Flagging by Friday

Last weekend felt like spring. I made a lot of plans to step up my exercise levels this month, and to catch up with all the things with which I’d fallen behind over the last couple of weeks, and to keep my planned schedule going so that I could continue videogaming in the evenings.

On Monday morning, I went out for my daily run and the temperature had dropped by about ten degrees. Everything was covered in frost and my hands froze as I trotted round my usual route, desperately wishing that I’d put gloves on. This set the tone for the rest of the week.

I’ve worn gloves for my run every morning (though it did finally feel like it was warming up again today). I’ve run slightly more, but not a lot more. I’ve not been out for any of the long walks I was planning. I’ve kept up with cleaning and blogging, but not caught up. I’ve worked on my jam game, but not as much as I wanted to. I’ve not been videogaming at all in the evenings, because I’ve not had the energy for anything more than mindless web browsing and listening to music.

Energy has been sorely lacking in general this week, both physically and mentally. Geth hasn’t had any either because he’s got various absorbing work stuff going on at the moment, and when we’re both in that state we just sort of doze during downtime, half-there. Sleep hasn’t been great, and I’m waking up every morning with a lot of stiffness and aches and pains – something that’s chronic to an extent, but has been very noticeable recently. I’ve been having issues with breathing and joint swelling as well, which are things that largely went away when I lost weight a few years ago. I’m heavier than I’d like to be at the moment, but am still a healthy weight, so I’m not really sure if it’s related or not.

I’ve found it difficult to concentrate this week as well, so I’m really glad it’s nearly the weekend. Normally I’d be excited about videogaming but right now all I want to do is sleep!

Hoping next week will feel a bit brighter.

Full moon
Last weekend’s full moon looked amazing, but my phone camera wasn’t interested!

This week’s earworm playlists:

Saturday

Nintendo 3DS eShop – ‘Main Theme’
will.i.am and Britney Spears – ‘Scream And Shout’
Idina Menzel – ‘Into The Unknown’
Kate Bush – ‘Running Up That Hill’

Sunday

Depeche Mode – ‘See You’
Duran Duran – ‘Violence Of Summer (Love’s Taking Over) [The Story Mix]’
Roxette – ‘Listen To Your Heart’

Monday

INXS – ‘Need You Tonight’
Ed Sheeran – ‘You Need Me, I Don’t Need You’

Tuesday

Joe Hisaishi – ‘A Battle With Creatures’
will.i.am and Britney Spears – ‘Scream And Shout’
Don Henley – ‘Boys Of Summer’
Taylor Swift – ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’

Wednesday

Pet Shop Boys – ‘Heart’
will.i.am and Britney Spears – ‘Scream And Shout’
The Wonder Stuff – ‘A Wish Away’
Jason Derulo – ‘Want To Want Me’

Thursday

Duran Duran – ‘Do You Believe In Shame?’
Spandau Ballet – ‘True’
David Bowie – ‘Ashes To Ashes’

Friday

The Go-Gos – ‘Our Lips Are Sealed’

Phone Box Thursday: Pixel Planning

Yes, I’m still searching for the next Doctor Who red phone box. I’ve got plenty of other phone box-related stuff to talk about in the meantime though!

There’s a new Adventuron jam on and my planned game FINALLY features a phone box. Pretty much all of my games have been planned to feature a phone box but I’ve had to cut it for space and time reasons. This time it’s actually happening.

I’m not doing pixel art for this particular game – I’m going to be using a different style. Still, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ‘plan out’ my featured phone box through the medium of pixels.

Red phone box
Pixel phone box! With no phone inside as that would have spoilt the simplicity of the image. The box is a standard K6 – I might have a go at a K2 sometime soon.

Within the month, I should be able to share the final phone box image with you! Need to block out some time to get those graphics done…

The long march out of winter

I am really glad it’s February now.

I don’t usually say that. I normally find February to be a fairly dismal month – there’s still no end in sight to the cold winter weather, and by now I’m a lot more fed up of it than I was at the start of January. It’s also still a long time before anything exciting or fun will happen in the year. Race season normally starts in March at the earliest, Easter break usually isn’t till April, and it’s generally May before the weather gets properly nice and Geth and I start going on all our small summer mini-breaks.

