The Infinite Zenith

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Category Archives: General Gaming

Among Trees: Reflections on Introspective Survival and Thoughts About Returning Home at Journey’s End

“Going away won’t change anything if you’re running from yourself.” –Joyce Rachelle

An adventurer begins a new life in a pristine forest somewhere over the horizon. After bringing a derelict cabin back to running order, the adventurer explores the surroundings and locates the materials to craft an axe. As the days pass, the adventurer begins learning the different plants and mushrooms in the forest, identifies several landmarks and gathers the materials for expanding the cabin. Over time, the cabin becomes outfitted with a crafting room, kitchen, storage room, sewing room and even a brewing room, allowing the adventurer to cook delicious meals and build the materials needed to further explore the forest. Meanwhile, the adventurer has learnt to fish and successfully evades bears that patrol certain parts of the forest. As the days turn to weeks, the adventurer begins travelling further into the forest, befriends a fox and encounters rare materials required for crafting a new coat and backpack. Eventually, there is no corner of the forest that has remain untravelled, and the adventurer is now thriving, having mastered the art of fishing and cooking wild edibles into delicious meals. The fox becomes an old friend, faithfully accompanying the adventurer on their adventures into the furthest reaches in the forest. With a fulfilling adventure under their belt, the adventurer crafts a hiking pack for returning back to civilisation and home, where others are awaiting them. This is Among Trees, a highly relaxing and cathartic survival simulator developed and published by FJRD Interactive. Released in November 2021, Among Trees is a vibrant and colourful experience that represents a departure from conventional survival games in that, beyond the existence of a pair of bears on the map, and the risk of potentially freezing to death if one were out too late exploring the forest, there are no tangible threats to the players. While the game is polarising owing to its lack of content, it represents a wonderful portrayal of the universal fantasy of packing it up and escaping one’s obligations – in a temperate forest by the summer, there’s no distractions from the hustle associated with living among people. One spends their days gathering wild edibles and materials to better their existence, and one is enveloped in infinite solitude. However, there is a gap in starting out on this new journey: in the very beginning, it is immensely difficult to know what one’s next move should be, and without any a priori knowledge, making it on one’s own in a completely new environment can feel intimidating, even overwhelming. However, the feeling of discomfort begins lessening after one puts their home together, and has a place to consistently return to. In the beginning, Among Trees gives very little indicator as to what exactly players must do to survive, and leaves said player to work out what their biggest priority should be.

Among Trees conveys the feelings associated with starting out extremely well – in the beginning, things can seem quite difficult because people are hardwired to operate within routine, and worry about the outcomes of one’s actions, as well as the route it takes to reach said outcome, can make a journey feel insurmountable. Once one takes the plunge and overcomes the initial hurdle of starting, things become significantly easier. Armed with my own knowledge of Survivorman, I approached Among Trees as Les Stroud might: having the right items in my kit would doubtlessly have been helpful, and so, I set my sights on putting an axe and lockpick together with the materials scattered around points of interests. Now that I had access to enough resources to begin crafting, my ability to survive opened up considerably. In this case, the combination of having some idea of what to do, coupled with the knowledge that things do get easier after one can get past the beginning, allowed me to make headway into Among Trees. In this way, Among Trees acts as a very visceral representation of why things always seem to become more straightforward the longer one is in the game – as one becomes more experienced with how things work, one can make increasingly better decisions to improve survival. There are obvious analogues in reality, grounded in the fact that with experience, one is able to see patterns and optimise their solutions for things. For instance, six years ago, I struggled to understand how information from one view controller could be sent to another in an iOS app. In the present day, I would immediately suggest using delegates. In Among Trees, once players survive the toughest first few days of the game and gain access to the three most essential tools (the axe, lockpick and map), the game really opens up. A water canteen allows one to wander the drier parts of the map without worrying about dehydration, and a tent lets one overnight outside. The storage attic lets one hang onto a much larger amount of materials for crafting, and the kitchen allows one to turn even poisonous or low-nutrition foods into a delicious meal. Fishing becomes a reliable and enjoyable way of acquiring protein, which sates hunger effectively and even heals the player to some extent. As players become more familiar with the resources available to them and how far they can travel, a new routine forms. Gradually, the mystery of living in a tranquil forest is replaced by effective survival – food is no longer a concern, there’s always a supply of fresh water, and knowledge of where resources are allows one to craft the game’s more effective gear, extending travel range and eventually allowing players to fully explore the world and discover every bit of flora available to them. Having now survived, and thrived in such a location, there hardly seems any new experiences to be had, and so, Among Trees offers players one final note: it’s time to head back to civilisation, where one’s loved ones and responsibilities await.

In its portrayal of an ending, Among Trees provides a very meaningful and unexpected message to players; no matter the sort of adventure one goes on, one will eventually need to return home, back to their loved ones, and back to their responsibilities and obligations. As enjoyable as living in an idyllic forest is, and how calming it is to foraging for wild edibles and enjoying a campfire under a setting sun in the great outdoors might be, one cannot escape society and other people forever. There comes a point where every journey, no matter how grand, must draw to a close, and a major part of making this palatable is knowing that there is a home for one to return to when they leave. In Among Trees, there’s a sort of finality after the hiking kit appears; one knows they’ve know become sufficiently versed in the game such that they can easily craft all of the resources needed to prepare for a trip back home, and that their time in the forest is finite. Folks who take this route will end the game and learn that while a break from routine is pleasant, if such excursions were to be for the long-term, then a new routine would inevitably form. This speaks cleverly to the idea that the novel soon becomes the familiar if experienced with sufficient frequency, and the charm wears off. In Among Trees, for instance, it is initially a thrill to catch one’s first-ever Perch, but as one becomes comfortable with fishing, one will soon acquire a stockpile of trout. Exciting first experiences, like camping outdoors for the first time, or creating the first Wormwood brew, similarly become routine with enough time. Going home is a part of the journey, as well, and this is what makes things like travel and vacations worthwhile. Given this message, it stands to reason that Among Trees also vindicates one of my own thoughts – some of the folks I know who’ve become expatriates haven’t done so out of a genuine desire to broaden their horizons and find the sort of fulfilment that their home nation could not provide. Instead, they became expatriates to escape something that had hurt them, hoping that being in a new country would help them to rediscover themselves and dull the pain of past failures. However, in the long term, this isn’t viable because the weight of one’s problems will always follow one around. In short, it is impossible to run away from oneself because no matter where one goes, their self will always be present. Becoming an expatriate might be helpful in the short term, allowing one to gain perspective, but there comes a point where one must return home and deal with what was troubling them. In Among Trees, the game gives players a chance to take this route: whether it was to try something novel for two months or escape a problem, spending time among trees helps the player to understand that, as relaxing such an existence might be, the same kind of fortitude and courage to have started such an adventure is also what one needs to face their problems. This is an encouraging thought, and Among Trees suggests a route of moderation: when faced with adversity in life, taking some time off to regroup and reassess things is helpful, and it is among nature one can accelerate this process.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When players start Among Trees for the first time, they’ll be met with a derelict cabin. Scattered around the cabin are a large number of sticks and fir planks. Once gathered, they can be used towards bringing the cabin into a livable state. The cabin acts as the player’s home base: the game can only be saved here, and for the first while, is the only place one can sleep.

  • Among Trees offers players with no instructions beyond restoring the cabin, and so, one is left with the freedom of choosing what their first priority is. I ended up playing Among Trees using the knowledge I picked up by watching Survivorman, so with shelter taken care of, I decided that the next order of business was to deal with water and food. There’s a stream just north of the cabin that provides unlimited, fresh and clean drinking water. Conversely, food must be gathered. It is scattered throughout the world, and range from mushrooms to berries and root vegetables.

  • The button mushroom was the first bit of food I found, and while the game indicates that cooking the mushrooms will make them more nutritious, eating them raw will refill one’s hunger meter on short order. Among Trees doesn’t have the best resource management system in that hunger meter depletes significantly faster than it should: players must eat with the same frequency that they drink water, whereas in reality, one could go for upwards of three weeks without food, but dehydration sets in within three days. I would’ve preferred to have seen the hunger meter drop at about half the rate of the thirst meter.

  • The health meter needs no explanation: if it drops to zero, the player dies. The sleep meter will deplete consistently and reach zero after every day, so in the beginning, it isn’t possible to stay up long periods into the night. Similarly, after night falls, the temperatures begin dropping, and the coat one is equipped with is unable to handle the cold effectively. This forces players back to the cabin, and early in Among Trees, it does feel as though one is tethered to their cabin, foraging for mushrooms and berries by day, as well as topping off on water.

  • Survival in Among Trees during those first few days is tricky for this reason – one lacks the ability to explore, and it feels like the act of keeping one’s hunger, thirst, warmth and sleep attended to can consume all of one’s efforts. As such, the initial priority in Among Trees is to get familiar with the area around the cabin first and get a feel for how long it takes to get somewhere and back. Once this is done, the next step is to get the crafting wing going. The rationale for this is inspired by Survivorman: the cabin has a kitchen as well, but the raw mushrooms and berries do a satisfactory job of keeping hunger at bay, and can be found in reasonable abundance.

  • Since Les Stroud always mentions the importance of a good kit, especially of having a good, sharp hatchet or axe as a tool for crafting survival items, I reasoned that being able to craft items would be helpful. To this end, I ended up travelling to nearby points of interest, marked by the presence of large, collapsed warden’s towers. At these locations, wooden crates, locked boxes and piles of raw materials lay strewn about. Things like steel wire, nails, bolts, rags and rope are survival essentials, but in order to get to these materials, one must have an axe or lockpick.

  • It therefore makes sense that the first item one should craft is the axe, and if there are enough materials on hand, the lockpick should immediately follow. Having access to these tools allows one to collect all of the raw materials to craft other items, and the axe also provides one powerful new capability – one can now chop down trees for wood. Larger trees yield three fir planks and three sticks, while smaller trees yield two sticks each. It takes a single stroke to fell a small tree, and large trees will take eight strokes to cut down. Wooden planks and sticks stop being a problem now, allowing one to quickly gather the materials needed to build other wings of their cabin.

  • Once the axe and lockpick are crafted, the next step is to begin visiting the other points of interest. Blueprints begin appearing, and these provide access to various items, including a tent, campfire, watering can, map, canteen and compass. Some of these items are more useful than others at the onset: the map is the biggest asset, allowing one to keep track of where they are in the world at all times. Initially, the map is covered in a fog of war, but as one explores, landmarks and locations become identified.

  • Having access to the map makes it easier to locate areas with specific resources: larch resin and limestone is only found in certain places. However, the map also has one additional advantage in making it easier to keep track of all of the spots one has visited, including especially scenic areas. Among Trees is a visually impressive game, and every part of the forest is gorgeous to behold. Here, I pass through a field of tall grass en route to my next destination.

  • The trickiest of the blueprints to acquire is probably the tent, which allows one to overnight outdoors for up to three evenings. It is found near a bear – there are no other threats in Among Trees, but bears are hostile by default and can kill players in two swipes of a paw. One can evade bears by crouching in the tall grass and sneaking around: when crouched in grass, players become nearly invisible to bears and can access valuable resources without being spotted. I took the same approach, but at the same time, crafted a first-aid kit in the event stealth failed. In this way, I managed to find all but one of the blueprints in the game.

  • Ten days into Among Trees, I’d become more familiar with survival, and I was surprised to find a fox in front of my cabin. Upon petting him, the fox became a pet of sorts. The fox only takes bleak fillets as food, so at this point, it became important that I master the art of fishing as quickly as I could. In exchange for fish, the fox will faithfully accompany players to the furthest reaches of the map and can even hunt down elusive loot for players. Of course, the biggest advantage about having the fox around is having company: my favourite act is to pet the fox.

  • As I began expanding out the cabin, Among Trees pushed me to explore more of the map, and in this way, I came upon some of the most scenic places in the whole of the game, including the larch grove. There’s a certain tranquility about Among Trees I’ve not found anywhere else, and how I came upon Among Trees is actually quite a touching story – I’d added the game to my Steam wishlist some time ago, and one of my friends, whom I’ve long lost contact with, suddenly appeared and gifted me the game as thanks for having been there with them through some tough times during our university days.

  • Said friend disappeared as quickly as they appeared – they dropped off social media and didn’t reply to my thanks for having gifted me a free title. Curiously enough, I was wondering how they were doing after getting back into Jetpack Joyride; after the move, I hadn’t set up my desktop and spent that evening play Jetpack Joyride, which I first learnt of after watching said friend playing it while we were waiting for Otafest Aurora to start many years ago. Jetpack Joyride still reminds me of the university’s downtown campus, and playing the game was a trip down memory lane. Here, I arrive at the larch groves; the trees are positively radiant, with a warm, golden glow.

  • Les Stroud has commented time and time again on the importance of having a good fishing tackle, so as soon as I was able, I crafted myself a fishing rod. While fishing initially was difficult, once I figured out that I could use mouse movements to control for tension, I was successful on all of my fishing trips. I now had no shortage of protein energy for myself, and I was assured of a food supply for my fox. Eating fish raw in Among Trees has no deleterious effects (the game abstracts out parasites and other pathogens), although cooking the fish greatly bolsters its nutritional value.

  • As I became familiar with the game, and survival became more routine, I was able to really appreciate the graphics of Among Trees. The game looks its best during the sunset hours, and despite its simple visuals, Among Trees actually has steep hardware requirements – an i7-4770 CPU and GTX 970 is recommended. My GTX 1060 and old i5 3570k would’ve handled this game without, but on my current build, things have been very smooth with respect to framerates and visuals.

  • Among Trees became the first Steam game I’ve had where I was able to unlock every achievement after a single play-through – most of the achievements are pretty straightforward and come with exploration, while others require playing a certain way. Most tricky of all are the achievements to complete every bit of exploration the game offers, and surviving fifty days – it is easy enough to find all of the landmarks and build every cabin wing, but some plants can be quite elusive to find. I spent several sessions looking for the Black Void Mushroom. Similarly, surviving for fifty days is a challenge for players because after one learns to fish, survival becomes significantly easier, and most do not feel any inclination to continue playing.

  • I ended up focusing my attention on sewing a new coat and backpack to pass the time. The base backpack only has 12 inventory slots, and this fills up very quickly, especially if one’s carrying many equipment items with them. Similarly, the base coat offers no protection against the element and is only moderately comfortable. A better coat actually increases stamina and running speed on top of improving cold resistance. Once I had a better coat, I could run to locations for longer periods, and this increased my range to the point where I was now reaching places that previously would’ve demanded an overnight stay.

  • Because Among Trees‘ premise is such that players are treated to a purely cathartic game, and the only real challenge is the pair of bears that roam small areas of the map, some folks consider Among Trees to be a bit of a disappointment – traditional survival games are much more intense in that there’s a much wider range of threats that can prematurely end the game, and this creates an incredible amount of tension, driving the stakes up. The difference in aesthetic notwithstanding, most players are more concerned by FJRD Interactive’s original promise of adding more content to the game, only to rescind this promise when a new project came up.

  • While Among Trees might not have the best reception, I’ve not found any indicator as to what precisely people want out of the game – all discussions seems to be focused on how the developers were being unfaithful to the players, et cetera. Upon finishing the game, I found that Among Trees actually does a satisfactory job of creating a relaxed survival experience with the content already available: there’s a satisfactory gameplay loop, and the idea of the game becoming “boring” actually stems from the fact that, once the player has enough to survive comfortably, things do become more routine.

  • However, a creative player will find ways of making the most of their time, and in this way, one isn’t just surviving; they’ll thrive. Here, I throw a tent up as night falls – the tent is limited to three uses, and there’s an achievement that requires players spend three nights in the tent. I originally made use of the tent to explore the furthest corners of the map for chicory, a rare flower that only spawns occasionally. While a large number of guides out there suggest that chicory only spawns at dusk and by night, in specific part of the map, all of the chicory I’ve found were found during the mornings and day. Moreover, I found them in random areas of the map.

  • Attesting to how rare chicory is, I only ever found five during my entire play-through of Among Trees. While it can be cooked and eaten, it has a much more useful purpose: four are needed to craft the game’s largest backpack, which has a total of sixteen slots. There is an intermediate backpack with fourteen slots, and while two slots doesn’t seem like much, being able to hang onto two more types of material can make the difference between being able to bring back the resources one needs to craft something, or being forced to turn back around and leave resources behind.

