the walking writer

Stardew Valley is a farming simulation game that was recently released on Steam. This amazing game was developed by one person and was inspired by the Harvest Moon series. Although I don’t have much experience with Harvest Moon, I’ve played (and loved) Rune Factory 3 and 4. I find this type of game very charming, so on the day Stardew Valley launched, I read a few reviews and quickly purchased it. Turns out, it was a smart choice and I’ve already put in quite a few hours into the game. This is not meant to be a comprehensive review; rather, it’s a just a collection of my thoughts as I’ve played the game.

A Fun and Engaging Beginning

The beginning of games of this type are always a little tricky. Some games don’t give you much to do when you start out; you have to play more to keep unlocking things. This is true in Animal Crossing: New Leaf and Harvest Moon: A New Beginning, among others. In Stardew Valley, you hit the ground running. There’s no long tutorial, unlike A New Beginning. You can immediately start exploring the town, plant some crops, fish, start making money and much more. The game gives you some directions in case you’re not sure what to do in the form of some easy introductory quests. There’s really nothing in particular that you have to do when you start; you can immediately take the game at your own pace doing whatever you want. Some things, of course, are not immediately available, such as the mine. But you’ll still have a long list of things you can do from the very beginning.

Fall in Stardew Valley.

Fall in Stardew Valley.

A Solid List of Characters

For the most part, Stardew Valley has a good cast of characters. A few of the characters seem a little flat, but I assume as you build up a relationship with them, you’ll learn more about them. I’ve already seen this with a couple of the townsfolk that my character has managed to befriend. I was impressed with the addition of Linius, a homeless man who lives in a tent and is on the fringes of Pelican Town. Where I live, homelessness is currently a very polarizing topic, so it is nice to see his story handled with care. A few of the female characters could use a little more variety; their portraits alone make them look very similar to each other (Penny, Leah, Jodi and Robin). I will say that overall, it’s nice to have only one character that seems to hate your guts right from the beginning, which is better than I’ve seen in other similar games.

The Bachelors and Bachelorettes

One of the first things I wondered about when I got the game was whether the player character could marry a bachelor or a bachelorette, regardless of the gender of the player’s character. I know for many people, it has been frustrating that you couldn’t marry whoever you wanted in the various Harvest Moon/Rune Factory games. I was pleased when I found out that you could marry either gender if you so wish. This adds a nice level of inclusion.

As for the choices themselves, I do wish there was a bit more variety. On the male side, I feel several of the choices are a bit too young. Sebastian, Alex and Sam seem like they’re supposed to be in high school. The same is true of a couple of the girls. I guess the point was to give players some variety, but I think I just wish the choices tipped a bit more to the older side. But, I don’t find the marriage aspect as important as the rest of the game, so it’s not a big deal to me.

Charming Music and Cute Art Style

The music of Stardew Valley is very peaceful and pleasant to listen to. While it may not be hugely memorable, it perfectly suits the atmosphere of the game. The game has a couple of types of music: music that fits the outdoor areas and the kind of music you might expect in a rural and rustic town. I love that the music changes with the seasons and matches very well with the weather. Summer’s music is nice and upbeat, while fall has a pleasant melancholy feel to it.

Stardew Valley’s art style is sort of a retro/pixel look that you’d expect from an older game, but it really works for this game. Even though your character sprite is quite small, you can still add detail to it and really make it your own. I’m sure that this simple style means that the game will run quite well on older computers and could potentially make a jump to mobile platforms.

Looking out into the ocean.

Looking out into the ocean.

As mentioned above, Stardew Valley was created by one person. ConcernedApe (his moniker) is active on Twitter and the Stardew Valley reddit (and perhaps others places as well). He’s already released several patches to fix some bugs and has mentioned future content that he’d like to add, including adding more to the post-marriage parts of the game. Multiplayer options are also on the to-do list. In other words, Stardew Valley has a lot of room for growth and is clearly cared for by its creator. It’s a refreshing thing to see a game get that much devotion from a developer.

A Single Tip for New Stardew Valley Players

You won’t have to look far to find long lists of tips from players to help you maximize your playtime. In my opinion, I think it’s best to skip these lists and just discover things on your own. Yes, you may end up needing to wait another season or even a year to accomplish a particular task, but I think it’s more fun to just play the game organically and focus solely on what you want to do. If you worry too much about optimizing the game, you’ll miss out on the fun and it will feel more like a job. Who wants to keep consulting a list of tips when you’re playing a game?

