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What Makes Tomb Raider Special?

With this year marking Tomb Raider’s 20th anniversary I wanted to write a little bit about what the franchise means to me. Admittedly, in recent times I haven’t been keeping up with the franchise, but it was a major part of my childhood. I use to buy each new game on launch and have completed a few of them. I remember I had this goal to try and get through all of them. I ended up spending whole days just playing Tomb Raider. Unfortunately I lost the save very close to the end of the 3rd game and I kept getting stuck in the same place in the 4th game.

My first memories of Tomb Raider are of awe and wonder. It was one of the first games we got for the Playstation and before that point I’d never experienced an adventure game in which you could swim, climb and drive vehicles (over the entire series the choice of vehicles is also varied from boats, to skidoos, bikes to canoes.) My most vivid memory of my early video game experiences was in the original Tomb Raider, in which that first pool of water was revealed. The music was mysterious and enticing. I made a beeline for the water because I was so excited to jump in and explore its depths. I don’t get such simple pleasures from video games nowadays, but back then I’d never played anything like it before. I really felt like I was being adventurous through my exploration of what Lara Croft could do. The variety of locations and the lure of history/mythology was exciting, even though I never fully understood what was happening. I felt a whole range of emotions during these games too, including curiosity, surprise, excitement, tension, relief and even fear – well I was young and those moving statues in the third game genuinely creeped me out… In fact they still do.

While I always enjoyed games, Tomb Raider is the one I’m most thankful towards for getting me into this hobby. It was the first time I got to control a female character and Lara Croft is an amazing role model in that she’s attractive, and yet also smart and capable at the same time. I remember a lot of girls back then saying that they aspired to be like Lara Croft. There’s the other side to this where she was also thought of as a sex symbol, but this was more prevalent in marketing than in the games themselves. She was an appealing character to both female and male fans alike. I haven’t come across another female protagonist since that would be able to fill that role as well as Lara Croft did. As games are often thought of as being masculine I’ve had to deal with many misunderstandings about my hobby and the way it reflects on me as a person, but Tomb Raider was one of those games that didn’t seem to be thought of in this way. It was one of those games that I could enjoy talking about with other girls and they didn’t think it was weird.

Tomb Raider also inspired me to want to learn how to make my own games. In reality we don’t often come across opportunities that can give us a sense of adventure, but Tomb Raider allowed me to experience this feeling from a young age. I enjoyed it so much that I soon began to crave the idea of being able to create my own adventures. I use to draw out my own level designs with a similar complexity to what I’d experienced in Tomb Raider. I’d imagine my own female protagonists running through them as well. Ok, I’ll admit, all of my ideas back then were basically copies of Tomb Raider.

Nowadays we have loads of adventure/action games to choose from, but they don’t elicit the same excitement in me as when I first experienced Tomb Raider. As such I will always have fond memories of this. By invoking so many different emotions in me Tomb Raider showed me just what video games could be capable of.

Dealing with Creative Jealousy

I came across this honest art video about jealousy and I wanted to write about my own thoughts on this. I haven’t experienced jealousy much myself, but this could be due to my mindset or my unusual mix of interests – art and computing. There have been moments where I’ve felt intimidated by the skills of others, but then I remind myself that I have my own unique angle to see things from. I have abilities that perhaps the other person doesn’t have. With creative pursuits it’s not just about the skills we have, but also our own unique approach to it and the experiences that have inspired us. Those that thrive at what they do are not necessarily the most skilled at it, but the ones that bring a new attitude to the table.

I enjoy browsing through what others have produced. When I first started programming I read through game development diaries to see what process others followed. They were way better than me, but they did have years of experience on me too. I found it inspiring as it showed me the potential for what I could become if I stuck with it. If it wasn’t for seeing other creations I’d have never considered venturing into it myself as I wouldn’t have known what was possible. I’m also thankful to those that pass down their knowledge to newcomers, allowing them to skip some hurdles along the way. Some people allow others to put them off because they can’t imagine ever being able to reach such a skill level. If we allow a goal to feel insurmountable it can prevent us from even trying; Why invest our time and energy into something that isn’t going to work out? When we view the work of others it helps to do it with the belief that we can one day get to the same point. We’re all on different journeys and we don’t have to travel at the same pace or in the same direction.

