Steamworld Dig

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The game’s ‘overworld’, a Western-style town with shops and chatty inhabitants

Hey, I finished a computer game! That only happens like once a year or so.

I’ve had Steamworld Dig on my 2Ds for a few years now, I think*, and for a while I just chipped away at it. It’s the kind of game that you can just pick up and bash through a bit of here and there.

* Just checked and I purchased the game in June 2017

The problem is, there’s also a nice, steady levelling up and learning curve of sorts, and the game really rewards playing it in longer periods – or many short periods in quick succession. Mainly I was leaving the sessions too few and far between that I’d pick it up, move the characted round for a bit and ask myself “right, what am I meant to be doing again?”

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The mine is where you’ll spend most of your time

This time I started a new savegame, and managed to bash through the whole thing in something like 8.5 hours. A decent length. A similar length, in fact, to two other games I’ve actually gotten round to completing – Attack of the Friday Monsters (also on 2/3DS) and Firewatch (on PC, and a game that spawned in me an obsession with fire lookout towers). Anything longer than that and I might not bother. Apart from Zelda: Breath of the Wild, of course, which I am currently 60 or so hours into and never want to end.

Steamworld Dig is made with so much charm that in many ways I also didn’t want it to stop. I had to do a bit of Googling to check if the levels were static or procedurally/randomly generated – if so, the game would be effectively infinite, but I suppose might have introduced game-breaking conditions unless very carefully designed. And so, very carefully designed it was, and all the better for it.

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As you go deeper, the environment, music and critters change

The artwork is lovely, the soundtrack, though slightly repetitive, is wonderful, and the effects are perfect. It rewards playing with headphones. The graphics, incidentally, work well on various systems. The screenshots here are from either PC or games consoles I think. The 2/3DS version, despite much lower resolution, retains the charm, but benefits from the second screen which displays a minimap and the contents of your satchel.

The game’s design in terms of the various teleporting, levelling up and general progression are handled in such a way that it feels slick and enjoyable. It makes it a great game to chuck in your bag and pull out on the bus for a few minutes. The player is never left frustrated at something taking too long – any actual tension or frustration is purely from the game’s tricky puzzles, none of which are particularly difficult.

Even the final boss is enjoyable in its systematic nature and although it’s tricky and took me a few goes, I managed it in one sitting – in the bath, no less – and felt a great sense of elation upon completing it. Pride and relief, partly, but also the satisfaction at having beaten a boss that felt challenging but in an understandable and fair way.

And so, the game ended, the narrative hinted at a sequel which I am very happy to have already downloaded and am keen to begin, and the credits rolled. And I was able to enjoy the satisfaction at completing what was already a very satisfying game.

Onwards, to Steamworld Dig 2!

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Eventide Island or, Dumb Ways to Die

I do wish it was even easier to take screenshots on the Wii U, but here we are.

My love for THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD continues in leaps and bounds, and I recently found myself on a quest chain reaction which began when I noticed a far-off island which I had tried and failed to paraglide over to from a high cliff. (Paragliding takes stamina, which regenerates over time and has a limit which can be incrementally increased.) Because the distance was too far to do it in one go*, I decided I must cook some meals with ingredients that give stamina boosts.

* This, in a nutshell, is BOTW’s very subtle and very clever system of ‘blocking off’ certain areas – it doesn’t actually block you from doing anything, really – you can just tackle any terrain or monsters with whatever you have on hand before figuring out for yourself that to do it properly you’ll need more of X or Y.

So I went off to do some cooking, and I specifically looked for ingredients on my way that would give me stamina boosts. This probably in turn led me to spotting something else and going off to investigate that, and maybe chatting to a NPC who gave me a side quest that I may or may not choose to follow and HOLY SHIT THIS IS THE GAME ISN’T IT? THIS IS WHAT I’VE SPENT ABOUT FIFTY HOURS OR SO DOING ALREADY.

And golly, I love it.

So, I found some stamina-boosting ingredients, I cooked some meals, and I headed back up to the clifftop. It was a bright sunny morning (I had initially arrived early evening, pissing down with rain – I couldn’t even light a fire – so I went to a nearby hostelry to get a bed for the night) and things were looking good.

