also going to be discontinued, they replaced the team again, this time with a much smaller one. It is completely unsurprising to see that the recent development cycle is slow and hopeless.

But so what? Neopets remains to be a precious part of many's memories or even life. As long as Neopets stands we still love the game and will play the game (even that many of us are not paying for NC). What we love is the existing Neopets world and the community around it.

We do not need a completely new metaverse and a completely new community. We do not need to reform Neopets in the form of NFTs.

*

The problem remains though...what should the developers actually do? The Neopets model was barely good enough in the past and certainly dwindling in 2020s. If we want the game to exist for another decade or so actions must be taken quickly.

To me the core community is still passionate as before and it's really up to the developers to decide the fate of the game.

The thing that people complained the most is to merge the old and new UI. I expect the new UI to be a move of upgrade to renovate flash based contents, but they are doing that at a miserable rate. Many of the overworld contents aren't even flash, they are just simple html or php pages, yet those pages aren't compatible with the new UI.

Games are the main source of flash based contents to be upgraded. Granted it is not easy to rewrite those in HTML5 especially when no one in the team were involved in the flash games' development back in the days. The feeling are off for a number of games, even for Kass Basher and the Ice Cream Machine.

To replicate a flash game in HTML5 is not easy for sure, and they even need to worry about security problems -- writing scripts for HTML based games is easier than ever. If they feel like replication is too hard, maybe they can take a lesson from Kongregate and make new HTML5 games as well? Differentiating from the old games can certainly avoid the rage against not replicating the games properly. New games or not, Neopets urgently need more on that.

Once Neopets shooks off the flash burden they can probably go back to the state like 2017. Not the best game in the world, but people will be happy to pay for decors and PVP items.

What would I expect? The metaverse project won't go too far with the big opposition power and all the drama they created. But Neopets aren't going to change either. They survived 2020 (financially), and they will probably this year. Although with more problems accumulating plus the drama this time, the critical moment for the game is probably somewhere before the end of 2022. If they do not take action it's probably the end of the game.

Jelloneo's protesting page where you can "mint" yourself a Neopet. At the bottom are a few more further reports. The grurge against NFT is real, but admitted there are slight misunderstanding about cryptos here and there. Take with cautions.

## Tuesday, 19 October 2021

### #NoNeoNFT (1): a review of the Neopets economy

Neopets, the once dreamland who survived the decline of the PC era and even somehow hanging midair but still alive when flash discontinued, seemed to have encountered another trouble. This time, they are going against the whole fanbase.

They partnered with another company and planned to issue Neopets avatar based NFTs then trying to make a metaverse out there, calling it "the future of Neopets".

The fanbase reacted violently against the partnership under various reasons: the alienation between the OG Neopets and the "metaverse", opposition to NFTs in general and the speculation on how does it benefit the original one (assuming that it is not to be replaced)... It's hard to find a single player supporting the idea on social media.

My stance to NFTs or NFT/blockchain-based games are neutral. NFTs are not trash -- so as billions of arbitrary objects, material or abstract, in this world -- contains market value as long as there are people who wants those. The price could be so low or immeasurable, but it does exist. If people like some NFTs and of course a market could emerge just like farmers market. NFT is a economically natural object and it is not bad in itself. We have also seen games that works better under a decentralized, community driven environment and flourished under such setup. I have even participated in the development of games transiting into the blockchain setup. Again, the idea of blockchain-based games is neutral. Whether if it's good or bad, lies on the game itself.

Some people disliked crypto in general because of the impact on the environment. Yes and no -- yes for cryptos like bitcoins where coin is a proof of work, but not really for NFTs and some other tokens where tokens represents a proof of stake. Of course servers and participating the blockchain network requires energy from computers and servers but these are usually insignificant.

I don't want to get into the actual execution either -- it was announced that the NFTs will just be regular NFTs aka ordinary pictures that you cannot do anything with, defying all meanings of existence as a virtual pet.

But assuming that they do everything possible to recreate the Neopets experience under the crypto setup why is it still a bad idea?

This is what I wanted to cover today, the economy of Neopets and how it is irreplaceable under the crypto (both NFTs and FTs...i.e. cryptocurrencies) setup.

The economy of online games has been an essential part of the experience. The price level controls how affordable the items are to players comparative to their effort invested.