Of course, this year is different in many ways. All the races and gigs and trips we’ve got booked for the spring and summer – all holdovers from the cancelled year that was 2020 – are still up in the air. As ever with this pandemic, massive amounts of conflicting information and predictions are flying around, and it’s just not possible to make plans. I’ll be delighted if things are normal enough by the summer that I can sit or stand at a concert with thousands of other people, but I can’t see it happening. Races might be a different matter, as it’s easier to make them COVID-secure, but I still don’t see the ones I’ve got booked for late spring going ahead.

Then there’s the weather. What kept me fairly cheerful through lockdown 1 last spring – other than the novelty of it – was the fact that we were having the most glorious spring we’d had for years, and every day I was able to go out and run in the warm sunshine, with beautiful cherry-blossom trees everywhere I went. Lockdown 3, in contrast, has been BLEAK. The weather has been constant ice, snow and sleet, meaning that I’ve had to alternate between tedious treadmill runs and grim, slippery, wet runs outside (neither of which are conducive to speed training in the slightest).

As such, while I don’t expect things to change much in February – the weather, certainly, is showing no signs of becoming less awful – it does mean that we’re one month closer to warmer weather, and hopefully looser restrictions, even if things won’t quite return to normal this year in the way that we would like.

On a day-to-day basis, things are trucking on. I’ve had a fairly steady trickle of day job work over the last couple of weeks, and having my new daily schedule has meant that I’ve also been able to fit in a decent amount of time on my own projects. I’ve also been enjoying my evening downtime and making a lot of progress in my videogames. I’m nearly finished with Bravely Second, which should mean I’ll have a couple of weeks’ break from the series to make some more progress on Final Fantasy I before Bravely Default II comes out (already pre-ordered!). Following BDII I may then spend a bit of time playing non-JRPGs as there are quite a lot on my to-play list. I did this last summer (many happy hours spent on the armchair in the living room playing adventure games on the big screen) and am keen to repeat the experience.

There’s also another Adventuron jam coming up this month, so that will doubtless be a fun project for my spare hours!

On the whole, I’m not short of ways to spend my time. I just wish this particular chapter of life didn’t feel so endless at the moment.

Snowdrops
My favourite snowdrops have appeared in their usual place along my run route. I first noticed them when Geth and I had to move house during the Beast from the East three years ago, and since then I’ve always seen them as a reminder that winter won’t last forever.

This week’s earworm playlists:

Saturday

Nintendo 3DS eShop – ‘Main Theme’
Duran Duran – ‘Five Years’
Soft Cell – ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’

Sunday

The Bangles – ‘Hazy Shade Of Winter’
Duran Duran – ‘Save A Prayer’

Monday

Revo – ‘Fighting To The End’
The Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar – ‘Pray For Me’
Chuck Berry – ‘You Never Can Tell’
Ed Sheeran – ‘Don’t’
Men Without Hats – ‘Safety Dance’
Soft Cell – ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’

Tuesday

Men Without Hats – ‘Safety Dance’
Nintendo 3DS eShop – ‘Main Theme’
Soft Cell – ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’
Bob Marley & The Wailers – ‘Three Little Birds’

Wednesday

Bob Marley & The Wailers – ‘Three Little Birds’
Queen – ‘Flash’
Sebastian Gampl and Tommy Reeve – ‘Under Control’ 

Thursday

Yuzo Koshiro – ‘Labyrinth I: Emerald Grove’
Bob Marley & The Wailers – ‘Three Little Birds’
Beyoncé – ‘If I Were A Boy’
Elton John – ‘Step Into Christmas’
Men Without Hats – ‘Safety Dance’
Blondie – ‘One Way Or Another’

Friday

The Bangles – ‘Hazy Shade Of Winter’ 

Videogames I loved in 2020

When lockdown first hit back in March 2020, I was… not unhappy. Concerned about the situation, of course, but not unhappy. Not being allowed to leave the house or see anyone was a novelty at that point rather than ‘oh god, how much longer?’, and as an introvert at the best of times (‘misanthrope’ is more apt most days), I wasn’t complaining. My first thought – slightly optimistic in hindsight – was that I would finally be able to make a dent in my giant backlog of videogames not yet played.