So I leapt off the cliff and glided down to the distant island. As expected, I needed a stamina boost as I got closer, so I had a mid-flight snack (Link is so good at multi-tasking) and carried on. As I got closer to the coast I saw an orb receptacle thing – a round, metal platform – much like one that I’d recently interacted with on another task. In that task, my duty had been to land on it with my paraglider, so I re-routed for the platform instead of the beach and oh shit I ran out of stamina because I got distracted on my approach.

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This is someone else’s screenshot of gliding down to Eventide Island. They, too, are about to run out of stamina (the little circle near Link’s head)

When you run out of stamina while gliding, your glider basically stops working. This means you plummet through the air from whatever height you were gliding at. If you’re lucky, this is onto dry land at a height from which Link can merely dust himself off and carry on his merry, elfy way.

If you’re not so lucky, it’s either too big a drop to the ground below (insta-death), or you might fall onto water – but swimming also requires stamina, so if you land in water with no stamina? Oh you’d better believe that’s a drowning.

So, of course, I died and was placed back on my clifftop launchpad and I tried again, scoffing my handily-replenished stamina-boosting snack en route. This time I managed to land on the orb platform but was disappointed to find it did nothing special. This was annoying, as I’d seen others around and about and presumed, having successfully completed the aforementioned task of gliding onto a different one, that this was all you had to do on them. As it transpires, it seems they all have different requirements.

So I landed in an incredibly beautiful paradise called EVENTIDE ISLAND. Quickly, however, some text appeared onscreen akin to the text you see when entering shrines. This island isn’t just a pretty place to explore, it’s a shrine/dungeon/level that requires beating.

And what’s this? As part of the challenge, Link is stripped of all his items. Everything. The screen fades to black and Link reappears in his pants on the beach with nothing in his inventory. Rather than disappointed, I was excited. What a cool concept! You’re promised all your belongings back once this task is completed, but for now you’re back to square one. The game has spent X hours teaching the player how to interact with the environment and objects, and you are temporarily stripped back, at least conceptually, to the start of the game except now I know what the fuck I’m doing.

So I gleefully began to start collecting crabs and tree branches and plants and other bits and bobs that might come in handy, and even as I came across my first moblin camp, I had an air of confidence about my actions that this island was just gearing up to knock out of me.

I successfully completed the first of three challenges on the island and thought I had the measure of the task ahead of me. But when I began the second challenge, I very quickly died. Normally when you die in BOTW, you restart nearby and you crack on, perhaps with a different strategy. But reader, I did not re-start on the island with my little knapsack of crabs and tree branches (not to mention the weapons and body parts I’d recently looted off the moblins’ still-warm corpses)…

No, I restarted on that blustery, sunny clifftop once again, my work thus far for nought, the clock wound back to when I’d last been there, the meal I’d scoffed for extra stamina on the way over magically restored in my inventory, and the morning light still highlighting that temptress of an island in the distance, although it had less of a paradisaical look about it now that I knew what was in store.

I let this setback sink in for a second… And then I leapt off the cliff with my paraglider and of course gave it another bash.

How to enjoy a Bank Holiday weekend

There are many ways to enjoy a nice three-day weekend, but here is just one set of ideas that worked for me this weekend just gone.

A little dash of videogames, including Banished, Anno 1404 and Firewatch

Banished, I fear, I have gone off a little on account of it offering little to no guidance on how you are doing, or how to do better.

I’ve quite enjoyed the long, slow grind to achieve equilibrium in terms of getting your growing population to continue growing while ensuring there is enough food and fuel. But beyond that, the game kind of stagnates. It deliberately has no ‘story’ – the game is itself an education in the basic need to just grind away in order to survive – but there don’t seem to be any opportunities to upgrade or progress or ‘win’.

A scattering of quite prosaic achievements are available, but they seem like box-ticking. I suspect my future enjoyment of Banished will come through trying new strategies, imposing my own artificial restrictions, and investigating the modding community.

With Banished growing stale, I turned to Anno 1404, which I’ve been enjoying. It’s very much a game of its genre, but it’s done with some style and panache. It has quite a hand-holdy tutorial, but it’s done through the medium of a story and several small individual tasks which must be completed for a cast of characters. But games of this complexity do require some hand-holding; it’s not possible to set oneself up for ‘the long game’ if one overlooks a crucial part of the game’s system.

