The Fighting, Fishing Farmer (Stardew Valley)

I’ve never played a Harvest Moon game before. I’ve eyed up the games on more than one occasion, but Nintendo typically doesn’t like to sell any of its big franchise titles below £20 and the very minimum. (Steam may have spoiled me in this regard.) I have, however, played my fair share on Animal Crossing games (Wild World, City Folk, New Leaf) and am a sucker for this genre of game.

It is easy, then, to see why Stardew Valley caught my eye. To this day, it remains as one of the only games I’ve bought upon its release without waiting for it go on sale in a year’s time. (Other games in this special category include Rocket League and Robot Roller Derby Disco Dodgeball.) After seeing approximately 5 seconds of a little pixellated guy planting some seeds of whatever, I leaned in intently for a closer look. 5 minutes later and it was downloading.

So here’s how my day begins: I get up, I water the crops. Preferably I’d like this to be automated eventually, as my ever-expanding farm takes longer and longer to water, but for this I need iron, and that’s a whole other enterprise. After watering the crops, I say a quick hello to Tocco the dog, before trotting into town. When I get there, I typically stop and realise that I’ve no idea what to do with my day. Should I go fishing? Foraging? Monster slaying and mining? Try to make friends and woo potential future wives? (Yes, marriage is another goal to work towards in-game.)

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This game is a little too realistic for my liking.

Currently, my main demand is making money. I need to buy a silo, and a chicken coop. I need to buy more crops to sell more crops. I need to buy a house upgrade to get a kitchen and delve into cooking. I need to buy tool upgrades, too, and I’m torn as to whether I should do that first or continue saving up. The game’s economy is a perfect balance of not having enough money to race through the game, and being able to make money fast enough to the point where you actually feel like you’re doing something.

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Having not yet grasped the workings of the gifting system, I’d become convinced that you could gift any villager anything and it’d raise your friendship. Mayor Lewis was not impressed with the rock I gave him.

Never before has a game simulated the whole “not enough hours in a day” problem as Stardew Valley. (Well, maybe Harvest Moon, but I’ve never played those games.) I mean, at least in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask you could play a handy little tune to send you back in time. In Stardew Valley, I’ll sometimes be in the middle of cave diving and monster slaying when my character suddenly yawns, and I realise it’s midnight and I need to get home before I collapse at 2AM. Then it’s a rushed 6 hours sleep in which I dream about how much money the stuff I’ve dumped in my box has sold for, before it’s time to get up and water the crops again, bleary eyed and wondering how to spend my day.

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Had I known that the change of seasons would outright kill my crops, I’d have perhaps planted them a little earlier.

You may worry that Stardew Valley would get a bit routine, then, but the depth of the game counteracts this problem. Not only do you have plenty to do regarding skills, people and dungeon-running, but the game also has a good story, day-specific events and, of course, the changing of seasons to keep you occupied. Sometimes characters give you quests, asking you too find them a specific item and thereby rewarding you with gold and friendship. Sometimes you’ll walk into a room and a cutscene will start, cued by either storyline or level of friendship. There’s plenty to keep you busy, immersed, and out of a rut.

I have few criticisms, but I’ll express them anyway. Firstly, the controls. It’s difficult to explain, but sometimes when you click on a tile, you’ll instead interact with a different tile due to your character’s positioning. I feel that clicking on a tile that’s next to you should override the current position you’re facing and turn you, so that you don’t accidentally smash your potatoes with a pickaxe rather than that inviting looking stone behind you. My other small gripe as that, although the game’s soundtrack and ambiance is mostly perfect, the ambient noises they’ve included in forests for summer namely include flies buzzing loudly around the place. This might be realistic, but games like the Sims have conditioned me to believe that this noise is of negative origin, and I spent an embarrasingly long time trying to track down the source of the flies. It’s also just a, er, annoying noise.

 

That’s it, though. My two criticisms. Weighed against hundreds of points of positivity, I think it’s safe to say that Stardew Valley will be one of my longer-lasting companions in the gaming world.

