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Don't Be A Basic Bench: A Comprehensive Introductory Guide
Hello everyone! In an effort to keep the subreddit and its wiki filled with good and useful information, we are compiling guides for the main lifts (deadlift, squat, bench, potentially others). These guides will be added to the wiki and posted as posts as they are completed. The goal of these guides is to provide basic lift information, descriptions of some common variations, equipment considerations, related and complimentary exercises, additional resources for further reading, and to showcase incredible women (and non-binary folks) performing these lifts. This is the second entry in this lift series. Check out the first entry, The Deadlift Guide in the FAQ! If you have suggestions regarding things that should be added to these guides, or other subjects you'd like to see in the wiki, please message the mods!
The Bench Press
Bench Press Form and Variations
The main muscle group worked by the bench press is the pectoralis major, which is the largest muscle in the chest area. The pectoralis major muscle has two sections that are named for the bones they attach to – the sternal portion attaches to the breast bone and makes up the bulk of the muscle fibers, making up the middle and lower section; the clavicular portion attaches to the collarbone and is the more superior (upper) portion. The bench press also heavily involves the triceps (back of the upper arm), and recruits the deltoid muscles (shoulder), and pectoralis minor to lesser extents. I’ll first be discussing the form for a standard, flat, “neutral/wide” grip bench press. Variations on this will be discussed below it. This guide is written for barbell bench pressing, but all of these variations can be performed with dumbbells as well. Flat bench – the standard/”default” bench press Start out flat on the bench with bar directly over your eyes (with spotter) or over your nose/mouth (without spotter), feet flat, butt and upper back planted firmly on the bench. Arching of the lumbar spine is normal, fine, and absolutely legal in lifting competitions. Scapulas (shoulderblades) should be retracted or “pinched together” to provide both a stable flat surface for your upper back to settle on the bench, and to minimize undue tension on your shoulder joints. Retracting your scapulae will also puff your chest up and put your shoulders in a safer position for the lift. The bar should rest in the heel of your palm so that it is stacked above the wrist, forearm, and elbows through the lift. A slight internal rotation of the hands will help with this positioning and will angle your elbows out slightly. For a standard flat bench press, your hands will be a bit further apart than shoulder width – about 1.5-2x shoulder width is the average position – position your hands so that your forearms will be almost completely perpendicular to the floor at the bottom of the lift. Retract your scapulae (as if you’re trying to pick up a pencil off the bench between them), keep actively pushing your chest up, take in a big belly breath, and hold it before pushing the bar away from the rack and locking out at the elbows. Bring the bar down your torso so that it is directly over the line of your shoulders – this is likely going to be about the level of the middle of your sternum or your nipple line, but may vary depending on your individual anatomy and the degree of arching your back is doing. The bar should be directly above your elbows at all times during the movement of the lift. This not only increases stability during the lift, but also prevents undue stress on your triceps or your shoulders. It also is the most efficient configuration for using the majority of the muscle fibers within the pectoralis major. Speaking of efficiency in recruiting pectoral muscle fibers, let’s talk about arching your back during a bench press. This is a faux controversy like “sumo deadlifting is cheating” – the claim is that an arch will significantly decrease the range of motion for the bar, making the lift “easier”. While the purpose of the arch is to slightly decrease the range of motion, it also makes the lift safer at the bottom of the movement, which is the riskiest for your shoulder joints. It also serves to recruit more of your pectoral muscle fibers to the lift – this should increase the amount of weight one can lift and impact muscle growth when the goal is hypertrophy. Degree of arching is going to be up to personal preference and anatomy, but some degree of arch is natural and normal. Check out the natural position of the spine and you can see that the lumbar spine (lower back) has a natural forward curve (lordosis) which helps with loadbearing since we’re just hairless upright apes. An arch during bench press may be anywhere from your normal lumbar spine position to an exaggeration of your body’s natural lordosis. As you lower the bar, keep tension in your upper body by trying to “break the bar in half” or “rip the bar apart” until it touches your mid-to-lower sternum (depending on anatomy and degree of arch). After a touch (and brief pause, if you’re powerlifting), push the bar back upwards and slightly backwards towards your face to lockout. You can now exhale that big belly breath you’ve been holding for the duration of the rep.
Stronger by Science also has a very in depth How To Bench article. It is more in depth than this guide intends to be, and definitely worth a read. It also covers the anatomy and physics behind the bench press – things you should be interested in if your goal is to move weight safely (even if your goal does not necessarily involve moving a lot of weight).
Dumbbell bench: These are not only great when you aren’t yet able to use the barbell, but also for correcting muscle imbalances and general strength improvements that can translate into a barbell bench press. These also have more flexibility with grip positioning – if a barbell bench press irritates your shoulders, consider trying dumbbell bench press with a neutral grip (the dumbbells will be parallel to your body instead of perpendicular). Dumbbell bench press also allows for an increased range of motion, developing small stabilizer muscles in the upper body, and can be used to correct muscle imbalances.
Incline bench – performed with the bench angled about 15-30 degrees up from parallel to the floor. As you change the bench to a more upright position, the front shoulder muscle (anterior deltoids) will become more involved in the lift compared to lower degrees of incline and flat bench. The purpose of incline benching is to recruit more shoulder involvement and also more of the upper (clavicular) parts of the pectoralis major muscles. Bar will still track to be over your shoulders, about the nipple line/mid sternum. Grip width just wider than shoulder width so forearms will be completely perpendicular to the floor at the lowest point of the press.
Decline bench: There are benches and racks specifically for decline benching. If you only have access to a flat bench, you can potentially “make” your own decline by elevating the foot end of the bench. If you do this, make sure it’s very stable before trying the lift. The benefit of a decline bench is to utilize the lower portions of the sternal portion of the pecs more, and also decrease the amount of involvement of shoulder muscles. If you have a shoulder injury but are still cleared to lift, this can be a better option for you than a flat or incline bench press. In this position, the barbell will be over the lower part of your breast bone (sternum) and will touch the chest lower than in a flat or incline bench press.
Close grip bench: As the name suggests, this bench press variation has a more narrow grip width than standard or wide grip bench press. The purpose for this positioning is to increase the involvement of the triceps muscles during the lift. Proper grip width for this is over the shoulder joints – too narrow of a grip can internally rotate the shoulder joint which can lead to strain and injury. In this variation, the bar will touch your chest even lower than a decline or flat bench press – the bottom of the movement should still have your forearms perpendicular to the floor, with the wrists and bar stacked over the elbows.
Supinated/reverse grip bench: This variation can be very challenging, especially as weights increase. The benefit to supinating your hands so that the palm is facing your chin during the bench press is to reduce strain on the shoulders. It can be challenging to keep the bar in the fleshy part of your hands without dropping the bar on your face. Definitely practice with an empty bar or light dumbbells.
Floor press: Not just an exercise for when the benches are all occupied. Floor press is good in its own right or as an accessory for bench press. Set up is basically the same as a flat bench press, but you’re on the floor. Personally I prefer to have my knees bent and my feet flat, but one could also keep the legs flat out and completely remove lower body involvement/drive. These are especially great with dumbbells for folks with shoulder pain or issues, because you can use a neutral grip. These can help with lockout strength at the top of the bench press as well as if your sticking point on bench press is on the ascent.
Larsen press: The set up for the Larsen press is identical to a standard flat bench press. The biggest difference is that once you unrack the weight and have the bar over your chest, the feet are lifted off the ground, either straight out or resting on something else at the heel (toes up). “This forces athletes to really focus on maintaining their upper back tightness without the feet and legs compensating for poor bar path, set positioning, and inadequate force displacement.” The biggest benefit to this variation is to force the lifter to maintain a tight upper back during the bench press, though it also serves as a way to increase relative intensity/difficulty of the exercise without adding more weight to the bar.
Helpful Bench Press Cues
Try to “break the bar” while pushing it away from you. Imagine it is a big long dry spaghetti noodle and you are trying to turn it into two pieces of spaghetti by snapping it away from you. This will help engage your upper body muscles and ensure that your upper back is tight and flat, promoting a safer and more stable lift.
Grip the bar very hard, with special focus on gripping hard with your pinkies. This can help engage your latissimus dorsi for the lift!
Stack the bar over your wrists over your elbows. This means your forearm will be perpendicular to the floor and the barbell and increases stability, improves form, and reduces undue strain on your shoulders and elbows.
Push yourself away from the bar and push your body down into the bench during the actual press portion (from the bottom back up to the top) of the lift. This will help keep your upper body muscles engaged appropriately and keep you in place on the bench.
For leg drive, plant your feet and apply force down on the floor and towards your head. This will help keep your upper back planted so long as you aren't slick and sweaty and keep optimal form and tightness through the lift.
Push ups –Push ups are basically the body weight exercise version of the bench press – the movement and position is very similar and translate well into bench press gains. Succeeding in bench press will benefit your push ups, and succeeding in push ups will benefit your bench press. The bodyweightfitness subreddit guide for pushups is excellent and goes over a suggested progression program if you are not yet able to do full push ups on your toes. Note also that you can do a narrow width diamond pushup to increase involvement of your triceps.
MegSquats also recently posted a “3 tips for push ups” post that several of our users have already mentioned as being helpful.
Svend/pinch press - a great accessory exercise for pectoral muscle growth, especially right in the middle along the sternum. You’ll be squeezing a plate or other weight between your hands at mid chest level and pushing the weight straight out away from your body – make sure you’re squeezing the weight through the whole motion. This can be done either standing upright or lying flat on your back (supine). The supine version recruits your triceps more, and the standing version recruits your anterior deltoid more.
Chest flies - another favorite chest accessory. These also hit the pectoralis minor, along with pectoralis major. These can help your bench press by increasing the strength of the pectoral muscles, but are also great for changing the aesthetics of your chest muscles. Flys can be performed flat or at an incline – like incline bench press vs flat, increasing the angle away from the ground will increase the involvement of the upper aspect of the pectoral muscles as well as the anterior deltoid muscles.
Cable crossoveiron cross: Very similar to chest flies, but you’re using the cable tower and performing these upright. These engage the core and abdominal muscles more, but are still primarily for strengthening the chest, shoulders, and triceps. The best part about cable flyes or cable crossovers is that you can adjust the height of the cables to target different aspects of your chest muscles – higher cable anchors target the lower pectoral fibers, middle (shoulder-ish) height target the middle fibers, especially along the sternum, and low cable anchor points target the upper pectoral muscle fibers.
Dips are challenging body weight exercises that can have either a chest or triceps focus. Essentially, these are vertical pushups – you will be suspended from a rack or pull up/dip ‘machine’. Start with your arms fully extended while you’re holding onto the handles. Bend your arms to lower your body, leaning forward slightly, until your shoulders are just below your elbows. Lift yourself back up while straightening your arms until you lock out at the top. You can also do bench dips which may be easier on your shoulders. Surprisingly good wikihow guide on bench dips.
Around the Worlds - an exercise for pectoral and shoulder muscle strength and development. Can be done supine or standing – supine will be a chest focus, while upright will be a shoulder focused movement (but don’t worry – both groups are definitely involved in both versions). Hold dumbbells or small weight plates with your palms facing forward throughout the motion. Start with your hands at your sides and, keeping elbows slightly bent, slowly move your arms away from your body like you’re making a snow angel until they are side by side over your head. Do the reverse movement to return to the starting position with the weights by your side – this is one rep.
Triceps Pushdowns are one of many triceps extension exercises that can help you get that stylish horseshoe muscle appearance, and improve your bench press. You can do triceps pushdowns with a cable tower, pull down station, or even resistance bands.
Triceps extensions encompass a wide variety of exercises aimed at isolating the triceps for hypertrophy (size) and strength.
Equipment, Tools, and Other Considerations
These items are not required to be successful in bench pressing, but can be beneficial to lifters that bench press at any skill or weight level.
Wrist wraps can help keep your wrists straight and supported during bench press. They can help keep the weight safely and evenly distributed through your wrist and thus through the entire forearm and elbow.
Slingshot: A device invented by powerlifter Mark Bell who can bench 545lbs without special tools and 854lbs “equipped”. It wraps around your elbows and can allow you to overload your bench press by “10-15%” with the help of elastic tension from the Slingshot. It can also be helpful in taking some of the stress off shoulders and elbows during a bench press but is NOT a substitute for proper form and safe lifting.
Blocks or boards - board pressing uses wooden boards or something like benchblokz between the bar and your chest during a bench press. This decreases the range of motion for the lift and can help lifters work through sticking points (relative weak points in the range of motion), which can lead to improved bench without tools (“raw”). Here’s another article, from elitefts on board pressing and its uses.
