“Stardew Valley” (31/12/17)
(Created by ConcernedApe, bought from the Steam site)
A game which won its way into the heart of a recovering technophobe , Stardew Valley is an adventure into discovering, or re-discovering a simpler lifestyle.
Recently I’ve been wondering why I don’t play as many games as I would’ve thought I’d end up doing (basically this page should be a lot more full than it is now) and a few things have come to mind: 1) that with gaming never having played a significant role in my upbringing (I grew up in a rather gadget-shy household and also didn’t happen to have too many contacts that had access to said technology) so it simply never became a habit as it has done with others of my generation 2) I found that when I finally was initiated into the world of modern gaming (I’m not going to count retro games for the time being) there weren’t that many games that I actually both liked and understood how to play. I’ve always been very bad at quitting when I don’t see even the slightest hint of a possible solution to a problem so the Steam account I ended up creating is full of games played for less than an hour which I thought would be the “next big thing” for me but something just… got in the way.
Stardew Valley was such a game for a brief period of time. I was introduced to the game by my ex who knows my incredibly fickle approach to games, and indeed lots of failed ventures, all too well, but even this game I faltered in at the first hurdle. The basic “premise” is that after years of living a bleak, mundane, Office Space-style existence, suddenly a distant relative bequeaths a patch of land and a house in a remote small town to you and, with barely a moment’s thought, you jump at the chance for a new life. From then on it is your role to integrate into the Stardew Valley lifestyle as much as possible, building up your farm, planting crops, harvesting, developing other skills as appropriate (I somehow ended up becoming quite proficient at mining and foraging)… not to mention winning your way into the hearts of the residents of the town.
After a hiccup in the game which saw me quit for a few months (the details of which I can’t even remember) I decided to give it another go over the 2017 festive season and it temporarily took over my entire life. After looking up a few tricks and techniques, and resources such as the Stardew Valley Wiki, I got over the initial obstacle, whatever that might’ve been, and the rest was most engaging. Once I learned how to carry out landscape maintenance, till the soil, plant crops, etc, the thrill of seeing them grow day by day gave me the hook I needed to keep watching the days, and seasons, unfold and lead to a sense of settling into the place.
Being randomly given a cat to adopt, whom the game named “Miso”, also didn’t harm my overall opinion.
Some of the key features which stuck out for me, in a positive way, were:
- The soundtrack. This is really the kind of background music I’d listen to independently of the game. The innocent twinkling chimes give the game a sheen which glosses over the occasional attack by slimey creatures whose species is unidentifiable at a cursory glance, and the implication of darker forces at work behind the safe small-town vibe.
- The possibility of maintaining a vegan-friendly lifestyle in Stardew Valley – even though it’s only a game I’d feel a bit hypocritical playing a game where I both farmed live animals and profited from their products. Certainly there are moments where it’s difficult to avoid some inadvertent participation in animal consumption (ice fishing was one seeming compulsory activity in order to complete one of the winter community gathering scenes) and many of the challenges and requests which are posited to you in the game involve retrieving products of creatures which, one can ascertain, can only involve their demise. Indeed it is a game which is clearly rooted in replicating the norms of a small town/village in the middle of relative nowhere, so it would be naive to assume that things would roll exactly the same way they might do in an urban setting with a vegan grocery store/cafe at every turn. However I have reached the middle of the second year in Stardew Valley subsiding solely on growing plants (fruit and veg), felling trees, cutting stones, foraging and making donations to the local museum and library which, to be perfectly honest, seem to be received more with indifference than anything else. (Although sometimes you get the odd reward which is nice.)
- (Some of) the people. The social contract of Stardew Valley perhaps warrants its own piece sometime (with the strategic gift-giving being just one detail) but the people themselves, once you mange to corner them or stop them in their tracks for a passing conversation, are quite engaging and genuinely happy to see you. They’ll reveal quite personal details simply if you’re passing by, which can help you to get to know them better, and if there was such a thing which helped you log the individual preferences of each character outside of having to exit the game to access the wiki on a frequent basis then that would greatly ease the process of acquaintance. There IS the odd hostile character, and quite honestly lots of them react unfavourably to gifts they just so happen not to like, but overall the social intricacies of small-town life are quite similar to what a real life counterpart might be like. I’ve met some interesting “outsider” characters, most notably, the local wizard who lives just south of my farm who participates in a bit of alchemy here and there and always welcomes a bit of precious metal and void essence, and whatever those creatures are in the abandoned community centre who add a bit of extra intrigue.
- The general straightforwardness of “life in the valley” has something of a magnetism all of its own. The lack of TVs, phones, laptops, etc, far from being an anomaly (especially playing in this day and age) is scarcely even noticeable, and in fact would itself be seen as being as much of a disruptive presence in the town as the big conglomerate superstore in the game which is attempting to take over the local way of life.
- The cat called Miso. Just hearing the paw-licking and occasional “MIAOW” while I’m tilling away in the garden gives off its own feel-good vibe.
Some of the features I couldn’t quite get into were:
- The speed at which the time passes by. There are only twenty-eight days per season and each “day” goes by within the space of about five minutes in real time, which means that the chores have to be done in a real hurry. The sense of time flying by doesn’t do much to ease the idea that you’re not being sufficiently productive or making enough progress in the game.
- The social mores of the town are quite odd at times. Having to literally blockade someone’s path in order to stop them so you can make small talk with them seems rather… invasive? Yet there are penalties for “ignoring” someone who is passing by lest they think you’re rude, and they never slow down to talk to you. The idea of giving a certain number of gifts and making a “small talk quota” per week seems rather more artificial than I’d like, but of course who’s to say that the Stardew Valley way of doing things is any weirder than in real life… needless to say it’s getting rather harder to get into people’s good books – and stay there – than I would like to think would normally be the case.
