Chewbacca

How Sci-fi & Fantasy changed my life

I’m not exactly sure how I came to discover Star Citizen.
I guess it was a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

In the beginning…

I have to admit. I didn’t grow up with Star Wars, Star Trek, Conan or LOTR. My parents never really enjoyed sci-fi or anything that felt out of this world, unrealistic or fantastic. This meant there were no chewbaccas, elves, action men, or superhero comics during my childhood.
I vividly remember getting two action figures for my birthday and I couldn’t figure out how to play with them.

It is understandable that you might feel an altruistic frustration when reading these lines… Don’t worry, I had a happy childhood. Instead, I turned to legos, puzzles, videogames, TV shows, history books and boardgames. It might sound strange but I honestly had a lot of fun reading dictionaries… Yeah… I guess I am weird that way.
I was never one to go out and play on the street either… even if growing up in Portugal, the land of football (soccer).

This affected the videogames I played during my childhood. Actively avoiding sports games, first person shooter games and any other games that were set in space or fantasy related.
I have to admit… I still do avoid some of these themes.

Something that I am now able to recognize is that the lack of high fiction themes actually made me crave those things.

Surviving childhood

I’m not exactly sure how I survived my fantasy-less childhood… I guess I was enlightened by certain events…

My parents would never buy games for me – they thought buying games was a waste of time and money when I should instead be reading books on Finance and the great classics of literature.

So I had to resort to other forms of getting to them games.

Back in the old cassette or diskette days, pirating games was easy… but not that easy when you don’t know someone who actually owns the game you want.

You have to understand that due to the fact that ads for videogames were pretty much non-existent here in Portugal, most of the times I didn’t even crave for a new game because I didn’t even know it existed in the first place.

One day my father started buying these computer magazines that often times brought diskettes or CDs with plenty of game demos. I would spend hours upon hours playing the same game demos over and over until the next diskette arrived…

I remember playing a demo version of Heroes of Might and Magic III which only allowed you to play for 16 turns! The amazing scenery was quite beautiful – and I often tried to speedrun as much as possible to reveal most of it before the 16 turns were over! …But I never got the chance to actually buy Heroes III.

16 turns to reveal the full map!

Demos make you smarter!

Thinking that I was playing all these game demos, now made me come to the conclusion that this did make me grow up not only as a player but also as a person.
I just realized that I was playing rather complex games and I didn’t even speak the language nor did I understand advanced game mechanics at all.

Since I had no access to other games I was forced to play whatever showed up – and in the process, I had to figure out how they were meant to be played without tips or instructions.
I was not just learning how to play many different game concepts, but also how to react to very different interface systems written in an unfamiliar language!

Kids need to exercise their brains as often as possible and, to be honest, I can’t think of a more intensive and multilayered activity than this.

The Age of the Internet

The Internet came to my door and it slowly became my world. I was too young and naïve back then to realize the impact it would have on everyone. My parents wouldn’t allow me to go online for a few years – and with that crazy modem screaming like it used to when connecting to the web, it really wasn’t easy going online without having other people noticing.

However, the first thing it allowed me to do was to read articles on newly released games and even to be able to order games online that I would otherwise never be able to get my hands on since there were no videogame shops or arcades near me.

I remember getting the game Descent: Freespace by Volition thinking it was a historical strategy game (how did that happen?!). Slightly disappointed since it was sci-fi themed, I reluctantly decided to play it.

I was hooked…
That game broke my ice towards sci-fi games.
For the sake of time I won’t go into too much detail but… It had such brilliant characters and story arc! It simply blew me away and I never saw that coming.

HOLY SHI…van

A couple of years later, with the dawn of DSL and unlimited timeplans, something else and something new was on the horizon.
I decided to try Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory – a brand new and FREE ONLINE GAME!
Reluctantly I decided to play it since it was an FPS game… but… well… at least it was free!

I was hooked…
…and I was GOOD at that game!

Friends mean fun.

One day, while playing Wolfenstein, a bunch of strangers that I was playing with, asked me to go and play with them… “to join a clan” they said via in-game text chat. I had no idea what that meant but I said “Uh… sure…”.
Butcher, Crisplover, Myrdraal were my teammates in that match – each from a different country.

I had a microphone and I installed Teamspeak to join them… but I was too scared to use my voice!
At one point Myrdraal stepped on a mine and I rushed to him unaware that I was screaming “Don’t moooove!!” with my voice comms active.

Everyone on Teamspeak was surprised to hear my voice.
…I was too.

