Foreword: This is a bit of a personal post – I am currently on vacation and wanted to do some lighter, candid personal posts for this week. If this isn’t quite your thing and you’re looking for the usual virtual reality banter and gamedev, carry on and check back next week!
To Switch, or not to Switch?
To queue, or not to queue, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
A lack of outrageous #NintendoSwitch fortune.
While sleeping and waiting endlessly, what games may come?
With a only a lawnchair, who would this endure,
But for a hope of a neon joy-con after pre-order death?
– (written over Twitter with the help of @chaostheorem)
And so I turned to Twitter in a last minute decision: should I buy a Nintendo Switch? Should I just get Zelda? What shall I do, Internets?
To queue, or not to queue, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
A lack of outrageous #NintendoSwitch fortune.
— M. Lovecraft (@VRmyofDarkness) March 2, 2017
When I was growing up, Zelda: Ocarina of Time was one of those magical milestone memories I have as a gamer. I am lucky to have parents who humoured my hobby and got me the game for Christmas and playing Zelda titles (or Donkey Kong Country titles) became a holiday tradition. Now that these games are either not being made as frequently (or not being made at all), a part of that gaming equivalent to somewhat of an intense wanderlust has been lost… Until now, in the year 2017, when I reluctantly got my hands on a copy of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for the Wii U.
Before I dive into my experience with Breath of the Wild, there were already so many memories in the purchasing process:
- I was contemplating buying a Nintendo Switch and standing in line at midnight. However, I decided not to due to the hardware failure reports.
- I kid you not, my partner and I drove around director James Wootton for 2 hours frantically looking around for a copy of Breath of the Wild so he could play with his kids on the weekend.
- After finding out that Amiibos had an interesting role in Breath of the Wild, I searched far and wide for Amiibos – things that I swore against buying due to my KonMari process.
Driving around the entirety of the Lower Mainland made me wonder if my parents had to do the same when getting me my gift of Ocarina of Time and boy oh boy, as a non-parent, I absolutely lived vicariously through “the hunt”, knowing that the joy I felt as a kid would be passed onto his children.
In either case, I bought a Wii U shortly after I returned from Ireland in the year 2013, anticipating for a new Zelda game. The Wind Waker HD was released. Then Twilight Princess HD. But after waiting and waiting, a new Zelda title never happened, and my Wii U wasn’t being used at all, in favour of more interesting happenings on PC. What better way to say farewell to my Wii U than to get the latest and greatest Zelda, and also the last Wii U title? With Amazon Prime’s 20% off, next day shipping, I couldn’t resist: Zelda: Breath of the Wild on Wii U it is.
— M. Lovecraft (@VRmyofDarkness) March 4, 2017
My vacation in Breath of the Wild‘s Hyrule
Playing Breath of the Wild was a vacation. A literal vacation for me because I literally had to take time off of work to finish it.
That’s right: 94 hours and 23 minutes, and not even half of the game was complete at 47.09%.
But it was also a vacation because it was a complete escape, and regardless of what some people might think, a lot of memories in my personal gaming experience.
Breath of the Wild has officially ruined my productivity. RIP. Rekt. pic.twitter.com/cpK8B2nYet
— M. Lovecraft (@VRmyofDarkness) March 13, 2017
Over the years, I’ve lost my finesse as a console gamer shortly after the release of Nintendo 64. I admit it, I’m too dense to follow 3D worlds like Super Mario 64, and Ocarina of Time is the last game that I could play without getting completely lost. My dexterity with newer controllers just isn’t the same as it is on a SNES. I traded in my intense console focus for APM in StarCraft and economy management. The reason why I am mentioning this is that my time and experience with Breath of the Wild wasn’t a solo one – it was an experience I shared with my brother, and my partner.
What I mean by all this is that I wasn’t able to do most of the driving – I found myself struggling with the combat, I found the damage to be very intense, I found some (okay, only some!) shrine puzzles to be difficult… Zelda: Breath of the Wild is not an easy game. It’s challenging, not for beginners, not for the faint hearted. Remember the first time you encountered the Water Temple in Ocarina of Time? It was like that for me, but for the entire game. With that said, there was so many zen-like experiences, exploring Hyrule by climbing (when it wasn’t raining), picking up ingredients, experimenting with food combinations, and generally screwing around:
- Talking to random people without your clothes on
- Setting things on fire
- Finding out that your weapons conduct electricity
- Experimenting with different approaches to literally everything
This game is whatever you make it to be, and it seems like everyone has a different play style that works for them, which is one of the beauties of the game.