The morning alarm woke up Ghen. With an annoyed sigh, he stretched out his arm and silenced the foul-sounding chirps. Slowly sitting up in bed, he let out a deep yawn and got to his feet. Running a couple of chitinous fingers along his antennae to stimulate them to life, he made his bed and then went to his closet. Today was a work day, so he needed his suit. Once the pants were on, he stretched out his wings so that he could button up the shirt, then relaxing them once all the buttons were secured. Dressing for the day was done, now for the morning meal. Entering his kitchen, he took out the chilled leftovers of the evening meal last night and popped it into the radiator, first defrosting and then slightly cooking it. During that process, he also fished out a ceramic cup and placed it in his brewer, serving himself some synthesized caffeine. His idle thought led him to being amused that, when eaten directly off a plant, it has a concentration that could kill him three times over. But after going through some refinement and roasting, all it does is make him hyper. Once the meal was put together, his plate of heated leftovers and a cup of almost-piping-hot cup of Xia's, he took his time to enjoy it. His communicator vibrated. When he looked, he found it was from his boss. "Hello?" Ghen answered. "Ghen, the meeting's been moved up to a few minutes from now." His boss, Xkik, announced. "Apparently higher up has something important they want to say. We have a terminal ready for you, I'll message the login details." "Wha-, what's so important?" Ghen asked in bewilderment. "Did a water line rupture or something?" "No, nothing like that." Xkik replied with a slight chuckle. "It's actually about the rumors we've been hearing. That human corporation wanting to acquire us? That's what they're talking about." Ghen could feel everything inside his thorax drop to the floor. "That must mean it's true then, right? Did we get sold off by the Queen to this company then?" "Show up to the meeting and you'll get your answer." Xkik said simply. When he finished, Ghen got the notification on his communicator. There's the login details, allowing him to remotely attend the meeting. "They're about to start, hurry up." Once Xkik disconnected, Ghen worked fast to login and set up the remote viewing. Once everything was done, his screen started transmitting the meeting room. It was already packed. And off by the main board, he saw his answer. There was a human, resting against the wall on his two legs. Standing right in the center of everyone's view was the coordinator, Tizx, watching the clock periodically. As soon as the meeting's start time was reached, the coordinator began. "Alright everyone. I realize that this was rather short notice, so I want to say how appreciative I am that you made it. Now then, let's just get right to it. For some time now, many of you have been hearing rumors that a human corporation has been interested in us. Why? We never really knew. We're just an organization responsible for finding, extracting and providing water to the colony here all under the direction of the Queen herself. Well, as of now, I have the answer for you. Why don't I let Ryan say that?" Stepping back, Tizx motioned for the human, Ryan, to take over. With a nod, Ryan practically bounced over and then took the position. "Good morning to you all. I hope my Zazk is passable, heh. Anyways, the answer to those rumors, is yes. Terran Galactic Company is indeed interested in you all. Which now leads to me. I'm here to announce that, effective yesterday evening, this water company is now a subsidiary of Terran Galactic Company, under the name of Zilia Water Delivery." Many other sub-coordinators broke into hushed conversation, no doubt speaking their thoughts with each other about this move. Ghen could only wonder if this was even a good thing. What will the humans do? Will he still have his job? Will he have to learn how to deal with the ruthless humans? "Now, I am well aware this is quite the...uh, change." Ryan continued. "That's why I'm happy to inform you that, no, nothing negative or detrimental will happen to you. You just have new people to answer to. Operations will continue as normal, everybody here will still keep their jobs. The only real change any of you will personally experience is that Coordinator Tizx here will now report to someone else. On behalf of the Terran Galactic Company, we are extremely excited and are looking forward to working with you all. Thank you for your time." A week later. At least Ryan wasn't lying. After the initial shock wore off, things went back as they normally did. There were no terminations, no reductions in annual pay or anything. Nothing really changed. At least until this new meeting was called. Ghen was at the worksite this time, so he took his seat and watched as, once again, Ryan led the meeting. "Hello again, everyone!" He said cheerfully, his Zazk noticeably improved. "I hope I didn't end up looking like a liar, right? Everything's still normal, all that?" All the zazk in the room confirmed, providing comments to their pleasant surprise as well as lingering thoughts. "Awesome! Awesome." Ryan said jubilantly, his fleshy mouth revealing his bone-white teeth. "Now then, you're probably wondering why I'm here again, right? Well, I got another fantastic piece of news for you all! Two, actually. I'll start with the first: Zilia Water Delivery has just completed its IPO. The company is now publicly traded!" Ghen and the others voiced their confusion, having no idea what in the name of the Queen Ryan was talking about. What was Ryan talking about? What's an IPO? And why exactly is being publicly traded such a significant thing? "Oh, you guys don't know any of that?" Ryan asked in surprised confusion. After everybody confirmed, he let out a quick huff as he began his explanation. "Well, to begin, IPO is short for Initial Public Offering. Basically what that means is that, before today, Zilia was privately held. Only certain individuals could buy and sell shares here. But now that we're public? Literally anyone can buy and sell shares in the company, hence us being publicly traded." "Uh, what's a share?" Ghen asked, still completely lost. "Oh, boy..." Ryan muttered under his breath before returning to his peppy image. "To simply put it, a share is short for having a share of ownership in a company. When you buy a share, you're buying a piece of ownership, and when you sell, you're selling that amount." "So wait...if someone buys a share, they're a co-owner then?" One of the other team coordinators asked. "If they get enough, yeah." Ryan nodded. "You need a lot though, and that really depends on the company. If I had to give an answer though? I'd say usually you need to have a lot more shares than a lot of people combined to be officially a co-owner, but we call that being a majority shareholder." "And how do we do that?" Ghen asked, now growing curious but still not understanding why such a concept exists. "Simple. Buy shares." Ryan said simply. "And that leads into the second piece of awesome news. Zilia's corporate has a product in mind, a premium-package of water delivery. Instead of the usual water that you pump out, filter and ensure its potable before delivery, with the premium package, not only will you get that, but you'll also get all of the required nutrients and vitamins the zazk body requires! And they feel you guys have the best expertise and understanding to pull it off! So, here's what we're offering as a good-faith bonus: A 25% increase to your annual salary as well as being given stock options." Ghen wasn't sure about the second part, but the salary definitely got his attention, as well as everyone else's. Although his job was considered to have a good pay, Ghen isn't going to say no to a higher salary. In fact, he's been focusing his work on getting a promotion so he can come home with even more credits in pocket. "What do you mean by stock options?" Ghen asked after some time. Ryan let out that smile again, the one that revealed his teeth. "If you choose to transfer over to the new group, you'll be provided 50,000 shares in Zilia itself. Why's that awesome? Let me walk you through it. Right now, our last closing price per share was 3.02 credits. And if you have 50,000 shares during that time, you're sitting on 151,000 credits, if you cash it out immediately." "And why shouldn't we?" One of the coordinators demanded in an ambiguous tone. "Because the price per share changes a lot." Ryan explained promptly. "When we got done with the IPO? It closed at 2.73 a share. Right now? My money's on the closing price being 2.99 a share. However, we are extremely confident in this premium package being successful. If it does? Well, my bet is that the share price will skyrocket to 3.12 a share. If you hold those shares and the price gets to what my bet was? You'll instead get 156,000 credits. Just by holding onto them, you just made an additional 5,000 credits!" "And what if we have more shares?" Ghen questioned, now getting excited at the prospect of free money. "Even more money!" Ryan laughed a bit. "And don't forget about dividends, but that's for another time. The premium group is gearing up right now, we just need the workforce. If any of you wants in, I'll be back tomorrow with all the forms needed to make it official. Take the day and tonight to think it over, yeah?" Everything else melted into a blur. Ghen was practically on autopilot that whole day. Was this the secret to the humans' incredibly massive economy? How so many of them have amassed so much money out of nowhere? All you had to do was just buy this share out of a company and you get more money without even working? As soon as he got home, Ghen knew what he was going to do during the night. After feverishly looking through the galnet, now having the human race connected to it, he looked and gathered up as many books that were translated into zazk as he could find, all talking about the human economic system. The last time he undertook such an intensive study was during his primary education phase. And during his search, he even found forums on the galnet that were completely dedicated to the human's economy. All of them talking about strategies on what company, or stock, to pick. How to analyze a company's performance to determine if it was worth the money, or it had potential to grow over time. And that was when he discovered the humans found another method to the extremely simple buying and selling process. There were humans and some other immigrated aliens who made five times what Ghen could receive over a simple month just by watching the share prices during trading hours, and then buying and selling them at the proper times. Ghen's mind was just absolutely flabbergasted. He thought it was just some strange concept only aliens could make, but no, not with the humans. They've practically made their economy into an art or a science. No, not even their economy. Everything. If humans can see a way to make money off of it, they'll do it. And if there isn't, they'll look for a way. Healthcare was monetized. Galnet services, transportation, shopping at the store, they even made all of their utilities into profit-oriented companies. And it was there that Ghen paused, the realization slamming into him. Everything was monetized. Which means, if you don't have the money for it, you're not getting it. Right? Are the humans truly that ruthless? So obsessed with making money? To the point that they're willing to deprive their own people of the absolute necessities if it's a source of credits? Ghen let out a scoff. There's no way. Nobody is that cruel and callous. He's never been to the United Nations. He can't rely on what a bunch of random people on the galnet says. He decided that from here on out, he'll only go as far as saying that humans are a little obsessed with credits, nothing more. ... There he was. Ryan, sitting in the office provided to him. And there was a rather large line leading to him. Looks like word got around. Although, the line wasn't as large as he expected it to be. Maybe the others thought it was just a ruse? That there's no such thing as making free money by spending it on such a made-up concept? Ghen only knows that, if it is a ruse, it's an extremely elaborate one, where all of the humans are in on it. And he believes that's just extremely ridiculous. At the end, if he's unsure, he'll just take the transfer for the very real increase in his very real salary. And although he spent a very good chunk of the night reading up on how humans do things, he's still going to play it smart. He'll leave his 50,000 shares alone and see where it goes from there. "Good morning sir." Ryan greeted warmly once Ghen took his seat. "Now, name please?" "Ghen." He answered, barely keeping his nerves down. "Alright...and what's your position at this location?" Ryan questioned after scribbling on his form. "I monitor the pumping stations near the extraction sites." Ghen explained, staying on point. "To be more specific, I check to see if they're in need of maintenance, as well as reading the flow rate that's determined by the calculators installed there. If there's too little for what's needed, I pump out more. And if there's too much, I pull it back a little." "Nice...and how long have you been doing it for?" Ryan complimented with a nod. "As of tomorrow, ten years." Ghen replied, voice quickly changing to minor awe once he realized that fact. "Excellent. Do you have anyone in mind you'd like to replace you here?" Ryan questioned after another scribble. "If you don't have anyone, you're free to say so." Ghen took a moment to think it over. A bunch of names went through his mind, but one stuck with him. "Tilik. He's just been accepted here, but he's learned quickly. Very attentive and he always catches something subtle. I think he'll do really well in my position, even better actually." "Tilik, really?" Ryan questioned with a little shock, going through his completed forms. Ghen felt a short sense of panic in him. Did something happen, or was Tilik actually transferring? His answer didn't take long to reveal itself. "Right, Tilik was actually one of the first people to want to transfer here. He's actually requested to be part of the testing teams specifically. Do you have a second choice?" "Um...no, actually." Ghen replied, feeling a little ashamed. "Tilik was my only choice, to be honest." "Hey, don't worry." Ryan said assuringly with his hands raised. "Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes, there's just nobody up to snuff, right? 'Kay, so, last question. Is there anything specific you'd like to do when given the transfer?" "If you need someone monitoring new pumps, I'd be happy to do that." Ghen stated. "So basically same job but with better payoff, am I right?" Ryan grinned. "I hear you. Sometimes, we're just not paid enough for what we're doing. I know I think that sometimes. Uh, our secret, yeah?" "Yeah, our secret." Ghen nodded, thinking it'd be better to have friendly relations with the human, just in case. "Awesome. Back on topic, that's it." Ryan announced, placing the form on his pile. "We'll give you a call when you're accepted." "Oh, uh, that's it?" Ghen questioned with a shrug in shocked surprise. "What, expecting a question like, why do you want to transfer?" Ryan chuckled a bit as he leaned in his seat. "You can bullshit all you want, but we both know the answer. Sweet money and stock options. Not saying that's a bad answer of course, just that it's pretty obvious." "I suppose it is." Ghen commented, realizing the point. "Also, you mentioned this...dividend? Is that for Zilia shares?" Ryan laughed a little bit before nodding. "Yep, announced before I came here. About 0.43 per share. Want to know why that's awesome? Instead of waiting for the proper price to cash out your shares, now? The company pays you for each share you hold." "A...Are you serious?" Ghen demanded, flabbergasted. Ryan nodded with his now-trademark grin. "Dead serious. If you get the transfer, and get those 50,000 shares? A little head math...right, if you hold onto those, in addition to your salary, you'll now annually be paid 21,500 credits, if you keep it at 50,000 shares. Only you can decide to sell or buy shares." Ghen just stood there silent and motionless, no idea of whether to believe it or not, to which Ryan just laughed. Once he walked out of the room, he managed to snap back to reality. Again, just focus on the very real pay-raise. He'll deal with the other parts later. After he returned to his spot, he spotted Tizx approaching by his desk. The coordinator seems to be as casual as always. "I saw you in that line a bit ago, Ghen." He said as he leaned on the desk. "Guess you're really taking that human's word?" "I mean, I don't know about all this share business or what not." Ghen began with a shrug, his tone sounding a little defensive. "But I mean, having a bigger salary? Course I'm going for it when I can. And if all this magic credits turn out to be real? You realize we can live like the royal servants, right? Get the best cars, the nicest food and all that?" "I'd be very careful, Ghen." Tizx warned in a sudden shift in tone. "Don't trust those humans. The way they just...obsess over money? Come up with more and more insane ways of getting credits? I don't know, it just makes my wings twitch." "You think this is a bad idea?" Ghen asked with a little surprise at the change-in-demeanor. "I think you should be careful, with the humans, and with what you're saying." Tizx replied, straightening his posture. "I wouldn't put it past those Earthmen to backstab you if it gets them a few more credits. And we all know how the royal servants get if any of us lowly commoners start thinking we can