They all laughed and greeted me and welcomed me to the clan.
Later on, I understood that my careless split-second decision to join them that day had turned into something much much greater than I anticipated. I had made new friends.

“IT SPEAKS!!!”

Chewbacca with a lightsaber

I was 18 and I had never ever watched a Star Wars movie before and Freespace was the only sci-fi game I had played until then. Some of my ET friends used to play Star Wars: Jedi Academy when they weren’t playing Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory.
I didn’t expect much from a sci-fi game from a franchise that I knew nothing about.
To validate my point, let me clarify that I picked a Sith Wookie as my character …I thought red sabers would go well with brown fur.

Needless to say that I was forced by my roleplaying clanmates to go and watch Star Wars before they allowed me to play with them. And grumpily I did. And it finally opened up my mental doors to sci-fi.

My brain still has trouble digesting weird space creatures or magic and I still don’t see the point in using most of that, but I finally understood… it’s not about the creatures… Sci-fi allows for greater-than-life characters and story arcs. In Stargate SG-1 you barely ever see alien-looking monsters – they’re most often humans with different clothing and earthly needs. But it is the setting that allows a great adventure to happen.

The exact same thing happens with fantasy-themed narratives. I don’t get thrilled by characters using magic… Mordor isn’t fun because of its architecture. It’s fun because it creates a problem that needs solving. The whole Lord of the Rings story is simply about Humanity fighting evil and racing against time – a theme harder to depict in a non-fiction environment.

Fantasy and Sci-fi are an escape from the predictable boring reality of everyday life. It took me some time to grow up and learn that …I dig that.

Growing up

Even if repressed during childhood, sci-fi and fantasy themes managed to crawl into my life and taught me an important lesson.

While writing this article I’m realizing that the stuff that I’m mostly drawn to… are actually sci-fi or fantasy themed! I really feel like I may have lost something during my childhood as I never got to experience those worlds when our imagination runs wild. But at the same time, I feel like this whole process has made me grow up to become a little bit more down-to-earth and pragmatic when it comes to learning and how to enjoy new things.

Today I feel that anything can be enjoyed or learned no matter how much of a lack of interest or mental or physical disadvantage you think you have.

You need to find the fun and motivation in all things.
In my case, it was friendship that dragged me in and the exploratory will to pursue themes that I did not fully understand by playing a game I did not expect to enjoy.
Then my own walls of reluctance caved in when I understood that learning is fun and that having fun while learning makes it easy and achievable.

A couple of years ago I just couldn’t understand why someone would enjoy flight simulators – they seem EXTREMELY boring.
I decided to figure it out – it was hard to understand it at first – but then… I was blown away. The same happened with games like Europa Universalis or Democracy.

For years I thought I wasn’t able to draw.
I lacked the mental ability and the physical coordination to do so.
Last week I was stunned at my very first decent drawings.

Today… I’m loving this brand new blogging adventure.

Keep learning!

Boot
My very first boot!

Next week I’ll post part 2 of this article… on how I got to Star Citizen.
Meanwhile, why not learn more on how I just turned into a blogger?
Not a magic trick. Promise!

I’ll see you in-game,
-ViLa4480

P.S.: If you’re more into historical fantasy… why not try Papers, Please?

Papers, Please: the short film

Papers, Please: The short …Film?

Free to read: there are no movie spoils ahead

A broken Valve

Have you read my previous article on How Steam broke my Valve? That’s the prelude to this post!
Go check it out!

As I mentioned in my previous post, Steam has let me down in the past few years, as I used to scroll its shop homepage on a regular basis… Steam then started showing very targeted results and my Steam shop started looking less and less interesting to me. It was showing the same results over and over again!
Somehow this led me to Papers, Please: the short film.

I was bored yesterday.

So I decided to go see what’s new on Steam. But since my Steam shop homepage is kind lame nowadays I went on to figure out what were the best-rated games of all time on Steam.

I was surprised! The top result didn’t belong to a game… It was a movie!
-A short film to be precise.
But not just any film… Papers, Please: the short film!

I have to admit that my jaw dropped a bit and my finger trembled with excitement when I hovered my mouse over it. Was this possible? What kind of black magic is this?!

Papers, Please: logo

Glory to Arstotzka!

Papers, Please is one of my greatest heroes when it comes to games.
As I understand it was mostly built by one guy (Lucas Pope) with the help of a small team of Arstotzkan loyal subjects.

The game is set in 1982 at the national border of a very closed soviet-like regime. You were one of the lucky picks of the October labour lottery as your name was pulled for immediate placement as a border admissions control officer. What an honour!

