Monday, March 27, 2017

Game Review (steam): Stardew Valley


I'm going to review one of my favorite games: Stardew Valley. This is a farming simulator game that was inspired by Harvest Moon, and built solely by one man: ConcernedApe (Eric Barone). I am incredibly impressed at how much content went into this game considering it was one person who built it. You can definitely tell it was inspired by Harvest Moon from the style and mechanics, and yet it is still its own game. I'd even go as far as to say it rivals Harvest Moon in many ways, especially since content can be added/updated over time to keep it fresh.

My first impressions of the game was curiosity, and then complete fan girling. I've been a fan of the Harvest Moon series a long time, so when I discovered Stardew Valley... well, I definitely had to try it. It didn't disappoint me for a minute and I was blown away right from the beginning. This game has inspired nicknames such as "Stardew Flu" because of how addicting it is and how quickly it spread among players. It was a huge success, and that also meant it would have more production opportunity in the future. We've been promised multi-player capabilities this year, as well as ports to console platforms. I can't wait to be able to play this with my friends and see what co-op type activities we can do.

When you first start playing the game, you get an intro screen (by the way, click around on the intro screen a little for some surprises *wink*) and then character creation. That's right... you get to customize your character! From hair, to clothes, to making your skin blue like an Avatar... you get to be unique. Then, you add some details such as character name, farm name, and what pet you want. Don't be confused by 'favorite thing' (like I was at first), just type in whatever you like here... it wont make too much difference in the game, however, it might give you a laugh later on depending on what you put. 

Finally, you get to pick your farm type. This is actually something that was implemented later in the game with a new patch. Originally, there was only one farm type. So now, you get to pick what type you want. If it is your first playthrough of the game, most recommend going with the starter/original farm (first option) because it is the easiest to manage and learn. Once you've gotten the hang of the game, on your next play through you'll have a better understanding on which farm type is best suited to your play style. For example, if you love fishing, you'd want to pick the river farm because you can catch a variety of fish right there on your farm. If you like mining, the Hilltop farm would be to your liking, because a patch of the farm provides you with stone and minerals to collect each day.

Not only do you pick a farm type though... you also get a different starter house depending on what you choose! Each starter house is the same size and has the same important items (such as the bed and tv) but they're decor will be different. E.g.: Anchors on the wall, potted tree plants, an amethyst on the table.

Now onto the game play. As with other similar game types, you start with basic tools and have to clean up your farm a bit and then explore the map to get to know people. You'll have quests to do, but most are optional. You can then choose how you'd like to make money. At first, you pretty much can only forage and farm. After a few days though, you'll get a fishing rod and have access to the mines. So then its up to you to decide what you enjoy doing most and use that to build up your money. You aren't forced to do anything in particular to progress in the game, but you'll need to complete certain objectives and quests to trigger main event story lines. The side quests often have fun little story additions too. The more you get to know villagers, the more you learn about them and the town. 

You will struggle at first to manage your stamina, as your tools are basic and heavy to use. The more you use your tools though, the more you'll improve your skill with them and then the less energy will be consumed with their use. The more you advance particular skills, the more craftable items you'll unlock too, making your daily maintenance easier and more profitable. You also get the chance to upgrade the tools themselves, not only making them easier to use with your stamina, but also giving them stronger ability, maybe even unlock some new areas on the map.

Here is some advice that I recommend to new players. Start the game... play it through Spring, maybe a little into Summer too. Then... start over. That's right, I want you to start a whole new game at that point. Why? Because now you'll know the basics of the controls, how to manage your stamina, and the pacing of time. Its very likely that when you first started, you missed a lot of things or messed things up because you didn't know what to do. Now that you're familiar with how the game works, starting over lets you have a better chance at being more successful in the game.

Is the game worth playing long term? Any replay value? Absolutely. Especially after the patch that added new content... there is a whole bunch of things to do over years in the game. Marriage, kids, adventures, achievements, maxing your skills, finding all the secrets, unlocking all the villager's stories. You can also build up your farm and decorate it as much as you like. There is so much furniture and decor in the game, almost no players will ever have the same farm design. There is some end-game type story too, but it doesn't mean your game has to end. Play as long as you like. Three years is the minimum for main story content, and after that, its up to you how far you want to go.