Neopets may look very different from most MMORPGs, but their monetary models are the same: players invest efforts and gain ingame currencies to spend or as a medium of transaction.

In long term as the money supply increases, the purchasing power per unit of money drops (see quantity theory of money) -- an phenomenon known as inflation. Should inflation be too fierce, players would found themselves too hard to catch up with the new trophies and give up. On the other hand, an overly mild inflation (deflation is very unlikely given the online habits...except for  final days of a game) would anger paid players as the paid advantage shrinks. In an ideal case, the developers shall control inflation to the balance between what is desired by paid and free players. (This is the duality of power inflation...which is another topic for another day)

Take MapleStory as an example. This is one of the most successful MMORPG and also one of the games with the best manipulation over its economy. The price ingame currencies in terms of real currencies (via black market) has been stable for 10+ years. This is a rare example where no inflation happens and everyone is happy, because MapleStory contains multiple side currencies which is where paid players have advantages over.

Countless history told the same story: to control inflation you must control money supply. This is true across the real world economy (cf. fed's action during America's stagflation period) as well as on virtual economies. But what can you do when money creation is not on our hands (in reality, money creation is strictly controlled by governments via monetary policies)? That is, you can't control how many monsters are slayed by players (strictly speaking you can, by a theoretical limit on spawning rate, but you will anger players if there aren't enough monsters), and you can't control how players spend either?

You need to provide incentives to spend called "sinks". These are players are motivated/semi-forced to put their money in to counteract the money created. For MMORPGs, the sinks are usually cost of enhancing items. By strengthening the monsters, players have to spend currencies to improve their weapon from the vanilla state in order not to get beaten.

So, can we analyze Neopets economy using the same model?

The source for NP creation is clear. a big pot of freshly printed NPs are from those flash games (before flash went dead but even now some are playing those). There are also other games with positive payouts (potato guessers, dice-a-roo. Scratch cards also because the money that you spent enters the jackpot and is returned to players. Roulette maybe not if we only take money creation into consideration). Nowadays we have Trudy's surprise which gives a steady supply of money effortlessly.

A good player can easily earn 40k per day via games and other dailies. Back when Neopets were filled with players, this is the main source of NP creation.

But we missed two crucial sources of income for Neopets players.

The stock market. According to the model the chance of a particular stock raising to the given price level within a period of time, has a long tail. That means given enough time, stocks could yield arbitrarily high/very high return, as much as 10000%. However considering that such chance is so slim and almost everyone sell at 60~90NP per share, this is considered a fixed income of 45k~75k per day upon realization...which is more than an average player can earn via games.

Bank interest is even more troublesome in the sense, because there is no limit on how much you can get, as long as you have money in the bank.

Players with 20 million NP can apply for the highest bank account rank with 12.5% p.a. interest, compounded daily which is around 13.3%.

If you know how things compounds you will know this is quite a monstrous rate: your NP stored into the bank on 2001 would have been 12 times the original. If you keep saving the same amount of money into the account every day since 2001 then your balance would be 400% the amount of money that you saved.

In retrospective, for a 1 billion account (not out-of-the-planet hard for top and consistent players -- you can even reach that by saving 50k into the account) you receive around 350k interest per day, more than what you can get by doing every daily tasks (where money is printed out of nowhere aka excluding profits from trading).

As the player base dwindle and the flash games are no longer easily accessible, this is the dominant source money injected to the economy, but it grows exponentially.

What about money removed from the system?

It is the old "sink" strategy. Official shops both in the Neopian Central and the Tower for high rollers. Games with negative expectation like wheel of extravagance and lever of doom. Levelling up your pets costs a lot too. We also have the taxation and thieves as random events, but that is probably all. Some money did sink with abandoned accounts, but they usually do not possesses too much (except for cheating accounts).

More importantly, these ways of recycling money works at a constant rate and do not catch up with the money paid as interest. As the interest rate stands, the inflation rarely goes below that 13.3% -- take Negg as an example: Negg ties to Negg tokens has the significance of balancing value of all exchangeable Neggs. Given that the demand towards Neggs are constant (mainly for collection I guess?), the equivalent price for Negg (token) is tied to the general price level in Neopets. In 9 years of time, the price for Negg inflated from 2000 to 8700 NPs approximately (from JellyNeo), indicating an inflation of 17% p.a..