Your job is to allow or deny entry of people into the country – for the Glory of Arstotzka! to feed your family.


To me, games are about making choices.

…Making the right decisions that bring you the most benefit in order to “win” the game (even though winning something isn’t always required for a player to be entertained or to feel connected to a story).

However, the best games are the ones that make you think twice.
 
Papers, Please excels at this.


It presents you with tough choices over and over. 
To the point where you feel the misery of these immigrants and you still have to deny their entry into your country, knowing that they will die otherwise.

What an incredibly contemporary theme.

Corruption, bribery and even secret societies are also on the table as some people will try to do anything to get into Arstotzka …and you still have to feed your family.

Papers, Please Screenshot

The reason why I love this game is due to its gameplay simplicity in a cutthroat environment where each decision is critical to the migrant, the State and to your family. A bureaucracy simulator that is actually memorable.
As usual, Lucas Pope turned what at first would appear to be a technical graphics limitation into a graphic style on its own. One that not only simplifies interactions and leverages the narrative, but also that glorifies that great retro ambiance that drives the player back in time to a period of cold walls and warm tensions.

How does this translate into a film?!

I don’t know.
But they did it really well.

The film focuses on the usual role that the player performs. The Inspector sifts through all the data in the documents that he is provided by the migrants to look for info that’s missing or incorrect.

I won’t go into any further details as I don’t think it is necessary to spoil anything in a 10-minute long film.

Papers, Please: the short film

However, I will say that I was impressed at how carefully well executed the scenario and the attention to detail was in this film. It really captures the essence of the game.
The actors also do a great job at conveying that this is a life/death situation… and yet… just a job.

Summing-up, I would like to congratulate Lucas Pope and his team on being brave enough to make this great short film.

Art isn’t perfect, but this is a great 10-minute piece of art.
It isn’t priceless either – but it is FREE on Steam and Youtube.

Check it out in 4K glory right now:

Regarding the film I will rate it 4/5 Pops – it is great, but it lacks a little bit more depth and desperation that the game is better at conveying …but hey, it is free…

I will rate the must-have-played game 5/5 Pops.
No questions asked.

Film Popcorn Score:

Game Popcorn Score:

I’ll see you in Arstotzka,
-ViLa4480

Missed the first part of this story?
Go check it out now!

Interested in this game?
Click here to get a discount for Papers, Please.

Steam Shop

How Steam broke my Valve.

The kid at the toy shop

I love exploring Steam.
I just used to go through all of their pages, looking at all the new games being released and all of the innovative game concepts that they bring to every genre – and, on occasion, I would buy a strange new game that caught my eye. Have I mentioned that I am a true multigamer?

I REALLY used to enjoy scrolling through their shop’s homepage. It was fun looking at all the different games – I felt like a kid in a toy shop!

Unfortunately, Steam has been “improving” certain features over the years. 

A great idea.

In the past couple of years, however, they started to target audiences for their games. They started showing games that were similar to the types of games each player likes or plays. They even picked games that have just recently been released – or because they’re popular among my friends. What a great idea!…

While this was amazing for the first few months, I started to realize that the main store page on my girlfriend’s computer was so much more interesting than mine!
I thought… well… this couldn’t be right. How could it be that I was having more fun looking at her targeted games rather than my own?!

Suddenly I realized that my Steam homepage was pretty much static most of the time. Even though games jump up and down the page, they’re mostly showing me the same games over and over.

Steam Shop
My Steam shop homepage

The toy shop that only sells Pet Rocks


I can tell you with 100% certainty that if I open up my Steam homepage right now, Star Wars: Jedi Knight and Star Wars: Republic Commando, as well as every single Commandos game will show up at the top of all game suggestions.


The reason for this being that I’ve added Star Wars Battlefront to my wishlist (back in 2011) and I’ve added Commandos 2 to my wishlist (in 2012).
 
Now, I’m not saying these are bad games. They’re not. But I’ve seen them on my homepage every single day for several years now!


…and for some odd reason, after all these years, Steam still thinks that today is the day when ViLa4480 is going to buy all these games!

Ah… Bugger – maybe tomorrow


I can’t help but think that they have someone in their offices wearing a cap and deciding which games are going to show up on my homepage…

Cranking the levers up and down (Steam Powered!) with an eager smile as my mouse hovers over those games. 

“…He never gets to buy them! 
Ah… Bugger – maybe tomorrow” – he says to himself.

Closing the shop


The truth is… I don’t enjoy going through the Steam homepage as much as I once did.
I used to enjoy the variety of games that showed up. But now I find myself mostly looking at the “Popular Releases” and the “Most sold” tabs as those reflect a little bit more variety than the rest of my targeted homepage.