I can't tell you how many times I've started over in this game... but that's just me. I enjoyed trying out each farm type, marrying different people, doing different farm builds. While some things perhaps started to feel repetitive at times, there was still enough 'new' stuff to do that I never minded.

If I had to give the game any sort of criticism... and I honestly had to think long and hard on this, heh. All I can say is that I'd want to see some new content added, such as new areas to explore or new characters visiting/moving into town. Maybe some new pet options (like a bird, or fish aquarium for example) and customization for the starter pets. There are mods that can change your animal's appearance, which is great. However... I personally am not into modding my games. I'd love to have had the option to have a black cat, or perhaps a different breed of dog. It'd also be nice if the pets over time could be of use to you in some way. Maybe they occasionally bring you an item they grabbed on the farm. 

So there you have it. My review of one of my favorite games: Stardew Valley. If you'd like to know more about the game, I recommend the wiki, and youtube videos. Be careful though if you don't want spoilers. There are a LOT of secrets in the game, and if you prefer to discover them for yourself... you don't want to get spoiled. In fact, players are STILL after all this time finding new secrets in the game, which is very fun to know. I love the game, and I encourage and recommend everyone else to give it a try too.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Autobiographical: My Stalker

Disclosure: I'm about to discuss personal experiences and information about someone who has been stalking me for over a decade. I'm going to avoid using personal information about him (most of my personal friends will know who this person is regardless,) but I will give you the examples of things he has done over the years that can be considered stalking, and unwanted attention from him. This is real, not fantasy. I've kept quiet a long time about it, but its my hope my experience can possibly being hope, comfort, or solutions to anyone else who has had to deal with similar problems. Before you say "why are you giving him this attention by making this blog?" I will also say, I intend to explain the reasoning for this blog and why its time to finally write it. Thank you for taking the time to read.

My Stalker

Since around the year 2000, I have known this person online. We melt from a mutual interest in a MUD role play game. Problems with him started as early as then, only I was not his main focus at that point, another woman was. She ran that game, and looking back, I know better what she was dealing with in regards to him better. From threats against her family, to following and harassing her everywhere she went online... its like looking back at a shadow of myself now. One day, she passed away. He still talked poorly of her and wouldn't stop talking -about- her, even though she'd died.

Over the next decade, I had on/off again "friendships" with this man. Sometimes we got along, and he was a great writer so I did my best to give him the benefit of the doubt that he was a "young and stupid kid" as he put it during his times with the deceased woman and he'd matured since then and felt bad. Gullible me, I believed him and worked hard to try to be his friend despite his flare ups of passive aggressiveness toward me several times. One of my biggest flaws is that I wear my heart on my sleeve... I give people far more chances than they deserve, and in this case, it was one time where it really backfired on me.

I wont deny that there was a time when I really grew close to him as a friend. I admired his writing, the way he spoke, his ability to exaggerate a story into something amazing. He was verbose, so I could enjoy talking to him all night long. He ended up learning a lot of personal information about me in this time that I deeply regret having shared with him, and have learned to never do again in the future. So yes, at one time, I could call this man 'friend' and really believed it. Some say he played me. Its hard to deny that now.

I cannot share with you or count how many times he has been aggressive toward me, even during times of "friendship." However, there was a turning point at which time I'd had enough, because it was going way too far for even me to look past and tolerate. I gave him one final chance to talk, still stupidly thinking I could somehow make him see what he was doing and change. This talk was done in front of witnesses, so noone could lie or alter/photoshop pieces of the conversation. Not only does he liked to blame people of doing this, but he is also the main offender OF doing it. Regardless of what he tries to claim, I've never altered anything said to me from him, and I've often screen shot things and shared them directly with certain people so they have original copies of such things. Anyway...

