Category Archives: playing

farmer’s almanac.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything of substance here. There have been half a dozen potboiler posts bubbling away in my mind and in my drafts folder for the better part of a year, but those never come to anything. If I don’t finish it when I start it, it’s over. As I sit down to write this one, I’ve given myself no out. Phil is sitting on the other end of our weekend Hangouts call, with instructions not to let me finish the weekend without finishing the blog post. So far today, I’ve hung pictures on the walls, rearranged furniture, run an errand, started a laundry and taken a shower. He has asked me four times, “Blog post?” He’s a good partner.  Blog post.

Since mid-March, I’ve been spring cleaning and packing my apartment in NE Portland, in preparation for moving in with a friend a few miles away. She had a spare room. I needed to be paying less rent, and I wanted to break out of a pretty stale work-to-home-to-sleep routine. It’s worked out really happily for both of us. It also happened to coincide with the breakneck busiest time of year for Mavora, where I work. March and April were bumper months for us, and when we’re busy I’m on my feet for long workdays and pushing against the clock all the time to get everything printed and shipped on schedule. For the last 10 weeks, by the time I got home and/or to the weekend, I was pretty much a blank slate. I haven’t made any new jewelry in months, and except for keeping up my daily selfies for my 365 project, I’ve been mostly absent from social media.

During this time, though, there was a world where I’ve been fully present and thriving, hardworking and full of creativity and energy. While I was recovering from daily work and resting my mind being quiet at home, a tiny adorable farmer named Allergy was efficiently conquering every aspect of a place called Stardew Valley.

Summer 13, Year 5

Sparkle Farm, Summer 13, Year 5

I’m a fairly new player of videogames, having only really started playing four years ago. There have been many games that I’ve enjoyed, and a few that I’ve stuck with long enough to feel competent and comfortable. As it turns out, though, I hadn’t yet found my game, the one that hits all the right notes of mechanics, visual world, challenge and reward. Even the sounds are perfect. I had absolutely no idea what could happen when you find that game, but now I know.

Ol One Eye, Spring 21, Year 5

This traveling merchant cart, drawn by a purple fez-wearing pig, is my favorite thing in the entire game.

I have loved playing Stardew Valley so much. I’ve not so much played it as fallen all the way into it. It’s been the exact right thing for me at the exact right time. To begin with, it’s beautiful. It’s a farming/country life RPG, drawn in a retro-looking pixel style, but with tremendous depth and color. It’s the work of one man, Eric Barone, and is entirely created and made by him, from the first line of code to the last note of music. That alone is amazing, and made me want to explore every part of it. Making videogames is complicated, multilayered work, and to create something of this scope and detail by yourself is mind-blowing. The world of Stardew Valley is a place I want to be, listening to the soft chuff-chuff of my footsteps on the ground, walking through drifting cherry tree petals in the spring. Fishing as the shadows of clouds pass over the landscape in the height of summer, and clearing pink and golden foliage from my farmland in fall. The appearance and origin of the game were enough to keep me interested, but the mechanics and goals have also been perfectly appealing to me, and I’ve been completely immersed for two months.

Taking my diamond to town

Urgent diamond business recalls me to town.

The tone of Stardew is a perfect balance between cheerfulness, sadness, and hilarity. It’s essentially a happy game, but it’s tempered with a few moments of genuine seriousness. When the game begins, the scene opens on your grandfather’s deathbed, and he’s telling you that he remembers wonderful days earlier in his life on a farm. As he slips away, he gives you a letter and tells you to open it when you’re at your lowest point. The next scene reveals that you’re an office drone worker for a gigantic corporation called JoJa Co. The camera pans over desk after desk, showing one drooping, dispirited person after another. (An interesting point here, though, is that the developer’s eye for detail has given each of these downtrodden workers their own personality through clothes or cubicle decorations or body language. You only see them that once, but they’re still distinct people. This is a game that’s meticulously well-developed and balanced, and although it has a cartoonish and familiar appearance, it has an incredibly full personality.) Finally the camera reaches your desk, and you slump in discouragement. Then you remember the letter, and open the drawer where you keep it. When you open it, you find that Grandpa has left you the family farm in Stardew Valley, and charged you with keeping the family legacy alive.

