Site Changes

I’ve taken the liberty of changing the layout of my site. You’ll no doubt notice this as you read this post if you have visited before. There are still a few kinks to work out, and some things might not be fully functional or laid out exactly how I’d like them yet, so please bear with me during this transition.

It has been a long time since I posted anything here, and I was contemplating whether or not to even continue running the site, but in the end I decided to keep it around, and just refresh things a little bit to hopefully better focus on what I am trying to accomplish.

More changes and additions will be forthcoming, including information on what I have been up to during the 4 months of silence, but for now I just wanted to put out this small update to get the ball rolling, so to speak.

How to make secure, easy-to-remember passwords

As we all tend to live our lives connected online more and more these days, we’re tasked with having more and more online accounts to access all our goods and services.

Every single day, these services and their accounts are under attacks from people who are trying to access our personal information, credit card numbers, and essentially gain access to any and every account that they possibly can, so they can sell your information to the highest bidder, or perform acts related to identity theft.

Now, I’m not saying all that just to scare you, but the reality of it is identity theft has become far more common in the past 10 to 20 years since the advent and propagation of the internet, and the increase in global connectivity online. One of the major ways that account compromises are possible is because many account passwords are insecure and easily determined by those with malicious intent and technological prowess.

In fact, many people don’t even know how to make a good strong password for their accounts in the first place. Here in this post I will give you a basic overview of how to make reasonably strong and secure passwords, and talk about what makes a password secure.

So let’s get started. First we’ll take a look at some best practice tips for your passwords, and then I’ll give you some examples of making simple yet secure passwords that you can remember easily.

1. Don’t use words you can find in the dictionary

This is a very common mistake that people do all the time. There are computer programs out there for cracking passwords that run through a list of every word in the dictionary automatically, and if your password has any of the words it finds, it just makes it that much easier for the remainder of your password to be guessed and then compromised.

2. Don’t use all lowercase or all uppercase letters

A password is stronger when it contains a mix of both lowercase and uppercase letters. If your password is all lowercase or all upper case, then it is not as secure as it could be. Even just introducing a single opposite case letter can improve the security greatly over one that has only a single case type.

3. Don’t use all letters or all numbers

If your password is only letters, even if you aren’t using words able to be found in a dictionary, it’s still considered a “weak” password. Likewise for passwords which include only numbers. In fact, passwords with only numbers in them are even easier to crack, since there are only a possible 10 values vs. at least having 26 choices with letters, or 52 if your password includes both uppercase and lowercase.

But I digress. It’s still not secure enough however. A stronger password would be a combination of letters and numbers, but that’s still not ideal yet. Let’s keep going.

4. Don’t use the same password for different online accounts

This is a big one. Many people do this, simply because it starts to become difficult to remember all those passwords. Even I have been guilty of this one from time to time myself. But as best as you can within reason, you are going to want to have a different password for each of your accounts.

The reason why this is not a good idea to do is because if one of your passwords is compromised on one of your many accounts online, and you have used that password on other accounts, then every account where you have used that password, it is now vulnerable to access from whoever it was that got your password from your single account.

In other words, the more frequently you use a single password across accounts, the less secure that password becomes, and by extension, the more vulnerable all of those accounts become too.

5. Don’t use short passwords

Even if you follow the rest of these suggestions outlined here and elsewhere on the net for good password practices, if your password is only 6 characters long, it won’t matter very much how secure you make it.

Arguably the most important factor in making a strong password is length. The longer the password is, the more difficult it becomes for those with malicious intent to compromise it.

A secure password has…

Here is a short list of the “rules” if you will, for a secure password.

In order for a password to be considered secure, it must have:

  • No dictionary words
  • At least 1 UPPERCASE letter
  • At least 1 lowercase letter
  • At least 1 number
  • At least 1 symbol (Some symbol examples include: ! @ # $ % ^ & * ( ) – _  / and there are others you can potentially utilize too.)
  • At least 8 characters in length (the longer, the more secure)

But how am I supposed to remember all that?