While looking for something different, I decided to check which games were the best ranked of all time on steam. 

I was surprised.
The first one… wasn’t even a game.

And this is how I got to find Papers, Please – The short film.

Kingdom: Two Crowns logo

Kingdom: Two Crowns …One and a Half?

This is my first review post on this blog. If you guys would like to know more about how I started this epic journey check out PLANTING A SEED.

A mighty Kingdom

Kingdom: Two Crowns has just been released earlier this month and I decided to give it a go.

Kingdom: Two Crowns is a 2D side-scrolling “kingdom-builder” game. The kind of satisfaction you get from playing a tower-defense game, mixed with the satisfaction you get from playing an exploration game like Terraria.

Being insanely addictive, this game uses very smart and staggeringly simple game mechanics which I am able to describe in three sentences: 

  • You’ve got a bag of gold coins.
  • You buy improvements to your fort.
  • You survive waves of enemies.

Ah. But things are never this simple.

Kingdom: Two Crowns Splitscreen

Building and growing your fort means expanding your borders further into wild,unexplored territory. This not only means that trees will have to be mercilessly cut down, but also that other, harder decisions must be made:

-Will you destroy a homeless person’s shelter to expand your fort into fertile lands?
-What about the trader’s hut that regularly supplies you with a huge influx of coins?
-Will you spend all your money building new walls or instead hiring more archers to protect your current walls?


Decisions, decisions…

Know thy land

The game is a great exploration adventure game however… even though you can’t deny that there is a huge amount of geographic exploration to do… Let’s be honest and recognize that most islands in the game all look very similar and that the game mechanics never really change much throughout the map.

Nevertheless, what really drives the player to keep “exploring” the game is the huge amount of “interactibles” – mysterious statues, strange meteorites, portals and a never-ending list of upgrades to your fort that grant you game-changing special abilities.

Kingdom: Two Crowns Statue

Line of succession

Having bought the previous Kingdom: Classic and the sequel Kingdom: New Lands  I must say I was a bit skeptical about buying this new version. The reason for that was that when I first bought Kingdom: New Lands I had two reasons to buy it: First, I’d like to support the developers who had previously created such a simple and cool game. Secondly, I was also looking for new content and new interactions that would expand my experience of ruling a very 2D kingdom.

However, I must say I was a wee bit disappointed with Kingdom: New Lands since it was being promoted almost as if it was a standalone DLC.
-Does that make sense?
Nope.

It is basically the same game as Kingdom: Classic being resold full-price with an added expansion.

The problem wasn’t really that the expansion was bad. The problem was how it was being sold as something truly new – which it wasn’t since the new mechanics that were introduced weren’t really that different from the base game and many of the changes were merely cosmetic.

Don’t get me wrong: any expansion to this great base game is welcome – but paying a full bag of gold for a new DLC is …bittersweet.

Just one more crown…

Kingdom: Two Crowns Scary night

Along comes November and the video announcement for Kingdom: Two Crowns and I couldn’t be more curious. 
A developer starts by explaining that he was watching a player stream (not me, unfortunately!) with his girlfriend and that at one point one of them said “I wish we could play together”… the developer’s heart melted and so he decided to make that wish come true in Kingdom: Two Crowns.

This was huge news for me!
I love coop games.

…And I couldn’t miss the opportunity to play one of my favorite games with my usual test subject (A.K.A. my girlfriend).

What a great idea.
Then I saw the 20€ price tag.

Here we go again?

I’m not a cheapskate – but I don’t like paying for the same game three times either!
If they had added new cosmetic content I’m sure I wouldn’t have bought it… but coop… My only weakness… How could I resist? How could I?!

Yeah, I bought Kingdom: Two Crowns.
After an insane amount of time spent tackling screen-resolution, UI and gamepad issues I proudly decided to demonstrate to my girlfriend that I had finally managed to remove all blockers and smash all bugs and went to Mordor and back to get the game ready and working!

“It’s ugly.” – she said.
She does that. She has a way with words.

After convincing her that pixel art is actually an art form and not a technical limitation of the game, she conceded that she would allow me to play with her. I often get the feeling that I’m dating my cat.

Kingdom: Two Crowns Splitscreen

One crown. Two crowns.

The King and Queen of Choulândia were now crowned and ready to cleanse this Kingdom of all evil minions roaming the land.

Until I died in the first 3 minutes of gameplay.
Then we got desperately poor.
Then we decided to restart the game.