  • As such, a backpack with four more slots than the base backpack would extend one’s range further. I decided to save my resources for the larger backpack. By this point in the game, I’d also began working on the brewing room. Although it seemed a bonus addition to the cabin, some of the elixirs that can be crafted are downright useful: the wormwood brew acts like a strong coffee and allows one to stay out for longer. This is a lifesaver, allowing me to travel far without needing to bring a tent. On some occasions, I’ve run into elk in the forest, although the elk are harmless and immediately take off upon spotting the player.

  • The feather larch outfit would become my preferred coat – offering some stamina increase, its biggest attributes are greatly increasing one’s resilience to cold, and boosting movement speed. These two properties make it possible to cover great distances quickly, and now, I was able to sprint across the map and reach a spot before the sun had fully risen where previously, it would take me a half-day to reach the same point. Coupled with the elixirs, there suddenly was less of a need to bring a tent with me on resource-gathering runs.

  • Upon completing the best backpack and coat for my play-style, I felt that Among Trees had reached a point where I was now able to not just survive, but thrive. At the cabin, I had a large stockpile of mushrooms, beets, radishes and fish. Thanks to the storage attic, I filled my other bins with wooden planks, bolts, nails, wire and pipes. With all of the essentials crafted, I had resources left over to begin really sprucing up my cabin – the game allows players to create decorative elements around their cabin, and in the beginning, such items feel extraneous.

  • As one begins to build the essentials and get the basics taken care of, they can turn their attention to creativity. Among Trees doesn’t provide these instructions to players by default, but the order in which one should get things done is reasonably easy to figure out. I have seen some guides suggest that the kitchen be built first so one can greatly boost the nutritional value of the food they find, but for me, the best order is the crafting room, followed by the storage attic. The brewing room and greenhouse should be the last elements constructed.

  • The further I got into Among Trees, the more the game’s message became apparent to me – things are always difficult at the beginning, but as one finds their flow and becomes familiar with routine, they become increasingly efficient. Things become easier, and over time, the unfamiliar becomes comfortable. Of course, the problem with this is that all experiences eventually stop being novel. Along this brand of logic, even travelling can become routine and unremarkable. This is what leads me to draw the conclusion that I do: some folks value creating memories and seeing the world, while others would prefer to establish their career and developing financial stability. The choice of choosing one or the other is a hotly-debated subject amongst millennials, and countless articles defending one side over the other have been written on the topic over the years.

  • I believe that early on, one should focus on their career and finances first – life is a game of momentum, and if one doesn’t get in the habit of conducting themselves with discipline, it can be tricky to do so later down the line. If one has a steady career and a game plan for the future, then with a bit of planning, one can still fit in windows with which to see the world with: one doesn’t need to spend a full year in a foreign nation to appreciate another culture. A lot of the proponents of travelling while one’s young suggest that one will have plenty of time later on to catch up, but many professional skills are analogous to lifting weights. Much as one needs to train consistently in order to make appreciable gains, one must constantly hone their craft in order to remain effective in their field.

  • However, in moderation, travel is indeed a form of catharsis, a means of broadening one’s horizons, and a pleasant way of breaking up the routine. When done appropriately, travelling and taking breaks leaves one better prepared to handle things. I note here that this is approach is what works for me: what I do may not work for everyone, and I do not presume to say that any one method is superior to another. I get that people tend to be quite vocal about their positions because their choices, and the path that it led them on, is very much a part of their identity. Ultimately, I maintain that, if one accepts responsibility for the outcome of their decisions, I will not challenge their choices or identity.

  • Back in Among Trees, I’ve finally reached the northeastern edge of the map. Here, a vast lake creates a natural boundary. Some guides call it the ocean, but mountains can be seen on the other side, and moreover, platers can drink out of this lake, indicating that it’s fresh water – drinking salt water is deleterious, with the high salt content accelerating dehydration to a dangerous extent. Conversely, since Among Trees lets players walk up to the water and drink it, it stands to reason this is fresh water. Here, I’ve set up a campfire and cooking kit along with my tent, creating a moment that is quintessential camping.

  • The eagle-eyed reader will have noticed that I’ve written two posts today; this time of year stands as my favourite, consisting of warm days spent enjoying the outdoors and savouring foods that are associated with the summer. This past long weekend, I took advantage of the Monday off to cook a Swiss-and-mushroom melt burger with a side of thick-cut fries (washed down with a tall glass of Ginger Ale and chased by freshly-picked cherries) for lunch. The day had been very hot, bringing back memories of the past two Heritage Day long weekends in previous years. However, since the move, I’ve been rather spoiled by the fact that the new place has air conditioning.

  • This prevents me from forwarding the ports my private server needs to run properly. This means that, in the foreseeable future, I won’t be able to revisit Stormwind by nightfall, or return to the Stonetalon Mountains. Having said this, there are many other experiences I’ve got on my plate. Back in Among Trees, I’ve thrown my tent up beside a pond as night sets in: after checking out the lake, I head back into the forest in search of the remaining plants that have eluded me, including the Death Cap and Black Void mushrooms.

  • To help with navigation, I’ve finally crafted a compass. While a map is superbly useful, having a compass allows me to travel in a direction with greater certainty, and here, I pass through a more heavily wooded area of the forest. It was quite amusing to know that, armed with the axe, food to replenish one’s energy and plenty of patience, one could hypothetically try to chop down the entire forest. However, in between sessions, trees regenerate, and some items respawn. The only exception are the crates and lockboxes at points of interest: if one visits and opens them, but leave the materials in place, they will disappear later on.

  • Towards the end of my time in Among Trees, I returned to the lake one last time while on the hunt for the elusive Black Void mushroom. I ended up finding my target on this run, and in the process, also caught a glimpse of an elk along the shore. With the Black Void mushroom, I’d found all of the plants in the game, explored every landmark and built every extension to my cabin. Among Trees awarded me an achievement for my troubles and alerted me to the fact I could now craft the hiking kit. This was the remaining item I was missing from my crafting library, and as it turns out, this is the last item one can assemble, being meant as an item that brings Among Trees to an end.

  • The Black Void, Death Cap, Dotty and Angel mushrooms are poisonous – consuming them raw runs the risk of poisoning the player, but cooking them renders them safe to eat in Among Trees. Real life, unfortunately, doesn’t work this way, and even the high temperatures of cooking aren’t enough to denature the proteins. It goes without saying that Among Trees is not to be considered as being a resource for outdoor survival. I tended to avoid picking these mushrooms in-game, knowing that the other mushrooms and berries can be eaten raw (making them more valuable for situations where I was not near my cabin or had a cooking kit on my person).

  • Armed with the best jacket possible, plus brews for bolstering body temperature and ward of drowsiness, I am finally able to explore the forest by night. For my troubles, I am rewarded with the light of a crescent moon. One thing I noticed in Among Trees is that weather patterns are quite limited, and cosmetic in nature. It’s either sunny or rainy, and rainfall does little to impact the player. In reality, rain and wind can lock people down, making it difficult to travel great distances. Additional weather patterns in Among Trees would add to the depth of this game, but I imagine it would also represent challenges from an implementation standpoint.

  • Towards the endgame, I’ve fully made use of every facility available to my cabin. The cook stove allows me to cook highly nutritious and delicious meals. Sticks are needed to fuel the stove, but they can be easily acquired by chopping down trees. The resulting meals can fill the hunger bar to a hundred percent, and I made it a point to eat breakfast every morning before setting out, and then along the way, I would top off with the various mushrooms, berries and roots I find.

  • Observant readers will have noticed that I’ve now got potted plants, sculptures and other artworks around the cabin. Once most of the essentials are crafted, any metal one finds no longer has any use, so it is perfectly okay to turn them into art for sprucing up the cabin interior. I spent most of the game travelling around, hunting for resources, but at the endgame, I stayed at the cabin to craft things, and also to tend to my greenhouse. Having now collected seeds from the points of interest, I planted them and waited a few days for the turnips and radishes to grow, all the while watering them periodically.

  • The greenhouse is the most photogenic part of the cabin, and when all of the visual effects are cranked to maximum, it is gorgeous in here. Among Trees only allows players to plant radishes and turnips, and upon harvesting them, they occasionally drop seeds that allow one to have access to more vegetables. These roots do take some effort to cook, and radishes can only be eaten cooked, but having vegetables means not being reliant on the mushrooms and berries that spawn throughout the world.

  • All adventures must come to an end, and after fifty days of surviving in the forest, I finally put my hiking pack to use – in real-time, I’ve spent about thirteen hours over the course of a month in Among Trees, and I feel that the game has proven to be a remarkable experience, both from a gameplay perspective and from a thematic perspective. The thematic piece proved to be quite unexpected, a consequence of my own experiences feeding into how I approached the game, and I would imagine that a different individual playing this very game would likely come out with a completely different set of thoughts.

Among Trees is able to tell a compelling story that speaks to the values I hold despite being a sandbox experience that never quite reached completion; I’ve heard that FJRD Interactive originally had plans to improve the game’s complexity and depth, but shortly after, abandoned development in favour of other projects despite wishes from the community to wrap the game up. As enjoyable as Among Trees is, there are numerous elements that appear that the game wished to add, including more options for backpacks and coats. A more complex system would allow one to choose their gear more carefully (e.g. a higher-capacity backpack might reduce one’s movement speed). The game does not allow one to pick clams off the beach from the forest’s northeastern corner, or lay down crab pots. Similarly, while one can spot rabbits and elk in the game, there is no option to fashion traps and snares to catch smaller critters for meat, or perhaps hunt larger game with a bow. The greenhouse only allows players to grow beets and radishes, but it would be nice to let players farm their own berries and mushrooms. Besides expanding the crafting and clothing system, as well as adding a hunting system, Among Trees also would benefit from providing players with a variety of terrains to survive in. The game currently sets players in a warm, temperate forest during the summer, when temperatures are comfortable, and wild edibles are in good supply. It would be enjoyable to see the game use its temperature, food and hydration meters more effectively by providing players with a tropical island, desert and arctic tundra map to mix up what one should prioritise in a different region of the world. In the arctic, hydration may deplete more slowly, but temperature will always deplete quickly. A desert setting may cause the sleep and hydration meters to wear out more quickly. This would force players to look more closely at different goals, and add considerably to the game’s depth. However, as previously mentioned, it appears that FJRD Interactive has ceased development on Among Trees, and as such, the items on my wishlist are unlikely to be realised. Although Among Trees has an incredible potential to become a sort of Survivorman experience set in beautifully crafted and highly cathartic settings, lack of future work means the game’s current state is likely all players will get for the present. In spite of this, it isn’t all doom and gloom – the game does have an excellent message for players, and for me, a single play-through from front to back, wholly exploring every corner of the map, collecting every plant and fungi I could, and building my cabin to completion, took a total of thirteen hours. Consequently, Among Trees is a worthwhile experience when it’s discounted; although steep at full price, it is a fun game that is quite unlike anything I’d played previously, and having now taken a break from my usual shooters, it’s time to return to my favourite genre with a fresh set of eyes.

Routine Feat: Remarks on the Importance of Structure as a Route to Success and A Calgary Rodeo Reflection

Late night, come home
Work sucks, I know
She left me roses by the stairs
Surprises let me know she cares

–blink-128, All The Small Things

Developed by Alexandre Ignatov, who had previously published ШХД: ЗИМА / IT’S WINTER, Routine Feat was actually written before IT’S WINTER, but the assets were reused to create a very moody and contemplative experience. However, unlike IT’S WINTER, Routine Feat has additional depth to it – it puts players in the shoes of an office worker who appears stuck in a routine of monotony: day in and day out, the office worker heads to a dreary job where, in his office, he’s scrawled onto a piece of paper “My work does not bring joy and is not so important for me and the people around me, but I cannot quit it. Otherwise, what will I eat?” Between his duties, the office worker toils away on his own novel, occasionally struggling to come up with ideas, but over time, his perseverance pays off: on a sunny, peaceful morning, the office worker submits his finished manuscript and heads to work. Coming home, the office worker spots a letter and a pile of cash in his mailbox – the publishers love his book and have already placed an order for a hundred thousand copies, saying that such a book will move millions. At first glance, Routine Feat appears to follow in the footsteps of IT’S WINTER in conveying a sense of melancholy and longing. Note scattered around the office worker’s home and workspace suggests someone who’s living day-to-day, seemingly without purpose or motivation. However, the office worker’s novel is the one ray of light in his life, and by investing time into this project in between his work, while at the same time, doing his best in a daily routine despite his boredom and melancholy, the office worker is able to create something of worth and find new value in his life. Among the monotony of routine comes new joy, and in this area, Routine Feat shows that there is nothing wrong with routine. While social media glamourises spontaneity and travel, and relationship guides claim (without evidence) that dating spontaneous people is the singular key to happiness, experts universally agree that routine is vital in maintaining one’s mental health, reduces anxiety and increases resilience against adversity. People who follow a consistent routine sleep more soundly, and may also enjoy improved physical health on top of mental wellness. Having a routine creates familiarity which allows one to do more – knowing one’s always going to have an hour in the morning means being able to lift weights before starting one’s workday, and being assured of an hour of rest before turning in means I’m confident that I could get some writing or gaming done that day.

The melancholy and monotony that is seen in Routine Feat contrasts sharply with the beautiful summer weather – when players open Routine Feat, they are met with the same apartment complex seen in IT’S WINTER. However, this time, sunlight fills the rooms with the warm golden glow of a mid-summer’s morning, and the sky is a pale azure. The landscape is verdant and lush with vegetation. Even though there isn’t another soul around (I’m the only person around), and it feels as though the weather is mocking me, it’s clear that Routine Feat is not trying to convey the same sense of hopelessness that only a bitterly cold winter’s night could. The change of seasons is what sets Routine Feat apart from its predecessor – long days filled with sunshine instills a sense of hope, and having light out increases the incentive to stop to take a breath and live in the moment. Although it might not be a life-changing journey to Japan, there is a certain joy about being able to feel the warmth of sunshine while waiting for the bus. Similarly, more sunshine means after coming home from work, it’s still light enough to enjoy the last rays of sun before returning one’s attention to their pursuits. It is therefore appropriate that here in Routine Feat, looking beyond what superficially appears to be a dull and dreary life, one finds a world filled with nuance and excitement. It is unsurprising that the office worker is able to write a book under such conditions – no longer trapped by the winter, one is really able to stretch their feet and allow the long days of summer to provide inspiration. The combination of routine in Routine Feat has its basis in reality; I am reminded of spending endless days during the summer of a decade earlier indoors with MCAT preparations while the world around me enjoyed everything the summer had to offer. However, even though I was not engaged in activities associated with the summer, the warm weather and beautiful skies gave me a sense of comfort and reassurance. This sense of well-being, coupled with the fact that I’d settled into a fairly consistent routine, of studying, lifting weights and unwinding, meant that what had appeared to be an insurmountable foe would suddenly look more manageable. On this day ten years ago, it had been a gorgeous morning, and while the family had stepped out to enjoy the Calgary Stampede, I remained behind to brush up on verbal reasoning. It had been a particularly fine day, and after hitting my quota for the morning, I walked out to the local sandwich shop for a pork rib sandwich. I was struck with a thought: appreciating small things in life is what makes things worthwhile. Routine Feat makes it a point to convey this, and while the game might initially seem repetitive and pointless, once players take the time to slow down and figure things out, there’s an unexpectedly uplifting and optimistic message about how, in the throes of routine, people can optimise their schedules and come to do great things with the time that is available to them. I managed to have what was, in retrospect, a pretty enjoyable summer ten years ago despite having spent so much of it on the MCAT (I would later go on to travel and even put out a journal publication). The office worker in Routine Feat may live a routine life, but in growing familiar with his day-to-day patterns, manages to optimise things and find the time to pursue his own interests, chipping away tirelessly until things finally come to a head, and his efforts are rewarded.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I became intrigued with Routine Feat after playing IT’S WINTER and discovered the game was free to download from Ignatov’s website. However, when the game became available on Steam back in May, I decided to pick it up to support Ignatov: both Routine Feat and IT’S WINTER speak to some of my own experiences with loneliness, of being trapped during both winters and summers during my time as a university student. In 2013, I earned my Bachelor of Health Science degree, but between all of my friends heading off to pursue their careers, and a one-in-a-century flood knocking out my summer plans (which entailed a kokuhaku), I fell into a mild depression.

