It’s Ikenfell!

Do you:

  1. Play video games?
  2. Like Harry Potter, but you’re angry with how J.K. Rowling has hurt the trans community?

If both of those things are true, I have a video game for you: it’s IKENFELL!

Image via the game’s Kickstarter (full disclosure: I backed it!)

In Ikenfell, you play the twin sister of a witch who attends the magic school Ikenfell. You don’t have magic, though, you’re just an Ordinary. But after not hearing from your sister for longer than is reasonable, you head to Ikenfell to make sure she’s okay. While you’re there, something happens and suddenly you have magic, too.

I started playing Ikenfell by myself in the evening, and it was the perfect thing to play thirty minutes of before getting ready for bed. But then I started playing one afternoon, while the baby was napping and my son was playing on his tablet. I had my headphones in, so he must’ve seen something coming from the office. He pulled in a footstool to watch.

Soon I was reading the dialog and explaining the combat mechanics. My kid even helped me get through a tricky puzzle involving frozen floors and switches that moved blocks this way and that.

The games cute pixel art graphics, unique puzzles, diverse characters, and hilarious bosses (ever fight a blob that likes to steal hats? or a star that wants to eat you?) have captivated both me and my kid. One of the best parts for him is that many of the enemies, after being defeated, will help you out. They were just momentarily in a bad mood and wanted to fight you.

My one criticism is that the fights can get a bit long and tedious. I feel that way about most fights in video games though, so take that with a grain of salt.

The best part of the game? It’s how you save and heal.

That’s right–you pet the cat. Ikenfell is available on Steam for PC and for various platforms.

Cover Image: Petronella (bottom right) is my favorite.

Cyberpunk 2077: It’s Fun, Alright?

I’ve just finished helping a friend who just found her lover dead in the bathtub, suicide. We’re on the roof of her apartment and she wants me gone so she can mourn on her own, and I’m about to leave when I’m struck by how beautiful the city is in this game.

I enjoy the aesthetics of the cyberpunk genre. Neon pops in a sea of cool grays, rust, and oil slicks. My Cyberpunk 2077 character, V, has a face like mine but cropped magenta waves and know how to load up and fire a sniper rifle.

Unlike most RPGs, I’ve decided to make my character good. Kindhearted. She wants to survive Night City, but not at the expense of everyone else. Even still, she’s not above plowing bullets through the sort of turds who are out killing people for their implants.

It’s probably a given, but this is not the sort of game I’m playing in front of my 4-year-old. This is a wait until the kids are in bed, pop in the headphones, and disappear into another world for an hour before bedtime kind of game. I know there’s been some negative reviews of the game even aside from the glitches, but I’m having a blast. I play on PC and have noticed less than a handful of glitches* in my 16 or so hours of playtime, nothing more than I’d expect. My PC’s good but a couple of years old and not top of the line.

It’s not perfect: I wish I could customize my character’s appearance after starting the game—I’d like to try some different hairstyles. It doesn’t seem replayable. The side quests aren’t very interesting.* I’m not a big side quest person (“the side quests are better than the main quests” is not a game selling point for me) and I’ve mainly been doing them as a way to get a few more eddies (the game’s currency). But it’s got the important things: an intriguing story with a customizable protagonist, a vibrant setting, and combat that doesn’t suck. I’ve also enjoyed changing up my gameplay: I started off doing purely stealthy takedowns, then I got a sniper rifle and started using that. Lately I’ve gotten more into the tech aspect.

I know the game is unplayable for a lot of people, and that really sucks, and part of me is hesitant to write a positive review (if you could call this such) of a game with so many issues: glitches, flashing lights that cause seizures, and the fact that my female avatar is hurled sexist abuse by enemies. As a developer, I’m also sensitive to studios forcing their devs to work long hours to finish a product. I’m not about to armchair-solve the problems in the video game industry (except for the gendered cursing–could’ve made that generic and saved a bit of time, too). I am going to buy games that look fun to me, because there aren’t a lot of AAA games that speak to me these days.