The dent did not appear. I made a barely noticeable scratch, maybe?… and then added a whole load more items to my game libraries due to Humble Bundles and Steam/GOG sales and Nintendo eShop bargains, so I now have far more in my backlog than I did at the start of 2020. Oh well. This lack of denting was also largely due to the fact that, as it turns out, not leaving the house does not make me any less busy. However, I did manage to get a little more gaming time in last year than I normally would.

These are the games that I lost myself in during 2020.

Gaming handhelds

RingFit Adventure (Switch)

Geth and I got this exercise-based Switch game for Christmas 2019 (and a good thing too, as it rapidly became impossible to find in early 2020!). It’s the exact premise I’ve always dreamt of – it’s an RPG that you play via running and strength training. Get your gaming and your exercise in at the same time! What’s not to love?

Unfortunately I didn’t get as far as I imagined I would during 2020… because other forms of exercise and other forms of gaming commanded too much of my attention! As such, I’ve not really uncovered much of the story yet, which appears to be about a giant gym-loving dragon escaping and causing mayhem. It is great cross-training if you’re a runner, though, so I really need to get back into it sometime soon – especially seeing as the cold winter weather makes me disinclined to go out for super-long runs at the moment.

Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS)

At the start of 2020, in the post-Christmas haze and before we ever imagined that this far-off coronavirus thing would ever cause any disruption here in the UK, I started a new JRPG playthrough as usual. On this occasion, it was my third playthrough of Fire Emblem: Awakening, which remains one of the best games I’ve ever played. This time (as I was conscious of having a lot of other games to play and so I decided to make it my last ever playthrough), I was going to complete it: all the characters, all the collectibles, all the DLC maps done. I did about 99% of it… and then it started to get difficult and boring. Still, the save file is there for when I do get the urge to finish it off for the final time!

Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask (3DS)

I was also in the middle of my Miracle Mask playthrough at the start of 2020, and finished it fairly promptly due to the incredible, engaging story. My favourite Professor Layton game by a long shot – I played the final 3DS installment, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, straight afterwards and didn’t enjoy it quite as much, though it was still good. Miracle Mask is one of those games that I’ll think about for years.

Bravely Default (3DS)

I was thrilled to hear at the start of 2020 that there was going to be a new Switch entry in the Bravely Default series. I happened to be halfway through my second playthrough of the first game, and so I made sure to finish it in the early part of 2020. After all, I knew I needed time to play through the sequel, Bravely Second, as well before the new game came out!

Adventuron Treasure Hunt Jam (online)

I’m still really enjoying coding illustrated text adventure games with the Adventuron engine (I have so many planned for this year!) and am proud to say that I’ve put a submission in to every Adventuron game jam on itch.io so far. My favourite part of every jam, however, is kicking back and playing all the other submissions once all the hard work is done. March 2020’s Treasure Hunt Jam was an especially fruitful one – there were eighteen submissions in total (two disqualified for being incomplete, but I still had a go at them). The jam conditions included the rule that responses should be no longer than six words, and so it was fascinating to see how all the game creators worked around this language restriction.

I’d like to choose a favourite, but I can’t. Going back and looking at the submissions page is making me really nostalgic and I want to play them all again!

Thimbleweed Park: Delores (PC)

The original Thimbleweed Park game was one of my favourite games of 2017, but that wasn’t much of a surprise, given my huge yen for LucasArts point ‘n’ clicks and how important they were to me as a young gamer. In spring 2020, Ron Gilbert released this experimental not-quite-a-sequel, which was a joyful thing to play during the first lockdown.

Kaptain Brawe: A Brawe New World (PC)

Delores gave me the itch to dive into my backlog of classic-style adventure games, and so I dug out Kaptain Brawe from my Steam library. I’d played it a few years previously but had never finished it; this time, I spent an enjoyable week going through the story. The art was done by Bill Tiller and so it’s very reminiscent of The Curse of Monkey Island (the music is extremely similar too, which I wasn’t quite sure suited the game!). The puzzles are a perfect difficulty in my view, although there were a few annoying incidences of a vital item being near-impossible to spot on the screen. My only other complaint is about the constant typos in the onscreen text. This kind of thing drives me absolutely mad as it makes a product look really sloppy and amateurish – I know I’m a proofreader, but I also know a lot of non-proofreaders who would be equally annoyed!