Yes, you’ve hit upon the potential conundrum with all this secure password business. As great as having a secure password like #7drjR48296&#!!kdXB is, how are you supposed to remember a random string of characters like that, especially taking into consideration point #4 earlier? You would need a different one of those gargantuan strings of difficult-to-remember passwords for EACH online account you use.

Well, the answer is simpler that you might expect. Let’s take a look at some example passwords and I’ll suggest some ways you can make them secure and also easy to remember.

Let’s say you’re a dog lover, and you have an unsecure password on your account that looks like this:

Ilikedogs

If we reference the “rules” for a secure password discussed previously, we can see that this one is lacking in quite a few ways. There is a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters (the first character is an uppercase ‘i’ in case it’s hard to tell visually,) and the length is 8 or more characters long, but other than that the rest of this password fails to be secure. It doesn’t use any numbers, or symbols, and it uses words found in the dictionary.

So let’s work on this password a bit. One of the best ways I have found to make a password both memorable and secure, is to start with a simple password like this one which is easy for you to remember, and just make modifications to it.

So let’s look at our numbers and symbols, and see if we can find any similarities. We know our password is lacking both of these elements and requires them in order to be considered secure. And we also want to try to change those dictionary words into something that doesn’t necessarily match up.

So here is an example of one possible way we can improve upon the original.

Il!ked0gs

All I have done here, is replace that lowercase ‘i’ in ‘like’ with an exclamation point (you can think of it like an upside-down ‘i’ if that helps you remember) and that gives us our “at least 1 symbol” requirement met. It also removes the dictionary matching word “like” from our password too. For the ‘o’ in ‘dogs’ I just replaced that with the number ‘0’ instead. Similarly, this had the effect of removing the dictionary searchable word “dogs” from our password, and meeting the “at least 1 number” requirement.

Two simple changes were all that were necessary in this case, to take this from being a relatively weak and insecure password, and turn it into a secure password, all while keeping it still fairly easy to remember.

Pick a phrase or term that is easy for you to remember as a basis for your own passwords, and with just a few small changes following the secure password rules, you’ll have vastly improved passwords to help keep your online accounts as secure as reasonably possible.

If you want to take it even a few steps further (not required) you can check out the next section where we’ll take another look at how to make this password even more secure.

Expanding further for the curious/interested

Even though the password we put together in the previous section is a secure one, it’s a bit on the short side with only 9 characters. Remember, the longer a password is, the more secure, as long as it’s still following the secure password guidelines.

But with length comes increasing complexity and more difficulty in remembering it, right? Not necessarily! Here’s an easy trick for increasing the length of an already secure password.

Let’s say you really like the number 4, and it’s your favorite number and there’s no way you’ll forget that. Next let’s pick your favorite symbol, maybe it’s the hyphen –

Now, let’s combine your favorite number 4, with your favorite symbol – and think of some ways you can add that in to your secure password to increase its length, and still keep it easy to remember.

Here are some example variations to our original 9 character length secure password Il!ked0gs

  • Il!ked0gs-4
    • Total characters: 11
  • 4-Il!ked0gs
    • Total characters: 11
  • -I-l!ke-d0gs-
    • Total characters: 13
  • Il!ked0gs—-
    • Total characters: 13
  • I—-l!ke—-d0gs
    • Total characters: 17

(NOTE: If it shows —- as one long line and a single hyphen at the end as you are reading the above password examples, know that those are supposed to instead be 4 hyphens in a row. It doesn’t display that way as I type/edit it, but may display like that when reading automatically. My apologies for any potential confusion.)

You get the idea here yes? These are just a few small examples of what you could possibly do, and simple ways to increase the security of even your secure passwords by increasing their length. If you make it a pattern or something easy for you to remember, then it doesn’t necessarily make the passwords any more difficult for you to remember what they are either.

Another thing that you may or may not choose to do in your passwords is plan for iteration. In other words, build into the password some kind of sequence that you are easily able to remember, in the event that you want/need to change your password, but want to keep it close to what you had before so it is still easy to remember.