*I played this evening after I wrote everything above. While I was on an interesting side quest, I started having a glitch where I could see NPC skeletons and skulls inside their heads for a brief moment before the rest of their bodies appeared around them, sometimes leaving empty space for a moment where a body part should be. I think more interesting side quests open up as you progress in the main story meeting more characters and gaining street cred. As for the glitch, I’m not sure if it’s the game or my cybernetic implants.

Cover Image: Some promo art. The game makes me miss living in a city.

Hello, Baby Girl

In the wee hours of the morning on July 13, 2020 I gave birth to my baby girl. I’d gone through a difficult pregnancy: gestational diabetes on top of the normal discomfort of being pregnant and, of course, a global pandemic. I wasn’t certain I wanted a second child, but the moment I saw her face I was completely besotted.

Almost five months later and we have the world’s smiliest baby. She’s so happy and growing like a weed: 93rd percentile for height! It’s been hard having a baby during a pandemic: we haven’t been able to introduce her properly to family and friends. We’ve had to keep her to ourselves.

She’s mostly content and sleeps great. She loves having her belly “eaten” and when her brother makes silly faces. She laughs and laughs.

I don’t normally share photos of my kids publicly, but just look at this smiling face. I can’t not. I just can’t.

More changes are coming. I’m starting a new job next week. I’m still in software engineering, but switching industries from e-commerce to cyber security.

I am closing down my kitting blog, but I do have a mailing list for my yarn dyeing adventures if anyone is interested.

We’re approaching the deep, dark parts of winter I usually shudder away from, but this year I’m trying to think about it differently. I have a new job and two beautiful children. COVID vaccines are imminent. Sometimes things need to freeze and thaw to begin anew.

Cover Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Hiatus

I’m going on a blogging hiatus. Both this and my knitting blog will be taking a break, probably for the next few months. I’m having a baby in the next couple weeks, and want to focus on family and other things for the foreseeable future. I also want to take some time to step back and decide what I want to do with my blogs and my internet presence.

Love to all of you. I will still be on twitter (gaming content will most likely be there, if I have any time to play with a new little one) and Instagram.

Cover Photo by C.J. Brown on Unsplash.

Let’s Go To The Moon (A Play-Along) – Act 3

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Act 3 of To The Moon. It’s the third part of the play-along hosted by Naithin. Now on to the questions!

1. Johnny… Joey… Twins. It seems after the accident Johnny lost his identity to his mother, and became a replacement-Joey. Does it change how you feel about Johnny as compared to your Act 1 impressions?

I spent more time thinking about how this worked than judging Johnny. Johnny gets beta blockers and, from what it seems like, completely forgets he even had a twin. I wonder who’s decision this was. Was it his mom’s? I can’t remember if it said she didn’t get them or if that’s just an assumption I’m making, but if she didn’t get them, does she just start thinking she has one kid and it’s Joey who survived? Did she get her memories erased and thinks she has one kid, Joey?

Johnny picks up Joey’s favorites (pickled olives and Animorphs). I’m thinking that was his mom’s influence. Now, I can’t hardly imagine loosing a child, but I can’t imagine making the choices she does which amounts to erasing the child that’s still alive.

I think I judged Johnny less harshly than some of the other play-along participants, but while this does increase my sympathy for him, I don’t judge him any less. The only thing I really judged him for was not reading the book on River’s condition–and I don’t think that was explained in Act 3. I’m still judging him on that, but he clearly loved River, so I can move beyond that one thing.

2. Eva and Neil have a verbal sparring match on their differing views of contract vs. what they now know (or think they know) about what would make Johnny happier. Outcome of Eva’s actions notwithstanding; do you sympathise with one view over the other here?

Neil’s for sure, but it’s hard for me to answer because I’m against memory alteration as a whole. Even with that aside, we find out that Johnny’s wish to go to the moon was to meet up with River.

This revelation is incredibly emotional. If you don’t see this scene and don’t feel anything, knowing what’s to come, your heart is three sizes too small.

But it’s about River. And in real life, Johnny spent his whole life with River. This request comes from a fragment of a chemically repressed memory. With his real memories, he’s getting what he wanted, but the words of his request are wrong and lead Neil and Eva in a wild goose-chase in the wrong direction.