I think I will return to Age of Empires II shortly – the HD remake, naturally – but that is a game I know quite well, so it’s been nice to give Anno 1404 a fair shake.

I’ve also enjoyed little stints in Firewatch, which continues to enchant me. The opening prologue was an unexpected punch in the guts, and I’m a little concerned that the story will give me the sads later on. But the story-driven gameplay – it’s sometimes little more than ‘go here, do this, now go here’ – works nicely, and it’s an enjoyable blend of a game in an artificially vast environment that’s actually really rather on-rails.

The above have all given me plenty of opportunity to get the Steam Link figured out. (It’s a small streaming box which allows you to play your PC games on your TV in another room.) Mostly I’ve learned that there is inevitably a little bit of latency inherent in a powerline adapter I know to be slightly flakey. For some games, like Firewatch, the lag isn’t too noticeable. For Anno 1404 I’ve had to reduce some graphical settings to find a compromise between responsiveness and playing comfortably on the 40-inch screen in the lounge. It plays beautifully on my computer monitor, but it’s nice to play games in the living room.

An overnight microadventure by bicycle to Buckinghamshire

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A few years ago, I went on a few microadventures which usually consisted of bugging out on my bike after work with little more than a tent and some snacks.

Since moving to London, I’ve not had such easy access to do this, but the opportunity came up this weekend for Megan and I to hop on the Tube to Chesham, cycle to a tiny village near Wendover, and pitch camp for one night in a cute, remote farmer’s field.

Our rewards included: peace, space, woodland walks at dusk, the sounds (and, occasionally, glowing eyes in torchlight) of various animals, a lovely pub meal, the rare novelty of seeing one’s own shadow cast by the light of an almost-full-moon, and a simple but delicious breakfast cooked over a Primus stove.

We also popped in to visit my mother on our way home, which was lovely. And a good opportunity to dry off, as we were caught in a torrential downpour on the ride home.

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One nice thing about a single night’s camping is that it often feels as though you’ve been away for several days, and this was just such an occasion.

And a trip or two to the cinema

We went to see Mission: Impossible – Fallout recently, which was far funnier and more enjoyable than I had expected it to be. As much as the film takes itself seriously, and the films increasingly feel like the Tom Cruise vanity hour, this one is just a stunning summer blockbuster, and just what the doctor ordered. The set-piece stunts are bonkers; there is enough humour scattered throughout – Simon Pegg is a fantastic addition to the franchise; and the whole thing rollicked along, and I loved every minute.

Oddly enough, I had decided to go and see M:I-F to scratch an itch I’ve had recently of having not seen a balls-to-the-wall blockbuster on a balls-to-the-wall GIGANTIC screen with a balls-to-t– LOUD sound system.

So you can imagine my joy, just days after seeing this film, when I learned that the BFI IMAX were showing a 10-year anniversary run of The Dark Knight on 70MM film. So that’s what we did on Monday, and I had a blast. I think Megan enjoyed it too.

The film itself holds up pretty well ten years on, and I couldn’t contain my happiness seeing the IMAX sequences on the biggest screen in the UK, and hearing the deafening explosions and stirring soundtrack using what sounds like all 11,600 watts at their disposal. Just fabulous.

Of course, it’s now about a thousand years until the next proper bank holiday weekend, and it definitely feels like Autumn is almost upon us. But that brings its own charms, and I am almost ready to embrace it.

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Time to restart weeknotes, I think. Sorry about the hiatus.

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This week I had a film developed and printed for the first time in a few years. I posted some of the pictures here. It was a very pleasant experience, not least because I have a handy branch of Snappy Snaps nearby, and I found an unused scanner at work that has done nothing for three years, but that scans film negatives in at remarkably good quality. It was of such great quality that it’s now got me thinking about films from my past that I only ever digitised from the prints, or where I feel I could make better negative scans.

The quality of the scans is one thing, but what I loved was convenience of scanning two strips of negatives in one go (so, eight shots), and having the built in software not just crop them, but also colour-correct them automatically. I frankly can’t believe that before now I made do with a) scanning prints, b) getting crap neg scans from the photo shop, or c) trying to do my own scans on a too-cheap neg scanner myself.

Finding a good way to digitise physical ephemera is so far in my wheelhouse it’s not even funny.


