Weekly Update: July 29, 2019

Visit to upstate NY

Last weekend I was in upstate NY — by some definitions, at least — to attend a cousin’s graduation party. While I did not see any oversized garden gnomes this time, I spent most of the 95-degree day in my uncle and aunt’s amazing in-ground pool, watched The Cat Returns, and slept in a beautifully air conditioned camper.

(Oh also I somehow managed to convince my six-year-old second cousin that I was Queen Elizabeth? So there’s that).

Matt couldn’t come with me, so EB kept me company on the trip. On our way there, we stopped in Carmel, NY, at a monument commemorating Sybil Ludington, the “teenage girl Paul Revere.” On our way out of town we stopped at two Atlas Obscura sites: the abandoned graveyard of the Dutch Reform church in Beacon, NY, and Balanced Rock in North Salem, NY.

Definitely the abandoned cemetery was the creepiest of them all, with trees devouring gravestones, tall brush, and crypts that were broken open and collapsed. AO says that no one has been buried here since the 1920s, but we saw gravestones from as late as 1990, so surely some family members are still alive and must care about the state of their loved ones’ memorials…

Games

Been doing a lot of gaming lately, because life is hard for me right now. Steam tells me I’ve logged 68 hours in the last two weeks, although at least some of those hours were due to accidentally leaving a game open overnight šŸ˜‰

I finally finished Graveyard Keeper. I didn’t 100% it, as I considered doing — those fishing achievements are kind of awful. The ending was clever and very on-brand.

The only thing I wonder about is how replayable it is. There’s a simulation aspect to it that’s endlessly repeatable, sure, but you’re ultimately tied to the story mode, which might be tiresome to go through a second time.

I also spent some time on Game Dev Tycoon. This game is probably most famous for its innovative anti-piracy measures — where the developers uploaded a “pirate” version to torrent sites, which works like the real version, except that your game dev studio steadily loses money to piracy until you eventually go broke. (If you have the paid version, you can optionally choose to play in pirate mode, too, if you really want a challenge!) Gotta admire that cheekinessā€¦ also the game was dirt cheap, so it’s not like paying for it really put me out.

The game starts you in the infancy of game development, in a garage, making games for the “Govodore 64” and other definitely-not-copyright-infringing systems. You then play through the next thirty-eight years of games history, trying not to go broke. At the end it calculates a score based on how many games you’ve released, how profitable they were, etc. So basically it’s kind of a game where you play multiple times to see how to improve your scores.

(I feel like you could make a really interesting simulation game, Larp Owner, on a very similar model. But that might be Too Real for some people!)

At this point I’ve gotten to year 38 on two playthroughs and gone bankrupt on two or three. I can’t figure out why I keep having trouble in the same spot, right about in year fifteen or so. I keep making games that prior experience says will be successful, but which turn out to be flops.

I’ve put it aside for a bit, if only because I ran out of clever things to name my games! (I was particularly proud of my time travel/adventure game called “Night of the Cephalopod,” though).

Next up in my queue was Papers, Please. It’s really a brilliant game, and I’m just sad I’ve waited six years to play this! You play a border control officer/passport inspector at the border of a fictional Eastern Bloc country, approving or denying people’s entry visas based on an increasingly Byzantine set of rules. You get paid based on how many people you process. At the end of the day you are told how your family is doing, and might have to make some hard choices about whether or not they get food, heat, or medicine.

Unlike most of the games I play, this game is not about accomplishment. You can never really get ahead. Just as you think you’ve got the hang of stamping passports, the rules gets more difficult, or a terrorist attack cuts the day short. It’s really the “empathy game” I’ve heard it called, where it’s about experiencing the frustration and arbitrariness of having such a job, the uneasiness from the intrusive body scans you have to perform on some immigrants, and the hard decisions you must make.

Also I want to call out that the booth UI is ridiculously clunky, and that seems to be a deliberate design decision. Which is, of course, perfectly in tune with the rest of the game. You can buy keyboard shortcuts at the end of each day, but that also has to come out of your meager pay.

So, it’s an intense game. Maybe too intense for some people. (I’m thinking of my friends who actually grew up in Soviet regimesā€¦)

At this point I’ve gotten a couple of different endings, including one of the very few win conditions, so I think I’m done stamping passports for the time being. I might go back and explore some of the other endings at some point.

I just began playing Cities: Skylines, a city building simulator from Paradox. Like most Paradox games, it does not hold your hand! In the thirty minutes I played so far, I had three sinkholes and a tornado. Soā€¦ I think maybe I’ll turn off Natural Disasters until I get the hang of things? Also maybe not try a scenario first thingā€¦

I’m trying to prevent myself from buying House Flipper, even though it’s on sale right now. (And I finished three games from my backlog in the last two weeks!) I just love weirdass sim games… but who knows how much game time I’ll actually have in August.

On that note…

August Plans

I’ll be traveling for nearly two weeks in August — first attending the Stratford Festival in Ontario with my mom, then camping in upstate NY with my dad. I’ll be fairly off the grid for most of that; international data is pricey when I’m in Canada, and when I’m camping I won’t have power at all.

Given this, I’ll use my vacation time as an excuse to do a shorter version of the “digital declutter” that Cal Newport recommends in his book Digital Minimalism. Basically this means I won’t be using optional web technology. It remains for me to decide what is truly “optional”, but at the very least I’ll be avoiding social media. I haven’t decided yet if this includes things like text messages or various apps. But it’s safe to say I’ll be harder to reach during this time. Let me know before August if you need any additional contact info.

Author: Lise

Hi, I'm Lise Fracalossi, a web developer and writer. I live in Central Massachusetts with my husband, three Maine coon cats, and a collection of ridiculous hats.

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