One way you might do this is for example with the first improved password in the above list: Il!ked0gs-4

You could take that -4 portion of it, and when you change your password, make it -5 instead, and the next time, -6, and so on and so forth.

Now there are arguably pros and cons to making the iteration very obvious like that. The pros of course are that it is easy to remember and the new password is still technically secure. However if you did have one of your account passwords actually compromised, and all you change on it is a single predictable number, especially when it’s visually separated like that and might be easy for someone to guess, probably one of the first things they would try is changing that last number after the hyphen.

So it just depends really. There are other ways that are much less obvious you could use to implement iteration into your passwords. For example counting up 3 numbers each time instead of just 1, or changing a letter in some pattern and not a number. I’ll leave those possibilities to your imagination and creativity to come up with on your own. And remember building in iteration like this is totally optional, you decide if you want to do it at all or not for your passwords.

Even with this possible shortcoming though of building in iteration for the sake of convenience and easy memorization, these passwords are still secure, and much much better than an account that doesn’t even have a secure password to begin with.

I hope this post was helpful for you, and gave you some good food for thought. If you didn’t know before you read this article, then at least now you have a good idea of what makes a secure password vs. a weak one, and how to make stronger passwords that are still pretty easy to remember.

I’m not a security expert or anything, so the extent of my good password practices knowledge pretty much ends here. I’ve shared with you what I know, but by all means, check out some sites on your favorite search engine if you’re at all interested in good tips for staying secure online. There are great resources out there in video and podcast form too that delve much deeper into this topic than I would be able to assist you with.

Unpopular Opinion #5

Take the over half-a-trillion dollars the U.S. spends every year on its military budget, weapons R&D budgets, any major funding that is tied to war efforts, “defense”, fighting, etc. and instead use that money towards providing EVERYONE in the country (regardless of their financial standing) with free basic living necessities like food, water, electricity, shelter, medical expenses, and other quality of life implements.
 
Should the cost exceed the 500+ billion dollar yearly expenditures from said budget (it probably would for the first few years at least, covering initial startup costs such as building housing, etc.), hit up the collective 1% , or even the top 5-10%, wealthiest in the country to help foot the rest of the bill.
All those who contribute financially from their own funds, get their names published globally with recognition of their contribution amounts, and we make these contributors into our new celebrities in society.

Developments #03 – Death? Preposterous!

In last week’s developments post, I discussed the importance of doing things differently, and gave an example of how I am structuring some of the NPC dialog in my upcoming game Death? Preposterous!

Today I’ll be continuing that sort of theme by taking a look at another place you can innovate: the encounter system in the game. Now, you’ll notice I didn’t say “the battle system” and instead chose to use the word “encounter” to describe it. This was intentional and in and of itself is an important distinction.

You see, in my game I have chosen for there to not be “battles” strictly speaking. You aren’t going to walk around, gain money from defeating monsters, buy equipment from the weapon or armor shops, find treasure chests randomly in the forest or dungeons, beat the boss monsters, or in general going around slaying everything you come in contact with.

I thought long and hard about how I could bring the general RPG experience to the player but without falling victim to all the tropes and stereotypes often seen in the genre. There will be encounters in the game, as you can see in the following teaser images for example, however they will not play out in the way you might expect.

Screenshot from 2017-11-28 13-24-53

Familiar looking, yet different. Similar to what you have seen before, yet done in a somewhat unorthodox way. The encounter system is another area where many games will innovate, and Death? Preposterous! is no exception. The direction I have taken things is quite unorthodox, and while I can’t quite call it completely unique or never-before-seen, I do hope it will capture your interest with its unusual presentation nonetheless.

Screenshot from 2017-11-28 13-25-40

Put simply, the encounters in Death? Preposterous! are going to be more puzzle oriented. Simply mashing the “Attack” option and buying 99 potions from the item shop will not be getting you through the encounters in this game. In fact, potions or item shops aren’t even going to feature in the game. For that matter, neither will an “Attack” command.

