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!
2018 report 2017 report Despite the solid number, this was a bit of a mixed year. Free/nominal fees for subscription services meant I spent a fair bit of time on games which were not on my backlog (albeit most were on my wishlist, so I can treat them as a preemptive elimination!). I also had a few timesinks which I regularly went back to as I found many new games to be unsatisfying.
1) The Outer Worlds 2) State of Decay 2 3) Warhammer 40,000 – Space Wolf 4) Purrfect Date 5) Tom Clancy’s The Division
Thoughts on each game
The Lion’s Song Quite an interesting little game. It manages to link stories about music, painting, mathematics and war in a clever and engrossing way. The choices are genuinely impactful and make for tough decisions at times. AER: Memories of Old A short game, but quite relaxing and pretty – especially in the flight sections. I had no interest in the story, but the relatively gentle puzzles and enjoyable flights made it worthwhile. Mad Max Much like Mafia III, this is a 10-hour game elongated into a 30+ hour game by copy-pasting tasks. While in theory most tasks are optional, the slow progress and gating of upgrades essentially requires completion of much of them. This becomes a grind, and the gameplay isn’t quite enough to keep it interesting. Quantum Break A mediocre story and a mediocre shooter, yet somehow more than the sum of its parts. Maybe I’m just nostalgic for the days of FMV integration in games, but this wound up being quite entertaining. Hitman – season 1 My first and only other Hitman game is Absolution, which apparently was a departure for the series. That leaves me in the position of finding this return to normality for the series as rather jarring. I prefer the linear and tighter nature of Absolution – since I don’t care enough to go back and complete them in different ways, it felt like a bit of a thin and shallow experience with a threadbare story. Grim Fandango Remastered I’m dreadful at P&C puzzle games, and quickly realised I wasn’t going to get far without a guide. As such, I cheated my way through most of it and just played it for the writing. Thankfully, the writing is so good that it was still fun. I wasn’t keen on Full Throttle, which I played last year, but this was amusing throughout. The Deadly Tower of Monsters A fun concept – a B-movie spoof – combined with surprisingly forgiving platforming mechanics. I’m not a fan of platformers generally, but the frustration-alleviating features and general sense of humour in the game made for a good experience. Overfall Solid roguelike tactical combat, marred by some sloppy writing [I don’t think English is the first language of the writers, but at least a spell-check would have helped], a wonky interface [pertinent information like resistances is obscured] and a strangely harsh unlock system. Not a bad game by any means, but could have been better with a bit more care. Rock of Ages 2 Bizarre concept, even more bizarre writing, but entertainingly so. It’s surprisingly good-looking and quite fun, but five hours was quite enough for me. Battlefield 1 I haven’t played a Battlefield game since Vietnam, so this took a bit of adjusting. The campaign is very well presented and offers a nice bit of variety, but it’s over so fast. I had no interest in multiplayer, so this made for a brief, if fun, experience. Soul Gambler A very brief visual novel, but at least it had distinct story paths. The writing was decent, if a bit awkward. My main gripe was that you had to individually click through each line on subsequent playthroughs, which is something many visual novels these days manage to avoid. Stikbold A rather strange dodgeball game. I didn’t find the strangeness nearly as amusing as Rock of Ages 2, but it was a moderately entertaining experience with a bit of variety through the different settings and objectives. Cultist Simulator I’m a bit mixed on this. On one hand, it had a surprising amount of content and complexity to it. On the other, it drastically inflated the complexity by veiling basic gameplay aspects. That could mean a lot of wasted time – or worse, inadvertently wrecking a multi-hour playthrough - because it wasn’t clear what you should be doing next. Walkthroughs and guides were essential. While there’s merit to a game which rewards experimentation and discovery of mechanics, there is a point at which it’s just too obtuse, and at times the game did go a bit too far in that respect. Ziggurat A quite clever blend of roguelike and FPS. I’m not much of a fan of the latter, but the gameplay was fun and the roguelike elements softened the blow of failure. Tyranny I disliked Pillars of Eternity and went into this with some trepidation. Fortunately, it was a more enjoyable and accessible experience. Where Pillars just threw a mindnumbing amount of lore at me, this offered a relatively comprehensible story doled out in appropriate chunks. While it did have some of Pillars’ mechanical issues, like poor pathfinding in combat, they did not seem nearly as bad (perhaps due to the smaller scale of battles). The base management stuff seemed tacked on, confusing and wholly unnecessary. It was far from my favourite RPG, but solid enough – and didn’t overstay its welcome. Orwell: Ignorance is Strength I enjoyed the first Orwell game and initially found this a similarly good experience. The few changes were worthwhile ones, and the story seemed to be building up well. Then it suddenly ended. Surely I done something wrong and met an early endgame? Nope, that was it – a mere few hours of gameplay, with an ending so abrupt that I had no idea it was one until the credits rolled. There are different endings, requiring additional playthroughs, but after that disappointment I wasn’t interested in going back to it. Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure This was my first game in the series, and I found it enjoyable. I only had to cheat a few times (which is remarkably good by my standards!) and the cheesiness of it was all rather endearing. The sequel is now on my wishlist (though it seems to be a fair way off). Train Valley A decent puzzle/strategy game, which quickly escalates from rather placid to chaotic. The simple concept still requires a fair bit of thought to succeed, and while I bumbled through somewhat, it was fun. Rakuen Beautiful. One of my favourite games, evoking the spirit of To the Moon by dealing with weighty topics in a whimsical manner. Wonderful soundtrack and great design. Dangerous Golf I enjoyed this more than I’d expected. It’s all a bit messy, as one would expect from a heavily physics-based game, and almost throws in too many variations, but it is fairly satisfying. In some levels it’s all too easy to get a platinum medal through sheer luck, but in other levels it takes a fair bit of skill and thought to get a good score, which is rather more satisfying. Mutant Year Zero This was frustrating. It has the ingredients for a solid game – great presentation, imaginative world, decent writing and voice acting and the core of a solid tactics game. The problem is that it is structured essentially like a puzzle game. The odds are so intensely stacked against you in a group battle that you must pick off enemies one by one. This makes for a slow and tedious process, especially when combined with the impact of RNG and the unsatisfying ending. Dishonoured 2 I felt a little let down by this. Presentation was good, story was fine, but the powers were mostly unengaging and the combat was frustrating. The combat issues were partly my fault in that I tried a non-lethal run, but while there were a few more non-lethal options, I would have loved an option to just punch someone in the face rather than having to stand around waiting to parry in order to launch a non-lethal attack. Finding Paradise This had a lot to live up to – To the Moon and A Bird Story are among my favourite games – but once again Kan Gao delivered. Touching, funny, surprising and engrossing. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – GotY Edition I went into this with a bit of trepidation, having strongly disliked the first two games in the series. While I am a big fan of the books, the gameplay never clicked with me. This was an improvement to some degree, but I still found the combat in particular frustrating and relatively shallow. I wound up just playing it as a story, and it delivered in that respect – even many of the side quests were more memorable than the main storylines of a lot of other RPGs I’ve played. While I certainly won’t be joining the “Praise Geraldo” crew, I at least had a better experience than I did with the other games in the series. SteamWorld Dig 2 I loved the first game. This was certainly enjoyable but did not reach quite the same heights; perhaps through lack of ambition if nothing else. Solid enough, but lacking the impact of its predecessor. Batman: Arkham Knight This felt like the weakest of the three main Arkham games (I didn’t like Origins much at all, but that is somewhat separate). The combat, setting and presentation were all as interesting as ever, and the story got genuinely interesting towards the end, but the damned car seemed to drag down everything it was involved in. From puzzles to battles, it always felt a bit wonky to me – a particularly sharp contrast to the famously smooth and refined movement and combat the series is known for. Unlike Asylum and City, I didn’t complete the Riddler challenges. This was primarily due to the car, which I was thoroughly sick of by the end. Perhaps I was rendered a bit grumpier than usual by that, but I also found the Rocksteady tendency to lead the player by the nose at some points, and then leave things utterly oblique at other times, to be particularly grating. West of Loathing Genuinely funny at times, and I loved the art style, but it did drag on a little. The Flame in the Flood Quite an atmospheric and appealing game. The presentation is gorgeous, albeit marred by irritating pop-in even on a GTX 1080. The gameplay is pretty easy to pick up, and while it can be frustrating in the way that a survival game with randomisation inevitably can be (and why the hell can’t I boil water to remove the bugs?!), the checkpoint system is generous enough to ameliorate this. Monster Prom I am not usually one for VNs, but this is great. Entertaining characters, often hilarious (and oh so wrong) writing and easy enough to play through in 15 minutes (it says the short game is 30 minutes, but it doesn't take me anywhere near that). There is plenty of content, some of which is unlockable, meaning there is substantial replayability. Yakuza 0 The first in the series for me, and quite enjoyable. It was funny at times, though the main plot did cause me to drift off towards the end – I wound up doing crosswords during some of the interminable cutscenes. The combat got a bit repetitive, but it was easy enough to get the hang of. I didn’t enjoy it enough to get stuck into the numerous side activities, but the main game was decent enough. Dominique Pamplemousse This is a curious game. It is brief (barely an hour long) and linear. The puzzles are simple. Much of the dialogue is sung, for no apparent reason - and not particularly well. The art style has been described as "claymation noire"; there's little er..."mation", and it all looks a bit muddy. Writing is fine. I chuckled at a few bits, but it's hardly memorable.For all that, I quite liked it. It's original and there's heart to it. In a sea of lazy asset flips, generic AAA games with no respect for your time and visionless projects, here's an example of people actually daring to have a go with a unique vision. South Park: The Fractured But Whole Not nearly as well-written as its predecessor, but with significantly better combat. The badge progression system was clumsy, and at one point I was left with a stack of grinding to do. Generally a solid experience, though. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice Wonderful presentation, with some of the best voice acting I’ve heard in games. The gameplay itself was decent. Combat was a little too simple, and puzzles could be frustrating at times, but it’s really all about the experience. Pizza Express I feel a little silly having spent a lot of money on a gaming rig when I use it to play stuff that looks like something out of the early ‘90s. Nonetheless, this was good fun – amusing story, addictive gameplay and a surprising amount of content. Yoku’s Island Express Cutely presented and an interesting concept. It can be infuriating at times, requiring a degree of precision which is perhaps best not associated with pinball, and getting around can be a bit confusing. Overall, though, it’s quite fun. The Darkside Detective A pretty simple point & click adventure (aside from one strangely hard instalment), broken into small episodes to make it easy to get through a portion at a time. Nothing exceptional, but a decent way to spend a few hours. Tales of Berseria A surprisingly engrossing tale. It's frequently funny and features likeable characters. The voice acting is excellent - it's a tour de force for Cristina Valenzuela in particular. That helps mitigate a convoluted combat system. It was still throwing tutorials at me after 15 hours; I wound up ignoring them and button mashing, which seemed to work fine on Normal difficulty anyway. Performance is rock solid. Smooth FPS, fast loading and limited pop-in. I have never played a Tales game before, and may not play another one, but it doesn't take a love for the series to enjoy this game. Perhaps the group best warned to stay away are achievement hunters - some of them seem to take a heck of a lot of work. The Outer Worlds Disappointing. The simplistic combat not only makes that portion of the game dull, but also weakens the RPG aspects since you can pour all your upgrade points into speech skills, making those challenges a breeze. The writing is one-note (everyone is quirky, snarky or both), the choices are binary and rarely provoke thought (indeed, the hardest choice was one of the very first) and the characters aren't particularly interesting - nor are they given much chance to be in their shallow quests. It also performed poorly on a decent rig - though that's to be expected from Obsidian. Agents of Mayhem It's...not that bad. Sure, it's flawed - repetitive quests, buggy at times and nowhere near the level of Saints Row's writing - but it has an enjoyably distinct set of characters (sadly enough, the character missions were more interesting than those of Outer Worlds) and the combat is enjoyably free-flowing. PixelJunk Nom Nom Galaxy I liked the idea of discovering ingredients and turning them into various products, but it quickly became centred around ever more complex process designs which were of no interest to me. Action Henk A fun runner; gorgeously presented. I sucked at it though! Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse Presented in an enjoyably light-hearted manner, but it felt like it was dragging on even after four hours. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Ultimate Edition I was quite excited to play this, since it featured three of my favourite actors – Patrick Stewart, Robert Carlyle and Jason Isaacs. That’s the only reason I managed to last five hours. I hated pretty much everything about it; the shoddy fixed camera, the tedious fighting, the cringeworthy writing… The sad thing is that I bought another two games in the series. Sheltered A solid little survival management game. I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as Zafehouse Diaries or Dead State, mainly because the RNG was a bit too impactful. It’s far too common for a game to simply be unwinnable due to a lack of rain and/or the distribution of resources in nearby locations. When things are fairer (or the difficulty is lowered) it becomes quite a grind – with no real winning condition and little in the way of variety (there are a few shallow quests of minimal value or interest) tedium ensues. Civilization VI Quite liked the new mechanics and enjoyed playing as Australia (though Walzing Matilda is so distinctive that it gets a bit grating). Having spent many hours in its predecessors though, there was nothing particularly groundbreaking which compelled me to play more than a few games. Porno Studio Tycoon I’ll give pretty much any management game a go! Unfortunately, things weren’t particularly well explained and while there seemed to be a bit of depth, a lot of it was blocked off (to add to the confusion, the tutorial focused on mechanics which were blocked off for much of the early game). Aarklash: Legacy I normally like tactical games, but this was just too unforgiving and there was no ability to grind to reduce the difficulty. Intergalactic Bubbles It’s basically Bubble Bobble, which is fine. It’s quite nicely presented. The problem is that each level is meant to be completed in a certain number of moves, but since the bubble colours are randomly generated, it’s mostly down to luck – you might be able to wipe out half the bubbles on your first move, or might struggle to get any matches at all. Tom Clancy’s The Division I got fairly close to the end of this game but was just so fed up with it that I couldn’t push myself to get through it. The story was forgettable, the shooting mechanics were mediocre, all the extraneous gameplay elements were just an annoyance and I felt the game was balanced against me as a solo player (only twice did I find a co-op partner, and both of them screamed in Korean throughout). It looked impressive, at least. Kingdom: New Lands Edition I really thought I’d like this game, and had it on my wishlist from release. I love management games, and have no issue with passive management. It also looked gorgeous; this is one of the best-looking pixel-art games I’ve played. Unfortunately, it did not click at all. The AI was not bright, which is inevitably a source of a lot of frustration in a passive management game. Further, the gameplay was just dull. I felt like I was running back and forth endlessly for little reward – pretty though it may have been, I found myself wishing for a button to speed up time. The positive reviews suggest it is a relaxing and chill game – I just found myself frustrated with the AI and bored by the gameplay. Halcyon 6: Lightspeed Edition For some reason I thought this was more of a starbase management sim rather than a tactical space battle sim. The starbase elements are there, but they are pretty thin. Most of the game is about the tactical space battles, which were interesting and varied enough early on, but after nine hours and no end in sight I was sick of them. FIFA 18 I haven’t played a FIFA game since ’98, so it was interesting to give this a go. The story mode was okay – quite well presented, but the player rating system was infuriating at times (the out-of-position penalties in particular). I did find that there was a huge gap in the difficulty settings – one was ludicrously easy (insultingly so; the AI kept missing from close range), but the next was a bit too steep for someone essentially new to the series. An option between the two would have been nice, or at least an easier difficulty which at least tried to mask how easy it was making things! I also tried management mode, but having been used to Football Manager’s detail I was not able to get into this. Seven: The Days Long Gone This was a frustrating experience. I really liked the concept of an isometric thief RPG, and did my best to give it a fair chance. It had its positive aspects; freedom of movement, decent voice acting and reasonable graphics. However, the freedom of movement also worked against it; confrontations with enemies often spiralled into circular chases suited to Benny Hill music and I lost count of the number of times I plunged to an untimely death through a misstep. Moreover, it didn’t really work to its premise. The game started with a tutorial centred around a stealthy heist, which seemed to be the central premise of the game. The next time I encountered a situation close to that was six hours later. Age of Wonders 3 I loved Shadow Magic many years ago but struggled to get into this. Maps seemed to take an inordinately long time to the point that armies were monstrously large and there was no research left. Maybe I was too defensive, but the AI was very passive. The Dweller A decent little puzzle game with minimal assets. Out of the Park Baseball 19 A slight improvement on its predecessor. The main addition was an online card-game mode, but I’m not sure that works well in a management game. My squad was rapidly full of high-end talent and I felt no real connection to the team. Niche: A Genetics Survival Game Nice concept, but a rather wobbly execution. The