With that said, I don’t find Breath of the Wild to be a perfect game: the menu UI is a nuisance, the weapon durability is over the top (see: not durable at all), the world is too big at times, there’s no easy way to store your recipes, the fetch quests are too travel intensive, and this game is probably a working completionist’s nightmare (see: 900 Korok seeds vs 100 Golden Skulltulas in Ocarina of Time).
So, how am I supposed to score Breath of the Wild?
Interestingly enough, the recent mob mentality that Zelda: Breath of the Wild should be a 10/10 and nothing less was a bit terrifying to me. I understand undying passion – I practise it myself, but I don’t think other people should be ridiculed for having a different opinion. This is one of the problems we are experiencing in the current, political climate as well: “you’re either with us, or against us”. There is no grey – only black and white – and I think this is a very dangerous way of thinking.
Saying that a game is absolutely perfect, flawless, is saying that there is no room for improvement. There is no need to explore any further, which to me means that we won’t see improvements in future games, future titles. In general, I believe it’s important to be critical – I personally strive to better my work, learn as much as I can, find ways to improve – and I apply this to games as well.
If anything less than 10/10 is considered to be “bad”, then why don’t we scrap the entire system of numbers, and use the YouTube rating system: thumbs up, or thumbs down?
We don’t use this system because it’s not flexible – it’s one extreme to the next and doesn’t allow for any meaningful critique. It’s just fast, and lazy.
I really appreciate my brother’s rating system because although it’s not conventional, it makes a lot of sense to me:
- Very rarely is a something 0/10 or 10/10
- Every game starts at a 5
- The first 2 points (either negative or positive) is based on how far would you go to recommend it
- The expanded points are given based on the efforts, and enjoyments
So, based on this rating system, is Zelda: Breath of the Wild a 10/10?
No. It’s an 8/10 for me, which is a really, really good score:
- I would wholly recommend this game to people
- I found the combat to be very experimental, refreshing, fun
- This game is a legitimate feat by the team – the world creation is huge
- The English voice acting leaves something to be desired, and often knocked me out of immersion
- The scope of the game required more quality of life changes with cooking as the game relies so much on it
- Oh man, I REALLY wanted a roll action for snappier movements
- I was wanting something a little more with the final battle
HOWEVER… Did I have fun? Will this go down as one of those archetypal great moments and memories for gaming for me personally? So. Much. Yes. I had 10/10 fun: all the irresponsible late nights staying up, the running around finding Amiibos and a copy for our friend Wootie, all the little moments of joy in small discoveries, thinking about the game all day at work and looking forward to playing with my two favourite people in the world… As a working adult who rarely has time for video games… This brought me back to my childhood, and for that, I’m so, so thankful for Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
For further viewing, check out The Making Of: Breath of the Wild on Youtube:
As we are celebrating Nintendo Switch Eve, I’ve got my lawnchairs at the ready (if needed), not one but two mobile chargers, a warm coat, a scarf, and the latest and greatest to my queue survival pack: a Pokémon GO Plus.I tried my absolute darndest to avoid spending my REAL monies on Pokémon GO, but I couldn’t help myself. The way I justified it was that I don’t have a gym membership. I just found out gym memberships can cost anywhere from $25 a month to more than $60 a month. Not that I am knocking that – I think it’s great to invest in health and fitness… And to me, that’s what I paid into when I pulled the Amazon Canada trigger on a Pokemon Go Plus on a Saturday night after midnight. (Because if anyone knows how to party, it’s me.)
So how the heck does the Pokémon Go Plus thing work?
To actually use the device, you’ll need the following:
- Pokemon GO app installed on your phone
- Enabled Bluetooth
- Pokemon GO Plus device (obviously)
While I am not entirely sure if you need to pair the device to your phone in your Bluetooth settings beforehand, you can definitely spot the device in your Pokemon GO app settings:Once you see a Pokemon GO Plus device under ‘Available Devices’, you’re ready to connect it using the Pokemon GO Plus icon in the upper right hand side. Note: If you accidentally connected your Pokemon GO Plus device, you can always disconnect it by tapping the icon again. It will be greyed out again.