Grandpa is pleased Spring 1 Year 3

 

Off you go, you own a farm. It’s a shambolic mess, several acres full of trees and boulders and detritus. It just needs a little care and attention! It’ll be great! Off you go. Off I went, and from the very first morning on Sparkle Farm (of course I called it Sparkle Farm), I was smitten.

Vintner Spring 2 Year 3

 

It was damn hard work, though. Videogame farming shares some exhaustion and some heartbreak with real life farming. In my second year, I could finally afford a few fruit tree saplings. I planted six, only to have two of them struck by lightning and burned to stumps. Welp. (And no insurance options available at Sparkle Farm, either. In a recent update, lightning results have been changed and now just scorch a tree for three days instead of burning it down. That is kinder, but the total loss of the expensive trees to an arbitrary act of weather felt real.) At the beginning, my only goal was to get sprinklers for my crops so that I didn’t have to spend half the day watering them with a watering can that I had to keep refilling. From that one simple goal, I began looking at what I needed to do, and I could see the entire game full of tasks unfold in front of me, filling in little imaginary slots in my head. It’s the first time I’ve ever had a wholecloth picture of what I needed to do, and in what order, right from the beginning of a game. That is due, in main, to the perfect balance that’s built into the game. There is no aspect of play that you can master without needing to achieve competence in other levels to support you along the way. It was enormously satisfying, even in the very early stages, to tick something off that massive flowchart of goals and build the next piece onto it.

New pig Rumptydoolie

I bought a pig.

As my real world home was increasingly chaotic and unrestful, piles of boxes in the corners, and an ever-fresh heap of bags to donate collecting by the door, my farm home was coming together in adorable and rewarding ways. I learned how to mine and I made sprinklers. I got better at fighting monsters, went deeper in the mines, and made better sprinklers. With better sprinklers, I grew more crops. With more crops, I made more money. With more money, I built a coop and a barn and bought livestock. I contributed to town infrastructure and started to make friends with the villagers. I bought flower seeds and did a little landscaping. Hey, if I’m growing flowers, I should probably make some beehives to make honey.

Artisan Harvest 2, Summer 13, Year 5 Artisan Harvest, Summer 13, Year 5

 

From there, I ventured into artisan farming, making goat cheese and wine and pickles. There is nothing more satisfying than collecting entire rows of pickles, jams, wines and cheeses, to the accompaniment of a little popping sound as you pluck each one from its keg or press. As I mastered those tasks, I started to learn cooking, and to bring better gifts to the villagers. As those relationships developed, they unlocked further areas and abilities of the game. And so on and on, ticking things off my master plan, and knocking one achievement after another off the game board.

sparkle-quick

Gourmet Chef, Summer 3, Year 5

Gourmet Chef Achievement: cook every recipe

The only thing I ignored for a long stretch was fishing. There’s a fishing mini game, and it’s staggeringly hard when you first start out. Hard to the point where I failed over and over again and thought, well, I may never even get beginner-level able to do this. I’ll at least leave it until there’s nothing else to do, or until it’s necessary to move forward. Of course, there came a point when it was necessary to master fishing to move forward. It was maddening, and I was so bad at it for so long, but in the end I beat it. I finally caught a fish, and then another, and then a harder one. Eventually, my fishing skills hit the max level, and I caught every fish in the game, including five legendary fish that you can catch only once. I am stupid proud of my fishing achievement. Ask me about my fishing achievement. The eye patch you’ll see Allergy wearing in a couple of these screenshots is earned with that achievement.

The Legend!, Spring 18, Year 5

 

Most of the time, I have a very sensible (for “sensible,” you may also read “lazy”) approach to lists. I’m pretty happy to postpone, reorganize, or abandon as necessary. To-do lists must be flexible, or we make ourselves ill. It’s not often that a goal really gets under my skin in an uncompromising way, but this one did. I had to finish ticking it off or slowly itch myself to death. The day I caught the last legendary fish and saw that whole collection filled in, I felt an actual physical sense of accomplishment. When I was playing Guild Wars 2, and I finally got good at climbing vistas, I felt a similar sense of pride and satisfaction, but this was personal in a way that never was.

