Interlude II: The Interluding

Hello everyone! It has been a little while since the first Interlude, so I thought it would be appropriate to post a sequel.

Firstly, thank you all so much for the amazingly kind words on the other entry (and which I’ve had through email, Facebook, etc) – they really mean so much to me, and they are deeply deeply appreciated.

Secondly, I’ve now successfully moved to Canada, found a flat (or rather, an apartment), signed the contract, and done the majority of all the admin and bureaucracy stuff that comes from moving to an entirely different country; I still need to get a mobile phone that functions in this country, and there’s one or two University-admin things I need to complete, but otherwise I’m settled, moved, I’m “in the system” in the Canadian bureaucracy, and I’m getting ready to officially begin this job just a couple of days from now. This has been a pretty huge task in the last fortnight, but it’s now coming to an end.

Thirdly, on the health front, the physical symptoms are improving, and the psychological symptoms are (more slowly) also improving. Things are still tough, but I’m making some good choices to improve the newfound psychological difficulties this complication from my older illness has dumped on me. In the short-to-mid term, I think things might be on the up (slowly), but it’s always so hard to know.

Fourthly, here’s the cover for my upcoming book with Bloomsbury. I’m so happy with the design! I should have more information soon about an exact publication date, but there’s lots of roguelike-y goodness in there to be had.

Fifthly, any of you folks who are interested in Twitch and live streaming might want to read this paper I recently published about it – you can find a paywall-free version here. In it we explore the backgrounds of live streamers, the everyday work and labour of being a professional live streamer, and their hopes and fears about the future of their practice. This is part of a larger project on Twitch I’ve been developing alongside my colleague Jamie Woodcock in the last year, and we should have some more exciting stuff on this front to announce soon. Stay tuned.

So yes, that’s everything for now. I’ll hopefully be able to post more again once I have some kind of stability. I’ve also been thinking over some pretty fundamental questions about the website, how I blog, how often I blog, my general online visibility, these sorts of things, so there might be some big changes coming in the future (once I feel a little stronger). In the mean time, take care, everyone.

Burnout and the Future

So… this is what burnout feels like.

I’m almost now ready to submit the manuscript for my first academic monograph. It will have taken two months longer than anticipated, which was a great disappointment to me – it’s the only piece of academic work I’ve ever had to ask for an extension on. There were many factors at play there, some within my control, and some outside of my control, but the bottom line was that had I taken on less than I wound up taking on (and had the circumstances I was working within been different), I would have been able to get it submitted on time. Although I’m very happy with the final product, and I’m confident the work will be a valuable contribution to the study of unpredictability in games (of all its forms), I find myself reflecting specifically on the process by which the final parts of it – the crunch, if you will – were written. From around the start of March until the start of June, I can truthfully say I did effectively nothing with my spare moments except writing the book. All day on both days of every weekend was book writing; every evening was book-writing; every train journey and flight and coach trip was book writing. During this period I spent effectively no time with friends, no time exercising, and no time whatsoever doing any programming, much to my chagrin.

During this period, I began to experience for the first time what I believe is called “burnout” – my appetite dropped, I developed some anxiety (a deeply new experience for me), I developed some depression (similarly), and it felt at times as if there wasn’t really any point to what I was doing; that was I just speaking into the void because nobody else would read it; that I was letting everyone down by not working on URR (which I still feel quite acutely); and other feelings I’m not going to share here. Although certainly not the darkest time in my life, it has been, in many ways, a deeply unpleasant three months. Travelling a lot in this period helped me, and finding some times to engage with nature – whether meeting wild bison and wolves in the frozen tundra of Northern Canada or meeting wild tropical birds and lizards in the equatorial jungles of Hong Kong and Singapore – helped my mood a lot, but it only stemmed the bleeding, without addressing the underlying issues.

