Thursday, March 08, 2018

Gamehouse Going Too Far?

For a long time, Gamehouse had only a small number of original games. Their only long-term time management series was “Delicious” in its various iteration (“Campfire Legends” was their shot at horror HOGs). While I’d personally say everything before “Delicious: Emily’s Taste of Fame” isn’t really good, the series definitely has evolved over time. Recently, they’ve used the same engine (with various tweaks) to start off several more series and do several one-shots (so far).

Their first try quite some time ago was “Heart’s Medicine,” which also was the game which started their ‘mini-game craze.’ After playing the game, a lot of people were waiting for a sequel, but it took ages until it came - only to be followed very quickly by a third one.
It might seem logical that they would make a ‘sister series’ to “Delicious,” especially as Emily, main character of the “Delicious” series, has a sister who has featured prominently already: Angela. So about a year ago, Angela got a short game with four levels (“Fabulous: Angela’s Sweet Revenge”), the first “Fabulous” game - if you can call a four-level affair for 99 cents a game. After a lot of people enjoyed the four levels of Angela getting even with her (now ex-)husband, she got her first full game with “Fabulous: Angela’s Fashion Fever.” Fashion in addition to food proved a good idea and the game sold well enough so recently there was a third (actually second) “Fabulous” game (“Fabulous: Angela’s High School Reunion”).
But Gamehouse didn’t stop at that. Several other games have come out during the last few months alone, including “Dr. Cares” (veterinarian drama), “The Love Boat” (yes, based on that TV series you might still slightly remember), and “Parker & Lane” (crime drama). In addition, there’s games like “Cathy’s Crafts,” “Mary le Chef,” and “Sally’s Salon” (they got the rights to Sally from the original makers, apparently). They even made a FROG with the engine, using another original content they had: “Mortimer Beckett and the Book of Gold,” which also features the sister of Emily’s husband.
In addition, they pushed their publishing schedule for the “Delicious” series, more than doubling the output per year. It seems that since Emily got married, she’s more interesting than before - or she needs to work more in order to keep the family afloat, who knows? After all, she’s got three kids now.

I’m not sure what to think about this. On one hand, I like most of the games. They have the same feeling as the “Delicious” series (which I still love, despite Emily being a wet hanky most of the time - Angela has a better drama management than her older sister, as is obvious from her own series). They expand the basic topic from only food service to fashion, medicine, and many other things. They bring in new characters (or bring back loved ones, like Sally).
Yet, the newer games no longer have an adjustable difficulty, which is a little let-down for me. Some also seem a little imbalanced - which is one reason why I recently started buying them from Steam instead of Gamehouse, because there I get automatic updates. The other is the Premium Editions (which are the Gamehouse equivalent to BFGs Collector’s Editions) are cheaper on Steam. Yes, I’ve invested a lot of money into Steam by now…

The new game policy of Gamehouse is a double-edged sword for me, therefore. A lot more games to play (and they’re all colourful and fun), yet also a few developments which I could very well do without (mini-games and only one difficulty, especially). The fun achievements from the early “Delicious” series such as ‘have an order on your tray before it turns up’ have disappeared, too. The games still have achievements which are usually shown on an extra screen, fitting with the topic of the game, but they’re pretty much the same old now, the same kind of achievement you find in most casual games (especially the PEs or CEs). I’m afraid they’re actually going to ruin the series (and its type of time management game) in the long run with the changes and the huge number of games they put out.
Yet, I still get giddy when a new game turns up, especially when I wasn’t expected it (like “Parker & Lane” two weeks or so back). I still get curious, I have to download the demo, I fidget until it’s on Steam (or break down and buy from Gamehouse instead). I still like the games - well, most parts of them.

Gamehouse is still doing good time management games, which is good news, because they’re pretty rare by now (lots more HOGs on the market which I’m by now hardly interested in, a few series withstanding). But I would really like it if they toned it down - with the amount they release and with the drama in some of them (looking at “Delicious” and “Heart’s Medicine” especially).

Subnautica Review

So, after my last review, here another one. This time for the underwater survival game “Subnautica.” I mean, it’s an underwater survival game, what’s not to love here?