genetics aspect tended to be lost due to the fast paced and tough nature of the game; the focus was so much on just keeping any creature alive that genetics didn’t come into my thinking. Apparently the best strategy is to sit on the first island for ages and build up a tribe, but the tutorial didn’t make that clear at all. Royal Heroes A grindy and buggy mobile game. Endless Space 2 – Digital Deluxe Edition I thought I was falling out of love with the space 4X genre, having been very disappointed with the last few I placed – particularly Stellaris – but this hit the mark. The alien races are distinct, making for significantly different gameplay. The gameplay itself is always interesting; unlike Stellaris, it doesn’t hit a dead patch mid-game. I found the combat a little frustrating – seemingly even contests would often have completely one-sided results for no apparent reason – but aside from that it was a solid game. Monster Slayers An enjoyable little rogue-lite deck builder. While I normally prefer a bit more flexibility in deck building, tying cards to characters meant that each one had a distinctive feel which gave the game plenty of replayability. Dark Train This sounded interesting in concept, but was way too oblique for me. State of Decay 2 This seemed like the perfect game for me – I love survival management and settlement building. Unfortunately, it wound up feeling rather like a shallow MMO – trite dialogue, grindy tasks and no real sense of purpose or direction. I just found myself engaging in long, dull runs between locations, engaging in the same shoddy combat over and over again. The Banner Saga 3 I played the first two games in the series to completion and seem to recall enjoying them, but something about this did not click at all. I had zero interest in the story – the time between instalments has dulled my memory of it – and the gameplay just felt so flat. I’m not really sure what changed between playing the last two games and now, but I had no motivation to keep playing. Gremlins, Inc A reasonably enjoyable but forgettable board game. Warhammer 40,000 – Space Wolf This is a game plagued by odd design choices. It has turn-based combat (which I love), but it is deprived of so much of its strategy by the way it is designed. Enemies appear at arbitrary moments from arbitrary locations (including amid your troops) without warning or logic, meaning that success requires either a degree of fortune or grinding missions to know when and where enemies will appear. Perhaps this is to compensate for the weak AI, which is prone to boneheaded acts, but it just makes things irritating and dull. It also has a card collecting and deck building mechanic (again, which I love). The distribution of cards, however, is bizarre – completing tasks in missions (which can take 30+ minutes each) will give a couple of low-level cards. In contrast, activating one of numerous codes from the forums provides a pile of high-level cards. “Legendary” cards are so readily available in this form that a deck can be filled with them with a few minutes’ effort. There is a clumsy system for upgrading each card, none of which is explained in the shallow tutorial. There is also an upgrade path for your squadmates – again poorly explained – which is reliant on grinding missions. They don't use your custom decks, so while you're flooded with Elite and Legendary cards for the leader, you have to grind just to eke out a few more Uncommons for the rest of your squad. There's really nothing else to recommend the game. Graphics and sound are serviceable and the story is barely there. It just feels like yet another Warhammer game pushed out for the sake of it. Warhammer 40,000 – Dawn of War II Another disappointing Warhammer game. Again this had things I liked – a strategic layer with character progression, equippable loot, choice of missions and ebb and flow of the wider battle. However, I found this constrained by the limits placed on that strategy, with constant time pressure funnelling me into the key missions . I’m not sure how much that time pressure would have impacted on the outcome – would doing side missions result in overall failure – as it was never properly explained. Moreover, I found the RTS gameplay really quite dull and repetitive, such that I didn’t feel compelled to continue. Road Redemption Incredibly dumb – horrible dialogue, clumsy gameplay (trying to aim guns while riding was a nightmare) and buggy (the one round which I won was as a result of a bug which caused me to be invincible for most of it), but it did have some entertainment value. Moonlighter Having spent 125 hours in Recettear, it's fair to say I am very much open to the burgeoning shopkeeper-by-day/dungeon-crawler-by-night genre. Unfortunately, this fell flat. Even after a relatively short period it became a dull grind. Much of that is due to a distinct lack of charm; it looks nice in screenshots, but lacks any real character or presence in game. The absence of any decent writing is another problem; what there was of the story didn't interest me in the slightest. In contrast to a game like Recettear, filled with charm and heart, this was utterly bland. Add in the clumsy storage system, shallow shopkeeping, sluggish combat and irritatingly repetitive music, and seven hours was more than enough for me. Shelter Was rather surprised to dislike this. I found myself getting lost far too easily, which given that it was a very linear game meant a lot of frustration. The visual presentation was grating and confusing. Mainlining Moderately interesting hacking game, but too shallow, linear and not particularly well written. Reassembly Took a while for this to click, but once it did it was decent enough. I could have spent many hours playing this in the ‘90s, but it didn’t have enough of interest for me to do so now. 12 Labours of Hercules V: Kids of Hellas Cute enough, I suppose, but quickly became repetitive. Aaero A music-based shooter with poorly explained shooter mechanics and music which was very much not to my taste. One track really stood out as effectively blending the music and game mechanics, but that should have been the standard rather than the exception. Purrfect Date This game is presented as a cutesy, tongue-in-cheek game and for the most part it pulls that off pretty well. If that was the sum of it, I'd be reasonably satisfied. Instead, there is a dark, unpleasant story underneath, with numerous descriptions of animal abuse. It's utterly jarring - a game which is presented as being for cat lovers (not that kind of lover), yet featuring descriptions of them being victims of torture, experimentation and killing. The closest thing to a warning on the store page is a reference to "black humour", which doesn't cover it in my view. There is no humour in these scenes, so it’s not “black humour”. I don’t know what it is, other than a simply bizarre choice. Even putting aside the lack of warning, it's an unpleasant and jarring experience. I'm at a loss as to what on earth the devs were thinking. The writing is otherwise reasonably good. The structure of the game, however, is poor. It requires multiple playthroughs to get a proper ending, and there is no way to quickly skip the text. Prepare for RSI, clicking through page after page of dialogue, if you ever want to get to the ending. Suffice to say, going through this once is quite enough for me. Space Hulk Ascension I normally love turn-based combat, especially with RPG progression, but this was just dull and frustrating. Not having a good year with Warhammer games. Super Daryl Deluxe All very QUIRKY, and constantly at pains to remind you of how QUIRKY it is, without ever being particularly amusing. The art style is at least eyecatching, and some of the music is decent, but the writing didn’t grab me at all. The combat was a grindy battle of attrition – the only thing worse than “kill x monster” quests are “collect x items which randomly drop from only a small percentage of monsters after you kill them” quests. Add in the ever-frustrating boss fights where you had to win through repeating an unintuitive set of actions several times, and I didn’t feel like going much further. Think of the Children Nice idea, and it’s good to play a locally-made game, but it’s dreadfully designed for a single player. Although it can have up to three co-op partners, it doesn’t adjust the difficulty in the slightest to cater for a solo player rendering it near-impossible. Legend of Grimrock 2 Obtuse puzzles, clumsy combat and bland design made this quickly unappealing. FIFA 19 I mainly just played for the story mode, which was fine. Didn't notice much of a difference from 18. Out of the Park Baseball 20 No discernible improvement upon its predecessor. Oriental Empires Some nice ideas, but thoroughly dull. In six hours I was attacked three times by bandits and spent the rest of the time painstakingly building farms. Iratus: Lord of the Dead An enjoyable little strategy game. I will probably go back to it since it's in early access and is constantly being rebalanced. Into the Breach Moderately interesting strategy, but not enough to keep me coming back. There Came An Echo Iridium's previous game, Before the Echo (aka Sequence) was a flawed but enjoyable hidden gem. There Came an Echo has a similar level of charm, but two fundamental problems. The first is that it was simply unplayable on my PC. A black screen after loading; no way past it. Apparently it was due to an incompatibility with my microphone which is rather problematic when I don't HAVE a microphone. The second is that (having used my partner's computer to run it) ultimately it's a very raw proof of concept. Like its predecessor it has charm in the voice acting and writing, but unlike its predecessor it is just not a lot of fun to play. Put aside the gimmick of giving voice commands and you're left with a short, clumsy, shallow and frustrating experience. World of Mixed Martial Arts 5 As usual for the series (indeed, the dev in general), a stack of good ideas marred by fundamental flaws. Good as a hypnotic experience between other games. Star Trek Timelines I tried this briefly a few years ago and didn't get into it, but I certainly did this year. It's all pretty shallow, but as a fan-friendly timewaster it's decent enough. Football Manager Touch 2019 Endlessly infuriating, and a bit buggy, but always manages to draw me back in.