Academia, especially early-career academic before one secures a tenured faculty position, is notoriously stressful and time-consuming. One is always in competition with vast numbers of recent PhD graduates for a ludicrously small number of postdoctoral or junior faculty positions; one is constantly bombarded with requests and obligations and things that need to be done; one is strongly encouraged to submit only to top-tier journals, and yet doing so leaves one waiting for potentially years until publication, damaging one’s employability in the short term. The other crucial element of academia is that there is always more one can do. As academics, we don’t really have working hours, as such – just contracts that say we must “fulfil the expectations of the job”, or some equivalent language, using however many hours across however many days per week that takes. Many contracts even explicitly state we are expected to use evenings, weekends and holidays to meet those requirements where necessary – and that, assuming one wants to spend one’s academic career actually doing research, will always be true.

Up until now, I’ve always been able to field this and maintain the other things I want in my life, but in these last three months, I am not exaggerating when I say every spare moment has gone into the book. For the three months before that extreme compression of my time, almost every spare moment went into the book, and looking back, I can see my free time shrinking into a smaller and smaller gap with every passing day. Something inherently enjoyable – and I do enjoy academic work tremendously – quickly ceases to be enjoyable when it is something one must do, and when it is the only thing one is spending one’s time doing. Because of this the book became something of a chore, which itself made it harder to write, and which itself made it more of a chore, and made more painful my inability to spend my time on other things, and so forth. As a result of the stress leading up to and during the book-writing, I screwed up. I made two serious errors of judgement – one being a different but major piece of academic work I submitted, and another being a piece of work I submitted elsewhere. In both cases I made poor judgements about what I wrote, and over-estimated my knowledge of those domains, and was – quite appropriately – brought down a rung by those who do know those domains. They were both humbling experiences, which really brought home how much my judgement had been impaired by the stress of finishing the book.

But now, the book is basically finished, and I’m on my final visiting position of the year, having also just been offered an amazing new two-year postdoc opportunity in Canada where I will be able to drive my own research and make my own hours. However, as I sit here for now in a cafe in Nevada, trying to take stock of things, I realise that there are four things I must make time for, and a fifth change I need to make overall, from now, moving forward, no matter what, in order both to be the kind of academic I want to be, and to have the life I want beyond the academy.

Firstly, I need to make time again for programming, starting now. It’s something I enjoy tremendously, it’s creative work which forms a crucial balance to the intellectual work I make my income from, it’s something a lot of people are following and counting on me for, it’s something absolutely tethered to my online presence, and it’s something I simply deeply want to start doing again, and which gives me valuable balance in my life. It makes me deeply sad that I wasn’t able to get 0.8 out before I went into this period of total time compression and book-only-focus, and I want to put this right and get 0.8 released as fast as possible, and certainly before my new position starts later this year. Once 0.8 is out URR will be more than half-done, and psychologically, that’s an important marker I need to hit. Therefore, starting next weekend, I intend to devote a day per week to programming, no matter what else might be looming over me or might be requiring my attention. Either Saturday or Sunday each week, but probably I think Sunday, my intention is to always spend that day – as a minimum – programming. Despite the long hiatus, URR is not cancelled, but has certainly been on hiatus, and it’s finally time for that hiatus to properly, and truly, end.

Secondly, I need to make time again for fitness and exercise. I haven’t exercised once in the last three months, with the exception of hiking up and down Victoria Peak in Hong Kong and a couple of hikes in Alberta and Nevada. Normally I would exercise for at least an hour at least four or so days a week, but the book has simply dominated my time and my thought to such a degree that I’ve let this slip completely, down to zero. I can tell and feel that I’m less fit now, I’m less strong now, and less healthy now, and I don’t like it. It’s an unsettling and disturbing change from the state of being I’ve become used to, and I want to get back to my previous level of fitness as soon as possible. I’ve now managed to get this back to exercising twice a week, and hopefully I can push that back towards four as I decompress in the coming months. As I’m moving to Alberta, I’m keen to do lots of hiking there, too, and I have some interesting future travel plans which should also help with that.

Thirdly, I need to make time for a personal life. The fact that I am likely moving to a new country/city in a few months feels like a good time to make this kind of resolution – both to renew existing acquaintances in the UK and elsewhere, especially important now that I’m no longer in physical proximity to my friends in the UK, but also to go out there and find new friends and new colleagues. I’ve always been someone with a small group of close friends instead of a far wider social circle, but this, also, has shrunk to nothing in recent months, and my personal relationships have definitely suffered for it. I’m making amends to those I have unintentionally hurt, which I believe to be an important first step, and from this point onward I’m going to make a lot more time with friends and family in the coming months. It seems that the importance of this to one’s mental health only appears after it is lost, and that’s a lesson I don’t want to have to repeat again in the future.