First of all, I have to admit that I didn’t have an eye on it at all. I had heard about it, seen some stuff on Steam sometimes (mostly in the ‘popular’ section), but I didn’t pay any attention. That changed when one of my favourite YouTube channels ran a first Let’s Play on it. I was completely fascinated by what I could see - even though it was not much of what you can actually do in the game. Since the guy doing the Let’s Play was just beginning, he was putting out the fire in his lifeboat and diving in the shallows, where you can’t go deep and every life form is either completely harmless or at any rate passive (except for that stupid exploding fish in the caves there).
What fascinated me was the great way the diving was simulated in the game. The movements of the character underwater felt right - even more so after I’d bought the game and started playing it myself. Swimming and diving felt like it should. I’ve never done any diving in deeper water (where you’d need an oxygen tank and training), but I’ve done some diving in shallow water while holding my breath. A lot of it while I was a kid, really.
In addition, the game was outright beautiful in my eyes. Some people might argue that the textures aren’t as high definition as they could be and, yes, sometimes stuff plops up without warning, but on the whole, the underwater world looks great. Well, not in that area where there’s little but some shark-like creatures and barren grey spires, but everywhere else. Even in the depth there’s weird and beautiful things. To a degree, even the leviathans (huge sea monsters in various types) look beautiful in a scary way.

So, I bought the game and started playing, completely losing myself in that world. The game comes with four different difficulty settings from hardcore survival (with permanent death) to creative (where you don’t have to worry about anything and have unlimited resources). While I do really enjoy the survival mode (not hardcore, bur regular, where there’s no perma-death), I’ve spent more time in creative mode, simply because it allowed for me to already build the two submarines you can build in the game (the small and manoeuvrable Sea-Moth and the large Cyclops). I also have quite a nice base constructed.
The two submarines (you can also build a heavy-duty underwater suit which allows for you to drill stuff and endure more pressure in deep sea) are another reason why I love this game so much. They are completely different in handling. The Sea-Moth is small and quick, it moves very much like the player does in the water. You can dart around, are quite a bit faster, have a place to replenish your air (while not in creative mode, where oxygen isn’t a topic), and have light for night-time or deeper sea explorations (fully upgraded, the Sea-Moth can go to a depth of up to 900 meters). The Cyclops on the other hand is a mobile base. It can host either the Sea-Moth or the Prawn suit, has space for putting up furniture or machinery (such as putting a fabricator in the ship), and can go really deep (down to 1,700 meters, if fully upgraded). It’s also more stable, in case you meet with a leviathan (those usually live in the twilight and dark zones of the ocean). Ideally, you put the Sea-Moth in the Cyclops for longer travel and do your actual exploring the smaller ship while returning to the Cyclops for creating and storing stuff.

The game not only encourages exploration beyond the direct surroundings, it actively pushes the player to go out and have a look around. As soon as you have repaired the lifeboat and the radio inside, you start getting messages from other lifeboats and you get destinations to go to in order to find out more. You find new technology to scan (among it the information for the submarines and the mobile base necessary to build them), you can scan new life forms, too, since some of them may come in handy.
There’s a lot of resources you need and can find in the different biomes, so you have ample reason to travel a lot. You’ll want an oxygen tank and fins first, because they enhance your movements underwater (you swim faster with the fins and can stay underwater longer with the tank). You’ll need a survival knife for harvesting some resources and stabbing the first smaller predators who’ll attack you. You’ll need the repair tool and the scanner to get anywhere. You’ll want to start your base and need to make a habitat builder and gather the necessary resources for the rooms. Later on, you’ll be sure to expand it or build an auxiliary base somewhere else. It should be noted that the game doesn’t overdo it with the need for resources, though. Most objects can be build from few resources, even if some of those are not too easy to find.

Besides, who doesn’t love a game where the PDA claims that severe head trauma is the best possible outcome after a crash? Or a game where you can find and explore several alien bases? Subnautica has a lot to offer, even in the longer run. Also don’t get me started on the Cuddlefish and how I can’t bear having one, because I would have to leave it behind when I finish the game.

Subnautica does have its weaknesses, mostly in the graphics, but it has a lot more strengths overall. It gives you a whole ocean to explore which is filled with the strangest alien life forms. It gives you amazing biomes, from the shallows to the fiery depths of a volcano. And it tops it off with an interesting story and a lot of emotional moments. For me, that makes it a great game to play, so you might want to check it out.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

The Sims 4 Review

First and foremost, this is only a temporary review. “The Sims 4” (from now on Sims 4) is still added to, just a few days ago, the latest game pack (Jungle Adventures) was released. In addition, a single review can’t encompass the whole game. I’ve been playing quite a lot of it, but I haven’t even tried out all jobs and all other things the game offers (such as having a long-lived dynasty or owning a business or restaurant or vet clinic). But still, the game deserves a review.