  • As that summer drew to a close, I began dreading the imminent arrival of winter; the individual I had wished to deliver my kokuhaku to had left for an exchange programme in Japan, and I was left to pursue open studies while awaiting the results of my second shot at getting into medical school. In the depths of winter, my applications fell through, and I got a sneaking suspicion the person I was hoping to ask out would not wait for me. However, it was not the end; upon hearing about my applications’ outcomes, my supervisor immediately extended to me an offer of admissions into graduate school, as well as a position on what would become the Giant Walkthrough Brain project. Spotting an opportunity to walk a different path, and to immerse myself in something that took my mind off things, I accepted immediately.

  • This proved to be a pivotal moment for me, and I attribute my recovery to this turn of events – keeping busy with a project that would contribute to scientific communication in the community took my mind off the hurt of what had amounted to a rejection, and I thus focused my entire effort towards learning Unity. While I would slowly find my way again and ended up becoming an iOS developer as a result of my experiences in graduate school, I remained quite hostile towards winter for some time after. However, even this dislike wouldn’t last forever; I would come to take stock in the fact that, no matter how cold winters got, summers would always return, and until summers did come back, I had somewhere warm to return to every day.

  • IT’S WINTER spoke to me about this fact: while the game is supposed to convey an overwhelming sense of isolation and sadness, I found that the game actually captured something quite unexpected. To be able to wander outside in a bitterly cold winter’s night, and then returning to the warmth and comfort of the player’s apartment was quite reassuring: no matter how far my wanderings took me, I could always go back to somewhere with light, heat and food. It was with this mindset that I approached Routine Feat, which was similarly written to be a game that speaks to depression and melancholy associated with an unremarkable life.

  • When players start Routine Feat for the first time, they are met with blue skies and the light of a summer’s morning. I remember numerous such mornings in all of my summers, especially during the year I took the MCAT. Like the office worker of Routine Feat, I would board the bus and head for campus to either attend my preparation course or lift weights, before hitting the books and returning home. Buses to the university are practically empty in the summer, adding to my sense of isolation. However, while my MCAT year should have been lonely, I found that having a routine helped me to focus effectively.

  • The reason for this is simple: knowing what to expect on a given day creates confidence in having control. Having structure in one’s day provides certainty and reassurance, allowing one to know that they’ve got time blocked out to get certain things done. This is why, when the global health crisis hit some two-and-a-half years earlier, I was able to cope with things. I woke up early in the mornings, ate breakfast and got to work. Every day at 1030, I would stop for a yogurt break, and then I’d resume work until 1200, during which I’d break for lunch.

  • Lunch breaks would last precisely an hour, and then I would work until 1500. Here, I’d stop to enjoy the refreshing tang of a mandarin orange. Once this break was over, it was a straight shot until the end of the day. After work, I would either do light exercise in the basement or, if the weather allowed me to, go for a stroll around the block. Between my routine, I found enough time to game, blog and chat with friends. While I greatly missed being able to go to restaurants and my favourite places in town, knowing my days were well-organised, and that I was still getting things done, gave me some reassurance.

  • In this way, when restrictions began rolling back, I would come to look forwards to grabbing takeout from the local Cantonese restaurant, or spending some time in the nearby parks on weekends. This new routine has worked well for me: despite beginning a new position last April and moving house this year, old habits died hard; I ended up following the same work and life patterns I previously did, with the main exception that I’m doing more housework now. Curiously enough, doing housework is when I’m most at ease, as it gives my mind a chance to wander and unwind.

  • Having now moved for a shade over three months, I’ve formed a new routine by merging old habits with nuances of the new place, and this has in turn allowed me to acclimatise to life in a new part of town; there is enough time in a day for me to work, look after the new place, exercise, sleep well and on top of all this, continue to keep this blog going. Back in Routine Feat, I will note that the game gives players full freedom to do whatever they choose to. In mornings, a bus will appear at regular intervals, and boarding will take players to work.

  • One can choose to deliberately miss the bus without penalty: buses will keep coming ad infinitum, and the game will only advance if one boards, so one could spend as much time as they wish to explore the environment. Unlike IT’S WINTER, where there’s a soft boundary that will transport players back to the heart of the map, Routine Feat features hard boundaries at the map’s edges to prevent them from going further. The map is actually a ways bigger than it was in IT’S WINTER, and one can thoroughly explore the woods surrounding the office worker’s apartment block.

  • The lack of deadlines means Routine Feat is free to give players full agency over their decisions. This is especially important, since many things in the game can be interacted with. One can choose to cook a scrumptious breakfast with the ingredients in their refrigerator as a way to start the day, or go for a stroll in the woods surrounding the apartment. Reading the notes on one’s desk will also lead one to realise that the office worker is an aspiring author, and while he may occasionally struggle to come up with ideas, for the most part, the office worker can find inspiration to write.

  • One thing that I didn’t notice was that, in order to make any progress on the novel, one must type on the typewriter, and then when a page is done, it must be manually inserted into an envelope on the office worker’s desk at home. Every morning and evening, the office worker will produce two to four pages before calling it quits, and so, to finish Routine Feat quickly, one must make it a habit of writing every day, before heading for work, and then before turning in. However, there’s no obligation to move at such a breakneck pace: Routine Feat won’t punish players for finishing slowly, nor will it reward players further for finishing quickly.

  • Observant players will have noticed that in Routine Feat, mornings will look slightly different when a new day starts, and similarly, players arrive home from work at varying times of day. Sometimes, the sun is just setting when one gets off the bus, and at other times, it’s fully nighttime, with a full moon in the sky. On one of my mornings in Routine Feat, the sky was overcast and brought back memories of last year, when extensive forest fires a province over devastated entire towns and filled the skies with smoke.

  • This year, the weather’s been quite the opposite – we’ve been fortunate that no heat dome settled over British Columbia, keeping the forest fires at bay, and moreover, near-normal precipitation and temperatures have made for both green surroundings and comfortable days. July and August are the times of year best suited for summer adventures, and unlike the previous two years, this year, I am hoping to slowly ease back into planning out excursions on weekends to take advantage of the long and warm days that I’ve long expressed fondness for.

  • It suddenly strikes me that I’ve not yet shown a screenshot of the office worker’s bedroom. Although the quarters are spartan, especially for folks who’ve grown accustomed to living in a detached home of at least 1200 square feet, looking around the office worker’s apartment still gives a very inviting sense. Everything is reasonably clean and well-kept, and while there’s no living room, the bedroom is very large. Were I to live here, the only adjustment I’d make is to move the bed over to the right, closer to the heater by the window, and then put the TV stand underneath the tapestry.

  • Because of variability in the weather, on some mornings in Routine Feat, I wake up to sunlight filling the bedroom. This is how bright my room gets in the morning during the summers – it’s gotten to the point where I don’t need an alarm clock to wake up on days where it’s sunny, and I’m always filled with a feeling of peace whenever it looks like this. I’ve noticed that sleep is never really a problem in Routine Feat; inconsistent sleep is often associated with depression, as depression can create feelings of regret, sadness and longing that result in thoughts that wholly occupy the mind.

  • Players have no trouble sleeping in Routine Feat, and falling asleep is as easy as looking at the bed and pressing “E”. Once asleep, Routine Feat treats players to fantastical dreamscapes. According to Ignatov, the dreams themselves don’t have any deep or specific meanings, being meant to represent spaces that are quite different than the office worker’s home and day-to-day life. I’ve always been fond of creators who step up to clarify things and remind folks to take it easy: it’s not lost on me that, perhaps as a result of North American literature courses, people are taught to pick works apart and focus on nuances like symbolism and literary devices over the overarching themes and character experiences.

  • As it turns out, the approach of analysing every last element in a work is known as the reader-response criticism theory, in which practitioners can interpret a work independently of the author’s intentions, and in this way, produce any end conclusion because the reader’s interpretation is treated as the main authority on things. A handful of anime blogs out there subscribed to this approach and at their height, took things one step further by asserting that works can be analysed independently of cultural and individual influences to produce an “objective” interpretation. Behind the Nihon was fond of this, but I found their methodology flawed on the grounds that it produces a very narrow and limited view of the work, since Behind the Nihon Review’s writers still brought their own subjective tastes and backgrounds to the table.

  • Conversely, I always strive to pay attention to what the author attempted to convey, since how they present and execute a work is influenced by how they perceive their experiences. Reconciling the differences between what I experience, and what the author’s intentions are, produces the richest understanding of things. Routine Feat, for instance, is a game that conveys sadness and melancholy from routine, but because the game chooses to give the player an end-goal (of writing a book) that they do succeed in, the game also shows the nuances of following a routine. This is Ignatov’s intention: “if you stop and take a breath of air, then you might like [Routine Feat]“.

  • On a quiet morning with blue skies, I managed to get all twenty pages of the book written out, and submitted the manuscript to the publisher. What awaits the player is another day at work, but this time around, there’s a faint sense of excitement this time around. Routine Feat doesn’t have a large number of goals, but the office worker’s act of writing a book does advance the story. However, it is worth noting here that Routine Feat does not have any save points, and as such, one must play through several days in order to write all twenty of the requisite pages: leaving the game at any time will reset one’s progress.

  • Earlier today, I had awoken to gorgeous skies and a forecasted high of 26°C. However, it was no typical day: I was set to attend the Calgary Stampede with the company, and to ensure I arrived in time for lunch to begin, I left earlier. Today marked the beginning of the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, and this event traditionally kicks off with a large parade downtown. The light rail line runs right through the downtown core and intersects with the parade route, so the wisdom of leaving early became apparent. After arriving, I made my way to the Rotary House, which had been marked as closed for a private function (i.e. ours).

  • Once lunch ended, we moseyed on over to the Grandstand for my first-ever rodeo show, which featured Saddle Bronc, Barrel Racing, Tie-Down Roping, Steer Wrestling, Bareback and most exhilarating of all to watch, Bull Riding. The afternoon had begun with the entire grandstand bathed in sunlight, but a cool shadow stole over the venue as the afternoon wore on. While I’ve attended the Calgary Stampede in previous years, I’ve only ever checked out the midway and exhibitions, but otherwise, had never actually seen any rodeo events, so it was quite a unique and memorable experience to watch the events that are at the heart of the Stampede.

  • After enjoying the Unagi Sushi Taco, I ventured into the exhibition halls to see what arts were being displayed. This year, the BMO Centre is undergoing some dramatic changes: like the University of Calgary, which has seen massive construction projects, the Stampede Grounds are being upgraded. They had begun demolishing the Stampede Corral in 2020 after an assessment in 2016 found it was no longer viable to bring the building up to code. At present, the framework to the new structure is up, and it is expected that construction will conclude next summer. Fortunately, the exhibitor hall and Western Oasis art displays were still present, and I cooled off in here with a root beer before heading back home.

  • With today’s events, I’m reminded of why Calgary’s workforce jokingly remark that for 10 days of July, all work grinds to a halt as workers from all occupations take time off, whether it’s personal time or company events, to visit the Stampede. Today was quite far removed from my usual routine: I am usually found sitting at my desk and churning away at my IDE, or else pacing around whilst conceptualising solutions. This Stampede visit was a nice break from routine, and I’m left ready to relax this weekend before returning on Monday to continue with my current assignment.

  • Back in Routine Feat, I was pleasantly surprised to find a letter from the publisher and a pile of money in my mailbox after submitting the book. Players receive a small amount of money in their day job in Routine Feat, so to see this kind of money come in would probably be a shock. All of a sudden, melancholy and loneliness turns to joy. In reality, things would happen over a longer timeframe, but the outcomes are undeniable; hard work and perseverance is what brings about success, and having a routine allows one to be able to achieve their goals. Routine Feat works in a meta-gaming perspective: once players figure out the routine, they can easily advance the story and see the office worker realise his dreams.

  • I ended up taking the letter back into my room to read it, and it was a remarkably pleasant feeling: the office worker’s novel turns out to be a smash hit. The publishers have already ordered a hundred thousand copies and expect the book to sell very well. I did notice some HTML tags in the publisher’s letter, and in a few areas in Routine Feat, there are spelling mistakes, but these are comparatively minor, especially considering the rest of the game works smoothly. It felt fantastic to see the office worker succeed in his dreams, and the epilogue suggests that the office worker is able to pursue his own dreams freely now.

  • As a means of celebration, I gathered some of the items from the fridge and made the office worker a very nice meal: the usual eggs on toast was accompanied with sausage, cheese, tomato and cucumber, and then I decided to have an apple and banana, washed down with a glass of milk. Routine Feat automatically restocks the player’s refrigerator every time the player returns home or wakes up, so there’s always sufficient provisions. This aspect of Routine Feat was one I particularly liked, since it showed how while the office worker’s days might be monotonous, he’s still able to support himself well enough to pursue his own interests.

  • To wrap things up, I’ve climbed to the rooftop to get a look at the neighbourhood. There’s a bunch of beers up here, and after successfully publishing a book, it felt appropriate to crack open a beer and enjoy the summer evening. Routine Feat might be simple, but there is no denying that the game is successful with its messages. Further to this, aside from a few rough spots here and there, the game is polished. I’m impressed with how much fun I had in Routine Feat: while the game is not “fun” in a traditional sense, it was very instructive. I relate quite well to the environment and themes that Ignatov sought to convey, and so, Routine Feat became quite refreshing to play through.

Ignatov has expressed that the minimalism in Routine Feat and IT’S WINTER is deliberate: the game’s Steam Store description indicates that the theme is “overwhelming loneliness” that arises in a world dominated by isolation and abandonment. However, even on beautiful summer days with no one else around, Ignatov writes that one may find a sense of peace in taking the time to stop and smell the roses: the game was written with this in mind, and Ignatov has mentioned in an interview that the aim was to create a world that players could get lost in. Interactivity lies at the forefront of things in Routine Feat, and like IT’S WINTER, one can also deliberately choose not to hop on the bus and go to work. Instead, one could whip up a fantastic breakfast with the ingredients in their refrigerator, reorganinise their apartment and clear up the trash strewn about, or even go for a walk around the apartment block and take in the calm melancholy of a gentle morning. While Routine Feat offers this freedom to players, choosing to follow one’s routine by going to work, and then spending a little more time on the office worker’s novel, is where the game’s true genius shines: Routine Feat suggests that although one might seemingly be bound to monotony in their everyday lives, life is also what one chooses to make of things, and the familiarity offered by routine is what makes excitement so remarkable. This is why my own Calgary Stampede experience this year is particularly memorable: it was my first time attending the rodeo show as a part of a company-wide event, and after a lunch at the Rotary House, a rustic event venue, we watched the afternoon’s performances at the grandstand. I never imagined that, a decade after the morning I’d made the call to stay home and press forwards with MCAT revisions, I would have the opportunity to experience the Calgary Stampede in the most traditional way possible. On most days, my routine entails sitting down at my desk, reading through my day’s assignments and then opening an IDE to begin chipping away at my work. To be able to take a break of this sort was especially refreshing, although here, I note that things like the Calgary Stampede are so enjoyable precisely because they represent a break from routine.

Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~: Reflections and Reminiscence on A Journey to the Land of the Rising Sun Five Years Earlier, and Revisiting My First Visual Novel

“Japan never considers time together as time wasted. Rather, it is time invested.” –Donald Richie

On this day in 2017, I was sitting on the benches at the Vancouver International Airport awaiting a flight back home. Although exhausted, I was immensely satisfied with my excursion. Early in May, I boarded a plane bound for Narita International Airport. We’d arrived later in the evening, so after reaching our hotel, we had time for dinner at a Chinese-style restaurant at the Hilton Tokyo Narita Airport before hitting the hay. The next morning, after a full Western breakfast, we boarded our ride and headed straight to the heart of Tokyo to check out the Meiji Jinju Shrine and Tokyo Imperial Palace. After stopping briefly in Ginza for a shabu-shabu lunch, the afternoon consisted of walking the Sumida River and exploring the Kogan-ji temple. The day wrapped up with an exquisite Wagyu beef and snow crab dinner at the Hotel Heritage. Here, I had the chance to soak in their onsen: having seen the procedure countless times in anime, I felt right at home in cleaning up and enjoying the experience. On the second day of our lightning tour, we travelled deep into the mountains of Yamanashi, stopping at Heiwa Park near Gotemba to view Mount Fuji from a distance. Following yakiniku, we visited Oshino Village and Mount Fuji’s Fifth Station. From here, we drove out to Shirokabako Resort by Mount Tateshima, where we spent the night. The next day opened with a drive to Magome-juku, where we took in the quiet of the Japanese countryside and had a traditional lunch before being whisked away to the heart of Nagoya to check out Atsuta Shrine. The final stop for this third day was Gifu: we were now within a stone’s throw from Kyoto, and on our final full day, we entered Kyoto itself, stopping by the Kinkakuji in the morning. Here, I enjoyed matcha ice cream and the iconic golden-leafed walls of Kyoto’s most famous temple under drizzling skies. Following a kaiseki lunch near Yasaka Shrine, we visited Todaji Temple in Nara, known for its free-roaming deer population. The day concluded in Osaka: after taking in the sights of the Sakai shopping district, we stopped for an omurice dinner, and I swung by a local bookstore to grab a copy of Kimi no Na Wa‘s manga before turning in: the next day, I’d been slated to fly on over to Hong Kong for the trip’s second leg, so early in the morning, we made our way over to Kansai International Airport. Although a flight out usually is more a matter of procedure, a pair of surprises awaited me here at Kansai International Airport; I was able to try authentic okonomiyaki, and I came upon a copy of the Kimi no Na Wa artbook while waiting for my flight. Like the protagonist Go! Go! Nippon! ~My First Trip to Japan~, I had a very short window in which to take in the sights, sounds and tastes of Japan, and I similarly realised an inevitable truth: that it would take a lifetime to fully experience everything Japan’s got to offer: this game had come into my path some five years prior to my travels to Japan in 2017.

As the story goes, on a miserable late autumn afternoon, I was typing away in the quiet of my office space: having finished building a sodium-potassium pump on the same principles as the renal filtration model I’d designed during the previous summer, I was working on a term paper ahead of a presentation for my research course. As I reached the section on my findings, one of my friends appeared at the lab. His classes for the day had ended, and he had something amusing to show me: a YouTuber was playing through a visual novel about visiting Japan, and was doing a throw-your-voice style voiceover of the dialogue. I’d only been mildly interested at the time, and despite having picked the game up to try it out, Go! Go! Nippon! remained a bit of a curiosity for me until, four years after its initial release, the 2015 expansion was announced. The additional content and visual improvements were enough for me to pick this up, and I’d beaten one of the Makoto routes posthaste. However, a post never materialised, and it is with some irony that I reflect on how my typical tendency for procrastination meant that I would only write about the game a full five years after I’d returned home from my travels to Japan and Hong Kong. The premise in Go! Go! Nippon! is simple: a foreign traveller decides to visit Japan at the behest of two pen-pals he’d met in an online chatroom, and upon arriving, discovers they’re sisters, Makoto and Akira Misaki. Despite the initial awkwardness, said visitor gets a very personalised tour of some of Tokyo’s most famous destinations, and along the way, becomes closer to Makoto or Akira, depending on the choice of destinations visited. Despite its hokey premise, Go! Go! Nippon! has proven to be surprisingly entertaining, being part visual novel and part Lonely Planet travel guide: the game is remarkably detailed about the history and information surrounding some of Tokyo’s attractions, from Ginza and Akihabara, to Shibuya and Mount Takao. The setup provides players the ideal environment to acclimatise to what a visual novel is like, using a story that is relatable for overseas players who might be dreaming of one day setting foot on the Land of the Rising Sun. In this way, despite being cheesy on first glance, Go! Go! Nippon! ends up being a fantastic experience for both introducing players to visual novel mechanics, as well as providing a guide to Tokyo’s sights to the same level of depth as a travel book might. The visual novel consequently received a pair of expansions, which brought Go! Go! Nippon! into the world of HD and provided animated character models using Unity. In addition, additional locations were added along with a more sophisticated decision tree that brings with it, new events for players to check out. The concept has proven quite enduring: Makoto and Akira have since become Virtual YouTubers, and the developers, OVERDRIVE, have also been surprised with the success of this series and its characters. When they’d started the Virtual YouTubers programme with Makoto and Akira, they’d made a tongue-in-cheek remark about how if they ever hit ten thousand subscribers, they would begin development on Go! Go! Nippon! 2. This particular milestone has since been reached, and all eyes are now on OVERDRIVE as they begin work on a sequel to a game that I’m certain that no one expected to reach the heights that it did.

There is a degree of irony in the fact that I ended up playing through and writing about Go! Go! Nippon! five years after my travels to Japan; a trip to Japan costs around 2400 CAD for an individual, whereas Go! Go! Nippon! and its expansions together are two orders of magnitude cheaper (since I bought Go! Go! Nippon! during sales over the years, my total for all three games was 14.91 CAD). However, despite the dramatic contrasts in the manner in which one gets to experience Japan, there are also striking similarities, attesting to how well Go! Go! Nippon! is able to capture the feelings of travelling Japan. While on first glance, Japan possesses a dramatically different culture, set of values and customs compared to somewhere like Canada, setting foot in Japan also made it apparent that the similarities were greater in number than differences. Outside of Japan’s numerous temples, attractions and sights, I found that whether it was Tokyo, Gifu, Nagoya, Kyoto or Osaka, the roads and streets were filled with people getting from point A to point B. Some were salarymen headed to work, while others were students who were out and about on their daily activities, no differently than how my days ordinarily went back home. My vacation had allowed me to see Japan’s sights, both iconic and ordinary. Seeing tranquil power surrounding a shrine to the striking views of Mount Fuji, enjoy some of their finest food, including kaiseki, Hokkaido Snow Crab and Wagyu beef and iconic experiences like soaking in an onsen was lovely, but I also had a chance to order ramen in a restaurant where the staff did not speak English (or Cantonese), buy manga from a bookstore and sit down to an omurice in a department store restaurant. The scope of my experiences thus ranged from the touristy, to the everyday, and in retrospect, this is what had made this vacation especially memorable. Recalling this allows me to better understand the reason why some folks seek out authentic experiences that allow them to do what locals do now, and having now revisited Go! Go! Nippon!, it becomes clear that this is also one of the reasons behind the game’s charm: Makoto and Akira take the players to iconic locations around Tokyo, but also gives one a chance to see things from a local’s perspective, whether it be a Japanese summer festival, fireworks performance or even Comiket itself. Thus, with this being said, being able to travel to Japan for real, curiously enough, gave me a better sense of appreciation for what Go! Go! Nippon! was going for, too.

Additional Remarks, Screenshots and Commentary

  • It may surprise readers to learn that, when this blog was about three months old, I’d actually written a first impressions piece about Go! Go! Nippon!. Back then, my posts had no consistent format and style; that particular post had six screenshots, and barely covers any of my reflections surrounding Go! Go! Nippon! (the idea of a reflection would come about four months later, after I finished cell and molecular biology). This post, then, aims to offer a slightly more comprehensive set of thoughts on what is my first-ever visual novel experience on top of giving me a place to reminisce about my travels five years earlier.

  • Typically, visual novels simply entail reading the text, gaining a modicum of understanding as to what’s happening and then playing through by making decisions at critical junctures, decisions consistent with one’s own values to see what the outcome is. Depending on one’s choices, an outcome can end up better or worse, pushing players to evaluate their own decision-making in specific contexts. Go! Go! Nippon! is a little more gentle in this regard in that there are no wrong choices. One’s itinerary in Go! Go! Nippon! impacts which of Makoto or Akira players spend more time with, and this cascades into a tearful ending that, sometimes, will end with a romantic outcome.

  • On my own trip to Japan, I ended up visiting Meiji Jingu (a Shinto Shrine just a stone’s throw from Shinjuku Koen), Ginza and Sumida Park, just across the river from the Tokyo Skytree. All of these locations are fairly close to the spots that are available in Go! Go! Nippon!: in its original incarnation, Go! Go! Nippon! had been focused on Tokyo’s attractions, but the expansions allow players to check out Mount Takao and Kyoto. On my trip to Tokyo in 2017, I did not have a chance to visit Asakusa, one of the most iconic spots in Tokyo.

  • As a natural part of Go! Go! Nippon!‘s progression, players will “accidentally” walk in on Makoto drying herself after a shower. Of Makoto and Akira, Makoto is better-endowed, and it is in the expansion games, where the character models are animated, that players really appreciate the HD updates bring to the table. The newer games are rendered in Unity, and I imagine would use the game engine’s rigging to handle animations. Attention is paid to details: when Makoto perks up or leans forward, oscillation is also present in her model. As an aside, I prefer showering in the evening, so were I to take the protagonist’s place, there’d be no chance of this happening.

  • Dialogue with Akira and Makoto is such that players gain a bit of insight into their character; Makoto feels weighted down by expectations and is graceful, studying English at the local university, while Akira is a fantastic cook, tsundere and feels like she lives in Makoto’s shadows. In between Akira and Makoto explaining the history and details behind every location to the level of detail that would be appropriate for a Lonely Planet travel guide, one gains the sense that Makoto and Akira are full-fledged characters whom, in addition to their profound knowledge of Japan, its attractions and history, also have their own unique traits.

  • One could say that Akira and Makoto’s knowledge of Japan is encyclopaedic: both bring up nuances and details that really illustrate the history of a given area, but isn’t something that one could readily just recall off the top of their head. To put things in perspective, while I’m familiar with the history and trivia of some of the most famous attractions in Calgary, I can’t just bring this stuff up in casual conversation with the same level of detail. Granted, this is a visual novel, which allows OVERDRIVE to thoroughly research locations and incorporate them into the game, allowing Go! Go! Nippon! to be both instructive and entertaining.

  • Folks looking to learn about the locations visited in Go! Go! Nippon! can easily look up their details online, and Go! Go! Nippon!‘s expansions include a link to Google Maps, allowing one to get the precise spot that players visit in the game. Here, I’ve opted to try an izakaya out; the Japanese equivalent of a pub, izakaya are quite different than a pub in that food is served over a duration of time and is shared by a party. Having Akira and Makoto around would make an izakaya easier to experience: while my rudimentary Japanese allowed me to order food in a more conventional setting, I’m certain that without a guidebook at my side, an izakaya would be trickier to order at.

  • On the second day, players “accidentally” walk in on Akira changing after Makoto asks them to check in and see if she’d awaken yet. Unlike Makoto, who’d taken things in stride and is swift to forgive, Akira’s reaction is par the course for what one might expect in reality, and in most anime. Akira’s dissatisfaction is most apparent when she swaps out sugar for salt in the player’s coffee, but seeing the player taking their lumps leads Akira to forgive them in the end. This is where my old post ends: in 2012, my patience for playing visual novels was nil. In the decade that’s elapsed, I’ve come to appreciate a much wider variety of games.

  • From here on out, I venture into a side of Go! Go! Nippon! that I’d not previously visited; my choice of destinations for my first full play-through of the 2016 expansion took me to destinations that were quite similar to those I’d visited in my 2017 trip. This particular trip had been billed as “美食” (jyutpimg mei5 sik6, literally “beautiful eats”) oriented: attractions had been secondary to visiting places with particularly fancy Japanese cuisine, and as a result, the places we chose to visit were a bit more inconspicuous, selected to be closer to the dining venues.

  • While we didn’t visit the Tokyo Skytree itself, or Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine as a part of this trip, the locations we did end up hitting were quite scenic and enjoyable in their own right. A bonus was that the crowds here were fewer, allowing us to spend less time in lines and more time exploring. In retrospect, I am glad that I picked the 美食 oriented approach: especially nowadays, it is possible to gain a good measure of what an attraction feels like using virtual reality and Google Maps. However, there is absolutely no equivalent for being able to sit down to a meal in another country and enjoy what foods a nation has to offer.

  • Unlike the original Go! Go! Nippon!, the 2016 expansion gives players a chance to visit Kyoto, as well. Kyoto was day four for me: having spent the first day in Tokyo, our second day was in Yamanashi, and the third day was spent in Gifu prefecture. On the morning of the fourth day, the Kinkakuji was the only destination I visited; this is an iconic part of Kyoto, and because we were there on a Saturday, the crowds were immense. Here at the Kinkakuji, I remember marvelling at how brilliant this gold-leafed temple was, even on an overcast day.

  • Aside from spotting some tourists decked out in maiko outfits (it was 1100 in the morning, and real maiko usually begin making their rounds at around 1700), I also had a chance to sample the iconic matcha soft-serve ice cream. Japan’s soft serve is in a category on its own: while visiting Oshino village at the foot of Mount Fuji, I ended up going for a blueberry ice cream, as well. Enjoying these smaller things accentuated my experiences, and I had been glad to have brought the equivalent of 250 CAD worth of Yen in cash for this trip. This allowed me to buy things where credit cards wouldn’t work: while Japan is an ultra-modern society, I was quite surprised to learn most places didn’t accept credit cards.

  • The Kinkakuji is such an integral part of Kyoto that every single anime with a class trip to Kyoto will inevitably feature this park, and of note is the fact that both K-On! and Kinirio Mosaic: Thank You!! visit the area as a part of their third year class trips. Besides being an iconic landmark with a storied history, I know the Kinkakuji best as Futurama‘s “Omaha, Nebraska”, and recall that one of the Kinkakuji’s most famous tales is that it was burned to a crisp by a monk-in-training during the 50s. Its lesser-known cousin is the Ginkakuji, which, contrary to its name, is not covered with silver plating.

  • Go! Go! Nippon! captures the look-and-feel of a quiet Kyoto side street perfectly; after my visit to the Kinkakuji ended, I headed on over to Torihisa, a kaiseki restaurant. Kaiseki is a multi-course meal in which numerous small dishes are served in an artistic fashion. I thoroughly enjoyed lunch; kaiseki had been high on the list of things I’ve wished to try. Torihisa is located across the street from Maruyama Park, home of Yasaka Shrine. Maruyama Park is a fantastic place for hanami,  but I’d arrived about two months too late.

  • Although the protagonist of Go! Go! Nippon! has two full days in Kyoto to explore, I was on a more rigid schedule: as soon as lunch ended, we immediately set course for Nara Park, home to their famous sika deer. The portrayals of Nara Park in anime is no joke: the deer are very friendly towards people, and I watched one deer boldly snatch a tour pamphlet from a visitor’s hand here. After Nara had wrapped up, my final destination was Osaka. During my last evening there, I had dinner at an omurice restaurant and decided to go with a curry-katsu omelet rice; this was an all-in one that allowed me to try authentic Japanese curry and tonkatsu in conjunction with what is a contemporary Japanese comfort dish.

  • Just like that, my week had come to a close. Go! Go! Nippon! makes it clear to players that there is so much to see and do in Japan that a single week will be insufficient to experience things in full. This message is accentuated by the visual novel format; one has the opportunity to go back to a save point and make different decisions, allowing for a more complete experience. The equivalent to doing this in real life would be prohibitively expensive, but I was impressed with the breadth of my experiences over the course of a week.

  • If I had to pick the most standout moment in a vacation that was one long pleasant memory, it would be on the first full night. After we spent the day exploring Tokyo, we went out over to Saitama’s Heritage resort, a secluded retreat on the western edge of Musashi Kyuryo National Government Park. This evening saw the fanciest meal of the entire trip: an exquisite Wagyu beef nabesashimi and several small, artfully presented dishes, including unagi, pickled daikon and a side of fried potato croquettes. This was a feast for the eyes and the taste buds. There is an old saying of unknown origin: the Chinese eat with their mouths (taste is king), the Japanese eat with their eyes (presentation matters) and the Koreans eat with their stomachs (a meal should be satisfying). I’m not sure where this comes from, but seeing the artful presentation of meals in Japan, I confirm this certainly holds true.

  • To round out what was an excellent dinner, I set foot inside the onsen, and because of my timing, I had the entire baths to myself. After cleaning myself off thoroughly, I lowered my body into the waters and felt all of my aches melt away. Meals on the other days were still solid: the second night saw me at a buffet at Shirakaba Resort Ikenotaira Hotel. What stood out most to me here was the fact that they had bakke and fiddlehead tempura available. We’d travelled through Yamanashi so we could see Mount Fuji from several different vantage points on this day, and although Mount Fuji remained completely obscured by cloud throughout most of the day (as Yuru Camp△‘s Rin would describe it, “wearing a hat”), we did end up hitting the Fifth Station at Narusawa for an up-close-and-personal look at Japan’s most famous mountain. Aoi, Hinata, Kaede and Kokona start their ascent of Mount Fuji here in Yama no Susume‘s second season, so my second day essentially had me visiting Yuru Camp△ and Yama no Susume destinations.

