Ludum Dare: Genre Before Theme?


To avoid one of the issues I had with the LD warm-up last weekend, I want to have a discussion about different gameplay genres we may want to use for the competition. By following a fairly well understood blueprint for the basic gameplay, it will minimize the number of deadends I will be pursuing and will let me focus on best executing a game that is fun and strongly represents the story/mood elements of the mystery theme. I will try to be FAR less avant-garde than I was with LD22′s Paper Town.

As I mentioned in my last post, I think I want to have something a little more action packed this time around.  There was arguably room for some twitch-factor in my LD22 entry, but not much — and clearly none in TD23′s Fish Tank Commander, the turn based strategy game.  Now, this doesn’t mean pure action (like a FPS or shmup — though these are certainly options), but a fast-paced Tower Defense game that operates in very real-time (instead of waves) like Creeper World and The Space Game also fits the bill nicely (and Desktop Tower Defense is actually pretty adrenaline-inducing too, on the higher difficulties and/or when rushing for high scores).

I’m hoping that whatever genre ends up getting used, that I find a good excuse to include physics and explosions and particle effects.  Also, 3D models via Blender.  Unfortunately, good looking “natural” units – such as animals and people – are not really within my artistic abilities.  Highly stylized/cartoonish might be possible.  Alien-looking things might be an option. Robotic/inorganic may be the best choice.


2D Platformer: I think – in light of my LD23 entry and my recent Unity tutorials – I want to avoid something that looks 2D.  That being said, we could still lock the camera to the side and use pure 2D gameplay, while giving the game a more distinctly 3D look.

3D Platformer: Zero additional programming complexity compared to 2D, but considerably more level design work. There’s also the possibility that we’ll come up with a bad control scheme and/or camera.

Tower Defense Game: LD22′s Paper Town was originally going to be a crafting/TD game, but took a different turn. I think that with more focus – and my now increased familiarity with Unity – I could do a much better job at this.  This could be a classic top-down (or 3/4 isometric) view, or it could be done as a 1st/3rd-person game where you place turrets, like playing a TF2 engineer.  You could be building something more interesting than just random turrets — maybe you can do walls and such and it becomes a castle-building game.

Third Person Adventure Game: I’m only including this entry to say that “Third Person Adventure Game” is was too broad and tells us nothing about the actual gameplay. It only tells us what the camera and movement are like.

First Person Shooter: We don’t have to be shooting bullets. Are we shooting “blobs” that stick to terrain and become things you can jump on, becoming an interesting kind of platformer more than a “shooter”?  Combine some limitations about how much “goop” you have (and maybe different types of “goop”), the need to do multiple things (create platforms to stand on, block laser beams, add weight to a see-saw) and suddenly you can create a first-person-puzzle game in the same vein as Portal.

Space Ship Sim: Before people get too excited, a huge epic space trading game with dynamic economies and thousands of sentient NPC ships is out of the question. But blowing things up X-Wing style might be reasonable.  Note that it might not literally be “space”. Maybe you are a white blood cell flowing through arteries and blowing up viruses.  Maybe you are a dragonfly exploring a swamp, munching on mosquitoes.

“Physics/Building/Puzzle Game”: Fantastic Contraption and Cargo Bridge are examples of this. (The early versions of Minecraft other possible examples of this, except that Minecraft isn’t much of a *game* due to the weak/non-existent win/lose mechanics.)  The “First Person Goop-Shooter” described above could also be another example that fits this.  Obviously this isn’t as much of the “actiony” type of thing I want to create, but some themes might work better here — and it still gives us the chance to get a real sense of *physicality*, which is interesting.


If you have any ideas of specific mechanics I could use for any of the above, or if you have any other basic genre that I could consider (include examples of specific games where you can!), let me know in the comments.  When the theme gets selected next week, I want to be able to look at it and say: Okay, I think we should make a tower-defense/platformer/whatever kind of game, because we can make your character a ________, the enemies be _________, and the story will be _________, and that will work well as a tower-defense/platformer/whatever.

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Ludum Dare Warm-Up Livestream!


I’m going to be livestreaming a little this weekend as a warm-up to the next Ludum Dare, which is in 2 weeks.  I’m going to be working in Unity 3d.  Respond with theme suggestions!