Part 2: Tools & Info for Sysadmins - Mega List of Tips, Tools, Books, Blogs & More
Win + Shift + S: Captures a user-selectable area of the screen to the clipboard (on Windows 10 Ver 1703+)
WIN + CTRL + F4: Close a virtual desktop
Here's a shortcut for a 4-pane explorer in Windows without installing 3rd-party software:
Win + E, win + left, up
Win + E, win + right, up
Win + E, win + left, down
Win + E, win + right, down
(Keep the win key down for the arrows, and no pauses.) Appreciation goes to ZAFJB for this one. Our recent tip for a shortcut to get a 4-pane explorer in Windows, triggered this suggestion from SevaraB: "You can do that for an even larger grid of Windows by right-clicking the clock in the taskbar, and clicking 'Show windows side by side' to arrange them neatly. Did this for 4 rows of 6 windows when I had to have a quick 'n' dirty "video wall" of windows monitoring servers at our branches." ZAFJB adds that it actually works when you right-click "anywhere on the taskbar, except application icons or start button." This tip comes courtesy of shipsass: "When I need to use Windows Explorer but I don't want to take my hands off the keyboard, I press Windows-E to launch Explorer and then Ctrl-L to jump to the address line and type my path. The Ctrl-L trick also works with any web browser, and it's an efficient way of talking less-technical people through instructions when 'browse to [location]' stumps them." Clear browser history/cookies by pressing CTRL-SHIFT-DELETE on most major browsers. Thanks go to synapticpanda, who adds that this "saves me so much time when troubleshooting web apps where I am playing with the cache and such." To rename a file with F2, while still editing the name of that file: Hit TAB to tab into the renaming of the next file. Thanks to abeeftaco for this one! Alt-D is a reliable alternative to Ctrl-L for jumping to the address line in a browser. Thanks for this one go to fencepost_ajm, who explains: "Ctrl-L comes from the browser side as a shortcut for Location, Alt-D from the Windows Explorer side for Directory." Browser shortcut: When typing a URL that ends with dot com, Ctrl + Enter will place the ".com" and take you to the page. Thanks to wpierre for this one! This tip comes from anynonus, as something that daily that saves a few clicks: "Running a program with ctrl + shift + enter from start menu will start it as administrator(alt + y will select YES to run as admin) ... my user account is local admin [so] I don't feel like that is unsafe" Building on our PowerShell resources, we received the following suggestion from halbaradkenafin: aka.ms/pskoans is "a way to learn PowerShell using PowerShell (and Pester). It's really cool and a bunch of folks have high praise for it (including a few teams within MSFT)." Keyboard shortcut: If you already have an application open, hold ctrl + shift and middle click on the application in your task bar to open another instance as admin. Thanks go to Polymira for this one. Remote Server Tip: "Critical advice. When testing out network configuration changes, prior to restarting the networking service or rebooting, always create a cron job that will restore your original network configuration and then reboot/restart networking on the machine after 5 minutes. If your config worked, you have enough time to remove it. If it didn't, it will fix itself. This is a beautifully simple solution that I learned from my old mentor at my very first job. I've held on to it for a long time." Thanks go to FrigidNox for the tip! Websites Deployment Research is the website of Johan Arwidmark, MS MVP in System Center Cloud and Datacenter Management. It is dedicated to sharing information and guidance around System Center, OS deployment, migration and more. The author shares tips and tricks to help improve the quality of IT Pros’ daily work. Next of Windows is a website on (mostly) Microsoft-related technology. It's the place where Kent Chen—a computer veteran with many years of field experience—and Jonathan Hu—a web/mobile app developer and self-described "cool geek"—share what they know, what they learn and what they find in the hope of helping others learn and benefit. High Scalability brings together all the relevant information about building scalable websites in one place. Because building a website with confidence requires a body of knowledge that can be slow to develop, the site focuses on moving visitors along the learning curve at a faster pace. Information Technology Research Library is a great resource for IT-related research, white papers, reports, case studies, magazines, and eBooks. This library is provided at no charge by TradePub.com. GullibleDetective tells us it offers "free PDF files from a WIIIIIIDE variety of topics, not even just IT. Only caveat: as its a vendor-supported publishing company, you will have to give them a bit of information such as name, email address and possibly a company name. You undoubtedly have the ability to create fake information on this, mind you. The articles range from Excel templates, learning python, powershell, nosql etc. to converged architecture." SS64 is a web-based reference guide for syntax and examples of the most-common database and OS computing commands. Recommended by Petti-The-Yeti, who adds, "I use this site all the time to look up commands and find examples while I'm building CMD and PS1 scripts." Phishing and Malware Reporting. This website helps you put a stop to scams by getting fraudulent pages blocked. Easily report phishing webpages so they can be added to blacklists in as little as 15 minutes of your report. "Player024 tells us, "I highly recommend anyone in the industry to bookmark this page...With an average of about 10 minutes of work, I'm usually able to take down the phishing pages we receive thanks to the links posted on that website." A Slack Channel Windows Admin Slack is a great drive-by resource for the Windows sysadmin. This team has 33 public channels in total that cover different areas of helpful content on Windows administration. Blogs KC's Blog is the place where Microsoft MVP and web developer Kent Chen shares his IT insights and discoveries. The rather large library of posts offer helpful hints, how-tos, resources and news of interest to those in the Windows world. The Windows Server Daily is the ever-current blog of technologist Katherine Moss, VP of open source & community engagement for StormlightTech. Offers brief daily posts on topics related to Windows server, Windows 10 and Administration. An Infosec Slideshow This security training slideshow was created for use during a quarterly infosec class. The content is offered generously by shalafi71, who adds, "Take this as a skeleton and flesh it out on your own. Take an hour or two and research the things I talk about. Tailor this to your own environment and users. Make it relevant to your people. Include corporate stories, include your audience, exclude yourself. This ain't about how smart you are at infosec, and I can't stress this enough, talk about how people can defend themselves. Give them things to look for and action they can take. No one gives a shit about your firewall rules." Tech Tutorials Tutorialspoint Library. This large collection of tech tutorials is a great resource for online learning. You'll find nearly 150 high-quality tutorials covering a wide array of languages and topics—from fundamentals to cutting-edge technologies. For example, this Powershell tutorial is designed for those with practical experience handling Windows-based Servers who want to learn how to install and use Windows Server 2012. The Python Tutorial is a nice introduction to many of Python’s best features, enabling you to read and write Python modules and programs. It offers an understanding of the language's style and prepares you to learn more about the various Python library modules described in 'The Python Standard Library.' Kindly suggested by sharjeelsayed. SysAdmin Humor Day in the Life of a SysAdmin Episode 5: Lunch Break is an amusing look at a SysAdmin's attempt to take a brief lunch break. We imagine many of you can relate! Have a fantastic week and as usual, let me know any comments or suggestions. u/crispyducks
A Comprehensive Guide on Securing Your System, Archives and Documents
How can you make your system and documents secure? Today, 256-bit AES encryption is offered by everyone and their dog. However, AES encryption does not mean much (or anything at all) when it comes to the real security of your data. Implementing encryption at the right time and in the right spot is no less important than choosing strong encryption credentials and managing the encryption keys. While the previous part may sound a bit complicated, it all comes down to much simpler things than choosing the strongest encryption algorithm or selecting the length of the encryption key. If you are a Windows user, it all comes down to choosing the optimal data protection strategy for your particular usage scenario; protecting your storage media and the data you keep on them.
Defining your goals
Before you start considering encrypting your hard drives and files, make sure to define your objectives. What information would you like to protect? What threats do you consider important, less important and quite improbable?
Full-disk encryption part I: protecting your boot device
A reliable system protection is impossible without protecting your boot device. An unencrypted boot device (disk C: on most systems) allows for way too many vectors of attack ranging from hibernation and page file analysis to instant extraction of stored passwords from your Web browser vault. In other words, securing your boot device with BitLocker is an absolutely mandatory preliminary step and the most important security layer.
Availability: Windows 10 Professional and higher with TPM2.0, Intel PTT or Group Policy edit; all Windows editions for device encryption in thin and light devices meeting minimum requirements.
Note: although Windows 10 Home cannot natively create new BitLocker volumes, it can unlock BitLocker encrypted drives with full read-write access
Physical access, hard drive only: strong protection
Usage cases: protect data against theft of computer or hard drive; protect data if hard drives are sold or RMA’d; protect data against physical extraction.
If your computer meets the requirements (namely, the presence of a hardware TPM2.0 module or software-based Intel Platform Trust Technology), enabling BitLocker on your computer can be as easy as opening the Control Panel and launching the BitLocker Drive Encryption applet. Note that not all editions of Windows 10 can use BitLocker protection. We have a comprehensive article on BitLocker protection in our blog, which is highly recommended. Introduction to BitLocker: Protecting Your System Disk What caveats are there when it comes to securing data against physical extraction? The thing is, while BitLocker is nearly a 100% effective solution for protecting the bare drive, it might not be as secure if the intruder has access to the entire computer with the hard drive installed. Even if your computer is equipped with a TPM2.0/Intel PTT module, Windows will still unlock the encrypted hard drive if Secure Boot conditions are met. This in turn opens numerous vectors of attack that may allow the intruder to intercept the on-the-fly BitLocker encryption key and decrypt the hard drive. These vectors of attack include:
Making a RAM image of a running computer with BitLocker volume(s) mounted. This can be done via a Thunderbolt attack (Windows, by default, does not disable Thunderbolt DMA access when locked) or a cold boot attack.
Breaking or extracting your Windows logon password (e.g. extracting from your Google account, your smartphone, or from another computer you have logged in and synced your data to).