break into their circle." "I hear you, I'll be on my guard, promise." Ghen stated with a nod. With a confirming nod of his own, Tizx returned back to his duty, walking past Ghen's desk. Several weeks later. Everything became so much better. Ghen got the transfer. He didn't need to relocate to a new residence either. And after he was walked through into learning how to manage his stock account, and seeing that new form of payment in his hands, he already felt as though he made the best decision. But it was only when he decided to take those shares more seriously that he became privy to what he was given. After receiving the dividend payment, and actually seeing it was real, valid credits after transferring it to his main bank account, all he could describe was the most powerful high he ever felt. While his first thoughts were to buy himself a royalty-class car, some nicer furnishings for his home, or even a better home entirely, he ended up going the smarter route. After going back to his stock account, he discovered that Zilia's shares rose to about 3.22 credits in price. Knowing that this was the easiest money he could ever make, he took all of his dividend earnings and bought more shares in Zilia, bringing him to owning 56,891. And from his new regional coordinator, a human named Dylan, tomorrow is the grand release of the premium package. For just a monthly rate of 14.99 credits, the tap water will now include a sizeable portion of all nutrients and vitamins required in the zazk physiology. Still, Ghen has to admit. He's not entirely sure why anybody would want such a thing, if they'd even go for it. But, as long as he's practically swimming in easy credits, he won't pay much attention to it. And just like when he was intensively studying the basics of how the human economy worked, he barely got any sleep. His mind was constantly thinking about the things he would buy. Or rather, what other stocks to put his credits into. Even now he can still hardly believe it. Just spend your money on some, make-believe thing and, if you wait long enough and picked the right stock, you'll get more than you spent back? His mind even wandered onto what human colonies, or even their homeworld, Earth, was like. If everybody was making so much money, what kind of things would they offer? What kind of ridiculous service or product or item can you get? He's even debating on joining some forum and just asking around. Explain how he's new to how humans do things and was wondering what he should expect if he's successful. By the time he felt like he can go to sleep, the binary-stars of the system were rising from the horizon. After getting out of his bed and changing to clean clothes, his mind returned onto what-ifs. What if he bought better clothes? He's had his eye on that human brand of luxury clothes, Tessuti di Venezia, that's been all the rage amongst the royal servants. Or maybe he can go on vacation and just check out Earth for real? It was a short ride to his workplace from his home. After getting stuff his stuff and preparing to walk through the doors, he heard the roar of a car grow louder. When he looked, he saw the sleekest and quite possibly the coolest looking car he's ever seen. Each time the engine revved it would startle him, both from how harsh it sounded as well as just how intense it sounded. And after it parked, he saw the doors pop out and then slide along the body back. And there, he saw Tilik, the seat literally turning and extending out a bit before he got off. As soon as he saw Ghen staring, he struck a rather prideful pose after putting on his lab coat and then sauntered over to Ghen. "What do you think?" Tilik said, without any doubt inviting praise or compliments. "D...Did you actually buy that?" Ghen asked, unable to tear his eyes away from the car. "You're Queens-damn right I did!" Tilik laughed happily. "Thing takes off like a starship, has temperature-controlled seating, all-in-one center console, barely any bouncing on rough roads. Hoof, best decision I've ever made!" "How much did that thing cost?" Ghen asked after letting out an incredulous laugh. "Five million credits." Tilik replied, earning an absolutely shocked stare from Ghen. "And thanks to the incredible salary I have, in addition to all these shares and dividends, I'll pay back the credits I borrowed in no time!" Ghen needed a few moments before he could speak again. "All I've been doing is buying more shares." Tilik laughed and then patted the now-envious monitor's back. "Smart man. I got a little carried away, yeah, but not anymore. Any spending credits I got, going right back to investing. That's what it's called right, investing?" "Yeah, it is." Ghen nodded, feeling a fire light up in his thorax. "And also? Today's the day that the premium water thing is being released. Here's hoping it starts out well, right?" "Oh it will, trust me." Tilik chuckled as they both began making their way inside the workplace. "Lots of research, lots of study. By the Queen, so much of it...it'll make your head spin." And after hearing that, Ghen had a moment of realization. "Hey, Tilik? How did you get such a nice position anyways? Weren't you just studying under me before the humans came along?" Tilik let out a sigh after opening the door. "I'll be honest, I never wanted your job. Not because it's boring or terrible, just...I didn't suffer so many sleepless nights in the science academy just to be a glorified button pusher. This is what I've always wanted. Doing science, solving problems rather than just applying the solution, you know?" "Wait, you got an academic certificate?" Ghen questioned, completely floored. "How did you end up beneath me then? I should've been answering to you!" "Simple." Tilik gave a heavier sigh. "A royal servant was asking for the same job I was. Take a guess at who got it." "Ouch. Good thing the humans came along when they did, yeah?" Ghen was taken aback. He never heard anything about a servant taking a job at his place. "Looks like you're proving yourself to be well suited." "By the Queen, of course I am." Tilik nodded. "Like I said, I nearly broke my wings through so many nights, got certified top of my class, all just to get pushed to the dirt because someone who was born into a particular family wanted the same thing I did? I know I'm smarter than any of those empty-skull servants back in the Center. I know that, whatever, uh...corporate? Yeah, whatever corporate wants out of science, I will xeek give it to them." "Well, let me know how things go in the lab." Ghen said, admiring his drive as they neared the main office floor. "Because this is where the button pusher needs to go." Tilik let out a laugh as he nodded. "Hey, how about we meet up at Queen's Fine Eatery tonight. I'll pay, yeah?" Ghen, at first, wanted to admonish him for choosing such an outrageously expensive place to go. But he quickly realized that, he truly is good for it, thanks to the humans. "Well, hey, if you're paying for it." ... It was a fantastic opening. After being told what news sites to keep in mind for stocks, he first heard it from Dylan, and then got more detail on Business Today. There was such a massive demand right from the start that Zilia needs to increase extraction just to meet it. But what really got his attention was the effect it had. Zilia Water Delivery's share price just blasted off. After seemingly holding steady at about 3.15, by the time he got home and logged onto his account, it already reached 7.04 a share. The calculator on his account told him that he got a value-gain of 54.26%. Never in his entire life had he felt such...joy. With all of the shares he currently has? He's sitting at 400,512.64 credits. He knows that it is woefully pathetic compared to what the royal servants have just in their pockets, but the fact that he has such money, just by owning some intangible concept? Why even work at Zilia? Why doesn't he just sit at home, figure out what companies to invest in and make his money that way? What's even the point in working a real job, getting a pathetic pay when you can just take the money you have, determine where to spend it, and get triple back? All just sitting on your wings at home, researching? He was so wrapped up in his excited high that he completely forgot he was going to meet Tilik at Queen's. After quickly and haphazardly putting on his nicer clothes, he got to the place only a few minutes late. Tilik was there by the guide, no doubt having been waiting for him. As soon as he strode up, Tilik's wings stiffned out some. No doubt he must've seen the numbers as well. "I can see your wings, Ghen." Tilik began with an excited chuckle. "Made some serious credits?" Ghen let out an incredulous scoff, struggling to find the words for a moment. "Incredible. All I'm going to say." "Likewise." Tilik chortled some before nodding to the table guide. "All here. Table please?" "Right this way, sir." The guide said politely. It was a short walk, travelling between round tables. The vast majority were populated by zazk, but Ghen was surprised at seeing a few humans here as well. No doubt corporate workers checking out the local food. He did spot them having bowls filled with some kind of mass. Some were brown, others white with what looks to be black specks on them. They arrived at their table. A rather nice one, affording a view out the windows into the busy colony streets. Once Tilik and Ghen settled in, the guide handed out the menus. "May I suggest our rather popular option for tonight?" The guide began. "Human ice-cream. Ingredients sourced from Earth itself. Very cold, but incredibly sweet, and coming in many flavors. The most popular amongst us is called vanilla-bean. The vanilla itself soaks in the cream for much of the process, and then the innards sprinkled on top of it near the end. Rumor has it that the Queen herself has demanded personal shipments of such a treat straight from the home of vanilla, an island on Earth named Madagascar." Ghen didn't even spare a single thought. "Vanilla bean ice cream then, please." "Same." Tilik seconded when the guide glanced to him. With a slight bow, the guide proceeded to ferry their orders to the kitchen. Thankfully it was just a short wait before the guide returned, carrying a large plate containing bowls of ice cream. Ghen could feel the saliva on his mandibles as the bowl was placed before them. He could just feel the cold air around that glistening mass of sugary goodness. The white snow decorated with the black dots of vanilla bean. Once the guide left them, Tilik and Ghen both dived in at the same time. As soon as the ice cream entered his mouth, touched his tongue, he exploded in incomprehensible bliss. The sweetness, the smooth and creamy mass, even the taste of vanilla he wasn't sure about was just absolutely delightful. It was so overwhelming that his entire body limped, slumping in his seat as he was forced to ride on the surging tide of joy and happiness sweeping over him. Tilik was no different. He too was taken completely by the effects of the ice cream, his wings fluttering some against the seat. Ghen could hear some noise. It was the humans they passed by. They were chuckling, grinning, and glancing over at them discreetly. Unlike the two zazk, the humans seemingly just enjoyed the ice cream as if it was just another nice dessert to them. Or perhaps they couldn't allow themselves to succumb to the high? And as soon as the wave of indescribable bliss and happiness subsided, Ghen knew. He just knew. This was the life. He wanted this. The ice cream was just the beginning. So many things denied because he didn't have the credits, or worse, not the blood. Because he was just a drone in the great Collective, even if he had the credits, he wasn't allowed because of what caste he was born in. That fire that sparked in him when he saw Tilik's new car? It exploded into a raging firestorm. And when looking into Tilik's eyes, Ghen could see the same. He was on the same page as Ghen was. Both of them were sold. They have the credits. And the humans? If you can pay for it, they'll never discriminate. All they cared about is if you have the money. And by the Queen, Ghen and Tilik will endeavor to amass as much credits as physically possible. The rest of the night faded into a blur. A blur that evokes only one thing. Bliss. It was only when he walked through the door of his pathetic hut that Ghen's mind snapped back to focus. His mandibles felt sticky. And he felt a weight in his stomach. How much ice cream did he eat? Whatever it was, he ate such volume that the lower-section of his throax extended and rounded out, visible even under his shirt. He felt something odd in his pocket. It was a receipt. 43,000 credits for ten bowls of vanilla bean ice cream. Was that ten bowls for both of them? Or individually? Ghen didn't care. He's good for it. Returning back to his calculator, he acted upon the decision that he had made at that eatery. He's acquiring as many books about investing and stock trading as he could find, frequent and study all the discussions and arguments presented by other like-minded individuals such as he, all to ensure he can live the good life. And he had a very good feeling Tilik was doing the exact same thing. Well, first, the gurgling in his stomach, as well as the feeling of something rising demanded his attention. Looks like he'll need to take the night off to let his stomach get back to normal. Three Years Later. Ghen looked out beyond the horizon, seeing the colony that he grew up in. On the far side was where his old house was. With only a simple robe on, made from the finest silk from Earth's nation-state of China, he relaxed in his seat. It was a long road. Stockpiling credits from pre-existing investments and from subsequent pays, he and Tilik made it. From having only half a million in assets and cash, now transformed to over eight-hundred million. And now, his call contracts on American Interstellar? They've just announced a breakthrough in their next generation of warp drives, reducing the speed coefficient even further, resulting in far faster travel. And with that, their stock price climbed sharply. Another hundred million credits in the bank. Soon, very soon, he and Tilik are about to become the galaxy's first zazk billionares. But that's not enough. There are many humans who are billionares. Only those he can count on one hand are considered trillionares. He's going to break into that circle. He and Tilik. Looking beyond the colony, he saw the abandoned building of the workplace he transferred to when the humans arrived. Turns out, the reason for such a high demand was that the humans also slipped in sugar to the tap water. As soon as that broke, many influential royal servants demanded investigations and outright banning of Terran Galactic Company's influence over the former government division. Zilia's stock price plummeted. But thanks to an advance tip from his human coordinator, Dylan, he and Tilik made a put contract. And that's where they struck gold, as the human saying goes. Dylan warned that if they were citizens of the United Nations, they'd be investigated and convicted for insider trading. But, since they weren't, and the Collective were only just introduced to capitalism, there's no risk at all. Now the colony is going through a withdrawal phase, Zilia has been dissolved and reformed back as a government division and are currently at work re-establishing the standard, plain water delivery. "Well, shit." Tilik muttered as he walked up to Ghen's side, taking well to human speech. "Looks like you win. American Interstellar's announcement really was a good thing. There goes a million credits. Ah well, the Royal Shipyards will make it back for me soon." "Oh? Did they just go corporate?" Ghen asked curiously, glancing to Tilik. "Hell yeah they did." Tilik chuckled, sitting down. "Queen and her retard servants fought it hard, but Royal Shipyards is now officially a human-style corporation. And, to a surprise to all the xenophobes in the galaxy, they're already being offered contracts for ship production. That'll raise the stock price pretty good." "What's that human word...?" Ghen muttered, already having a reply in mind. "Dick? Yeah, calls or suck my dick, Tilik." Tilik roared in laughter. "Already made them. Forty credits a share by this day next month." "I have half a mind to go thirty." Ghen chuckled. "Either way, until then, I heard from Dylan that he knows a guy who knows several prime human women who happen to be into zazk." "You're interested in women?" Tilik said as his wings fluttered. "With how often you tell me to suck you off, I'd have thought differently." "Oh, I always thought it was you who was into men." Ghen responded dryly. "Just wanted to be a good friend, you know? Considering how you never seem to make it past, Hey sweet thing, I'm rich you know." "Oh, go fuck yourself." Tilik countered with a little laugh. After he stopped, wings stiffened, he looked to Ghen. "So, know any royal servants we can put the squeeze on for more revenue streams?" "I got just the one." Ghen nodded, sitting up. "Fzik. He's been fighting to control the ice cream trade. Worried it's a corrupting influence. Got done talking with the human CEO of Nestle earlier. If we clear the way, he'll know how to squeeze a little more gains in stock price when he makes the announcement." Tilik's wings stiffened even more, signaling his approval. "Alright, time to throw some credits around, yeah?" AN: Sorry for the period of no updates. College is starting up, lots of stuff to clear and work out. Not sure why but I just got a bug up my butt about incorporating money and the stock market into a short. Here it is. Sorry if it seems abrupt, character limit fast approaching. Let me know how you guys think about it!