Overall, in my opinion it is an engaging (and often compulsive) simulation game, not entirely unlike what I remember The Sims being like, and I hope to make much more progress as a crop-growing forager who endlessly donates useless junk to the local cultural hub of the town if I play the game a little more.
“Mirror’s Edge” (29/03/14)
Created by EA Digital Illusions CE (Playstation 3)
Mirror’s Edge is a high octane action game, played in first person in the character, Faith, as a “runner” in a dystopian city. It is up to you – Faith – to help carry messages and packages, in any way possible, around the city in order to convey information in a society which has developed a major crackdown on freedom of information.
At the beginning, Faith has been out of the game for a while, due to an injury, so she is taken through basic training again (high kicks, punches, disarming), which proves to be useful stuff to know in the game. It is immediately obvious that the game has a heavy parkour influence, a practice in which any aspect of a city – rooftops, ledges, roping, massive gaps between each building – are simply obstacles to be overcome.
It takes a short while to get the hang of the moves in order to get from A to B without falling with a resounding splat and having to start the level all over again (and if you’re like me, you’ll be doing a lot of “real life” moving and jerking in time to the game), but it soon feels like second nature to be leaping and climbing to each destination.
A storyline, of course, begins to unfold throughout the game. After Faith’s brief rehabilitation, trouble is soon afoot in the city once again, and she has to deliver potentially life-threatening messages here and there, whilst learning that her sister, a member of the police, is being implicated in the murder of a mayoral candidate.
Soon, Faith overhears another plot and potential lead, which is the only reliable way to gain information now in a society in which conversations via phone and email are heavily monitored, and it is not long before Faith is discovered and heavily pursued by armed guards, which keeps her very busy and in which she is usually lucky to escape from in one piece. Personally, I have yet to accomplish this feat, and it remains an ongoing challenge…
Clearly, one of the main appeals of playing a character such as Faith is in getting to play an otherwise normal and witty person who is trying to survive and remain honest in a place where this is nearly impossible. The normalisation of parkour – a sport requiring a sharply keen sense of spatial awareness, agility, and a perfect balance – shows just how far many in Faith’s generation are willing to go to defy an oppressive regime.
Some levels require many attempts to defeat the enemy, during which it is tempting to give up, but do keep going. You’ll want to see where Faith’s journey will take her, and you, in this game.
“Don’t Starve” (27/02/14)
Created by Klei Entertainment (brought in the Steam store)
Don’t Starve is an indie game of survival from day to day in an oddly shaped island – generated differently on every “day” – with a background tone reminiscent of a quaint Victorian era, in which all the protagonist needs for an adventure is a sense of naive curiosity. This tone is ready-made from the beginning, so you’re good to go.
You begin the game as Maxwell, who is awakened by a gentleman who advises him to eat something soon before darkness falls, which on the first day, seems to fall rather rapidly. From then on, there is apparently little else to do, and that can be done, other than to wander around the place (walk, trot, amble, you choose) and start uprooting things from the ground such as carrots and berries, pulling grass and picking up stones and chopping down trees with the axe you’ll need to create with some of the objects you retrieve. If you’re lucky on the first evening, you’ll have time to make passing remarks about objects in the area. Pass a skeleton and be grateful for your own vitality (“Better him than me”), pass a tree and make a frankly unoriginal observation (It’s all piney”), and gloat victoriously over the stump when you’re done chopping (“Take that, nature!”).
At the very least, you need to gather enough materials to build a campfire, if only to ward off the creepy crawly creatures in the woods, which will start getting “bitey” come the night-time. And of course, gather enough food to nibble on so that you – Don’t Starve.
Admittedly, so far I have not been able to do much beyond merely surviving from day to day, but the island changes a little each day so it’s not a totally finite area, and if you get bored and want to “regenerate” the place you can always just jump down a worm-hole if you find one. Apparently, there is a more “science-y” theme to the game which can be brought out if you know how, which I would really like to find as I don’t much like the way my “brain icon” in the upper corner is quickly withering away.
I would certainly welcome a further dimension to the game rather than merely surviving, which may be something of an unfair demand of a game called “Don’t Starve”, but given what the game hints at as being plausible with the right materials, I think I’ll stick it out a bit longer and see what more there may be to come.
Created by Mason Lindroth (& courtesy of Rock Paper Shotgun)
This is a game which, upon first impression, is one stripped bare, adhering strictly to a true minimalist style. Its sparse, grayscale imagery immediately sets it apart, visually, from the majority of games out there.
You “awaken” in the living room, then start moving around and snooping, as one may. Before long, an exclamation mark above the head indicates that one “ought to do something”… all else done, you go outside.
The house you love in is almost Dali-esque, with a lone chicken pacing around the upper level garden. You go to visit it only for it to fly away. If it’s meant to be your pet then it’s not a very trusting one..
Wandering around waiting for inspiration – or “exclamation” – to strike, you get in the car and take a drive by hitting space.
What a bizarre world you find yourself living in. The surreal sketchy style extends to the “outside” world as you drive along – although you cannot go far off course as going off the road is not a possibility.
With the apparently limited choice available to you, this game is visually stark and compelling enough to draw you in, and even the mundane has a touch of the “quirky”.
“Journaliere” translates as “daily”, the implication therein being that this is, essentially, everyday life. Given that it has the atmosphere of an obscure arthouse movie, it is a suitably “alternative” way to pass a brief period of your day. Worth a try.
(This is the first and last time I will ever end a post or article with “Fin”. Promise.)