The high inflation plus high interest rate is surely unfriendly to new players. It is even unfriendly to new paid players because the old players have their assets inflated by at least 13% per year for many years while new players have to start from zero. Neopets had to do something or else people wouldn't be coming.

Of course they did.

Neopets started off with a very generous socialist system. There are locations providing foods, NPs and items absolutely  for free. After that you have effortless dailies and games that require minimal effort. These ensures that completely new players do not receive a slap on the face immediately.

To climb the social ladder is still uneasy because anything you can do can also be achieved by top players. The only way to chase them is to do whatever they have been doing, but in a more efficient way. This is the harsh fact for anyone who want to reach the top tier especially among those PVP ranks (arena and food club).

In order not to scare away players who started to realized that after playing a while, Neopets contains designs to relive such dissatisfaction.

The constant source of easy income in particular from Trudy's surprise and the stock market boosts the player to the middle class -- say 20 millions so that you also reach the top rank in the bank -- within 1 year. Minimal effort from dailies including Trudy's would reward you at least 40k NPs daily on average, and stock market would do something similar. One could reach 20 millions in 9 months by doing that. Of course, Trudy's surprise is quite ruthless that missing a day would break the streak where the big prize is only offer for logging in 28 days in a row. They should really make it more generous given the current situation.

The main attraction of Neopets isn't competitive PVP contents after all. Many players focused on their own way of enjoying the game: making their pets beautiful, making creative contents and so on. Some of them still cost money but not as much. Neopets promotes a lot of non-competitive contents to enrich the game like the poems, art contests and so on.

Lastly the price level of particular items can be manipulated. These items are usually confined to two categories: decorative items with widespread demand but very limited supply like Draik eggs, and top tier PVP items. Extra copies are distributed via events often by chance, meaning that all players are eligible to have a go.

The devs do not frequently distribute existing PVP items. Instead they create a power inflation to catch up the monetary inflation. Simply speaking, we expect the new weapon to be like 13%+ more expensive than the old ones, but the old weapons are not inflating (as much) because the demand suddenly shifts. Although such strategy does not really shorten the social ladder, it reduces the difficulty to make progress.

To conclude, Neopets economy is quite horrible mainly due to bank interest which leads to the inherited inflation. Neopets gets around by devising a system that is friendly to newbies and gives chances for middle class to catch up.

But do you sense what's essential in the Neopets economy? A centralized government.

(Cont.)

*

Written in 2014, still applies in 2021. Written in a much simpler way and gives a clearer background about the economy. It also gives a number of economic articles published in the Neopets Dailies.

*

## Saturday, 9 October 2021

### 夢．十夜 (7) Miss Fanta

*

「選舉活動？那是甚麼？」

miso老師的「月下劍士」戴安娜(Diana)。卡片的人氣不用多說，上次開發商沒有挑這張人氣王出來被罵了很久。

apt老師的白髮死神「獵魂者」埃塞雷德(Ethelred)。與戴安娜同時期且同樣罕有的夢幻卡片。有小道消息指老師對這張作畫不太滿意，一直希望有機會為角色重畫一張，選舉活動就是她的大好機會。

Ryosios老師的紅髮鎗手「暗之護衛」艾芙蓮(Evelynn)。本來只是一個普通卡池裡面的二獎，因為高人氣而得到開發者的青睞，以她為核心展開帝國地下勢力的故事。

Ryuki老師的藍髮軍裝少女「騎士學徒」露西娜(Lucina)。與某策略遊戲的女主的名字、髮色和職業都巧合地一樣。不知道是否因為這樣累積了一定的人氣。

「那就兩天後見，現在我可以專心上班囉！」阿飛如此寫道。

*

－－能不能讓群組的人進到同一隊並不完全是機率問題，而是堆人數的問題。堆的人數越多，能配到同一隊裡的群組玩家就越多。我一定要準時跟大家衝進活動裡面。

「……哇。」在街上的我看不清楚我被配到的隊伍具體有哪些玩家，但隊裡第一個人名就讓我哇了出來。

Yukichan－－先叫她Yuki好了。她是上次攻城戰排名第三的公會Super Rangers的會長。我們在攻城戰裡也有交過手，結果當然是毫無參考價值的被轟個稀巴爛。聽群裡其他人提過，其他公會一般都是領頭人在遊戲社群裡挖角或者邀請其他成名高手組成公會，只有Super Rangers的成員都像是憑空出現那樣，自出道起就牢牢霸佔著頂端戰力的寶座。

