Resident Evil 2 Remake – Why I think it’s the best survival horror yet

The first time I played a survival horror video game was during my early teens years at somebody’s house. This somebody was one of those temporary friends you make when you are playing with other people outside at the playground, etc. And that game was Resident Evil Director’s Cut on the Phone.

That game was one that I remembered vividly where I couldn’t seem to get past the first few zombies of the game. The reason probably could be I was too young, naive, and didn’t quite understand the game mechanics.

As I got older, I got to play every single numbered Resident Evil game. Until today, I always saw the franchise as one of the best survival horror entertainment product. And the Resident Evil film series is really enjoyable, not for its survival horror element but for what it actually is: a science fiction action series that has its own take on the franchise.

The other survival horror game that I liked was Dead Space until Dead Space 3 where Electronic Arts decided to bungle up what made the first game so good. Nonetheless, I still enjoyed all the games for the reason that I want to know what happened. I wanted to know who invented the Markers that convert organics, especially humans, into necromorphs. Until today, I hope that someone decided to buy the Dead Space franchise from EA and make it good again.

But I digress. My intention is to talk about the remake of Resident Evil 2 and why I think it is survival horror done right.

The first three games of the Resident Evil series relied on fixed-camera view of the game world as we move the characters using tank control. Due to the limitation of the hardware at that time, the implementation serves its purpose of making you panic when a zombie is coming after you since you will struggle to make the character move to get away only for the camera view to change to another angle, creating a somewhat disorienting experience where you know there is an enemy coming but you may have the best view of what’s around the corner.

Then there is the audio, limited ammunition, monsters jumping out when you least expected it on the first play through and your character do move slower when injured, with the latter being found in Resident Evil 2 and 3. All those elements contributed to making you feel more weary. I do remember quietly cheering my characters to move faster as I was running away from a horde of zombies.

Then with technological improvements, Resident Evil changed to a third-person view mode, starting from Resident Evil 4. This time, the game takes on a more action-oriented style with limited ammunition and sudden appearance of enemies, either in waves or a couple, to make it slightly more “scary”. But the real selling point by then was the storyline, the characters and environment design. As least in my view.

The remaining games just kind of further improve on the third-person, over-the-shoulder view until Resident Evil 7 where it got changed into first-person mode.

During those years between Resident Evil 4 to Resident Evil 7, Dead Space served as what I would call over-the-shoulder view survival horror done right. The dark, poorly lit game world with blood all over, necromorphs jumping out at you and attacking you when you least expected it, limited ammunition and the general creepy and eerie audio all contributed to make it the true survival horror game.

Resident Evil 7 then went ahead to redefine what it is to be a survival horror game by making you only able to see what’s in front of you with its first-person mode. But I personally found it to be nauseating because it was too close to the action. I didn’t quite enjoy that game

Then came Resident Evil 2 remake and there are a few reasons why I think it’s the best survival horror game yet.

The game went with using the same over-the-shoulder view pioneered in Resident Evil 4 but this time, it looks like they took elements from Dead Space to make it the perfect survival horror game based on the various YouTube videos I have watched. The dark corridors that are sometimes claustrophobic. With the over-the-shoulder view, you just don’t really know what’s behind you or around the corner until you turn around. Then there is good use of lighting. You need to rely on a torch light to see dark areas. Enemies like the Licker could be hiding up on the ceiling. The other game that I played which uses that to good effect is The Evil Within. I had to light up certain candles, lamps and whatnot to see what’s around me. Then there’s the enemies jumping out from certain places and hunting you. The good old jump scare technique.

Second, characters can make or break a game and there are few game characters that resonates with the players. You have got Aloy in Horizon Zero Dawn that’s very well received and resonate with a lot of people. She’s a strong female character who fought against the traditions that defined the village from which she was birthed in to explore the world and understand what’s going on while still show compassion for the world around her, though she’s cold at times. Then there is Issac Clarke from Dead Space that’s memorable. And I love him because of his so call ingenuity in crafting weapons using tools used in engineering work in the game universe. He resonates with me considering that I’m a trained engineer too, though on the software side. For Resident Evil, the characters would be Leon and Claire. Unlike Jill Valentine or Chris Redfield, Leon and Claire are the more average characters in terms of skills and abilities who got thrown into an impossible situation. Over the course of the game, we get to see them grow and survive the outbreak. And that’s in the original game. Now we get to see and experience their stories in Resident Evil 2 in a different way.

Third, we get to revisit a favorite location in the Resident Evil series. Raccoon City. That’s not the say the European setting in Resident Evil 4, the Africa setting in Resident Evil 5 or the multi-nation setting in Resident Evil 6 aren’t good. For the record, I actually like the Tall Oak or Lanshiang part of the game. I always love a good survival horror setting set in a metropolitan area or a place where ordinary people have to live their lives only to die from a disaster. Just like Titan Station in Dead Space 2. It’s just a personal thing. I’m morbid that way. That’s why going back to Raccoon City where it all started is a great thing in my view. And I believe there’s more story to tell there. I actually wish there are more single-player, numbered Resident Evil game set in Raccoon City to show the outbreak from a different perspective. And no don’t cite Resident Evil outbreak 1 and 2. I hated those games because they are so lacking in focus with so many characters, short missions and poor story telling.

The fourth thing is the inventory management system. I think it’s what made survival horror survival horror. And I dare say it’s more realistic. Put it this way, short of having a large haversack on your back, there’s just no way for a person to carry so much stuff. And even if you do, you won’t be nimble enough to move around zombies. In Dead Space, you also got limited space to carry your items. It makes you think about what to bring as you go through the game and then make you backtrack to a “safe location” to retrieve something if you forget it. The journey back sometimes is dangerous since enemies that weren’t there before may just appear. It adds a little bit of tension there.

The fifth reason is the limited resources. In a major disaster, I really don’t think you would be able to find caches of bullets lying around unless you raid an armory before it all began. Even so if you get to raid an armory, you will eventually run out of ammunition. So having you conserve your ammunition by having you decide what you shoot at or run is a great game mechanics. The Evil Within 1 and 2 are the two games that does a great job at this. It can contribute to creating a sense of helplessness when you run out of ammunition or health kits.

Finally, there just isn’t another survival horror game coming out anytime soon that could fill the shoes of Resident Evil. I have personally completed The Evil Within 2 and loved that game. Until the next The Evil Within or someone proceed to make Dead Space 4 the way it is supposed to be, Resident Evil is just the best-in-class survival horror game.

And I digress bit for a rant. Seriously, I just disagree with EA’s stance that they need to change a game so much to cater to a diverse market to make the most money and then killing the franchise just because it didn’t meet sales expectation. To me, it’s just not the right way to go. We have seen enough success stories where companies continue to build their niche products so that it is the best in class product and people will buy.

Now, I’m just really pumped about the game and looking forward to get it when it’s out.

The Tainted Forbidden Love – Chapter 2

Shane lived in a rich suburbs called Rosepond some four kilometres east from the school. He had to avoid the most desolated part of Dunk and sticked to lighted areas as he made his way to the bus stop. He didn’t like coming here but he didn’t hate coming here either. The state the town was in brought forth the feeling of euphoria because there were people way less fortunate than he was while the threat of being attacked by some lowlife made him feel alive, just like how he felt on the court.

The late evening bus came just shortly after seven and he took it to the bus station just on the outskirts of the main city, Pinepond. He transferred to another bus that would take him directly to the main road near his house. He could have called either of his parents to pick him up but he didn’t want them to know he frequented Dunk or was carrying something he shouldn’t have. Besides, they were out of town and in the city for work purpose and won’t be back until tomorrow night or the following night, depending what extracurricular activities his parents wanted to do in the city.

The journey home took an hour. When he alighted at the bus stop, he saw a girl sitting on one of the benches. It looked as though she was waiting for something. He recognised her almost immediately when she looked up and their eyes met. Shane started feeling both guilty and surprised.

