The Infinite Zenith

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Portal With RTX: A Reflection on A More Reflective Portal Experience

“Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do, doesn’t mean it’s useless.” –Thomas Edison

Back in September, NVIDIA’s announcement of Portal With RTX generated a bit of buzz: the original Portal is now fifteen years old. To showcase their new line of Lovelace GPUs and RTX Remix, NVIDIA also determined that Portal was worth reimagining. Using machine learning, RTX Remix dynamically computes how lighting should behave, allowing it to interact with objects in a 3D space in real-time. RTX Remix uses path-tracing, which uses a comparatively simple algorithm to render high-quality images at the expense of performance; as lighting becomes more sophisticated, path-tracing becomes more demanding, and typically, games utilise more efficient variants of path-tracing that may not be quite as visually impressive. Here in Portal With RTX, NVIDIA Remix’s use of path-tracing means that the end-result is a highly advanced showcase of what lighting effects are possible: because everything is done using ray-tracing, illuminations, shadows, reflections and even refractive effects are especially impressive, breathing new life into an iconic game. There is, however, a trade-off: because of how computationally expensive path-tracing is, Portal With RTX demands the most powerful hardware in order to run at maximum quality and resolution. In order to play Portal With RTX at 4K and 60 FPS, with everything set to ultra, NVIDIA’s RTX 4080 is recommended. On the other hand, while the minimum GPU suggested is the RTX 3060, folks have reported that they’re struggling to run Portal With RTX, even though they’re running video cards that are more powerful than the RTX 3060. The variability in performance and experience demonstrate that, as exciting as ray-tracing techniques are, and as exciting as the prospect of having real-time ray-tracing hardware become mainstream is, the technology still has a way to go before it can become widespread. For the present, real-time ray-tracing remains more of a curiosity, but when judiciously applied, the lighting and visuals can act as a fantastic showcase for what is possible.

The extreme requirements in Portal With RTX has meant that getting the game to run has been a toss-of-the-coin. On my RTX 3060 Ti, which is about 30 percent more powerful than the RTX 3060, I’ve managed to get Portal With RTX running at manageable frame rates, with reasonable quality. Although the RTX 3060 Ti is far outstripped by the RTX 4090, the fact that this mid-range card is able to run Portal With RTX without any major issues speaks volumes to the build I put together back in March. In this way, I was able to revisit an old experience given a fresh coat of paint. Initial impressions of Portal With RTX had been met with skepticism: video games journalist Ben Sledge writes that the highly reflective, clean surfaces of the remaster defeats the visual impact of the original game, where there had previously been dull, lifeless walls, and as a result, the soul of Portal had been “ripped out”. As a result, the remaster was unnecessary, and hardly any justification for playing Portal With RTX. In practise, this is untrue; although Portal With RTX has new, high-resolution textures to showcase just how sophisticated the RTX Remix lighting is, the overall aesthetic in Portal With RTX remains respectful to the visuals of the original. NVIDIA had chosen to showcase segments of the game where the differences were especially profound, but for folks playing through Portal With RTX, the visuals actually aren’t too dramatically changed: after marvelling at the reflections from the Heavy Duty Super-Colliding Super Button, emissive effects from the high-energy pellets and dynamic shadows (all computed in real time), it’s time to focus on the puzzles themselves. Moving through the test chambers, it is apparent that, rather than depriving Portal of its character, the updated visuals actually speak to an Aperture Science that is at its prime. Clean, polished surfaces show an institute that was, at one point, a serious competitor to Black Mesa. The new visuals in Portal With RTX serve to both bring life to an old classics, as well as tell a different story about Aperture Sciences, and in this way, one can make a clear case that Portal With RTX is anything but soulless. Of course, if one wished to experience the original, that option continues to remain viable: the old game isn’t going anywhere, and upon returning to it after completing Portal With RTX, it is apparent that the original still holds up extremely well.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • For me, Portal With RTX represents a test of my hardware’s capabilities. I’d already played through and wrote about Portal previously, having greatly enjoyed the game’s innovative mechanics and sense of humour. On this particular play-through, I completed the entire game in the space of an hour and a half, having already gone through the game and therefore, had a full knowledge of all of the nuances to how each puzzle was to be solved. Instead, a part of this experience was to see just how detailed everything looked now that real-time ray-tracing was implemented.