Fourthly, I need to make time to actually play games. I got into game design and game scholarship and game writing and competitive game play because I love games; because I’ve played hundreds, probably thousands, and certainly own thousands; and I’ve been playing them since I was as young as I can remember. But I no longer find myself with the time to actually play any; in the last year I’ve played only two games for pleasure, which were Bloodborne and Dark Souls 3. Both were incredible experiences, but that’s only a fraction of the time I would normally spend playing games. Even in other periods of stress – such as when I was simultaneously finishing my PhD and dealing with a life-threatening illness – I still found far more time to play. It’s fun (most crucially), but it’s also important for my ability to be a good game designer and good games scholar. As such, my goal is now to at least double the number of major games I play each year for starters, and hopefully increase this number as time goes by. Right now, The Witness, Demon’s SoulsShadow of the Colossus, The BridgeAntichamber, and perhaps even returning to playing roguelikes all look very appealing, and that’s where I plan to start.

Fifthly, and lastly, I need to focus. Forgive the cliched phrase, but I now realise I need to work smarter, instead of working harder. I’ve been trying to be a game scholar, and a competitive game-player, and a game designer, and a game writer, and all the other things in my life outside games. This is just too much. As a result, I’ve decided to permanently “retire” any competitive gaming from my life. I want to really focus on scholarship/writing/coding, and in turn, to present myself specifically at the intersection of those three things. My background in poker remains a major informing element on my academic career – especially as I move toward studying gambling more seriously as a topic of study – but I think I’m spreading myself too thinly, both in terms of my effort, and in terms of how I appear. I want to focus in on my strengths, instead of trying to be everything, and do everything, when it comes to games.I think this will, without a doubt, be for the best, and strengthen my ability to work in my core domains without “distracting” myself with others.

As for the wider future, academia certainly remains my career path of choice. I take tremendous satisfaction from the unfolding of intellectual ideas on paper; I love travelling around the world to do research, to attend and present at conferences, to meet colleagues, and to experience new parts of this earth; I enjoy the freedom of working hours that academia (generally) gives one, even if that same freedom means working a lot of those hours, and the ability to largely work where and when I want. But these last three or four months have shown me what can happen when I take on too much – I make mistakes, and my ability to do anything else with my time beyond academia gets reduced down to a minimum, and then disappears altogether. This is not a “New Year’s” resolution, but this is certainly a mid-year resolution: I need to adjust my life back toward the kind of life I want to have, and I am confident this will have benefits both within and beyond my academic work. So with this written, and with this posted, I’m going to head to the gym in this hotel and work out for an hour, then head back to my hotel room and play something, anything, on Steam, then do some programming in the evening. The change starts now.

2016 in Review

Last year’s 2015 in review helped me to put a lot of my thoughts in order about where URR and other work was, and where it is going, so I thought I would do the same this year. Here’s a little summary of everything done in 2016 – Ultima Ratio Regum development, my scholarly work, competitive gaming, and game writing. Read on!

URR Development

This year I aimed to get 0.8 out; sadly, this was unsuccessful. Part of this was my fault for overestimating what I could do in a certain period of time; and part of it was due to a very unexpected glut of academic work in the September/October/November period. It’ll become clear what exactly this was when we get hopefully not too far into the next calendar year, but this was just completely unavoidable and extinguished my spare time down to an absolute zero.