“Shane, where have you been? I have been waiting for you for the last hour.”

“I’m so sorry, Shirley. I had to get something for us. I promise you, the wait is worth it.”

“If you say so. Now can we go to your house?” Shirley asked as she wrapped her arms around her body and looked distressed.

Both of them walked beside each other, spending the next ten minutes walking and chatting until they arrived at the side gate leading to Shane’s house.

His house was one of the larger ones in the town with three stories. It had eight bedrooms and four bathrooms on the upper levels. The ground level hosted the family room that doubled as living room, a dinning room, a kitchen and one bathroom. Attached to the side of the house was a garage big enough to hold two SUVs. The house also had a basement that his dad converted into a wine cellar where some of the best wines were kept. The front of the house was a garden maintained to perfection by a team of gardeners with a roundabout for vehicles to drop off passengers. A yard behind the house hosted a custom-designed olympic-sized swimming pool. Surrounding the house was a concrete wall eight inches thick with state-of-the-art security system designed to keep people out.

Shane punched in his own key code on the keypad beside the gate before scanning his right iris at the scanner. The gate unlocked a moment later with a click sound. He led Shirley through first before closing the gate. He waited for the lock to engage before moving on. They walked through the garden path and enjoyed the smell of roses planted on the side.

A sexless android butler with a fake tuxedo walked up and greeted Shane as they stepped through the front door of the house. Behind the android was a large hallway that had a spiral staircase to the far left. There were three arch doorways leading away from the hall. One located beside the staircase led to the kitchen while two other arch doorways to their left and right lead to the family room and dinning room respectively.

“I will be up in my room with Miss Shirley here. I wish not to be disturbed. Do give me a warning if my parents ever get home early.”

“As you wish,” the butler replied with its usual monotonous voice before moving to the living room.

Shane grabbed on to Shirley’s hand and led her up the spiral stairs until they reached the third floor. They turned to the left and made their way to the first room on the right.

Upon opening the door, the room no doubt belonged to sporty type of guy. There were posters of great basketball players on the walls. The only desk in the room was messy with books and papers everywhere. Dirty laundry piled up high in the bottom right hand corner of the room. The king size bed was unmade.

Shirley beelined towards the bed as she took off her jacket and tossed it to side. She sat on the edge of the bed and faced the door. Shane dropped his bag on the floor and took off his sweater and t-shirt, tossing them onto the top of his bag before taking out the packet from his pocket and waved it in the air with a smile, “That’s what I meant.”

She knew what Shane had in his hand and grinned, “Now we are talking.”

He tossed the packet over to her while he went to get two piece of paper from the desk. He rolled one of them into a straw. He went over and sat facing Shirley, placed the flat piece of paper on the bed for her to pour content from the packet. He went first, breathing in almost half of those powders through the rolled paper. Shirley went next, taking in the remainder.

It didn’t take long for the twenty-second century version of unisex viagra to take effect, heightening their senses to a level where they could smell each other’s pheromone, and raised their sex drive.

“Dim the lights for sex,” Shane called out and the smart home system dimmed the lights in the room according to the sex preset. Now they could just barely see each other’s faces and body.

They began making out. A couple of minutes in, Shirley took off her black blouse and revealed a pair of red bras. Then they were kissing each other all over the neck and chest. Moments later, Shirley’s bras came off and tossed aside. She laid down as Shane got down to suck those pink nipples as he massaged her breasts with his veiny hands. She moaned uncontrollably and gripped his back so tight that it hurt. But it only made him want some more. He undid his belt and pushed down his pants and boxers in a single action to his knees, showcasing a seven-inch thick erected penis pointing straight up. As though on cue, she took off her skirt-pants and pants before lying back down again, spreading her legs wide to reveal a clean shaven and wet vulva. She didn’t even wear panties.

He bent over and continued to suck her nipples while he pushed two fingers into her vagina and rubbed the insides until his hands were full of female secretions. The combined attacks sent incredulous amount of information up her viagra-enhanced nerves making her quiver with cries of astonishment. Whatever brief moments of consciousness she had, she took that hard penis and stroked it, focusing her thumb on the frenulum. She knew how sensitive an uncircumcised cock was. He too moaned and quivered while he continued to stimulate her breasts and vagina.

He switched up the act, now pushing his penis into her vagina and made her moan. He combined thrusting actions with massages of her breast with the occasional sucking and licking. It went on for what seemed to be forever until they both reached orgasm at the same time. Ropes of warm semen went deep into her vagina, helped by the contracting muscles.

But neither of them were done yet.

They went on a few more rounds of intense sex until the drug wore off. By then, both of them were completely exhausted. He laid on top of Shirley with his penis still inside, now too raw and painful to pull out. He buried his face between her breast. Before long, both of them fell into deep sleep and didn’t wake up until it was noon. Lucky for them, there was no school on a Saturday.

***

Dexter got up of his own accord rather early in the morning but didn’t quite know why. It was a Saturday and he could sleep in. His mom definitely won’t mind because she won’t be in. She would be at the nearby convenience store helping to stock up the shelves. His father would be out at the shipyard working, at least that was what initially he thought until there was pounding of his bedroom door. His dad was home. Judging from that pounding, he wanted…no…needed something.

“Dex! Dex! Time to wake up! I’m hungry!”

He leapt off his bed and almost ran towards the door, “I’m coming!” Once there, he undid the lock in the quietest manner possible and opened the door. His dad, stepdad to be precise, was standing there with a bottle of beer in his hand and without his shirt. He had sloping shoulders and sagging man breasts. His eyes were half-closed and had grey stubble that spanned his lower jaw. Like most poor men around the planet who relied on alcohol to get through his day, he had a huge belly that if Dexter were to curl up into a ball, he could probably fit in.

His dad, Sam, took the chance to admire his stepson who was only wearing a pair of boxers and sporting an erection. If not for his mop of hair and a tad scrawny, Sam found him to be a handsome lad.

“I will make you breakfast,” Dexter said nonchalantly as he walked past Sam, walking to the kitchen in a measured manner. His dad followed closely behind moments later.

While he went about preparing breakfast, his dad sat by the dinning table and drank from his bottle. He knew Sam was watching him intently but he learnt to ignore and focus on the task at hand.

Just as he was about done with cooking, he felt his dad standing close behind, drinking the last sip from the bottle. Knowing what would happen next, “I don’t want any accidents. Let me turn off the stove and serve this.” He waited for a brief moment before turning off the stove and put the pancakes on the plate he had placed beside the stove. He placed the pan in the sink and rinsed it with cold water for a brief moment.

Dexter stood by the sink and waited.

He heard the sound of glass touching the marble surface of the kitchen counter and felt the air behind him shifted. The wooden floor panels creaked as something heavy moved about on them. Large arms wrapped came from behind, wrapping him up like a python around its prey. One hand caressed his naked chest slowly moving down to his abdomen while the other reached down to squeeze his private parts through his boxers.

Sam’s fat tummy ensured that Dexter couldn’t get out of the embrace. Not that he even want to try. The last time he tried, a slap went across his face that sent him to the floor, landing on his side. His dad fucked him even harder until his butt bled. His face was swollen for the next three days and could barely eat. He was lucky he didn’t lose his hearing or teeth. This time, he let the ordeal run its course, for his own sake.

The caressing stopped and one hand was on his shoulder tugging to get him to turn around. He did. Sam’s face came closer and started kissing him all over the face, leaving behind a trail of alcoholic breath. Dexter found himself lifted into the air and boxers pulled off. The next thing he knew, he’s on the dinning table seated. Sam’s mouth were all over his upper body while the hands were all over his lower body and groin.

Sam undid his belt and took off his loose work jeans and undergarment in one fell swoop, revealing a hairy bottom half and a huge, hard eight inch penis.

Dexter swallowed a lump of saliva. He was scared but powerless. With hands around his shoulders, Sam gave him a light nudge and Dexter lowered his body as commanded until he was laying on the table. He stared at the grey ceiling above, trying very hard not to think about what’s next.