 

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Triple Whammy (Grapple, LYNE, and Qbeh-1)

Besides the ever-present Skyrim, I’ve not been playing all that much else in the way of gaming besides a smattering of smaller titles. There are three titles, however, which have caught my attention this week and I feel are deserving of a blog post!

 

The first is Grapple. You’re this groovy little blob and it is your absolute imperative to get from one side of the level to the other, ever-fearful of the spacial abyss which looms below you should you make a mistake, falling just too far of the platform which you yearn to reach. You are also the enemy of everything red, so don’t go touching that. You stick to everything like a Tory sticks to their outdated ideals (weyyy forced political joke). There are collectibles, multiple game modes (such as time trials and speed runs), and the physics engine is pretty darn gravy.

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…that was a close one!

I’m currently about a quarter of the way through the game and I find that there’s just enough challenge for my liking. I can become infuriated, but my rage is the quickly quenched by the following success. The levels are the perfect length, swinging is fun, collectibles are plentiful and hidden in a way that makes them missable, but not so much if you’re actively looking for them. It’s just fun, really. Oh, and it has a good soundtrack, too.

LYNE is marketed as a “deceptively simple” game, and I certainly wouldn’t disagree. All you have to do is match the shapes together and pass their lines through the octagons as many times as the octagons dictate necessary. I find that whenever I’m confronted with a level, I cry, “Simple! This one is simple!” And then I end up with a tangled mess like you see below:

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Just looking at it makes me want to solve it. Bleurgh.

There is a seemingly unending quantity of levels available. The base game is split up into sections of the alphabet, which have so far contained 25 levels each. However, the game also offers you procedurally generated batches of daily puzzles. It’s like having a big ol’ book of crossword puzzles, only the book has new puzzles at the back every day and instead of a crossword you’re looking at what should be a simply solved collection of shapes which stop you in your tracks.

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I tried to take a screenshot of me solving the puzzle, but I didn’t account for the bottom octagon. Blast!

Last but most definitely not least comes Qbeh-1: The Atlas Cube. This is the most incredibly beautiful puzzle platformer I’ve ever set eyes upon. It’s a weird cross between Q.U.B.E, Antichamber (the block-related parts, not the mind-bending geography) and community created Minecraft puzzle maps. The world is made of blocks, but you can only pick up a certain type of block and place it on a certain type of surface. When a block is place on a surface, you can then attach another block to it. Some blocks work as keys, others as gravity modifiers, but the red one you can just about see in the image below simply exists to be placed.

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Screenshots alone don’t really do it justice, but this should give you a general idea of the game’s atmosphere. Or at least, one of its worlds.

The game also comes with a level creator and Steam workshop integration, so you can build your own maps and share ’em. I’ve not done so yet, and probably won’t until I’ve beaten the game and gotten tired of scouring through the levels for collectibles. The collectibles usually entail finding out how to get to a secret section of the map, and then completing a few extra puzzles to reach it. It is plenty fun and challenging!

So, that’s what I’ve been playing this week. It’s worth noting that LYNE and Qbeh-1 are currently 99p and 69p, respectively, in the Humble Store winter sale. I’m no advertiser but that’s where I found these games, and I personally recommend them a lot.

[Festivities Go Here]

Um… right, yeah, this Thursday fell on a Christmas Eve (or is it the other way round?) so there won’t really be a blog post as per usual. To give you a quick rundown of my gaming life right now, though:

Since writing Oblivin’ the Life, I’ve finally caved and graduated to Skyrim early, still dubious as to my ability to keep my attention span directed into the game. This did not turn out to be a problem, however, with over 20 hours played in 3 days, the main story and civil war questline completed and no signs of my High Elfing days ending any time soon. Fully fledged blog post to follow.