I was typed on this sub some time ago but my answers were too vague and not that accurate I think. I’m doubting my type again and I need some new insight. – Describe yourself in as much elaborate detail as possible (that still renders you anonymous, or to a level of acceptable comfort) 18 yo high school student just trying to survive IB. My gender is a questionable thing. I consider myself non binary because I’ve always felt extremely uncomfortable with talking about my gender and I wanted to obey all of the expectations and gender roles. I hate all of the labels and sht. I feel like I’m an individual being that doesn’t fit anywhere but at the same time I feel like a part of humanity and I can connect to literally any human being. Doesn’t matter of nationality/age/gendesome other sht. I sympathize with everyone and I kinda feel like I belong to them. If I had to move to foreign country that I don’t know anything about, right now, I think I’d quickly adapt to the culture. I feel like everything and nothing at the same time. I am diagnosed with severe social anxiety and I display some characteristics of avoidant personality disorder. It basically makes me unable to figure out my type since I don’t know what is true about my personality and what is a defense mechanism anymore. I need some insight from other people because I’m so confused about my own self. I don’t really understand the concept of personality traits at all. I feel like a chameleon and I have no consistent personality. – Why are you interested in knowing your type? At first I was just curious because I’m really into psychology and I found the idea of cognitive functions interesting. But now I’m just mad at myself that I can’t decide on my type because I relate to few types but at the same type I relate to none of them. I just want to be certain. I have this issue that I need to be sure about my every decision and I hate that whenever I finally decide that “this is my real type, it feels right” then suddenly a few days later I find out that it can’t be my real type because the way that type is supposed to think doesn’t really describe how I think very well. – Do you go to work and/or you in school? If so, what field/occupation/subjects? I go to school. I changed my school a year ago. My first school wasn’t that bad, the teachers weren’t the worst, my classmates didn’t bully me for being quiet and I had not so bad grades. But deep down I hated that school. There were so many people that I felt overwhelmed and I had to close myself in the restroom every break. I just couldn’t handle this many people. And this school had such a depressing vibe for some reason. After one of my classmates almost commited a suicide it had become even worse. I accidentally found another school that was way smaller (less people) and since it was IB it could mean I’d have better opportunities for universities abroad. And I could choose every subject. I didn’t think twice, I changed my school immediately. It didn’t matter for me that the exams would be much harder and there would be overall more work. And that new classmates might bully me or something. I mean, I was scared at first but I had to try no matter what. Now I think it was actually a great idea. I love this school even though I sometimes struggle with this much work. My subjects are my native language, english, german, biology, psychology and maths. I chose them because I’m good at them. Except for math, it was obligatory. – Describe your upbringing. Did it have any kind of religious or structured influence? How did you respond to it? It was pretty chill I guess. My parents have always supported all of my weird interests that I wanted to try and some of my dumb decisions even if they disagreed with them. Although most people would say that I should be grateful to my parents that they were always generous to me with their affection and money, at the same time they never understood me. I’ve always been a very creative and imaginative child. I’ve always been daydreaming and I used to write stories a lot. My parents thought it was some sign of schizophrenia or something (it wasn’t) and told me to stop daydreaming and focus on school and grades. I remember whenever I tried to share some of my weird ideas with them, they were always telling me that it’s pointless and I have to be more down to earth. I was also very curious as a kid and I could sometimes research some really bizarre stuff because I found it interesting. I remember my parents once found my searching history and literally yelled at me for searching some useless knowledge. I’d understand their reaction if I was searching for p0rn or something like that but I was looking for some psychology stuff lol. I started to become very secretive at this point and now I always have to be in incognito mode and I have to clear my history frequently or I’ll become anxious that somebody is judging me. And I remember when I once told them about my anxiety they literally told me that it’s not a problem and I’m perfectly fine and I should stop thinking about such pointless stuff. Religion wasn’t a very big issue for me. My parents are christian but they never tried to force anything on me. They tried to make me religious when I was a child but eventually let me choose whether I want to believe in that or not. At first I considered myself christian even though I didn’t know what it was even about. I was told since childhood that it is the truth so I didn’t question it at that time. But I eventually started questioning my faith. I didn’t like going to the church, the prayers and all. I didn’t really agree with some of the principles of that religion. I began to ask myself whether I really believe in god or do I “believe” because I’m scared of punishment. When I grew up, I started doing some research on the Bible and I realised that it doesn’t make any sense. I mean, it depends how you interpret it, for me it didn’t make any sense. Also, in my native country there’s something like religious education in school and it’s basically forcing christianity into kids. I hate this. I rember a priest that was „teaching” my class in middle school and once he could say that god loves and accepts everyone but then he could say something like gay bad, trans bad. Like the fck is this?! – Do you need logical consistency in your life? I have no idea what that inherently means but I’ll try to answer anyway. I like to think that everything is connected and I can start overthinking things that don’t make sense to me, to find some explanations. I need explanations for everything. I used to be really anxious about what happens after death because that’s something I can’t explain. I mean, I can try but it wouldn’t be 100% accurate because I can’t check that unless I’d die. If I ever decided to kill myself, the reason would be probably that I just wanted to check what will happen to me. I created my own theory on what happens after death that I try to believe is true so I won’t have to kill myself. I somehow tried to base it on science but it turned out to be some irrational crap. But for me it makes the most sense so I assume it’s accurate since it can’t be proven right or wrong. It just depends what you believe in. I know my theory is not perfect and I only pretend I believe in it but I really don’t want to have to kill myself so I need to approve any explanation, doesn’t matter how irrational it sounds. – How curious are you? Do you have more ideas then you can execute? What are your curiosities about? What are your ideas about? I think I’m very curious. I want to know everything. Like literally everything. Possessing all of the knowledge possible and understanding the whole world and how it works had been my dream since I remember. Sometimes I can get into some bizarre interests that are completely useless for me but I still find them interesting, like marine biology. Anyway, I have too many ideas and usually, I end up with nothing. My ideas can be about everything and anything but usually creative stuff like ideas for songs or novels. – If money was not an issue, what careejob would you have? I wouldn’t even go to work lmao. I’d just procrastinate all day. At the end of the day I’d probably have to go to work because I’d be scared that I’d lose all the money and I wouldn’t know what to do with myself anymore and I don’t want to parasite on anybody so yeah, I’d have to go to work someday. But the thing is, I have no idea what job I’d like to have. – Are you a free spirit or do you play by the rules? If so, why? This is quite hard for me to answer. I have a weird relationship with the rules. Of course I don’t like being limited or told exactly what to do, I can be a little rebel sometimes. But at the same time I need some guidance. When I have no direction, my mind goes blank because I either have no idea what to do or too many ideas. When I’m doing some work for other people, I always have to ask about every little detail so they’ll be satisfied with my work. I have to do that because if I’m given too much freedom I tend to think backwards and do the literal opposite because I could understand the assignment differently or something like that. I don’t want others to be disappointed with my work. I always think differently than it’s expected from me lol. I remember once there was a test at school about some poem and there was a task to interpret the last sentence or something. I thought it was about time loops so I wrote about it but when we were checking the test, the teacher said it was about death. I got half of the points for that task because my arguments were good but my interpretation wasn’t the same as the teacher’s and it was a bit out of the blue. Like my teacher probably didn’t even know where the hell did I get that from. – If I asked you to take a shot with a football how would that make you feel? Would you be able to do it well? Would you enjoy it? I’d die internally because it’d remind me of my trauma associated with team sports. I used to be bullied in primary school because I wasn’t good at sports. I could never follow the ball and the general action that was taking place because that sht was too fast for me. And I used to have anemia so I literally had no strength or energy to do anything. I’m still not very athletic so I’d probably do terribly. But I think I could enjoy it if it was just for fun and I wouldn’t be ridiculed for any mistake. – If I asked you to write me an essay, would you enjoy it? What would it be about? How would it make you feel? I love writing essays in english but I hate writing in my native language (it’s more complicated than english and even native speakers can sometimes make some really stupid and basic mistakes) so as long as it is in english I’d enjoy it. I have no idea what I’d write about. If I was given a topic I could write about literally anything but if I had to choose a topic myself I’d be completely clueless. I’d probably search for some ideas on the internet and then choose whatever seems the easiest to write because I don’t want to spend 7492810847 hours on that essay. – Is it okay to crack a few eggs? If it makes an omelette? Do the ends justify the means? I guess so. Do anything you want, just don’t hurt anybody else. – Do you put things back in their proper place? I never do that and it’s going to make me insane someday. I can sometimes put my phone somewhere and after 5 minutes I can completely forget where the hell I put it and then search for it for hours. I lose my stuff at home all the time because I put my sht wherever I feel like. I wish I wasn't this messy because it can be annoying but I can’t stand order either. I get inspiration from chaos and whenever I’m drawing I HAVE to make my desk a bit messy because when it’s empty and clean it feels as if my mind was empty. – How do you behave around strangers, acquaintances and friends? I have social anxiety so I act very awkwardly around strangers and people I don’t know that well like for example classmates. I’m very shy. I stutter a lot, I say stupid things unintentionally, I tend to zone out a lot. I’m also very quiet and I never talk unless I’m being asked directly. Even if asked directly, I can sometimes still keep quiet. I can become overwhelmed a lot when I’m around other people and I sometimes have panic attacks or I can start crying for no reason. I can’t do small talk, it’s pointless for me and it seems so fake. But if I ever approached somebody for the first time and asked them what is the meaning of life or something like that, they’d think I’m insane, so I don’t really know how to start a conversation. And I really hate questions like „how are you?". What does it even mean, like wtf. My social skills are so terrible, I wish I was born with some instruction on how to act in any social situation. Whenever I have to talk to a teacher or somebody else in a formal setting, I always have to ask my mom how do I say what I want to say in a way that will be appropriate. This sht’s exhausting. I have no friends but my family is like my friends so I can say how I act around them. I think I’m the most “real” around them because I’m not scared they’ll judge me. I’m a completely different person when I’m comfortable. I can be a clown sometimes, I say a lot of dumb stuff intentionally because I don’t feel embarassed when I’m around my family. My family has so many inside jokes, most of them made by me lol. I can be very loud and talkative sometimes or even argumentative and I’ve heard so many times from my parents “if you only were this outspoken at school like you are at home”. If any of my classmates saw me like that they’d say it’s an impostor because there’s no way I could act like that lmao. I also got more comfortable with my distant family and I’m not that shy anymore when I’m around them. I can confront my uncles whenever they’ll try to playfully bully me (I really hate when they do that) and I feel so good about that. I wouldn’t be able to do anything like that a year ago and I’m glad I’m getting more confident. – Do you have exquisite tastes that you would expend effort or money for? I buy apple stuff because it’s easier for me to use. I once had an android phone and it was a pain to use. – How do you act when others request your help to do something (anything)? If you would decide to help them, why would you do so? I think I’d help no matter how I’d feel about it. I lack assertiveness because of my social anxiety. With people I’m comfortable with, I think I’d still help no matter what. I’d just feel terrible as a person if I wouldn’t help. – How long do you take to make an important decision? How would you go about it? And do you change your mind once you've made it? I’m hella indecisive. I have to ask other people for some guidance or I’ll be lost. I literally cannot decide for myself. I also sometimes seem like I have no opinion on anything but I just see pros and cons in everything and I can’t decide on the best option. Everything is shades of gray and whatever I choose should be personal preference but I always look for the objectively best solution that will be approved by my inner critic and also other people. It’s exhausting because I can’t even choose a meal in a restaurant. I treat it like some very important decision while it’s so mundane. When it comes to food my final choice would probably be something I haven't tried yet that sounds good or whatever with shrimp. I’m always in a mood for some shrimp lol. I sometimes can choose something familiar but only when I really don’t know what to choose. After making my final decision, I always wonder what if another one would be better and I never feel certain about my decisions. I’m scared of making decisions because I’m anxious that my decision was the wrong one. I wish I could try everything in my life. – If I asked you to design a plan of action, would it be easier to work alone or in a group? Do you ask for others’ opinions? or stick to your own guns? It would be better to work alone because I cannot work in a group since my social skills are lower than the bottom of Marianas trench. I can’t even work with people I’m comfortable with. I feel like they distract and overwhelm me and I prefer to get some ideas from others and then execute everything myself. When I get some ideas from other people, it immediately stimulates my mind and I can quickly come up with something. I sometimes have great ideas while trying to create something out of nothing but I have the best ideas when I find some ideas from the external world that inspire me and I start from there. After I finish my work, I have to show it to others. I need some validation from them because I want to know if my work is acceptable. With any schoolwork, I have to first show it to my sister before I can show it to my teacher so I know I didn’t do any crap and I wouldn’t be laughed at. I can’t show anything to my teachers without being certain it’s good. – A weekend best spent looks like ...? If I could do anything I wanted, I wish I could go to the mountains or sightseeing by myself or with my family. More realistic best weekend would be a weekend where I don’t have that much work for school and I can actually relax. – My biggest fears are ... There’s quite a lot of that. Most of my life has been full of the feelings of fear and anxiety. I’m really scared of social interactions and public speeches, being judged or rejected. I hate the feeling of embarrassment, it makes me feel so uncomfortable. I’m also really scared of crowds. When there are too many people around, I start panicking. I once got a panic attack at a wedding and nobody could calm me down, I was so overwhelmed (especially that there were many photographers and they were surrounding me so I couldn’t really escape from them. I didn’t want them to take any pictures of me so I put a jacket on my face whenever I saw them near me. Most of the wedding I spent outside sitting on a bench because there weren’t that many people there and there weren’t any photographers around). I’m really scared of the future because I don’t know what to do with myself and I’m probably gonna end up lonely, depressed and addicted to some crap. What I really hate is pressure and feeling controlled or trapped. Especially at school because I’m forced to do things that make me uncomfortable, like performing in front of people. And I feel like school has always been limiting my creativity and individuality. I’m also scared of bugs. I hate them so much. I can start panicking whenever I hear a fcking fly. – How much do you express yourself and what mediums do you do that through? Art? Writing? Talking? Art is my thing. But I’m more into analyzing and critiquing art rather than creating. When I do create, I express my ideas more than my feelings. I draw graphic novels. The funny thing is that I don’t even “like” most of my works. I mean, if somebody else created these stories and I was a reader, I’d rate them something around 5 on enjoyment. Most of my stories are based on some concepts I found interesting or I create stories to see how the public would react to it or just to check how I’ll perform at a specific genre rather than something that is personal to me. I sometimes write songs and they also aren’t that personal to me. Some are, but most of my lyrics are about things anyone could relate to. And I like to create some really weird analogies. I wrote 