(I will make a post on YouTube before streaming starts.)

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Civ 5 and Unity!


Two new videos today:  A new episode of Civ 5, and a new Unity programming tutorial (sound and music) on my second channel:



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Quill18Creates Finally Goes Live!


This will not be updated as often as my gaming channel (game commentaries are still my main focus), but many people have requested this…and it was a lot of fun to do!



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Indie Game: The Movie


Last night I watched Indie Game: The Movie, a film funded via Kickstarter and that followed the development of Super Meat Boy and Fez.

Just like when I watched The Social Network, I was left with a set of mixed, but very powerful, emotions.  The reason is that these movies resonate with me on a very personal level, because they represent things that I’ve:

  1. Always wanted to do, and/or;
  2. Have already done, and/or;
  3. Want to do again.

I have all the technical skills required to build virtually any sort of website or game.  I’m not alone in this — many people do.  The real trick is to have the right idea, at the right time, and to see it all the way to completion (and to have enough resources to not starve while doing so).

I often use the excuse that I don’t have enough time to be able to really make a game and/or website.  Which is bullshit.  The truth is that I don’t make the time.  Instead I’ve decided that I feel more secure and less stressed by having a conventional day job, and in my off hours I spend far more time playing games than creating things.  Of course, there is the phenomenally good caveat that I have found a way to create something while playing games (i.e. YouTube videos) which has been enormously satisfying. If I’m being really honest with myself, external factors aren’t to blame for me not spending more time creating games.

On the other hand, it’s not like I’m just wasting my time either.  I do work five days a week at a full-time job and spend hours each week producing videos for YouTube. I maintain my health by exercising at the gym. Hell, even the games I play that aren’t recorded are still “research” on the ebb and flow of gaming culture (as well as studying to learn a game for future Let’s Plays).  I spend far more time in front of my computer in my basement than I do with my wife — and somewhere in there I also like to see my friends from time to time.

I have a packed schedule.  But I still want to do more.  I don’t think there’s a way to just do more, so instead it’s a matter of making decisions about replacing things.  Stop doing X so I can do Y.

What are the X’s? My job?  Making YouTube videos?  Playing games altogether?  Seeing friends and family?

For many indie game developers, X is all those things. They give up everything except their game.  For years.

Hell, I’ve been here before. I made a website in my spare time that was stupendously successful.  I quit my great job to work full-time it.  That’s when I discovered that I hated running a business.  Accounting, taxes, licenses, etc…  They suck to deal with.  I was spending almost as much time managing the business as I was programming.  It drove me crazy.  Not to mention the fact that it’s hard to duplicate that kind of success — other websites I developed during that time never really took off, and that’s extremely depressing to deal with.  Also, the stress of depending on just yourself for your income is beyond anything else you’ll experience in your life.  After a year I stopped and went back to a day job…but five years later I’m just left staring at pile of unfinished projects I’ve left behind.

What is the right balance between following your dreams and leading a lower-stress life?

My dream continues to be to develop a full and proper game.  To have my name on something concrete, that people enjoy.  To make at least one dollar from selling a game and call myself a professional game developer.  The way I see it, I have two such projects already on the go:

  • Fish Tank Commander.  This has a great start and a lot of suggestions to feed off of. I have a clear plan to go forward with this.  The development timeline is extremely manageable, and deployment is simple. Web apps are my forte.
  • The space sim-roguelike-empire-building-strategy game (a.k.a. Project Porcupine). There was a lot of excitement about this when I originally brought up the idea, but it faces a major problem — the same one that faces virtually any “community” game effort: Complete lack of focus (also, actual participation). Unless you are cloning an existing game exactly, there really are an infinite different set of options for how you can build a game.  Design-by-Committee can’t work for a game like it can with single-purpose applications (the kind that succeed the best with open-source development).  That doesn’t mean that a game can’t be community-focused and open-source — but in doing my research it looks like every really great open-ish game tends to have a single gatekeeper, or at least started that way.  One central authority that is the final word on what the design and aesthetic of the game is.  Of course, that one person tends to do infinitely more work than everyone — more or less by definition.  It’s only after the core of the game is done can things really be opened up, because at that point the game has a clear design, function, and aesthetic.