However, despite that, huge progress has been made, and 0.8 is now about 90-95% finished, and in December I finally got back to working on it (and I’ve made substantial progress over the winter holiday period). Firstly, I finished generating all the clothing styles for URR 0.8 – gloves and headgear and things like that are yet to be finished, but everyone you encounter in the game world from any kind of culture, or religion, is now guaranteed to wear an appropriate set of garments, which vary according to feudal nations, nomadic nations, tribal nations, and religious hierarchies. Secondly, I finished all the AI and pathfinding and scheduling required for 0.8. This was a huge task in terms of time and effort, and without doubt the most programming-complex task I’ve done yet for URR, given how many different scales the game has to track things on and so forth, but as far as I can tell – in part thanks to my excellent playtesting team – this all seems to work fine. Thirdly, I developed name generation which varies massively from nation to nation, ensuring the people of every culture have their own distinctive practices for naming which are intricately tied to their geography, their history, and so forth. Fourthly, I developed 80%+ of the speech generation system for URR, and fifthly, and related to the fourth point, I developed 80%+ of the conversation system, both in a technical sense and in the sense of sketching out the future elements I want to add to it, and figuring out how the overall flow of the conversations are going to work. Although 0.8 wasn’t released, and I missed out on three months of development time, this has still been a hugely productive year for URR, and has got us to within the smallest distance from 0.8’s release and with it the first major body of actual gameplay in URR!

Academic Work

This year I’ve continued my first postdoctoral position at the University of York, focusing primarily on the study of Esports, streaming, competitive gaming more broadly, and so forth. I’ve written a number of papers which are currently soon to be published, primarily on Esports – I’ll be linking to them here once they actually go live. I also have some chapters coming out in Tanya Short’s and Tarn Adam’s upcoming book on PCG (my chapters are on “Worlds”, “AI”, and “Meaning”), and several other book chapters appearing in other edited collections soon. Right at the end of last year I signed the contract on my first academic book, which has a hefty roguelike and PCG component, and is due to be completed in the coming months. It’s currently well over half-way finished thanks to work done on it in 2016, and I’m very excited about how it’s coming together. I also secured a substantial amount of funding for a secondment to the UK’s Digital Catapult, to start on January 2nd, where I’ll be studying content creation in Esports and streaming, and in roguelikes, to understand the attitudes and perspectives of content creators vis-a-vis the use, reuse, and sale of user-created game content. This position will last six months until the end of June, and I’m extremely eager to see what will come of this post. I also secured a few other awards I’ll be talking more about in the very near future once I have schedule and travel requirements and arrangements sorted out, but there’s a lot of incredibly cool stuff coming up for 2017 I can’t wait to share with you all, a ton of new publications, and also (see below) some more book projects in the works…

Competitive Gaming

This year I scooped up two more world record high scores in bullet hell games, bringing my total to four (assuming nobody has trumped any of them since I wrote this blog post!). The first of these was in the summer, and was on Blue Wish Resurrection, an excellent and well-known shmup with a pretty active high-score chart and quite a bit of attention on YouTube. You can find the video and analysis of the record here. Since getting this record I then wound up performing it in front of well over a hundred people at various events – I presented myself playing it whilst a colleague presented a paper about danmaku games at the Canadian Game Studies Association conference, at DiGRA/FDG in Dundee, and I’m also going to be presenting it at the University of South Wales in January (again with someone giving the “talk” half of the presentation). I’ve really enjoyed doing these, and numerous people have told me and my co-presenters (Alexandra Orlando and Michael Cook) that these were the best presentations they’ve seen to date at academic conferences! The second of these in particular was especially good, as we got somewhere between fifty and a hundred attendees, and the Q&A session afterwards lasted well over an hour, with questions ranging from gaming practice to danmaku history, soundtracks to danmaku culture, visual strain and reflex speed, and much more. I’m looking into doing something similar in the coming year, but since I won’t be able to attend this year’s DiGRA due to other commitments (more on this another time) and this year’s CGSA is probably out of my reach for similar reasons, it might be 2018 until I do any more live high-level danmaku play for a crowd.

After that, I then got the world record for Cho Ren Sha 68k on hard mode, quite an old and well-respected shmup that also has a pretty active high score chart. The analysis and video can be found here. This one was quite unexpected and the early sections of the playthrough are very shaky, but it then picks up and ends with only a single death in the entire playthrough (a little over half way through, I think); that, combined with some less-than-optimal scoring, means that I could definitely try to improve it by maybe as much as another million if someone else takes the record back. After the USW danmaku playthrough/talk above, I think I’ll probably play CRS68K live for any future danmaku presentations, since it’s quite a bit more “live” in my mind than BWR is at the moment, and it certainly makes for as striking a spectacle as BWR. I’m hugely proud of this world record, and in some ways I think this might be my strongest danmaku achievement, if only because of the incredible speed at which CRS plays compared to many other shmups, even if the actual volume of bullets on screen at once tends to be smaller.

