Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Complacency can be both toxic and healthy at different times.  It sure is the easy road to take in either case, though.

Hades Complete, Rhythm Quest work start

On being "finished" with Hades

Just last week or so I finished my 32-heat run in Hades -- this is the hardest achievement that the game really has you doing -- so I'm pretty much done with the game.  There's a bit more dialogue that I haven't seen, grindy optional achievements that I haven't gotten, and stuff like that, but I've certainly completed all of the main plotlines and feel pretty satisfied, having gotten through the final challenge of sorts.

I completed a total of 83 runs throughout my Hades career (the game conveniently keeps a log of all of them).  I reached the final* boss on run #4, which is extremely early (was carried by the strategy of staying away from enemies using the bow w/sniper shot, and also full refilling health between areas thanks to Strong Drink), though it was not until run #17 that I finished a run successfully.  Run #19 was the last run that I failed -- Runs #20 through #83 were all part of the same 64-run clear streak.  Admittedly I did quit out on a botched run to maintain that streak, but I think that one was a cast build which really didn't pan out due to my RNG with boons, so I don't particularly blame myself for that one.

The 32-heat accomplishment was surprisingly easy (I didn't expect to hit it on my first try), with the right build -- using the Shattered Shackle with Arthur sword, as recommended by some online guides.  This allows you to just do a bunch of damage with your normal (dash)-attack, and basically not really care about boons very much, which is great as it means you don't really have to have good RNG for the run.  Though certain boons and (more importantly) hammers can really help.  I happened to get the double dash-attack hammer, for example, which was a great boost to my damage, as well as Hermes' boon that gives you extra money per room, which turned out pretty useful for buying HP-replenishing items.  You have a 50HP bonus to start with from Arthur aspect, and you can liberally get Centaur Hearts since you hardly care about boons and/or money, so I ended up with a whopping 422 HP in the end, which is another strength of this build (allows you to make mistakes and still be OK since you're so tanky)

Most of my completed runs were actually not going for raw completion, but instead trying to farm for metacurrency resources -- which means saving up 1000 or 1200 gold to spend on the final area, which of course makes the run a bit harder as that money could have easily been used to afford other boons and other items.  I got "used to" playing the game in this manner, so when I went for my 16-heat run for example (with Chiron Bow), it really didn't feel that bad as I "took off the weights" and went for straight completion for that run.

I may try a few other 32-heat runs, just to see how other builds fare, but for the most part I'm ready to shelve this game and move onto other things.  I can safely say that this was wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyy more fun to grind out than the higher difficulties of Dead Cells, and my motivation for trying to clear 5BC on Dead Cells essentially vanished now.  Don't think I'll bother to return to that.

Next up I'll move onto something different, like perhaps SotN, or Mega Man X2, or Freespace.  Or, actually, it would probably be a good idea to play through Rhythm Doctor (early access!) first.  Speaking of which...


On starting work on Rhythm Quest again

I felt a bit restless (yet unmotivated?) this weekend, so somehow I found myself starting up on Rhythm Quest stuff, a bit earlier than I anticipated for myself.  Never too soon to start, I guess.  So I guess this is my first "work week" in earnest on my own indie game.

For the time being, most of my tasks are logistical and ramp-up related, so nothing super exciting.  I've been filling out some initial forms for Steam storefront distribution, registering in preparation for submitting an application for a Switch devkit, and looking into where I should post my devlogs (right now there are 3 main places -- on my website, on itch.io, and on tigsource.com).  I also waffled around a bit looking for a decent yet simple task tracker.  I was halfway towards just using a text file (hey, it's worked just fine for the rest of my life...), but in the end I made a board on Trello and have been using that.

Other than that, I have been doing...well, ramp-up work.  I haven't booted into the OSX partition on my personal laptop in ages (I had been living off of the windows partition, since my work laptop was almost always booted into OSX), but I'm going to need to use it to make iOS/OSX builds and the like, so I set up Unity/VSCode/etc/etc on it and got everything up and running.