Sam took Dexter’s legs, spread them apart and slung them over his shoulders. Dexter started quivering. His heart pounded so hard that it almost came out of his body. He wished it did. At least he would be dead and not have to deal with this crap anymore.

The moment that huge penis entered him without any kind of lubrication was excruciating. Sam wasn’t being gentle about it either. He yelped.

“Good! You think I don’t know you have been stealing from me? This is your punishment,” Sam yawped and started thrusting. The table shook and creaked with each motion. Dexter’s whimpers were barely noticeable.

The pain gradually went away. It became rather pleasurable. He allowed his mind to wander while Sam did his thing. After it was over, Dexter got off the table, collected his boxers and went back to his room. He spent the next half an hour scrubbing himself in the bathroom to wash away the stench and bodily fluids his stepdad left on him. As he started scrubbing his private parts, he started sobbing. He felt a wave of weakness hit him and he dropped to the floor, curling up into a ball, and let the warm water ran its course through his body.

He didn’t mind being Shane’s punching bag every now and then or even being forced to go hungry because his family ran out of money. He didn’t mind to have to steal drugs from his father’s stash and risk his life for Shane. He didn’t mind not having friends at school. But what his stepdad did and had been doing for the past three years to him was unbearable, no matter how well he prepared himself. His mom knew about the abuse but could do nothing about it. He too knew there was nothing else he could do. They both needed the money Sam provide with his shipyard job. It wasn’t much but combined with what his mom made working as a store assistant, they could scrimp by.

He wasn’t sure how long he was in the shower curled up as a ball. The next thing he knew was the water stopped running. Soft and small hands were on his shoulders, shaking him. He looked up to see a familiar face.

“Mom?”

Hayley responded with a soft spoken voice, “I’m sorry, baby. I came home as fast as I could once I knew Sam was home. Now let’s get you dry.”

Dexter started crying, “I’m not done. He left his sperms inside of me. I need to get it out.” He tried to stand but slipped. She caught and stabilised him. He tried to turn on the showers again but stopped when she embraced him.

“There’s nothing you can do,” she caressed her son’s wet hair and kissed him on the forehead. “But you will fall sick if you don’t dry up properly.”

He whimpered and nodded.

She helped her son out, who had some trouble walking and grabbed the towel. They stopped beside the bed and she started towelling him dry. He offered no resistance and stood like a log. She took out a set of fresh, recently bought set of clothes from the wardrobe and laid them out on the bed.

Dexter looked at the new clothes on the bed then at his mom with a puzzled look.

“Baby, the last thing you need is to stay in this house. It’s Saturday. You should be out.”

He went over and started putting on his clothes. He was wobbling when he was pulling up his pants that Hayley had to step in to make sure he didn’t fall over.

“Looking all nice and handsome,” Hayley smiled. “Wait for me while I changed out of these wet clothes.”

“What about dad?” he asked the moment she opened the door.

“Don’t need to worry about him. He’s already gone when I came back.” She was out the door and it closed behind her.

Dexter went out of his room, albeit with a limp because his butt was still sore from the ordeal. He stood outside his parents’ room, which was directly opposite his, to wait for his mom to finish. When she was done, they strolled across the living room towards the front door. The kitchen was on their left when they walked past it. He stopped for a moment to look at the table where it all happened. He quivered with anger and his fists tightened till the veins were visible.

Recognising what just happened, she pulled him close with an arm around his left shoulder and whispered, ”Baby, it’s over. It’s in the past. We should get going.”

It took several gentle tugging before Dexter started moving again and followed his mom out the door.

The mall in the city was the furthest he ever went with his mom. There were only three occasions in his life they would be here: when it was his birthday, when his mom earned extra money from sex, and after he was fucked by his dad.

He loved the mall with all the colourful holo-advertisements and store signs. Those always reminded him how great it was to be alive. There were people from all walks of life roaming about with cheerful faces. There were the occasional cries from children who didn’t get what they wanted. There were countless families too. At times, Dexter envied them, especially the kids who had great and loving parents. But he knew he would never have that. It was too late for him. All that matters was he’s here and alive with his mom. Despite all her flaws, she did her best she could to ensure her son could survive and be someone better than she ever could.

They walked around the mall window shopping until they came across a fancy Japanese restaurant on the third floor that served authentic and fresh sushis instead of the typical 3D-printed stuff found in other cheaper stores. Dexter looked at the storefront, bit his lips together, and walked away only to feel a hand tugging at his sweater. He turned around to see his mom smiling.

“I know you love sushis. Let’s eat here for lunch.”

Dexter frowned, “Mom, we can’t afford it. We can have something cheaper.”

“Oh baby. I made quite a lot of money this month. It’s enough to last us for three months straight. And I found a better paying job. Just don’t tell your dad.”

He went wide-eyed and his jaw dropped, “What did you do?”

Hayley narrowed her eyes with a sheepish smile, “It’s nothing you need to be concern with. Come on, let’s go in.”

One of the restaurant’s staff standing by the counter overlooking the entrance, an android designed as a female dressed in traditional kimono, bowed and greeted, “Irasshaimase”

They nodded and went in. The inside of the restaurant was spacious with original Japanese decor. Even though it was lunch time, there weren’t many customers in the store judging from the amount of empty tables. They suspected it had to do with the price tag.

Another restaurant staff, this time a human, came over, “what table would you like? Western or chabudai?”

“Western,” Hayley responded without thinking. Neither of them could tolerate sitting on a zabuton or tatami. The staff guided both of them their table deep in the restaurant by the window, offering them a view of the city outside.

Dexter browsed through the food menu on the ordering tablet by the side of table. Just by looking, his mouth was watery until some of his saliva landed on the table. His mom had to tap his foot underneath the table and point to the spot on the table where his saliva landed.

His face turned red and started wiping away the wet spot with the sleeve of his sweater. He went back looking at the menu. It didn’t take long for him to add a few of the sushis and a plate of Japanese curry with Tonkatsu and rice to the ordering cart. He handed the tablet to his mom who ordered a bowl of hot Udon noodles in light brown broth with aburaage and kamaboko.

After they had their fill, the bill came out to be two hundred dollars, bulk of which came from the sushis which had fresh sashimi as topping. Dexter felt guilty over having ate so much and was visibly upset when his mom patted him on the back of his head with a smile that made him feel better.

They spent the next few hours walking around the mall, mostly just window shopping. They did stop by some stores to get some new clothes and kitchenwares to replace some of the older stuff they had at home. They also got some perishable food, snacks and drinks.

It was already evening when they got on the bus and went home. With the amount of things they had with them when they alighted at the bus stop in their town, they chose to take a longer and less frequent path home, not wanting to bring any attention to themselves. When they arrived, they went to the back of the house as quiet as mouse.

“Wait here while I make sure your dad isn’t home,” Hayley said as she put down the bags she was carrying. Dexter nodded and she made her way back to the front of the house.

Hayley opened the front door and went into the house. She creeped around, hiding behind whatever walls she could find to have a peek. It became clear that Sam wasn’t home for the night. She went back out to get her son.

“Nobody’s home,” she said with a sigh of relief. “But to play it safe, let’s hide these stuff in the shack.” She picked up the bags she left on the ground and let Dexter lead the way to an unassuming patch of grass just beneath his bedroom window. The grasses weren’t real. It was a perfect illusion formed by nano-holographic projectors installed around the entrance way.

He put the bags down. His right hand went through the projection and started feeling his way around. He found the door ring and without hesitation, he placed his right thumb on a smooth surface beside the door ring. The sound of bolts releasing followed a gentle beeping sound. He yanked on the ring and lifted the door up, revealing a stair leading down. Over the years, his mom and him had been saving up whatever money they had left monthly, sometimes even going hungry for the day, just so they had enough money to build a basement, which they nicknamed ‘shack’. It was completed in secret on Dexter’s fourteenth birthday by friends of his biological father. He was involved in the project too. He programmed the projectors and implemented the biometric lock during his free time, using whatever he found in school or the nearby scrapyard.