「DO NOT OVERWRITE----
Hi everyone! This is officially the Super Rangers Team.
SRer or not, I hope you enjoy this event with us. I'd appreciate if you play hard and go for the top prize with us!
If you are interested in our tactical discussion please visit:...」

*

15名隊員裡面有9位本來就是他們公會的人，大部分都在上次攻城戰出現過。另外六人除了我還有三個活躍玩家，加起來就是13個刷子了。要知道就是算剛開活動時組成的隊伍也有一堆進去躺平混分的，一隊裡面13個活躍玩家刷起來根本擋不住嘛。最後我們隊伍排名拿了個第三，剛好可以拿到第一檔獎勵－－有趣的是，他們在活動最後兩天明顯放緩了刷分速度，剛好拿第三似乎是早已計劃好的，這個等下再說。

「Thanks for joining the event and supporting miso. I hope you enjoy your Lana coz I think she will be exceptionally valuable among the top tier prize cards ^_^」

「My strategy wouldn't have worked without you guys. You deserved to keep your Lana after all :)」

「It's impressive to find your commands carried through. Reminds me of how your team humiliated mine in the last guild battle >^<」

「Apologies for that but my team eyed at the individual ranks so we needed to smash quite a bit. You still did a great job and ranked much higher than anticipated :D」

「If that's the case...」

「妳有興趣成為Super Rangers的一份子嗎？」

*

Fanta很多活動其實本質上都是枯燥至極的機械性刷圖，甚麼策略性根本不存在－－只要攻力夠高和技能夠好就行。但是只要用有趣的活動機制把刷圖包裝起來要釣玩家進去玩還是可以的，至少能釣到我這種愛研究數字的人。

## Thursday, 9 September 2021

### 被青梅竹馬抓來(略) (3)：書上火球術下一頁百分之九十都是水球術

Character design: @kuonyuu, Illust: @蛍石 commissioned by forretrio. Pixiv
Editing and re-posting are prohibited // 無断転載、無断使用禁止です

*

「提醒一下大家，屬性不能光用表象去判斷喔。」

「我舉一個例子。」庫里斯像往常一樣坐在講台上開講。只見他打了一個響指，一團散發著強烈光芒的鮮藍色火焰出現在他的指頭上。只見他從不知甚麼地方掏出了一片花瓣，花瓣還沒掉到火焰上就已經化為飛灰：「這團火一看就是火魔法了吧。那這個呢？」藍色的火焰消失了，取而代之的是一朵小小的火花。另一片花瓣浮在火花上方沒有被直接點燃，而是慢慢地枯乾散開。

「覺得這個算火魔法的話舉個手～」不出意外，絕大部分有在聽講的人都把手舉了起來。

「看到有火光還是會覺得是火魔法也很正常。那這個又如何呢？」這次他攤開手掌，上面甚麼都沒有。他再次掏出花瓣，這次花瓣在手掌上方一個無形的旋風中打著圈。

「－－雖然大家沒法看到，但是我掌上的空氣的確被我的魔法加熱了一點點，大概是洗澡時浴室的溫度吧。這樣我該稱它為火魔法嗎？覺得這個算火魔法的話再舉個手～」他們想了很久，最後只有三分一學生把手舉了起來。

「這次覺得不是火魔法的人比較多呢。可是我們到底該怎樣斷定甚麼才是火魔法呢？要加熱才算火魔法嗎？剛才也有加熱為甚麼不算火魔法，是因為不夠熱嗎？還是要有一團火才算火魔法？」

「要解答這些問題我們要先把魔法本身的特質與它們所造成的結果分開來看。」庫里斯意念稍動，黑板就浮現出一條線把左右分開來，左邊是「本質」，右邊是「結果」：「結果會隨外在因素而改變，而本質則相反。比如我所放出來的一團火焰把花瓣燒成飛灰，但如果我沒法花瓣拿去燒掉，化灰就不會發生。因此燒掉東西是這個魔法的結果。反過來說，這團火是每次發動同樣魔法都會生出來的，所以是這個魔法的本質。」