As is probably pretty clear, I think Stardew Valley is an exceptional game that is well worth the money and the time. It’s the type of game that can easily appeal to just about any type of gamer. I look forward to seeing what happens in the game’s future.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf is one of my favorite games on the 3DS. I’m certain that I’ve spent the majority of my playtime with that console on New Leaf. I resisted buying it for a long time because I had played one of its predecessors and just didn’t get the appeal. I’m happy that I finally bought it because I’ve certainly gotten my money’s worth from it. I have a few confessions from my years of playing it…

1. I haven’t checked on my town since Christmas.

Even though I feel like I’ve mostly done everything I want to do in the game, I still enjoy checking in with my villages and walking around my town. However, during the holidays, I didn’t have a chance to play much. So when I booted up the game, I discovered that Poppy, my favorite villager, was moving out the next day. Yes, she’s just a pile of pixels in the shape of an adorable squirrel, but I’m still sad to lose her. I wish the game had a vacation mode that would keep your town in stasis if you won’t be playing for an extended period.

I need to just get it over with already and start playing again. I wonder if the bamboo in my town has completely overtaken the empty spaces of land by now.

2. I can’t stand the jock villagers.

The jock villagers are really the only type that bother me, mostly because they call my mayor “ladybro.” Ugh. While all villagers are of a particular type, jock villagers seem to take their theme a bit too far, and their conversations are quite repetitive. I’m always annoyed when they move in, and I’m never sad when they finally move out of my town.

3. Tutu drives me nuts, but I still keep her around.

Tutu is a polar bear who is way too full of herself. Based on her dialogue, I actually thought she was a snooty villager until I checked and saw she is in fact a peppy villager. Even though she’s attempted to move several times, I stop her every time because she is one of my few remaining original villagers.

4. I’ve tried to place paths in my town, but I always end up deleting them.

I’ve seen some really amazing towns with beautiful paths and layouts. I’ve tried to do it in my own town several times, but I end up erasing the paths after a few days every single time. I think I’m just a bit too lazy to try to do the really complex paths.

5. I think my town is a random mess, but that’s okay.

I’m always impressed by the work and effort some players have put into their towns. I’ve visited some towns with neat themes that are fun to visit and inspiring. My town…is just sort of a conglomeration of random features. I can’t even decide on an orderly way to display flowers. As with The Sims, I’m not terribly great at planning layouts, but it’s still fun to play around with from time to time.

As I write this, I’m currently uploading files to my new web host. I’ve been a loyal customer of A Small Orange for many years. I joined them when they were still a fairly small company, back when they still had customer forums and you could expect quick responses to support issues. A few years ago, ASO was gobbled up with many other web hosting companies by a company known as EIG. You don’t have to look far on the web to find a long list of complaints about web hosts owned by EIG. In ASO’s case, however, I believe they managed to hold onto their support staff for many years. Unfortunately, that seems to have changed recently.

Last month, I suddenly realized my site was suspended. I was rather surprised as I had seen the PayPal receipt for my invoice that month. After logging into the email I used for ASO, I discovered they claimed they never got the payment and had suspended my site. Now, I fully admit that I should have seen the emails warning me that they were going to suspend my account due to non-payment, but I’ve been using the same PayPal subscription for years without problem and as I said earlier, I saw the receipt for December’s payment.

So, I sent in a ticket. And waited….and waited some more. I looked at their Twitter and discovered their Twitter feed was full of messages to and from clients about tickets not being answered. Each time, the poor soul manning the Twitter feed would ask for a ticket number and problem to get the issue looked at. That is a terrible way to do customer service, in my opinion. In my case, I don’t have a Twitter account, so I decided I would just jump into their live chat. It took 15 minutes, but finally, I got someone to look at my issue and fix it immediately. I never really got an explanation for what happened, just some claim that PayPal had held onto the money for some unknown reason. The fact that they were able to fix the problem within mere minutes indicates to me that something may have actually gone wrong on ASO’s end. If it was PayPal’s problem, wouldn’t they have needed to actually talk to PayPal first?

Well, this little incident made it clear to me that I needed to look for a new host. During the holidays, I put it on the back burner, but I made sure to closely watch my invoices for January’s payment. Sure enough, once again, PayPal deducted my money and ASO said that my invoice had not been paid and that I was late. I responded immediately to the email they sent, and waited. Two days later, they sent another automatic warning email about the lack of payment. I replied to that email immediately. Two days later, they sent me a final notice about the non-payment, so once again sent in another email. Finally, four (!!!) days after the initial email I sent in, I got a reply. This time, they gave me a completely different explanation for the problem then they did last month. It’s pretty clear to me that they don’t know what is going on, and while they are willing to fix things for their customers, you could be waiting for days and days for help. I should also note the customer service rep offered no apology for the delays or the payment problem.