They kept reserves of basic necessities, stacks of cash worth at least two thousand dollars and some weapons in the shack. It was also shelter of sorts. There were mattresses, an air-recycling system, a desk-size computer, and a micro-fusion power generator. On bad days, both his mom and him would hide in there until it was safe to come out. Sometimes it was just him hiding in there when Sam was outside his room pounding away in a drunken state, refusing to go away. They both knew one day they won’t need Sam anymore.

Hayley went through first with Dexter following closely. He made sure the door was closed before going deeper in as none of them wanted Sam to find out. They carried the bags to a room in the basement where they keep the food and started filling up the shelves and fridge. The clothes were next, going into the respective wardrobes. Then it was the kitchenwares.

They filled one bag with some of the older stuffs and expiring foods from the shack which they would take out to replace what they had upstairs. It was dinner time when they came out of the shack. Hayley made them pasta with tomato sauce.

Since Sam won’t be home for the rest of the night, Hayley decided to sleep in her son’s room as she wasn’t comfortable leaving him alone, especially after what he’s been through. And his bed was big enough to accommodate them both.

Dexter turned in first, stripping down to his boxers and got in bed after brushing his teeth. His mom made sure the locks on his door were in the right positions before joining him. She wrapped her right arm around his body, forming some sort of protective shield and kissed him on the cheek before slipping into deep sleep.

***

Shane was aching all over when he woke up. Somehow, his now flaccid penis was still inside Shirley who was still sleeping soundly. When he took it out, he moaned from the pain. He tried to use the toilet but it was near impossible to pee. Not with the burning sensations every time he pushed urine out his cock. His urethra suffered badly from all those ejaculates blasting out at forty kilometres an hour throughout the six sessions. It took a long time before his bladder was empty. He didn’t realise that Shirley was up and watching him pee while outside the bathroom. She wanted to use the toilet too.

He went over to the sink beside the toilet bowl to brush his teeth and rinse his mouth. Shirley lowered the seat cover and whimpered as she peed. While he was brushing his teeth, a thought struck him. He realised he had forgotten about his two cousins who were coming over in the afternoon for a video gaming session.

With mouth full of toothpaste, “Shirley, my cousins are coming over today.”

“What? Which cousins?”

“Blake and Carter.”

Shirley wanted to scream but managed to hold back with a grimace, “Blake? Shit! I need to get out of here.”

“Relax…”

“Don’t tell me to relax. If Blake sees me here with you, he will freak out and tell everyone at my school I’m slut who double time his cousin. My reputation is at stake!”

The house AI announced with a female voice and showing no regards to how Shirley felt, “Shane, your cousins are here at the gate.”

Her face turned bright red. She didn’t even clean herself, dashed out of the bathroom to put on her clothes and took her belongings. She was already gone when Shane came out of the bathroom.

Having been at the house several times, she knew where to go. She ran down the main stairs, into the kitchen and out from the door there. Once she was out, she ran across the pathway alongside the swimming pool until she went past the outhouse. A right turn, a left and then a couple more steps forward, she reached the back gate. She put on her shoes, pressed the door release button, and went out to the street. She sent Shane a private text message from her wristband computer that doubled as a communication device, telling him she’s out and safe.

Shane got the text message while he was washing his face. He went out to put on his pants before picking up his wristband computer from the table. He pressed the button on the side and the hologram of the home screen appeared beside it, showing a grid of colourful application icons. He tapped on the message icon and read what Shirley sent him. He replied with a smiley emoji followed by a ‘I love you’.

He put on the wristband computer and pulled out a shirt from his wardrobe. He gave it a good flick to shake loose any lint. A piece of folded photo fell out of the chest pocket. He bent over to pick it up and unfold it. His lips parted way the moment he saw who was on it. The memories came rushing back and he remembered how he felt. He started to remember he had secretly taken the photo, printed it out on paper and deleted all digital traces of it. He did spent several days in panic mode when he couldn’t find the photo. He was afraid someone may have pick it up and ruin his life. When nobody came forth or mentioned anything remotely close to the photo, he went on with his life.

He folded the photo and put it into a small box he took out from the drawer underneath his desk. The box was the perfect place for the photo since it also contained discarded stuffs that once belonged to the same person. This person had captured his heart the moment their eyes met. Unsure if it was right, he denied and suppressed the feelings for two years.

“Blake and Carter are in the house and waiting for you in the family room,” the AI announced.

“Tell them I will be right down,” Shane responded in a hurried manner as he put the box back into the drawer and closed it. He went out of his room, down the stairs two steps at a time and greeted his cousins in the family room. He led them up to the second floor to the converted bedroom on the east side of the house. It was where the latest holo-game console resided.

They spent hours playing games, cheering or jeering at each other depending on their progress in the games. The butler also came up several times to serve them food and drinks.

It was past midnight when they grew tired from the games and laid on the couches in the room. It didn’t take Blake and Carter long to doze off.

Shane on other hand, laid there thinking about the person from the photograph and the interactions they had. The more he thought about the recent ones made him grimaced. He came to the realisation that he was the one at fault. And he didn’t love Shirley as much as he thought.

Shane didn’t know when he fell asleep after all that thinking. He woke up to the sound of his parents chatting away downstairs in the dinning room with the sound of glass clanking. He glanced at the clock on his wristband computer to see it was four in the morning.

He went downstairs to join his parents. Even though he was underage, his dad poured him a glass of wine. He took sips from the glass and started sharing what happened at school over the past week and his progress on the basketball team. However, it wasn’t a full disclosure. He remained aware enough to leave out the part where he bullied some of the students or had sex with Blake’s girlfriend, Shirley, using a prescribed drug. Parents being parents, they questioned some of the things he’d done or suggested what should have been done. But they were candid about their day in the city too, sharing all the glory details about their activities in hotel rooms.

By the time they finished the bottle, the sun was up and they were too tired to continue. They went their separate ways to their bedrooms and slept until it was almost noon.


Click here for Chapter 3.

Click here for Chapter 1

The Tainted Forbidden Love – Chapter 1

Dexter got up and sat by the side of his bed, burying his face in his hands while the alarm continued to blare on the bedside table. The sun was already up and shining through the window adjacent to his bed.

“Alarm off,” he grumbled with a hoarse voice and the blaring stopped.

He pushed himself out of bed and shuffled across the square room to the bathroom on the opposite side with a raging erection underneath his loose blue boxers.

The rectangle bathroom was smaller than the one near the kitchen. To the right was the shower area with a simple shower head connected to a cheap looking water heater. There was no cubicle or even a screen except for the slanted floor to ensure water flows towards the drain. If not for that slanted floor, his bedroom would flood every time he took a shower. To the left was a circular sink with the rectangular medicine cabinet nailed to the wall above. Beside the sink and below the only window was the toilet bowl that looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in years. The flush mechanism wasn’t even working properly half the time.

He tried urinating into the toilet bowl but with that erection his urine landed everywhere except the toilet bowl. He sighed heavily, I hate puberty. He masturbated until he reached orgasm. He didn’t even bother to clean up the mess. As soon as the erection subsided, he emptied his bladder. He tried the flushing mechanism and was surprised it worked this time.

He went over to the sink and studied himself in the mirror. He had a mop of brown hair that hadn’t been trimmed in more than two months. It was in a complete mess and was covering a quarter of his face. That hair made his oval-shaped face look small. He moved some of the hair away from his face to reveal two fresh cuts above his right eyebrow though the bleeding has since stopped. Unlike his friends of his age, he still looked like a young boy but had brown eyes that were too tired to open fully. There were a few fresh and old bruises all over his naked, narrow shoulders, and untoned chest.

He rinsed his mouth with some water from his filled cup and drank the rest before making his way out of his bedroom to the living room where he found his mom, Hayley, sleeping on the couch. He went over and was careful not to step on any of the empty bottles on the ground. He pulled the blanket that was around her waist up to her chest, making sure she’s well covered. The autumn had been particularly cold this time, he didn’t want his mom to fall ill.

