Stardew Valley has been out for years at this point and I have heard nothing but good things about the game. My wife has been playing it for quite a while actually and it was on sale recently on Xbox for $8 so I decided to pick it up. I have played a number of the farm/life sim games over the years and I even really go into Animal Crossing Wild World back on the DS years back.
Other than that though I have never really been captured by any of the life simulation games. I have played the Sims here and there and I have played some Harvest Moon games as well. Stardew has taken me by surprise though. It is quote simply one of the most relaxing and chill games I have ever played. It's too bad that it is not available on the Nintendo 3Ds because I really see it as an ideal portable game.
The music, the atmosphere, the coloring is all there. I am only in my first year and I have made it to the autumn season, and I just love how each season in the game has a completely different vibe. What's more, is that there are no fail conditions as far as I know. You are completely free to tackle each task at your own pace and while the initial premise of the game is farming, that certainly does not have to be a priority item for you if you do not wish it to be.
Perhaps one of my favorite features though straight out is that time doesn't pass when you log out. I know that this is a defining feature for Animal Crossing, but Animal Crossing is one of those games that demands your attention. If you aren't playing it daily it literally makes you feel bad when you miss a day. The life sim games have always been about playing them in short bursts for me. I might play and hour or two a week, play it for a while and then take months off before coming back again.
I think that Stardew quite simply might be the perfect life sim game and is by far the most enjoyable I have ever played.
The weather is finally starting to come around, people are getting fully vaccinated and I can already see the eagerness in most people's eyes to try and "get back to normal". Despite 2020 being full of different levels of stress for different people, I can't help but feel a bit more anxiety right now more than at any time back in 2020. I missed being able to go on vacation last year and also going out to dinner, but man, do I not want to go back. To be honest, I think I would rather take 2020 again than take pre-covid. I just really do not want to have to interact with people, like at all.
You know what, last year was the first time in as long as I can remember that I didn't get a bad cold or the flu. I felt like there was something strangely comforting with being home and also knowing that everyone was at home. We all had a taste of seeing the world through the same lens there for a moment, regardless of what your income or social status was. I feel like some of that is going to be lost and in many cases people are trying so hard to get back to the "default" that any sort of learned habits are going to go completely out the window.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Another good book in the Hercule Poirot series, although this one isn't quite as brilliant as some of the others I have read. My real issue with this book isn't the mystery at hand. That follows the fairly standard Hercule Poirot "whodunit" formula with twist and turns. For the most part, this was a solid enough entry with that respect, although I did find myself parsing out who the murderer was fairly early on.
My major issue with this book had to do with the Hastings character. His bungling of major points of evidence throughout the story broke much of the illusion for me. The fact that there was no legal repercussions for someone who lost evidence and then at a later point, potentially harbored a murderer really just doesn't make sense.
I did really enjoy the Giraurd character, mainly because it was fairly evident that he was meant to be a crude version of Sherlock Holmes. It was a nice jab at the two famous characters from this genre.
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I may have mentioned this before online, but the past year or so I have had a really hard time getting into books. One would think with the pandemic in 2020, that last year would have been the ideal time to really get some good reading done. Unfortunately, I really struggled last year to get into anything very deep.
I was having the same trouble through the first couple months of this year as well, and Megan suggested that I may be in a bit of a rut simply with the types of books I was trying to read. Now, I typically like to read fiction, fantasy specifically, that will give me a bit of escape. I have been just trying to read the same type of thing over and over though and not making any real ground. While talking it came to me that I should dive back into some "whodunit" murder mysteries. I read some Hercule Poirot by Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes stories a few years ago and I really enjoyed them, way more than I would have thought. In fact, Murder on the Orient Express has become one of my favorite books.
I decided to pickup book #2 in the Poirot series, "The Murder on the Links". So far it has been a delight to read, and I have to laugh at the subtle stabs at Sherlock Holmes that seem to exist in the book.
That brings me though to a website that I want to recommend to everyone. If you have an ereader, I highly suggest you check out Standardebooks.org. It is site that takes public domain books, many of them from Project Gutenberg, re-formats them and puts a cover on the ebook. It is a really nice site and while it is not nearly as comprehensive as Gutenberg, there is a really nice collection of some common books there. I have linked below some books I have picked up there that I have already read and really enjoyed.