  • On day three, we continued through the mountains of Nagano on our way into Gifu. The highlight of this day was the stop at Magome-juku, the forty-third of the stations along the Nakasendō trail. It’s a beautiful village perched on a hillside, and after venturing from the top of their main street to the bottom, we stopped for lunch at Magomekan Food Stands. Their set lunch was as beautiful to behold, as it was generous in portion sizes, and tasty to eat. Featuring rolled omlette, karaage and grilled fish, as well as a massive bowl of noodles, it was the perfect way to round out the morning’s activities.

  • Back in Go! Go! Nippon!, I’ve reached the end of my first playthrough, and thanks to the way I roll, I ended up with what is considered the best ending for the Makoto route: I chose a Makoto destination for days one and three, and did an Akira destination for day two. In this way, I unlocked the ending where players and Makoto ring a bell together. Although Makoto struggles to be forward about her feelings, in the end, she comes through and openly returns the player’s feelings. Contemporary reviewers found the whirlwind romance aspect of Go! Go! Nippon! to be completely contrived, out of the blue.

  • However, players with enough maturity will quickly realise that Makoto and Akira are representations of the joys of visiting Japan itself: in this way, Go! Go! Nippon! might be seen as a visual portrayal of falling in love with Japan over the course of a week, coming to see for oneself the nation’s pluses and minuses, and deciding for oneself if their initial impressions were on the mark or need rectification. Whether it is house-hunting, travel or romance, there are many commonalities. All involve that initial honeymoon-like phase where everything feels perfect, and how over time, imperfections manifest. What happens next then depends on the person: individuals willing to accept imperfections and embrace what they’ve fallen in love with will find happiness, while those who cannot accept the imperfections will restart the process anew.

  • In my case, nailing the Makoto route on first try was quite entertaining. However, in the spirit of playing through Go! Go! Nippon! properly, I switched over to one of my other saves so I could check out the destinations I’d not visited on my first run. Tokyo Skytree ended up being first on my list; while in Tokyo, I gazed wistfully across the Sumida river: this hadn’t been a destination we had in mind, and therefore, we skipped over checking out the tallest building in Tokyo. In retrospect, I am okay with this choice: that day had been overcast, and the view from the top wouldn’t have been quite as impressive.

  • In 2015, following my journey to Taiwan, I ended up going to Hong Kong, and here, I did check out the Sky100 observation deck, in addition to Taipei 101. On any given vacation in East Asia, Hong Kong inevitably becomes a part of the itinerary because the flights are actually more economical this way, and it gives me a chance to visit family. Whenever heading into Hong Kong, I always get the feeling that I’m going home: to me, Hong Kong simply feels like a super-massive Chinatown, where Cantonese is the lingua franca. Unlike Japan, or Taiwan, where I only know enough phrases for the basics (and in the case of Japan, enough to surprise store clerks and servers at restaurants), I’ve got level three proficiency with Cantonese and can carry out conversations.

  • While I technically are a native Cantonese speaker, I have next to no exposure in legal and professional vocabulary, so I’m unable to conduct business in Cantonese; for instance, I have no idea how to describe the process for sorting out a build error in an Xcode project in Cantonese. While my Cantonese is practically native at the conversational level (I know enough slang to keep up with things, for instance), I hesitate to say I have native proficiency on things like a resume because that would imply I can read and write, as well. If I had to guess, I have level 2 proficiency with written Chinese, and level 3 proficiency with Cantonese, having worked in a Chinese language-setting previously.

  • Here, I accompany Akira to a ramen joint after picking the “ocean” option, and she demonstrates how to properly eat ramen. While it is appropriate to make some noise in Japan, the practise is not kosher in China or Hong Kong, but when I visited the ramen place in Gifu, I followed local customs just to express my enjoyment of the noodles all the same. Sushi etiquette is a little easier to follow, and this reminiscence did leave me with a hankering for sushi. Fortunately, there’s an excellent sushi place within walking distance now, and I’m making good on my promise to try things out. Yesterday, I ordered a combo with California, Volcano and Dynamite rolls, plus salmon, tuna and shrimp nigiri with a takoyaki: this was a very tasty lunch, a welcome change of pacing just before the Victoria Day Long Weekend arrived.

  • By now, I’ve become a ways more receptive of raw fish dishes: five years earlier, I ended up dousing my sashimi into the nabe at Heritage Resort, rendering it cooked, as back then, I wasn’t too fond of raw fish (exposure to shows like Yuru Camp△ have since broadened my mind). These days, I enjoy raw fish as much as I do cooked fish: the salmon and tuna nigiri were the highlights, being excellent with a dash of soy sauce. Although it is mentioned frequently, food is only a secondary aspect of Go! Go! Nippon!: being a virtual experience, things like food cannot be adequately mimicked. While one can see Akira explaining how to properly eat a ramen, one’s imagination must kick in to fill in the rest; imagination plays a very large part of enjoying visual novels: these games are quite static, and although they provide a few cues (such as sound effects and whatever visuals are available) to convey a moment, on top of what the dialogue yields, one must let their mind’s eye do the rest.

  • One of the numerous events players can unlock in Go! Go! Nippon! is the summer festival; although absent in the original, the expansions introduce events which unlock after certain conditions (flags) are met. The summer festival is a pleasant event and would allow players to really experience an authentic Japanese celebration; the natsumatsuri is equivalent to the state fairs of North America (or for my Canadian readers, the Calgary Stampede), featuring plenty of games and eats, plus performances and fireworks. If memory serves, unlocking the summer festival requires going to specific destinations on the first and second day.

  • Visual novels have a vocabulary that is quite related to programming. “Flags” in software usually refer to Booleans that control whether or not something happens (e.g. if the “isLoggedIn” flag is true, show the home screen, otherwise ,show the login screen). In visual novels, flags keep track of a player’s state, and “events” result from certain combinations of flags being set. I normally think of events as certain actions or inputs a program listens for, but in visual novel speak, “events” are simply things to show a player. Go! Go! Nippon! allows me to demonstrate this: if I visit certain destinations on days one and two, the flag for the Comiket event are set true, allowing me to experience it. It took me several attempts to get this right.

  • On the topic of conventions and gatherings like Comiket, it’s the May Long Weekend, and that means Otafest is now in full swing. Back in February, I declined to submit an application to volunteer, feeling it to be more prudent to leave time open in the event that my move had left me busier than anticipated. In typical fashion, I’ve finished all of the essential tasks, and even got my driver’s license and banking information updated to reflect the new address, so this long weekend, I’ve actually had more time than anticipated. However, I’ve decided against attending the local anime convention; having experienced Japan so thoroughly, the appeal of visiting an anime convention as a guest has diminished for me.

  • Instead, I became more interested in taking a more active role through volunteering, which gives me a chance to give back to the local community. My plans to continue volunteering at Otafest will depend on my schedule, so I’ll have a better idea of whether or not I’ll be returning closer to next year’s application deadline. For now, my long weekend has consisted of sleeping in, tending to housework and hitting the gym, before swinging by the local mall so I could pick up some new shirts and shorts. Afterwards, we sat down to our first-ever Southern Fried Chicken at the new place. This year’s Otafest looks like it’s a scaled-back event, and there’s nothing particularly stand-out on the schedule, so I’ve no qualms with sitting this one out in favour of a relaxing long weekend.

  • Go! Go! Nippon!‘s easy-to-use UI means the user experience is solid, and in this way, I was able to go through the game several times in order to accrue screenshots for this post. Here, I accompany Akira to Mount Takao, which Hinata and Aoi hit back in Yama no Susume‘s first season. Located about an hour from the heart of Tokyo, Mount Takao is about a ninety-minute hike in total and offers stunning views of Tokyo. It was nice to see Go! Go! Nippon! include a vast range of destinations into the expansions: the original game only had six destinations and two possible routes.

  • This would have made it considerably simpler to complete, and in retrospect, Go! Go! Nippon! “grows up” with players. The first game truly is a suitable introduction to the visual novel format for first timers, and I’ve long felt that while the game’s subtitle is My First Trip to Japan, the title also can count itself as My First Experience With a Visual Novel: the premise of travelling and exploring different destinations is a much gentler and accessible introduction to the format compared to something like CLANNAD or Higurashi, where making bad decisions can irrevocably alter the outcome of one’s experiences.

  • First-time players will also be unfamiliar with the save mechanics. Visual novel veterans will tell players to save right before decision branches come up. This is a matter of efficiency: if one makes a bad choice, they can instantly revert and make another pick. Similarly, in a game where a choice causes the story to open up in a different way, one instantly has a snapshot they can go to. On my first playthrough of Go! Go! Nippon! in 2012, I saved simply when I needed to leave the game, and this made revisiting the game somewhat cumbersome. By the 2015 expansion, I was better versed in how visual novels work and more ready to explore new routes.

  • In the present day, I know enough of the ins-and-outs so that I could easily navigate the storylines of Go! Go! Nippon! and swiftly acquire screenshots for this post. I am glad to have picked up the 2016 expansion; I had debated doing so when it first came out, having already dropped coin for the 2015 expansion, but after visiting Japan in 2017, I decided to bite the bullet and complete my Go! Go! Nippon! experience when the expansion went on discount during the summer of 2018. Although I had intended to play and write about Go! Go! Nippon! back then, 2018 was a bit of a more difficult time for me: my start-up was in dire straits, and I had been in the middle of discussions to take on a Xamarin project, which meant I needed to swiftly pick up Xamarin and C#.

  • Further to this, I had been invited to Battlefield V‘s closed alpha, and Harukana Receive was airing. Between everything that was going on, Go! Go! Nippon! was benched, and for four years after that, sat untouched in my Steam Library. The five-year mark to my return home from Japan, coupled with one of my friends bringing the game’s recent successes in the Virtual YouTuber scene and OVERDRIVE’s intention of making a sequel came together to provide the encouragement I needed to finish enjoying, and writing about Go! Go! Nippon! in its latest incarnation.

  • I am glad to have done so now: the game offers an interesting parallel with my own experiences, and although I didn’t have two kawaii guides walking me through the history and etiquette of various areas, I was able to see for myself the wonders of Japan, both historical and modern. While my experience with Go! Go! Nippon! started out as a joke, I was pleasantly surprised to find that even in a game meant to instruct and gently poke fun at foreign impressions of Japan, there is a considerable amount of depth in the writing. For instance, Akira’s tsundere personality is not representative of Japan as a whole, but from a broader perspective, shows how something that initially seems difficult to understand has more to it than meets the eye. Akira feels like a close friend, a companion over time as players spend more time with her destinations.

  • I’ve long been a Makoto fan, and my decisions on my first run through Go! Go! Nippon! reflect this. However, in revisiting the game, I learnt more about Akira. In time, I came to like her character, as well. Finding newfound, pleasant surprises in the familiar is something I’ve always been fond of, and much as how revisiting Titanfall 2‘s campaign allowed me to get my paws on the EM-4 Cold War in one mission, re-playing Go! Go! Nippon! let me to see a side of the game, and a set of destinations that I’d otherwise never see.

  • The premise in Go! Go! Nippon! shows players why there is incentive to replay the game again and make different choices; this outcome would extend to different visual novels and similarly encourage players to go back and try things out again. In the case of CLANNAD, for instance, players can make choices to go down the most well-written central route, which follows Nagisa, or they can opt to check out Kyou, Kotomi and Fuu’s stories. However, whereas Go! Go! Nippon! does not have a persistent state that lingers even after one has completed multiple play-throughs, CLANNAD does: certain actions can only be achieved by revisiting the game multiple times and making smart decisions. In this way, Go! Go! Nippon! can be seen as an introduction to a genre which is one that I do not play often, but one that has its own nuances, as well.

  • As a consequence of playing the Akira route with the aim of unlocking one of the events (at the time of writing, I’ve yet to succeed), I ended up with the second outcome for Akira, which has her bringing players to Toshimaen, a theme park that is quite special to Akira. After returning to Tokyo from Kyoto, the sum of a player’s decisions allow them to visit a special destination, and there is no “bad end” here in Go! Go! Nippon! in a traditional sense. Visual novels are legendary for their bad endings: unlike the average first person shooter campaign, which only has one ending, and any “bad end” is dying in the campaign, visual novels can take depravity and the macabre to the next level.

  • All told, spending a day with Akira at the waterpark isn’t a bad outcome by any stretch: it gives players a chance to see Akira rocking a polka-dot bikini. Tango-Victor-Tango incorrectly pegs Akira as being flat, although this moment also led me to wish that there was such an equivalent moment with Makoto. I’m now curious to see what the optimal route for Akira yields, but I’ll likely get around to this later in the future. The Division 2 had just opened their ninth season, and having spent the whole of last year on break from The Division 2 after completing the Manhunt event for Faye Lau, it’s been fun to return to the game and learn that my old standby, the Hunter’s Fury gear-set with the Chatterbox and Ninjabike Kneepads, is still viable. Similarly, I’ve recently resumed playing Ghost Recon: Wildlands on account of an excellent sale, so between these two games, I expect to be somewhat busy in the gaming front for the foreseeable future.

  • For the remainder of my revisit through Go! Go! Nippon!, I have a bit of footage from the other destinations I ended up going to as a result of trying to unlock various events. Here, I’m back in Ginza: in a curious turn of fate, Ginza was the first place I visited when I played through Go! Go! Nippon! in 2012, and it was also the first stop on my trip to Japan in 2017. Ginza is known for its high end shopping experiences, and while we browsed shops, we found that prices were jaw-droppingly high. Here, Makoto welcomes players to the district and the famous Wako Store, with its distinct clock face. I most vividly recall Ginza because we had shabu-shabu here.

  • Because of the scope and scale of any trip to Japan, I would contend that there is no right or wrong way to go about things. Anime fans tend to visit Tokyo and Akihabara, while folks looking for a more historical experience will tour Kyoto. Visitors looking for the ultimate seafood experience are best served checking out Hokkaido, while Japan’s southern section, near Hiroshima or Kumamoto, would provide a quieter experience. For me, one potential return trip would entail taking a closer look at Kyoto’s highlights; it’s a destination that K-On! and the Kiniro Mosaic movie both swing by the old capital as a part of the third year’s class trip.

  • However, this would be secondary to my long-standing wish to travel Takehara in Hiroshima. Well off the beaten track, Takehara is home of Tamayura, and even a full decade after I’ve finished watching the anime, the town’s iconic warehouse district has more or less remain unchanged. If I were to visit, I imagine that I’d be able to see the sights that Fū and her friends saw in their everyday lives. On such a trip, I’d likely choose lodgings anywhere outside of the Warehouse district: hotels right in the old town are considerably pricier. I imagine that a week in Takehara would be more than enough to explore all of the spots in Tamayura.

  • Back in Go! Go! Nippon!, for my shot at getting Makoto’s second ending, I ended up playing through a completely different set of locations, in turn allowing me to unlock a host of achievements to go with my adventures. The 2016 expansion is the only way to actually unlock achievements, but as of the 2015 expansion, Go! Go! Nippon! added Steam Trading Cards and badges. It took me a while to collect enough cards to make a level 5 Makoto card. The only way to get an Akira badge is to get foil drops, but badges cost a dollar apiece, so the logic of doing so wouldn’t be sound.

  • The CG scenes in Go! Go! Nippon! are of a varied quality: the protagonist is rendered without eyes, and this creates a bit of a disconnect whenever he’s visible. The faceless male is a long-standing element in visual novels, meant to give players additional immersion, but here in Go! Go! Nippon!, the effect is quite uncanny and looks a little off. Conversely, stills of just Makoto and/or Akira look gorgeous, and I found myself thinking that, were Go! Go! Nippon! ever to be made into an anime about touring Tokyo, I would have no qualms in watching it.