These aren’t battles, they are encounters. Meetings with strange creatures. Rather than instantly resorting to mindless hostility that is never questioned in the average RPG, here you will be using some more basic principles to make your way through each encounter in the game.

Screenshot from 2017-11-28 13-26-08

As you may have already deduced from these screenshots, one such action you will be utilizing frequently in the game is observation. What are these things you find yourself facing? What do they look like? What are they doing? How do they seem to behave towards you? How do they react to your actions? These are some of the kinds of things you can observe in the game.

This idea came to me from taking a quote from Toby Fox, developer of the now famous and wonderfully successful indie game Undertale, to heart. The game is one of my favorites, and there is a lot of inspiration I took away from it as well as many other sources from my long history of having video games for a life passion.

The specific quote I am talking about is this one from an interview he did with Escapist Magazine:

I feel that it’s important to make every monster feel like an individual. If you think about it basically all monsters in RPGs like Final Fantasy are the same, save for the graphics. They attack you, you heal, you attack them, they die. There’s no meaning to that. – Toby Fox

This really struck a chord with me. I’ve played countless RPGs over my 3 decades of life, ever since I was a small child I’ve enjoyed them immensely, and so having been exposed to so many over the years, I can recognize the truth and wisdom of this statement.

As I was still coming up with exactly what I wanted my game to do differently, and how to go about doing it, this idea of making the encounters appear to have more meaning was a driving factor behind what I ended up deciding on.

In Death? Preposterous! as you identify certain aspects of whatever you come in contact with, future encounters with similar creatures will reflect what you have already discovered about them.

Screenshot from 2017-11-28 13-27-23

The idea I had for it in my head is similar to what you might do when studying animal behavior. Part of the game will be about studying the behavior of the… whatever they are… that you end up meeting, and learning a little about them as you do. My hope is that this will take something mundane and otherwise forgettable that you would easily overlook in a typical RPG, and give it enough meaning that a player might enjoy discovering more about the things they face in the game.

I will further divulge some details on these unique puzzle style encounters that you will be able to experience in the game in a future development post. For now though, you should begin to get a small idea of what is in store for the game.

Developments #02: Death? Preposterous!

I believe it is of a paramount importance to attempt to create an experience for players that offers something unique, or at least uncommon.

Many would argue that everything has been done already regardless of your medium or genre at this point, and I will acknowledge that it becomes difficult to create something completely new.

However, even if you are creating something that has “already been done before” by many others, I believe it is important to look for ways you can do things differently, something about your creation that makes it stand out from the crowd in a way that is not seen very often. Aspire to have something that “makes it your own” in the sense that it is at least a little bit innovative.

Sometimes that can be a simple thing. Taking a look at game development in particular (though this concept applies to any sort of creative field) for example you might have a unique and custom battle system in your Role Playing Game. Sometimes it can be the art style that is unique. It doesn’t necessarily mean that everything about the entire experience needs to be original for something to be considered interesting or unique. In fact, some familiarity can be beneficial too.

One way that I am endeavoring to bring uniqueness to the experience in my indie RPG Death? Preposterous! is by making dialog with NPCs a bit more robust than you usually find. (For those who don’t know, NPC is short for Non-Player Characters, meaning characters that the player isn’t in control of.)

If you look at the way the average Role Playing Game tends to handle NPC dialog, you’ll find that most characters will have one or two things to say to the player, at which point if they try to speak with them further, they’ll just repeat themselves.

Often what will happen in a game is the player will talk to a few NPCs in the game, and maybe they’ll go around and talk to all of them in a given area once or twice. Many times though the many NPCs will go ignored, especially if the player already has a good idea of where to go and what to do next. This is because when NPCs are used generically and without creativity, they simply exist as  guides for the player to progress that, once conditions have been fulfilled, often times NPCs no longer hold any value to the player.