Very fun story, though, and so it makes my list for the year.

Bravely Default II Demos (Switch)

Adding to my excitement about the next Bravely game (which is now scheduled for a February 2021 release… I am very excited and clutching my brand-new Switch Lite in anticipation!), there were two demos of the game released on Switch during the course of 2020. The first was back in March, and was another very welcome lockdown release – I managed to eke it out for somewhere between twenty and thirty hours, which is great for a demo (though actually fairly standard for a Bravely demo, having played all the ones on 3DS!). The second was in late December and was limited to five hours, resulting in a very different play style (I usually like to take my time and look at absolutely everything); I played it in the week between Christmas and New Year and am now very much in the mood for the main game. Just need to finish off Bravely Second first!

realMyst: Masterpiece Edition (Switch)

I first played Myst when the original came out in 1993. Well, I say ‘played’. I found that the puzzles were a little too brain-burny for eight-year-old me, so I sat for hours and watched Dad play it instead, fascinated by the way the world moved and the way the story was constructed. It’s still one of Dad’s favourite games and he owns the whole series, whereas I never even made it to the end of Riven, the first sequel. Still, I’ve always loved the first game, and after many playthroughs of the family’s ropey old CD-ROM copy, I decided to grab the updated bells ‘n’ whistles version when it came out on Switch in spring 2020.

The majesty of the original graphics is still breathtaking – but now it’s all in super modern definition and you can spin the camera around to see the world from every angle! Other modern updates: typing out game notes on my phone rather than handwriting them in the special notebook you got with the original game. Lots of things are not better in this century.

Paper Mario: The Origami King (Switch)

One of my favourite gaming memories is the week leading up to Christmas 2010, more than a decade ago now. For the second year in a row, the UK saw heavy snow over the Christmas period, and so Geth and I were disappointed to find that our flight from Edinburgh to Cardiff to visit Geth’s mum was cancelled due to the weather, leaving us at a loose end for the week. However, we made the best of it, and making the best of it involved me spending the week mainlining Super Paper Mario, a Wii game that my brother Malcolm had got me the previous year. I absolutely loved the game – the gameplay, the style, the story – and subsequently played through it again multiple times while we were still primarily gaming on the Wii.

However, in the intervening decade, I never got round to playing any of the other Paper Mario games that were coming out… until 2020. There was a lot of hype around The Origami King during the early part of the summer, and I became more and more nostalgic about Paper Mario, so eventually I went for it and spent a very enjoyable few weeks wandering around the origamified Mushroom Kingdom. The gameplay isn’t as good as in Super Paper Mario – they’ve removed a lot of the RPG elements and the combat system is a bit frustrating – but I loved the atmosphere of the game and it will always remind me of summer 2020, just as the earlier series entry always reminds me of Christmas 2010.

When I’ve got time, I may go back and play a few of the Paper Mario games that I missed!

Beyond A Steel Sky (PC)

Beneath A Steel Sky was another classic ’90s point ‘n’ click that I loved back in the day, so I was really excited to hear that this sequel was being made. It came out within a couple of days of the release of The Origami King, so I had to decide which to play first; Origami King won out, meaning that I didn’t get round to playing Beyond A Steel Sky until about four weeks after release. However, I still found the game to be very buggy, with awkward camera angles all over the shop (especially when talking to NPCs), and, to my disappointment, when I finished the game I found that it hadn’t registered any of my achievements on Steam! I do want to play it again, but not for a couple of years – hopefully they’ll have ironed all the bugs out by then.

I did love the story though – it was a fantastic return to Union City, and it really captured the feel of the original game, especially when visiting LINCspace (I gasped when I heard the original music theme!) and its updated equivalent. Really beautifully done.

Final Fantasy I (PSP)

I’ve been familiar with most of the Final Fantasy stories for over a decade, because Geth plays all the most well-known games on a regular basis. I’ve played spinoffs and sequels and related games and other peripheral things; however, until 2020, I had never played any of the mainline Final Fantasy games myself. In 2020, I decided I was going to play them all in order, despite the fact that everyone says you shouldn’t do that. Maybe because of the fact that everyone says you shouldn’t do that.

