Gamify your life. Join the world of HabitRPG.

Trekking across the wasteland of Bad Habits, seeing the Mountains of your Daily Tasks looming ahead of you, you find yourself wondering why a simple adventure and professional procrastinator like yourself ever hoped to achieve in the land of HabitRPG. Since coming here you have encountered nothing but the woes of missed daily tasks, the ever increasing pressure of the looming ToDo list and you have a lion cub (which hatched from an egg, for heaven’s sake) that is constantly hungry. The urge to give up, to take the potion of Delete Account is strong but… on the horizon you see a beast approaching you. You recognize it well, it comes for you daily so you quickly put the cub down and run to face it, lest it deals damage to your beloved pet…

It is called Dehydration, and it can only be kept at bay by increasing your strength at the office water cooler. You must drink, not one, not two but three glasses of water during the morning, lest it decides to kill you at night… You scramble up from your desk, charge towards the water cooler and…

Drink three glasses of water. The monster is defeated, you are safe for another day.

It plays like an adventure, a world in which you can create yourself to be a rogue, wizard or warrior by completely daily tasks, but it is much more than that. Habit RPG is a stroke of ingenuity created by web designer Tyler Renelle. It is meant to ‘gamify’ your life, to cast you into a role playing game scenario where the only way to level up your character is to completely the daily tasks that you set for yourself. It started off as a kickstarter project and grew into a community of souls seeking simply to get a grip of their life. I was pointed to the site by a friend of mine, and soon became hooked. It spoke to my slightly OCD tendency to create lists and strike out my daily to dos.

It is certainly more satisfying than simply crossing out an achieved objective.

jqnctnricrjbrpho4rjrI have found it to be quite enlightening. The community is support of each other, and there are guilds and parties to suit every person’s need. You find yourself fighting monsters alongside friends who are also simply trying to remember to drink their pills in the morning, or a party of resistors trying to find some way to remember to drink enough water in a day. For a gamer such as myself, it’s livened up the mediocre and the bland and it’s certainly made me focus on a few of the things I am so prone on forgetting.

If you wish to know more, you can explore it’s wikia site here, or simply join the website here.

Enjoy!

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Gaming Interlude: The Long Dark.

I can hardly call it a game review yet, because I haven’t gotten that far. But, after playing it again for a few hours today, it’s dawned on me that this game needs to be mentioned. It needs to be discussed, experienced.

It needs to be shared.

I spoke about my recent infatuation with Indie Games and how I’ve begun to look at them with a new pair of eyes. As it came on sale in Steam’s Black Friday dash, I realised that The Long Dark might be worth looking into. One look at the trailer and hearing Jennifer Hale’s voice immediately told me that this game was going to be different. A Guinness world record holding voice actress wouldn’t bother aiding a development that was subpar. Or that was the justification that I used to myself when I pulled out my credit card.

Made by independent studio Hinterland, The Long Dark is still in development and only available on Steam’s Early Access. The game, that only has its Sandbox mode enabled so far, costs about $20, though if one keeps an eye out, you might able to find it on special. I paid about $13 for it, but a mate of mine got it for as cheap as $10. My discussion of the price is hardly relevant though, because even uncompleted, this game is still worth it and I’d have been satisfied with my purchase regardless of whether the developers evolved it further or not.

What pulled me to the game was the tone. Even in the first trailer one could feel the isolation of the protagonist, the vast land and impossible task of surviving dwindling in the distance with the threat of wolves, dehydration, starvation and hypothermia mere moments away at any given point in time. The Sand Box mode has got no story, simply one goal and that is to survive the cold night.

I thought that it would be easy, but I was mistaken.

Even with the graphics not being AAA style, let-me-see-that-blemish-up-close, detailed it comes to life in a way that threatens to overwhelm all of one’s senses. The difference between footsteps on tar and snow, on ice and gravel. The breath that moves before you as temperatures threaten to fall further than your insufficiently clad body can deal with. The wind, the darkness. The silence. It’s summer in my country at the moment and even I can feel the breath of cold air on my neck and the need the shield my face from the snow as I move the character forward. The Long Dark is a fest of immersion.