BUT THEN the Mighty Kingdom of Choulândia arose from the ashes, prospered and grew in size! We had thick stone walls, fertile farms, an army of archers!

Then my Queen bluntly said: “I’m bored.”
She does that. She has a way with words.

…Usually that tends to happen within the first 5-10 minutes of playing a game. So the fact that we were playing for almost two hours before she said that really struck me as being a great compliment to Kingdom: Two Crowns.
I was truly having fun playing with her!

We got to explore a new island, got some diamond-like gems and started building a new ship to come back home with our bounty.

We had to stop there.
But I can honestly say that I had great fun playing Kingdom: Two Crowns with myself and with my Queen and we had some good laughs with very poor fort-building decisions about building walls at the exact time that the enemy is attacking.

Kingdom: Two Crowns Sunset


Locking the gates

Overall Kingdom: Two Crowns is an amazing game for playing as co-op or single-player – especially if you’ve never had the chance to play one of the previous versions.
It is extremely addicting, fun, with a lot of content to explore and a great Christmas Gift for your soulmate (as long as you get to play with him/her).

However, the slightly steeper price for the content that has been added might not be entirely adequate if you’ve played the previous iterations since it feels like a small DLC rather than an entirely brand new game. I’d value this at 15€ for returning players, instead of the standard 20€, and despite the price point and the lack of apparent new gameplay mechanics at the start of the game, I would still rate it 4/5 pops due to its replayability and blunt fun factor.

Popcorn Score:

This is my first review post on this blog. If you guys would like to know more about how I started this epic journey check out PLANTING A SEED.

I’ll see you in-game,
-ViLa4480

Interested in this game?
Click here to get a discount for Kingdom: Two Crowns.

Planting a seed

Planting a seed.

There. I’ve planted the seed.

I’ve been thinking of making my own blog on videogames for quite some time now – as a true gamer this aspiration was always there but never really took off, not unlike many of my Kerbal Space Programrockets”.

until now.

Now’s the time to create this new, fun, lighthearted view on videogames, news, reviews and gamedesign. Above all else, I’d love to create a hub for other Lemmings to join my realm, provide them with a shelter and some warm food for the mind.


I should introduce myself.


I am ViLa4480 Destroyer of Wo… erhm I mean, Content Director for PopcornGamer, Videogame enthusiast, Twitch streamer, Youtuber, Game Designer and a generally okay person.

…Don’t you hate it when people at job interviews ask you to name your favorite games? Because they always expect you to name games they know about like World of Warcraft, League of Legends or any other well-known triple word game.

I usually shy away from answering them but I reluctantly start with Prison Architect, Crusader Kings II, Payday 2, and by the time I get to my Flight Simulators list I totally lost them. And the job.

yeah…


My story begins…

Instead of numbering my age – which sounds incredibly abstract to me – let me say that I got to play on the ZX Spectrum when I was a baby, spent my childhood loving a 486 and my first graphics card was a Voodoo-2

Missing image - ZX Spectrum videogames
That’s not me. I have better hair.


Even though I started early but a long time ago, my best childhood gaming memories come from playing WormsMortal Kombat 3 and Heroes of Might and Magic III

Wolfenstein and Doom gave me the creeps and I grew on to avoid FPS games entirely until… the earth shook and the internet age came along… but that’s a topic for another post.

I see myself as a multigamer

To me, playing different games every day (several per day when possible) is a way of life.
I love all of them (even boardgames), but I have a particular interest in decision-making games – strategy, management, city-building and indie games that actually tease your brain.
When my brain is tired or my body energized, I tend to go blow off some steam by playing FPS shooters like Battlefield or Rainbow Six: Siege.

Oh, did I mention I create games myself? 

Yeah that’s right!
I’ll be posting my own progress in building my games. Over time you’ll get the chance to see me achieve heroic failures and small successes while building “the next WoW breaker”. Who knows… if this community grows, maybe I’ll even add you guys to my next great game! I’d love to hear your feedback on my progress as well.

Missing image - Guess who! - one of the videogames I made for an english school.
Guess who! – one of the minigames I made for an english school.


Let’s make a game about blogging where you actually earn points by satisfying your readers with great articles! Gamification skills +1.


Anyways I’ll look forward to hearing from you guys. I’d love to get your comments on my posts and I hope you guys enjoy your stay!

Don’t forget to check out my other posts and to add me on Twitch, YoutubeTwitter and Steam!

I just finished my first review post about Kingdom: Two Crowns. Make sure you check it out!

I’ll see you in-game!
-ViLa4480