Once the device is connected, you will be along your merry way. Unlike your usual routine, you won’t need to have the app open – you don’t even need your phone to be unlocked! Just go for a walk, and the device will buzz/vibrate with a different coloured light, depending on whether it’s a PokeStop, or a Pokemon:
- Flashing green: Pokemon
- Flashing blue: PokeStop
- Flashing once red: Pokemon GO does not have reception
- Rainbow with long pulsing: Success with catching/getting items
- Long red after pressing on flashing blue: Pokestop too far
- Long white after pressing on flashing blue: Your bag is full
- Short red after pressing on flashing green: Pokemon fled
The battery for the device reportedly lasts about a month with daily use and uses Cr2032 type batteries.
How do you use it and what benefits are there?
If you are a transit commuter, you’ll know that catching Pokemon may be a part of your daily routine. I commute with a car, and here if you are caught with you phone while driving, you will have a $500+ ticket slapped on you. Not worth it.
I’m the type of Pokemon GO player that actually has to make the effort to go for walks on my lunch break from work. (But with that said, I love that it does force me off the computer and get some fresh air.)
All you need to do is press a button when the device flashes green (for Pokemon) or blue (for PokeStops) and the whole “gameplay” (if you want to call it that) is automated.
With that said, the chances of catching a Pokemon are about 30% and it will only catch Pokemon that you have already caught.
Experience wise, you will receive 25 XP for Pokemon that have fled, 150 XP (100 base XP for a successful catch and 50 bonus XP for a first throw). You will also receive 3 candy, and 100 stardust.I just carry my Pokemon GO Plus device on its own. I may or may not pay for it in the future, but the strap is so unattractive and cheap that I would rather clip it to my sweater when I am not using it. It’s also inconvenient to require a screwdriver to attach the device to the strap. Design-wise, it would be easier to have slots to feed the strap through.
So, is the Pokemon GO Plus worth it? What’s the verdict?
If you are looking for something to help you play the game without being attached to your phone, I think it’s worth it. I find that my daily walks at work have allowed me to walk faster and maintain my heart rate because I am not tied to constantly checking my phone. All the Pokemon I catch are the icing on top of the cake, and the device really shines in keeping my bag well-stocked.
If you’re expecting to come out on top, or use it as a replacement for playing, this device won’t do it. If you’re looking to keep your bags full, maintain your pace and speed when going on your “PokeWalks”, enjoy the 30% of Pokemon that you get without even trying, the Pokemon Go Plus does the trick.
Official Niantic Pokemon GO Support pages: support.pokemongo.nianticlabs.com
Photos: Taken by me with a NikonD700 and Nikon 35mm f/1.8 and makeshift light box
“Motivate yourself to do anything.”
The above is what greets you when you first load up the Habitica (formerly HabitRPG) page. (Daunting, maybe.)
I remember my partner sending me the link and I passed at first. I have Google Calendar, wayy too many email accounts, and along with maintaining multiple blogs, personal Facebook, Facebook pages, multiple Twitter accounts, the occasional Instagram, checking out Reddit for the latest and greatest… Who has the time? Another site that I have to log onto every morning when I start my routine? No way!
It wasn’t until my brother sent me the link again and he said he was going to sign up. There is something certainly special about a bond with your siblings and where you once were able to spend a lot of time with each other growing up, that ‘luxury’ comes scarce as we get older. My brother isn’t a fan of social media – we chat on texts and Discord so as soon as I see another opportunity to connect – I take it. And so we signed up… Little did we know, we also became each other’s “gym buddies”.
As of today, we’ve both been using Habitica for nearly 2 months.
So, how exactly does Habitica work, any way?
I will say first and foremost that Habitica takes some effort from you when you initially set things up. Like most self-help methods and goal planning, Habitica requires you to do some thinking. However, they’ve made it extremely easy by setting up 3 major categories:
- Habits: What kind of changes do you want to make in your life/lifestyle?
- Dailies: What do you want to accomplish in your daily life?
- Tasks: What are some things you need to complete?