Still being in development, it is not without its flaws. I find sometimes that attacking wolves would levitate either to the left or right before they attack me. That makes them particularly hard to avoid or shoot. I’ve encountered one or two objects that I can’t pick up and I really want the developers to consider actually putting something worthwhile in a locked storage unit that I risked life and limb to open. I also think that the wolves are glitchy in general and needs to be tweaked because they are damn hard to kill. The mechanics of the wolf attacks just doesn’t work and sadly, guns and ammo are very hard to come by. I’ve spend hours exploring the Coastal Highway without finding one sniff of a rifle. That part can be frustrating because inevitably, the protagonist will have deal with the dark beasties.

But, these complaints are but a bitter drop in the ocean of satisfaction. I love this game, I love the isolation, the loneliness, the sombre tones and realisation that one is the only person in a frozen wasteland that echoes of lives scattered around like frozen corpses. I look forward to seeing what the developers will be doing in the future but even if it is absolutely nothing I will come back face the darkness again and again and again.

Game Review: Banished

Image courtesy of pooterman @deviantart.com

It should be noted that most of the games I’ve played recently I didn’t go out to discover myself. Mostly I discovered them due to the persistent badgering of my friend Ris. I have a very love hate relationship towards gaming because it is very counterproductive. If you’re sitting down and playing games, then you can’t write, think about your plot or do any sensible kind of work. I’ll confess it was one of the reasons I liked having a Tamagotchi as a child because although you were constantly aware that you were ‘playing a game’ you could also put it into your pocket and forget about it while you busied yourself with school work.

I didn’t think that this sort of experience existed anymore until I was introduced to Banished.

Developed by Shining Rock Software, Banished is an indie game which makes you responsible for a group of villagers who had had to leave their birth place, most probably under suspect circumstances. You have to make sure they have lodgings, food and sufficient resources not only to get through the winter but to expand their population as well. You don’t have any direct control over the villagers, rather functioning as an omnipresent power that works as the inspiration as to where (or whether) they should put up that Brewery… You can decide how difficult you want your starting positions to be and you can decide whether your villagers can be affected by natural disasters or not so the game provides a fairly decent learning curve (though the training wheels fall off eventually, so be warned).

And, you can simply leave the game to run by itself.

It’s one of the reason’s I’ve clocked so many hours in it, because I set up my village and then leave to see how my new developments affect my people (or whether they bother completing it at all). I’ve had the game running in boardroom meetings, during NaNoWriMo, over weekends. Apart from trying to figure out how village expansion rate vs food resources, the game requires very little mental processing (if you’re not me that is, I went obsessive, set up an excel spreadsheet and tried to beat the game with pure mathematical statistics). You can simply set it up and let it run.

Apart from World of Goo that I played with its release, Banished was the first real exposure that I had to indie gaming. Originally, I had resisted playing the game simply because, like a badly advertised self published novel, I didn’t think that it would be worth my time. But, the persistence of a friend won out and I was proven delightfully wrong. The mechanics were solid, the graphics delightful and the attention to detail (such as needing to maintain a reasonable hunting rate, lest one depopulated the deer) was a marvel. And, it’s not as easy as it first appears, especially when you realise for instance that your population can become too old to reproduce.

It’s not action packed, it’s not emotional (thought you can get pretty emotional when you see a hurricane happily make its way through your village) and it doesn’t have a story. (Or, your village might not but I make a point of taking note who is born and what they achieve in their lifetime. Especially the child named Demon…)  But, it is fun and that is the basic building block, no, the foundation of games. And, it was developed by a single person, so you have to give him kudos for that.

It’s a game that feels as if it has been specially designed for myself. My obsession with numbers and predicting the statistical outcome of resource procurement, combined with my tendency to zone out in front of the computer without the need to think, made this the perfect game.