I think one of the things that lends so much promise to FTC is that I more or less fell into the “I’ll open-source this game, but I am the Alpha and the Omega when it comes to decisions for it”.  This was by virtue of the fact that these were the rules for Ludum Dare. I didn’t have to be apologetic about being a dictator about it…but as a result the game is actually, you know, a game instead of just a long set of message board posts about what FTC “should” be (i.e. Project Porcupine).

Of course, what will make FTC *amazing* (and it will be amazing) is all the feedback and suggestions that people are providing.  There still needs to be a central authority that picks and chooses what to implement, but the Many-Eyes of the open community is still a tremendous strength.  I’m also hoping that people will eventually contribute actual, direct content and code (there’s already been one user-submitted programming bugfix!), but the reality is that I can’t expect other people to do all of the work for me.  I can’t even expect them to do a significant minority of the work.  I need to do almost everything, at least up until a version 1.0 release.  And realistically that might take a year or more of work.

I really believe that FTC is the best project to focus on first, partially because the scale is more reasonable and partially because I have more immediate expertise with web development than some kind of standalone game.  It’s also going to be the easiest to somehow blend the “I need to somehow monetize this” with “I want people to be able to see the source and contribute”.  FTC can be open source AND commercial simply by virtue that “” will be the authoritative site for gameplay.  It can also grow much more organically, since these types of things tend to never be “finished”, unlike what people expect from something released on Steam or something. (Note that I’m building the game first, figuring out how it will pay for itself later.  Gameplay is king.  That’s the only way these things ever work, lest you turn into another Zynga.)

For the follow-up game (Syzygy?  Project Procupine Revival?), I think I need to use a model closer to Minecraft and Dwarf Fortress.  There’s an unapologetic central authority.  That’s how they work. The fact is that if Notch or Toady hadn’t dedicated themselves to the project completely, it would have never existed.  I cannot compensate for my lack of full-time involvement by turning the game into a magical “community” project.  That was a cope-out on my part. It will never work.  I need to make the game mine and place all the weight on my own shoulders, at least for the first release. That being said, both those games are so stupendous BECAUSE they still involve a lot of community feedback.  I also think I could safely go a little further by making the source available (which I wish Dwarf Fortress would do).

Surely there’s some middle ground, where I can make the source open for people to use for educational purposes, and to contribute to the game, without losing control of my baby — or going broke because I quit my job to make something that I’m now giving away for free? It might be as simple as getting a proper pre-release version together and making a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign to start with, followed by some kind of “beg for donations” system going forward.  Personally, I would absolutely not feel secure living off completely unreliable donations.  Holding a sign that says “I will code for food” is not my idea of a stress-free life.  I think I would want to come up with some other model instead, but one that doesn’t feel exploitative in any way.  No pay to win, ever.  Pay for shiny stuff? Maybe.  For something like Fish Tank Commander (which needs money for web servers, if nothing else), that might be something like a special icon, more ability to “vote” for new features, and access to additional niceties like more stats on your profile page and a subscriber-only chat room.

I’m not old, but I’m definitely not young anymore.  I can’t match the energy and passion of the standard indie game developer crowd, which is mostly 25 or younger (I’m 33.)  I sure as hell don’t want to give up the security of a full time job (and I actually like my job a LOT!) and go back to debt and ramen noodles.  Sure, you only live once, and I don’t want to die never having accomplished this dream — but I also don’t want to lose my house and live in poverty just to pursue this.  I’m sure my wife wouldn’t appreciate it either!


Paper Town: A Ludum Dare Post-Mortem


Ludum Dare is a 48-hour long game creation competition.  You have two days to build a game from scratch — you need to create all the program code and content (art, sound, etc…) by yourself within that time period.  There is always a “theme” for the competition, which the games should try to incorporate somehow.

The theme for this, the 22nd Ludum Dare, was “Alone”.


Click here to play my game: Paper Town!


Developers often do a “Post-Mortem” after completing a project, exploring the things that went right and wrong. This helps them keep track of what they’ve learned and also help other people who are going to try the same thing.

Click “More…” to read the rest of this article!


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Ludum Dare 22: Pre-Game


Alright folks, here we are around 11 hours away from the announcement of the theme for Ludum Dare 22, whereupon I will embark on a 48-hour frenzy of programming.