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Value For Money? (No Man’s Sky)

I’ve played a bit more of No Man’s Sky since I last wrote about it and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it. I’m not getting a massive urge to play it anymore and when I do I’m only entertained for short bursts at a time (motion sickness and headaches are also a problem forcing me to cut sessions short.) The amount I’ve paid for it keeps playing on my mind. I don’t like to throw in the towel too early as I’ve had experiences in the past where I’ve hated a game, loved it, hated it again and so on. There’s this idea that a game should grip you within the first five minutes, but I think we can make a few exceptions as there have been some titles that I would have regretted giving up on early (Eve, Don’t Starve and Dark Souls.) Some experiences get more exciting as we master the system. My tastes can also change so long as I keep an open mind.

No Man’s Sky has been an interesting release due to how opinions about it seem to be so polarised. Some people love it, others are bitterly disappointed. In my case I didn’t have any hype for the game and hadn’t thought about it much until the week before launch. That’s when I received some birthday vouchers and researched a few options to spend them on. I have to admit I had a few uncertainties about No Man’s Sky as I struggled to find clear information about what the gameplay involved. I kept seeing the same footage that had been revealed years before – a game can change a lot in that time. There was still enough there to convince me to take the risk and my curiosity got the better of me. Even if I’d waited a while I think I would have still gotten curious at some point. I like to experience games first hand so that I can form my own opinions before any hype or hate can colour them.

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Pokémon Go Tips

I started Pokémon Go a little bit later than my friends did, but have managed to catch up much to everyone’s surprise. I don’t think I go out as often as they do either, but I’ve been very careful in how I’ve used my items. So here are a few tips that I followed to get a good start:

  • I didn’t power up my Pokémon right away as this is a waste of stardust. You catch better Pokémon later anyway.
  • I caught everything to begin with, especially Pidgey. Only 12 Candy is required to upgrade a Pidgey. You can get a lot of experience from upgrading so I use a lucky egg beforehand. I like to fully upgrade a Pokémon before powering it up too.
  • Eggs are another good way to gain experience as well as stardust and rare Pokémon, so always make sure to fill the incubators before going for a walk. Some incubators have limited use; To get the most out of them it’s better to fill these with the larger eggs.
  • Plan a route that will allow you to pass 10 different Pokéstops within 30 minutes. After the 10th you’ll receive double experience and twice as many items.
  • If petals appear around a Pokéstop a lure has been used, which will attract more to that location. If I’m taking a break from walking I like to position myself over a couple of stops with lures. The stops also reset after 5 minutes (the icon will fade from pink to blue) and you can use them again.
  • Go for walks at different times of the day. The type of area you are in will also affect which Pokémon will appear.
  • When catching a Pokémon holding your finger over the pokéball will cause a reticule to appear. The colour of the ring indicates the difficulty. The smaller the ring the better the chance of catching. You can also use berries and better Pokéballs to increase chances.
  • Good throws get you bonus experience while catching, indicated by text that pops up, ‘Nice!’ ‘Great!’ or ‘Excellent!’
  • The Pokéball can also be spun to create a curve ball, increasing the chance of capture and adding a small amount of bonus experience.
  • Before powering up a Pokémon I check its moves first. I prefer to have different types if possible.
  • We also use the Google Opinion Rewards app. You can fill out short surveys for rewards which can be put towards Pokécoins. You can also get coins from placing Pokémon in the gyms. As soon as you do go to the store to claim the reward. You will then need to wait for it to reset before you can claim another.
  • To save on battery turn on the saver mode in the settings, turn off AR when catching and lower the brightness of your screen. We also got a battery charger to enable us to lengthen our walks.

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No Man’s Sky First Impressions

I didn’t understand why there was so much hype around No Man’s Sky. Every video I watched emphasized the scale of it, but offered very little on the actual gameplay. As the release date drew closer I became more intrigued, but was still on the fence about it. When too many promises are made in regards to the scale of a game it makes me wary because  there are limitations in regards to budget and time. Put too much work into one area and usually the project will suffer elsewhere. I much prefer quality over quantity. It’s cool to think that there’s this massive universe to be explored, but the majority of it will go untouched and as such I’d rather have a small and well designed area with the illusion of scale as opposed to lots of similar content that I’ll never see. I also suspected that the game might suffer from that problem of being really exciting to begin with – at the thought of all the potential space can bring – just to quickly lose engagement in its players due to the lack of goal driven things to do. A larger scale usually slows down the pace of a game too, as there could be a lot of travelling from A to B with nothing of interest in-between. Despite my doubts I eventually caved and put in a pre-order as curisosity got the better of me. I love the idea of being able to freely move between planets and while there are lots of space games available to buy, I’m still searching for the right one.