I decided to also take this time to work on some very boring yet essential devops work -- nailing down my automated build pipelines.  Generating new builds of your game is a royal pain in the butt if you have to do it manually across a billion platforms (Windows, OSX, Linux, iOS, Android), each with their own requirements and extra steps (particularly iOS and Android, which have their own storefronts, code signing, and testing distribution programs).

Thankfully, we've come a long way since the days of yore when you had to do all this stuff by hand in XCode/etc.  I've been integrating a tool called fastlane (https://fastlane.tools/) which handles the bulk of the iOS/android stuff for you, and even has a unity plugin for triggering unity builds.  It even has some functionality for capturing app screenshots (though I haven't tried it out yet), which will also be useful.  While I could invoke the fastlane builds from the commandline directly or via script, I'm going even further and using a local install of Jenkins (https://www.jenkins.io/), a continuous deployment/automation server.

The end goal is that I can click a button and then have Jenkins spin up 4 processes in parallel, one for each of iOS, Android, Linux, and OSX, each with their own separate working folders, and go through all of the steps required to build a new version of my game, including deploying to TestFlight for iOS, etc.  I've actually made quite significant progress towards that (lofty) goal today, which is pretty exciting.  Unfortunately OSX can't make Unity IL2CPP windows builds right now, so I'd have to either use Mono or (more likely) use my Desktop for the windows builds, but that's not too much of a problem.  If I =really= wanted to I could even set up a Jenkins agent on my Windows machine, but Windows standalone builds aren't particularly slow to generate (the iOS and Android builds are really the killer), so we'll see if I end up going that far or just doing those manually instead.

I'll be continuing work towards that, but for the rest of the week I also want to record some gameplay footage and start setting up my devlog stuff so I can get into a good rhythm and cadence for that.  Exciting stuff!

Tuesday, May 4, 2021


I've been having assorted thoughts about "inclusiveness" and communication with regards to my content and behavior.  I haven't been sure how to really write about it all, so let's just start with this:

Every time that you use an inside reference, post a meme, make an in-joke, or even use slang or non-standard vernacular, you are creating a dividing line between people who are "in on it" and people who aren't.  That's not to say that this is an inherently bad thing, because it really isn't.  The reason why fan communities can oftentimes be so wonderful is because of a shared history and understanding that can, in turn, lead to a real sense of belonging.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, you can see this manifest in toxic behaviors such as gatekeeping, attention-seeking, and a culture of..."oppressive bandwagoning" for lack of a better term.

So my point is not that drawing this line is a good thing or a bad thing, but that it's important that we consciously recognize the lines we are drawing when we speak and write -- and when others speak and write.  And to go a step further, and question why we draw these lines.

When we choose to say "it me" instead of "I really relate to this", is it because we feel like the sentiment of the phrase just somehow "feels right" in describing how we feel?  Or is it because we saw someone else use the phrase online and also want to "get in" on the joke?  When we chat with our co-workers and make sarcastic remarks about how such-and-such department is so terrible and incompetent, are we trying to make humor at someone else's expense?  How would that experience feel if you had a close friend working in said department?  Would others feel pressured to express the same opinion as you even if they did not feel the same way?

In some (many?....most) of my workplace jobs I end up becoming the defacto "engineer that the non-engineers talk to" and I don't think it was just because of my charming good looks [tosses hair].  This past year, in particular, it became obvious that some of these people were coming to me specifically because they would privately message me instead of, say, posting to a message channel meant for engineers to field questions.  While there are certainly multiple factors at play here, I'd hazard that one of them is the simple fact that in these situations I try not to make assumptions about other people's technical knowledge when communicating with them (...though apparently the same is not true when I'm writing blog posts about obscure games [laughs]).  This means checking in before you start a spiel about how "Ah, yeah, the Geo-IP DB lookup is giving 532 because X-Forwarded-For isn't coming through".