「我們一直使用的屬性是按魔法的本質分類的，所以你們剛才看到前兩個魔法都算火魔法喔。至於那個加熱空氣的魔法，魔法造成的空氣流動是本質，溫度的變化是結果。所以這個並不屬於火魔法喔。」

「我們將依屬性將魔法分類，不單是為了更系統地學習和研究魔法，也是考慮到魔法適性的問題。你們應該知道甚麼叫魔法適性吧？」

「嗯，非常好。雖然我很想繼續討論分辨屬性的話題，不過既然提到了適性那就講一下這東西好了。畢竟你們的適性對日後個別指導的方針影響很大呢。」

「我沒記錯的話，入學測試都只會檢查你們申報最強屬性的能力吧？但事實上絕大多數人都會擁有兩個屬性以上的良好適性。即便是那些專精於單一屬性的貴族，他們的子嗣也不會因此失去其他屬性的適性。比如說皇家一直都有光屬性的傳承，但是公主殿下的水魔法也相當優秀呢。」

「入學測試只檢查一種屬性可以確保一般學生沒資源開發其他屬性而吃虧，也能保障專精於那些長期透過遺傳強化某一屬性的家族，是個很好的評分方法。不過在學校裡把時間都放在單一屬性上就太浪費了。」

「每個屬性組合之間的配合都不完全相同。比如說老師我冰和風屬性的適性都不錯。冰魔法顯然能附到風魔法上，夾雜著冰粒的風暴殺傷力可是十分可怕的呢。」

「又比如說火跟冰這兩種屬性看似不相容，但仔細想想的話這兩種魔法也可以互相配合的。我就看過有人用冰魔法製造濃霧掩護火球的打法，更不用說本來就有些冰魔法可以為對方帶來負面效果，配上直白的火魔法簡直是天作之合。」

「因為這些戰術，可以操作多重屬性的魔法師在隊伍裡都是難以取代的。就算不考慮戰鬥，我聽說可以純熟操作三種屬性的人都可以輕鬆成為宮庭魔法師。這對你們不少人來說應該是當初學習魔法時的夢想吧？」

「當然每個人的興趣和適性都不一樣，我也沒要打算讓在坐每位都要開發第二屬性才行。不過想象一下還是可以的吧？這就是你們第一份作業－－挑選一個你們不是最擅長屬性，然後探討一下修練那個屬性的魔法對你們有多大幫助。探討不一定要非常嚴謹，可以從你使用該屬性的魔法時的體驗出發，腦內模擬戰得來的結論也可以。」

「這份作業算是安排個別指導的一部分，希望你們認真想一下，老師我會逐一詳細回應喔。」

「那麼～今天的課就到這裡為止了。下午是社團活動的時間，你們玩得開心一點喔。」

……

*

「……你這樣是不會有人來的，」在沙發上金髮女性輕輕喝了一口茶：「很多年沒喝過你泡的茶了，至少你現在的茶藝對得起茶葉的檔次了呢。」

「第一個星期讓他們玩自己的就好了，我這個茶會算是試試水溫，願者上釣嘛。」

「你的學生下課就能找你了。其他班級的學生就算想接近你，在摸清楚你的性格以前也不可能參加你的茶會。也不說你根本沒有通知任何人，你覺得有人路過剛好很閒又很想跟你喝茶的機會有多大呢？」

「那其實還有第三個可能性，就是你只是想請我過來喝茶。對吧？」她只看了庫里斯一眼便從那極力掩飾的笑容中看出個大概，不過她並不討厭在公餘的時候跟他在一起。她拈起一塊三文治放入口中，好一會後她道：「嗯，這家不錯。畢竟不是新鮮出爐的麵包，口感不能要求太多。不過如果是你的話應該可以把溫度降下去以保持新鮮吧？」