He made his way to the kitchen and thought he had just stepped into the kitchen of an old abandoned house from those twentieth century horror movies. The only light in the kitchen, nailed to the ceiling above the dinning table, was flickering. The smell was unbearable. The dishes from yesterday’s dinner were still in the sink undone. There were food scraps on the table with flies everywhere.

A growling sound made Dexter realised just how hungry he was but he couldn’t bring himself to eat breakfast in such a mess. With two and a half hours to spare before he needs to go to school, he went about doing up the dishes and cleaned the table. It took him more than an hour to finish cleaning up and restore the kitchen to a bare usable state.

He searched the cabinets for something to eat and found a box of pre-made pancakes. He found a bottle of maple syrup, a bottle of milk past its expiry date but drinkable, and an egg too. He fired up the stove and dropped two slices of pancakes in. Once those were done and set aside, he made himself a sunny side-up egg.

He spent the next few minutes finishing up his breakfast before cleaning up the kitchen again. He was on the way back to his room to get ready for school when he saw his mom up and about.

“Morning mom,” Dexter greeted with a smile.

His mom hugged him and kissed him on the cheek, “Morning baby.”

Being so close to his mom, Dexter could smell the alcohol in her breath but he had since gotten used to it. He returned the kiss and wriggled out of his mom’s embrace.

“I’m late for school.”

“Go,” his mom playfully slapped his butt as he went. The moment she stepped into the kitchen, tears of joy rolled down her face. Despite all they have been through, her son was still very diligent when it comes to helping around the house. That was heartwarming. It inspired her to clean up those empty bottles around the couch and on the coffee table. She even tidy up the couch.

Dexter had a quick shower. He put on a pair of blue skinny jeans, a white t-shirt, and a wind-proof jacket to shield him from the cold. He also took the chance to comb his hair to achieve some level of tidiness. He took his backpack containing just a tablet computer and a water bottle for school, and left the house after bidding his mom goodbye. He would spend the next fifteen minutes to walk to the bus stop where he would get on a public bus for a ten minutes ride to school.

***

The moment he walked through those grey double doors, students loitering in the hallway turned their heads to look at him. Those who liked him nodded their heads to acknowledge his presence or greet him as he walked past them. Even those who hated him to the core couldn’t ignore that air of confidence he seemed to emit everywhere he went. Instead of greeting him or acknowledging him, they used it to their advantage and avoided him like plague.

He was the school’s star basketball player, capable of playing both defense and offense equally well. His legendary skill with three-pointer had helped the school win multiple championships against other schools or turn the tide around if the school team was losing. He was also equally good with mathematics and physics.

Not only he had the skills, he was good looking. He was one of the taller students around at six feet four inches with broad shoulders and well-toned body, all from the training he underwent as part of the basketball team. He had a head-turning oblong face that was part-adult and part-teenager with olive skin, which scarcely need shaving. His blue eyes and well-maintained blonde crew-cut hair greatly enhanced his already good looks. The guys aspired to be him and the girls loved him.

Shane was everything the academia type in school wasn’t that made them jealous. His family was also rich. His parents had been donating millions to the school every year since he joined the school to ensure their son got the best. However, some wondered why Shane didn’t go to a boarding or private school since his family could very well afford the school fees but never quite questioned him about it. As the bulk of the salaries for school’s management team and teachers relied on that donation, they gave him special treatments and attentions that made other less well-off people resent him even more.

While he was mingling with students in the hallway, Shane saw the back of one scrawny student making his way to class in a hurried manner. He knew right away who that was.

The student was in tenth grade, kept mostly to himself, had no disciplinary issues, and didn’t have many friends. According to classmates in the same class, he’s really smart, scoring ‘A’ no matter the subject.

“I’ll be right back,” Shane told the students whom had gathered around him. He jogged over to the student and slapped his right hand on the student’s right shoulder causing him to grimace in pain, “Hey Dexter.”

Dexter knew who that was. He swallowed a lump of saliva and slowly turned around, “Shane.” There was just no way he could go anywhere as Shane was so much stronger and faster. Not to mention Shane was at least three-quarter of a foot taller.

“Where do you think you are going?” Shane placed both his hands on Dexter’s shoulder to stop him from running away.

“Class,” Dexter whispered.

“It doesn’t start until I say so,” Shane tightened his grip around Dexter’s shoulders until they hurt.

“You are hurting me,” Dexter whined.

Shane leaned closer, so close that Dexter could hear his breathing, and whispered, “I won’t stop until you give me what I want.”

“I don’t have any now. I will get it by today. Please just let me go,” Dexter pleaded. The school bell rang a moment later as though on cue.

The students started making their way to class. Shane smirked, “Saved by the bell.” He let go of Dexter and walked around him. Just when Dexter thought it was over, Shane took the chance to shove him to the ground, “Oops, sorry.”

He walked away laughing. The rest his friends joined up and ignored Dexter. The other students were equally nonchalant about the whole situation and went on their way to class.

***

As Dexter was skinnier than most, he didn’t have much flesh in his butt to absorb the impact, allowing his pelvis to take brunt of it. He yelped. Tears start forming along the edge of his eyelids and he wiped them away. No one even bothered to help him up. Soon, he was all by himself. He waited until the pain subsided before getting up but even that was hard. He tried to walk only to fall again onto his knees and hurt equally much. But he didn’t give up. He tried to get up again and when he did, someone came to his side to support him.

He tilted his head to see who it was and recognized her immediately. “Mrs. Don,” he mumbled.

“Can you walk?” she asked with a frown that indicated concern.

Dexter put a foot out then the next, “I can try.” He tried to hide the fact that every action sent searing pain up his back. He bore with the pain in silence.

It took fifteen long minutes before they arrived at the infirmary, located on the first floor of the school at the northeast corner. She led him to one of the benches and helped him sit before getting the doctor.

Due to the generous donation by Shane’s parents, the infirmary was as advanced as any other private clinics outside. It had a wide variety of medical equipment that could allow the doctor to perform even minor surgeries. A recent renovation saw it expanding its patient wing to have sufficient bed for eight people.

Mrs. Don came out from the consultation room with the doctor and nurse trailing behind. Dexter tried to stand up but his legs decided to give way and he fell back down on the bench, causing him to cry out in pain.

Upon seeing how badly injured Dexter was, the doctor and nurse rushed over to help him up into the consultation room and had him lay on his stomach on the bed.

“What happened to you, kid?” the doctor asked. He was Doctor Steward, the school’s resident doctor who spent the last fifteen years taking care of the students. He treated all their ailments ranging from minor cuts to fractures. He also offered counseling services for students who had too much going on.

“I was clumsy and fell,” Dexter offered weakly.

“I see,” Steward looked at Mrs. Don who could only shrugged. They both knew the truth but didn’t really have the power to do anything. “I will take a look now to see how badly hurt you are, ok?”

Dexter gave a meek nod and buried his face in the pillow while Mrs. Don stepped out of the examination room and waited outside.

“Could you lower your pants?”

“Not really… it’s too painful for me to move. Can you help me with that?”

“Sure.”

Steward slid off Dexter’s pants and underwear together in a slow, deliberate manner, not wanting to exacerbate the injury but it didn’t stop the kid from whimpering in the process. It was that painful. Steward, having kids of his own, felt an aching sensation in his chest.

The lower half of Dexter’s body was almost bony with parts of the pelvis visible through the skin. There were bruises all over his inner thighs and both butt cheeks were blue-blackish. A light press with the finger caused him to cry out.

Steward looked at his nurse who looked back. Both of them knew what each other were thinking.

“Dexter, is there anything you want to tell us?” Steward asked.

Dexter’s face remained buried in the pillow, “No. Why?”

“There are some bruises here that don’t look like you got them from a fall. We just had to make sure of the facts.”