Since we don’t know the theme yet, I obviously can’t start planning the game — but I think it would be worthwhile to take stock of what tools we’ll have available to us.

Our Tools

Unity 3d

An integrated 3d game-development environment.  The program itself is a 3d world building tool with extremely modularized scripting/programming support.

What Unity gives us:

  • World building. Drag and drop your models into the scene and in moments you have a city or a forest or a maze or a solar system.
  • Terrain-sculpting. It’s very easy to build a large outdoor area with hills and canyons and such.
  • Physics. This is baked in to Unity and is pretty much “free”. Collisions, Newtonian forces, etc…  If you want to watch stuff bounce off other stuff, this is how you do it.  Just drop a “RigidBody” component on to something and *bam*, you’ve got physics!
  • Modular behaviour-based scripting.  Whereas the AI programming for a unit in a conventional system would be rather monolithic, Unity encourages you to implement multiple small, more independent behaviours and makes it easy to connect the behaviours to units (and between each other) as needed.  For example, I could have one script called “LooksForPlayer” that is used by both Security Guards (which also have the “ChasesUnit” behaviour) and Gun Turrets (which just have a “RotatesToFaceUnit”) behaviour.  In my limited experience, the more you go along with Unity’s paradigm, the easier things go.
  • Multi-platform support.  Make your game once and export for PC, Mac, and Linux.  And iPhone and Android.  And the web.  Nice.
  • Pathfinding.  It’s not built-in to Unity yet (should be in the next release!), but there are some great libraries available that make it very easy to add to your game.

What it doesn’t give us:

  • 3d modelling. Unity lets you place objects in a 3d world space, but you aren’t going to be creating your models in Unity (save for sticking a couple primitive together, like a cube topped by a sphere with a cylinder sticking out of it to make a quick turret).
  • Technically you can do pretty much everything in Unity, since you can program anything inside of it, but there’s a bunch of stuff that you’d pretty much have to do from scratch and just sort override normal Unity behaviour.  Like, you could do a 2d pixel-art game in Unity, but I have no idea what you’d possible gain from doing it in Unity in the first place, since it would all be custom code to render to a full-screen 2d texture or something.  That being said, you can do something that behaves in a 2d-ish way, like a top-down or side-view game (space shooter, platformer) simply by placing your objects/cameras that way. The objects/environment would be 3d even if the gameplay was not.


Blender is a free, open-source, fully featured “3d content creation suite”.  You can use it to make the next Toy Story movie if you want.  I’ll use it to make like…rocks or something.  I will model my various objects in here and then import them into Unity.

I am not a particularly skilled 3d artist, and I definitely do not know much about animation.  I expect that my models will be completely static — so while they may move around the world, they won’t have a “walk” animation.  This will drive the art style considerably.  Even if I could model an accurate humanoid (and I can’t), since I don’t have the time or ability to animate a decent walk cycle, it would be weird to have a person that just sort of…glides everywhere.  So no realistic organic units.  That’s why I like space ships, but I think we’d also do fine with just iconic representations of various units.  Like a person might just be a capsule shape with a happy face drawn on it.

I’m also not a good texture artist, so again the simpler the better.


Sound effects! Bloops and bleeps and blorps galore!

Alternatively, I can record myself saying “Kaboom!” and “Zap!”, which might be kind of funny.

My Brain

To be successful in life, you need to know what you’re good at — but more importantly you need to know what you suck at.  We’ve already established that I’m bad at art.

I’m very good at manipulating data, though. I make databases my bitch. Need to create a complex relationship structure between multiple different types of records and agents? I’m your man.  I also really like simulation games.  In fact, I don’t even care about the “game” part so much — it’s the simulations that fascinate me.  For example, I’d love to make a simulation of a bunch of ants roaming around a sandbox looking for food. Programming the AI would be a ton of fun.  But where’s the game? That’s something I’ll have to keep in mind, since it’s a game competition.

So where does that lead us?

Given the limited amount of time that we have, we need to leverage our strengths.  Let’s take a look at the themes current up for voting and try to get some ideas ahead of time. One of these will be the actual theme.

When looking at the themes, keep in mind that we can use them either thematically (as in the plot/feel) or mechanically (as in, being a specific gameplay gimmick), or both.