  • That no such anime has appeared a decade after Go! Go! Nippon!‘s release indicates that such a wish will remain a pipe dream at best. Here, at Tsukiji Market, I explore Tokyo’s largest fish market. After departing Japan and landing in Hong Kong, I had the pleasure of checking out Sha Tin Market, an indoor wet market, while awaiting a dim sum lunch with relatives. I’ve always been fond of wet markets because they represent a very active place where seafood is sold; by comparison, most seafood is frozen at home, although some supermarkets do carry live seafood, as well.

  • Looking back, the Hong Kong side of my travels were also superbly enjoyable: I know Hong Kong like the back of my own hand, despite only having visited a handful of times, and this is largely in part owing to the fact that 1) there are English signs everywhere and 2) I speak Cantonese well enough, allowing me to ask for directions without any trouble. The MTR is also intuitive, allowing one to visit any part of Hong Kong with ease. My time in Hong Kong was characterised by spending plenty of time with family, window shopping at various malls, and experiencing Hong Kong’s culinary landscape.

  • In Go! Go! Nippon!, since Makoto isn’t much of a cook, players won’t pick up anything from the fish market here, and instead, she’ll bring players to the Tsukiji Hongan-ji, a Buddhist temple that originally opened in 1617 but burned to the ground forty years later. It was moved to a new site, was destroyed by an earthquake in 1923. The modern temple was completed in 1934. This does appear to be a recurring theme in Japan’s landmarks, which have been destroyed and rebuilt on several occasions. While the buildings we see now might not be in their original form, seeing them rebuilt is a testament to the tenacity of the Japanese people.

  • Having now gone through three-quarters of Go! Go! Nippon!, it is evident that attention has been paid to the background artwork, as well. Backgrounds in this visual novel are intricate and life-like, and although some scenes are blissfully quiet, others are filled with people. This aspect is one of the most crucial elements in Go! Go! Nippon!: visual novels often feel empty and devoid of human presence, isolating players and forcing their attention towards the heroines. This was the case in Sakura Angels: although the artwork was stunning, the world felt very empty. According to my records, I began Sakura Angels in June 2015, but never finished, and the last time I opened the game was back in 2017, so the time is probably appropriate for me to go back and wrap this one up.

  • Stay! Stay! DPRK! had similarly felt quite empty, but then, it was a logical design choice because players are visiting North Korea. As such, when Go! Go! Nippon! strikes a balance between the tranquil areas of Tokyo, and the livelier ones, it gives this world a more life-like feeling: Sakura Angels exuded a sense of isolation and loneliness that is simply absent in Go! Go! Nippon: Makoto and Akira keep it lively, but cues in the game’s artwork and presentation also serves to capture the sheer energy (and volume) of crowds in Tokyo’s most iconic locations.

  • Having tea in Japan is a quintessential experience: for 850 Yen, one could stop by Nakajima-no-Ochaya for whisked matcha and wagashi. One element in Go! Go! Nippon! that initially appears inconsequential to gameplay was the inclusion of a wallet. Players are asked to enter the exchange rate (at the time of writing, 1 CAD is exactly 100 Yen), and then the game keeps a running total of how much one has spent over their travels. One could play the game as someone with infinitely deep pocketbooks, or approach things more frugally, but as far as I can tell, one’s expenses don’t affect outcomes. Having said this, the wallet mechanic helps one to ballpark how much their itinerary might cost in reality, to within a precision of ±20 percent.

  • As far as landmarks go, I know Tokyo Station best as being the home base for Rail Wars!, and in 2017, I do not believe we passed by this landmark: the original brick building was constructed in 1914, and over the years, became infamous as being the site of two high-profile assassinations. With a passenger volume of up to half a million every day, it is the busiest station in Japan and is Tokyo’s equivalent of New York City’s Grand Central Station. With the ten-year mark of Rail Wars! fast approaching, I have plans to revisit the series again.

  • On my all-Makoto run, I ended up wrapping up the day to Tokyo Station by accompanying her to a sweets shop of sorts, located in the labyrinthine interior of Tokyo Station and its many shops. Owing to the sheer volume of foot traffic at train stations in Japan, stations also double as shopping centres. This stands in stark contrast with home, where our light rail stations appear to be arbitrarily placed. Urban planning in North America is built around vehicle ownership, and while this creates sprawling cities where people have a great deal of space to themselves, it also results in inefficiency. Having now moved to somewhere within a stone’s throw of a light rail station, I am rather excited by the fact that I can now hop on a train and be anywhere in the city on short order.

  • Moments like these really serve to showcase Makoto and Akira’s personalities beyond initial impressions the original game presented: Makoto might not be a capable cook, but she absolutely enjoys her sweets. It was very endearing to see Makoto this way. This is something that was only introduced with the 2016 expansion, which really fleshes things out. I would hold that the expansions are not optional add-ons, but essential parts of the Go! Go! Nippon! experience: the expansions each give the UI significant upgrades, and the 2016 version will openly indicate which of Makoto or Akira will accompany a player to a destination.

  • This makes it much easier to determine which destinations one should visit when playing through Go! Go! Nippon!: on my first run, my thoughts were that I should bias the game slightly towards Makoto. To this end, I picked Makoto destinations for two of the three days, and then went with an Akira destination for the remaining day. If I had to guess, going with Makoto or Akira for all three days seems to create in Makoto or Akira an overwhelming sense of yearning, causing both to wish to remain with the player, whereas balancing things out gives either Makoto or Akira a chance to think things through and come to terms with expressing how they feel more openly.

  • On this route, I ended up taking Go! Go! Nippon! over to Shinjuku Gyoen, a beautiful park at the heart of Tokyo that folks know best as the setting for Makoto Shinkai’s Garden of Words. For the player and Makoto, a rainstorm soon develops, perhaps being a clever (and subtle) callback to the events of Garden of Words, soaking Makoto to the bone. During my trip to Japan, our destinations did not include Shinjuku Gyoen, and instead, the day began with a visit to Meiji Jinju Shrine, which is a twelve-minute walk away from Shinjuku Gyoen.

  • The end result of this route sees Makoto pick up a stylish new outfit, and with this, I’ve now got two of the three possible Makoto endings unlocked. I never thought that Go! Go! Nippon! would be quite as engaging as it was; my introduction to the game had been through a friend who was watching a YouTube playthrough of the game in between classes, and the game had seemed quite hokey at first glance. However, going through the game again, I’ve come around: while Go! Go! Nippon! might be a dating simulator pretending to be a Lonely Planet travel guide, it does feel sincere in its portrayal of things.

  • This is why I’m rather excited to see what Go! Go! Nippon! 2 has in store for players; since Makoto and Akira broke into the Virtual YouTuber scene, their popularity has increased, and generated enough buzz so that OVERDRIVE seriously considered a sequel. While Makoto and Akira are unvoiced in Go! Go! Nippon!, they have the traditional “anime dub” voices as Virtual YouTubers, which makes them sound like RWBY characters. High on my wishlist for Go! Go! Nippon! 2 would be to have some proper dubbing: in particular, Ayano Taketatsu is suited for playing Akira and her tsundere personality, and Ai Kayano similarly could play Makoto: Kayano’s voice has a matronly and warm character to it.

  • Besides complete voice acting, other items on my list include a wider set of destinations, extending north to Hokkaido, and south towards Hiroshima and Kumamoto, or even perhaps Okinawa. Additional things I’d like to see include high resolution character models and 4K support: Go! Go! Nippon!‘s character models look a little fuzzy compared to their CG counterparts and the background artwork, so seeing improved assets would be fantastic. Similarly, Go! Go! Nippon! only goes up to 720p, but even back in 2016, 1080p resolution was already commonplace. A 4K visual novel with 1440p and 1080p settings would bring this series into the present. Beyond these technical aspects, it’ll be exciting to see what OVERDRIVE chooses to do with their next iteration in the series.

  • Reminiscing about my vacation to Japan and Hong Kong in 2017 a full five years later was a fun exercise: since then, I’ve only travelled abroad for business (having gone to Denver to consult on and save an app, and then to Silicon Valley to attend an F8 developer conference). Aside from statuary holidays, I’ve been putting my nose to the grindstone for the past five years, and as a result, my world now is quite different than it had been then. While I had a life-changing experience in Japan, I continue to maintain that it would be most unwise of me to uproot my life and become an expatriate in Japan (as one of my former friends had done, at the expense of their career), but now, things have reached a point where I am able to begin considering a return trip: for me, one of the biggest joys of travel, outside of seeing the world outside my routine and enjoying a culture’s best, is knowing I’ve got a home and a warm bed to return to.

Although travel is doubtlessly a large aspect of Go! Go! Nippon!, the elephant in the room is the fact that this game also has elements of a traditional dating simulator, in which player decisions impact the story’s outcome in a tangible way. The setup in Go! Go! Nippon! prima facie appears implausible, and contemporary reviewers felt the romance aspect in Go! Go! Nippon! to be wedged in as a means of appealing to the demographic most likely to look at such a title. While it is the case that the romance in Go! Go! Nippon! can appear superficial at first glance, Go! Go! Nippon! cleverly utilises the dating sim mechanic to, again, speak to the joys of travel. It is the case that Makoto and Akira can be anthropomorphic representations of what travel entails: there are goods and bads, moments worth remembering, and accidents one would rather forget. When one travels to a destination for the first time, they fall in love with the initial impressions. As one’s experiences broaden, they learn more about the destinations, both the pluses and minuses, ultimately cultivating a unique and distinct collection of memories that accompany them home, and in some cases, creates a yearning to return. With this as a metaphor, it is not so implausible to suppose that one could fall in love with someone as quickly as they do a place. Watching the player depart, and how each of Makoto and Akira handle this moment, brings to mind what happens at the end of a vacation: there always is a desire to extend one’s stay, to do more. This aspect of Go! Go! Nippon! proves surprisingly enduring, and it is, curiously enough, through a dating sim setup that different facets of travel can be explored. I imagine that OVERDRIVE had initially designed this more as a piece to ensure players would gain the classic dating simulator experience when going through Go! Go! Nippon!, but the consequences of this element, intentional or not, is that it brings additional depth and enjoyment to the game. Curiosity to see what happens when one makes different decisions to see how things with Makoto and Akira turn out also pushes one to visit, and learn about, different spots. Getting to know Tokyo and its surroundings better, then, is analogous to getting to know Makoto and Akira better. On my first run of this game, making decisions as I would in reality earned me what is considered the “best end” for Makoto: I received a kokuhaku and the story allowed us to reunite. This speaks volumes about my character, but jokes notwithstanding, I would very much like to visit Japan again in the future. Until then, Steam is suggesting that I’ve still got about a quarter of the achievements to unlock in Go! Go! Nippon!, and its successor, Go! Go! Nippon! 2, looks like it’s going to be a reality now, so I’m curious to see what this entails. This time around, I will try to complete Go! Go! Nippon! 2 at least once before planning out a return trip to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Boundary: Reflections and Impressions From the SteamFest Alpha Demo

“For the wise man looks into space and he knows there is no limited dimensions.” –Zhuangzi

While perusing through a copy of PC Gamer back in 2008 at the local supermarket, I came upon an intriguing featured article detailing a game that had been particularly novel. The premise was that a mining accident that rends the lunar surface, sending billions upon billions of tonnes of lunar material into near-Earth space, damaging infrastructure and threatening to destroy the moon itself. Amidst the ruins, the International Space Agency (ISA), who enforce stellar law, and the Moon Mining Cooperative (MMC), a massive corporation who sought to profit from space mining operations, find themselves spiralling towards an inevitable armed conflict as the ISA seek to bring the MMC to justice and control the limited resources to ensure their survival. Players take control of soldiers and fight with full freedom of movement in a zero-gravity environment. Built for the most cutting-edge PC hardware of its time, Shattered Horizon represented a bold new direction for first person shooters, and despite providing six degrees of freedom with respect to its movement, the game proved intuitive, enjoyable and challenging for players. The only real downside was that one needed heftier PC hardware of the time to play the game (a Core 2 Quad Q6600, GTX 260 and 2 GB of RAM); while the game was counted as lacking in a single-player mode and AI bots to train against, overall, Shattered Horizon was praised for its movement system, unique atmosphere and engaging mechanics. A future update did end up adding a campaign and AI bots, but in 2014, Shattered Horizon was stricken from the Steam Store: the game’s developers, Futuremark, was bought out by Rovio Entertainment, and Futuremark announced that their inability to support the game meant it was unfair to players who picked the game up late in its lifecycle, as they would receive no new updates or content. Attempts to bring first person shooters into space had proven quite unsuccessful: 2013’s Call of Duty: Ghosts, and 2016’s Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare represented bold stabs at elevating interest in zero-gravity firefights, but were met with cold reception. However, in January of last year, Studio Surgical Scalpels announced a ground-breaking new project called Boundary, and in its trailer, heavily-armoured astronauts were shown flying through the depths of space, engaged in a harrowing firefight amidst the super-structure and narrow corridors of a space station while debris filled the space from the flying bullets. The aesthetic conveyed in this trailer immediately brought to mind Shattered Horizon, as though the game had been resurrected and given a makeover to capitalise on graphics and visual effects resulting from over a decade of advancement. Although intriguing, Boundary fell from my mind until last Wednesday, when I caught wind of the fact that Boundary would be participating in SteamFest, a time of celebrating upcoming games.

After installing the client, joining my first match and winning thanks to beginner’s luck, I spent the past several days playing through Boundary‘s alpha demo to gain a feel for things. Out of the gates, the roughest aspect to acclimatise to was getting stuck in the level geometries. There were moments where I would land on a surface, then attempt to peek a corner, only to get stuck there. Only a frenzied alternating between engaging the thrusters and rising would dislodge me from this surface, and on several occasions, this led to my getting killed. Similarly, after I latched down on a solar panel and prepared to snipe a target, inconsistent movement would lead me to unexpectedly stop aiming down sights, and the foe I’d been tracking would disappear from sight by the time I found a position from which to aim down sights again. Both faults in the movement system resulted in my dying to a player who was doubtlessly enjoying my predicament. Besides the janky movement on surfaces, Boundary‘s UI and UX are very rough. The user interface is cluttered. Menus are difficult to navigate, and it is difficult to determine what one can interact with. Button text fails to describe what a button does, and sometimes can be downright misleading: I accidentally joined the wrong game mode on more than one occasion. In game, the HUD is messy, with elements being difficult to read, and a massive alpha banner covers the lower left-hand side of the screen, blocking one from spotting enemies from that side. Similarly, directional indicators cover the entire screen, obscuring the enemies themselves. The user experience is also tricky in places; switching one’s loadout requires numerous button presses and diving into menus to change out weapons or attachments. The font sizes are on the small size, making things difficult to read, and menus are filled with text. In terms of gameplay, enemy visibility is limited, and the game offers very little in the way of identifying where foes are coming from. On more than one instance, I spawned into the map, only to die instantly from a sniper, or found myself shot in the back before I could respond. In close quarters environments, raising a weapon up to aim down sights is sluggish, as is changing out my weapons – trying to combo ordnance usage into using a primary or secondary weapon to finish a foe off is not viable, and running out of ammunition mid-firefight can be a death sentence, since swapping over to my sidearm is slow. However, enemy visibility and postion identification, together with the slow ADS and weapon swap, is very much a part of the tactical shooter experience in that one must take full advantage of the environment for cover, and understand their gear’s limitations to determine when is an appropriate time to change things up. Further to this, because Boundary is in alpha stage, the UX and UI can still be improved: compared to game mechanics, UI and UX elements are often the easiest to change. Similarly, the movement and environment geometries could also be updated to be a little smoother in places. While it looks like I’ve rattled off a long list of problems, it is quite telling that most of my gripes about Boundary are either related to UI/UX, or my own lack of familiarity with the mechanics. Indeed, once I began feeling more comfortable with things, I found myself having fun – towards the end of the demo period, I had a positive KDR and was winning more games than I lost.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • There were three playable classes in Boundary‘s demo: Sergeyev is the default assault, featuring high health and decent mobility. Armed with an AKM, Sergeyev is a good all-around class for attack and defense. All classes are equipped with two ordnance options, as well as two special abilities, and by default, players start with high explosive grenades and EMP rounds. The former can quickly make short work of foes at the expense of having a long switch time, while the latter disable enemy movement for a brief period and can make for follow-up shots.