Based on reading their Twitter feed, I understand that ASO is having significant problems serving clients who pay far more money than I do. However, just because I am a small potato compared to other customers, doesn’t mean rather urgent issue can’t be fixed. It’s amazing to me that a web hosting company would ignore someone who’s on the verge of having their site incorrectly suspended yet again.

I am sorry to have to say that I would strongly recommend staying away from A Small Orange. Fortunately, there are plenty of other web hosts out there, including my new host, iWF Hosting.

I haven’t had a chance to play The Sims 4: Get Together expansion too much yet, but I’ve loved what I’ve seen so far. When they first announced the expansion, I thought it was just basically more party stuff and not much else. When they fully explained the club aspect, however, my opinion changed. Now that I’ve played it, I can see that this expansion brings a new layer of interaction to the game. Instead of just having your Sim’s friends come over to your house and randomly play on your computer or take out your trash (what is up with that?), you can actually specify what the group does together. It seems so simple, but it’s really quite a new thing for the series. I’ve only set up one fairly boring club (they drink coffee and read books), but I’m sure I’ll do some more creative things with it soon.

Sims 4 Screenshot

My Sims enjoying the life-size chess set in Windenburg.

The new town of Windenburg is fantastic; it’s a very pretty place with some great places to hang out. For some reason, I was under the mistaken impression that Windenburg would be more like a vacation spot and not a place to live. I was thrilled to see your Sims can live there if you wish. The expansion also has the usual new clothes, hairs, build mode stuff and more. There’s some really good stuff in there that I’m looking forward to building with. I am a little sad that they didn’t add a new life state to this expansion, but on the other hand, I’m not sure that any of the life states really would have fit with the expansion’s flavor. Overall, I think Get Together is a excellent entry to the series and brings plenty of new life to the game.

For many years, December was a very stressful time for me. Even though I had left Mormonism and Christianity, I still wanted to be part of the holiday season. Unfortunately, whenever the calendar turned to December 1st, I immediately felt stressed for a number of reasons, including upcoming travel back home and my desire to find the perfect presents for everyone in my family. It wasn’t pleasant to feel overwhelmed and it certainly took away any fun in the season. I’ve since realized a few things that have significantly reduced my stress to almost zero. This includes:

1. Round Robin Gift Exchange
For years, each member of my family felt obligated to gift each person a gift. This was a source of unending stress for me. I saw how thoughtful several of my family members were about the gifts they gave, and I wanted to reciprocate. This usually resulted in hours of online shopping and hours spent in stores. Since I strongly dislike shopping, especially when everyone in the store is suffering from some terrible plague, I really hated this. However, for the last couple of years, we’ve made it simple with a round robin gift exchange. Finding a gift for one couple is so much easier than what we did previously.

2. Stop Seeking the Perfect Gift
This is a problem that I’ve had since I was a child. I disliked it when someone posted a wish list on the fridge for Christmas gifts; I wanted to surprise them! Looking back, I realize now that while surprises are very nice, there’s nothing wrong with giving someone exactly what they want. There’s also nothing wrong with asking the intended recipient what they would like. When it comes down to it, as long as you put a bit of time and thinking into it, there really is no bad gift.

3. Your Nieces and Nephews Will Still Love You if Your Presents Suck
One thing I’ve long struggled with is shopping for presents for my nieces and nephews. In our family, we have the option to give gifts to the kids if we want to; there’s no obligation, and the kids aren’t part of the gift exchange. I spent many hours browsing the toy stores, thinking once again that I needed to get the perfect gift. But then one day I realized something. The parents of my nieces and nephews give their kids way too many toys. It’s something that irks me, but it’s probably best saved for its own post. The point is, my realization changed how I shopped for the kids. I tend to look for things that are activity-oriented, such as science kits or craft kits. The kids will have fun with them, and it won’t just be another doll that gets ignored after two days.

4. Avoid Travel if Possible
Visiting my family during Christmas is fun; I cannot deny it. Unfortunately, the travel aspect is less than pleasant. Every single year I’ve gone back home for Christmas, I’ve picked up at least one cold along the way. I’ve also had the misfortune of waiting hours upon hours for delayed flights and been stuck on planes that were completely full to the brim. After a particularly painful trip back and forth, my husband and I decided we would shift our schedules and visit family during other times of the year. This lets us have our own traditions and we still get to visit with our family through video chats. It’s not the same as being there, but it seems to work out just fine.

Eliminating sources of stress is always a good thing in my book, and I am very happy to have found some solutions that help me better enjoy the season.