Games Writing / Dissemination

This was a good year for freelance writing in various outlets, where I published the following pieces in the following places:

“High-Stakes Gamblers, Game Design […]” (First Person Scholar)
“Procedural Generation’s Future” (Rock Paper Shotgun)
“How to Create Cultures” (Rock Paper Shotgun)
“The Sociology of Streaming” (Sociological Imagination)
“How Games Can Benefit From Procedurally Generated Lore” (Rock Paper Shotgun)
“How To Generate A Religion” (Rock Paper Shotgun)
“You Can Spin Your Own Sci-Fi Tale in ‘RimWorld’” (Vice Gaming)
“Researching the Growth of eSports in the UK” (eSports News)

I was also interviewed by the Heidelberg Journal of Religions and the Internet about URR, interviewed for BBC News on Esports, and by the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on poker and poker-playing AIs. This has been a great year for public work and I’m really happy with what I’ve got out there, and some of the attention my work has got on the back of it, and this is what I’m aiming to beat once 2017 comes around.

2017 Plans


Firstly, and most obviously, finally finish 0.8 and get it released. This is the absolute priority, and one of my main overall life priorities in January and February of 2017. The massive glut of academic work has subsided, I’m in a far better place in many ways than I was in the Sep-Oct-Nov area of 2016, and in these last two weeks of 2016 I’ve already made substantial progress towards getting 0.8 out. My intention is to have speech finished in January, and then return in February to smooth everything out, fix bugs, and get it released in early March. After that, 0.9 will be a very small release that will only – truly, truly only – add some more NPCs and some more conversation options and systems, and nothing else, and then release. I’m never again going to do a release even a fraction as large as this one, and feel free to hold me to that, internet friends.


First priority is finishing off my first book; this is almost done, and it should be released either in late 2017, or more likely, very early 2018. After that, there’s a whole bunch of papers in the works on Esports, Twitch and streaming, and several other topics, with which I’m hoping to continue to make in-roads into this fascinating area of study. Finally, in terms of books, I have two other exciting things currently being planned out which, hopefully, I’ll be able to announce at some point in the early parts of 2017! One of these in particular will, I think, be of a lot of interest to my roguelike readers…


My first priority is identifying what record I want to try to get next: I think at the moment there’s a high chance that this will be the newly-released Blue Revolver on Steam, which is an excellent “classic” shmup with a very well-designed scoring system and a lot of very challenging and very exciting patterns and levels. Another option would be Danmaku Unlimited 3, when it is released, or perhaps having another look at Warning Forever, a perennial favourite of mine which, sadly, suffers from some serious ambiguity with regard to what the world record high score actually is. Another option is the very exciting Devil Daggers, which looks like a game I would enjoy a lot and has a WR score I’m confident I could seriously compete with, but would need me to get used to using a keyboard and mouse again after years of controller usage. Alternatively, if course, it is possible that I won’t pursue many, or even any, further records. If 2017 works out how I want it to, it’s going to be incredibly exciting in both URR and academic terms, and I don’t know how much spare time I’ll have. I’ll keep you all updated, but my retirement from danmaku games might, just, be sooner than expected.


In one line, my goal this year is to write for a range of bigger and more visible outlets – places like Giant Bomb, the Verge, Polygon, and so forth. I have a set of pieces already lined up to pitch when the New Year comes, so hopefully you’ll see some of those come to fruition.

Final Thoughts

Well… I’m happy with how my academic, game-play and game writing lives have proceeded, and although URR has seen a lot of really exciting progress, I am inevitably also disappointed that 0.8 isn’t out. Overall, though, I feel I’ve laid some fantastic groundwork in the ways outlined above (and some I can’t yet announce in public) for 2017, and you should see 0.8’s release in this March, all being well. Thanks again for keeping up with URR’s development and helping me keep things ticking over in 2016 – I can’t wait to release in 2017 and get feedback from everyone who reads this blog about what you think words (and doesn’t work) about the new release, and the central conversation system and AI/scheduling elements. Here’s to a very productive 2017, and I’ll see you all next week for another programming update!