Advanced users and system administrators can read the following guide to secure their BitLocker volumes: BitLocker recovery guide
Full-disk encryption part II: protecting external storage devices
BitLocker is good not only for protecting your boot device, but for encrypting data on other volumes, built-in and removable. BitLocker protects external storage devices with BitLocker To Go, an encryption algorithm based on a password. In addition to passwords, external drives encrypted with BitLocker To Go have an option to unlock with a smart card on another computer by using BitLocker Drive Encryption in Control Panel. Finally, users can opt to make their encrypted external devices automatically unlock when connected to their (trusted) computer.
Encrypt external devices: Windows 10 Professional and Enterprise
Access BitLocker encrypted devices: although Windows 10 Home cannot natively encrypt drives with BitLocker, it can access BitLocker encrypted drives with full read-write access
Physical access, device only: protection as strong as your password
Physical access, entire computer: it’s complicated (see previous chapter)
Note: if you enabled the option “Unlock automatically on this PC”, then effectively no protection
Other users on the same computer: strong protection if offline/not mounted
Malware/ransomware: strong protection if offline/not mounted
Online attacks: strong protection if offline/not mounted
Usage cases: protect data stored on external storage devices such as external drive enclosures, USB flash drives etc.
Unlike system drive encryption, BitLocker To Go does not support multifactor authentication. This means you cannot use TPM protection as an additional form of authentication. You can, however, make BitLocker To Go devices unlock automatically when they are inserted in your (trusted) computer, which carries obvious security implications.
Full-disk encryption part III: using third-party crypto containers
I put it here just for the sake of completeness. If you are considering using a crypto-container such as VeraCrypt or PGP, you probably know what it is good for and how to use it. I’ll just add several things that aren’t immediately obvious when you set up encryption. In fact, the two things are so non-obvious that many coach experts have it backwards. (The right way: Choosing the right hashing algorithm – it’s all about slowness).
Availability: VeraCrypt is available on most relevant platforms
Physical access, hard drive only: very strong protection unless misconfigured
Misconfiguration examples: volume stays mounted when computer sleeps or hibernates; volume stays mounted when computer is locked (matter of security vs. convenience); volume unlocked with security key (e.g. USB flash drive) and no password (if USB flash drive is discovered)
Physical access, entire computer:
volume not mounted at time of analysis: very strong protection
volume mounted: very little protection
Other users on the same computer
volume not mounted at time of analysis: very strong protection
volume mounted: very little protection
Malware/ransomware: same as above
Online attacks: same as above
Usage cases: protect data against theft of computer or hard drive; protect data if hard drives are sold or RMA’d; protect data against physical extraction.
The choice of encryption algorithm (spoiler: use AES) Crypto containers such as VeraCrypt offer the choice of several (actually, multiple) encryption algorithms that range from the industry-standard AES to some quite exotic algorithms such as Serpent or Kuznyechik. For the paranoiacs among us, VeraCrypt offers stacked encryption (e.g. the Serpent(AES) option). The thing is, the choice of an encryption algorithm does not affect the security of your data (unless you pick an algorithm with known or suspected vulnerabilities; finger pointed to Kuznyechik). The choice of encryption algorithm does not affect the security of your data. A single round AES-256 encryption will be exactly as secure as Serpent(AES) or Serpent(Twofish(AES)). Moreover, the choice of encryption does not even affect the recovery speed (the speed of brute-force attacks on your password)! Considering that AES is the only hardware-accelerated encryption algorithm in all reasonably modern processors, choosing any encryption algorithm other than AES-256 will unnecessarily slow down your reads and writes (expect a difference of 2 to 3 orders of magnitude in theoretical RAM-to-RAM encryption speeds) without providing any additional security benefit. If choosing an encryption algorithm other than AES does not affect security, then what does? The choice of hashing algorithm When VeraCrypt encrypts (or decrypts) your data, it is using a binary encryption key to perform symmetric cryptographic operations. This media encryption key (MEK) is stored along with the encrypted data. The Media Encryption Key (MEK) is encrypted with a Key Encryption Key (KEK), which, in turn, is the result of multiple (hundreds of thousands) iterative hash operations performed on the user’s password. In other words, when you type a password, the crypto container will perform a calculation of a certain hash function, and repeat that a 100,000 times or more (in order to deliberately slow down brute-force attacks). If you want to make your encrypted volume more secure, you can change one of the two things:
Increase the number of hash iterations
Don’t use defaults
Choose a slower hash function
VeraCrypt allows modifying the number of hash iterations by adjusting the PIM (Personal Iterations Multiplier); here is the how-to. The PIM value controls the number of iterations that is used to derive the encryption key from the password that you type. This value can be specified through the password dialog or in the command line. If you don’t manually specify the PIM value, VeraCrypt will use the default number of iterations, which is bad because (2). For SHA-512 or Whirlpool (the two recommended choices), VeraCrypt defaults to Iterations = 15000 + (PIM x 1000). Why would you want to change the number of hash iterations? Because an attacker will first try to break your password using the defaults. Most tools used by the attackers to brute-force your password will first run the attack using all-defaults: the default encryption algorithm (AES), hash function (SHA-512) and PIM. Changing the PIM value is an easy way to substantially increase security without making your password more complex. Changing the hashing algorithm from default (SHA-512) to Whirlpool also makes sense in this context. Which brings us to the choice of a hashing algorithm. VeraCrypt offers the choice of SHA-512 (slow, good choice), Whirlpool (slower, even better choice), SHA-256 (slow, but not as slow as SHA-512, use other hash instead), and Streebog (untested). Choosing the right hashing algorithm – it’s all about slowness has some benchmarks and some good explanations; highly recommended. Selecting Whirlpool makes a lot of sense because a) it is slower than SHA-512 (thus will be significantly slower to attack), and b) it is a non-default selection, which significantly increases the complexity of the attack.
File system encryption: when and how to use EFS
If you read the Wikipedia article about Microsoft Encrypting File System (EFS), you’ll get that EFS has been introduced in NTFS 3.0 in order to provides file system level encryption. The article reads: “The technology enables files to be transparently encrypted to protect confidential data from attackers with physical access to the computer.” While all of that is interesting, neither statement explains who and, most importantly, why should be using EFS, and what exactly the encrypting file system protects against.
Availability: all versions and all editions of Windows 10 (and most older versions of Windows)
Physical access, hard drive only: as strong as your Windows account password
Physical access, entire computer: same as above
Other users on the same computer: effective protection
Malware/ransomware: not applicable
Online attacks: not applicable
Usage cases: protect your documents from other users of your computer; an extra layer of security on BitLocker-protected drives; reasonably strong, very easy and fully transparent document encryption on computers where BitLocker is not supported.
What does EFS protect against, and who should be using it? The purpose of Encrypting File System is protecting your data from users who share your computer. If you have a PC with several users, and each user has their own Windows login (as opposed to sharing a single Windows account), activating EFS encryption is the easiest way to protect your files from being accessed by those other users. What is the relation between EFS and BitLocker, and which one should you use? BitLocker protects your entire system volume. Any user who can log in to your computer will unlock the system volume. If a user has administrative privileges (or can escalate a non-admin account by using an exploit), he or she will also gain access to files and documents stored in other users’ accounts on that computer. Encrypting File System, on the other hand, only protects selected folders. It won’t, for example, protect your instant messenger databases or encrypt your browsing history. It’s mostly just for documents, pictures and videos you keep in your account. However, EFS will effectively protect those files against other users who can log on to your computer, even if they have administrative privileges. If an attacker got physical access to the computer, BitLocker is the first line of defence. Relying solely on EFS to secure the PC against attacks with physical access is not the best idea. How does it all work? It’s actually quite simple. Right-click on a file or folder you’d like to encrypt, select Properties and click the Advanced button in the General tab. In the Advanced Attributes dialog select Encrypt contents to secure data and click OK. https://preview.redd.it/742u0dpqdjc41.png?width=1019&format=png&auto=webp&s=26dcec93aba51d314531f65c6e68ac12302bc88f This is it. Windows will now encrypt the selected file or folder with your Windows logon credentials. There are no passwords to type and no encryption keys to save. There is a certain drawback to using EFS encryption. If you ever forget your Windows password and have to reset it from a separate Administrator account (or your domain administrator resets the password for you), the EFS encryption keys will be lost, and you will be unable to decrypt your data without going through the data recovery process with Elcomsoft Advanced EFS Data Recovery. Note that you must recover your Windows password in order to decrypt the files. However, if you simply change your Windows password by following the normal procedure (typing your old password followed by entering the new one), you will be fine.
Encrypting individual documents is an important part of multi-layer security. Microsoft Office apps can use passwords to encrypt the documents’ content. No one without a password should be able to decrypt the document.
Availability: all versions of Microsoft Office
Security: depends on the version of Microsoft Office, the file format you’re using to save the files and the strength of your password.