8379287593 songs about comparing some random stuff to toxic relationships. Give me any random thing and I could transform it into a song about toxic relationships. I’ve never been in a toxic relationship tho. My sister also writes songs but they are so personal that only she knows what they are about. I hate that to be completely honest. I prefer lyrics that make sense and are easy to interpret given the context. I think I create for the audience instead of myself. I express my feelings through writing. I sometimes just write down my thoughts to let go of them and it’s very therapeutic for me. I sometimes post some of my thoughts on my twitter. I really need an audience lol. – Generally where do you lean politically? Is it every man for himself? Should people be pragmatic? Does the government need to step in and help people? I’ve tried to get into politics more because I might seem ignorant since I have no political views. I see pros and cons in everything and it’s really hard for me to decide what is the best. I somewhat agree with every side. I could say I’m libertarian because I value freedom a lot, but I don’t really know. – Does it matter if something is factually correct for you to believe in it? Depends. I won’t believe in something like flat earth but not everything can be scientifically proven. I can be a bit sceptical since science is constantly improving and literally anything can be proven wrong at any time. – Are emotions/feelings an important aspect of your life? If so, then why? This is a very tough question for me. I have no idea if emotions are just chemicals in the brain and the way I react to things or if it’s something deeper. I want to think it’s something deeper because it’s more optimistic and it could mean that feelings are something individual for everyone (and my therapist said so lol). I like to think that there is something in the world that is only for me. I got very obsessed with my individuality because I have a twin and we’ve been constantly compared to each other. People used to treat us as if we were one person. Now I have to be “different” in everything, so people will finally address me by my name and not per “twin” all the time. I like to see myself as an individual being and I also see other people like that. I just love the idea that everyone is different but at the same time we’re all connected. Are emotions actually important in my life? I guess so. I mean, I don’t really know, but my therapist told me that understanding my emotions is the key to curing my mental health issues and existential crisis. The thing is that I try to avoid my feelings as much as I can because when I’m left alone with my feelings I get depressed and start crying. Every night when I’m going to sleep, I start overthinking a lot since it’s the only thing I can do, so I started to distract myself from thinking by creating some fictional stories in my head. A bit on my feelings because it’s really confusing to me: I have trouble with recognizing my feelings and I sometimes have trouble being subjective. I can even be a people pleaser. I remember I had to write an essay for my english class about my thoughts on some quote and I first wrote what I think the author meant, then why it’s accurate and why it’s not and then in conclusion I wrote in which aspects I agree with the author and in which I disagree. Then my sister told me I did it wrong because I was supposed to write what the quote meant to me personally. But that was what it meant to me lol. Whenever my therapist asks me about my feelings I always answer “I don’t know”. Because I just genuinely don’t know. Even when she once told me I can explain my emotions metaphorically, I still couldn’t. For some time I was thinking that I don’t feel emotions at all but my therapist told me I just feel differently than how I think I „should” feel. I have this weird inner view of how emotions “should” be and I’m quite anxious that it doesn’t actually work like that. I can sometimes get really dramatic with my external emotions (shouting, crying, etc) but I never actually feel like that. I think that how I react is so different from how I actually feel. I never realise that I’m acting like I was angry in that exact moment but rather when people tell me that I was acting dramatic or something and after I’ll calm down I’m like “oh, I probably seemed angry at that time”. – How attached are you to reality? I don’t think I’m very attached to reality. I feel like I’m living in a simulation sometimes. The experience of life is so surreal, I can’t even explain it. I daydream a lot. Maybe even too much. I can sometimes lay in my bed for hours doing nothing and just thinking and listening to music. I even wondered if I don’t have maladaptive daydreaming at some point. I sometimes get caught up in my thoughts and when somebody distracts me I can get frustrated. When I’m with other people I can sometimes zone out completely because, for example, I saw a plane and I started wondering how the hell does it exactly work that it can float in the air, completely ignoring the people I’m with. – How thick skinned are you? Are you sensitive to criticism? I am very sensitive actually. But I think I got more thick skinned over time. I used to be such a sensitive child that literally anything could make me cry. Not sure if I really got more confident or if it’s the medicine I’m taking for my anxiety tho. I’m also a huge empath. Whenever I read a book or watch a film, I literally “transform” into the main characters and feel everything they feel. I remember I tried to read The Sorrows of Young Werther for school and I couldn’t finish it, I wasn’t able to handle this much negative feelings. I just read the summaries and hoped I’ll pass the test. I also started reading a manga called Chi no wadachi recently and it killed me. I’m fine with constructive criticism. I like criticism if it’s intended to help me improve and I hate it when somebody does that just to sht on me. I can get aggressive sometimes when somebody criticizes me all the time, even when I improve my work and they still can see something bad about it. I really hate it because it doesn’t help me at all. If I get insulted, I try not to care or not show that I care, but I actually deeply care at first. I usually forget about it and move on quickly but it’s still somewhat hurtful I guess.
The Challenges of Designing a Modern Skill, Part 3
Okay, Wendy’s or Walgreens or whoever, I don’t care who you are, you’re listening to the rest.
Introduction to Part 3
Welcome back one last time to “The Challenges of Designing a Modern Skill,” a series where we discuss all aspects of skill design and development. In Part 1, we talked about OSRS’s history with skills, and started the lengthy conversation on Skill Design Philosophy, including the concepts of Core, Expansion, and Integration. This latter topic consumed the entirety of Part 2 as well, which covered Rewards and Motivations, Progression, Buyables, as well as Unconstructive Arguments. Which brings us to today, the final part of our discussion. In this Part 3, we’ll finish up Section 3 – Skill Design Philosophy, then move on to chat about the design and blog process. One last time, this discussion was intended to be a single post, but its length outgrew the post character limit twice. Therefore, it may be important to look at the previous two parts for clarity and context with certain terms. The final product, in its purest, aesthetic, and unbroken form, can be found here.
3-C – Skill Design Philosophy, Continued
3-12 - Balancing
What follows from the discussion about XP and costs, of course, is balancing: the bane of every developer. A company like Riot knows better than anyone that having too many factors to account for makes good balance impossible. Balancing new ideas appropriately is extremely challenging and requires a great respect for current content as discussed in Section 3-5 – Integration. Thankfully, in OSRS we only have three major balancing factors: Profit, XP Rate, and Intensity, and two minor factors: Risk and Leniency. These metrics must amount to some sense of balance (besides Leniency, which as we’ll see is the definition of anti-balance) in order for a piece of content to feel like it’s not breaking the system or rendering all your previous efforts meaningless. It’s also worthy to note that there is usually a skill-specific limit to the numerical values of these metrics. For example, Runecrafting will never receive a training method that grants 200k xp/hr, while for Construction that’s easily on the lower end of the scale. A basic model works better than words to describe these factors, and therefore, being the phenomenal artist that I am, I have constructed one, which I’ve dubbed “The Guthix Scale.” But I’ll be cruel and use words anyway.
Profit: how much you gain from a task, or how much you lose. Gain or loss can include resources, cosmetics, specialized currencies, good old gold pieces, or anything on that line.
XP Rate: how fast you gain XP.
Intensity: how much effort (click intensity), attention (reaction intensity), and thought (planning intensity) you need to put into the activity to perform it well.
Risk: how likely is the loss of your revenue and/or resource investment into the activity. Note that one must be careful with risk, as players are very good at abusing systems intended to encourage higher risk levels to minimize how much they’re actually risking.
Leniency: a measure for how imbalanced a piece of content can be before the public and/or Jagex nerfs it. Leniency serves as a simple modulator to help comprehend when the model breaks or bends in unnatural ways, and is usually determined by how enjoyable and abusable an activity is, such that players don’t want to cause an outrage over it. For example, Slayer has a high level of Leniency; people don’t mind that some Slayer tasks grant amazing XP Rates, great Profits, have middling Intensity, and low Risk. On the other hand, Runecrafting has low levels of Leniency; despite low Risk, many Runecrafting activities demand high Intensity for poor XP Rates and middling Profits.
In the end, don’t worry about applying specific numbers during the conceptual phase of your skill design. However, when describing an activity to your reader, it’s always useful if you give approximations, such as “high intensity” or “low risk,” so that they get an idea of the activity’s design goals as well as to guide the actual development of that activity. Don’t comment on the activity’s Leniency though, as that would be pretty pretentious and isn’t for you to determine anyway.
3-13 - Skill Bloat
What do the arts of weaving, tanning, sowing, spinning, pottery, glassmaking, jewellery, engraving, carving, chiselling, carpentry, and even painting have in common? In real life, there’s only so much crossover between these arts, but in Runescape they’re all simply Crafting. The distinction between what deserves to be its own skill or instead tagged along to a current skill is often arbitrary; this is the great challenge of skill bloat. The fundamental question for many skill concepts is: does this skill have enough depth to stand on its own? The developers of 2006 felt that there was sufficient depth in Construction to make it something separate from Crafting, even if the latter could have covered the former. While there’s often no clean cut between these skills (why does making birdhouses use Crafting instead of Construction?), it is easy to see that Construction has found its own solid niche that would’ve been much too big to act as yet another Expansion of Crafting. On the other hand, a skill with extremely limited scope and value perhaps should be thrown under the umbrella of a larger skill. Take Firemaking: it’s often asked why it deserves to be its own skill given how limited its uses are. This is one of those ideas that probably should have just been thrown under Crafting or even Woodcutting. But again, the developers who made early Runescape did not battle with the same ideas as the modern player; they simply felt like Firemaking was a good idea for a skill. Similarly, the number of topics that the Magic skill covers is so often broken down in other games, like Morrowind’s separation between Illusion, Conjuration, Alteration, Destruction, Mysticism, Restoration, Enchant, Alchemy (closer to Herblore), and Unarmored (closer to Strength and Defense). Why does Runescape not break Magic into more skills? The answer is simple: Magic was created with a much more limited scope in Runescape, and there has not been enough content in any specific magical category to justify another skill being born. But perhaps your skill concept seeks to address this; maybe your Enchantment skill takes the enchanting aspects of Magic away, expands the idea to include current imbues and newer content, and fully fleshes the idea out such that the Magic skill alone cannot contain it. Somewhat ironically, Magic used to be separated into Good and Evil Magic skills in Runescape Classic, but that is another topic. So instead of arguments about what could be thrown under another skill’s umbrella, perhaps we should be asking: is there enough substance to this skill concept for it to stand on its own, outside of its current skill categorization? Of course, this leads to a whole other debate about how much content is enough for a skill idea to deserve individuality, but that would get too deep into specifics and is outside the scope of this discussion.
3-14 - Skill Endgame
Runescape has always been a sandbox MMO, but the original Runescape experience was built more or less with a specific endgame in mind: killing players and monsters. Take the Runescape Classic of 2001: you had all your regular combat skills, but even every other skill had an endgame whose goal was helping combat out. Fishing, Firemaking, and Cooking would provide necessary healing. Smithing and Crafting, along with their associated Gathering skill partners, served to gear you up. Combat was the simple endgame and most mechanics existed to serve that end. However, since those first days, the changing endgame goals of players have promoted a vast expansion of the endgame goals of new content. For example, hitting a 99 in any non-combat skill is an endgame goal in itself for many players, completely separate from that skill’s combat relationship (if any). These goals have increased to aspects like cosmetic collections, pets, maxed stats, all quests completed, all diaries completed, all music tracks unlocked, a wealthy bank, the collection log, boss killcounts, and more. Whereas skills used to have a distinct part of a system that ultimately served combat, we now have a vast variety of endgame goals that a skill can be directed towards. You can even see a growth in this perspective as new skills were released up to 2007: Thieving mainly nets you valuable (or once valuable) items which have extremely flexible uses, and Construction has a strong emphasis on cosmetics for your POH. So when designing your new skill, contemplate what the endgame of your skill looks like. For example, if you are proposing a Gathering skill, what is the Production skill tie-in, and what is the endgame goal of that Production skill? Maybe your new skill Spelunking has an endgame in gathering rare collectibles that can be shown off in your POH. Maybe your new skill Necromancy functions like a Support skill, giving you followers that help speed along resource gathering, and letting you move faster to the endgame goal of the respective Production skill. Whatever it is, a proper, clear, and unified view of an endgame goal helps a skill feel like it serves a distinct and valuable purpose. Note that this could mean that you require multiple skills to be released simultaneously for each to feed into each other and form an appropriate endgame. In that case, go for it – don’t make it a repeat of RS3’s Divination, a Gathering skill left hanging without the appropriate Production skill partner of Invention for over 2 years. A good example of a skill with a direct endgame is… most of them. Combat is a well-accepted endgame, and traditionally, most skills are intended to lend a hand in combat whether by supplies or gear. A skill with a poor endgame would be Hunter: Hunter is so scattered in its ultimate endgame goals, trying to touch on small aspects of everything like combat gear, weight reduction, production, niche skilling tools, and food. There’s a very poor sense of identity to Hunter’s endgame, and it doesn’t help that very few of these rewards are actually viable or interesting in the current day. Similarly, while Slayer has a strong endgame goal it is terrible in its methodology, overshadowing other Production skills in their explicit purpose. A better design for Slayer’s endgame would have been to treat it as a secondary Gathering skill, to work almost like a catalyst for other Gathering-Production skill relationships. In this mindset, Slayer is where you gather valuable monster drops, combine it with traditional Gathering resources like ores from Mining, then use a Production skill like Smithing to meld them into the powerful gear that is present today. This would have kept other Gathering and Production skills at the forefront of their specialities, in contrast to today’s situation where Slayer will give fully assembled gear that’s better than anything you could receive from the appropriate skills (barring a few items that need a Production skill to piece together).
3-15 - Alternate Goals
From a game design perspective, skills are so far reaching that it can be tempting to use them to shift major game mechanics to a more favourable position. Construction is an example of this idea in action: Construction was very intentionally designed to be a massive gold sink to help a hyperinflating economy. Everything about it takes gold out of the game, whether through using a sawmill, buying expensive supplies from stores, adding rooms, or a shameless piece of furniture costing 100m that is skinned as, well, 100m on a shameless piece of furniture. If you’re clever about it, skills are a legitimately good opportunity for such change. Sure, the gold sink is definitely a controversial feature of Construction, but for the most part it’s organic and makes sense; fancy houses and fancy cosmetics are justifiably expensive. It is notable that the controversy over Construction’s gold sink mechanism is probably levied more against the cost of training, rather than the cost of all its wonderful aesthetics. Perhaps that should have been better accounted for in its design phase, but now it is quite set in stone. To emphasize that previous point: making large scale changes to the game through a new skill can work, but it must feel organic and secondary to the skill’s main purpose. Some people really disliked Warding because they felt it tried too hard to fix real, underlying game issues with mechanics that didn’t thematically fit or were overshadowing the skill’s Core. While this may or may not be true, if your new skill can improve the game’s integrity without sacrificing its own identity, you could avoid this argument entirely. If your skill Regency has a Core of managing global politics, but also happens to serve as a resource sink to help your failing citizens, then you’ve created a strong Core design while simultaneously improving the profitability of Gathering skills.