Ultimately, it’s the kind of game I’d comfortably recommend to anybody who needs a distraction without being completely sucked into another world. It’s reasonably priced and if you consider how many hours of gaming you can get out of it (as well as replay value – there’s something very exciting about starting up a new village, because you don’t know whether they’ll make it…) it’s certainly an economical buy.

Banished is easily available on Steam and GOG.com.

Experience – Uniqueness

Due to circumstance, I’ve always been a bit of a console gamer. My reasons for this range from as simple as: Well, I have a PlayStation. To: I don’t like gaming where I write. The latter is especially true. My computer has always been for work strictly. Games provided too much background noise.

That concept changed this year. With the new console generation knocking at my door and demanding to be let in at a ridiculous price with whole bunch of unsurely friends that I don’t want to give the time of day to (Destiny, cough Destiny) I figured I’ll change my pace and get a computer capable of playing games. This goal was helped on by me unwillingly donating my computer to township charity when some smuck from the street broke into my house pre NaNoWriMo 2013 and relieved me of my laptop.

It took me a while to gather the funds but settled for a Toshiba 15’6 screen laptop with a Nvidia Geforce graphic card and a Core i5. I got it on a steal of a deal and although I know the i5 wasn’t ideal it does serve its purpose. Too well.

With desktop gaming came the inevitable exposure to Indie Games. I’ve always thought that Independently Developed games were the same as self-published novels. Ideas that never quite made the cut in big companies that’s… cute but not really worth the effort. (A bit hypocritical I know, but this statement comes from experience Indie Authors. I’ve never really read one book that was self-published that made me go: WTF was wrong with the publishers for not printing this?! I live to be corrected of course and love being proven wrong. And don’t tell me Fifty Shades of Grey was self-published in the beginning. That DOES NOT prove my point!!).

Getting off of THAT rant…

It turned out that indie gaming was more defined. It was independent developers standing up and saying: You know what, I’m going to make a game that I like. I’m going to take a risk and put something together that is unique. You won’t find an Assassin’s Creed serial in indie gaming, nor something as stretched out and thin of plot as Call of Duty or Battlefield. If I reflect on 2014 I hardly paid any mind to ANY of the triple A games (ok exception: Shadow of Mordor, Dragon Age (Damn you Bioware, DAMN YOU), Alien Isolation, I intend to bed you as soon as you become cheaper) and ended up filling my palate with Indie games downloaded from Steam and GOG.com. I have to confess that I would never have looked at them if it wasn’t for my mate Ris but I have and now there’s no coming back.

The fact is that every one of them deserves a review. Deserves notice and mention. And, as time presents itself, I’ll certainly do so.  What pulled me to the various games is their difference in presentation and the experiences that they provide. That risks and effort that I saw the developers put in. Last year saw Call of Duty Ghosts marketed with the phrase: We have a dog.

I can’t imagine a less thought out and slap dash advertisement campaign than that. Assassin’s Creed is marketed by “The Ultimate Multiplayer Experience.” My thoughts on THAT was: Well skippy do arseholes, join the line. I’m not sure whether this is just a part of growing up but I’m just not interested in all these franchises anymore because there is nothing new. The only new game (2013, yes, I know I’m behind) that I can think of to mention was The Last of Us. And it wasn’t that unique (stealth, killing, fighting off infected) as it was simply fantastically executed.

I’m not saying that all indie games are good, not all novels are either, but the gems that have come to light not only have replay value, but it has a charm that leads me to become bolder and taking risks with purchases. I want to give these people my money. Their games might not be as graphic loaded as the top developers but they pull me in and keep me. I had a look at my logs the other day to see which 5 games I’ve put the most time into in the past 2 years and the list was surprising.