  • Alone: Is the player alone in an empty world?  Do they have to find another person somewhere?  What if we flip the idea around and the player feels alone world that is actually very crowded, but you’re looking for another person that is like you.  A true friend or soulmate.  Another idea:  We make a multiplayer game, but you can’t see the other players.  It looks like you’re alone, but you have to work together to accomplish something?  Kinda weird.  Also, I’m not sure that multiplayer is the way to go for this competition because it’s hard for individuals to test.
  • Antihero: My brain keeps trying to pun and turn this into a game about an ant.  Anyway, an antihero is a protagonist that is in at least one regard quite different from an archetypal heroic figure. Maybe they’re “dark”, like so many comic book heroes these days.  Maybe you’re normally the villain, but you’re trying to save something you love (including your own life).  Maybe we just literally flip this around and you’re Bowser trying to steal the Princess from Mario.  The Dungeon Keeper games are another interesting inspiration. And while I’m hoping for originality/novelty, I’m certain that you could make a tower defense game that fits, thematically.
  • Consequences: Huh.  This is a bit vague.  One idea I’ve wanted to explore is a simulation of economics, and I can imagine building a game where there is a great disparity in starting conditions for the various characters in the world, and what the consequences are of starting with wildly different resource levels. I’m not sure where the “game” is, though, and this may also be too ambitious for 48 hours.  Still, building something that could be “edutational” has merit.
  • Decay: Does your character literally decay over time, giving you a ticking clock to race again?  Does the very land you walk on decay and fall apart?  Isn’t that how the Neverending Story movie go at some point?  Maybe the decay is like…the environment/plants decaying and you have to work to keep an area green.  Or maybe, if I can steal from D&D’s Darksun, you are a wizard who casts spells by draining the life force from the environment around you, leaving a dead zone.
  • Dreams:  Uhg. I like themes that point to a mechanic, but “dreams” seems almost purely just story/plot fluff.  Like, I could make a platformer where every level is you entering someone else’s dream. Or some kind of point-and-click adventure game.
  • Evolution: I loved SimEarth, SimLife, and some parts of Spore. Also, as I’ve said, I love simulations and implementing some sort of Artificial Life sim has me super-duper excited.  Unfortunately, it may be difficult to make procedural type life forms that can smarty interact with a detailed 3d environment — this would work better with a relatively plain 2d type of setting.  I also don’t know where the “game” would be. Could be biological evolution, but what about self-modification?  What about robots or computer viruses? The next evolutionary step of humanity?
  • Falling: The low-hanging fruit here is a game where you are literally falling down a shaft or something and you have to maneuver to dodge obstacles or something.  It would be relatively simple to implement and could be a lot of fun, but how do we make it original/creative?  Can we think of something completely different for “falling”?
  • Forgotten places: Like Dreams, this seems more “story” than “mechanic”, though I can imagine if we were playing a top-down-view sort of exploration game where moving around exposes the map, but that the places slowly start to fade out from view if you haven’t visited them in a while, and then when they go completely hidden that zone transforms itself to be completely different.  Oh!  As a kid, did you ever wonder if the world continues to exist when you aren’t looking at it?  How about a first-person game that literally works that way.  Only the area that you are looking at right now is real/static.  Look away from something, then look back, and it’ll be completely different.
  • Kittens: I believe this is the “joke” theme and isn’t actually an option.  That being said, maybe we can add kittens regardless of the true theme?
  • Mechanisms: Vague, but certainly has my sim fanboism excited, especially with a powerful physics engine backing me up.  Do we see if we can build our version of Fantastic Contraption?  Maybe a kind of electronic workbench where you can assemble circuits to make things happen?
  • Moon: Are we a moon, wandering a solar system?  Are we trying to get to the moon? Maybe we’ve just setup the first moon base?  Dwarf Moontress.
  • Parallel dimension: See ideas for “Reflection”.
  • Randomly generated: Very broad. Is it the world that is random?  The items within it? The characteristics of the items/units within it?  What if we stole the idea from Forgotten Places where if you leave an area for long enough to forget about it, it gets regenerated with completely different stuff.  The world is continuously randomly generating around you. The only static location is where you are standing right this moment.
  • Reflection: Literal reflections (mirrors) aren’t really going to be an option, though it could be faked.  Are mirrors portals to another world?  We could play it a different way too: Imagine a side-scroller where you can literally flip the world left-to-right like a mirror image, but also changing some characteristics (fire to water or something like that).  Reflection could also be a pure plot theme, like reflecting on your life. Gravity changers that flip the world upside down?
  • Self-replication: Like evolution, this screams “Artificial Life” to me, though here things don’t have to change with each generation.  Another idea: What if you, as a player, can temporarily multiply yourself.  You point to a spot behind an enemy and “poof” a clone of yourself into existence there. Can you switch between controlling your clones, or do they run on AI?  What about “birth” as a theme?
  • Shape-shifting: Could be as simple as the player having two forms to switch between, or as complicated as the ability to complete reshape yourself, your enemies, or your environment. Some of these things would be hard to program.
  • Teleportation: Portals?  Maybe a short-ranged blink/flash power?  Maybe you’re running a vehicle/ship that can “hop” distances, but then needs to mine resources or recharge for a certain amount of time before you can do it again.  You’re in a race against some enemy/event and you need to outrun it and/or reach a goal in time.  It could be run as an interesting economic tower defense game, where you had to balance building defenses (which might eventually become overwhelmed in time) with resource-gathering.  Makes me think of The Space Game (or Creeper World), but instead of distinct levels, it’s one contiguous world.
  • Territory: The idea for Teleportation could be adapted here.  Is there some riff on Qix that we could do?  Dog/wolf territory claiming?
  • Time-travel: I’ve played a few time-manipulation games and they’ve been neat, but it’s not where my mind normally goes.
  • Tunnels: I still have ants on the brain.  A SimAnt clone seriously needs to exist.  I’m also intrigued by the idea of dynamically deforming/extruding meshes in Unity and allowing a player to literally dig a tunnel into the ground.  Maybe you’re a miner?  Maybe you are building an underground fortress (single-player Dwarf Fortress! (Am I re-inventing Minecraft?))  This would require me doing a lot of things (the mesh modification) that I’ve never tried in Unity before. I might spend the full 48 hours just figuring it out.  Arteries as tunnels.
  • Underground: Obviously there’s overlap with Tunnels, so ideas that work for one might work for both.  What about politically/socially underground?  Underground railroad?  French resistance in WW2?  A secret club?  A nightmare creature that buries underground.  From beneath you it devours.