3-16 - The Combat No-Touch Rule
So, let’s take a moment to examine the great benefits and rationale of RS2’s Evolution of Combat: This space has been reserved for unintelligible squabbling. With that over, it’s obvious that the OSRS playerbase is not a big fan of making major changes to the combat system. If there’s anything that defines the OSRS experience, it has to be the janky and abusable combat system that we love. So, in the past 7 years of OSRS, how many times have you heard someone pitch a new combat skill? Practically no one ever has; a new combat skill, no matter how miniscule, would feel obtrusive to most players, and likely would not even receive 25% of votes in a poll. This goes right back to Section 3-5 – Integration, and the importance of preserving the fundamentals of OSRS’s design. I know that my intention with this discussion was to be as definitive about skill design as possible, and in that spirit I should be delving into the design philosophy specifically behind combat skills, but I simply don’t see the benefit of me trying, and the conversation really doesn’t interest me that much. It goes without saying that as expansive as this discussion is, it does not cover every facet of skill design, which is a limitation both of my capabilities and desire to do so.
3-17 - Aesthetics
I don’t do aesthetics well. I like them, I want them, but I do not understand them; there are others much better equipped to discuss this topic than I. Nonetheless, here we go. Since the dawn of OSRS, debates over art style and aesthetics have raged across Gielinor. After all, the OSRS Team is filled with modern day artists while OSRS is an ancient game. What were they supposed to do? Keep making dated graphics? Make content with a modernized and easily digestible style? Something in-between? While many players shouted for more dated graphics, they were approached by an interesting predicament: which dated graphics did they want? We had a great selection present right from the start of OSRS: 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007. People hungry for nostalgia chose the era that they grew up in, leading to frequent requests for older models like the dragon or imp, most of which were denied by Jagex (except the old Mining rock models). But which era was OSRS supposed to follow? Jagex elected to carve their own path, but not without heavy criticism especially closer to OSRS’s conception. However, they adapted to player requests and have since gone back and fixed many of the blatant early offenders (like the Kingdom of Kourend) and adopted a more consistent flavour, one that generally respects the art style of 2007. Even though it doesn’t always hit the mark, one has to appreciate the OSRS artists for making their best attempt and listening to feedback, and here’s to hoping that their art style examination mentioned in June 2020’s Gazette bears fruit. But what exactly is the old school art style? There are simple systems by which most players judge it in OSRS, usually by asking questions like, “Would you believe if this existed in 2007?” More informed artists will start pointing out distinct features that permeated most content from back in the day, such as low quality textures, low poly models, low FPS animations, a “low fantasy” or grounded profile that appeals somewhat to realism, reducing cartoonish exaggerations, and keeping within the lore. Compiled with this, music and sound design help that art style come to life; it can be very hard on immersion when these don’t fit. An AGS would sound jarring if its special attack sounded like a weak dagger stab, and having to endure Country Jig while roaming Hosidius suddenly sweeps you off into a different universe. But coming back to skill design, the art, models, and sound design tend to be some of the last features, mostly because the design phase doesn’t demand such a complete picture of a skill. However, simple concept art and models can vastly improve how a skill concept is communicated and comfort players who are concerned about maintaining that “old school feel.” This will be touched on again later in this discussion under Section 5-2 – Presentation and Beta Testing.
3-18 - Afterword
Now we’ve set down the modern standards for a new skill, but the statements that started this section bear repeating: the formula we’ve established does not automatically make a good or interesting skill, as hard as we might have tried. Once again, harken back to the First Great Irony: that we are trying to inject the modern interpretation of what defines a skill upon a game that was not necessarily built to contain it. Therefore, one could just as easily deny each of the components described above, as popular or unpopular as the act might be, and their opinion could be equally valid and all this effort meaningless. Don’t take these guidelines with such stringency as to disregard all other views.
5-0 - The OSRS Team and the Design Process
If you’ve followed me all the way here, you’re likely A) exhausted and fed up of any conversation concerning new skills, or B) excited, because you’ve just struck an incredible skill idea (or perhaps one that’s always hung around your head) that happens to tick off all the above checkboxes. But unfortunately for you B types, it’s about to get pretty grim, because we’re going to go through every aspect of skill design that’s exterior to the game itself. We’ll be touching on larger topics like democracy, presentation, player mindsets, effort, and resource consumption. It’ll induce a fantastic bout of depression, so don’t get left behind.
5-1 - Designing a Skill
Thus far, Jagex has offered three potential skills to OSRS, each of which has been denied. This gives us the advantage of understanding how the skill design process works behind the scenes and lets us examine some of the issues Jagex has faced with presenting a skill to the players. The first problem is the “one strike and you’re out” phenomenon. Simply put, players don’t like applying much effort into reading and learning. They’ll look at a developer blog highlighting a new skill idea, and if you’re lucky they’ll even read the whole thing, but how about the second developer blog? The third? Fourth? Even I find it hard to get that far. In general, people don’t like long detail-heavy essays or blogs, which is why I can invoke the ancient proverb “Ban Emily” into this post and it’ll go (almost) completely unnoticed. No matter how many improvements you make between developer blogs, you will quickly lose players with each new iteration. Similarly, developer blogs don’t have the time to talk about skill design philosophy or meta-analyse their ideas – players would get lost far too fast. This is the Second Great Irony of skill design: the more iterations you have of a lengthy idea, the less players will keep up with you. This was particularly prominent with Warding: Battle Wards were offered in an early developer blog but were quickly cut when Jagex realized how bad the idea was. Yet people would still cite Battle Wards as the reason they voted against Warding, despite the idea having been dropped several blogs before. Similarly, people would often comment that they hated that Warding was being polled multiple times; it felt to them like Jagex was trying to brute-force it into the game. But Warding was only ever polled once, and only after the fourth developer blog - the confusion was drawn from how many times the skill was reiterated and from the length of the public design process. Sure, there are people for whom this runs the opposite way; they keep a close eye on updates and judge a piece of content on the merits of the latest iteration, but this is much less common. You could argue that one should simply disregard the ignorant people as blind comments don't contribute to the overall discussion, but you should remember that these players are also the ones voting for the respective piece of content. You could also suggest re-educating them, which is exactly what Jagex attempts with each developer blog, and still people won’t get the memo. And when it comes to the players themselves, can the playerbase really be relied on to re-educate itself? Overall, the Second Great irony really hurts the development process and is practically an unavoidable issue. What’s the alternative? To remove the developer-player interface that leads to valuable reiterations, or does you simply have to get the skill perfect in the first developer blog? It’s not an optimal idea, but it could help: have a small team of “delegates” – larger names that players can trust, or player influencers – come in to review a new, unannounced skill idea under NDA. If they like it, chances are that other players will too. If they don’t, reiterate or toss out the skill before it’s public. That way, you’ve had a board of experienced players who are willing to share their opinions to the public helping to determine the meat and potatoes of the skill before it is introduced to the casual eye. Now, a more polished and well-accepted product can be presented on the first run of selling a skill to the public, resulting in less reiterations being required, and demanding less effort from the average player to be fully informed over the skill’s final design.
5-2 - Presentation and Beta Testing
So you’ve got a great idea, but how are you going to sell it to the public? Looking at how the OSRS Team has handled it throughout the years, there’s a very obvious learning curve occurring. Artisan had almost nothing but text blogs being thrown to the players, Sailing started introducing some concept art and even a trailer with terrible audio recording, and Warding had concept art, in game models, gifs, and a much fancier trailer with in-game animations. A picture or video is worth a thousand words, and often the only words that players will take out of a developer blog. You might say that presentation is everything, and that would be more true in OSRS than most games. Most activities in OSRS are extremely basic, involve minimal thought, and are incredibly grindy. Take Fishing: you click every 20 seconds on a fishing spot that is randomly placed along a section of water, get rid of your fish, then keep clicking those fishing spots. Boiling it down further, you click several arbitrary parts of your computer screen every 20 seconds. It’s hardly considered engaging, so why do some people enjoy it? Simply put: presentation. You’re given a peaceful riverside environment to chill in, you’re collecting a bunch of pixels shaped like fish, and a number tracking your xp keeps ticking up and telling you that it matters. Now imagine coming to the players with a radical new skill idea: Mining. You describe that Mining is where you gather ores that will feed into Smithing and help create gear for players to use. The audience ponders momentarily, but they’re not quite sure it feels right and ask for a demonstration. You show them some gameplay, but your development resources were thin and instead of rocks, you put trees as placeholders. Instead of ores in your inventory, you put logs as placeholders. Instead of a pickaxe, your character is swinging a woodcutting axe as a placeholder. Sure, the mechanics might act like mining instead of woodcutting, but how well is the skill going to sell if you haven’t presented it correctly or respected it contextually? Again, presentation is everything. Players need to be able to see the task they are to perform, see the tools they’ll use, and see the expected outcomes; otherwise, whatever you’re trying to sell will feel bland and unoriginal. And this leads to the next level of skill presentation that has yet to be employed: Beta Worlds. Part of getting the feel of an activity is not just watching, it but acting it out as well - you’ll never understand the thrill of skydiving unless you’ve actually been skydiving. Beta Worlds are that chance for players to act out a concept without risking the real game’s health. A successful Beta can inspire confidence in players that the skill has a solid Core and interesting Expansions, while a failed Beta will make them glad that they got to try it and be fully informed before putting the skill to a poll (although that might be a little too optimistic for rage culture). Unfortunately, Betas are not without major disadvantages, the most prominent of which we shall investigate next.
5-3 - Development Effort
If you thought that the previous section on Skill Design Philosophy was lengthy and exhausting, imagine having to know all that information and then put it into practice.Mentally designing a skill in your head can be fun, but putting all that down on paper and making it actually work together, feel fully fleshed out, and following all the modern standards that players expect is extremely heavy work, especially when it’s not guaranteed to pay off in the polls like Quest or Slayer content. That’s not even taking into account the potentially immense cost of developing a new skill should it pass a poll. Whenever people complain that Jagex is wasting their resources trying to make that specific skill work, Jagex has been very explicit about the costs to pull together a design blog being pretty minimal. Looking at the previous blogs, Jagex is probably telling the truth. It’s all just a bunch of words, a couple art sketches, and maybe a basic in-game model or gif. Not to downplay the time it takes to write well, design good models, or generate concept art, but it’s nothing like the scale of resources that some players make it out to be. Of course, if a Beta was attempted as suggested last section, this conversation would take a completely new turn, and the level of risk to invested resources would exponentially increase. But this conversation calls to mind an important question: how much effort and resources do skills require to feel complete? Once upon a time, you could release a skill which was more or less unfinished. Take Slayer: it was released in 2005 with a pretty barebones structure. The fundamentals were all there, but the endgame was essentially a couple cool best-in-slot weapons and that was it. Since then, OSRS has updated the skill to include a huge Reward Shop system, feature 50% more monsters to slay, and to become an extremely competitive money-maker. Skills naturally undergo development over time, but it so often comes up during the designing of an OSRS skill that it "doesn't have enough to justify its existence." This was touched on deeply in Section 3-13 – Skill Bloat, but deserves reiterating here. While people recognize that skills continually evolve, the modern standard expects a new skill, upon release, to be fully preassembled before purchase. Whereas once you could get away with releasing just a skill's Core and working on Expansions down the line, that is no longer the case. But perhaps a skill might stand a better chance now than it did last year, given that the OSRS Team has doubled in number since that time. However, judging from the skill design phases that have previously been attempted (as we’ve yet to see a skill development phase), the heaviest cost has been paid in developer mentality and motivational loss. When a developer is passionate about an idea, they spend their every waking hour pouring their mind into how that idea is going to function,especially while they’re not at work. And then they’re obligated to take player feedback and adapt their ideas, sometimes starting from scratch, particularly over something as controversial as a skill. Even if they have tough enough skin to take the heavy criticism that comes with skill design, having to write and rewrite repeatedly over the same idea to make it “perfect” is mentally exhausting. Eventually, their motivation drains as their labour bears little fruit with the audience, and they simply want to push it to the poll and be done with it. Even once all their cards are down, there’s still no guarantee that their efforts will be rewarded, even less so when it comes to skills. With such a high mental cost with a low rate of success, you have to ask, “Was it worth it?” And that’s why new skill proposals are far and few between. A new skill used to be exciting for the development team in the actual days of 2007, as they had the developmental freedom to do whatever they wanted, but in the modern day that is not so much the case.