IRDC US Roundup

A shorter update this week (but with a big conversation update next week), as I’ve spent the entire week at conferences! I was at DiGRA/FDG 2016, where I gave a talk in the PCG workshop about URR’s dialect generation…

… and then gave the deep play and dark play talk I previously gave at CGSA, and concluded with a live bullet hell demonstration, commentated on by the ever-marvellous Mike Cook, which went down really rather well. Lots of people said they felt it was the highlight of the conference and it got a pretty amazing amount of traction on Twitter. It was actually remarkably relaxing to play live compared to the same event at CGSA a few months before – it’s amazing how quickly just a single trial-run of a particular event can transform it from something quite nerve-wracking into something very comfortable.

After that, however, I flew to NYU for the 2016 US IRDC! Last year, as some readers might remember, I really wanted to visit Atlanta for the first US IRDC, but despite the incredibly generous offer of some financial support from a fellow roguelike developer, it didn’t work out in the end. This year, however, I made it across the pond and attended my first ever US IRDC! I gave my procedural dialects talk, fielded a pretty huge volume of questions, and then spent the rest of the day talking to the (rather good) turn-out of attendees. I’m keeping it brief this week as there’s so much otherwise stuff I to do today, but here are some pics:

Introduction from Kawa: 


The awesome games collection of the NYU Game Centre:


The highly amusing Dragon Hoard Income Tax simulator:

IMG_20160806_173714Issues with the amazing time-travel 7DRL by @humbit:


Another talk…


…and rather nice Japanese restaurant!


For me, the two highlights were Jason Grinblat’s awesome talk on using Markov Chains to generate books in Caves of Qud, and Jeremiah Reid’s fantastic piece about his time-travel roguelikes and how to handle paradoxes and deal with some highly amusing bugs. It was a fantastic event with a strong turnout and loads of great talks. To anyone in the US who considered coming but didn’t make it – you were missed! I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it next year, but I’ll certainly give it a shot again, though it will depend on funding, jobs, all that other stuff. It’s always hugely enjoyable to meet the big names in the community, and as a developer to meet people who want to meet me, and I can’t recommend it enough. Hope to see some more of you there next year! Next week: more sentence and dialect generation!

Blue Wish Resurrection World Record and Analysis

An unexpected blog post this week! Yesterday I managed to achieve my third bullet hell world record to date, this time in the very popular “Blue Wish Resurrection”. Score Rush was quite a substantial shmup in terms of player base, but Danmaku Unlimited 2 was somewhat smaller in its visibility, but this is almost certainly the most visible world record to date, or to put it another way, is probably a game played more than both of my previous two record-games combined. This blog entry is therefore the now-standard world record analysis post, with lots of gifs and the video (just below), and some thoughts about what I’m going to be playing next. Enjoy!

(For those wondering about the next regular URRpdate – that’ll now be next week, and now somewhat larger than it was otherwise going to be).

First Level Optimization (00:15)

The first level only takes a moment to restart if I screw it up, so in the first level you’ll see me really pushing my luck in a bunch of places because there’s very little to lose at this point (and also because I wasn’t really playing for the record yesterday (!), so I was actually probably taking more risks than I usually would anyway). In the gif below you can see me pushing right up against the top of the screen in order to kill things as quickly as possible and open up the “point well” – that thing in the left pillar spewing out golden cubes – as soon as it comes on screen. For the rest of this level I spend almost all my time near the top of the screen, as you get points for the golden cubes enemies drop and they decrease in value the longer they take to pick up, so you’re encouraged to kill things up close. The time I don’t spend at the top of the screen I spend waiting until there are enough bullets on screen to be worth converting into points (when large enemies are killed), or killing enemies at a particular speed/pace to maximize the points I get from them. This was one of the best playthroughs of the first levels I’ve ever had – though not the best ever – but more than adequate to continue with. I think a truly perfect playthrough, however, would be something like 100k points higher.