Every Fish, Spring 18, Year 5

 

Partly because I’m so impressed with and attracted to the world of Stardew Valley, and partly because of this chaotic and transitional time in my life, mastering the elements of building a home and community in that world has created a response in me that I’ve never felt for any other game. The more accomplished I became, the more determined I was to truly finish the game: to completely cross off every single element. The one exception to this is a social achievement: you have the option to marry one of several townspeople, and to have or adopt two children (same sex marriages are available, and there are no gender restrictions on character appearance – yet another reason to love it). In-game marriage and kids don’t appeal to me, and the kid aspect in particular I find a bit disturbing (they never age past toddler.) I have no interest in pursuing that element of the game. I find the conversations with townspeople fairly natural, if a little repetitive (that in itself is natural in a small town – everybody’s tracks are very well-worn). The ways your relationships with them develop is comfortable and moderately realistic. But adding a courtship element to those rote conversations would make them stop feeling authentic to me. So I enjoyed building my relationships with the townspeople, but I didn’t want to marry any of them. That achievement will have to remain unticked on the master list, but this run-through feels complete without it. (There may be a second run-through with a different character at some point, if I find I’m obsessing over getting every achievement.)

Rawr

Rawr.

For now, though, I’ve nearly completed my list, and it feels like my time in Stardew Valley is winding down. I tumbled through completing five of my last seven achievements this week: catching all the fish, cooking every item, selling every item, crafting every item, and reaching a max friendship level with 8 characters. Those were the ones that felt truly compelling to me, and the last two are longer-play goals that I can continue to chip away at over time. After this week, though, I don’t think I’ll be spending hours at a time on Sparkle Farm anymore. It looks more or less as I want it to, and it has carried me through an exhausted and depleted time in the real world. It gave me joy and organization and peace in chaos, and I am profoundly grateful for every maddening and adorable minute I spent there. I’m proud of my thorough knowledge of something I admire so much, and it’s always going to feel like home every time I walk through the gate.

Full greenhouse, Summer 13, Year 5

Onward now, to the next world, the new home.

NOTES:

If you’re interested in playing Stardew Valley, there are three great resources I’ve relied on throughout (and more being developed every day, but these are the ones I used most often):

The official Stardew Valley Wiki, created and maintained by ConcernedApe and the player community. Really, really helpful and thorough.

The Stardew Planner, which allows you to workshop your full farm space with all available buildings, farming implements and plants.

Stardew.farm, where you can download software that captures a screenshot of your full farm at the end of every game day and saves it to the website. This is new and a bit glitchy (there are some frames missing from the gif Phil made for me because there was an update to the way they posted), but still a really cool tool. If you’re using it, make sure the software is active in your taskbar before you end a day. As long as that’s running, it will grab the screenshots even if the website that displays them is glitching. They’ll turn up there eventually.

blog on fleek.

Hammer on FleekFor several months last summer and fall, Torchlight II was my go-to game, and I really loved the style of play (which, for lack of another term, seems to be generally referred to as Diablo-like). Tiny characters in a big bowl of a world, with an easy-to-see perspective from above, and no fiddling with camera arrangement. A finite number of buttons to use, and very satisfying battle effects. It was a pretty good sweet spot of physical comfort, ability and fun for me.

Until it got frustrating, for what I consider really unnecessary quality of life reasons. I had a character I loved (Engineer), with a build I loved (Fire & Spark), and I leveled her up to the cap and was so happy when I got my first really good weapon. I kept playing well past that point, but as it turned out, that weapon was my high point. There’s plenty of better gear and good sets, but the game is set up in such a way that you can only get them by very rare random (i.e. not geared to your specific class) chance and endless grinding. Given that I enjoyed my character, that might have been okay in a larger world. Torchlight II isn’t very big, though, so after I’d played through the entire game three more times without being able to complete a full set of end game gear, it was tedious in the extreme.