5-4 - The Problems of Democracy
Ever since the conceptualization of democracy in the real world, people have been very aware of its disadvantages. And while I don’t have the talent, knowledge, or time to discuss every one of these factors, there are a few that are very relevant when it comes to the OSRS Team and the polling process. But first we should recognize the OSRS Team’s relationship with the players. More and more, the Team acts like a government to its citizens, the players, and although this situation was intentionally instated with OSRS’s release, it’s even more prominent now. The Team decides the type of content that gets to go into a poll, and the players get their input over whether that particular piece makes it in. Similarly, players make suggestions to the Team that, in many cases, the Team hadn’t thought of themselves. This synergy is phenomenal and almost unheard of among video games, but the polling system changes the mechanics of this relationship. Polls were introduced to the burned and scarred population of players at OSRS’s release in 2013. Many of these players had just freshly come off RS2 after a series of disastrous updates or had quit long before from other controversies. The Squeal of Fortune, the Evolution of Combat, even the original Wilderness Removal had forced numerous players out and murdered their trust in Jagex. To try and get players to recommit to Runescape, Jagex offered OSRS a polling system by which the players would determine what went into the game, where the players got to hold all the cards. They also asked the players what threshold should be required for polled items to pass, and among the odd 50% or 55% being shouted out, the vast majority of players wanted 70%, 75%, 80%, or even 85%. There was a massive population in favour of a conservative game that would mostly remain untouched, and therefore kept pure from the corruption RS2 had previously endured. Right from the start, players started noticing holes in this system. After all, the OSRS Team was still the sole decider of what would actually be polled in the first place. Long-requested changes took forever to be polled (if ever polled at all) if the OSRS Team didn’t want to deal with that particular problem or didn’t like that idea. Similarly, the Team essentially had desk jobs with a noose kept around their neck – they could perform almost nothing without the players, their slave masters, seeing, criticizing, and tearing out every inch of developmental or visionary freedom they had. Ever hear about the controversy of Erin the duck? Take a look at the wiki or do a search through the subreddit history. It’s pretty fantastic, and a good window into the minds of the early OSRS playerbase. But as the years have gone on, the perspective of the players has shifted. There is now a much healthier and more trusting relationship between them and the Team, much more flexibility in what the players allow the Team to handle, and a much greater tolerance and even love of change. But the challenges of democracy haven’t just fallen away. Everyone having the right to vote is a fundamental tenet of the democratic system, but unfortunately that also means that everyone has the right to vote. For OSRS, that means that every member, whether it’s their first day in game, their ten thousandth hour played, those who have no idea about what the poll’s about, those who haven’t read a single quest (the worst group), those who RWT and bot, those who scam and lure, and every professional armchair developer like myself get to vote. In short, no one will ever be perfectly informed on every aspect of the game, or at least know when to skip when they should. Similarly, people will almost never vote in favour of making their game harder, even at the cost of game integrity, or at least not enough people would vote in such a fashion to reach a 75% majority. These issues are well recognized. The adoption of the controversial “integrity updates” was Jagex’s solution to these problems. In this way, Jagex has become even more like a government to the players. The average citizen of a democratic country cannot and will not make major decisions that favour everyone around themselves if it comes at a personal cost. Rather, that’s one of the major roles of a government: to make decisions for changes for the common good that an individual can’t or won’t make on their own. No one’s going to willingly hand over cash to help repave a road on the opposite side of the city – that’s why taxes are a necessary evil. It’s easy to see that the players don’t always know what’s best for their game and sometimes need to rely on that parent to decide for them, even if it results in some personal loss. But players still generally like the polls, and Jagex still appears to respect them for the most part. Being the government of the game, Jagex could very well choose to ignore them, but would risk the loss of their citizens to other lands. And there are some very strong reasons to keep them: the players still like having at least one hand on the wheel when it comes to new content or ideas. Also, it acts as a nice veto card should Jagex try to push RS3’s abusive tactics on OSRS and therefore prevent such potential damage. But now we come to the topic of today: the introduction of a new skill. Essentially, a new skill must pass a poll in order to enter the game. While it’s easy to say, “If a skill idea is good enough, it’ll pass the threshold,” that’s not entirely true. The only skill that could really pass the 75% mark is not necessarily a well-designed skill, but rather a crowd-pleasing skill. While the two aren’t mutually exclusive, the latter is far easier to make than the former. Take Dungeoneering: if you were to poll it today as an exact replica of RS2’s version, it would likely be the highest scoring skill yet, perhaps even passing, despite every criticism that’s been previously emphasized describing why it has no respect for the current definition of “skill.” Furthermore, a crowd-pleasing skill can easily fall prey to deindividualization of vision and result in a bland “studio skill” (in the same vein as a “studio film”), one that feels manufactured by a board of soulless machines rather than a director’s unique creation. This draws straight back to the afore-mentioned issues with democracy: that people A) don’t always understand what they’re voting for or against, and B) people will never vote for something that makes their game tougher or results in no benefit to oneself. Again, these were not issues in the old days of RS2, but are the problems we face with our modern standards and decision making systems. The reality that must be faced is that the polling system is not an engine of creation nor is it a means of constructive feedback – it’s a system of judgement, binary and oversimplified in its methodology. It’s easy to interact with and requires no more than 10 seconds of a player’s time, a mere mindless moment, to decide the fate of an idea made by an individual or team, regardless of their deep or shallow knowledge of game mechanics, strong or weak vision of design philosophy, great or terrible understanding of the game’s history, and their awareness of blindness towards the modern community. It’s a system which disproportionately boils down the quality of discussion that is necessitated by a skill, which gives it the same significance as the question “Should we allow players to recolour the Rocky pet by feeding it berries?” with the only available answers being a dualistic “This idea is perfect and should be implemented exactly as outlined” or “This idea is terrible and should never be spoken of again.” So what do you do? Let Jagex throw in whatever they want? Reduce the threshold, or reduce it just for skills? Make a poll that lists a bunch of skills and forces the players to choose one of them to enter the game? Simply poll the question, “Should we have a new skill?” then let Jagex decide what it is? Put more options on the scale of “yes” to “no” and weigh each appropriately? All these options sound distasteful because there are obvious weaknesses to each. But that is the Third Great Irony we face: an immense desire for a new skill, but no realistic means to ever get one.
6-0 - Conclusion
I can only imagine that if you’ve truly read everything up to this point, it’s taken you through quite the rollercoaster. We’ve walked through the history of OSRS skill attempts, unconstructive arguments, various aspects of modern skill design philosophy, and the OSRS Team and skill design process. When you take it all together, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the thought that needs to go into a modern skill and all the issues that might prevent its success. Complexity, naming conventions, categorizations, integration, rewards and motivations, bankstanding and buyables, the difficulties of skill bloat, balancing, and skill endgames, aesthetics, the design process, public presentation, development effort, democracy and polling - these are the challenges of designing and introducing modern skills. To have to cope with it all is draining and maybe even impossible, and therefore it begs the question: is trying to get a new skill even worth it? Maybe. Thanks for reading. Tl;dr: Designing a modern skill requires acknowledging the vast history of Runescape, understanding why players make certain criticisms and what exactly they’re saying in terms of game mechanics, before finally developing solutions. Only then can you subject your ideas to a polling system that is built to oversimplify them.
Okay so I'm not sure if I'm more trans masculine, trans, or just plain non binary. But i do know that I want to start presenting more masculine. My chest is one of the main things that bothers me. I really want to start binding and changing up my wardrobe. My wardrobe is already fairly androgynous, but i want to go more masculine than androgynous. My wardrobe isn't too much of a concern at the moment, it's just easing the dysphoria. My chest and curves are what bothers me the most. I recently cut my hair short and it was the most confident and comfortable I've ever felt temporarily. Still love the hair, just the excitement faded. Anyways, I live with my parents. I'm 18, but they are connected to all my bank accounts and can see everything i purchase. I also am unable to drive, and my parents refuse to teach me. So i can't use cash to go out and buy something in person at a store. I also can't officially say anything, as i really do love my family, and I'm very close with even my extended family who i see every weekend (until covid happened), but if I get too carried away with this, they're going to confront me. They'll never let me talk to them again if they catch onto this. I can't live with that right now. I have one supportive cousin, but she's told me it's best to wait until i move out to do anything at all. I would love to see a gender therapist for this. I'm already in therapy, but because of covid, i can only do zoom meetings rn. Which is fine, except my parents sit outside my door and listen. So i can't bring it up. I'm nearly graduated from high school, but there's no other option for me education but community college unless i get a full ride scholarship. Which is 110% not happening with my grades. Which means no dorms. I can't get a job as I'm pretty physical handicapped at the moment. Severe arthritis, and really bad anemia leaves me in constant pain and with no energy. I tried to get a job but the only thing I can find is fast food, which being on my feet left me in horrible pain. I'm also not sure I could handle a job with my mental state at the moment. Basically does anyone have any advice for how the hell to even start presenting the way I want? Is there any hope for me until I can get out of my parents house? And then will i probably have to present female around my family? Sorry for the long post. This is also a rant i suppose, but i do need advice
Living 'low income' in the Bay Area. What's it really like? Can it be done?
Good evening guys, gals, and non-binary pals. I'm a potato with anxiety and I'm bad at intros but I might be your new neighbor soon? So hello from the other coast! I'm using my throw away reddit account because I haven't discussed this with my family yet. I'm currently in Washington, DC but I'm originally from Philadelphia (where Bad Things Happen) and I've lived all over but never farther west than Texas. My spouse has just been presented with the opportunity to relocate to San Jose for their job, with the other alternative being somewhere in the deep South. Staying in DC is not an option for multiple logistical reasons. Neither one of us wants to end up in the deep South again, we did that for several years in our 20s and I don't imagine Yankees are anymore welcome there now than we were 10 years ago. We joked we'd never live in a red state with hurricanes again but now my queer ass doesn't find it funny anymore because I'm just tired and scared and the homophobia and climate change are real. Both of us are in the service industry, my spouse in retail management and customer service and me in education and social services. Our friends and family, most of whom are in a completely different (higher) tax bracket than us are saying they don't think we could manage it. I get the concern because spoiler alert, the type of social work I can do without an MSW doesn't pay shit and retail right now has its own problems. But they said the same thing when we moved to DC and we've been relatively comfy during the pandemic on just my spouse's salary when I got laid off and FWIW, the housing costs in DC are nearly as bad as they are in the Bay Area. DC is the 5th most expensive city in the country but we've managed okay by making lifestyle adjustments, including selling our car and taking public transit and changing our eating habits. We also don't have kids but we do have pets. When we crunched the numbers, San Jose is apparently only 7% more expensive overall than DC but anything less than 100k a year is considered low-income for the Bay Area? I'd love an opinion on the accuracy of this from someone who doesn't make twice what we do in a year, lol. We used several COL calculators and resources but would still like to hear from actual people. My spouse currently makes 55k a year salaried, I was doing temp work at a rate of $15/hr before I got laid off but I would expect a similar salaried position might be about 25-30k a year where we are now. When I scanned indeed in SJ jobs similar to what I do now were paying $22-35/hr, so quite a range. We know there will be some kind of a COL adjustment to my spouse's pay but we don't know how much yet and I'll need to find work when we get there. We've always been the token poor friends, I think our friends and family take it for granted that things they might consider essential have always been a luxury or optional for us. I usually end up living in the areas where my clients most need services and I'm okay with that because it helps me build rapport that's important to the work I do. The perception that an area is low-income or higher crime doesn't phase either of us because we've lived our entire adult lives hood adjacent. We're basic af admittedly, we just like to cook and chill, we don't really go out much and we don't really spend money on non-essentials, although we do enjoy some electric lettuce here and there. We're also both eager af to get off the East coast right now so we're committed to doing what we need to do to make this work. Are we insane? Probably. But we don't take vacations because we're poor Millennials, so having a company foot the bill for us to move to a new state every few years is the next best thing. ;) So reddit, can it be done? What's it like to be low-income in the Bay Area? Can you realistically live in the area without a car as long as you're in the city (meaning San Jose, not SF)? I have no frame of reference at all so any insight you can offer about San Jose in particular would be appreciated. Thanks!
Hello everyone! We've had a recent subscriber boom, thanks in no small part to some awesome videos by our friends Strange Æons, famous cool lesbian and Furby mother, and One Topic At A Time, the only valid straight guy (I'm joking of course, but he is pretty great). So, to everyone who just arrived, welcome to this wonderful community and I hope we can all have a fun time sharing memes and most importantly, educating ourselves about LGBTQ history and famous characters. In order to make sure everyone feels welcome, here's a couple guidelines we'd like you to help us with: We are focused specifically on making awareness of LGBTQ erasure. That means all posts should be explicitly about people failing to acknowledge homoerotic or gender-binary-nonconforming people and situations. We don't use the words "gay" or "trans" as hard labels when we talk about historical people, because culture evolves and language with it, but they are useful identifiers if we want to talk about what they did or how they felt. We know these labels might change from year to year and from culture to culture, so don't feel obligated to stick with them when we talk about a pre-modern context, though it's okay if you do use it because we all understand what you mean. If something is not entirely clear, asking is encouraged. That said, when we talk about modern people who have made their identity explicit we very much enforce respecting that identity. If someone is a declared bisexual, for example, and you insist they're straight or gay, you're being rude, and we don't like that. Please use the labels and pronouns people have chosen to go by. Deliberately misgendering people is a bannable offence. On that note, we have pronoun flairs for the most common identities and you can customise one in case it doesn't perfectly fit you. They're optional, but if someone uses them you should refer to that person with those pronouns. There is room for mistakes but we can also see when someone's being rude on purpose, so don't. This is a place for everyone to feel welcome and respecting their gender identity is a huge part of that. Be welcoming so you'll continue to be welcome. Finally: our rules are very short and concise. Please read and follow them. We want this place to be full of learning and fun, but we need your help with that. If you came from the videos or if you read the comments, you know the vibe. Let's all vibe. If someone is breaking the rules, please use the report button; some people have messaged us over chat or inbox but the report button is much more useful to us. That way we can deal with situations as soon as we see them. With all that said, I hope you know we're all trying to do our best to give our community a place where we can enjoy ourselves and talk about our history and experiences. Also, be sure to check our sister subreddits: /LGBTHistory, /LGBTCulture and /SapphireAndHerFriend. Have fun posting and talking together, maybe make some friends, and enjoy whatever posts or videos spark joy in you. If you have any questions you can leave them below or PM the subreddit. Have a nice browsing!