Note: I will likely update this post throughout the day as I think of more ideas.

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Mid-May Update


Heya folks!

So, the new Japan Civ 5 LP is feeling extremely fun.  It’s interesting to have such a singular, focused goal: Kill my one opponent. Feels very different from a typical game, and I like the unique experience.

I am hoping to continue Alpha Centauri — I’m just feeling like I’m a bit stuck in that game, because my rustiness with the combat system has lead me to have a really unproductive war against the Believers.  Hopefully I can motivate myself to get back to it soon and see if I can find a solution.

Fallout: New Vegas is still definitely going to continue, since I want to finish the game in general (it’s my first and only playthrough). That being said, I may focus on finishing Amnesia first.

So yeah, right now I’m thinking that the two games most likely to see videos short-term are Civ 5 and Amnesia.


I’m also thinking of making some videos for some of my non-game-playing activities. This would be on a separate channel, for a variety of reasons. Short-term, I’m thinking this might be related to computer game programming.  Would this interest anyone?

Basically, like many, many computer programmers, I have a graveyard full of unfinished games sitting on my computer.  There’s one game in particular that I’ve wanted to make since I was a teenager that I’ve never gotten around to doing — but a few months ago I finally got started on it, and it was going really well and I think it’s got a lot of potential.  However, just like with all my other projects, I stopped working on it at some point and so it sits half-finished on my harddrive.

So what I’m wondering is if I turn it into a bit of a “How to make games” video series, it’ll give me the extra motivation I need to keep working on it and to finally finish the game.

I know that many of my subscribers won’t be interested, and there may be people interested in this that aren’t interested in the game commentary videos, hence the reason to do it on another channel.

I believe this will be the channel here:

There’s nothing there now, and there might not be anything for a little while yet, but “soon” there will be.

Geez, at this rate the only thing I do on my computer that won’t be recorded is looking at porn…

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