I came across what has to be one of the coolest website I have seen in a long time. It is called Artbreeder.com and it utilizes AI to morph and merge images together. You essentially input two parent images and it will create an offspring. There are several categories on the site that you and select from, so I presume the the AI system has been tweaked for each one to get the best results. As you can see from the image above, where I have the portrait system selected, there are some sliders for various features you can select.
The results are algorithmic, so you don't have any control over the creation. This isn't drawing, but it is an easy way to get an endless amount of good imagery. I have found the portrait mode to be very useful and something you can easily kill a few hours just going down the rabbit hole on.
The only quirk I have found with the portraits at least, is that they tend to favor very "soft" female features. You also have to pay a fee to upload your own images, which is understandable, if unfortunate.
I have spent a long time trying to find the right tool and system for campaign planning for D&D. I posted about my struggles and my approach back in 2019, and I have to say that since that time I never found a perfect setup. I like to keep my session notes to paper as much as possible, and the Tül notebook has severed me really well, but with the past year going fully online for all of our D&D play, that has shifted my approach and perspective a bit. The notebook works great for my individual session planning, but has proven to be a bit harder to manage long term planning and tracking of multiple narrative arcs.
I have tried a whole ton of different apps for the past couple of years, ranging from Evernote, to Apple Notes, to Onenote and more. I even tried online systems like World Anvil, Kanka and Obsidian Portal. All of them have left me "wanting" in different ways.
OneNote was a strong contender for a while and there is an excellent template setup online. Unfortunately my work uses Office 365 and at least when I last checked this out in the spring, there wasn't a way to login to multiple accounts for OneNote on a single device, so writing and development became a bit hard. The OneNote template also looked gorgeous, but I found myself often times fiddling a bit too much with formatting and not actually "writing" the campaign out.
I also looked quite a bit at the various online systems, such as World Anvil, etc. While I did like them, at the end of the day I just can't pay for another online service. They also never felt "quick enough" for me. I couldn't login and get to the page I wanted to fast enough to just "idea dump" when something came to my mind.
What I have discovered over the past few weeks though is an application called Bibisco. I have found that it has a really nice breakdown of writing sections that works really well for campaign planning, breaking narrative elements into Scenes. This has worked out really nicely for how my brain approaches my D&D planning. There is too much to breakdown into a single blog post, so I have instead put together a video overview of how I have been using Bibisco over the past month or so. The software isn't perfect, and I try to identify some of its shortcomings, but it has been one of the better fits that I have found to date for D&D planning.
If the developers take a few notes to improve some areas, it could really become an ideal world building application.
I have never been a fan of point buy system for D&D stats. I feel it lends itself a bit too much leeway for those people who are obsessed with building the "perfect" character build. I am not saying it is wrong, just I like the idea of D&D having a bit of randomness in everything it does to make the outcomes exciting and unpredictable. Typically I use the Standard Array system, but that admittingly gets pretty boring. There is of course the standard roll and drop method too, where you roll 4d6 dice, and drop the lowest number. You do that six times and add up your scores to get your character's scores. That works fairly well, but it can really skew someone's stats if they end up with even two very high or very poor scores.
I have seen this "TicTacToe" method online which I sort of like, which should give people an option to not feel "locked in" if their roll and drop doesn't go their way.
Every once in a while I come across a game, a book, a movie, or whatever that absolutely hits me emotionally. More often than not, it hits me in such as way that I had no idea that it was coming. Deadhouse Gates did that to me for books and Blade Runner did that to me for film. Off the time of my head I cannot say that I have been hit so emotionally before by a video game, at least in the sort of emotion that conveys sadness, melancholy, and resolution.
Spiritfarer is that game for me. An incredibly gorgeous 2D side scroller that has you playings as a Spiritfarer, an entity that guides lost sprits to the Everdoor and to whatever lies beyond. I want to make sure that I convey this game to everyone and its impact without spoiling it, because part of the charm and part of the impact that to conveys to you is the story that unfold as you shepherd souls to the Everdoor.
The Everdoor is a gate, and quite literally the gate to the afterlife, which lends one to ask, where does the game take place? It doesn't take place in the "living world", as it is made clear to you from the outset that not only are the inhabitants, but you too are in fact deceased. I would guess then that the world is a sort of purgatory or waiting room for the next life. Your job is to help the individuals you come across put closure to their lives and help them pass on.