It read like this:

Not only did Indie Games wrap up the top and bottom of my list, but they stood proudly among games that I found to be arguable some of the best time I’ve wasted in my life. (I’ll not think about the fact in general that, if I had actually just bothered to write in those hours, at a pace of 2000 words per hour, I could’ve had a series of 2,8 million words…). And the triple A games like Mass Effect cost me over R700 (About $50) to purchase – Don’t Starve cost me (or rather Ris, who gave it to me) R70 ($5). If you bring in the words: “return on investment,” Indie Games win.

I’ve become somewhat bitter about the big releases, about the future of gaming. I’m not sure whether I’ve just been at it for too long, but the truth is that I’m not excited by new big releases anymore. I look at the games and go ‘meh’. Or: Ag. Ok. Maybe. Someday. And then go back and try and save my village from starvation in Banished. The reality of my life is that, despite the figures presented above, I actually have very little time to put into games. So, if I have a moment to do so, I want to make it worth my own while. Rechewing the pimped out plot of Infamous (which should’ve stopped at 2 – just saying) or staring at another plot holed filled Resident Evil scene doesn’t strike me as time well spend.

Again, I live to be proven wrong and I have looked into my future and seen myself sitting beside a PlayStation 4. Because inevitably some big flashy company IS going to cough out something that I want. But that time isn’t now. This is the time for developers like Klei Entertainment to keep me up in the middle of the night.

For fledgling companies like Hinterland Studios to keep me at the edge of my seat.

This is the time of Indie Developers.

Harry Potter and the Mass Effect Ending

I’ve never really been a big fan of the Harry Potter franchise, having read the books purely to know what everybody else was on about rather because I wanted to know what was going to happen in the story. Although engaging, JK Rowling didn’t do what she did (in my opinion) better than any of my other favourite authors such as Stephen Donaldson or Terry Pratchett. I didn’t like Harry, I wanted to slap Ron half of the time and I could never really shake the feeling that Hermoine would’ve done so much better for herself in life if she just dropped the boy tags and went to practice wizardry on her own. That said, I have more respect for JK Rowling than any other author around.

Why?

Well. Because of the way she ended her series. I don’t think that there was ever any more pressure on an author, who had billions of fans either through the movie media or books, to end her series well. She had made it very clear in interviews before the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that she was going to end the series, that after that book there was going to be no more Harry Potter. I firmly believed that she was going to kill off Harry but she did something better. She provided the characters with closure. She gave us a glimpse ten years into the future where the characters are standing on the platform of the train seeing their children off to school. It said: All is well. The world is at peace, Voldamort has been truly vanquished and despite all the hardships these character went through they are well, and they are happy and their stories are truly over. It struck me as brilliant and although I had my problems with some of the social interactions in that epilogue, I realised that it was one of the smartest things that Rowling could’ve done. She ended her books and gave her fans no way to demand another. There must’ve been so much pressure on her to continue it because of its popularity but she stuck to her guns and closed that chapter off for good.

And, she didn’t disappoint any fans in the process.

I think that you can draw a parallel between these two stories because you’re sitting with two very popular media with two very popular characters. Shepard was Mass Effect’s Harry Potter, the person through whose eyes we interacted with the world and other people. We saw people as Shepard did, we interacted with them through the scope of her dialogue. This interaction made the character very real to us, much more so than Harry Potter in which we were essentially a fly on the wall. We had to sit back and think: What would my Shepard do? How would she react? It gave the gamers an opportunity to really get to know their characters and grow to love them. I kept a finger on my Shepard’s pulse throughout the game, always imagine what she would feel, what would frighten her, what would drive her into despair. And, I knew what gave her hope, what made her fight. If you asked a friend of mine Ris what I wanted from the Mass Effect ending she’ll tell you with a big grin on her face: Little Blue Children.

Because that’s what my Shepard wanted.

A simple plot device but really, what I truly wanted was a happy ending. My Shepard had been under so much pressure over the past few games that I wanted the woman, who had sacrificed everything for humanity and the galaxy to be allowed to sit back and watch her children grow up just as Harry had been allowed to see his. As a writer, I feel that you owe characters a little bit of what you took during your journey with them. Call it writer’s karma if you will.