  • When a player is “killed”, their spacesuits have suffered enough damage to become punctured. In this state, an emergency balloon inflates around the player to keep them alive. In this state, players can be revived by allies, although this act leaves them vulnerable to enemy fire, and during the six hours I spent in Boundary, I was never once revived, nor did I feel comfortable reviving a downed friendly player because of the prospect of being fired upon. In the end, it was much easier to just respawn and keep going, although this only worked because I was playing the Domination mode. The other mode that Boundary‘s demo offers is Elimination in a Counterstrike or Rainbow Six: Siege like mode. The lack of respawns make this mode punishing, and I opted to play Domination for the fact that one could get back into things after being killed.

  • Initially, I did have some trouble adjusting to the AKM’s recoil, but once I did, the weapon did become more manageable to use. In discussions, some have wondered how automatic weapons could work in space: while it is possible to fire a gun in space because the ammunition contains its own oxidiser, and a quick look around finds that both recoil and gas-operated mechanisms could work in space. Recoil operated weapons continue to function because the act of firing a bullet would adhere to Newton’s Third Law, and the chemical reaction between the oxidiser and propellant in a bullet would produce the gas needed to cycle a weapon. Special modifications would need to be made in order for the weapons to operate efficiently, but this is not outside the realm of possibility with existing technology.

  • Despite knowing that the “space” environment is merely a very well-rendered skybox, this hasn’t stopped the visuals in Boundary from being gorgeous. All of the maps look stunning, and here, I score a kill with the AKM on a foe while I traverse the solar panel on one of the maps. The sun and a planet are visible below, and more impressively, reflections can be seen in the solar panel mirror. Boundary has support for real-time ray tracing, although an RTX 2060 or better is required to make full use of the graphics, but even on the GTX 1060 6 GB model, Boundary is a beautiful-looking game whose aesthetic is definitely worthy of Shattered Horizon.

  • Alexandra is the second class available in Boundary; by default, she carries an LMG with sixty rounds, and of all the classes, has both the largest health pool and highest armour amount. In exchange, her mobility is greatly reduced. I found the LMG to be a decent weapon for closer range engagements: at medium and long range, one needs to tap-fire to reduce bullet spread. Having the extra armour and health is nice, especially since one can get attacked from all directions. Over time, as I levelled up each of the classes, weapon attachments became available to me, and I found that Boundary allows one to try out new attachments in a firing range that is accessible from the weapon mod menu.

  • This part of Boundary was excellent design: one feature missing from modern first person shooters is the ability to immediately try out their weapons with the latest mods to see how handling and performance has changed. In this area, Boundary has absolutely nailed it, and games like Call of Duty and Battlefield could take a leaf from Boundary‘s book. After experimenting, I found one sight that proved particularly fun to use for the GSW-MG, Alexandra’s starting weapon. Firing from the hip is not too effective with the heavier weapons in Boundary, but in a pinch, one can do well enough in extreme close quarters; the large circle here indicates the region in which bullets fired will land, showing the extent of spread when hip-firing.

  • After unlocking Sergeyev’s second weapon, the Mosin-Nagant bolt-action rifle, my experience in Boundary changed completely, and here, I scored a double kill with it. Throughout my time in Boundary, I would go on to earn several more double kills with the GSW-MG and later, Yao Yi’s submachine guns. However, in a manner reminiscent of my Halo 2 Vista days, capturing the double kill badge proved quite tricky: even with Steam’s screenshot function, badges disappeared before I could reach for the button, so this ended up being the only double kill badge I captured. Because Boundary‘s games are five-versus-five, multi-kills are a bit of a feat, so one could say that double kills are a sign of improving in the game.

  • The combination of unlocking good ranged weapons and attachments, coupled with my becoming more familiar with the mechanics in Boundary, meant I would begin performing better in later matches to the point where I was going KD-positive and contributing to my team’s ability to keep the entire map locked down. On the other hand, during some matches, my team either did not care for playing the objective or otherwise, was simply outperformed.

  • Unlike Shattered HorizonBoundary only has local sounds audible to the player: one’s own movement and gunfire can be heard, but beyond this, other players cannot be heard at all. Shattered Horizon had gotten around this by keeping sounds and stating that complex processing allowed for sounds to be simulated. In tactical shooters, players must depend on audio cues to determine their foe’s position, and since this is absent in Boundary, it does create for gripping moments where one has no idea where the enemies are coming from. I do not think Boundary will add mechanics for helping one determine where enemy players are, since one could also use this stealthiness to their own advantage.

  • Here, I experiment with Alexandra’s GSW-TAR (I’d hazard a guess that this stands for Tactical Assault Rifle), a burst-fire weapon carrying a maximum capacity of twenty-five rounds and one more round in the chamber by default. This weapon proved fun to use, handling like Halo 2‘s battle rifle, and although I didn’t get around to unlocking it, there is a forty-round extended magazine available if one ranks Alexandra up far enough, which would turn the GSW-TAR into a battle rifle more closely resembling Halo 2‘s.

  • Domination matches are short and intense, lasting a total of ten minutes; at the halfway point, the opposing teams switch spawns so the match is a little more fair. Maps aren’t symmetrical, and the developers do this so any advantages one gains in one half the map are offset by playing on the less favourable side, bringing to mind how in ice hockey and beach volleyball both have teams switching sides to offset any advantages the weather might confer. However, during lulls in the combat, one can really appreciate how well-designed the maps are, as well as admire the scenery: it strikes me as curious that the planets appear to be different on some of the maps, and here, on one of the larger space stations, it would appear as though I were orbiting a desolate, uninhabited planet.

  • Alexandra’s GSW-AMR (Anti-Materiel Rifle) is the most powerful weapon in Boundary‘s demo; per its name, it does the most damage per shot and is limited to a three round capacity. While immensely powerful on a per-shot basis, the weapon is hampered by the fact that it obscures half the screen when equipped, and together with a low rate of fire in addition to its small magazine capacity, the GSW-AMR is actually less effectual than Sergeyev’s Mosin-Nagant, which has a larger capacity, slightly faster firing rate and the fact it doesn’t obstruct half the screen.

  • The Boundary demo ends tomorrow at 1000 PST, but I’ve decided to call it in early: while I’ve had no shortage of fun with this demo, real-world circumstances meant that I have increasingly less time to game. Yesterday, I spent the day clearing out bookshelves and wall units to get everything packed up ahead of the move, and ended up picking up dinner from our favourite Cantonese restaurant (seafood fried rice, sweet and sour pork, Chinese broccoli and seafood, deep fried oysters and mushrooms, Buddha’s Delight, and a chicken and seafood medley cooked in a clay pot): nothing beats a hearty meal after a day’s work. It was surprising as to how quickly an afternoon disappeared.

  • Today, my morning was directed towards assembling the new ergonomic task chair I’d picked up last weekend. A proper task chair is leagues ahead of a “good gaming chair” in terms of comfort, and the chair I ended up going with offers fully adjustable seat height, armrests, and a mesh back rest that fits the contours of my back (the back rest itself is fully adjustable). Altogether, the task chair runs rings around a gaming chair in terms of comfort, practicality and aesthetics; I’d much rather have an inconspicuous and functional chair for my home office space, versus something whose ability to elevate my gaming and development prowess is little more than an urban legend originating from the internet’s less scrupulous corners.

  • The third and final operator, Yao Yi, unlocked on Friday – she’s the fastest moving class in Boundary, sporting the highest mobility at the expense of health and armour. By default, Yao Yi is equipped with the GSW-SMG, a solid close quarters submachine gun with high RPM and solid hip-fire performance. I ended up getting a double kill in close quarters whilst clearing it of foes. Excelling in close quarters scenarios, Yao Yi proved to be extremely fun to use, although with her, it’s advisable to stay near or inside structures, since her weapons are all about short-range engagement.

  • Yao Yi also comes with a shotgun, but I never found this quite as effective as the GSW-SMG: during the first match I played with Yao Yi, I was absolutely shredding with the GSW-SMG despite having no attachments unlocked for my weapons. Traditionally, I’ve preferred close quarters environments as a result of being ineffective with snipers; in my Halo 2 days, I always found the most success by getting up close and personal with foes, whether it be using the battle rifle and melee to stop my enemies, or picking up the power weapons optimised for close-range combat. Battlefield led me to become more comfortable with sniping, and nowadays, I freely switch between long and short ranges depending on what the situation calls for.

  • One mechanic I found to increase the tactical piece in Boundary was the fact that one could patch up their spacesuit if they’d survived a firefight narrowly: the process takes a set amount of time (Yao Yi’s light armour means she can repair sooner, while Sergeyev and Alexandra both take a longer since their armour is heavier), and during repairs, one cannot use their weapons, so players are forced to make a split-second decision on whether or not they want to repair before entering their next firefight. Because of the lack of motion trackers and other means of determining the positions of hostiles, the few seconds it takes to repair can be quite suspenseful.

  • As I became increasingly familiar with Boundary‘s mechanics, sniping became increasingly enjoyable. I found that it was best to hang back from the combat if one were using a slower-firing weapon and pick foes off from a distance (resulting in a Long Shot badge here); if one continues staring down a foe, they become automatically spotted for a while, and their position is revealed to the opposing team. To let players know of this, a test indicator warns players if they’re spotted, giving them a chance to get to cover and wait things out.

  • I believe that overall, there were four maps available to players during Boundary‘s demo: a solar power station, a large space station with a pair of shuttles docked, a partially-assembled space hotel and a linear facility resembling the International Space Station. Each of these maps have a unique aesthetic and are fun to explore, but unfortunately, Boundary‘s demo did not indicate to players which map they were joining after successfully match-making to a server. Knowing the map can impact one’s choice of loadout, and in all shooters I’ve played previously, the loading screen makes it clear which map a user is joining.

  • For instance, on the International Space Station-like map, I prefer equipping the Mosin-Nagant because there are long sightlines, and very few obstructions, making the weapon highly effective; after unlocking the 8x optics for the Mosin-Nagant, I was able to pick enemies off from across the map. While the Mosin-Nagant is slower-firing, using the high explosives ordnance or sidearm, modified to fire on full automatic, allowed me to hold my own in situations where enemies had managed to close the distance on me, and here, I landed a satisfying headshot on an enemy while the planet’s curvature is visible above.

  • Boundary features a full-featured customisation system for both weapon attachments and cosmetics: using an operator unlocks more weapons, attachment and customisation options, while match performance also yields credits that can be used towards player customisation. For most of my run, I ran the default appearances for most everything: all of the guns in Boundary start out with an astronaut-white finish, matching the spacesuit that I had. However, the accumulated points would allow me to pick up different spacesuit textures, accessories for my helmet and even a shoulder badge. These have no impact on gameplay, but admittedly, the weapon skins and accessories do look quite nice.

  • Studio Surgical Scalpels, the developers behind Boundary, is a Chinese company located in Shenzhen, Guangzhou Province. They were originally founded in 2015 by four experienced game developers and have since expanded to ten employees. The Chinese origins of Boundary are apparent in some of the assets and artwork used in the game: patches with Simplified Chinese characters are common, and I actually found myself running into a host of players with handles consisting of all Simplified Chinese characters, including an unfortunate player here that I ended up shooting in the face.

  • Seeing Chinese players, and the occasional Japanese player, led me to wonder what things are like on the other side of the world; I’ve previously read that in China, internet cafés are popular amongst the technologically-inclined crowd, who enjoy them for providing reliable high speed internet and act as hubs for socialising with other users. South Korea and Japan also has a strong internet café culture: in South Korea, gamers are fond of hanging out here, while in Japan, internet cafés offer patrons services like dining and showers. The range of services offered by Japanese internet cafés has created a social phenomenon called “net café refugees”, homeless individuals who have no permanent address and find accommodations in internet cafés owing to their low rates.

  • This phenomenon is touched upon in Makoto Shinkai’s Weathering With You: after Hodaka arrived in Tokyo, he resided at internet cafés until his funds ran dry, and luck sent him on a path towards Keisuke Suga and Hina Amano. In North America, internet cafés fell out of popularity in the late 90s as homes became wired with increasingly capable connections. Here, in a moment of pure luck, I shoot the lights out to a fellow who had been picking off teammates on server I was on: shinobaeTV is a Twitch streamer who specialises in FPS and primarily plays Escape From Tarkov.

  • While I’ve occasionally run into some streamers during my online escapades, I’ve never actually encountered my favourite Battlefield YouTubers before. There is little doubt that folks who make their living making videos about first person shooters would be uncommonly skilled with them; by comparison, I can be said to “dabble” in video games, playing for my own enjoyment above all else. Admittedly, I was wondering if I should participate in Boundary‘s demo at all because over the past few years, my inclination to play multiplayer games have dropped considerably, and from disuse, my skills have evaporated.

  • Playing through Boundary‘s demo, however, I quickly learnt that while my reflexes are certainly not what they were, patience became my greatest asset. I did the best in matches where I anticipated my opponents’ movements and positioning, and then reacted accordingly with the tools available to me. While my speed and aim are no longer enough to out-perform someone younger, I can capitalise on things like flanking and map knowledge to nonetheless hold my own. Indeed, it was in this way that towards the end of my time in the demo, I was able to consistently go KDR positive.

  • One thing that might need to be dialed back for the final release is the fact that the ordnance players have access to are exceedingly powerful: a volley of high explosive grenades can wipe even Alexandra out, and here, I got hit with an EMP barrage. EMP rounds disable one’s thrusters, leaving them to float helplessly in space, but in spite of this, I managed to turn Yao Yi’s GSW-PCC, a weapon resembling the P90, against this foe, surprising them: just because one is drifting doesn’t mean they’re defenseless, and determined players can still survive even when their ability to move around is significantly degraded.

  • One thing I did notice (and found hilarious) was the number of kill-trades I had in Boundary: a “trade” occurs when both players act in a way as to defeat one another simultaneously. In one particularly unusual match, I ended up with a KDR of exactly 1:1 because every death I incurred, I traded with my opponent. In games, trades are usually considered to be a sign of weak netcode or bad design; Battlefield 4 had been notorious for kill-trades back in the day, although numerous patches and updates to the backend rectified the issue. Here, I narrowly managed to avoid a trade on virtue of having heavier armour while playing as Alexandra.

  • Having now roughly put in about six hours into Boundary, the lingering question is whether or not this game will join my (considerable) library of other titles. While I did have a handful of frustrating moments initially while learning the mechanics and map layout, once I became more familiar with the game, I was having quite a bit of fun. There is no denying that Studio Surgical Scalpels have done a phenomenal job of bringing 2009’s Shattered Horizon to life in Boundary, and this has certainly been a worthwhile game to experience. My verdict at present is that this game is something I’d like to see a little more to before I make a concrete decision: Boundary has all of the right things in place, and for now, having a bit more information will help me out with said decision.

  • Altogether, I am glad to have taken the time to try out Boundary, which allowed me to experience a space tactical shooter (something I’ve been longing to do since reading about Shattered Horizon years earlier); the idea of a proper space shooter is one that still remains relatively unexplored, and it is fantastic to be able to play a game that is very much grounded in reality. With this post in the books, we exit the last weekend of Februrary, and here, I will close off with two remarks. First, I will note that I’ve got one more post lined up before the month is over, for the #AniTwitWatches Girls und Panzer revisit, and second, Boundary came up a bit unexpectedly. With the SteamFest demo over, I will be returning my efforts into Project Wingman as I aim to move towards the game’s halfway point.