During this ordeal, Phil watched patiently over my shoulder as I got more and more shouty and frothy at the mouth, and finally bought me a copy of Diablo III. I downloaded it ten days before the start of Season V. Just enough time to get used to the look and feel of it with a practice barbarian, before saddling up and making a seasonal character. I am, by now, very definitely a fan of bashy melee characters, and I chose a Barbarian with an Earthquake build. Her name is Fleeke (seen here all in pink, while pursuing the Pink’d achievement, and with Phil’s crusader, also dressed like a hulking Rococo boudoir of doom).

Pinks on Fleek

Gherkins in Pinks

Season challenges are really nicely set up to walk you through learning how the game should be played. Ticking off the chapter tasks kept Fleeke leveling up nicely, with good gear and XP rewards. I level capped her in 3 glorious days, and set about perfecting her stompy destruction skills.

Level 70 on Fleek

I’d been concerned that the dark look of the game would be off-putting. Playing anything with a very dark dungeon palette tends to make me feel bad after a while. It is a fairly grim-looking game, but it’s turned out to be so fun to play that I have a pretty high tolerance for the dark palette. And then, there’s always Whimsyshire to look forward to, if you’re lucky enough to stumble into the rainbow wormhole of hilarity:

Gherkins go to WhimsydaleWhere Torchlight II was disappointing and withholding, Diablo III is positively profligate. Endless gear drops of increasingly rare and high quality, all built around my class and level. And lest you lose the fun of looking for just that right last piece, there’s always a slightly better version of your best-in-slot gear to be found and/or enchanted.

In short, I’m having a great time. My video game time is pretty limited at the moment, but I’m still finding 30 minutes several nights a week to run rifts or bounties. There’s also a last Season V challenge hanging over my head, undone, but I think I’ll save talking about that for another post.

blaugust #30: outliving the outlander.

I hadn’t really planned on spending the bulk of Sunday wrestling with my outlander in T2, but here we are. When I logged in this morning, I was just going to do a little fishing and tidy my inventory. I’ve had an urge to make biscuits for a couple of days now, and I have a good book that I’m halfway through. I was just going to fish while the water boiled for tea. That was four hours ago.

Ozzy’s just been such a difficult puzzle that I kept banging my head against it, dying over and over again. There were my existing problems of needing a lot of potions, and not having a lot of power to my ammo. And then my pet is really double-secret useless. I know they’ve all got the same base stats on them, so I can’t explain why this panther runs away and dies so much faster than any of my other pets. Maybe that’s a function of higher difficulty. He doesn’t have especially good tags on just yet, but neither did my other pets early on. He has the best things available equipped. Even as a warsnout in regular mob fights, he’s dead almost immediately. So I’ve basically just been ignoring him. I’ve had to step lively to keep myself going, so I’m not stopping to heal him. When I can get Vampiric Spider Eggs, that seems to do the trick for him and he’s much stronger and does great damage. [Side note: he is a blockily animated panther in a game that doesn’t take itself especially seriously, but it still feels really, really bad to ignore him while he limps away and keels over in a corner.]

So there I was, slogging away in the best gear I could equip, with my potions stacked to the rafters, dying and dying and dying. I could kill anything out in the world. I could kill anything in dungeons, but it was expensive and took ages. But I could not kill a single boss. All the Act I quests I did up to the boss fights, and then died almost immediately in those. Because I’ve not played either an outlander or this difficulty level before, I wasn’t sure what combination of those things was making this so hard. I looked for a better shotgunne, but couldn’t find any for sale. So I just kept slogging on, leaving all the bosses unfinished. It was insanely frustrating, but not boring. There was just enough progress I could make that I didn’t want to give up.

And then I finally caught a break. A better shotgunne dropped, and when I equipped it, it cracked the game open. The numbers weren’t crazy higher – about 20% more than what I’d had – but because Ozzy’s build is entirely wrapped up in shotgunne skills, it made a huge difference. I started being able to do dungeon monsters without going through piles of potions, and I went back and finished off all the bosses I’d left hanging. It still took ages, and lots of healing, but I did all the bosses but one without dying. That gave me about three more levels, which is that much more strength and dexterity, and then I got a shotgunne that was better still.