That is not to toot my own horn and say that I am consistently good at this sort of thing, because the truth is that in many other facets of my life, I'm not (or at least, have not been).  I'm not always the most approachable person and I have been prone to making offhanded remarks that are exclusionary in nature.  I wouldn't really be having to think about these sorts of things as hard if it wasn't a problem.  But for whatever reason, this is something that I feel like I am slowly starting to become more cognizant of.

Something else that I have been seeing in myself is the tendency to add more qualifiers to my statements.  That previous sentence started as "this is something that I'm starting to become more cognizant of", for example.  This is something that I think has come with the experience of realizing that I'm simply not always right, even when it comes to making statements about myself.  And even if I am right, perhaps I don't always have to act like I am.  I think I've seen enough examples of people who do and don't do this, to know which way feels better.  But that, perhaps, is a topic for a different post.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Pop'n Music

Apparently I get more people interacting with my posts if I make them a bit more accessible by explaining what the hell I'm talking about, so let's try that.

Pop'n Music is a Japanese arcade rhythm game in Konami's "Bemani" series, which you may know from other titles, specifically Dance Dance Revolution, Beatmania IIDX, Para Para Paradise, etc.

Pop'n is one of the older Bemani games -- first released in 1998 (same time as DDR), and it's rarely seen in the wild here in the US (at least where I live), though it shows up sometimes in places like Japantown or anime cons.  Nowadays you're probably way more likely to see the more recent music games like Dancerush, Sound Voltex, Jubeat, etc......none of which I've played.  To the mainstream audience, titles like drummania, guitarfreaks, pop'n music, and even IIDX are probably virtually unknown next to DDR, but among Bemani enthusiasts pop'n is probably pretty well known.

To absolutely nobody's surprise, I'm interested in older Bemani series over newer ones, and in particular I've always had a love-at-a-distance crush on Pop'n Music.

pop'n music éclale - 地方創生☆チクワクティクス (EX) - YouTube

Unfortunately, the sheer impracticality of playing Pop'n Music regularly (and particularly, at home) meant that I would never really play it, and instead got myself into IIDX with a clunky-yet-functional konami official IIDX controller at home (after some years of playing with my computer keyboard).  IIDX hit all the right notes for me (pardon the pun) and I had quite a lot of fun with it, but I rarely touch it nowadays.

I guess this all started with a video that an acquaintance of mine posted about on twitter.  Specifically, this video of the fun song Ronron e Rairairai!, played by expert pop'n player TATSU, with some really flashy freestyle adlibbing and handcrossing in the middle.


This video still makes me happy watching it.  The song isn't particularly hard compared to whatever monster charts that exist in the upper echelons of Pop'n, but watching this video, I really can't help but want to play this game, it just looks SO FUN!

That was a while back (3-4 years ago?), but I recently remembered the video again and wondered if playing Pop'n music was actually feasible for me now.  Getting the games was a little tricky, but ended up not being a problem in the end, so that was half the equation.

The other half was the tricky part -- getting a Pop'n music controller that I could play with at home.  For those who aren't familiar, Pop'n music controllers don't exactly look like normal gamepads.  They're huge rectangular things that look like this:


Unfortunately, everything I found was sort of out of my price range, especially considering the quality that you ended up getting.  This arcade-style controller from DJDao seemed to be the main option, but that's $239 plus a hefty shipping cost (these things...aren't exactly easy to ship).  Based on hearsay the controller seemed to be "decent", with people recommending swapping out the buttons for a different brand if possible (more money....).

The other option was the upcoming "premium edition controller", purportedly being produced currently and slated to release later this year in summer (in Japan...).  Based on videos of the prototype it seemed like a superior product to anything else that was out there -- good feel, reliable, and importantly, did well at not being super loud, as these controllers tend to be (you are "smacking plastic hamburgers" after all, as one person put it).