Overall, Boundary‘s greatest strength is in its aesthetics. Everything about Boundary conveys the feeling of an authentic tactical space shooter; the astronauts themselves wear bulky, heavily-armoured spacesuits and make use of a large, highly-evolved version of the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) that NASA utilised in 1984. The spacesuits provide the astronauts with access to a pair of ordnance launchers and other equipment, as well as additional functions that specialise each astronaut type in its role. The environments are similarly detailed, feeling as though they are the types of facilities that are extensions of what current space programmes can already construct. Interiors of space stations feel like slightly more sophisticated versions of the International Space Station or Tiangong, while exteriors make use of the same scaffolding and solar panels as seen in reality. The slow, methodical movement systems gives players a sense of mass despite the apparent weightlessness, and the weapons themselves feel realistic; they resemble modern firearms modified to work in space. The movement system and six degrees of freedom, coupled with the chaotic space station environments and lack of motion trackers, mean that players must constantly keep their heads on a swivel – foes can come from any direction, and similarly, one can utilise full freedom of motion to ambush unsuspecting players. The weapons themselves feel modestly powerful, and the in-game explanation for how spacesuits survive damage from firearms is grounded in reality: the spacesuits themselves are vulnerable to fire, but players wear varying amounts of armour that absorb and deflect bullets. Careful aim is needed to hit weak points (for instance, a single shot to the helmet will take a player out of the fight), and hitting the MMU or armour plates deal reduced damage. The mechanics also forces players to be strategic in how they approach firefights; if one comes out of a firefight alive, they must also find a safe place to patch up their spacesuit, during which they will be vulnerable to enemy action. In the time I’ve spent with Boundary, it is clear that the tactical aspect of this tactical shooter is well-thought out, and the core gameplay elements are solid. Further to this, despite looking amazing, Boundary does run well on even older systems. Altogether, Boundary has succeeded in bringing Shattered Horizon into the 2020s – the game looks great, handles reasonably well and only has a few areas where it needs improvement. Beyond this, Studio Surgical Scalpels have done an incredible job with Boundary, and while I’m still on the fence about whether or not this game will enter my library once it is launched on account of my erratic schedule, the game has proven to be very promising and has what it takes to set itself apart from the giants of the industry.

A Private Ragnarok Online Experience and Recalling 2008’s Total Lunar Eclipse

Nostalgia is the only friend that stays with you forever.” –Damien Echols.

Fourteen years earlier, the moon passed into the Earth’s shadow. For a nearly a full fifty minutes, the moon shone with a bright red and copper hues, corresponding to a L4 on the Danjon scale. This lunar eclipse could be seen from almost the whole of North America, and more unusually, the eclipsed occurred at a reasonable hour: totality began at 2001 local time, and back in those days, as a student, I would be preparing to wrap up the evening. A glance outside allowed me to witness one of the brightest and most memorable lunar eclipses I’d ever seen, and since then, I’ve managed to catch a few other total lunar eclipses, with 2015 and 2018 both seeing “supermoon” eclipses. In 2015, I was sitting down to moon cakes when the lunar eclipse occurred and three years later, I pulled myself away from Battlefield 1 to gaze up at the moon. However, the 2008 lunar eclipse remains special to me: that evening, I’d just hopped onto my friend’s private Ragnarok Online server to meet up with some mates who were getting into things for the first time. Since I’d been fully leveled, I was asked to look over a friend who was just starting out as a mage: the bridge north of the mage town was host to weaker monsters, and this proved to be a good place to begin levelling up for starting mages. I therefore spent thirty minutes walking the friend through some essential spells, and at half hour’s end, said friend had enough experience to begin exploring spells of their own. I sent a message back to my other friends, the server host, and remarked that we were on our way to familiarising ourselves with the mechanics: this friend would later go on to host the World of Warcraft private server, and here, our interest had been to engage in Ragnarok Online‘s War of Emperium guild wars, in which guilds attempt to conquer castles. In order to reach such a point, all participants needed to be familiar with Ragnarok Online‘s mechanics, and so, I spent most of my hours after my studies had concluded in Payon Dungeon with another friend who played an assassin. Together, we slaughtered our way through the first three floors and concluded that the final floor was not worth taking on without more people. In addition, I would occasionally accompany my assassin friend to Morroc Pyramid. In this way, many an evening was spent exploring Ragnarok Online: back in those days, coursework had been remarkably light, and I found myself steamrolling all of my studies, affording me time to go exploring with friends before we migrated over to the World of Warcraft private server.

Ragnarok Online represented my first-ever MMORPG, a Korean game based on a manhwa that first released in 2002. By the time my friend had set a server up, the game had been around for six years. Using two-dimensional character sprites, what stood out to me about Ragnarok Online had been how adorable the player sprites were. However, underlying the game’s simple visuals was an entire world to explore – at that point in time, I’d primarily played sandbox simulation games like Sim City, or first person shooters like 007 Nightfire, Half-Life 2 and Halo. The idea of an open-world RPG was new to me, and I would come to most enjoy the act of exploring new areas in the world of Ragnarok Online: the game’s colourful environments and a remarkably relaxing soundtrack meant in the overworld, I was free to explore areas without worrying about dying to mobs. On evenings where I’d finished my coursework ahead of my friends, I spent time exploring the fields surrounding Prontera and Geffen at my own pace. As time wore on, the server host recommended that I go on over to Payon to power-level my mage, whose Soul Strike capability was especially powerful against undead foes. It was here that I spent hours farming the undead, and over time, I eventually built a formidable wizard with access to potent spells for area-denial. On evenings where my friends were available, we would work together on dungeon crawls. A few weeks after the lunar eclipse, we’d been powerful enough to trivially slaughter mobs on lower floors before reaching the bosses. Before midterm exams began, we were able to defeat Payon Dungeon’s boss, Moonlight Flower: we had a crusader to fulfil the role of a tank, an alchemist for healing and buffs, and an assassin for DPS. In conjunction with my wizard’s devastating spells, our party smashed Moonlight Flower, and at this point, my friend was satisfied that we were ready to try some PvP in War of Emperium. As fun as these group events were, I was always at my happiest when I was exploring, and after I entered university, my friend sent me the server files so I could host my own private server. On a December morning after my first year exams ended, I got my server up and running, ready for me to continue exploring from where I’d left off a few years earlier.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • It’s been over a decade since I last wandered Rune-Midgarts on my private private server, and it took a few moments for me to adjust to the controls again. Player movement in Ragnarok Online is mouse-based, and the WASD keys aren’t bound to anything. Similarly, spells and abilities are engaged through the function keys rather than the number keys. These differences mean I would need to fumble through a different mindset, and I’m glad that my objectives in Ragnarok Online aren’t to play War of Emperium or go on dungeon crawls nowadays, as my muscle memory for this game is nonexistent.

  • On the other hand, I have no trouble with exploring the world of Rune-Midgarts in Ragnarok Online: after exiting the city of Prontera, I headed out over into the fields surrounding the area and prepared to walk over to Geffen. When I first started out, my friends (among them the server host) suggested that I play a mage based on my personality traits; there is a bit of a meta game in MMORPGs in that classes do seem to reflect an individual. In Ragnarok Online, foes often have elemental traits that make them more or less vulnerable to certain kinds of magic.

  • I headed over to Geffen to do my job change. In Ragnarok Online, mages are the casters, and to level, being a fire mage is a suitable build to go for. My friends actually suggested I go with a bolt build and specialise in soul strike, since at the time, they were interested in dungeon play. Payon Cave became our go-to haunt, and this proved to be the perfect place to power-level, since Soul Strike does bonus damage against undead foes. Besides myself, the server host played a crusader, and one of my other friends became an assassin.

  • Once my friend’s private server had opened, my life settled into a pattern: I would capitalise on the fact that there was so much self-study time to finish all of my assignments, wrap up anything I’d missed at home and go through all of my lecture notes so I was confident I got that particular lesson before dinner, and then after dinner, I would sign in and join my assassin friend to clear out mobs in the easier floors of a given dungeon. Payon Cave and Morroc Pyramid were are favourite places to visit, and the server host actually would create a custom teleporter for us so we could reach our favourite dungeons more easily.

  • On most evenings, the host and a few other players would join us on our dungeon adventures, as well. To help things along, my friend had set the server’s experience gain level to nearly nine times that of the normal rate so we could reach the endgame more quickly, become comfortable with our class’ chosen powers, and so, begin to really do the activities that the server had been set up for: War of Emperium.

  • Because of Payon’s proximity to Payon Cave, this spot ended up being the hub for most of our activities. We would gather here and trade off potions ahead of dungeon crawls, use the text chat to discuss both the evening’s game plan and other topics, and over time, Payon ended up being our Barrens Chat of sorts; upon returning home from school, everyone would sign in, leave their characters here and chat on topics from our plans for the weekend, to helping one another out regarding the day’s lessons: back then, several of us used MSN messenger to chat, but some friends didn’t have MSN, so Ragnarok Online‘s chat client became our go-to.

  • I believe that it was in January when the server first started; I vaguely remember that back then, my term had been sufficiently easy so I could go through my coursework, participate in yearbook activities and have enough time left over to both play Ragnarok Online and watch Gundam 00. Things eventually slowed down once the new year arrived, and while we gained several new players through friends who’d been curious, a few weeks after the lunar eclipse, my friend was already eying the setup of a World of Warcraft server.

  • However, we did end up gathering at his place for War of Emperium events on more than one occasion before the World of Warcraft server went live. These early LAN parties required quite a bit of setup, and I remember that the first time we did such an event, it took over two hours for everyone to be properly kitted out, organised into teams and for my friend to find the server commands needed to manage a War of Emperium event. During this event, I was destroyed because I didn’t fully understand the wizard’s capabilities. On our second War of Emperium event, I’d become a full-fledged Wizard and had all of my spells fully-leveled.

  • This proved to be a game changer: my teammates positioned me at the entrance way with an alchemist and an assassin. The plan had been to wait for the attackers to enter, and then have me use my powerful array of AoE spells to lock down the chokepoint, while the alchemist kept my health and mana topped off, and the assassin would pick off anyone who’d gotten through. On defense, my team ended up very successful on defense, although since my spells were slow to charge, we proved less efficacious on offense, and that day’s War of Emperium ended in a draw.

  • After the last War of Emperium event, my friend moved us over to World of Warcraft, and Ragnarok Online became forgotten. I ended up requesting (and receiving) the server files from said friend so I could continue exploring Ragnarok Online at my own pace; the server host and I had visited several notable locations in Ragnarok Online, including the “unfinished village” that would later become Moscovia, a Russian-themed town that acts as an entrance to the area’s dungeon. However, with my own server, I had unlimited time to explore.

  • My private server was truly private in that it was not configured for others to connect to it; while creating an immensely lonely experience, a far cry from the experiences I had during my friend’s Ragnarok Online heydays, having an entire server to myself meant I could check out some of the most unique places in the whole of the game that we’d never even set foot in. Kunlun is one such place, a Taiwanese-themed town floating high above the clouds. Kunlun is counted as the most romantic place in the whole of Rangarok Online, and others have done in-game weddings here owing to the setting.

  • Kunlun’s theme is one of my favourite pieces of background music in Ragnarok Online, a game whose incidental music is of a very high standard. Whether it be a consequence of hearing these songs non-stop when I first played the game, the fact that the music itself is immensely relaxing, or a combination of the two, nostalgia immediately sets in whenever I hear any of the background themes to the major cities: Prontera, Payon and Geffen have some wonderful songs, as well. As it turns out, I’m not the only one who feels this way: folks who grew up around Ragnarok Online have similarly found the music to be cathartic, bringing back memories of an older, simpler time.

  • The edges of Kunlun town are ringed with floating islands that can be visited. Looking back, I’m not sure if any of my friends had ever visited Kunlun’s floating islands; most of our time had been spent blasting stuff in fields and dungeons surrounding Prontera, Geffen. Morroc and Payon, as well as gearing up for War of Emperium events. In the past fourteen or so years, I’ve come to really appreciate the elegance in Ragnarok Online‘s design; maps are standalone tiles linked by portals, and this made it easy to add new content to the game without altering the game world. Conversely, when Blizzard updates World of Warcraft, changes to the central maps had far-reaching consequences.

  • At some point during my private server experience fourteen years earlier, my friend invited me to check out some of the places he felt were the most novel; when this happened was lost to time, but I imagine that it was during the winter break, after we’d both finished our exams. My friend thus brought me over to the “unfinished town” of Moscovia, which did not have NPCs or any assets on his server version. I ended up updating my server so that it would have the completed town, and this makes all the difference. Originally, Moscovia could not be reached, although after I ran the update, a boat in Alberta provides access to this area.

  • If I had to guess, Ragnarok Online likely uses the same tile system that Sim City 4 uses, employing a combination of 3D assets and 2D sprites to build the game world. Although contemporary titles far surpass anything in Ragnarok Online in terms of visuals, the older graphics have a unique charm about them. It suddenly hits me that, given that Ragnarok Online itself is two decades old now, I imagine that a mid-end smartphone would have the computational power to run such a game, and with a few tweaks to the UI, Ragnarok Online could definitely be made to run on a tablet.

  • With this in mind, Gravity has released a mobile version of Ragnarok Online for Android devices with visuals far surpassing those of the original, speaking to how far technology has come. Back in Ragnarok Online, I continue exploring the Russian-themed architecture of Moscovia; like Kunlun, there’s an entrance to a dungeon in this map, and the area is steeped in lore. The Ragnarok Online and World of Warcraft that I know are quiet places, but I’ve seen gameplay footage on official servers; every nook and cranny of the map is populated, creating a much richer world.

  • If my memory is not mistaken, I played Ragnarok Online during January, as I’d just picked up a new Dell XPS 420 to replace an aging computer from the early 2000s. The jump to a Q6600 Core 2 Quad,  3 GB of RAM and an ATI HD 2600 XT meant I was able to play my favourite games of the day, including Halo 2 Vista and Half-Life 2 without any difficulty, and performance remained quite good even with newer titles like Team Fortress 2 and Borderlands. However, the best games of the day, like Crysis and Battlefield 3 gave my machine difficulties owing to the weaker GPU. In the end, the Dell XPS 420 served for a total of five years; it was sufficient for my undergraduate programme, but as the RAM modules began to age and overheat, my machine began to perform poorly. I subsequently built a new desktop, and this machine has served me until the present.

  • The last place I chose to visit for this recollection is Amatsu, a Japanese-themed city where sakura blossoms are in eternal bloom. This town is host to the Amatsu Dungeon, which can only be entered after completing a quest. Questing in Ragnarok Online is a ways more complex than they are in something like World of Warcraft and require a bit of patience to complete, especially since individuals of interest can be quite tricky to find. Quests do explore lore in a meaningful way, but on the flipside, unlike World of Warcraft, the rewards can seem paltry in comparison to the time it takes to complete them.

  • Ragnarok Online actually had no quest tracker at launch, and this feature was implemented a few years later. Even then, during my original run of Ragnarok Online, I never bothered to do any quests, and instead, simply levelled up by beating up monsters in dungeons and fields. With this, I’ve fulfilled a promise to bring my old private server back to life; since I do have a running server again, I may return at some point to write about other places in Ragnarok Online: Yuno was another area I was particularly fond of, and I’ve yet to visit the Christmas fields, as well.

  • Here, I climb out to a viewpoint overlooking the bridge immediately west of Geffen: the bridge north of Geffen is infested with higher level monsters and is unsuited for beginners, but the west bridge is much friendlier, being the place where I walked another friend through the basics of Ragnarok Online some fourteen years earlier. According to my astronomy charts, the next lunar eclipse visible from North America will be in May 2022, although this is only a partial solar eclipse.

Since I received the files for my own private server, I utilised my private server to acquire screenshots and recall my experiences for my old website. However, the server files otherwise remained unused – during university, I spent most of my time playing Halo 2 Vista, and when servers for that shut down, I migrated over to Team Fortress 2. Ragnarok Online and World of Warcraft both fell from my mind until a desire to explore Pandaria bought me back into World of Warcraft. After being unceremoniously kicked from a dungeon in World of Warcraft a few years back, I ended up spinning up my own Wrath of the Lich King server so I could explore without worrying about being kicked by try-hards. The experience had been phenomenal, and as I tread familiar places like Elwynn Forest and the Eversong Woods, I recalled that I also had a considerable amount of fun with Ragnarok Online. After doing some tuning to get the old server files running, I’ve finally returned to Ragnarok Online some twelve years after I ran my private server for the first time, and fourteen years after the eclipse that had occurred the evening I was getting another friend into Ragnarok Online. Although my private server is now a private private server thanks to how my router is configured (i.e. other players can’t connect unless they’re on my LAN), having an entire server to myself for exploration has been great: for someone such as myself, being able to walk through quiet cities, gentle plains, verdant forest and peaceful coasts while listening to Ragnarok Online‘s wonderful soundtrack has proven to be immensely cathartic, a far cry from the higher-octane games I’ve played through since building a more powerful desktop. Despite its age, Ragnarok Online still has its charm: while the days for my hosting my own War of Emperium events are long past (for one, I’m not sure if any of my old friends have the time to do so), being able to casually walk from Prontera over to Alberta and explore some of Ragnarok Online‘s most unique spots remains highly enjoyable, representing a change of pace from my latest gaming exploits.