It all sounds rather dark, but it is wrapped up into a beautiful Animal Crossing style package that presents to you whimsical and loving characters who are all represented as various animals. Keeping on the Animal Crossing theme a bit, there is a community building aspect to the game where you have to gather resources and build your residents homes.
Where the game really gets to me though is in the story moments, the small snippets of dialog that occur between the Spiritfarer and the various inhabitants. You get a touch into all of the character's lives as they reflect upon their successes and failures when they were alive. It is very touching and each time when you finally shepherd your inhabitants to the Evertdoor to say their final farewell, the moment is bittersweet each time. What makes the game so good though, is that they are able to make each characters goodbye mean something. Some of these characters are easily lovable, while others were no necessarily good people during their life. They were mean, perhaps criminals and sometimes dishonest and failures. In the end though, the characters all seem real based upon how they approach their final moments at the Everdoor based upon all of their past life experiences. Some of them are grateful, some are relieved. Others view the experience with resolve or even outright indifference. It seems true either way and in the end the game tells you in no uncertain terms that the time will come for all of us to eventually say goodbye. It is sad, sometimes tragically so, but it is a lesson that we all need to confront eventually in our lives.
I came out of this game really reflecting upon the experiences and time you get to have with everyone around you and there were times as I played this game, watching the Spiritrarer say goodbye to a companion, and I had to pause in the reflective and quiet moment. It makes you want to hug that loved one you have nearby because sometimes you never quite know when goodbye comes.
So I finally did it. I have been resisting for years to get into the reoccurring music payment services that are out there like Spotify and Apple Music. I just don't really want to get int oa $10 a month for eternity system that means I would lose all of my music if I decided to stop paying. For the $10 a month, I would much rather just purchase something to add to my music collection.
I do pay for iTunes Match, which is $24 a year and absolutely fine for the price to add my existing music library to the cloud for streaming. I am actually surprised there aren't more services that do this. All that being said, I didn't actually pay for the service that everyone may have thought I would. So instead of purchasing Spotify or Apple Music, I instead went with a subscription to DI.FM. What the heck is that you might ask?
DI.FM is an electronic music streaming radio network. It is a radio network, so there is no music that you download. It is a combination of live radio shows and programed radio shows/playlists with a huge variety of electronic music genres, I think there is something like 50 sub-genre stations to choose form.
Why would I have done this you ask? Well, it really boils down to the way that I like to listen to my music, The vast majority of my time I am listening to music as a background ritual, either while I am working or doing other hobbies. Of that time while listening, I more often than not want to listen to music that doesn't have any lyrics to it or isn't intrusive. I listen to quite a bit of classical and jazz music in addition to electronic because of that. The thing is, is I don't really need to keep that on my person in almost any scenario, except one, which I will get to in a bit.
My actual music library is mostly a collection of a few selected albums with lyrics that I really like, with the rest being a goto selection of albums and tracks that fit my original "background playing" intent. The Skyrim soundtrack is always on my playlist by the way.
The one scenario where I may want to listen to something more comes into play with my motorcycle. Those who know me know that I wasn't a huge fan of having a radio on my motorcycle and up until last year I didn't have one. I didn't even have a bluetooth headset to listen to music to while I rode. That changed a bit when I got my new bike past year and it came with one year of SiriusXM on it. Now, I actually liked SiriusXM quite a bit. Having commercial free radio accessible anywhere in the country was really nice and I was very close to paying for SiriusXM up until a few months ago, after my subscription expired. The thing is that SiriusXM is kinda expensive. It costs $17 a month, and sure you can find some deals online that take it down to $60 for the year, but that involved haggling and in some cases playing the phone game with them much like you would with Comcast for your cable subscription price. I just have zero interest in doing that. I really only listen to 4-5 stations on SirusXM in any real way, so I couldn't justify that price and hassle.
Now if I could get it in both my car, my motorcycle and online streaming for $15 a month, I might consider that, but the pricing just doesn't compete against even Spotfy or Apple Music. What SiriusXM did though was solidify how I like to listen to music and that is when I began the rabbit whole of looking for some online streaming services. TuneIn, Pandora, etc. all had a good look. I kept coming back to DI.FM though and what is nice about them is I could stream the entire service for free with commercials. I finally gave in here this past week and decided to go ahead and get a subscription, which only cost me $4 a month, which is more than reasonable for the what they offer. They even offer integration to other services and hardware like Sonos or receivers that have vTuners in them, so that may be worth exploring a bit more.