I resolved that if I was going to shell out a bunch of money on something, it may as well be something good, so I decided to just wait and see whether I could get my hands on one of these new controllers.  The other option (also common with DDR pads) would be to build a controller yourself, but that wasn't really in the cards for me (and if it was, I probably would have already built myself a DDR pad...).

Fastforward to April and providence smiled upon me as an acquaintance coincidentally happened to have an arcade-style controller (much like the one pictured above) sitting around collecting dust and needed a home.  So now I find myself the happy owner of a fully functional hand-me-down that seems to be working just great so far!  As expected, the controller is a noisy one, though I did a small hack mod, adding some cotton cutouts inside the buttons to make them a little less clackety, which seems to have helped.

And so, I've been enjoying pop'n music now!  It's been great fun so far, even more fun than IIDX, honestly.  IIDX appeals to me as more of a "finger-based" game rather than moving your arms and hands around all the time, but I've never been good at pinky scratching (having practiced on a keyboard controller), and something about moving your hands around to hit all the buttons is really satisfying.

The other significant thing I will mention is that Pop'n music not only looks super cute and fun in terms of aesthetic but also has a way better music selection than both DDR and IIDX (at least, of the mixes I've played).  There's trance, there's metal, there's ska, there's jpop, there's anime songs, touhou music, interesting instrumental fusion genres, etc etc etc.  It's a breath of fresh air compared to some of the IIDX/DDR mixes I've grown used to.

I'm currently hovering around the ~32 difficulty range (difficulty goes from 1-50, though is probably not really linear), and expect that I'll climb up to somewhat higher difficulties as I get used to reading and hitting notes more and more.  I'm looking forward to it!

I guess this whole post boils down to "yeah, I had an older game on the mind and decided to go and play it".  We've certainly heard this story before, lol.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Qutting my Job / Rhythm Quest / Ludum Dare 48 / etc

Alright, it's been a while, so there is quite a lot to cover, probably across multiple posts.  Let's get into it.

On quitting my job

I quit my job last week!  I decided it was time for me to move on, specifically I want to take time to develop and publish "Rhythm Quest", an indie rhythm game that I worked on for a brief stint 2 years ago (I was also between jobs then).

I've made a good 30+ games in my time, with varying genres and degrees of quality, but I've never actually shipped and published a commercial game by myself before.  (All of my existing games are completely free)  Of course, when I say "shipping and publishing a commercial" game I don't just mean "raising the price of one of my free games to $1", I mean actually going through the motions of completing an entire project and releasing it as a commercial title.  Making a video game (in any regard) is remarkably difficult work, but given my experience it really seems quite within my realm of possibility, so it's something that I'd very much like to check off my proverbial bucket list.

So the plan is to take a short amount of time (some weeks) to take a break and catch up on stuff, then spend a few months (3-4?) working on Rhythm Quest and seeing how much of it I can get done, given that I'll hopefully be dedicating myself to it seriously (something I've never quite done before with this level of ambition).  Of course, we'll see where things go from there, but I don't want this to become some massive thing that ends up sucking a year or more of my time from me (and it shouldn't, if I'm doing things right).

Being unemployed (self-employed?) isn't in the cards for me long-term, this is more of a brief stint for me to do something that in all honestly feels like I "should have already done" at some point.

On my indie game project

One of the good things about Rhythm Quest (title is admittedly still tentative) is that a playable prototype/demo already exists, so it's not like I'm starting from the ground up (though I haven't opened this project in over a year, so there is definitely going to be some amount of inertia in getting it rolling again).

Rhythm Quest is, as you might imagine, a music-based game.  It's quite similar to Ripple Runner (RIP Flash), which itself won 2nd place in Ludum Dare and gained a bit of a cult following in Korea, so I know there has been an audience for this sort of thing.

The music, art, coding, and design is all being handled completely by myself, so it really will be a one-man project.  Interestingly enough, my skills in some of these areas (my pixel art in particular) has evolved over the course of the past 2 years.  A less-experienced game dev might feel an urge to "start over from scratch and do things better this time", but I've worked on enough things to know that that's not an attitude you want to adopt if you're to get anything real accomplished.