The STEEAAAMMMM SSAAAAALLLEEEE has occured, and so far I’ve bought Drive Any Track and let my eyes speak more than my wallet on other games of interest. This restraint has been helped by the fact that I am not only poor, but that Steam sales are now a shadow of their former selves, offering only good-to-brilliant deals in place of the usual mind-numbingly spectacular ones. Also, my library is getting to be pretty sizeable, and is growing into an unhealthy mass of unplayed shame rather than the relic of a collector.

But enough relaxed discussion about gaming; I’ve got some hardcore relaxing to get down to. I leave you with one of my earliest gaming memories: myself, as a child, playing Crash Team Racing in the living room whilst watching the tree being decorated by family, and hearing Christmas songs in the background. I’m not certain if it was the same year, but I desperately hoped there’d be a PS2 under the tree, and it turns out there was. It came with Dave Mirra’s Freestyle BMX 2, XG3 Racing and Herdy Gerdy.

Glorious Gratification (Bejeweled 3 and Achievements)

They told me I had a problem when I entered a room with patterned wallpaper and pressed myself up against the wall, scouring for matches of three. “Look!” I cried, “This butterfly could get us hundreds of points if we swapped it with that ladybird! Think of the points!” And then I began frantically scrabbling at the wall until they took me to a quiet room for a while.

I’ve recently begun trying to get 100% of the achievements in Bejeweled 3. As of this time of writing I’m at 88% completion, or 57/65, and there’s only a few performance related achievements left I’m struggling to get, most of them in Ice Storm mode. I usually pop on an old Rooster Teeth Podcast, boot up the game and match until I can match no more. Since my endeavor began a few days ago, my game time has shot up from 6 hours played to 18, and after whiling away for so long and coming so close to completion, I felt it was time to address my lust for achievements.

The original idea for achievements was to allow for competitive gaming even in single player games, and I suppose that it does that pretty well. They became so much more, however, when given the wider context of profiles. On Playstation, Xbox and Steam, achievements are displayed as a public metric on your profile to measure how much of a game you’ve played and what specific feats you’ve, well, achieved. Playstation shows it in Profile Levels, Xbox in Gamerscore, and Steam in a few ways: the number of achievements, how many you’ve perfected, and that god damn average completion percentage. Mine is at 20% and it’s become a sort of metagame to earn at least over 20% of a game’s achievements before I put it down.

This is why I like achievements. I know nobody is going to sift through my account and look at what I’ve done, or feel impressed by my showcase of my rarest ones. It’s more of a personal endeavor. It gives me a goal to work towards within my games and it’s shareable. People don’t care about individual achievements, but I enjoy being able to tweet a screenshot of a 100% completed game; in the past, I could have done it with a credits screen, sure, but I like having some sort of digital trophy for it. It’s hard to explain. I probably like it for the same reasons I’m attracted to Runescape. The accomplishments may be arbitrary, but they’re sure as hell gratifying.

I also find that achievements keep me playing and enjoying a game for longer than I otherwise would have. Had there been no achievements in Bejeweled 3, I wouldn’t have gone back to play it as much as I have, and whilst some may see it as a pointless grind, I’m actually enjoying my time in the game. And that’s what really matters. They encourage you to play the game in a different way sometimes, for I’d never have begun playing some of my favourite game modes if there were not achievements in them. And some of them even have pretty little pictures in the thumbnails. It may be silly, but if I’m playing a game that doesn’t have an achievement system in it nowadays, I can’t help but think that something is missing. It sways my opinion on if a game is worth buying, although that’s probably taking it a little too far.

Achievements can also be done wrong. Achievements such as “play the game for 8,000 hours” or “get 1,337 kills with this particular weapon in multiplayer” in a game that nobody plays. Games which require you to start a new save file if you fail to collect or trigger one thing for an achievement. Nobody wants to be dealing with that. Difficulty tune your achievements, make them fun for us to get, not some metric for measuring the average user’s playing time. I’m looking at you, Garry’s Mod!

But anyway, if you’ll excuse me, the gems are calling me… as is the life of overwhelming emptiness when I finally attain 100% achievement status.