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Overcoming my Anxiety to Play Pokémon Go

I was reluctant to start Pokémon Go. I work from home and live in a quiet area and so I didn’t think I’d get enough opportunities to be able to keep up with my friends (on the plus side the few gyms we have are quieter and easier to hold onto.) There have also been many negative stories around the use of Pokémon Go, which has raised the concerns of those around me. I am a little wary of having my phone out in busy places as I’ve been frequently reminded that it could make me a target. My curiosity was too strong not to at least start Pokémon Go and I do love how new social games create that sense of excitement and connection. I didn’t want to miss out on the initial buzz.

We’ve been arranging walks out together with Pokémon Go. It’s certainly more fun with friends, but to begin with I was so eager to get started I went for a short walk by myself. This is a difficult thing for me to do due to my anxiety. I feel safe to go out with others, but I often struggle to leave the house when I’m by myself. I’ve been protected too much while growing up and given the idea that I’m not safe on my own. Unfortunately there are times when we really need to go out and we can’t always expect somebody else to be available to come with us. I also believe that you need to live life and can’t keep avoiding things for fear of what could go wrong; Make sure you take precautions but don’t let it put you off from doing things you’d otherwise enjoy. My doctor recommended to me to perform simple tasks like walking to the shops each week to help me to overcome my discomfort, but I found it really difficult to keep up with. There just wasn’t enough of an incentive to go out and I felt awkward leaving the house for the sake of it.

I have this gaming mindset, where as soon as an incentive is applied – such as experience – It’ll itch away at me until I can fulfil my goals. Pokémon Go has had the same affect on me, and with much less effort than usual I stepped over the boundaries of my door step all by myself. I feared that I would look daft catching Pokémon in public, but so many others are playing it too that I don’t need to feel self-concious about it. I enjoy it for the same reason that I also enjoy digital photography; I feel safer when I have a camera in my hands as if it forms a protective barrier between me and the rest of the world. As soon as I see an opportunity for a photo I’ll do anything I can to get it no matter how silly I look to everyone else (I’ll kneel on the floor or climb on things If I have to. I even got close to a spider the other day despite being afraid of them.) My desire to take more photos as well as my new interest in catching Pokémon gives me a strong enough reason to want to push through the anxiety and get out there.

One of the other things I love about Pokémon Go is how it connects everybody together and in person. We went to the park last weekend and bumped into several people that were also catching Pokémon. We had strangers approach us to offer advice on upgrading them or to ask us what Pokémon could be found further along the path. We even tried to take on a gym just to realize that the person defending it was standing right next to us. Three of us were stood there, all members of different teams, making friendly conversation. Many of us find it difficult to break through that initial barrier of approaching new people, but Pokémon Go is offering enough of an incentive to do so. In a digital world where I reckon that a lot of people actually struggle with loneliness, a game is helping us to connect again.

The most obvious benefit of Pokémon Go is that it’s making us more active. Walking is good for us both physically and mentally. These are the kinds of benefits that I believe games to be fully capable of and it’s why I love them. By turning the world into a playground it makes going outside and exercising seem like a fun thing to do rather than to be feared or thought of as taxing. Of course, games like Pokémon Go shouldn’t be thought of as the sole answer to our physical/mental health and it’s not yet clear how real the benefits are, but the potential positives are worth exploring. Even before the release of Go I’d heard many stories of how the cute and colourful characters of Pokémon have been a comfort to people going through tough times (see ‘What Makes Pokémon Special?‘)

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Getting Out More With Pokémon Go

The idea behind Pokémon Go intrigued me, although I never expected it to take off as well as it has. I didn’t initially plan to invest so much time into it, but with everyone else playing it would be a shame to miss out while it’s popular. The aim of Pokémon Go is to walk around collecting Pokémon in the real world. There are also gyms that teams of players can take over. This is an idea that my partner and I have wanted for a long time; Being able to run our own gyms. The game currently only contains Pokémon from the first generation.