「不好意思，這是庫里斯老師的……呃……茶會嗎？」一名男學生推門而入，庫里斯當然認出了他就是那個想用水桶坑他的學生，克萊伊。

「嗯～可以這樣說，不過非正式一點也沒關係，你是老師我今天第一位客人喔。」他轉身走向食物盤，卻聽見身後傳來一聲驚呼。

「星星星星星韻小姐是你嗎？」克萊伊毫無禮儀地叫喊著。

「是我沒錯，你認識我嗎？」她保持著優雅的笑容回應道。

=============

15年前還是那個用MSN的時代，我不知為何莫名奇妙地在狀態欄上寫了一句「魔法存在的意義為何？」然後先後遭到學姐跟老師的「關切」。並不是那種罰留堂見家長的關切，而是被詳細介紹了存在主義不同學派的見解。可惜我愛的是小說的世界觀而不是這些哲學理論。

*庫里斯這次使用的是MF的秋收大吉嶺Autumnal Valley，同樣非常推薦喔。

*最後修改 02/05/2022 v1.1

## Tuesday, 31 August 2021

### Neo TWEWY review (4): story and thoughts

*Spoilers alert! This part of review containing spoilers all the way up to the secret reports.

The final part of my review, on the story itself. So be warned that all spoilers are possible!

Again, it is not easy to give a full contextual analysis on the development of Rindo in the story, but I agree with what the secret report says: this is a story of Rindo taking responsibility in contrast to Neku trusting his partner in OG.

Structure

The structure is simple following the 3 weeks framework. Week 1 is an orientation and of course they failed to clinch victory. Week 2 is the transition because they now know about the game but they still failed to win, and they find something shady behind. Week 3 assuming a big story we should be facing someone above the GM level, and whoever to be the boss must have done something extraordinary that is unwrapped during the week.

NEO follows such frame closely. They spent time learning to play as a team in week 1 "just short of" reaching the top. They did well in week 2 taking other teams head on and still failed to clinch the top while discovering the truth about the Ruinbringers. Week 3 is a plain 1v1 between the team and Chiba (and his underlings).

Puns from the past

Oh and the producers throw OG memes here and there. Whenever that happened it brings a smile on my face.

"Focus---"
"Yo phones!"
"Tin pin slammer!"
"Still remember reaper creeper?"
...

If you want to give a message, you will probably need better encoding than a plain ternary system.

Jokes aside, most of the 2000-ish elements were gone from the game. Not only Tin Pin Slammers but also reaper creeper (which is mildly popular in the pre-computer era), folding phones (and gadgets modification like in OG), stories around phone booths (so popular in the 90s) and so on. For those who know OG so well like they have played OG yesterday like me, it's just weird to find that all the old technology had been replaced in 3 in-game years whereas it has been 13 years in reality. This is not a criticism and this is necessary, the only to blame is Square Enix who halted NEO development back in 2012.

Time reversal

What differs is how the missions are solved. This is due to the difference in mission style (as the GM changes) and also how teams interact. More importantly, how the rewind skill is utilized.

In theory you can do very complicated things with such talent. By going back and forth, one can obtain pieces of information seemingly impossible to be known in the past. These information can be used to lead the user to the correct path in the future.

This approach is observed in a number of detective games like Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney or Zero Time Dilemma(/Escape) where players have to decide which timeline to jump onto and what to do in those timelines in order to grind something fresh out of them.

Of course NEO is not a detective based game so the produced didn't bother to trick players -- in fact, the instruction to players is extremely clear as dropped by Rindo on his mental notes. (The hardest non-combat part lies on the consecutive multiple choices. Reaper's review is easy but the conversations with a Pureheart and with Shoka are so hard!)

As a result the game took a much simpler approach to how Rindo uses his talent if he found that the sequence X->Y->Z didn't work then you can first rewind and correct Z to Z'. If that's not enough you rewind further to correct Y to Y' and X to X'...then you just proceed with everything corrected. That applies even to the grand final on W3D7: the team is exhausted after fighting Shiba and they won't be able to take down Soul Pulvis (the bird noise), so they go back trying to avoid the fight with Chiba; to avoid the fight you need to get someone to persuade him, so you find the reapers...

Such story is linear and easy to understand. Although some players may found that repetitive as your last conclusion coincides with your next action. I also wonder that in a number of days the rewind is actually triggered because "you possibly cannot defeat the opponent" -- but we players have proved that we are so good in the combats. Why can't we just take the fights in the hard way? Of course Rindo didn't know clearly that rewinding come at a cost, but it would be fun if we can do those fights by ourselves say in postgame. For example on W1D5 I wouldn't mind taking 20 DRS members (bet they don't have such a big team) plus the golden pig. This is just a matter of diffusion beam massacre right?