In their fourth iteration, the sims have been changed quite a bit. Gone is the large, open world of Sims 3 where you could walk around the whole neighbourhood and travel around with cars, motorbikes, bikes, and even horses (Pets expansion necessary). Sims 4 offers a combination between the world of the first two titles and the third one. You have small neighbourhoods with an open area which the sims can walk around in, so visiting your friends is still possible, but between those small neighbourhoods, you have to travel and get a loading screen. It’s not as bad as it might sound - there’s quite some stuff to discover and gather in those neighbourhoods and loading times are not too long. And you can visit all worlds, no matter which you live in.
The classic wishes which have been around since Sims 2 (the fears were removed in Sims 3) are gone. Sims have whims and ambitions. A whim is something simple and short-term, such as reading a book, watching TV, hugging a sim, or travelling to a certain place. They come and go and some of them are influenced by the sim’s mood (more about that below). Ambitions are something you choose, something your sim will strive for, like a big family, wealth, becoming a master vampire, or many other things. Ambitions are not set in stone, they can be changed at any time (and you keep your progress) and they come in steps, each of which includes a few things to do, such as practice with an instrument for a certain time or try the food from the Jungle Adventures world. Ambitions do not include careers, unlike the life wishes in Sims 3 (if we’re honest, a lot of them are about reaching the top of a career).
Whims bring us to another big change: moods. Sims 3 had moodlets which influenced how happy a sim was at a given time. Moods have more influence on the sim than the moodlets did. A sim can feel happy, focused, inspired, sad, angry, and many other things and it influences their behaviour and what they can do. They can also be in a neutral mood which is called ‘Fine.’ Certain actions, surroundings, happenings, but also traits have an influence on the moods. Sims with the ‘Creative’ trait are inspired more often, sims which have made a blunder in front of others tend to be embarrassed, sims which have worked intensely can become tense, focused, or confident. You get the drift.
Create-A-Sim (or CAS) has been dialled back, too. The colour wheel is gone, completely free design is no longer possible (but every object comes with quite some pre-designed varieties).
What has also been changed is the way the game is growing. In the first iteration, there was the basic game and the expansions. Same goes for the second iteration. With Sims 3, the players also got stuff packs which didn’t bring changes, but new things for build and buy mode and for the create-a-sim tool, in addition to expansions. Sims 4 added the game packs to the mix. Settled between full expansion and stuff pack in price, they’re also in-between when it comes to content. As the stuff packs, they add new objects. As the expansions, they add new game-play, but on a lower level. A recent example: Sims 3 had “World Adventures” as one of its first expansion packs. The pack brought three vacation locations (France, Egypt, and China) with a lot to discover. Sims 4 recently got “Jungle Adventures” which brings one vacation world (the second overall) with a few locations to discover. It’s mostly centred around the new culture and the temple exploration. Both is fun, don’t misunderstand me, but World Adventures had a lot more content for about twice the price. Yet, the game packs are also closer to the point in many cases. Instead of an overall expansion like “Supernatural” for Sims 3, Sims 4 had the “Vampires” game pack. It was completely focused on the vampire theme, from the objects to the new game-play. So if you want to play vampires, you buy it. You don’t need to shell out for an expansion pack which includes creatures you don’t really need (I mostly played the witches from the Supernatural expansion, hardly the fairies or werewolves). It’s also more logical than including the vampires in another pack (Sims 3 included them in their Late Night expansion which brought the only metropolis setting).

But now from the basic mechanics to the actual game-play. The basic principles of The Sims haven’t changed, of course. They were there since the first iteration.
Your sim has traits which define their interests and what they enjoy or don’t enjoy doing. They also have a certain influence on the moods. Sims with some traits can also learn specific things faster (a sim who loves dancing, for example, will learn it faster).
Your sim also has needs. In Sims 4, there’s six of them (bladder, fun, hunger, social, energy, hygiene), the first iteration had 8. Sims are autonomous enough to take care of their basic needs when they sink below a certain level. They will go to the toilet when their bladder need is low. They will get some food when their hunger need is low. And so on. So you don’t have to keep an eye on all of your sims the whole time, they can manage their daily lives.
Sims need a job or another way of making money (painting, writing, gardening, and some other skills can result in things to sell). They will not choose a job by themselves, but in most careers, they’ll leave the house and come back without you having to control them much. There’s, however, three interactive careers with the “Back to Work” expansion pack.
Sims age and will eventually die (and, perhaps, return as a ghost). They can also die sooner in an accident or, if they’re emotional, of too much feelings.
Sims can fall in love and found a family. They can have kids together (or adopt them). Kids grow up into adults and can then start their own life in the same game, but another home (even in another world in the same save game). Like this, you can have a long dynasty of sims in a save game, generations upon generations of them.
In short, sims are a pretty good simulation of everyday life and that’s what the game is about. You can try out whatever life model you want, from a sim who just earns money to pay the bills and uses their spare time for their true passion of meeting every sim in the worlds to a sim who wants to be a triple agent one day (top of the ‘evil’ branch of the secret agent career, the only career with 11 instead of 10 stages). You can found a large family (8 sims er plot is the maximum, though, so before your couple can have more kids, the oldest might have to move out) and see where it leads you. You can have a sim who is filthily rich (there are money cheats which are easy enough to use, the two most-used have been around since the first iteration) and just does as they please without working a day in their life. You can just build houses with the build mode, if you feel like you should have become an architect.