It’s still difficult, and I’m going through way more potions than I ever have on other characters. My panther is still not a great source of help. But I have a handle on surviving and moving forward now, and it feels really satisfying. A year ago, I’d have rage-quit this, and now I can keep myself going, and make progress. On top of being fun, that feels really good.

(This is the eve of the end of Blaugust, dear readers.)

blaugust #26: tickles my fancy.

Torchlight 2 - Ozzy - 8-26-15b

For one reason and another, last weekend I decided to make a third alt in Torchlight 2. My main is an engineer, but she keeps getting really good drops for an outlander. There’s pretty limited storage in Torchlight 2, so I’ve sold most of them. I kept two rings, though, so I rolled an outlander. He’s called Ozzy, short for Ozymandias, and he’s got a pet panther named Tickles. Obviously.

I’ve been playing on normal for a couple months now, so I also decided I’d kick the difficulty up a notch for this one. This was possibly not my best-laid plan. I’m concentrating on a mostly dexterity build, with some strength points every few levels to bolster my ammo. But the outlander’s coolest and most devastating skill, early on, is a glaive throw that sucks the ever-loving life out of my mana reserves. I could improve that pretty quickly by spending some skill points on focus, but I’m going for a different build on him and I want to try to do without it, at least for a while. My experience over the first ten levels has been rough going. I can use my main shotgunne skill, with the weak ammo and lack of range that entails at low levels. That means I need a lot of health potions and I still die a fair amount. Or I can use my glaive throw and fare much better, but go through expensive mana potions at a pretty alarming rate. Essentially, early level fights don’t generate enough gold to sustain me.

Torchlight 2 - Ozzy - 8-26-15My solution for this so far is just to progress much more slowly than I have before. Kill absolutely everything and collect every penny on a map before I move on. Tonight I also remembered I can fish for income, so I’ve spent a peaceful and fairly lucrative hour doing that. Next up: seeing about some better, less death-y gear.

So far, I’m not enjoying this class nearly as much as engineer and embermage, but I’m having fun with the challenge of trying to work around the limitations.

(Today is day 26 of the Blaugust challenge.)

blaugust #19: soldier on, salad.

GW2 - Tristis - Kessex Hills 8-17-15b

I couldn’t sleep last night, and I’ve been out all day today. I had a longer post planned, but I’m staggering tired. It will keep. So just a short post tonight.

I revived Tristis and have spent a couple of evenings in Guild Wars 2 this week. She’s got better gear on now and is looking like a steampunk schoolgirl run amok. If that needs translation, I mean she looks good. Following advice,  I’ve abandoned all pretense of crafting and am selling everything I farm and any drops that aren’t useful. I’ve got a couple good salvage kits, but when those are kaput I probably won’t buy more. There is a surprising amount of money to be made in butter and pristine toxic spore samples! I upgraded her weapon and sigils and am sitting on a tidy pile of gold now. I could buy better armor, and probably should, but earning it feels nice.

I spent my first few forays in Kessex Hills, where I died a lot. I mean, A LOT. More than I should have, even for reacclimating and being under-geared. This is because I am crap at playing an elementalist. I can see how it should work. I know she can be a whirlwind of fiery death. But my dodging and spec-switching skills just aren’t there. It’ll take a lot of work. I stuck with it long enough to get decent gear for my level, but then departed for easier fare last night. It’s too hot to die 20 times in an evening. Map completion is a good motivator for me, and I still haven’t done all the starting areas. Last night I did Hoelbrak, and wow! I fell in love. The giant scale of it, and all the Viking-esque snow and ice were really appealing (it is so hot here, so hot). And I totally did not fall off a giant ice sculpture of a bear and plummet to my death in the powdery snow below. Neeeever happened. It was a fun night. So my salad soldiers on in frozen climes (salad crisper?), although I’m now dreaming of a Norn alt in a melee class. Bashing is so simple, y’know?