Rhythm Quest should be available for PC/Mac, iOS/Android, and.....=maybe= Switch (we'll see about that one).  There may be a web demo at some point as well (hey, it worked great for Rhythm Doctor!).

I am hoping to establish a sort of devlog of sorts -- the ones I've seen on the TIGSource forums have been rather inspiring -- so you can look forward to seeing those posts eventually.  But that's all later in the future, as I'm really not ready to start up the Rhythm Quest train again quite yet.  But it'll happen, of course.  You know how I am about finishing things that I started.

On Ludum Dare 48

The day immediately after quitting my job was the start of the 48th round of Ludum Dare, a weekend-long game jam where you're given 48 or 72 hours (depending on division) to create a game from scratch around a theme that is announced at the start of the jam.  This time the theme was "Deeper and deeper", and we made a whimsical adventure game about exploring a cat's dreams.

If you'd like to try the game in its current state, you can find it on the usual cocoamoss / ddrkirby sites, or on the LD site itself.  Else, we are hoping to iron out some of the content that we didn't really get to finish or polish up, and doing a more full-fledged release, so you can look out to hearing about that in the future.

One of our goals this time for LD was to play things a little more loosely in terms of not focusing so much on having a crystal clear picture of how everything in our game (particularly the narrative) would fit together in the end.  Trying to wrangle an incomplete idea into something perfect too early in the process frequently results in frustration, and I think that is something I/we have struggled with a bit in the past.  I myself used to struggle with this idea a lot in my songwriting process as well -- trying to introduce too much structure into the process at an early state tends to cut off creativity and lead to getting "stuck".  In music I've learned that it's best to trust my initial instincts and go with the flow rather than trying to force things into a certain (perfect) shape, and I think I'm perhaps beginning to learn that through the lens of game development as well.  Even though I would not consider myself to be a very "spontaneous" or "creative" person, I still do my best work when I feel free to chase after those threads that feel most exciting, rather than trying to lay down a concrete path to a specific destination.

On birthday stuff

My birthday passed without incident this year, perhaps more so than usual since we are still socially isolating in these areas.  Though, even without that, my birthday usually coincides pretty closely with the April LD event anyways.

I did end up celebrating by "doing a shot", and by that I mean getting my first vaccine dose.  Was a pretty interesting experience getting to wait in a line and people-watch a bit for the first time in a bit.

I disabled FB posting on my "profile" as I do every year, but funnily enough I cannot remember the last time anybody else even used this feature so it probably wouldn't even matter if it stayed permanently disabled.  I wouldn't be shocked if people literally only use this for people's birthdays.  People used to, you know, actually visit other people's online spaces?  But nowadays why would you do that when you can instead just plug into your fb/twitter feed of mostly-irrelevant-posts, doom-posting, memes, selfies, and news articles?  .........

Ok, moving on...


On life in general

Life is in a pretty good spot right now.  I mean, hard not to when I've got the liberty to "just relax" right now.  And by "just relax" I mean I've actually still got a dozen to-do items that I've been working on, one of which is these blog posts.  Business as usual in my life, really.  Like clockwork, I keep on ticking onward and onward; it's near-impossible for me not to.

Which reminds me, I -- amazingly -- somehow completely missed OHC last week.  I was more shocked than disappointed, as I don't think this has ever happened before in my history of ~400 OHC rounds.  Sure, I've definitely missed rounds before due to being in other countries, or had something else going on, or whatever, but I don't think I've ever just plain forgotten about it.  I think the past few weeks have seen me make a few more of these absent-minded mistakes for whatever reason.  This one in particular I think was because it was the last day of my job and I was busy trying to prep for Ludum Dare, so my mind probably just forgot that it was a Thursday.  Just goes to show you that even I am but a mere mortal sometimes.