“I do skate from time to time.” Dexter had lied so many times to people around him until it was natural for him and most people would take him at his word. Sometimes, he even believed his own lies.

“If you say so. But I will have to examine further to make sure you are all ok.”

With the aid of medical diagnostic tools, Steward spent the next half an hour discovering a myriad of issues that were consistent with abuse and bully. There were also signs of malnutrition. The good news was there weren’t any broken bones. He went ahead and treat all the bruises and cuts after they had been sanitised with the medical wand, which relied on sonic and light waves to accelerate healing of most injuries. He also prescribed multi-vitamins and minerals for Dexter to take.

It was almost noon when Dexter came out of the infirmary. He felt much better and went back to class. His classmates didn’t even ask where he was and lessons went on as usual. During lunch, he ordered some food from the vending machine so that he could have it in one of the classrooms instead of sitting in the school canteen. He didn’t want anymore confrontation with Shane and his group of hooligans.

The rest of the day was uneventful with history and literature lessons. He left for home as soon as the clock struck four in the afternoon.

***

The next three hours after lessons was Shane’s favorite part of the day, everyday.

He beelined to the changing room and got into his basketball attire. The rest of the basketball team started streaming moments later in batches. They too didn’t waste any time either and started changing.

Shane and a few of his close friends went out first to do warmup consisting of a quick jog around the basketball court, two sets of twenty jumping jacks and two sets of twenty pushups. Once they were done, they loitered around the side of the court until the rest finished their warmup.

The coach, Harvey Fornite, came into the court pushing a cart of basketballs with his assistant and son, Christian Fornite. Christian was a fellow student from ninth grade and didn’t do sport. Instead he was on the school debate team and had won several district-level debates. He only helped out his dad when he doesn’t have to go for practice.

Harvey waited until the last member of team had finished his warmup before blowing his whistle, “Everyone gather up!” Without hesitation, the team members gathered around in front of him and waited for instruction.

“Ok, listen up! Today’s training will be shorter than usual as the school needed this court to host a night gala for the city’s elites. So we will be focusing on your three-pointers and then teamwork. We will use both side of the court to play Around the World for an hour. So spread yourself evenly. After the hour is up, we will play a quick, two rounds of five-versus-five match to see which side can score twenty points first in twelve minutes. The only caveat for this match is nobody is allow to form a group with your own cliques. You are to mix it up amongst yourself. Am I clear?”

The basketball players were unanimous, “Yes coach!”

“Now move!”

Everyone scattered and rearranged themselves along the three-pointer line on both side of the court. Christian took out the ball from the cart and passed a ball to each side. Once the players got their ball, Mr. Fornite blew his whistle.

Shane consistently put his ball through the hoop without fail. It didn’t take much for him to win every round. His teammates on his side of the court struggled and found themselves having to restart from the beginning. Not wanting this teammates to feel left out from winning the game, he took himself out of the game to let them compete amongst themselves.

Another whistle blow and it was time for the five-versus-five match. Shane partnered up with Johnson, Rick, Aaron, and Toby, all of whom didn’t hang out with each other either. They each have their own clique of friends, some were not even on the basketball team.

The match was at first uneventful until Shane’s group scored twelve points in under eight minutes despite the opposing group’s best effort. Tensions started rising amongst members of the other group and one of players, whom Shane knew as Dominic, grew aggressive.

Dominic was about the same height as Shane but much bigger in size due to his weightlifting hobby in addition basketball. Because of his size, his group had picked him to be the defense, which he used to his advantage. The only person who dare to come close to him was Shane.

Shane was dribbling the ball halfway through the opposing group’s court when Dominic came up beside him from the right in an attempt to grab the ball but failed. Shane was faster, more agile. He directed the ball away to his other hand and back in a swift continuous movement. It frustrated Dominic. He tried one more time and failed. When he saw an opportunity, he placed his right foot in a way that caused Shane to trip over yet obscured enough not to trigger a penalty. Due to his momentum, Shane fell to the ground hard and landed on his face, breaking his nose in the process. Dominic took the chance, grabbed the ball and attempted to continue with the game.

Harvey blew his whistle to call a timeout after seeing Shane getting up with a bloodied nose.

Knowing what Dominic did was intentional, Shane approached him during the timeout and his right hand connected to the side of Dominic’s face. Dominic spun around and stumbled before managing to right himself.

“What the fuck was that?” Shane demanded.

“Why the hell you hit me for? It was an accident.”

“We both know that’s not true.”

“You can only blame yourself for being such a clumsy showoff.”

Shane grimaced, “What did you say?”

“You heard me!”

The two of them went at each other with fists flying. The rest of the team had to pull them apart and keep them that way.

Harvey went over fuming, “What the hell are you guys doing? This is supposed to be a friendly match and we are be a team here!”

With a raised voice and finger pointing at Dominic, “He intentionally tripped me up.”

“No. He was too clumsy for his own good. All he could is shoot three-pointers.”

Harvey’s face turned red, “Alright, enough! Both of you are done for the day. Go home and cool it off.”

Both Dominic and Shane kept their distance from each other as they walked out of the court, heading straight for the changing room. In the distance, Harvey called for the game to resume.

After the two were done with their showers and changed to their original clothes, they left the school without even saying a single word.

***

Shane went up the steps leading to a single story, flat roof rectangular house within a town called Dunk, located six kilometers south of the school. It was one of the poorest towns, where the wealthiest families were living paycheque to paycheque while the poorest had to rely on donations or go hungry for days. The house he was approaching was at least twenty years old judging from the decrepit exterior and moldy steps. Even the main door looked like it could fall apart any time.

He gave the door a quick double knock and waited. No one answered. He tried again and waited. The door opened with a gap wide enough to see who was it. A chain lock remained on the door to prevent anyone from bursting in without warning.

“Dexter!”

“Shh! My dad is in. He will kill us both.”

“Fine. Where is it?”

“Here,” Dexter put his hand out and revealed a tiny packet containing a mix of green and white powder. “Take it and go.”

“That’s it?” Shane raised an eyebrow, “I thought I told you I want two.”

“That’s all I could get. Now please. Just take it and go.”

“Who’s that at the door?” a male voice yelled from somewhere in the house.

“Just a salesperson. He’s just leaving,” Dexter yelled back.

Not wanting to get into trouble, Shane grabbed the packet, shoved it into the front pocket of his jeans and leave. Dexter’s dad hasn’t been known to be a very nice person to even talk to and had once threatened to blow off his head with a shotgun. Dexter closed the door gently and locked it before creeping back to his room, turning in for the night.

But before he got into bed, he made sure the double bolt sliding lock on his door was in the lock position.


Click here for Chapter 2.

Being grateful and self aware

Am I the most discipline person?

Am I living my life deliberately?

Am I the most creative person?

No. No. No.

I’m in fact the most mediocre person ever. And probably the most boring person you have ever met. I’m just not the chirpiest person in any group.

My interest is everywhere and nowhere. So sometimes I got nothing to share. All I do is observe and listen.

And there is always someone better out there. More talkative than me. Smarter than me. Faster than me.

And I’m ok with that.

Only by accepting who I am, am I free to pursue the things that make me feel inspired and do my best work.

And I don’t care how you judge my work. As along as one person is happy with what I have created and it helps him or her, I’m good. I’m grateful.

Mastery and being inspired improves your productivity

Productivity is a measure of one’s output given a set period of time but it doesn’t mean quality or doing it right.

That’s my understanding of what it means when someone mention productivity these days.

Our modern economy places a high emphasis on this metric. With the advancement of technology, it is expected that everyone output 10x, 100x or even 1000x of what someone could output for the same amount of time and resource several years ago.

On a personal level, it’s suggested one sleep early and wake up early, exercise more, and maybe throw in some meditation to improve your energy level so that you can do more and faster in a short amount of time.

The 80/20 rule also applies here. One should only spent the least amount of effort to achieve the greatest result.

I for one don’t disagree with all those advices because they do help.