It took me approximately 2-3 hours over 48 hours to come up with my initial goals and most recently I spent another hour or so revising for the new year.
While I use Habitica mostly for this trifecta backbone of tasks… The biggest selling feature of Habitica is the community, and the fun ‘gameification’ of your own life. Many companies find success with making consumerism into a game: sometimes Starbucks will reward you with points if you buy a coffee on the weekend before 10AM, Shoppers Drug Mart will offer bonus points if you spend a certain amount on a certain item. Not just companies, but mobile games such as Hearthstone, Tsum Tsum and Pokemon Go utilize the concept of ‘dailies’ to keep their users logging in. With Habitica, the better you do with keeping up with your dailies, and checking off your tasks – the more your character will level up, and gain currency that you can use to purchase new armor, and a chance to open up a chest that can grant exclusive items, experience points, or items for pets. (Oh yes, there are pets…)
In addition, there is a party system (of course there is) where your friends can create a party, and fight against bosses for bonus points or exclusive items. Some of the bosses have rules like everyone in the party must finish their dailies, or everyone in the party takes damage – another incentive and mechanic to keep everyone in your party motivated and on top of things.
Interested? Feel free to check out the official Habitica “How it Works” page.
How does it work in your life?
In a world of online validation, I really enjoy that Habitica works precisely against that idea.
Your habits, dailies, and tasks are up to you and the satisfaction of achievement from completing the things that you have decided to work on is your own. No one can see what you are supposed to be working on. It encourages support, and not competition.
I’m unfortunately one of those beings attached to their mobile phone so for me, being able to check off dailies and double checking the tasks that I am supposed to be working on comes naturally to me. As someone who is in technology and computing technology, Habitica suits my lifestyle almost perfectly.
For my own personal planning, I used to use exclusively Google Calendar and I would plan out my day with exactly what I needed to do. At 10AM, I needed to call my doctor to make an appointment, at some point in the afternoon – day between 2PM and 3PM – I was to pay off my VISA bill, in the evening, I would need to vacuum, and in the late late evening, I would have to do a batch of photo culling and editing… But life gets in the way, and soon, I forgot to vacuum on one day and forget all about it…. Then I would try to move the appointment to the next day, and then again, I wouldn’t get around to it, so I would have to move it another day. And then again. You get the picture.
That’s what Habitica has been great for: reminders (for self-care and multiple project completion) and my to-do list (that never ever ends I swear).
OK, let’s start with the “Pros” – what’s Habitica great for?
This is probably the weirdest thing I will ever say but: I love having a never ending to-do list. What I really mean is that I love having a concise to-do list, being able to break it down into sub-tasks, and continue on. Typically in my solo Google Calendar days, I would have a paper to-do list and once that was done, either the list would get lost, or that I would cross everything off and then not add to it. Habitica gives you a very visual representation of what you have on your ‘plate’.
It looks like the devs have done the research as well: you’re rewarded with achievements once your dailies hit a 21-day streak. And as researched before, it takes 21 days to make something a habit. For a while anyway.
If you’re not too sure where to start, many Habitica users create community challenges if you need some support and direction.
Another vital element to successful games is constant updates. Habitica always offers something new and fresh – the devs are always actively trying to get users to get involved, and for Christmas, they rolled out items exclusive for the winter season. I also decided to subscribe for a year to get gems, and access to exclusive items/backgrounds. I also wanted to support the devs since Habitica is a FREE service!
While I think the pixel art could leave something to be desired with the avatars, I do love that there are many representations from different skin tones (even some rainbow, fictional colours), as well as wheelchairs, and animal ears. As someone who is a closet neko girl and used to wear cat ears out in public in high school, I think it’s great that you can create an avatar that you feel represents you. Customization is always important in games!
What about Habitica’s “Cons”?
While I have next to no complaints about Habitica, there are a few shortfalls. The most major one doesn’t have anything to do with the Habitica app itself, but it relies purely on your own motivation. Because you are creating your own boundaries, it’s possible that someone won’t be challenging themselves as much as they are able to. I know for myself, I should probably add more negative points in my ‘Habits’. I should…. But I also worry for myself that I will feel defeated and punishing myself all the time would be awful. It’s up to the individual!