  • To put things simply, Portal With RTX looks amazing. This is most noticeable in the Heavy Duty Super-Colliding Super Buttons on the floor. Whereas they’d been made of a dull metal previously, they’re now reimagined as glass or ceramic buttons and reflect their environments in detail. To show that off, I’ve stacked a pair of Weighted Storage Cubes here, and positioned myself so I could see the wall lights and portal reflected on the buttons’ surfaces. Ray-tracing effects have previously been implemented in first person shooters like Metro: Exodus and DOOM: Eternal, but with how high-paced they are, there’s little time to appreciate the visuals.

  • On the other hand, Portal is the perfect place to showcase what ray-tracing can do. The high energy pellets, for instance, now emit their own light and act as a mobile point light. While this is nothing impressive, the fact that everything in this scene is ray-traced shows what’s possible with the technique. One detail I did particularly like was the fact that the toxic liquid in Portal With RTX, a dull, greenish-brown sludge in the original, is now more reflective, and thanks to ray-tracing, any changes in the environment are now visible on the liquid’s surface, too.

  • For me, I have DLSS on and set to “Quality”. I’m using a custom graphic preset with everything turned up, except the maximum number of light bounces is set to four. With these settings, the game runs at around 45 FPS, and I didn’t experience any crashes during my time in Portal With RTX. Although quite a ways lower than the baseline of 60 FPS for smoothness on my monitors, the game remained very playable, and I was able to complete it without any difficulties from a hardware standpoint. With this being said, it is clear that for me, Portal With RTX was not being rendered at native resolution, and instead, was likely being upscaled using DLSS.

  • DLSS (Deep Learning Super Sampling) refers to NVIDIA’s upscaling and inference technology which renders images at lower resolutions and then upscales the images so performance is increased. This translates to better frame rates for players, allowing lower-end GPUs to still keep up. The technology was introduced with the Turing Series, and with Lovelace, DLSS 3 was brought in: DLSS 3 is exclusive to the Lovelace series, but even the older DLSS 2 (which is available on the Ampere GPUs) offers performance gains. For most of the games I play, I have more than enough hardware to render everything at native resolution.

  • In the case of Portal With RTX, the image quality is a little less crisp than if everything were rendered natively. With DLSS off, I average around 15-20 FPS, so in order to have a playable frame rate, even at 1080p, I needed DLSS to be enabled, although even at the “quality” mode, I was able to maintain about 40-45 FPS. I estimate that folks running an RTX 2080 Super or RTX 2080 Ti should also be able to play Portal With RTX without too much problem after adjusting some of the settings, but anything below an RTX 3060 is unlikely to be able to run the game.

  • The requirements for Portal With RTX are surprisingly steep because RTX Remix is, simply put, expecting the Lovelace series of GPUs to brute force things. When optimised, real-time ray-tracing can be quite performant, but here, Portal With RTX is meant as more of a demonstration of the technology. As such, as incredible as Portal With RTX looks, it’s also one of those games that can’t be recommended to Portal fans unless they already have the hardware or are intending to upgrade their hardware and utilising it fully: it should go without saying that spending 2200 CAD for an RTX 4090, or 1650 CAD for an RTX 4080 (neither of which are in stock at my local computer store) just so one can play Portal is not a good use of money.

  • Having said this, if one has a legitimate use case for a Lovelace GPU, then Portal With RTX becomes a novel experience. Here, I will share a laugh with readers at the expense of Tango-Victor-Tango’s John “Fighteer” Aldrich, who had posted to the forums shortly after Portal With RTX‘s announcement, wondering if his GTX 1060 would be able to run the game and concluded he should be okay since the GTX 1060 was capable of ray-tracing. Although the 6 GB model of the GTX 1060 can enable DXR and do some ray tracing, performance leaves much to be desired – if memory serves, in games with basic ray tracing, the GTX 1060 drops to around 15 FPS with DXR enabled. Seeing Fighteer’s misplaced optimism that the GTX 1060 (while a fantastic card) could run Portal With RTX is laughable and typifies the behaviour of Tango-Victor-Tango’s userbase’s tendency to not completely research their topics before speaking out.