On eating less meat

As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm starting to go "half-vegetarian" to reduce my meat intake, for both practical and environmental reasons.  So far it's been....relatively smooth and unexciting, as I'm being pretty relaxed about it.  Cooking without meat is sort of a new sort of skill, so I've been learning and getting experience with new dishes like a red lentil dahl curry (Indian cuisine seems to unsurprisingly have a lot of great vegetarian options).  That one in particular was pretty exciting since it uses pretty much all shelf-stable ingredients.

So, I guess stay tuned for more reports on other dishes that work well for my new diet.  I've been eating a bunch of sichuan "fish-fragrant" braised eggplant recently, along with sichuan dry-fried green beans.  the green beans in particular have been pretty easy to make and pretty tasty in terms of flavor, so that one is pretty nice.

That's about it for updates, I think.  I'll maybe cover the other stuff later...

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Sayuri may be quiet but she accepts herself fully and unapologetically.  After all, only those who are insecure feel the need to prove themselves.  Perhaps that is the reason why I look up to her so much.

We, who were never given "permission" to accept ourselves in the first place.  We must find that possibility for ourselves.  Somehow.

I wish I could be your harbor

Like she wished she could wrap her wings around me

I'll never replace the one that you lost

Like you will never bring back the one that left me

You took my hand once upon a time

But in the end we are both alone

Sunday, April 18, 2021

In keeping with my usual tastes, I'm playing games from as far back as 30 years ago up to games that were released just recently.

Games that I am currently (actively) playing:

- The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1991) - Randomizer
- Pharaoh/Cleopatra (1999)
- Stardew Valley (2016)
- Hades (2020)

Games I am thinking about or looking forward to playing:

- Terranigma (1995)
- Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997)
- Descent: Freespace - The Great War (1998)
- Zeus/Poseidon (2000)
- Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom (2002)
- Mother 3 (2006)
- Don't Starve Together (2016)
- Omori (2020)
- Rhythm Doctor (2021)
- Sky: Children of Light (switch port) (2021)


Anime I am currently watching:

- Princess Tutu (2002)

Anime to watch next:

- Revue Starlight (2018)
- Higurashi: When They Cry - Gou (2020)

Others on the eventual list:

- Cowboy Bepop (1998)
- Serial Experiments Lain (1998)
- R.O.D. the TV (2003)
- Samurai Shamploo (2004)
- Jujutsu Kaisen (2020)

Another recurring theme -- some of these are of course things I've already played or watched before.  I often feel like if I can't remember it well enough then it's worth playing or watching again.  I don't think I will ever understand the need to constantly progress and consume new content exclusively.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Statements of solidarity are beginning to read like terms of service agreements.  And by that I mean I feel like they are beginning to not be worth reading at all.  There are only so many variations on "We stand in solidarity with _____ and are outraged and deeply saddened by _____.  We at _____ decry these acts and are committed to blahblahblah" that you can read before realizing that the words are meaningless.

Shoutout to those who are in the trenches doing god's work, and even more importantly, shoutout to all the homies out there who are doing the countless small things that, in the end, are the only things that matter.  Again, again, again, and again.  Because when we put our small effort into something for so long, the world can begin to heal.

One single "That's not okay.  Leave them alone." can mean more than all of the solidarity statements put together.  One single question "Are you okay?  How can I help?" can create a larger change than any number of meetings and talks.

I must keep trying.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Ok, here goes.

There's some changes coming ahead on the horizon.  But first, I need to get through the rest of the month.  That includes Ludum Dare 48, which is happening in just two weeks !?!? ohcrap.

Last LD I had inklings of using chill music in our game since I was interested in that sort of thing.  That totally didn't happen, haha.  This LD I am once again having the goal of "trying not to try too hard".  I haven't really succeeded in this goal very much in the past, so let's give it another go and try to bite off less than usual this time.  It of course is always a difficult struggle, as there's no point in making "yet another generic platformer", but at the same time a lot of interesting ideas involve lots of assets (work...), creative design (hard...), or try to tell a story (hard AND work...).  Perhaps the key here is to work on something that from the get-go doesn't try to take itself very seriously.  To just build stuff without caring if it even makes that much cohesive sense.  We'll see, I guess.