And you can share every family you make and every house you build with the whole community. With Sims 3, Origin and EA started a community to share content and Sims 4 has capitalized on it with an in-game browser to go through all the community-created content.
On the technical side, that comes with a few bad sides. You need to install, maintain, and open the Origin app to play the game. You need to register all expansions with Origin, too (not much of a problem for me, since I bought most of my additional content directly from Origin). But such programs are no longer unusual. Whether that’s good or bad is pretty much up to your personal tastes.

My verdict of Sims 4 so far is positive. I’m having a lot of fun with the game and I know I will have more fun with it in the future. There are a few things I don’t like and a lot more which I like. No game is perfect, but this one definitely is eating more of my time than it should - like every Sims game before.

Blinded by Success

I know I haven’t been posting a lot here for a while now. Fact is, my book reviews and my thoughts about writing and storytelling go on my Writer’s Blog. Social stuff which heavily involves or revolves around women and women’s rights goes on Feminism Wow. There’s little left for this blog, my first on. Although, perhaps I’ll start doing game reviews here again. Subnautica and Sims 4 come to mind, as does Stardew Valley (a game I have sunk more hours into than I should admit). But the topic I want to tackle right now doesn’t fit with either of my other blogs, so it goes here.

I got into an argument with a guy of FB today which showed me again that people sometimes get completely blinded by their own success - or what they perceive as their own success. Now, this is not about the topic we argued about so much - the question of why minimum wage is not a living wage in most places, although it should be -, but about the way his personal success blinded him to what other people can and can’t achieve.
You most often hear people like that guy chiming in on two topics: success at work and success at weight loss. Those people have either managed to work their way up the career ladder from humble beginnings to somewhere in management or they have lost a lot of weight in a short time. The problem with them is not the success as a such, success is recommendable, especially when self-achieved. But here’s already where things can go awry.

Let’s have a look at the definition of ‘success.’ A promotion at work surely is to be counted as a success, it’s something to strive for and something to be proud of when it happens. Same goes for losing weight and becoming more healthy and fit. But how much of the success is really self-achieved?
Surely, if they lose weight through dieting and working out, it’s their success. And, yes, in the weight-loss category, success usually is self-achieved (unless they got a liposuction, of course). However, there are quite some factors they can’t influence which can help or hinder their success. Such as certain diseases which will either make it easier or harder to lose weight. Such as the fact that some bodies lose weight easier than others on the whole. Such as having the money for a personal coach and someone to make diet food for you. Such as having gained the weight in a short time (which often makes it easier to lose it again as well). Don’t misunderstand me - even in the most unfortunate cases, it’s still possible to lose weight permanently, but it might be a lot harder than in others.
And as far as business is concerned, there’s a lot of things outside of the successful person’s control which play into the success. First of all, all qualification and hard work won’t do them any good if there’s no free position. Or if their boss has a favourite subordinate which they are not. In such cases, they might still be looking for a new job for a long time, since most companies first try to fill positions higher up the ladder with their own people and reach out to the job market only after having exhausted their own resources. Entry-level jobs are easy to find, those higher up require more luck. A lot more luck in some cases. Vitamin B helps, of course (or is that Vitamin R in English?). Knowing the right people can tremendously expand their chances for a better position, inside and outside the company where they’re working at the moment.
In those cases listed above, success might have been easier than the person thought it was, simply because factors outside of their control were in their favour.