However, I have come to recognize that there are two more things that one should also acquire to be highly productive.

The first is mastery.

When you master something, be it copywriting, write codes, or draw art, you will find yourself doing a lot of things effortlessly because whatever it is you are doing is like muscle memory. This determine how much actual effort is spent to create something. Thus, it could take you as little as 15 minutes to do something that would taken you an hour or two when you were a novice.

I know because I have gone through that many times in my software development work. I can deliver way more than what my colleagues or friends could even when they are copying and pasting code within a set period of time. And with quality I might add.

What I did was by picking a specific area in software development and then focus all my attention on it.

For example, I picked UX/UI design and implementation for my current job and then spent weeks after weeks doing that. Right now, you can get the best possible UI (compared to my colleagues on the team and possibly my current division) from me using just the UI controls provided by Microsoft’s WPF and Telerik. I even took care of a lot of detailed stuff that help ensure a smooth and great user experience when they use the application. Something that I know for a fact my colleagues can’t do.

And I’m not boasting…Ok, maybe a little. I’m proud of what I have achieved.

My team lead saw it with his own eyes over the past year. And even my colleagues also recognize some of the stuff I have done that are better than their work. Even the customer, despite not knowing who done what, knows which part of the user interface they love the most and commented how good it was, which was done by me.

What I have realized too was you don’t need to reach 100% mastery (which is quite impossible) in something. All you need is to reach roughly 60% to 70% mastery in something and you can quite easily do anything that require you to use that skillset. Anything more than that will probably see diminishing returns and not worth your time to pursue.

The second thing to boost your productivity is being inspired.

Being a master at something isn’t enough to improve your productivity when you are completely drained and uninspired. In fact, being uninspired can reduce your productivity by some 50% or maybe more (not scientifically correct, just a gut feeling).

I have gone through days feeling depressed or uninspired. Even the thing I could have easily finished in less than an hour took me half the day and sometime, the whole day.

To feel inspired, sometime you just need to reframe your mind.

You can try to think of the problem you are trying to solve from a new perspective. This is where you need to figure out your WHY. You need to have an honest conversation with yourself about WHY you are doing what you are doing now. Once you do that, you could find the spark that you need to drive you forward.

And if that doesn’t help much, sometimes, you really do need to move around. Go for a walk or a run. Even step out of office and sit at the pantry or cafeteria can help.

Please don’t take my word at face value. Go and try the two suggestions out and see if it helps with making you more productive at work. So far, it has helped me in delivering more with quality over the last few months.

What I learnt about myself from playing Halo

I love Halo franchise because of its nature as a science fiction. Furthermore, the Halo universe is vast and very suitable for all kinds of stories to be told from different perspective.

Because of that, I decided to spend SG$700 on Xbox One X and buy all the Halo games for it for another SG$100 or so. Then I spent the last five days playing the first two games and didn’t really find the desire to watch any shows or do any writing. But I did take time to reflect and that’s how I figured out, discovered and re-discovered things about myself, and about writing science fiction in general.

Number 1

It made me realize that I was a minimalist all along. The kind of minimalist where I focus on only a few things: gaming, writing, reading, and gadgets that improves my quality of life. Throughout my life, I have in fact spent the most time, effort and money on those three things and nothing else. As long as I have access to those, I’m extremely grateful and happy. I never for once felt unhappy about having too many video games, too many books or gadgets. I can even stop buying new clothes for years or skip eating nice food just so that I can get stuff related to any of the four. But I also recognize that I will need to purge old unusable gadgets, video games or books that I no longer read so that I have space for the new stuff.

Number 2

Writing science fiction is something that you can’t jump straight in without a plan, especially if you want to write something on the scale like Halo or even anywhere close. It is just not possible. I learnt my lesson the hard way. There are countless writing projects that I have abandoned because I didn’t plan and only got down to write because I have this sudden urge to do so. Now, I will draft stuff related to the science fiction universe that I want to create in bits and pieces to keep me going. And yes, I do have a science fiction universe that I wanted to create since I was twenty and I’m doing the planning, writing and any other activities I deem necessary to the successful completion of the project.

Number 3

There are times when I actually doubt my ability to focus on one thing for a long period of time because of my tendency to seek the new, the shiny or the novel. But the truth is, I can go all the way into something for days without being bored if that something inspires me greatly and keep me engaged. I can actually apply the same kind of laser focus on the things I work on without being bored or frustrated if I set my mind correctly.

Number 4

My highly-sensitive nature also shows when I’m playing this game. Since I play the game after a long work day, my attention, reaction time, and hand-eye coordination ability are down to the lowest of low. Yet, it prevents me from sleeping well at night because of excessive simulation of my brain.

Number 5

This is related to number 4. I do get frustrated from time to time when I have to deal with a lot. Like the alien Flood. They are countless and love to swarm you from many directions. I lost track of how often I became irritated by the constant need to aim my guns at new enemy. And because of my nature to focus and go deep in, switching my attention constantly make me tired even faster. But I see it as a good training tool. Train myself to be even more resilient and have the ability to enter focus mode faster. I would say it hasn’t been successful. It still take me half an hour to go deep into something when it comes to work.

I win everyday

Over the past year alone, I have learnt quite a lot of things about me. There are some traits about me that I dislike because I always thought they make me a weak or useless person. There was a lot of self-hatred but I realized it won’t get me anywhere. It doesn’t make me a better person. After much introspection, I realized that I’m actually winning everyday.

I won’t say I will get to achieve the examples I provided below every day but even if it’s just one, it’s good enough for me.

  1. I’m a highly-sensitive person and that means I can get easily stressed and overstimulated. When that happens, I tend to lash out at people. These days, I have learnt to keep it under control by first acknowledging those emotions and then refocus myself on the bigger issue. There will be times when I fail to do that but I will consciously make sure I don’t lash out at people. I won’t say I’m successful all the time but thus far, I hadn’t have one major lashing incident. And that’s an achievement.
  2. There were a lot of days and I will continue to have days when I’m just outright depressed and didn’t want to go to work. Yet, I still get myself up from bed. Go through the routines and go to work. Once there, I try my best to do whatever it is I’m tasked. So that is a win for me because I didn’t stop. I continued on with life.
  3. I’m also learning to let go of the perfectionism I have for the things I do. I acknowledge that it was something I have to learn to let go because I’m only human. Mistakes bound to happen and it was only through those experiences that I learn to be better. So these days, I aim for 60% to 80% quality of work instead and then seek to improve my work later through iterations. Sometimes it’s a hit and sometimes it’s a miss but I didn’t let it stop me completely. That in my book is another win.
  4. I can get self-absorbed and self-centered, even selfish a lot of times. If I did went down that rabbit hole of “the whole universe revolves around me”, people will remind me. The past me would probably blame the whole world or be angry at the person. Now, I know there is really only me to blame. To be a better version of myself, I try to more empathic to the people around me. I consciously look at what another person need or want and then see if I can provide while trying to balance what I want or need. I win when I achieve both and both of us are happy.
  5. I’m also very self-aware of the fact that I can get self-destructive when certain things don’t go my way. As of late, I have learnt not to blame people around me for my self-destruction because it’s really my shit. My brain generates those impulses that to lead my self-destruction and it is up to me to decide if I want to act on those impulses or not. Thus, it is a win for me every time I didn’t act on those thoughts.
  6. Lastly, my life path is mine to walk. Nobody, not my friends, parents or colleagues get to decide and tell me I should go that route or do that thing. I will do me and make sure I’m happy. A lot of decisions I make can sound and look really irrational to people but I really don’t give a shit. I know I will get upset over certain things I have done or decisions I have made that don’t turn out to be the better one but I also know that if I don’t do those things or make those decision, I will be even more upset and fill with regret. The fact that I can make those decisions and answer to myself without blaming another person is a great achievement to me.

So instead of self-hatred and punishing yourself for being a human, you can start by changing your perspective of yourself and call yourself a winner every time you did something better than what you usually do. That to me is a start to create a different kind of mentality that leads you to become a better person.