Elsewhere this week I watched Jurassic Park for the first time in a wee while. By God, does it stand up. It’s so hard, of course, to separate it from the version etched in your brain – the lines, the scenery, the concepts, the score – but it still feels rollicking and vital. Of course it’s dated in place – it’s 25 years old this year, which is insane. But it holds up magnificently.

I also played the start of L.A. Noire again. Years ago when  I lived with him I watched John play through most of it and I think we both concluded that it’s gorgeous and nuanced, but ultimately quite boring. With the recent chat surrounding the remaster for Switch et al, it seemed like a good time to pick it up – especially as it was only £1.50 at CEX. Anyway the first few missions went by smoothly – the formulaic searching-the-scene-for-clues only feeling slightly clunky. But I forgot the ratio of mission to open-world, and I feel like that’s where I’ll lose interest in the end. But for now, as a primarily narrative-driven piece of entertainment, I’ll carry on until I don’t want to any more.

I also watched this interesting video about the current world record Super Mario Bros. speedrun. It was pitched to me, variously, as “like watching a Swiss clock maker explain his machine,” and, ” even if you aren’t into video games it’s pretty interesting.” I’d say it was somewhere in-between. At least, between M and I watching it, that’s the impression I got. It definitely had a handful of really interesting bugs and…. not hacks, but exploits, that are vital to shaving off the seconds – and sub-seconds.


20180515_075755.jpgFor many months now, I’ve been in the habit of reading from a couple of diary compilations – one of London diarists, the other with a rural angle – and around the turn of the month, a few pages from an almanac which talks about natural occurrences.

On top of of that, I always have my Kindle handy, and recently I’ve gotten into the habit of sending a so-called long read or an edition of an email newsletter to it.

The latter works only some of the time – some newsletters are more text-based than others, with some being mostly links (to be ctrl-clicked while browsing) or containing too many images to play nicely with an e-ink device.

But now and then, a well-formatted, single-column newsletter consisting of mostly text works a charm.  Two recent examples:

  • Craig Mod‘s Roden Explorers – the latest issue is here – usually contains tales of walking, meditation, photography, some tech insight, and whatever is bubbling around in Mod’s always-fascinating mind.
  • close, a monthly newsletter only onto its second issue – here – but this entry made for very interesting/familiar reading as a 30-something member of an extended collective community of folks who found kinship online in the early 2000s.

There are others, but I felt the need to jot down two solid examples while they were fresh in my mind. I tend to use one of two Chrome extensions for sending a newsletter (or any web article) to my Kindle – Send To Kindle by Amazon and Push to Kindle by fivefilters.org. They take a couple of minutes to set up, and your mileage will inevitably vary depending on what you send. But both can provide a preview of the content as it will be sent, so you can quickly see if it’s going to work or not.


Very pleasant, several months after starting things, to announce the launch of the new website for the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain which I’ve helped create.

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It’s mostly been a ‘simple’ WordPress.org installation, but there was quite a lot of content to convert, a fair few design principles to incorporate, and – as always – more technical issues than I had expected, mostly around the hosting.

The client was fantastic throughout, and it was a largely enjoyable experience for me, with experience being the operative word as I was able to learn quite a bit even doing something I felt was very much in my comfort zone.


In weekend-related activities, last Monday was a Bank Holiday, so M and I popped up to St Albans to visit friends and have a little wander. It was the third of three ridiculously pleasant Spring days so much ice cream and iced coffee was consumed, and the cool interior of the cathedral was most welcome.

The previous night we’d spent camping in West Sussex – a glorious little site on the wilder side of things. No showers or buildings, and just a few portaloos or compost loos dotted around with the occasional cold water tap dotted around. And, most importantly, they allow fires, so I was in heaven.

It was a great opportunity to test out some new camping gear ahead of a longer trip in Summer. But mostly it felt remarkable in feeling like a 2-3 night trip away, all completed within 36 hours or so. The nearby village of West Hoathly also has a lovely pub or two. And one nice surprise were views across to the ridgeway of the South Downs. We were able to pick out Chanctonbury hill fort and various other landmarks from our recent walk.

And then this weekend just gone, the good weather continued, so we were able to have a little barbecue on the patio – partly in celebration at having decided to scrub the slabs, tidy up the plants, and to buy some new ones to replace the feeble amongst them that didn’t survive the winter.