I've been playing more Pharaoh/Cleopatra and interestingly enough, I've found it to be less satisfying than Caesar 3 so far, though it does seem to be picking up a little bit.  Part of this is because Caesar 3 spoiled me a bit by having the open-source Julius/Augustus port, but a big part of this is actually due to how the objectives and missions in Pharaoh are structured.  Many of the missions in Pharaoh involve building one or more monuments as part of the objectives (a pyramid, an obelisk, a bigger pyramid, a big tomb, an even bigger pyramid, the sphinx, etc) and I think this is one of the "cooler" parts of the game, seeing the construction of the monument take place and watching the workers haul the stones and set them in place and everything.

The problem is that gameplay-wise, building monuments is......pretty boring.  The building of the monument isn't really tied to the rest of your city, meaning the optimal strategy is just to get your city stabilized and running with a steady cashflow and worker count, and then work on the monument after that.  But at that point, there's not really any challenge anymore -- it's just a matter of getting all of the resources and then watching as the workers take a long time to build the darn thing.  And it takes a looooooong time for some of these monuments -- time when you essentially just max out the gamespeed and don't really do anything.

The real interesting part of these city-building games is trying to evolve stable housing blocks with increasing numbers of different needs, while at the same time managing exports for income, fulfilling requests for goods, and (sometimes) defending your city against invasions.  All of this is a pretty active process -- achieving all of these goals requires you to build new buildings, new housing blocks, new roads, etc.  And elevating your housing blocks more and more is really the fun part of the game, especially since each map (or at least, the well-designed maps) restricts you in some way -- maybe there's not much farmland.  Maybe you need to import many natural resources.  Maybe there's a bunch of mountains everywhere.

Now, there are a few other goals which can suffer from the same sort of "just wait until you hit them" problem.  The "Kingdom"/"Favor" rating, for example, is primarily raised by either giving money to the empire/caesar, or by successfully fulfilling requests for goods, which come every once in a while.  So if that's the only rating you're missing out on, and you have a stable city, you just fast-forward the game until you get some requests to fulfill and you win.  boooring.  But at least this rating does have some consequence in that if your favor drops TOO low (you couldn't fulfill requests, you went into debt), pharaoh/caesar will come to conquer your city for being incompetent.

The "culture" rating is a little similar too in that it's best to work on it after everything else is done -- you can just spam entertainment and education/culture buildings throughout your city at the end to hit this rating.  But you have to have enough workers to support that in the first place, and at the very least, you still have to put active work into laying out these buildings.  And it doesn't take forever.

The monuments, on the other hand, they take forever and a lot of it is just idle time.  Yes, there are ways to try and optimize build speed (make sure you have all of the resources lined up, build enough work camps, etc), but in terms of gameplay this has consistently been the least-interesting goal to achieve and takes a disproportionate amount of time to achieve it.

Thankfully I seem to be past the great pyramid-building missions so it seems that the focus will (?) maybe be a little higher on housing block evolution from now on, but we'll see.

In other (probably more relevant to you) news, I am starting to try reducing my meat consumption by taking vegetarian/flexitarian/pescetarian meals at lunch.  I've always wanted to reduce my dependence on needing to have meat as a part of every meal for practical reasons (meat often spoils more quickly than most produce, it's annoying to have to include cooked protein as part of every meal), though of course it has environmental benefits as well.  So I'm trying to start things of gradually by trying to cut out meat from my lunchtime (though I'm ok with being flexible if for example there's some protein that needs to be used before it goes bad).

Turns out that being vegetarian/vegan also sort of means learning a new type of cuisine as a lot of my meals tend to center around meat, so I'm looking forward to picking up some new culinary experience along the way.