And yet, I really relate to Eva in the scene where she’s all “I know what to do, just trust me!” and she runs off and does it. As a programmer, I often will think of the solution to something and be unable to articulate it–I’ll need to go and do it, Neils be damned.

Ace Asunder’s post reminded me that Neil said, “We happen to know what he wants better than he does!” I don’t hate Neil for saying this. I used to work for an agency and we very often knew what the clients wanted more than they did. Of course, I’m talking about software and not memories. I think that other people shouldn’t be deciding what memories to put in someone’s head, because other people shouldn’t be changing memories in the first place.

3. Throughout that same exchange, Eva asks Neil to trust her. He clearly didn’t. Did you?

Not in the way you might think. I definitely thought she was doing what she thought was the right thing. Because I could really see myself in that scene, I guessed she wanted to follow the letter of the contract and make Johnny happy.

But, knowing that there’s sequels: I have a feeling Sigmund Corp is up to something beyond just providing people with altered memories. It seems way too benevolent for a company in a video game. It wouldn’t surprise me if Eva knows a thing or two about it, while Neil’s completely in the dark.

4. “He can always find another ‘River’… But he’ll only have one brother.” Again, pretending for the moment you don’t know the outcome of Eva’s actions and what she (suspected) would happen… Do you agree? What about in this context of overwritten memories as opposed to life as it was?

No. It’s not real. The Joey isn’t even real, just constructed from Johnny’s memories. Even knowing the final outcome doesn’t make me think it’s right.

I don’t remember what I though the first playthrough. I wish I did. It would be interesting to see how my thoughts changed since then. I know that this time around, I strongly guessed that Eva’s attempts would be successful and that it meant we’d see River again. I don’t know if this was based on my own locked out memories of the game, or if it’s just my knack for guessing endings.

5. Do you ship Eva and Neil?

Of course! The sexual tension is there, folks.

But…I did tweet this a while back:

And I stand by it!

Cover Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash.

Let’s Go To The Moon (A Play-Along) – Act 2

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Act 2 of To The Moon. It’s part of the play-along hosted by Naithin. Let’s get to the questions!

1. When Eva was sitting, thinking about the reasons nothing at all changed in Johnny’s simulated memories — what conclusions do you think she reached? What conclusion did you reach?

First of all, the scenes where Eva and Neil are going through Johnny’s memories and trying to get Johnny to want to go to the moon is hilarious. Particularly the scene where Neil is giving the school presentation, reciting moon facts.

As an aside, having interesting or entertaining protagonists is essential to making an adventure game work for me. See The Longest Journey’s April vs. Syberia’s Kate.

Fan art of Eva and Neil via Janamation

Eva and Neil go through all Johnny’s memories and do what they can to manually implant as many triggers as possible, but Johnny still doesn’t want to go to the moon. It makes me wonder, why does old man Johnny want to go to the moon, anyway? If I grew old and regretted something, it would probably be something I’ve at least spent some time thinking about. Not just something completely out of the blue.

Maybe that’s what Eva’s thinking. They should call HQ and tell them it’s impossible. (Except maybe they want to keep their jobs.) Or, perhaps, there’s something missing in that blocked memory.

2. The block on the youngest memories and the use of beta blockers… What do you think this will be all about?

I think something traumatic happened at that time and the beta blockers were meant to repress that memory. That memory’s going to be the key to understanding all of this, I think. It seems like old man Johnny might have some bits and pieces and feelings from those memories that have leaked through. Somehow, the leaked memories and feelings have him wanting to go to the moon. Maybe he’s confused about them somehow, like he’s getting some lunar influences but it’s not exactly right.

3. What about Neil taking off for a moment while Eva returned with the… ahem… Contained dead squirrel odour? What could have been so important to him?

Absolutely no idea! Despite playing this game before, as I’ve mentioned, I don’t remember a thing except for not being able to get off that horse in Act 1 and there being a very twisty ending.

But, I have to wonder if Neil smelled that dead squirrel and was reminded of something himself.

Such harsh treatment of squirrels (and bunnies!) in this game. Has PETA complained yet?