Another shortfall of Habitica is again, not Habitica‘s fault: it’s also possible that someone would be relying on Habitica to remember all the things they need to do. Maybe that’s not so much a bad thing, though. I’m of the belief where the human brain can only hold so much, so if you can offload your mind of “things to do” on your plate, and focus on putting that energy into productivity, maybe that’s better energy spent.
As of today, the current version of the app (I use the iOS version) is not the best. I wholeheartedly suggest to use the website version to set up your Habitica. The app can be a bit buggy and I have experienced my tasks being out of order, which can be aggravating for me since I intentionally have my tasks in a specific order. Hopefully this can be resolved in the future.
Lastly, even though my love for Habitica is fairly high, I can’t see it being the most optimal tool for long term projects. Sure you can use Habitica to break some tasks down, but for a very large project such as KonMari, making a game, writing a novel… I’ve been using Trello for a week, and I think Trello is a better tool for keeping track of project aspects. Habitica can certainly act as an aid, though, as you can make it a ‘Habit’ (or ‘Daily’ if you’re a boss!) to work on your long term projects.
Ready to dive in?
If you’re having troubles focusing, enjoying gaming, don’t have any current productivity tools, Habitica is an amazing beginner’s tool to taking on the things you need to do in your life.
While the tool itself won’t magically improve your life, it will certainly aid your own sense of improvement if you are willing and follow through with putting in the thought and time for it. With that said, (and all I can think of is the Netflix show 3% when I say this) you deserve it.
If words and screenshots aren’t enough, here’s the official Habitica trailer, released last January in 2016:
Do you want to teach robots?
(I know I do.)
Well, now you can with Quick, Draw! a small web app by Google Creative Lab and Data Arts Team. You can use your PC or mobile device to contribute to teaching an AI neural network how to identify doodles.
The first time I tried was on my iPhone, check out the results:
I was pretty fascinated that some of my less-than-artistic interpretations were guessed in a matter of seconds, all from my uncontrolled fingertip on my (relatively small) mobile device screen. However, I was not impressed that my fish wasn’t considered a ‘fish’! I drew bubbles! And fins! In either case, that drawing will end up in the archives so that perhaps if someone else draws a fish similar to me, that person’s fish will be recognized.
Curious to see if there was a difference between the mobile interface and a desktop interface (there’s not much), I went for a second go.
This time, all my drawings were guessed correctly.
Taking a look at the data that the guessing is based on is really interesting as well – the analysis shows other drawings that your doodle could be:
There’s also a small sample gallery of other people’s drawings. (Let’s thank the people who can’t draw skulls, as I definitely needed their data to have mine guessed right!):
All in all, if you’re bored on transit, need a break from holiday shopping, or are just too curious to see if the robots are smart enough to guess your drawing, have a look at Quick, Draw!. It’s free and fast and won’t take you more than 3-5 minutes of your time.
Official Quick, Draw! Link: https://quickdraw.withgoogle.com/ (works with mobile and desktop)
I was first introduced to Black Mirror through – (funnily enough) – the news of Brexit. All my English friends were at home, tweeting their angst and anxieties, and one tweet stood out: *”This is the worst episode of Black Mirror.” Black Mirror? I looked into it, and it hit home – Charlie Brooker is inside my head! Originally a primarily English show, it’s now a hybrid of American and English due to a recent Netflix deal.
“If technology is a drug – and it does feel like a drug – then what, precisely, are the side effects? This area – between delight and discomfort – is where Black Mirror, my new drama series, is set. The ‘black mirror’ of the title is the one you’ll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone.” – Charlie Brooker
Down to business, the thing I like most about Black Mirror is the unsettling, uncomfortable feeling I get after I watch the show. I love the haunting nature of it. It’s also impressive the team manages to tackle issues surrounding: social media, virtual/mixed reality, human condition, LGBTQ relationships, desensitization, mob mentality. So for my personal ranking (and it seems like no one can agree with what’s the strongest/weakest episode), the way I am ranking the shows is mixed on:
- Strength and execution of themes
- Entertainment value and engagement levels
- Story structure
To be fair, I found Season 3 to be extremely enjoyable, thoughtful and entertaining. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but production and execution would make up for it in small gaps.