The rewind structure is mostly simple. Rindo basically have to correct 2 or 3 things before he can go ahead and change the fate except on W3D7. On that day it's 90 minutes of pure cutscenes (under autoplay) without any fights repeating the "correction" process.

Some players may find it too long, especially who wants a damn long dialogue when you are on full gear towards the end. I had the same feeling when I first cleared OG back in 2008: it was a family gathering and I started the game with the Konishi fight after dinner. I played and fought all the way through, but it took me much longer than expected. When I finally saw the end of the day it was already 12:30AM with a few adults grunting outside. It's easy to understand why people are not happy with that.

Still I would say such approach is good in terms of storytelling because you want to focus on Rindo and his team as much as possible throughout the 3 weeks. It is already much harder to unveil the story around Rindo as he now has many more characters around him comparing with OG, and you don't want to add further disturbance on it.

The key characters on the final time reversal is certainly Kaie and Rhyme. The producer knew that and had them showing up at the end of the days time to time. It's like having the ingredients prep'd beforehand -- sensitive players would have already known what's going on, then the actions taken on W3D7 would come smoothly.

Impressions on the OG characters

The OG characters undoubtedly took an essential role in the game, and accounts a crucial part of player's love on the game. To those ingame characters 3 years have passed but to the players outselves 13 years have passed. This difference could cause deviation on how player expects the characters to behave in the NEO timeline. I want to express my feeling on some OG characters briefly here.

Neku: he seemed much more mature than expected. Even with his mental growth in OG (and in the new days in the final remix) he never behave like that. He is more like a big brother only giving advice when necessary. I think that's a correct decision because we need space for NEO characters to grow -- just look at what happened to Appollo Justice Ace Attroney when Phoenix Wright refused to step down.

Beat: I never noticed that his hair is blonde in OG till I looked back after his appearance in NEO. He stays the same as in 3 years ago and this is kind of expected.

Rhyme: cute and heartwarming as ever. We didn't know much about her in OG other than her interactions with Beat but her personality shown in NEO isn't very surprising either.

Shiki: she deserves more air time other than her two encounters with Neku. It would be a nice starting point for the producers to fill the gap on what happened during the 3 years. OG, the animation and the final remix all failed to explain the change in appearance for her and I kind of want to know why too.

Josh: my impression on him is seriously distorted by his outlook and voice, both much more mature than expected, even though his personality stays the same considering that he isn't really a teenager.

Sho: the mysterious character in both OG and NEO, but his background and intention is prelly clearly explained by Coco, the secret report and himself. Luckily now he is under the supervision of Coco.

Eiji "Prince F" Oji: yes please continue to F everything :D

I wonder what was Shiki doing during the fight. She can't stand in the middle of the crossing right?

Questions unsolved

The nature that everything is caused by moved made from the "higher planes" decided that the story can't possibly be decoded in full, thus the need of secret report. However the reports were in an oblique style and some questions remain unanswered. Here are the few that always tick my heart during the years:

- Josh's stance on the "old" Shibuya in OG was never clear. Was it the lack of creativity/imagination or is it simply boring that he decided to destroy Shibuya?

- In a similar way what happened to Shijuku's inversion? This is a question even deeper: the inversion happened after the 3 weeks timeframe in OG. Is the motivation of Haz related to Josh's? Why must it be an inversion, a bold act with severe consequences, rather than purification or other form of cleansing?

- While my memories on the final remix has been fading away, I think we need more details on Coco to complete the story because she's one of the few that has clear association with both the Shibuya and Shinjuku branch. According to secret report (Neo#22) she's (not sure why it was written as "he" in the report) the one who drew the Shinjuku inversion report. If we were to know more details about that it's probably from her mouth.

- The "fact box": producers saying that NEO was made based on the facts covered by the anime. I expected an enormous amount of information (like, 10 episodes for 3 weeks plus something extra for the 2 episodes) in my anime review, but the anime turned out to be a plain reiteration of OG with little simplification to some unhandy details. The amount of detail covered in the anime is far from sufficient to withhold NEO, not to mention that the anime talked nothing about the Shinjuku inversion. So what were actually assumed in NEO?