Second Level Mid-Boss and Boss (03:50 and 06:10)

The second stage has a few slightly tough sections. The mid-boss (shown below) is quite interesting in that it consists of five parts – the main body and four little turrets that directly target the player. When you destroy each of those turrets, the bullets surrounding them (though not on the entire screen) get converted into points cubes, so it became clear I needed to kill this in a sufficiently optimal way that I could get maximum points from these smaller segments. As such, you’ll see here I hug the edge (which is slightly scary) whilst destroying the right-most turret, then destroy the second one when the boss does a “splurge” bullet attack at the exact right time to get a full conversion of those bullets into score cubes, and then (in the video) I kill the other two close up to maximize the bullet conversion there as well.


The second boss (i.e. the boss at the end of the second stage) is has the first attack that I would say is genuinely tough, which is this final attack. It fires bullets in four directions which then fire a range of smaller bullets at an angle that’s very unusual in shmups, as you far more ordinarily get bullets coming straight down, or at least straight at your ship (or where your ship was when the bullets were fired). In addition, these chains of unfurling bullets are then fired directly towards the player’s ship, which makes it harder to stand in one place for two long just moving up and down, which would probably be easiest, and instead gets you to move side to side. I think there was a particular dodge in this boss fight that turned out to be weirdly close, in the end, but this phase went well, and by the end of this phase this playthrough was starting to look pretty decent.


Third Level Boss (08:40)

The stage 3 boss is, to me, the real transition in the game from fairly easy stages to very hard stages – there’s a big spike from the middle of stage 3 (and everything before) to the end of stage 3 (and everything afterwards). The third boss has a particularly difficult final attack, shown in the gif below, in which bullets spawn extra bullets of various sorts, some just spewing madly around the screen and some targeted directly at the player. Trying to “re-stream” – to stop tapping left and start tapping right, or vice versa, and therefore cut across the current line of bullets trailing you – is especially hard in this attack, but I’ve found that moving as slowly as possible both reduces the number of re-streams you have to pull off, and also makes the “wall” of bullets less challenging to break through. It’s still a pretty crazy attack, though, and it’s a real trap for newer players who will always think that moving more is the best way to play these sorts of games.


Fourth Level Mid-Boss Final Attack (12:15)

Not much analysis here, other than to say that the attack below is one of the toughest in the game, I think; it’s very fast, the pink bullets are quite large, the blocks of purple bullets are even larger, and there’s very little relationship between how the two elements are aimed, which makes it basically impossible to rote-learn a way through – in turn, one has to just reflex it every time. Right at the end of this attack I actually took a slight risk, since I expected to have killed it already and I was moving up screen to maximize my points from the subsequent bullet conversion, so almost died! Happily, though, this didn’t happen and the mid-boss did, indeed, expire a second later, but if you watch the video, you’ll see this moment just before the mid-boss explodes.


Fourth Level Boss (13:25)

Whew, Boss 4 is very tough. None of its attacks are trivial, but the two I’ve outlined here are definitely the toughest. This first one has the boss’ four “wheels” spin around it, each of which fires out chains of light bullets in a pattern that also rotates independently of the wheel’s rotation, and spew out a chain of dark purple bullets, and the main part of the boss fires groups of three lines of thin bullets from its middle, its left, and its right (if you watch the gif you’ll be able to see everything I’ve just described). This is a super-difficult attack due to the volume of bullets on screen, the different patterns and trajectories they all follow, the risk of bullet overlap (one bullet being hidden by another bullet) and just the general confusion of the whole thing. This is one of the very, very few parts of the game I actually just learned a precise set of moves for – the game is deterministic, after all, and this attack always looks the same each time as long as the player moves the same way (since many bullets are aimed), and so I managed to figure out a particular sequence that gets me through this nightmare safely.


And then we have this attack, which just looks completely ridiculous until you look more at it… after which it continues to look completely ridiculous. Basically, there are five lines of bullets too dense to move through being fired, and then dozens of lines of bullets being forced from the two sides of the boss at various angles. Navigating this nightmare involves placing yourself between the thick lines and being able to see where the lines of circular bullets with gaps will next be crossing over, and then crossing through them, without letting yourself be squashed against the walls of bullets. This was an attack that continued to give me trouble even as I got close to a world record standard, and it’s easily the hardest attack in the same outside of the final boss… and maybe actually the hardest attack per se? It’s hard to say, but it’s damned tough – and I found it too fast to learn a sequence for, so this is just pure reflex every time I play.