The fact is that, despite the Extended Cut dlc, I still don’t feel as if that karma has been restored in Shepard’s favour. The original reason I disliked the ending is still there. The catalyst which was a serious leap in which the writers essentially tried to outsmart their audience and the feeling that I didn’t really win. That there was no reward. Oh yes, there are gaps left for imagination and fan fiction galore. But, there’s nothing from the original writers, that salute that said: Thank you Shepard for all your sacrifice, here is your reward for all the hell we put you through.

The thing with Bioware was that they were very good with creating expectations but I think that ultimately they lost track of what their fans really wanted. If you were in the BSN forums before ME3’s release you’d see people speculating about what would happen, not in the war against the reapers but to their love interests, their squad mates, their squad mates’ personal lives. They didn’t care for the guns and the fighting and even the explanation as to what the Reapers were. They wanted to know about their friends. Because, let’s face it. Mass Effect isn’t really about the combat. The gameplay’s just point and shoot. If you want combat but very little gameplay, play Rage. It’s a pretty game with awesome combat but very little engaging story. Mass Effect is about the story. It’s about Shepard and her crew and how they fared in this terrible, terrible war. Bioware resolved to correct this in the DLC and they did, to an extent, but core dynamics of where they went wrong is still there. And, the very fact that they put it in there to begin with before the extended cut makes me well and truly mad.

Now again, one can argue that this isn’t about what the fans wanted, that ultimately a game such as Mass Effect belongs to its creators and they can do with it what they please… But, then they shouldn’t have have put fans under the illusion that they had some hand in what was being decided.

I think that ultimately in my mind, Mass Effect 3’s ending remains a failure. The appearance of the catalyst, my Shepard’s inability to use any logical argument against it. The fact that – if you do refuse to do anything that the catalyst says, you get that ultimate failure ending. It felt a bit like a jab in the fan’s direction, as if Bioware was saying:

Fine, we gave you your happy ending. In pictures. That consumed about 1.8GB’s worth of data. But we’re also just informing you that if you do not play the game as we wanted you to play it, if you want to take a scrap if ingenuity… We will make sure you know that you’ve lost. This is our art after all.

This is not the kind of company and writing style that I would want to deal with again. If this is their idea of closing what I consider to be one of the best games ever created, then what does that hold for their future? And for mine? Did they truly learn from this or will we see a repeat of it in the future? With Harry Potter, the author put her stamp on the ending as she saw fit, but she did it in such a way that didn’t leave the fans demanding a retraction or fume at how she did it. Another mate of mine, Ralfast said that Bioware tried (and failed) to outsmart their fans in the end and I do believe that he had a point. It was almost like the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy where ultimately the writers completely lost track of the true focus of the story and tried to make it more than it was.

If I ever make myself play the game again, I will always choose my ending to destroy the reapers. I still cannot understand how Bioware can think that Synthesis is the ultimate choice. I can’t help but feel that they should all sit down and watch a little Star Trek Voyager and see Seven of Nine’s progression from being part of the Borg collective to being an individual. Say what you will about that specific series, Seven of Nine’s progression as a character was amazing and in the end she truly saw the worth of what it means to be unique.

Of course, that I am grateful that Bioware did this goes without saying. As I pointed out in a previous post, they didn’t have to. But, they showed enough interest in their fan’s opinions that they took this time and effort to make it. It’s just a shame that they didn’t really change it, despite providing more closure. For myself, I will always pretend that the Indoctrination Theory is the full truth and that ultimately my Shepard will get her opportunity not only to be reunited with her love interest, but to have her blue children and her reward of peace for sacrificing as much as she did to save the galaxy. Because that was what I wanted for her, because in the end – that’s all the game was about for me. To see my Shepard, not the galaxy, win. To see my friends live.

And my Shepard’s legacy continue, not in the hollow words of an unnamed child and his grandfather, but in the eyes of her children and her memory in the hearts of her friends.