The PSP update of FFI is, by all accounts, a bit kinder to the player than the original, and so far I’ve really been enjoying it, despite the fact that there’s not much of a story to it (in the early part of the game it’s largely wandering around the world talking to people in villages, without much direction). I estimate I’m about a quarter of the way through the game, so at this rate it might take me the rest of my life to play every single mainline Final Fantasy game. Maybe in 2021 I’ll be able to dedicate a bit more time to it!

Sam & Max Season 2: Beyond Time And Space (PC)

I am very behind with Telltale’s episodic Sam & Max games, all of which were released well over a decade ago now. I did play the first two episodes of Season 1 back in the day, but only managed to finish the season in… 2018 I think? And now they’ve just released a remastered version of Season 1. Which I’ve bought, but probably won’t get round to playing for some time!

Anyway, in 2020 I managed to play a few episodes of Season 2. I’ve played three out of five episodes, so I should at least get the season finished in 2021. I hope!

Episode 1, Ice Station Santa, is an ideal Christmas treat (unfortunately, I played it in August). Episode 2, Moai Better Blues, is good filler, but it was Episode 3, Night of the Raving Dead, that really shone for me. It’s about club-going Stuttgart vampires and zombies, and if you have ever spent any time in German goth/industrial clubs (or the wider European goth/industrial scene in general) then you will not be able to get through this episode without howling in recognition. The goth club night held in a huge room with only five people in attendance! Sam and Max’s terrible vampire rap! The perfectly judged banging club track! (Geth loved this track so much that he would complain when I had to go to another location.)

I’m really looking forward to picking this series up again.

The Next Adventuron Jam (online)

The Adventuron jam of summer 2020 will always be extra special to me – it was the one where my game took first place, and also the one where I worked extra hard (in a fun way) to release three different versions of the game (Adventuron, Spectrum +3 and Spectrum Next) using the porting tools provided! Making the Spectrum versions was a really interesting project and something I want to experiment with again in the future.

There were seven games entered into this jam, so I expected to get through them fairly quickly – but memorable big hitters Over Here! and Dawn Of The Soviet Ladybirds were both very involving games and took me some time to finish. A really good quality lineup for this jam, and I feel that Adventuron users’ output is getting better and better.

Bravely Second (3DS)

This time, I’m going to finish it.

I first started playing Bravely Second in 2016 when it first came out, but I got stuck on a tough battle and never finished the playthrough. I started the game again in the autumn, and this time, I’m grinding more intently and got through the same battle with ease. I’m determined to finish it in the next few weeks so that I’m all caught up by the time Bravely Default II comes out on 26th February!

I’ve loved the new characters in the Bravely Default II demos, but I will also miss spending time with the original gang. I just hope the story has a good ending!

Link-A-Pix Colour (3DS)

One of the things I love about the 3DS (and why I expect I’ll still be playing it for years to come despite now also owning a Switch Lite) is its wide range of puzzle games – the type you might download as an app on your phone. I generally don’t use my phone for gaming as I prefer to keep the memory free for other things – and I’m just not very keen on phone gaming in general (it feels a bit casual for me). As such, my 3DS is where I play my puzzle games, and I have quite a lot of them.

My go-to during 2020 (and into 2021) has been Link-A-Pix Colour. It’s part of a series of games where you create pixel pictures through number puzzles, and is a lovely, relaxing way to switch off late at night. Some of the pictures are pretty tough though – I spent an hour and forty minutes trying to solve one a few nights ago! Maybe I was just a bit tired…

Jazz Jackrabbit: Holiday Hare (PC)

Every year, I plan to spend a few hours in the days before Christmas playing the seasonal ‘Holiday Hare’ levels of Jazz Jackrabbit, which was my absolute favourite PC platformer in the mid-’90s. Most years, Christmas is such a rush that I don’t get round to it, but this last Christmas was a bit quieter for obvious reasons, and so I was able to sit down and play a bit of Jazz for the first time in ages. Maybe I should schedule some time to play all the non-Christmas levels again some day!

The best bit of these levels are the banging Christmas medley that plays in the background. Truly epic.

A few final thoughts:

  • I played a lot more games in 2020, but these are the ones that really stood out.
  • All of them created happy memories, but my number one game of the year was Paper Mario: The Origami King. It wasn’t a perfect game by any means, but the atmosphere was just lovely.