4. We still have the third act to come. What do you think it will focus on?

It’s going to focus on the blocked memory and it will somehow tie everything up, and blow all of our minds. I remember being shocked and feeling very emotional at the end of the game when I finished the first time, but I don’t remember why.

Maybe they got to me with the beta blockers!

Apologies my answers are so short for this act. It’s been a busy week!

Cover Photo by Ganapathy Kumar on Unsplash. I’ve always had a certain attachment to the moon.

Black Mothers’ Lives Matter

In light of the Black Lives Matter protests, I want to bring to light an issue that’s really important to me: the increased maternal mortality rates for Black mothers. As a pregnant White woman, I’m comfortable knowing that during my birth experience, I’ll be taken care of and listened to and not worry about my own life. I don’t know how Black mothers feel, but I don’t think I would have that same level of confidence in the healthcare system and my own mortality.

Between 2011 and 2014, White woman experienced 12.4 deaths per 100,000 people while Black woman experienced 40 per 100,000 (source). Death is the worst possible scenario, and Black women experience other forms of racial discrimination during the birth process. (More information.)

We have to fix this.

As a pregnant mom, I wanted to share this information and tell you about an organization that’s working to promote Black maternal health. When relating real life to video games (like I often do on this blog) we often see the analogy of White people start on easy mode while Black people start on a higher difficulty, simply because of their race. Can you imagine what sort of high difficulty starting your life without your mother would be?

I’ve decided to support Black Mamas Matter, an organization that seeks to “advocate, drive research, build power, and shift culture for Black maternal health, rights, and justice.” They do this through research, policy changes, and supporting Black moms’ medical care.

Black Mothers’ Lives Matter. I encourage you to check out the organization and consider supporting if you are able.

Cover Photo by Sai De Silva on Unsplash.

Let’s Go To The Moon (A Play-Along) – Act 1

To the Moon is an indie adventure game with pixel graphics, RPG maker sprites, and annoying tinkling music. But the story is so good, I loved it. I loved it when a friend insisted I play it over 5 years ago. Flash-forward to now, where I completely forgot entirely about the plot. I couldn’t even tell you that it centered around two people who’s job it was to implant new memories into a dying man’s brain. I knew I’d need a recap or an entire complete play-through before playing any sequels. So when Naithin announced he was hosting a play-along, I signed up.

There was one thing I remembered about the game:

It was really hard to get off the horse.

Get me off this thing! Via lparchive.org

Thankfully, Naithin took the time to write questions and answers for each Act in the game, so I don’t have to completely come up with my own stuff to write about. Whew.

Warning: Contains spoilers for Act 1 of To the Moon.

Let’s Play!

I’ve got the game launched. I’ve got hummus. I’m ready to go.

1. Let’s start off with the big guns — at the completion of Act 1 — how do you now feel about the very concept of granting someone’s dying wish by overwriting their memories with new ones?

Wanting to do this is a terrible idea. Sure, you’re on your death bed, and you think to yourself, “Wow, I really wasted my life. I wanted to be a marine biologist as a kid and instead I became an accountant. I never should’ve done that. What a crap life.” The best thing to do then, is…get new memories?

Your memories make up who you are. If those memories are implanted then you’re not really a real person, you’re just a fake set of memories. I can see good intentions in wanting people to die happy, but what about instead having them go through their memories and find the good ones? Maybe you wish you were a marine biologist, but as an accountant you stopped tax fraud or helped small businesses stay afloat? Maybe if you hadn’t become an accountant, you wouldn’t have met your spouse or had your children.

Plus, when you die, what happens to those memories? If you don’t believe in an afterlife, then, poof, they’re gone. Then what was the point of the whole thing? For a moment of happiness because your brain is lying to you the moment before you die? How much of whatever your benefactors would be inheriting did you spend on that moment?

If you do believe in the afterlife–well, let’s say you believe in Heaven. It’s not in the Bible so I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure you’re not bringing those implanted memories with you. So you’d be stuck with those same old memories, which probably wouldn’t even matter, because you’d be partying with angels.