He still didn't get the picture after that talk, and I had warned him that if we couldn't come to some understanding, that it would be the last time I'd speak to him ever again. I've kept that promise. Since that final conversation and following email, I haven't talked to him again in years now. That has not stopped him from both trying to contact me, and spreading lies and rumors about me to try to tarnish my reputation online. Unfortunately for him, I've always had a very solid and good reputation with people, so they know his lies are just that... lies. Even strangers who believe him at first realize soon what he's doing. Now mind you, I don't care about his attempts to try to smear my name online. I have my friends, I have my communities, and they all know who I am which is all that matters to me. Anyone who thinks otherwise is not my concern. There will always be drama on the internet.

So why am I writing this blog now? Because I feel its time to finally share my side to anyone who is curious. Those close to me know deeper extents as to how this has affected me over the years, and all I have had to deal with from him. Reasoning with him failed. Ignoring him failed (though I'll continue to do so directly.) I've resigned myself to believing that I'll always have to deal with him in some degree indirectly, and I've found some peace in that.

This man has harassed me, called me countless names, tried to spy on me by 'friending' my friends and family on social media, trying to contact me on every single site online I'm part of (most of which he is blocked when that is an option, sadly, not all have it... nor does it help, because he just makes new accounts to get around it), and even threatened my life. One of those threats was to spend the rest of his savings to get a plane ticket to fly out to me and murder/suicide to rid the world of me and make it a better place.

His tactics rotate from trying to be friendly, to trying to "reason" with me like he's in the right and I'm a terrible person that needs to realize it, to reverse psychology, to spewing outright hate at me. In nearly twenty years, I wouldn't be able to even post everything he's said about me or to me because it would take you days to read it all.

Naturally, this had an emotional impact on me. Tears, fear, paranoia, stress... I've physically gotten ill far more than once from the stress too. In the past year, I've learned some coping mechanisms to reduce these anxiety attacks, so it isn't as bad as it used to be. I also have a lot of protections in place now, including the amazing people in my life, so I don't have to face this alone anymore. There was even one time I swear that I met him in person by coincidence, but if it was really him or not I'll never know for sure. That was a terrifying day for sure. If it happened now though, I have more than a few ways of protecting myself should it come to it.

Some of you are probably wondering: "why haven't you gone to authorities about this?" The answer is: I have. It lead nowhere, partly because internet stalking is still a grey area in laws officially, and partly because noone I spoke to took it that seriously. There are police reports, and I've been given instructions for further follow ups should certain things come to pass. Long story short on that though is... it lead to no real help. Not yet at least, but the first steps were taken. So as I said, I have taken my own steps to reinforce my protection now including keeping certain people informed anytime he contacts me.

He might read this and find some thrill in both the attention and the fact I admit that there were times he affected me emotionally in a negative way. A few people might think it wouldn't be worth it writing this to give him that satisfaction. However... I hope that other people who are dealing with a stalker find some sort of solice or peace in knowing they aren't alone, and that there are ways to keep living on despite it. If I can help a single person find some comfort from writing this, then its worth it to me. I've gone through a lot in my life, and over time I find that sharing these experiences will often help others. If I can turn my own negative experiences into something even a little positive... I can feel slightly better about having gone through it.

If you are someone dealing with a stalker, I first want to say that I'm sorry. Its a more serious thing than a lot of people are willing to admit. It can grind down your tolerance and weigh on your emotions over time. It can cause you trust issues with others in your life. It can affect you physically, from the stress. You aren't "overreacting" or being too paranoid. You are a victim of someone else's abuse. Find ways to build up your defenses, and surround yourself with people who care about you. Make sure they know what you are going through, and who the person is (even secretly.) If something happens to you or you disappear... people will know what might have happened and be able to take better steps at helping you or knowing who the suspect might be. Don't deal with it alone. Stalkers want to scare you. They want to isolate you, and break you down. Counter it by keeping people close to you... I can't stress that enough. My friends and family and those I love have been more support than I could ever give enough gratitude for. I may not know you, but I know your struggles. You have my thoughts, and my hope, that you can one day find more peace in your life despite the person trying to keep you from it.