Physical access, hard drive only: strong protection (with caveats)
A million dollar question: if you are on a local area network, should you use EFS or document encryption to protect documents against other users on the same LAN? In this case, it’s better to use both. EFS will make it impossible to gain access to encrypted files and folders without knowing your Windows account/domain credentials. Password protection of individual documents will make documents difficult to break even if the attacker knows your logon credentials. The caveats of document encryption So what exactly does “strong protection (with caveats)” mean? The thing is, your documents are just as secure as the password you use to protect them. If you re-use a password you already stored in your browser cache or in the keychain, extracting that password and decrypting the documents will be a matter of minutes in many types of attacks. What if you use a cryptographically strong and truly unique password to encrypt documents? Are these documents secure? The thing is, they will be just as secure as the office app permits them to be. In Microsoft Office encryption evolution: from Office 97 to Office 2019 I discussed the encryption algorithms and protection strength of Microsoft Office apps from the early days to the most current release. Generally speaking, everything before Office 2000 was insecure (no protection). Office 2000, XP and Office 2003 had very weak encryption that can be usually broken in under a day. Since Office 2007, Microsoft started taking encryption seriously. Office 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019 brought security to the new level, making encrypted documents very secure. Okay, so you are using the latest Office and selected a strong password; are we secure now? The thing is, you’ll be just as secure as the document format allows. If you are using the newer DOCX/XLSX format (files with .docx / .xlsx extensions), you’re good. If, however, you are saving your documents in “compatibility” mode, you are sacrificing encryption and make your documents as vulnerable as if they were saved by an Office 2003 app. Best practices:
Use the latest version of Microsoft Office to save documents. If the latest version is not available, use at least Office 2013 (the newer the better).
Never save documents in “compatibility” mode. Make sure that the files are DOCX/XLSX as opposed to DOC/XLS.
Use a unique, cryptographically strong password to encrypt documents. Remember: if the password is broken once (e.g. pulled from your Google account or recovered from a document you accidentally saved in the “compatible” format), it will be used to break everything else, including documents with strong encryption.
If you email an encrypted document, do use a unique, one-time password for that document, and never send both the document and the password in the same email. In fact, you should never send the password by email since that would allow an attacker who gained access to your email account to decrypt the document. Send the document and the password via separate communication channels (e.g. email / text message, chat or phone call).
Protecting backups and archives
Making regular backups is a common wisdom. Protecting those backups is a wisdom much less common. Once you make a backup, make sure to give it as strong a protection as your boot drive.
Store backups on BitLocker-protected media. Even if your backup tool (e.g. the one built into Windows) does not support encryption, at very least your storage media is protected with full-disk encryption. Note: Windows 10 does support the recovery from BitLocker-protected disks. Just create a bootable install image from Microsoft Web site (use “Create Windows 10 installation media”).
If your backup tool supports encryption, it may be a good idea to encrypt your backups (AND store them on a BitLocker-protected media). Note, however, that a backup tool will probably cache (store) your backup password on your computer to automatically encrypt new and incremental backups. For this reason, make sure to have a truly unique, never reused password for encrypting backups.
Individual folders are frequently backed up using common archive tools such as WinZip, 7Zip or WinRar. All of these tools offer the ability to encrypt archives with a password. While the encryption strength is different among the three formats (ZIP, 7Z and RAR), an up to date version of each tool provides adequate protection if you choose a reasonably complex password (e.g. 8 characters or more, combining small and capital letters with numbers and special characters). To achieve the best level of protection, do keep those archives on BitLocker-protected media. Note that password recovery tools work significantly faster on ZIP/7Z/RAR compared to attacking BitLocker encryption or Office 2013 (and newer) documents. For this reason, never reuse your password, and make sure that your BitLocker media, your documents and your backups/archives use very different passwords (ideally, not based on the same pattern). More information:
Microsoft started offering an extra layer of security to all users of its cloud storage service in the form of a Personal Vault. OneDrive Personal Vault helps secure your files both on your computer and in the cloud in the event that someone gains access to your account or your device. Unlike ransomware protection, Personal Vault is available to all users of Microsoft OneDrive and not just to Office 365 subscribers. Technically speaking, Personal Vault is an area in the OneDrive folder on your computer and in the OneDrive cloud storage that features additional protection. You can only access this protected area after passing a strong authentication. If your Microsoft Account is protected with two-factor authentication, you will have to pass the second step of identity verification in addition to typing your Microsoft Account password. Once configured, Personal Vault must be manually unlocked every time you need access to secured data. To unlock, you must type in your Microsoft Account password and pass the second authentication step if your account has two-factor authentication. Once you’ve finished accessing the data, Personal Vault will automatically relock after a short period of inactivity. Once locked, any files you were using will also lock and require re-authentication to access. Setting up Personal Vault only takes a few clicks as outlined in Protect your OneDrive files in Personal Vault. OneDrive Personal Vault is still new; no independent security analysis has been performed until today. In our view, Personal Vault is worth consideration as an extra security layer for some of the most private but rarely accessed types of data. Examples of such data may include BitLocker escrow keys and binary encryption keys, or the list of passwords some users store in encrypted Excel spreadsheets. I personally keep my two-factor authentication secrets (scanned QR codes to initialize the Authenticator app) in the Vault as well.
Physical access: unknown (not yet analyzed)
Other users on the same computer: strong protection
Malware/ransomware: strong protection (unless Personal Vault is unlocked at the time malware is running)
Online attacks: as strong as your Microsoft Account security
Usage cases: activate to add an extra layer of security for a handful of personal documents, encryption keys, 2fa secrets etc.
One of the most important threats not covered by any encryption is the type of malware called ransomware. Ransomware is a type of malware that threatens to either publish the data stolen from the victim or perpetually block access to the victim’s files by encrypting them with a key that is only known to the attacker. The term ‘ransomware’ has emerged from the fact that, on many cases, attackers demand a ransom payment to decrypt data. Protecting your data against ransomware is a complex topic in itself. However, computer users can choose one or both of the following two defences when it comes to ransomware protection. Ransomware protection is effective against the following threats.
Physical access: no protection
Other users on the same computer: no protection
Malware/ransomware: effective protection
Online attacks: as strong as your cloud account security
Usage cases: available automatically to Office 365 subscribers. Available to paid Dropbox users. Automatically protects files stored in OneDrive/Dropbox. Automatic alerts (OneDrive only). Automatic restore (OneDrive only); manual restore (Dropbox).
Use cloud storage with automatic ransomware protection If you are using Windows 10, most likely you already have a Microsoft Account. The Microsoft Account gives you access to OneDrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage solution. The free tier includes 5 to 15 GB of online storage, while Office 365 subscribers receive the whole terabyte of cloud storage. Microsoft actively promotes OneDrive Ransomware Protection. OneDrive automatically detects when the files are mass-deleted or mass-edited (such as when ransomware encrypts the entire Documents folder), alerts the user and prompts to restore the known-good snapshot. The File Restore feature is only available to Office 365 subscribers (Home and Personal levels are enough to receive protection). More information at Ransomware detection and recovering your files. If you prefer Dropbox to Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox gets you covered against ransomware attacks, but mostly for higher-level paid tiers. Users of the free Basic tier as well as Plus subscribers can roll back individual encrypted files during the first 30 days after the attack (there will be no warning of mass-deletion of mass-encryption of files coming from the Dropbox app). If you want to roll back the entire Documents folder with Dropbox Rewind, you’ll need to be a paid Plus or Professional tier subscriber. More information:
Make backup snapshots. Keep backup media offline Once ransomware is installed on your computer, it will try to encrypt every document that is accessible. The obvious solution is making documents inaccessible by physically disconnecting backup media (such as using 2.5” portable USB drives to back up). In this scenario, you would only connect backup media to your computer when you actually want to make the backup, disconnecting the disk after the backup tool finishes its job. With this approach, even if your computer is attacked by ransomware, your offline backups will not be affected (unless you connected the external drive to the computer at the time the ransomware was installed). In addition, configure your backup tool to keep snapshots of your data going back as long as permitted by available storage. In our office, an affordable 4TB USB hard drive can keep approximately 30 to 40 full snapshots of the Documents folder; this number becomes significantly larger if you enable incremental backups, with each snapshot saving only More information:
This week is a combination of the bonus pet exp event and the recent release of the Falcosaur pets. This leads many players who have never partaken in pet-battles to want to do it! However, you only have a week, and starting is so confusing – there are so many things to do and learn about! Fear not, I am here to guide you through your beginning, in a horribly formatted Reddit guide of glory that you can't complain about because I had people request this.
Pet battles are turn-based. This is different to literally anything else in wow, and may take some time to get used to. Each turn, you may take one action. Here are the actions you can take:
Order your pet to use an ability.