2. What did you think of River’s choice to put her treatment behind that of Anya?

Spoiler: Anya is a lighthouse.

Anya

My gut reaction is that it was selfish. She wanted this lighthouse to be “looked after” more than she wanted to be there for her own husband. She cared more about an inanimate object than she did about him.

But I think Anya is more than an object to River. I see Anya being a surrogate child. River and Johnny don’t have children, and I wonder if they wanted to but weren’t able to and somehow Anya took that place in River’s heart. If River sees Anya as her child, then of course she’d prioritize Anya’s life over her own.

3. In response to Neil commenting that it was like watching a train-wreck unfold, Eva says, “The ending isn’t any more important than the moments leading up to it.” Do you agree?

For sure. 100%.

I have a cat, Sashimi. I love my cat. I adore my cat.

Look at my cat. She wants boops.

My cat is going to be 9 next month. She’s not going to live forever. Someday I’m going to have to deal with her death. The thought itself makes me sad. It’s going to be a hard and terrible time in my life.

It doesn’t mean every happy moment I spend with my cat is pointless. No one says “if you’re going to be so sad when your cat dies, maybe you shouldn’t have adopted one.” If it was all about the ending, we’d never have pets!

I can come up with more examples–like a relationship I had in my twenties that was bad at the end. It doesn’t mean I can’t fondly remember the good moments and treasure the things I discovered and friends I made because of that relationship.

The journey matters.

4. What did you make of Johnny’s decision not to read the book offered by Dr. Lee?

Crap. Unless River didn’t want to do anything about it and ignore it and he was following her lead–but I don’t think that’s true or they wouldn’t be getting a diagnosis in the first place.

You can tell Johnny loves River, but I don’t know why he doesn’t read the book. Does he want to pretend it’s not a part of her? Is he afraid it will take away from the part of her personality that attracted him to her in the first place? I don’t get it. It’s not supportive. Shame on you, Johnny. You should’ve read the book.

5. How do you feel about Johnny as a person now, particularly after he reveals why he (at least initially?) was interested in River?

Johnny was initially interested in River because she seemed different and he wanted some of that uniqueness for himself. A rather selfish reason to date someone, right?

For sure. But when we first start dating someone, aren’t the reasons usually superficial and possibly selfish?

And it seems like he really likes her, and he does fall in love with her, so who cares what was going on in his teenage brain when they first met. It still bothers me that he didn’t read the book, but I can forgive him for this.

6. We saw River’s obsession with origami rabbits very early in the piece — and some of the events that tracked back as a possible origin along the way. After Johnny told her about his initial motivations is when it all kicked off. Neil thought it might’ve been River holding onto a grudge. What do you think?

I don’t think so, because like I said, I don’t think Johnny’s confession is that big of a deal. And from a story telling perspective, the game is only half-finished at this point so the answer we have now probably isn’t the actual answer.

I think it might have something to do with why Johnny wants to go to the moon. In Asian folklore, depicted in the moon is a rabbit grinding something with a mortar and pestle. What the rabbit is grinding depends on the specific culture. (Maybe here it’s pickled olives?)

Cover Photo by Aswathy N on Unsplash. So many rabbits!

The Real Life Parenthood Inventory Management Game

Welcome to Parent Pack, the real life parenting inventory management simulator. In this game, you play a parent who needs to get their kids out of the house. This game takes place in summer 2019, so no COVID-19 to worry about. You can actually leave the house.

MMO Pantheon announced they’re bringing back coin weight as a mechanism in inventory management and Twitter was abuzz about it for a while. I was surprised how many people are down with inventory management as a concept in general, since I always see it as a necessarily evil. It’s even more annoying in real life when you can actually feel the weight of the stuff you’re lugging around and you have to make crucial decisions about what to bring with you and what to leave behind.

Congratulations you’re a parent. You have a 3-year-old (who’s still in diapers) and a 4-month-old. It’s a Saturday in late June. The 3-year-old is getting antsy. Your partner has plans to do housework and yard work all day. You need groceries. You decide to go to the playground, have a picnic lunch, and get groceries.