- Continuing my question on the facts, one of them stood out and is quite important in my eyes. The latent power is unique to players like Shiki's ability to attack with Mr.Mew, Fret's reminder or Nagi's dive. Does Shoka's teleportation counts as "player's latent power"? Or, can we say that latent power isn't exclusive to players but also reapers or UG residents? At which point do the players receive such power?

- If Shoka's power is confusing enough then Neku's power is even more confusing. According to OG Neku has the talent to utilize various pins for different psychs which is incredibly rare...but wait, is everyone in NEO doing that? Or by saying "utilizing various pins" refers to utilizing them simutaneously like in OG combats? Or, is the Rindo team *that* special that they all have such ability to use various pins? -- this couldn't possibly be true though because Beat can't use multiple pins in OG. So back to my earlier question: what's truly assumed in NEO?

- Imagination, a term made up possibly to describe characters' potent, is never properly explained. How do we understand imagination, for example by the literal mean (Wikipedia: ability to produce and simulate novel objects, sensations, and ideas in the mind without any immediate input of the senses)? Or according to secret report (OG#1) the "true intention" of the characters...? Is that something that can even be quantified? I never found any trace about imagination in OG TWEWY nor in NEO.

Philosophical thoughts

To conclude this part of the review let's look at the story again from another perspective. There are two issues that are worth discuss based on the TWEWY world.

Uhhh...ok.

"Higher existences". The OG game was a bet between Shibuya's composer and conductor. The NEO game was a bet between an angel (presumably Kubo, NEO#1) and Shibuya's composer Josh. While it may deemed as "game" from the higher existences, it's bringing disaster to UG and RG.

One may asks the thinking process of those "higher existences" or if the consequences on UG/RG ever their consideration. On the other hand what would human (who have been associated to UG/reapers) think about those "higher existences" given their action? We have seen such conflict at the very end in OG between Neku and Josh, also on Josh's trick on Rindo at the end (although this is less consequential).

Similar questions are asked very frequently in some religions in the form of "if your God is universally powerful then why isn't the Earth an utopia". Things aside, it would be nice to see similar discussions at the end of NEO like in OG, although the vibe may not fit too well for these topics...

"Rationalism". Haz has a completely off the ground sense as from human's judgement via his conversation with Josh and Rindo. He asked Rindo why would he risk Shibuya being destroyed just to rescue his friends and called that irrational. As a player we know that we will win and have both Shibuya and Rindo's friends saved, but what if that's uncertain? What's the "rational" answer?

If, instead, we know that we don't have both saved in the new timeline anyway what's a rational/moral choice?

It was explained in W3D7 how time reversal worked: it's basically a shift to a parallel world to achieve whatever they want. But when they leave that parallel world it was destroyed, hence the bird noise coming from the overflowing vibes that had nowhere to go. Is it rational then to sacrifice the undesirable parallel worlds for your ideal outcome?

The exact same question was asked in the ADV game Zero Time Dilemma which I have mentioned above as well, and is a very nice game to play.

Conclusion

I am very surprised that I wrote more about the story than the mechanics because game design is always my first priority when it comes to games. That's probably because I loved the franchise so much and I know the story too well.

How is NEO's storytelling? It's an enjoyable story fitting the themes preset as in the secret reports. It might be true that the huge cast caused difficulty to develop enough on each of the protagonists, but the producer had done a good enough job on the matter. The flaw is inherited in the script that they failed to explain things in full detail. They took the same approach as in OG so similar unsolved mysteries were left behind.

Final words

Unlike solo, live or final remix, this is the true sequel to the original TWEWY game. It tried to adopt the stylus free environment and did a great job with it.

The combat is fun and endgame content is truly challenging unless OG, albeit sometimes a bit repetitive and time consuming. Still, there are more unique bosses this time.

The artwork design is again great with more pins and brands, although the pins and threads combination sometimes feels restrictive. Songs are less striking than last time, or maybe not.

It's a master storyteller -- any completely new player can easily dive into the story, and OG players will absolutely love it.

In overall this is a sequel that matches the quality of OG. If OG deserves a 9.5/10 as a best in an era game, then NEO will get a 8.5/10 from me.

I like how you have both unmodified and modified drop rate in OG.

The obligatory collection.

*