With that said, here’s my personal ranking of Black Mirror’s Season 3 from Best to Worst
- San Junipero
- Hated in the Nation
- Men Against Fire
- Shut Up And Dance
If you are strapped for time and want to check out Black Mirror, here are my top picks (in order) from what’s available on Netflix: White Christmas, Nose Dive, Playtest, San Junipero.
Interested? Check out the official Black Mirror Season 3 trailer:
SPOILER ALERT. Thoughts on individual episodes below
Just to confuse folks even more, I’ll talk about these episodes in cannon order.
A strong season starter. Immediately intriguing and hitting home for so many of us (all of us) who are on social media. This is definitely an attention grabber and will get anyone new to Black Mirror hooked. Sprinkled with “Pleasantville” aesthetics, the obsessive, controlling nature of a person’s social media ratings and influence is shown as a norm, leaving it to the viewer to feel how they relate. (I would probably be a 2.832 by that society’s standards, haha!) We’re shown a world of people who act and live their lives solely for their ratings whether it’s composing that perfect Instagram latte/biscuit photo, siding with the right group of people, or keeping yourself in the closet. Check out Charlie Brooker’s AMA on Reddit for the rating ringtones for your own mobile device.
This is the most entertaining episode to me, but funnily enough many people list Playtest as their last choice. Wyatt Russell’s performance was outstanding, being able to convey an extremely likable character dealing with an unfortunate passing of his father and best friend, but also nailing the physicality of stress and horror. The concept of a horror game that learns from your own brain’s registered fears in a virtual/mixed reality ‘game’ is jsut so fascinating and scary. I loved so much of the story structure, ideas, and pacing, but the ultimate ending was unsatisfactory despite the last “called mom” jab that albeit wrapped up things up quite nicely.
Shut Up And Dance
Although somewhat entertaining, it was stressful and the ending had no payoff – only lingering cynicism. However Alex Lawther’s portrayal of Kenny’s character that seemingly had done nothing wrong (the whole episode, I was thinking it was no big deal and he should just let the video leak), had the tables turned. How quickly a viewer can see a character as likeable, but turning so quickly after it was revealed Kenny had a wank over child pornography. A frustrating episode, but still engaging.
One of the best episodes of Black Mirror in its entirety, but also required trust from its viewers. As a strange aside, I was so excited to watch Black Mirror on Netflix – San Junipero was actually listed as the first episode around midnight Pacific Time. Thinking that this was the first episode of the season, I was pretty surprised – it definitely makes sense as mid-series episode. The pacing for the first half was unconventional and very slow, subtle. Definitely would not appeal to all viewers, especially those who may be new to the series. Upon a second viewing, I noticed so many more details that escaped me the first time. I think about virtual reality as therapy a lot, and this one nailed the concept. And then some. The reveal that the characters are old – the deathbed kind of old – floored me. I had such an emotional connection to the characters, and such sympathy for both characters: the backstory of homophobic parents, to what it’s like to be in a long long “till death do us part” relationship. San Junipero hit so many marks.
Men Against Fire
This one is oddly enough, the most UN-Black Mirror episode, if that can make sense at all. This episode had a lot of action and violence, as well as a great appearance by Michael Kelly (House of Cards fans may recognize Stamper). I am not a huge fan of military themes but the concept of changing human enemies into something non-human was a fascinating twist. It’s something I think about when it comes down to animating targets that you shoot in virtual reality games – somehow it feels weirder to shoot at a ‘human’ target than it is to shoot a cartoon character or monster. With that said, I think if ‘humans’ are the targets in virtual reality, it’s very possible to “get used to it”, essentially becoming desensitized.
Hated in the Nation
I swear this was just a Scott and Bailey episode (which I welcomed since I almost miss that show). I love seeing women in the face of responsibility and this episode tackled the consequences of Twitter’s “mob mentality” online in an exaggerated, but effective way. The bees situation was sort of… strange? They took an environmental issue that makes me paranoid: bees and their role in food production, but then added killer robot bees in the mix. Silly but OK. The two lead actresses nailed their parts, and it was a pleasant surprise to see Kelly Macdonald (Trainspotting).
*Normally I would embed the original tweet but I can’t find the original author of the joke! My apologies.