You have to decide what to pack. You feed the baby right before you leave and decide two unmixed bottles of water and formula will be enough. They go in the diaper bag. You pack about 6 baby diapers and a pack of wipes. There’s already a pad in there and some diaper rash cream, plus a couple small baby toys. The baby needed to wear the last emergency outfit you had in there, so you grab another. You also grab a lightweight blanket. It’s sunny outside, so you pack a thing of baby sunscreen and a sun hat. You stuff your wallet and keys in there, too.

Now you need to pack for the 3-year-old, but the diaper bag is about full. Luckily, the 3-year-old can carry a few things on their own. They have a small backpack. You add a few diapers, snacks, small toys, and a bottle of water.

The 3-year-old picks up the bag. “It’s too heavy!”

You dump out half the water bottle. Now the 3-year-old can carry it. Except the 3-year-old refuses to use the baby’s sunscreen. Thankfully, the 3-year-old’s sunscreen is getting close to empty and does not add too much weight to the backpack.

You pack the cooler. You pack a small cooler, and have to forgo the bottle of iced tea you wanted because it’s too tall. You take La Croix for yourself instead. The entire cooler is stuffed. You can barely close it.

“Can we have grapes?” the 3-year-old says.

Crap. You didn’t pack grapes. Or any fruit. “Sure, honey.”

You wash and pack some grapes, but there’s no room for them in the cooler. You take everything out. You decide not to leave the chips–they’re getting kind of crunched up anyway. You pack the grapes.

Now you have to carry everything. In this game, you can carry a limit of 3 things. Your three things are: the cooler, the diaper bag, and the baby in their car seat. The game also has a mechanism where the heavier the stuff you’re carrying, you’ll eventually get slower over time. The heaviness of the stuff correlates to how fast you slow down. The stuff you have (particularly the baby) is fairly heavy, so you’ll slow down quickly. If you carry it all for too long, you risk collapsing. If you collapse, there’s a chance you’ll injure yourself and the baby.

You get everything out to the car. Putting the stuff in the car resets the slow-o-meter. Before you leave, you text your mom and she decides to meet you at the playground. She’ll bring her own food.

The walk from the car to the picnic area is long and your slow-o-meter is getting rather full. You can set your stuff on the picnic table, which resets the meter. Your mom is already there, with a pile of new clothes for the baby. She went on a shopping spree. You try to be grateful, but some of them have questionable phrases on the front and you don’t know where you’re going to put them to carry them back to your car. You push them aside for now to worry about later.

At lunch, your 3-year-old becomes very upset that there aren’t any chips and isn’t interested in the grapes. You are going to turn this into a life lesson about getting what you ask for, but it turns out your mom brought chips, and she readily hands some over. At least now you’re avoiding the game’s “Meltdown Mode.”

After lunch there’s a lot more room in the cooler: enough for the baby clothes. Your mom raises her eyebrows at you, and you have the option of starting a “Parenting Argument” mini game. It’s not very fun, so you say nothing.

You say goodbye to your mom and lug everything over to the playground. You set everything down on a bench, which while dropping the slow-o-meter back to 0, increases the chance that someone will steal you stuff. After about 10 minutes of heavy playing, the 3-year-old downs all the water in their water bottle. They says they’re still thirsty, so you help them at the drinking fountain. You bring all the stuff with you, because the theft chances increase greatly by leaving it there. It wouldn’t be a big deal if the clothes were stolen, but if someone steals the baby you instantly lose the game.

You help your kid with the drinking fountain, but water ends up all over their shirt and it eventually gets dirty after more playground play. You lose 5 points. Apparently you should’ve sacrificed a few diapers for more water in the bottle, or put diapers in the kid’s backpack and the water in the diaper bag. Who knew? Good thing this is a game and not real life, and you can try again for a better score.

Cover photo via The Honest Company on Unsplash. I’m forever unimpressed by how little you can actually fit in a diaper bag.

Eh, Forget It

I was going to stop posting here, and I wrote this terribly brief goodbye post, but I’ve decided to stay. I change my mind a lot, alright? You can still find me on twitter @allirense. I recently had a tweet about single-spacing after periods go almost-viral, so there’s that.

See you soon!