My struggles as a feeling-type, emotional and highly-sensitive programmer

Unlike many in the tech industry, I’m one of the few who see the world through the emotion lens and intuition. Gut feelings guide almost every decision I make. Whenever I set down to do something, it must feel right or I just don’t do it. Sometimes, I consciously know that it will be painful for me in the future if I don’t do anything right now.

But often times, gut feelings just doesn’t cut it in the tech industry. You have to convince people of why you think or see things certain ways. After all, it is an industry that is predominantly numbers, logical and pragmatic.

So I found myself struggling quite often to articulate why I feel so strongly against or for something or explain my decisions. It is also a struggle to explain why I know a certain thing will happen or not. And when I finally do find the right words to use to make my stand, the arguments in hindsight are weak most of the time. At the end, people will not take you seriously since you can’t convince them and will brush you off if not reject you.

Rejection hurts. A lot. Then there were times when I’m just outright angry with that. I’ll admit, I did take it personally because deep down, I am really trying to help to make sure you don’t go through the same pain by getting you to be more conscientious and put in place mechanisms now that you can use easily in the future. It also lead me to feel disappointed with myself for failing to convince anyone more than anything else.

That’s not the say I lost perspective. I do know projects are time-sensitive as the customer wants the product out fast and good. Nobody got the time to wait for you to lay down the foundational properly now. I know recognize that people at the management level are pulling their hair out trying to manage the whole project and deal with the customer. I also know that some of my colleagues are swarmed with work while some just didn’t want to expend so much effort.

Ability to multi-task is expected of you when you work as a programmer. I don’t know about the other roles in other industry because I have never worked in those before. But what I do know, from the perspective of a highly-sensitive person, multi-tasking is very expensive in terms of energy use. Then you have to juggle with a whole bunch of demands, go for meetings, eat, and mingle with other colleagues. So by the end of most of my work day, I always feel so drained.

Those are the things that make me feel like just giving up working as a programmer or engineer. I just don’t feel like I belong in this industry because of my highly-sensitive and emotional nature. I just no longer have the same conviction I had when I was younger. My colleagues, despite my efforts to explain my nature, don’t seem to get it. It means that I don’t get the kind of support I need to get through my day or do my work properly. Then, there is the self-doubt. It is also my biggest enemy and leads me to suffer from higher amount of anxiety.

Until the day I finally snap and quit software development, there are a few tips I can think of to help one go through his or her day better. I have to admit I tend forget about them when I’m overly stressed or anxious:

  1. Remind yourself that there is nothing personal at work unless it is obviously a personal attack by your colleagues. Everyone is there to do their work and fuck off at the end of the day.
  2. Be mindful of how you are feeling. Walk away if necessary, collect yourself and try again.
  3. Let it all out at the end of the day by going for a quick jog or run or exercise. Go for screaming therapy if need be. Punch a punching bag or do high-intensity workout.
  4. Avoid any form of chemical stimulants like caffeine. I know as programmers, caffeine is your best friend but if you are highly-sensitive or emotional, caffeine will send your nervous system into overdrive. That will put you at higher risk of anxiety attacks or feel more restless than usual. I have been there. If you really want something to drink that is not water, try mint, chamomile or ginger tea.

Musings – Software Development

  1. It’s always best to avoid rolling your own implementation of things like database connection managers, encryption unless you want to deal with the pain six or seven years later, assuming you are still working on that project. And if you are a newbie or junior developer with less than 1 year of real world working experience, do not even think about rolling your own.
  2. Troubleshooting and debugging a software bug in an old piece of software that you built five years ago without documentation or with poor code style is like hunting for a specific color of needle in a haystack but you forgot which haystack and where it is, even if it is right in front of you. When you finally found the haystack, you forgot which color of needle you are looking for.
  3. If you are a highly-sensitive person and love programming, software engineering as a career may not be the best choice for you. Projects are extremely time-sensitive, multi-tasking is required, majorly understaffed, and people are mostly logical. So depending on the level of your sensitivities and ability to manage those sensitives, you are probably better off working for yourself or do programming on the side. Of course, the company you work for and the culture could affect your choice. If your team and management totally understand it, know the strength of a highly sensitive person and appreciate those strength while seeking to help mitigate the weaknesses, then yes, you can do it as a career. Otherwise, get out and find something else to do. Cultivate a new passion.
  4. Your years of software development experience doesn’t necessary means you can be a senior developer. It is especially so if you haven’t develop the skills to be a senior developer or a lead developer. In that case, either you improve yourself and develop those skills, work for yourself or lower your ego, pride and salary, and continue to be a junior developer.

Initial Review – Creative SoundBlaster Roar Pro

Introduction

Today I got myself the Creative Soundblaster Roar Pro after much consideration. I wanted a small speaker system that sound really good, support both bluetooth and wired connection so that I can use it with my PC and my Apple devices.

It’s selling at SG$349 in retail but that was not what I paid as it was on promotion and I got it for SG$199, which I thought was a steal.

Unboxing

On first look, the black on white box looks great.

But upon opening up the box, the first thing I felt was, “Oh, this thing look cheap.” The accessories weren’t packed as neatly as I would like. It is definitely not that ecologically friendly with the heavy use of plastic to pack the cables and the manuals. Then there is the eye sore of the product manuals. Red on white but the product box is black and the product is black. Where is that consistency?

I guess I’m spoilt by Apple since the internals of their boxes are always so well designed and done. Even their manuals, which I know most people don’t read, are at least consistent with the overall theme. Apple do make you feel like you are opening up a great product and that is important to the overall user experience.

The box came with a charging adapter, a USB cable for you to connect the speaker to a computer, a AUX cable to connect to another Roar Pro or audio device. The charging adapter also come with two different kind of plugs that you can swap depending on your power socket. In Singapore, we will use the three-pin plug.

And here is the actual product.

Other than the rows of buttons and switches at the back, the overall speaker is pretty clean and well-built. The black matches well with my desktop setup of mostly black and grey. On the top where the main function buttons are, I would prefer the use of touch buttons instead of physical button. Nonetheless, they don’t detract much from the overall design.

Performance and Experience

I’m no audiophile but I know enough about the various sound range and the type of sound I enjoy listening to. I can tell if there’s crackling caused by the driver’s inability to transform the input signal to sound, if certain sound is muffled, not crisp and clear or if there is an overlap.

I always prefer a good mid-range and bass. To test, I played a few songs like Monody by The Fat Rat, Fountain and Hunting for Pearls from the album BLUE by iamamiwhoami, and Whatever it takes by Imagine Dragons. The Roar Pro with its 2.5 inch mid/bass driver located at the center and pointing up definitely delivers on that front. The mid range is crisp and the bass has enough dynamic range that it doesn’t sound muffled or too low. I suspect the two passive drivers on the side has been well-tuned to help with the bass reproduction.

The high range on the other hand seems rather ok but then I don’t listen to music that has a lot of that because how they hurt my ears and give me a headache. My predominant genre is electronic and pop. And they definitely have higher ratio of bass and mid-range compared to maybe classical music or symphony.

The pairing process with iPhone or Mac is pretty easy but not as easy as AirPods. You will have to power on the device, press and hold the bluetooth button for 3 seconds and see the LED light beside it flash. After that, go into the iPhone’s bluetooth setting or Mac OS’s bluetooth preferences and click connect.

It doesn’t take long for the connection to be established. Once it’s done, you can start playing music off it.

Conclusion

I have not start exploring playing games with it and when I do, I will update again. There are a few things that I have yet try. One of them is the use of the other functionality like playing music straight from an SD card. Another would be connecting it to another Roar Pro to via the AUX IN port for MegaStereo.

Yet, I really enjoy the sound coming out from this speaker and I couldn’t tell the difference from a SONOS Play 3 based on trial play in store. For the price of SG$199, I think it’s really good though the packaging could be better.