Attempt to capture the enemy pet.
Swap your pet with another one from your team. (Note : This will consume a turn! But if your pet dies, bringing in a new pet will NOT consume a turn.)
You may also just pass a turn without acting. Pets have 6 abilities each. The first is learnt at level 1 – it will usually be a no-cooldown basic “hit the enemy for dmg”. The second ability is learnt at level 2, the third at level 5, the fourth at 10, the fifth at 15, and finally the sixth at 20. Pets may only use three abilities however – their first and fourth, second and fifth, third and sixth each share a slot respectively and you can only have one of each ability for each fight. When people want to tell you which abilities you should be using on a particular pet, they usually mark it like this
(1,2,2,) (2,1,2) (2,2,2) (1,2,1)…. Etc.
For clarification, the above first example would mean you use the pet’s first, fifth, and sixth ability. The second example means you use the pet’s fouth, second, and sixth abilitiy. Pets have types, also known as Families. Humanoid, Dragonkin, Flying, Undead, Critter, Magic, Elemental, Beast, Aquatic, and Mechanical. Each type has a passive ability that is always active, and also each type is either weak or strong against two other types.
A pet will deal 33% less damage to the type it is weak against.
A pet will deal 50% more damage to the type it is strong against. Here is a quick list of which pet types are stronger against and weaker against each other (this may seem difficult to remember, but fear not, the game’s UI will remind you of this when you mouse over an ability!):
Humanoid: At the end of each round, if this pet dealt damage, it gains back 4% of total health! This works even if the pet is a backline pet dealing damage through something like Immolation
Dragonkin: The round after a Dragonkin pet dealt damage that either brought a pet below 50%, or was dealt to a pet that is below 50% hp, they gain 50% increased damage. This has a one round cooldown, so you don’t always deal 50% more damage to pets below 50% hp, just every other turn. Protip : You can easily use this to instantly kill a pet the turn after you brought it below 50% hp. Use it wisely with powerful abilities! I consider this one of the better passive effects.
Flying: Pets have 50% more speed while above 50% hp. This means that flying pets will basically always attack first while above 50% hp.
Undead: After being killed, undead pets will return to life for ONE round. During that round, the pet is immortal but will deal 25% less damage. At the end of the round, the undead pet dies regardless of health. NOTICE : If an undead pet is attacking second, and is killed before attacking, it will come back and STILL do the attack move. Then, only the next turn will count as the pet’s immortality turn.
Critter: Critter pets are immune to CC! Huzzah. Important note : All pets are immune to Chain CC. After being put under a stun, all pets gain immunity to stuns for 2 turns. Critters however are permanently immune from the very beginning of the fight.
Magic: Pets cannot be dealt more than 35% of their maximum health in one hit. This makes magic pets immune to one-shot combos. NOTICE : This does not mean a magic pet can’t lose more than 35% hp per round, it means a magic pet cannot lose more than 35% hp per HIT. That means if you have an ability that hits multiple times like Quills you can easily deal more than 35% in one round.
Elemental: Elemental Pets are immune to harmfull weather effects. (I will explain weather later!). Useful Weather effects and the enemy pet are unaffected by this at all.
Beast: Deal 25% more damage while below 50% hp.
Aquatic: DoTs ( like Immolate ) do 50% less damage!
Mechanical: Mechanical pets come back to life ONCE per battle with 20% hp after being killed. This is functionally identical to the undead passive, except the pet comes back with 20% and does NOT die at the end of the turn. Note : Self-destruct abilities ( like Explode ) that many Mechanical pets have will PREVENT this passive from happening! Any ability that kills your pet intentionally negates this passive! So only use those effects AFTER this triggers.
Here’s the interesting part : Not all pets have abilities limited only to their type. This makes some pet ridiculously powerful against a particular type of pet. For example, the Mechanical Pandaren Dragonling is a mechanical type pet, with a Dragonkin type ability! This makes it overpowered against Magic type pets, because it both takes reduced damage, and deals additional damage to them. Again, this may seem like a lot of information, but the game constantly allows you to remind yourself by moussing over the UI! Pets have Breeds and Rarities. Pets come in Poor (grey), Common (white), Uncommon (green), and Rare (blue). Each quality determines how many stats like Health, Power, and Speed the pets get to have distributed. The higher rarity, the better. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you have to spend hours farming for a rare version of a pet you need – most powerful pets are bought from vendors or drop from bosses, and come in default rare quality! Breeds are slightly less straight-forward than rarity. A pet’s breed determines how the stats it is has (Health, Power, Speed) are distributed. The higher health, the more health points your pet has. The higher power, the harder the pet hits with abilities, and the higher the speed, the more likely the pet is to attack first each round (The pet with more speed attacks first!) (Pointless side note: Health and Speed are Binary. That means they either are, or not. Your pet either has more than 1 hp, or is dead. The amount rarely matters. Your pet is either faster than the enemy pet, or is not. If your pet has all of its stats allocated into speed, but is still 1 point away from being faster than the enemy pet, all of those points may as well not exist.) There are 10 pet breeds:
Speed/Speed, PowePower, and Health/Health are pets that have 100% of their stats allocated into speed, power, or health respectively. These are considered the best breeds because other breeds lose efficiency due to stat distrubtion.
Speed/Power, PoweHealth, Health/Speed are pets that have 45% of their stats allocated into each of the two stats, resulting in only 90% efficiency. These breeds are ‘Good’. The main issue with these breeds is speed. Remember what I said about speed being Binary? You simply CAN’T rely on Speed/Health or Speed/Power pets to be faster consistently. This means that often, 45% of the pets’ stats are entirely wasted because the other pet is faster.
Speed/Balance, PoweBalance, and Health/Balance are pets that have 40% of their stats allocated into the main one, and 20% into each of the other ones. You only get 80% of what you pay for here! These are acceptable.
Balance/Balance. This breed only puts 25% into each one. Totaling a puny 75%. You generally don’t want B/B pets, except for some private cases.
How do you know which breed is your pet in? The simplest option is to download an addon like PetTracker which just tells you. Another option is to go to Wowhead and compare your own pet's stats to the ones on Wowhead's list of breeds for that pet. Here is an example of why breeds are important. The Hyjal Wisp pet comes in 1 breed only : Speed/Speed. The Hyjal Wisp at Rare quality at level 25 has 325 speed, amongst the top 10 fastest pets - generally only boss pets that have inflated Speed for the sake of their mechanics will attack before the wisp does. The wisp also has the ability Evanescence which causes the wisp to dodge attacks for 1 turn when cast. Because the wisp is faster, it can cast Evan and dodge the enemy pet's attack both on the turn Evan was cast, AND on the following turn. If the wips was slower, it would first get hit by the enemy, THEN cast Evan, then dodge the enemy's attack next turn. This not only makes Evan twice as effective, but has the added bonus of being unexpedted - the enemy can't expect you to dodge the first time and will usually not hold back powerful abilities. They can expect you to dodge the next turn, so they will generally choose to heal/apply buffs instead of attacking. On top of this, you can dodge things like 2 turn charge-up abilities ( Dragon Breath or Dive or Lift-Off, for example) or abilities that take a few turns to hit (Like Elementium Bolt or Whirlpool ) because the Wisp is faster and will always be able to wait untill the very last pre-hit turn to use the dodge. If the Wisp did not have 325 speed, it would be pathetic compared to the beast it is at 325. If the Wisp had 315 speed, it would be pathetic compared to the beast it is at 325. Each pet only comes in a few specific breeds. Congratulations! You now know the basics of pet-battling!
How Do I Level Pets?
Leveling pets involves battling with them. After you have a few pets at level 25, it is generally easy to level additional pets – you just have them participate in battles much higher levels than them and then have your level 25 pets win the fight, granting your boosties a lot of exp(Note, a pet must be the active pet for at least 1 round to gain exp, it can be the very first round yes)! However the first leveling experience is quite the grind. In order to know where to fight, simply open your map and mouse-over zones! Each zone has an indicator for which player levels it is for, and which Pet Battle levels it is for in smaller font right beneath the player level one. A good idea would be to begin your journey in Orgrimmar or Stormwind, speak to the Pet Battle questgiver (The Alliance one is found on a small hill directly next to the Cataclysm zone portals and the Pandaria portal. The Horde one is found next to the flight master.) and they will direct you to go fight trainers all around the world in level-appropriate zones. Defeating all these trainers is great practice! If you ever have trouble with a particular trainer, google them! Their Wowhead page should contain multiple tips and strategies to defeat them.
Boosting For Noobs:
Here is my personal boosting method, it requires one level-3 Garrison, a bit of gold, and a bit of time! You can level pets using the Instant-25-levels pet stone you receive from having a level 3 Garrison. It is probably in your bank right now. (Tip : Multiple Garrisons : Multiple stones! ). Using this method, you can instantly level a single pet to 25, and then use it to boost other pets.