Looking ahead to 2021:

  • I am very excited about Bravely Default II. Have I mentioned that?
  • First things first, though: I have a whole new slew of games from the recent Adventuron Christmas jam to play and enjoy before the ratings are due this weekend (go play them if you haven’t already!), and then I will be cracking on with Bravely Second in order to get it finished over the next few weeks.
  • Other than that, I’ve still got that rather imposing backlog to clear…

Christmassy weekend vibes

Another busy day. I got my day job work for the week finished – so barring any last-minute jobs next week, I’m clear for Christmas! – and finished off the coding for my game (just the graphics to implement now). Geth and I also went to Asda to do our last big Christmas shop. Because we’ll be forming a bubble with Mum and Dad for Christmas, we’re following the guidance to isolate between today and the 23rd, so no more shop visits until post-bubble.

I’ve been very good with my diet for the last few weeks, but Christmas eating sort of begins this weekend! I’d been having trouble finding fancy mince pies that didn’t have any alcohol in them, so I was delighted to see some salted caramel ones in Asda today. Looking forward to trying lots of different ones over the next few days.

I’ll be back with an update on Monday, and hopefully a link to my brand new Christmas game!

Pizza
Tonight’s pizza – a treat to celebrate Geth’s Christmas holidays!

Today’s earworm playlist:

Pet Shop Boys – ‘Heart’

Inching closer

Another day, another quick run, another afternoon of coding, another chunk of day job work, another set of presents wrapped, and another day closer to Christmas!

Geth is finishing work tomorrow so it’ll be a good weekend. I’m looking forward to getting my game finished and making final preparations for next week.

Cards and tree
House is still looking generally Christmassy. Good thing given that we’re spending so much time in it this year!

Today’s earworm playlist:

Pet Shop Boys – ‘Heart’
Judy Garland – ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’

Pressing on!

It’s been quite a tiring week so far! Coding, day job work and Christmas prep are all keeping me pretty busy. It’s all going well, though, and it means I will appreciate my Christmas break all the more.

My game is going really well. I’m nearly done with the coding and should be able to move onto graphics tomorrow. The deadline is Monday, but my game is fairly short so it shouldn’t take me too long, and I’m hoping to have it with my playtesters by the weekend.

Day job work (at least everything that’s come in so far) should also be done by the weekend. I keep my business open till Christmas Eve (because there are always last-minute short jobs from clients on Christmas Eve) but then I will be taking a fortnight’s break to coincide with academic Christmas holidays. I’m obviously sad that the COVID rules mean I can only spend a few days with family rather than the whole of Christmas like I usually do, but it means I can take the opportunity to learn how to do a bit of special cooking by myself this year. Dad is cooking all the New Year favourites (pizza and hotpot!) during the short time we have together at Christmas, and I’m going to be watching so that I can have a go at them myself at New Year.

New Year and my birthday are going to be very emotionally wobbly for me because there are so many things I’ve done my whole life that I can’t do this year, and I’m feeling a bit fragile about it. Still, I know everyone’s in the same boat, and we just have to make the best of it. Christmas 2021 will hopefully be really extra-special and appreciated as a result.

Another busy day tomorrow. The weekend fast approaches though!

Faux mink blanket
I dug out this enormous faux-mink blanket when I was sorting out the upstairs rooms the other week. It was just taking up space before, but now it’s a really comfy sofa throw.

Today’s earworm playlist:

Pet Shop Boys – ‘Heart’

Buried in code

Another busy day today working on my current game. It’s very absorbing but as ever I’m really enjoying it! It’s a Christmas game so I’m also really excited about doing the graphics later in the week.

Now catching up with the Strictly episodes from the weekend. Going to try and stay caught up this week as I want to watch the final live – I don’t think I’ve voted yet this series so will be making up for that on Saturday!

Similar day tomorrow.

Christmas tree decorations
Still loving my Christmas tree. I never get tired of it and always feel like I’m taking it down too soon when Epiphany hits!

Today’s earworm playlist:

Pet Shop Boys – ‘Heart’
Sebastian Gampl and Tommy Reeve – ‘Under Control’