This creates very static and uninteresting NPC characters for the most part. Sure you might have a few memorable ones here and there if their lines are interesting enough and filled with enough personality, but that’s rarely the case.

Expecting the player to interact and engage with NPC characters that don’t add much to the experience is like expecting someone to re-read an operations manual when they are already well versed in operating a device.

The other thing you don’t see too often with NPCs is movement. NPC characters are almost always just hanging out in the same place, saying the same things, their sole purpose in life seems to be waiting around for the player to come find them so they can deliver their one or two lines and then fade away from relevance and memory.

For my game I have attempted to find ways to make NPCs a bit more interesting to engage with than the typical fare. Instead of just saying one or two things, they have a larger pool of dialog to select from at random, giving some variety to the conversations the player will get to engage with even from the unessential NPC characters. There will still be some characters that have more scripted dialog that are central to the story, but even these I endeavor to have that dialog change as the events in the game progress and unfold, giving them a bit more dynamic substance and expression.

Screenshot from 2017-11-21 10-50-59

And the other point I touched on was quite simple, a lack of movement. In Death? Preposterous! there will be times where you will meet the same NPC but in different areas, and there are also times where they will not always appear in areas where you have seen them previously. This is a very small thing, but it has a pretty important impact. What it does is this allows the NPCs a sense of purpose and makes it feel like they are living their lives in this place they inhabit. It adds an element of realism to the experience and makes these characters a bit more believable . They aren’t always going to be standing right in the town square saying the same two things they said 10 hours of game play time ago, long after the events they are talking about have been resolved.

It’s my belief that it is important to make these characters you encounter feel a bit more like actual people, and these are a few of the ways that I hope to give the player some sense of that. While eventually they will still succumb to the inevitable repetition in dialog, it will be more unpredictable in that sense. Between the deeper pool of dialog possibilities, and changes in conversations that reflect events as they transpire, my hope is that this should prove to make my game feel a little different than what you see in your average, generic, uninspired RPG.

Developments #01: Death? Preposterous!

Recently I have been working on getting the intro sequences in my upcoming game, Death? Preposterous! implemented in a rudimentary form.

As usual with things in active development, nothing presented here is 100% finalized so don’t be surprised if the look and feel changes between these development progress posts and release time.

With that out of the way, feast your eyes on one of the more prominent features of the introduction in the following image.

Screenshot from 2017-11-14 18-25-39

This particular piece of dialog is showing part of the protagonist’s inner thoughts during this part of the scene. A lot of times I feel like indie RPG Maker games rely heavily on the visuals to progress though and describe the events and scenes in the game. You will see characters vocalize quite a bit, even exchange banter with each other from time to time in some games.

However, in my opinion I feel like one area where they are commonly lacking a bit is getting inside a character’s head using internal dialog. You see it far more commonly in the visual novel genre of games than you do in RPG Maker games, and I believe that focus on internal thoughts and dialog  is also part of what helps books be commonly considered “better” than their movie or TV show counterparts a lot of the time.

Because you get to go inside the characters’ heads more, you get to understand their thought processes better, or at the very least you can get a better idea of why they performed some of their actions or reactions, and their motivations driving them forward. Sometimes you can express that in action sequences, but I feel like action scenes are not always best to rely upon solely. I think a mix of both internal dialog and external actions works well.

Below you can see a later part of this same scene where character dialog is being spoken aloud rather than thought. It’s these little kinds of touches that I have been fleshing out in the intro sequence, and will also be working on in the main dialog where it makes sense to include as well.

Screenshot from 2017-11-14 18-27-58

By the way, you might have noticed, or perhaps been curious about, that crazy glowing fence in the screenshots above. Well, I’ll just say it will be somewhat important to the proceedings during the game, so you can look forward to finding out what its significance is, and what it might entail during the adventure.

Unpopular Opinion #4

Dear society at large (especially entertainment/media): If you’re going to censor (read: control) anything, try cutting out violence, pain, fear, and trauma from the experience, instead of nudity, sex, or any other such positive expression of natural human beauty and love.

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