OBLIGATORY FILLER MATERIAL – ESCAPE FROM STALAG SULTANATE, Part 1
That reminds me of a story. “HELLFIRE AND DALMATIANS!” I shouted to no one in particular. “What’s the problem, dear?” Esme asks in that way she has of telling me to calm down without having to say it directly. “This bloody fucking country. A day late and several dollars short.” I fume. “Can’t get a new liquor license because of the bloody COVID. Can’t go to a hotel bar and have a snort because of the bloody COVID. Can’t even slip across the border to Dubai and soak up some room service and buckets of complimentary cocktails because of the bloody COVID.” Yes, the Sultanate of Oman, in its infinitesimal wisdom, has traditionally followed other GCC countries by at least three months in making any sort of proclamations regarding this latest bugaboo: the hideous, deadly, itchy, loathsome, and possibly serially bent, noxious, pandemical COVID-19; aka, this pandemic’s entry for flu. Their response is one of immense knee-jerk without first having thought of the consequences. “Bloody lockdown, 2100 to 0700. What is this, the whole fucking country’s been bad and now being sent to bed without any supper?” I wondered aloud. “Idiot benchodes.” Even Esme couldn’t come up with a rejoinder to that. “Plus they close all the bars. And all the hotels. And the fucking bottle shops. It’s not enough that these fucking Muppets jack the ‘sin tax’ on booze and cigars by 100%, now they’re not even legally available.” I swore. Of course, once you’ve spent even a small portion of the time that I have in the Middle East, you have your connections. Your system. Your access to the seedy underbelly of any society; the venerable Black Market. Jesus Q. Christ on toast with baked beans, fried tomatoes, black pudding, and mushrooms, I could get most anything in the Middle East, be it legal, shady, or just plain illegal. However, before you all recoil in horror that the venerable Dr. Rocknocker dabbles in the prohibited, just remember: the ends always dojustify the means. “I'm telling you, Esme dear; this Gulf story is getting too complicated. The weasels have started closing in.” I complain to Es as she hands me a fresh drink. “Do you think…?” Esme asks expectantly. Esme is more than ready to go. I’ve used this place as a base of operations for years whilst I wear out the Omani legal system suing those asswipes that think just because they’re local and I’m a kafir, they’re immune to the law. I’ve spent a long, profitable and time-consuming period of the last few years proving them wrong. But, time was marching onwards. I agreed with Esme, we’ve milked this particular cash cow dry. It was time to hitch up our bootstraps, call it a day, and get the hell out of Dodge. But not before I took care of a few loose ends. Now, the country had recently lost its venerable Sultan, who croaked back in January of this year. Sultan Qaboos was a good egg, friend to expat and local alike. Did a shitload of good for this benighted Middle East sandpit. Dragged it kicking and screaming out of the 12th century into, well, not exactly the 21st, but a whole hell of a lot closer. He realized that he needed revolutionary, not evolutionary change in the country. By revolutionary, he needed American, British, Canadian, and the like Western Expats here to do the heavy thinking and lifting and Eastern Expats like Indians, Bangladeshis and Nepalese to do all the scut work. Yeah, I know. That sounds racist as fuck, but sometimes that’s the way the ball bounced. Simple evolution of society where Omanis graduated the local equivalent of grade school, through high school, into University, and finally into Entry level jobs in the oil and gas industry wasn’t going to cut it. Took too long and the country needed a serious cash flow now. So, that’s what he did. And it worked a treat. Then he died. And his chosen took over. Except his chosen was pretty much antithetical to everything the previous and very revered and successful, Sultan wanted. Soon, there are 100% ‘sin taxes’ aimed directly at the western expats. Tourists included. Then there’s quotas and ‘Letters of No Objection’, which are impossible to get so that the Eastern Expats can’t switch jobs. Then, there are Sultanic proclamations of new taxes on tourists, new taxes on fast food, new taxes on this, that and the other. Then there’s, in his own words, “Oman is for Omanis”, blatantly ridiculous and xenophobic Omanization, and the general swipe at all expats. “GET OUT.” This was the clear message of the new sultan. He wanted to take over and possibly nationalize all the oil workings in the country. Ask Venezuela, Iran, and Myanmar how well that worked out for them. Then he wants all expats out on their asses. He wants Omanis to take over all the jobs, even though they’re nowhere near educated nor experienced enough for the positions. Then take up the massive GDP slack in lower oil production and oil prices with tourism. Given everything else, that last line should be enough to get him off the throne. He’s fucking nuts if he thinks people are going to want to cruise or overland anywhere near a place where foreigners are seen only as a cash supply, are despised, and would welcome these all new 100% tax levies. Be that as it may, Esme and I decided that we have had enough of 135O F summer temperatures, virtual house arrest under the guise of a COVID lockdown, and idiots who were the only ones stupid or twisted enough not to vamoose when the great, big bloody letters were clearly written on the wall. But, there was the physical act of getting out of the country. Now, I had plenty of strings which I could pull, but I decided I’d start low and save those until we really needed them. So low, in fact, we went to the US Embassy in Muscat. “How low can you go?” reverberated through my head. What a haven of sad-sacks, flubadubs, and third rate hobbyists. Was either Esme or I surprised that when we finally secured an invitation to the embassy, that required a bit of string-pulling with the ex-Ambassador to Oman, now in Kabul; that besides the peach-fuzz faced Marine guarding the place, we were the only Americans in the joint? “This is American soil!” I laughed, as I pulled out a huge Cuban cigar and was immediately told to extinguish it. “We’re as American as apple pie and napalm! We file our fucking 1040s every April; I pay my fucking long-distance taxes and demand US assistance to vacate this gloomy place of sandy, sweaty, sultry Sturm und Drang!” “Shut up, Rock”, Esme chided me, “They don’t understand English. Much less, the florid English the way you trowel it on.” “Fuckbuckets”, I remonstrated. “Here I had memorized the whole Patrick Henry speech he made to the Second Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775, at St. John's Church in Richmond, Virginia. Troglodytes. No admiration for the classics.” “Rock, dear?” Esme noted, “It’s almost 1100 hours. Best to get to our appointment.” True, our appointment was slated for 1100 hours. But around here, anything starting within three hours of the stated time was considered close enough. We dragged ourselves, none too cheerfully, to the waiting room. Once we pried open the door, there was the usual “If you hear a high pitched wail, hit the deck” signs, and other things one could do while kissing one’s ass goodbye if there was a terrorist attack, we had a whole new slew of bullshit with which to deal. “Social distancing. 6 feet. Or if you’re from Baja Canada, 1 cow’s length.” “Must wear a mask. Bandanna, bandoliers, and large-caliber weapons or sombrero optional.” “No sitting. Faux Naugahyde seats are too difficult to sterilize. You must stand at attention, do not talk amongst yourselves, and remain patient until your number is called.” “Well, fuck!”, I snorted quietly, as I raised my first secret flask in rapt attention to our old glory of red, white, and blue. “Good thing they didn’t say nothin’ about getting a load on. If I’m going to be treated like cattle, I’m going to at least have something to chew on in the process.” “Oh, lord”, Esme grumbled, “You didn’t bring that Japanese Rye Whiskey with you, did you?” “ルハイム”, I said, which is Japanese for “L’chaim”! “Oh, hell”, Esme grinned as she borrowed my flask, “This is going to be a long day.” I began to protest but remembered that I was wearing my Agency-issued field vest. I must have had at least 5 or 6 more flasks lurking around in those pockets somewhere. Funny aside: they don’t bother with my going through an X-ray machine nor do they confiscate my phone, radio, knives, nor other field equipment when I go to the US Embassy. It took them almost two solid hours last time, and by the time they got to my Brunton Compass, emergency flasks, a few spare blasting cap boosters, and saw the label sewn into the back of my vest, they decided they’d just send Rack and Ruin some evil Emails and let me pass unmolested. “I’ll drink to that”, I say as I raise a flask as the locals raise an eyebrow. “Courtesy of Atheists International. We’re here for your children…” The collective gasps and growls indicate they weren’t happy with me or my betrothed. “Don’t care, Buckwheat”, I smiled, “Never did, never will. We’re out of here for good. You can curse my name all you want then. But, then again, why you standing in the American Embassy trying to get a visa to visit the land of the great evil empire?” All the locals and most of the Eastern Expats crowded into a corner as far away from us as they physically could. “BOO!” I snickered over a shot of Wild Turkey 101 Rye. “Now serving number 58! Number 58!” came the call over the tannoy. “Look at that”, I remarked to Es as I stashed both our flasks, “It’s only 12:35. Record time.” We both shimmy into the glass-fronted and presumably bullet- but not C-4 resistant- glass. We pick up the telephones there and acknowledge that we are who we said we were. The East Indian fella, one Harsh Talavalakar, behind the multiple layers of glass asked us why we were here. “Didn’t you read the appointment card?” I asked, “We’re here to have Uncle Sam get us passage out of this sordid and sultry place.” “You are American citizens?” he asked, vacantly. “That’s what it says on appointment cards and these here blue passports,” I replied. “Well, how was I to know?” he scoffed, returning to his half-consumed powdered sugar doughnut. “Maybe read the appointment card and see that we are US Citizens here on the behest of Ambassador Bethesda Orun?” I replied. “Like I have time to read everything that comes across my desk”, he scoffed again. I tapped on the glass to make certain I had his full attention. “Look here, Herr Harsh. I’m not sure how you got this job at the American Consulate but want to be very clear with you. My wife and I are residents of this place for the last 20 years. We’re American citizens of very high standing and have more high powered connections than an Arduino in a nuclear power station. We have direct connections with Langley, Virginia and if you want to retain your cushy job, you’ll put down that fucking doughnut and pay very rapt attention to the two Americans standing here who are getting more and more irritated with some Indian benchode that doesn’t think he has to really do his job. You savvy? You diggin’ me, Beaumont” I guess the benchode got his attention. The two scowls he received from Esme and myself sort of cemented the idea that we’re not too pleased and not with to be trifled. “Yes, sir?” he said, “And ma’am”, as Harsh quickly corrected himself as the doughnut disappeared. “We want out. Gone. Vamoose. Outta here. AMF. You got me?” he nods behind the shatterprone glass. “Now I know the borders are sealed and the airport’s closed, but fuck that. We want out and we want gone for good. I can’t make that much simpler or clearer. Get after it, son.” I said, as seriously as I could. “Well, sir”, he began, “ The airport’s closed…” “Are you deaf or born stupid and been losing ground ever since?” I asked, rhetorically. “I know that. We all know that. My HAT knows that. So, what devious little plan does the US Embassy have in store in just such an unsavory situation?” “Well”, he chokes a bit, “There’s this unofficial lottery where America citizens are issued random numbers and if their number comes up, there are seats made available on special clandestine charter flights.” Considering that Es and I are some of the last American citizens left in the country, I thought our chances might be pretty good. “OK”, I said, “Let us have two of your finest numbers.” “Yes, sir”, he said, “That will be US$500 total.” “Excuse me?” I said. “Oh, yes”, he smirked, “US$250 per number. Chances are you’ll never be called, but with these numbers, at least you stand a chance.” “OK”, I said, “Forget the numbers. I want your name and operating number. I’ve got a report to file that’s due in Virginia before breakfast.” “Oh, sir”, he smirked more, “I cannot release that information. Thanking you. Now be having a good day.” And he slammed the supposedly bulletproof shield between himself and Es and me. “Bulletproof? Maybe. Nitro proof? No fucking way.” I groused as I fished out a couple of blasting cap superfast boosters. “Calm down, dear”, Esme smiled to me as we walked out, “When he wasn’t looking, I took his picture, got his operating number, and full name. In fact, I think I got some information on where he lives…” In the cab on the way back to our villa, I reviewed and confirmed Es’s subterfuge. Flasks number 6 and 8 needed serious replenishment by the time we arrived home. “That’s fucking right, Ruin.” I yelled over the phone, “We need extraction. And now. Along with our personal effects and a few hundredweight of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ boxes of stuff we need to be transported.” “Well, Rock”, Agent Ruin replied, “That’s a tall order. Usually, extraction is for one person and the stuff they’re wearing. Tell you what. Let Rack and I work on it for a week or so. We’ll arrange transport of your personal effects, then we’ll see about getting you and Esme to Dubai. At least there, you can order a plane. Hell, knowing you, you’ll get Tony Stark to fly in and provide door to door service. Sit tight. We’ll be back in touch.” “Good!” I say as I slam the phone down. With these newfangled cellphone telephone instruments, they lack the same sort of satisfying “KER FUCKING CLANG” the old landlines used to have. “Es!”, I yelled, “Start packing. We’re due out of here within a week.” That meant we needed to do some packing triage: • Things going home with us. • Things being shipped. • Things being sold. • Things being left behind. • Things no one was about to get their furry little mitts on. “Oh, fuck!”, I startled. I had just remembered the John Wick-ian stash of various explosives, and adjunct materials I had buried in the basement. Obviously, I couldn’t take it home with me, I couldn’t sell it, and I sure as festering frothing fuck wasn’t going to leave it here. I needed to call one of my more shifty and swarthy friends and arrange for passage out to the deep, dark desert. Around the area where the new sultan had opened a couple of brand new landfills. Looks like I was going to expand them a few meters once we disposed of the few hundred kilos of accumulation I attained over the last few years. See, I’m a packrat. I never leave nor toss anything that might be convenient. Might have a benefit. Might prove to be useful sometime down the line. So, I’ve accumulated a bit of kit. Like…well…a few hundred sticks of Du Pont 60% Extra Fast Dynamite. A couple dozen spools of Z-4 Primacord, in various degrees of fullness. A shitload of C-4; enough bricks for a Floydian wall. A couple, well, a dozen, well, two dozen cases of binary liquid explosives. Hey, this stuff is hard to come by… Continuing, several thousand blasting caps and superfast flash blasting cap boosters. Some mercury fulminate. Some nitrogen triiodide. A couple tens of pounds of PETN. An equal amount of RDX. A few Erlenmeyer flasks full of shit even I’m not certain of what it is… Oh. And a few kilos of freshly decanted, raw nitroglycerin; packed in sturdy wooden boxes lined with new fuzzy lamb’s wool. Not that much. Just 10 or 12 kilos. Yeah. I can’t leave that here. Even a small accident with this stuff would lay waste to not only our villa; but my landlord’s villa with whom we share a common wall. Besides, as Omanis go, my landlord was the only dishdasha dressed denizen for which I had any respect or admiration. He was a good guy. I needed to return his villa at least in some semblance of what I received when we first rented from him. So, I had to dispose of many, many billions of kilojoules of potential energy. I needed to do this out in a distant and far away from prying ears and eyes regions and I needed a truck to haul this stuff out to the range. To be continued…
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