Fifth Level Pre-Boss (18:10)

Before the final boss these two particular enemies spawn, and I’ve always found their attacks weirdly impossible. I think I’ve only cleanly dodged them without losing a life or using a bomb once or twice, and that’s just not consistent enough; however, using a bomb converts all the bullets into score cubes, and with such a large number of score cubes on screen, I realised that it might not actually be the worst idea to use a bomb here deliberately to clear out the screen. You get extra points at the end of the game for each bomb unused, but I’m pretty sure that doing this gives us roughly enough extra points to offset the points lost at the end – and ensures I don’t die!


Fifth Level Boss (19:00)

Ah, the final boss. Considering the final bosses of this game, DU2, and Score Rush, I think this is probably the hardest, though the DU2 final boss is a very close second. The first two phases you’ll see on the video are trivial, but then this (the below gif) phase begins, which is the other phase with a legitimate claim to being the hardest phase in the game (just like the final attack of the Stage 4 boss). This has thick lines of thin pink bullets that constrict the player’s movement to within only a small chevron of the overall space on-screen, combined with massive swirling chains of purple bullets, and a chain of thick purple bullets being “washed” back and forth across the screen from the middle of the boss, and some aimed lines of pink bullets coming from either side of the boss (which, weirdly, are often the toughest part to avoid). It’s pretty rough, and I tried to create a particularly sequence to survive, but again, I found it rather tricky to emulate, so this is mostly reflex with a few small rote-learned elements. A lot of this attack is about making sure you move into the next segment you’re being pushed towards at a particular speed; too slow and the impassable lines of bullets will catch with you and kill you, but too fast and you’ll be stuck waiting around in one area whilst all the aimed lines target and destroy you. It’s a careful balance to strike, and one that took a lot of practice.


There are then three other attacks between the above gif and the below one, both of which are tough and tricky, but doable – this final attack, however, looks like a complete nightmare, but is actually remarkably workable. Basically, the boss is firing the dark purple circular bullets, and those spawn the pink bullet-shaped bullets, and the boss also fires thick lines of pink circles directly at the player. This is one of those attacks where you actually want to move as little as possible; a lot of the bullets drift off the sides, the purple circular shots are few and far between, and the aimed chains of pink circles take quite a while to get to you, so broadly speaking I basically try to slowly drift from one side to another during this phase, and to always choose to take a tiny “gap” between two pink bullets than to make a larger dodge. By moving very little in this attack, therefore, I only really have to focus on the bullets in my immediate vicinity, which move relatively slowly and are very predictable in their movement, and that transforms this completely mad-looking attack into something remarkably doable (believe it or not!).


What next?

Well, that’s a third world record. When I started playing these games I wasn’t really expecting to get more than one, and certainly not in a game as well-known and well-played in the genre as Blue Wish Resurrection, so I’m particularly proud of this one. Naturally, different world records are “worth” different amounts depending on the volume of players, but I don’t know of any Western players who has ever stacked up three world records, two of which are in games that certainly have substantial playerbases. Equally, although I’m getting “older”, I do seem to be accelerating; I played Score Rush for two years before getting the WR, Danmaku Unlimited 2 for a year before getting the WR, and Blue Wish Resurrection for only six months before getting the WR. If this pace continues, another world record will appear before the end of the year… but I don’t think that’s realistically likely, especially as for the next month I’m primarily focused on finishing URR 0.8, I have papers to finish, and an entire book to write, so I wouldn’t expect a fourth WR until some time in 2018. Nevertheless, I will next be pursuing the Hard Mode world record in the excellent and profoundly hectic Cho Ren Sha 68k…


…but first, I’m scheduled to play Blue Wish Resurrection at this year’s FDG/DiGRA conference, so I need to make sure I stay at the top level for just another few weeks until I can discharge that obligation! And then I’ll get onto CRS68k.

See you all next time for a return to standard URRpdates! (And a substantial one, at that, with lots of sentence generation, the conversation system, etc)