Onwards, into summer.

Game review – Attack of the Friday Monsters: A Tokyo Tale

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I recently finished Attack of the Friday Monsters: A Tokyo Tale on 2DS.

I’d stumbled on it in lists of 2/3DS games worth checking out that were a little off the beaten track. I’d also read that it was a relatively short game, and occasionally sold with quite a discount in the Nintendo eShop. So I decided to check it out.

It’s a gorgeous little game in which you control a small boy wandering around a small town speaking to people, picking up orbs that you use in an in-game game, and generally trying to progress the story.

In terms of gameplay it’s part point-and-click and part visual novel. The story itself is initially very sweet and silly – a decent rendering of the imagination of a ten-year-old child making their own fun in a small town. It progresses into a weird, semi-fictional climax that you’re left wondering whether it’s ‘real’ in the game, or just a further extension of the hyperactive mind of a young child. Perhaps it doesn’t matter.

It’s also, for that reason, a fairly shallow and childish story. There are some elements of family/fatherly pride thrown in, and the white lies parents tell their children, but it’s really all quite two dimensional. You’re basically thrown into a 1970s small town where all is quite sleepy, and the majority of the residents bide their time during the week until the broadcast of the Friday evening monster show on TV.

Story aside, the game’s general ambience is what won me over. It features beautiful ‘painted’ backgrounds and there’s a constant small-town soundtrack with buzzing cicadas, chattering locals, and the surprisingly frequent train and level-crossing sounds. It’s soothing and does well to transport the player to a small Japanese town. Headphones recommended.

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(Irritating side rant: I’m unable to take screenshots in this game. Some 2/3DS games let you take them natively. Others you can utilise a workaround where you post to MiiVerse first. But this only works for games with a MiiVerse community, which (bafflingly!) AotFM lacks. So I’ve had to grab the ones you see hear from the web, along with some related artwork.)

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The in-game game I mentioned is just a little semi-random Top Trumps-style card battling system which is basically of no consequence in the game’s story (apart from once). But it’s a cute little extra addition to the world of the children, and it pushes the player to explore the town in search of the glowing orbs that are collected to top up the cards.

The story takes quite a sharp turn towards the end – the ‘Friday Monsters’ of the game’s title make something of an appearance, and you’re left feeling a bit disconnected from the simplicity of running round with your friends wearing a backpack. It doesn’t ruin the game by any means, but it comes as quite a surprise. In many ways it’s the right plot twist for this game.

Overall, it’s a lovely little game. I’d stop short of repeating the line from other reviews that draw comparisons with Studio Ghibli films. It’s not quite there, but it’s in the same neighbourhood.

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The biggest drawback – which I entered into knowing full well – is the game’s diminutive length. I kept putting off playing it as I knew it would be over in one sitting, and that was basically the case. My play-time journal reports between two and three hours’ play, which is about on par with what I’d read. And that’s from the word go to the end of the story and the credits having rolled. The game’s value for money is questionable on a time/cost graph but you have to consider its charm as well, and this is a strong feature of AotFM.

I could probably squeeze out another 30 minutes or so by collecting the few remaining cards and having some unnecessary card battles, but I’m not sure I will. To be fair, it would be worth it to just hear a few minutes of cicada-buzz, or the soft dinging of the railway level crossing. Playing through the story again would be pretty dull as there are no real options. The game uses ‘chapters’ – there are twenty-six of them – but they’re short, and they overlap, so you can be working through four or five at once, and complete one just by talking to someone, for example.

I want more of this game. And games like it.

I loved Shenmue on Dreamcast, but never got very far with it. The game’s story and ‘combat’ wasn’t so interesting to me, but the ambience and sense of place was palpable.

More recently I have developed a bit of a crush on the teenage girl life-sim Life is Strange. And I’m the type of guy to fire up Red Dead Redemption or Just Cause 2 and simply head down a rough trail until I reach a rocky point from which to watch the clouds roll overhead.

The maker of AotFM was previously involved with a Japan-only series named Boku no Natsuyasumi which seems strikingly similar to this game in terms of visual style and gameplay. It’s a shame that those games are Japanese language only, and by their very nature rely on text to drive the story. They look like exactly the kind of thing I want to sink a few hours into, but I’ll have to keep looking.