Use the stone on Chrominius! (Simply summon him, click him, and right click the stone in your inventory!)
Travel to the Timeless Isle in Pandaria. There, around THIS AREA you will find lots of Moths! These Moths will be level 25 and will almost always be backed by level 25 fliers. Engage in combat with your Boostie as the first pet. On turn 1, attack. (Your pet may die if it is a low rarity or non hp breed. Only a problem level 1 though.), turn 2 switch it out with Chrominius, running Arcane Explosion, Ancient Blessing, and Ravage.
(If you can't find moths to battle, simply run around killing the non pet-battle moths, and a few minutes later more will spawn for you to battle!) (After defeating enough moths, it could be that every single battle-pet moth spawns on top of a large spire. You should see them all clumped up there on your minimap when you get near. To get to it, simply buy a Golden Glider from the little boy selling them in the Celestial Court, swim away from the island, get on a flying mount, fly very high, fly close to the island, and glide to that spire. If you don't want to do the swimming, you can simply run up the hillside where all the Ordos mobs spawn, follow the path all the way across the two bridges untill you reach the top of the spire at the center of the island - there you can touch a crane statue which will launch you up high into the air and grant you slowfall, fall onto the appropriate spire!)
Spam Arcane Explosion. Use Ancient Blessing and Ravage to heal when appropriate.
Chrominius will be able to easily destroy dozens of Moth teams without needing to mend at all. This takes around 10-15 battles for each pet. There are guides all around for faster boost-methods, but THIS method doesn’t require any fancy pet or preparation! Have fun!
You can capture pets out in the wild. The way you do this is reduce the pet below 25%, and then use the capture ability (default hotkey 5) on them. You will only have a chance to capture eachtime, so make sure you use a tanky pet for tricky captures! You can only capture one pet per fight. If you advance far enough in pet battle achievements and quests, you will unlock better capture abilities that have a higher chance or higher hp threshold for capturing pets! Pets captured at levels 24 and 25 will be reduced 2 levels when captured, you will have to level them to 25. Some wild pets will suicide themselves if not captured fast enough through self-destruct abilities. Most common in Undead and Mechanical pets.
Which Pets Do I Level First?
Here are some all-around superstar pets you want to level first (at not particular order!):
Unborn Val’kyr: Go for the B/B Breed. These used to be rare but have had their spawn rates increased hugely. They are all around Northrend now. Only capturable after you already have a bunch of good level 25 pet that can beat this pet in the wild!(Why B/B?.)
Hyjal Wisp is a beast that can solo most boss fights.
Anubisath Idol is really difficult to kill and deals lots of damage, too! He can even be useful for boosting low level pets because he has a weather effect that reduces damage taken significantly and will help avoid having your level-1 pets oneshot by enemy level 25 pets.
Any Speed/Speed Rabbit is amazing because they have two dodges. Find a Speed/Speed bunny, get it to 25, upgrade it to rare, it is good to have around.
Any Snails – Useful for some bosses, good to have a level 25 snail around.
Any Moths – Useful for some bosses, good to have a level 25 moth around.
Runeforged Servitor is just like Iron Starlette, except he has a HEAL, and an ability that increases damage done by a further 25%! It is yet unknown which breed this pet comes in, but if it will have a 100% Power breed, this is the new master of burst damage. Even if it turns out not to be a PowePower breed, I recommend grabbing this guy.
Snobold Runt is new with 7.1 and INSANE. He has 333 speed at level 25! That puts him at one of the top 5 fastest pets in the game only slightly slower than Speed/Speed rabbits! He has the Kick ability, which is disruption and he has area of effect damage that ramps up to very high quickly! I recommend it as an all-around good PvP Pet.
This week, there is the Bonus Exp event up meaning pets recieve 200% more exp. This is not the only way to increase exp gained by pets!
The Safari Hat will give you a permenant 10% increase to pet exp gained as a toy! To get it, you must complete this achievement which requires defeating 40 tamers around Azeroth! To get this done, just engage the questline starting in Stormwind/Orgrimmar's pet master npcs (For the Alliance, it is found on a hill north of the Dwarven District, for the Horde, it is found right next to the Flight Master.)
Pet Treats can be bought from NPCs using Pet Charms (earned by completing difficult pet fight challenges) and are also awarded from some quests you'll find along the way.
Pet Stones can be bought and will sometimes drop as loot instantly put in your bags after winning a pet battle in the open world! Using them will grant pets levels instantly!
The Tannan Jungle has 15 Legendary pets in it. When defeated the first time each day, each gives you a bag of supplies with a chance to contain pets, bandages, and most importantly : a Fel-Touched Pet-Battle Stone which instantly grants 5 levels to a pet of your choosing! They also contain Pet Charms, though in a small amount. If you do these battles event just once or twice a week, you will easily have a large supply of Fel-Touched stones you can use to level pets in the future! A guide for defeating these 15 pets is UNDER CONSTRUCTION!
Weather exists in pet battles. Some abilities change the weather, causing unique effects to take place and empowering certain abilities. There’s not much to say about weather except it is a status effect and can be over-ridden by new weather effects. They usually last a long time and apply minor effects. You can find out what a Weather effect does by moussing over it, so do that to remind yourself and be mindful of the effects! Here is a full list of weather effects and abilities that benefit from them (Not made by me.)
Tactics & Comboes:
Howlbombing: Howlbombing is a tactic that involves stacking multiple effects that increase damage taken and multiple abilities that all hit for large amounts of delayed damage all at once for a one-shot of destruction. It is named after Howl. Unfortunately Howl was nerfed to only influence the next instance of damage done. Howlbomb did not die, however, it just exists in different forms. The new Howlbomb I have been using is Unborn Val’kyr (1,2,1) and ANY Falcosaur running Falcosaur Swarm and Warning Squak. Engage combat with Val’kyr > Curse of Doom > Shadow Slash > Haunt > Warning Squak > Falcosaur Swarm!. Curse of Doom then explodes for 400% damage (unless you’re unlucky with 75% crit). Even if this did not oneshot the target, the additional damage from Haunt and Falcosaur Swarm! Should eventually do the trick. DotWall: this tactic is about applying a lot of damage over time effects to the target and effects that increase damage taken, then switching to a tanky pet and waiting it out. Avoidance: a team of 3 rabbits, or a Rabbit, Hyjal Wisp, and Death Adder Hatchling for example, can easily avoid half the attacks the enemy pets try to use. AoE Teams: lots of pets have abilities that hit the entire enemy team for a bunch of damage. Combining those can allow you to destroy the entire enemy team very easily.
You can PvP in pet battles! Here is what you need to know:
People are smart(mostly), so:
tactics like Howlbombing will not work.
Dodging abilities is harder, enemies will try to predict your dodges.
Abilities with delayed damage are less effective – the enemy will avoid them or switch pets.
You have 20 seconds each round to do something. If you fail, you will automatically pass.
You cannot tell the enemy pets’ abilities like in a normal fight – not until they use them!
PvP Tactics: I’m not going to suggest specific teams because there are so many different pets. Instead I will give you general themes you should try and make a team out of:
AoE teams : this is a tactic I do not recommend using. Blizzard has their eyes set on these teams and they bring down the nerf hammer hard when a team is too powerful in the aoe division. (rip Cyclone and Bonestorm :l )
Goodstuff teams : This is the most common tactic in pvp. A team of 3 pets that are just good. You want to avoid damage over time, delayed damage, or highly vulnerable pets – these things are all holes in your plan that your opponent can sneak in through.
Immortality : These scumbag teams that I totally don’t have 15 of are made out of highly survivable pets like Son of Sethe, Green Proto-Whelp, and Ruby Droplet. You don’t kill the opponent, you just wait until they concede. People sometimes insta-concede upon seeing these teams.
I Am A PvPer Only Here To Unlock The PvP Faction Please STFU And Tell Me What To Do:
You can level pets using the Instant-25-levels pet stone you receive from having a level 3 Garrison. It is probably in your bank right now. (Tip : Multiple Garrisons : Multiple stones! ) Just boost your Falcosaur with it.
PetTracker is a great addon which will mark pets on your map, track how many pets you've captured out of the available amount in each zone, and track the abilities of enemy pets (it even tracks their CD, very useful for boss fights!). It also tracks Breeds! PetTeams will allow you to setup specific teams and easily switch in and out of them. Very handy. Rematch will remember teams you used in the past and instantly switch into them when you target a trainer! It will also allow you to load into the game teams used by other players to defeat trainers.
Wowhead, of course. Warcraftpets is also a great resource! Any questions? Things I've missed? Abhorrent formatting errors? Just ask!
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