The problem, however, is not that those people were successful. The problem is that their personal success (or what they perceive as their personal success) has blinded them to the problems of others.
That guy I mentioned above simply continuously stated that because he’d been successful, everyone else could be, too (a staple of people with that problem). If people didn’t have his work ethics or weren’t prepared to work as hard as he had, they, essentially, deserved not having a living wage. That is a general opinion of those blinded by success. They were successful and everyone who doesn’t want to do as well as they did deserves their fate. When I asked him what would happen if everyone were as hard-working as he was and had his work ethics, if everyone qualified for better jobs and got their promotion, he didn’t answer my question. Because my point was that society actually relies a lot on there being people to do minimum wage jobs. Our society wouldn’t continue for a long time without waiters, cleaners, and many other minimum-wage workers. His point only was ‘I was successful and they’re just lazy and that’s why they’re not.’ And while that might be a possible interpretation, it’s far from being the only or the most realistic one.
The same kind of discussion can also happen if you talk to someone who lost a lot of weight quickly (and, perhaps, even made a career out of it). They are blinded by the success they had and don’t understand that not everyone will have the same success with the same method. Some people can lose weight the same way, others have a body chemistry which makes this an impossible or near impossible way to lose weight. Some people can’t dedicate that much time to their weight loss (which might mean not having as much workout in their day or sometimes eating less-than-ideal meals). Some people have other things interfering (like family life).

And in some cases (less with the weight-loss and more with the career), people might not even want a success. They might know they will never qualify for something better (because, for instance, they have a learning disability). They might like the overall work (because, for instance, they like physical work much more than mental work). They might simply have a life outside of work which demands the resources (mostly time and money) which ‘successful in business’ has invested in their success. They might be caring for a sick or simply elderly relative, they might have a big family, they might be following a project outside of work (like remodelling a house or creating art) which takes their time and money. There’s many reasons why not everyone can work their way up in business. And, again, would it be good if they did? If everyone was over-qualified for the low-level jobs? The jobs on minimum wage?
Women are often ‘accused’ of not putting as much time and energy into advancing at work. Of being more comfortable with the job they’re doing, even though they could do better. A lot of the time this is down to women having another focus outside of work. A focus on society, family, other projects. At the same time, it’s seen as more normal if a woman doesn’t do her best to advance at work than if a man doesn’t. Men are supposed to be focused on success, on getting on, on advancing through the ranks. So to a man who has done his ‘duty’ of succeeding, men who don’t may seem even more lazy than women who don’t. The whole ‘if you weren’t so lazy, you wouldn’t have to do this job’ discussion is getting us nowhere.

Neither is the ‘if I succeeded, you can as well’ attitude of some people. It’s an attitude which assumes everyone is living the same life (and, hence, has the chance to distribute free time and money the same way), has the same life goals, and has the same chance of success. Neither of these three things is true.
Even two people who seem to have the same life (same marriage status, same income, same area they live in, same job), most of the time don’t really have that same life. One of them might have to pay off an old debt (car, house, student loan, etc.). One of them might have a relative in the same job who they’re on good terms with. One of them might have another passion than work which they need time and, perhaps, money for. One of them might get on better with their immediate superior. They do not really have the same life. The one in debt doesn’t have as much disposable income as the other one. The one with the relative in the same line of work doesn’t have to invest as much money in a new qualification, because he gets the training ‘for free’ (or, perhaps, a few lunches and beers). The one with the other passion isn’t as driven in business matters and will spent less time and money on a qualification and do less overtime. The one who gets on better with the superior will be more likely to be chosen for promotion if there’s several candidates.
And even if they’re similar in the question of spare time and money, they might have different goals in life. Not everyone is totally focused on their career. And even if they initially are, life has a way of changing things. One might suddenly find themselves in a situation in which they need to put their personal life above the career. Or they might realize they don’t want to spend the rests of their life in that job. There’s a lot of things which can change a life goal. Epiphanies are more common than people often realize. So they ‘slack off’ in the eyes of the one blinded by success and are no longer worthy of that person’s support.
Finally, not everyone is born with the same chance to succeed. If you’re born into middle-class, you have more chances to succeed than someone born into the lower class (it goes without saying that the rich and wealthy have it easy to succeed, not to mention some of them don’t even have to succeed something else than their parents). If you can afford college after school (and go to a good school in a good area), your chances are much higher than those of someone who does evening courses to get their college degree. If you manage to get into a certain line of work to begin with, you have much more of a chance to promotion. Some jobs simply don’t have a big career ladder.

If you’ve been successful in your line of work or consider yourself very successful in another aspect of your life, please try to keep in mind that life isn’t ‘one fits all’ and you shouldn’t stop caring about your fellow humans just because they seem to ‘slack off,’ unlike you.