Upon starting the game I was able to select from three starters; Charmander, Bulbasaur and Squirtle. There is also a fourth hidden one (Pikachu) that you can acquire by walking a short distance and getting the starters to reset position about four times. I decided to go for Pikachu, although due to how the system works the initial Pokémon you catch are too weak to be worth using. As your trainer level increases so does the potential to catch more powerful Pokémon (measured in CP – combat points.) Pokémon can be made stronger by evolving them or powering up their CP using stardust and candy. Candy can be acquired by transferring Pokémon to the professor, and specific ones are needed to upgrade each type. There are few tutorials on how to play, but the system is simplistic and intuitive. I’m not too keen on this method of training Pokémon, although I can understand why it has been done in this way. In the other games the focus was on taking low level Pokémon from the start and making them stronger while developing a friendship with them. In Pokémon Go you’ll be transferring most of the weaker Pokémon to enable you to work on the better ones. This requires you to continue catching the same ones over and over in order to get enough candy to power them up, therefore adding longevity to the game. Even though you can pick a team and start gym battles at level 5 (Valor for me) I didn’t feel like I could start training right away. I was looking forward to trying out the gyms, but I wasn’t sure when the best time to start training was as I didn’t want to waste resources on early Pokémon. Luckily the first few levels are quick to take.

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Mastering Dark Souls – Not Just for the Hardcore

When I think back to my experience of Demon’s Souls and the original Dark Souls I get very strong feelings of nostalgia. It’s unusual because we usually only feel nostalgia for experiences we’ve had at a much younger age, while it would have been about five years ago when I first picked up one of these games. This is probably due to how we come to learn how to play them; I can remember the world layouts and attack patterns like the back of my hand. It feels like I’ve been on quite a journey and they’ve left a massive impact on my life, more so than anything else I’ve ever played. Every so often it’ll dawn on me, I’m actually playing Dark Souls and making progress, how did I get to this point? There will be some spoilers ahead.

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My Thoughts On Corpse Party

When I first came across this horror game I was instantly hooked on it (available on PSP.) I feel weird admitting to playing stuff like this because it most certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted. It’s not graphic in its imagery, but feels all the worse for it. The scenes are described from a character’s point of view and the dialogue is voice acted. Hearing the voices over a black screen during a moment of terror can be really shocking because of how it plays with your imagination. Despite the body horror, the story intrigued me enough to stick it out.

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How Responsible are Players for in-Game Behaviour?

I love games because of how they allow me to explore different ideas in a safe way. In the real world we obviously have to live with the consequences of our actions, and so most of us take care to ensure we don’t step on anybody else’s toes. I love role play in particular as it allows me to escape myself to see what it’d feel like if I had a different mindset. I really enjoy playing imperfect characters because I find them to be the most interesting as they undergo a journey to overcome their shortcomings. My characters don’t act with the best intentions towards others either. Normally I’m a very reserved person. I mask my feelings a lot, and so it can be cathartic being somebody else that can express themselves without fear of the consequences. I like games with a lot of agency too, because of how it allows me to think through the possible choices from different perspectives. Being a creative person also influences how I like to play.

If I’m playing on my own it doesn’t matter what type of role I want to take. In a multiplayer game however, my preference for troubled characters can be a problem for others to deal with. In turn, the mindset of wanting to game the system and go for something overpowered can intrude on my own engagement with the story. I’ll never play a character that I think will be a problem for others in terms of gameplay, but I will make decisions based on who they are in respect to how they deal with NPCs. Ideally the players wouldn’t take that personally and disagreements would be kept between characters, a backwards and forwards that could actually be fun to play. It’s not so easy for some because they create characters similar to themselves, and this makes it difficult to separate the connection. I’ve been in situations where I’ve found myself on the receiving end of a guilt trip for a decision I made as a character. For example, I might have betrayed an NPC but was made to feel like I’d actually hurt a real person. I think it’s a shame because it prevents you from being able to enjoy a full role playing experience. It has certainly left me feeling wary of what I can and cannot do in game.

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