  • Shortly after Portal With RTX released, Fighteer found himself eating crow and commented on how he now had an incentive to upgrade in the future, and I return to my previous statement – if one is planning an upgrade to an RTX 4080 or 4090 purely so they can play Portal With RTX, it is likely an unwise expenditure. For content creators who stream Triple-A titles, a top-tier GPU like the 4090 makes sense, and similarly, someone doing AI research will find the 4090 a suitable investment. However, for a vast majority of gamers, the RTX 4090, and even the 4080, is overkill. Having a video card like these for 1440p gaming as a hobby is akin to having a supercar, and then only using it as one’s commuter vehicle.

  • Because of the financial aspect, I do not expect Fighteer to spring on an RTX 4080 or 4090: in fact, I comment that it’d be more prudent now to wait for the mid-end Lovelace cards before making a decision. For me, I’ve settled into a pattern now: after I buy a GPU, I try to make it last at least three generations before upgrading again, and whether I upgrade depends on whether or not my current GPU can still run the games I am interested in on high settings while maintaining 60 FPS at 1080p. If my GPU cannot do this, then I will look at seeing whether or not the current mid-range GPUs can keep up with the upper-range GPUs of the previous generation.

  • For instance, when I upgraded to the GTX 1060 from the GTX 660, one of the selling points about the 1060 was the fact that it offered near-980 levels of performance for a much lower price and a lower power draw. One of the reasons why the RTX 3060 Ti was so enticing, then, was the fact that it actually edged out the RTX 2080 SC. In fact, the 3060 Ti is ten to fifteen percent weaker than the older 2080 Ti, but at the same time, costs significantly less and has a lower power draw. For me, I don’t need the additional power the 2080 Ti offers because I’m still playing at 1080p, so the lower cost made the 3060 Ti the obvious choice.

  • Since I made the call to grab a 3060 Ti, this left me in a position to try Portal With RTX out, and this is why I’ve been lucky enough to give things a go and see for myself what the technology could do. However, Portal With RTX is not a game worth upgrading a GPU for in this moment, but down the line, when more Lovelace GPUs (or the new generation) become available, more people will be able to give Portal With RTX a try. Surprisingly, most of Tango-Victor-Tango’s forums have been remarkable quiet about Portal With RTX, and most of the complaints about the game’s steep requirements are found at Reddit.

  • My response to Portal With RTX and its requirements are that, I’m glad my desktop was able to handle it reasonably well (40-45 FPS at 1080p with things cranked up to ultra is nothing to sneeze at, considering that the recommended GPU is an RTX 3080), and moreover, even if the humble 3060 Ti could not run the game as well as it did, it’s not as though the release of Portal With RTX would take away from the fact that Portal still runs extremely well and is the original experience. As such, it makes little sense to gripe about Portal With RTX‘s changed aesthetics and steep requirements because there’s nothing stopping players from grabbing the original and having a good time with it.

  • As I made further progress into Portal With RTX, I began recalling old memories of playing through the game for the first time. The puzzles came back to me relatively quickly, and I don’t mind admitting that I only had a minor bit of trouble with Test Chamber 15, but even then, after giving things some thought, all of the puzzles proved quite straightforward to complete. This was what allowed me to go through the whole of Portal With RTX with relative ease. On my original run of Portal a decade earlier, I had taken a total of three hours to complete the game since everything was new to me, but for my troubles, had a wonderful experience.

  • I ended up replaying the whole of Portal two years earlier, during the height of the global health crisis. Replaying Portal brought back memories of a simpler time, and here, I pick up the iconic Companion Cube, which became an instant favourite with players. Its first utility is to act as a shield of sorts, protecting players from the high-energy pellets while they travel down the hallways. Here, the ray-tracing has a chance to really shine: the high energy pellets emit light and glow brightly, causing a unique visual effect in the metal-lined corridor that was simply absent in the original.

  • The Companion Cube creates an interesting problem-solving scenario, since players must use their single resource in order to complete the objective, and for Portal With RTX, the updated visuals are especially impressive in Test Chamber 17 because there’s an opportunity to again showcase the lighting. Here, light from the Heavy Duty Super-Colliding Super Buttons illuminates the Companion Cube, and reflections of this lighting can be seen on the wall to the right. The slower pace of Portal is naturally conducive towards admiring the lighting effects.

  • It suddenly hits me that we’re now hurtling through December at a breakneck pace: it only seems like yesterday that the month has started, but we’re now less than two weeks to Christmas itself. Yesterday evening, I was able to enjoy the first Christmas gathering with extended family in three years, and it was a pleasant evening of conversation and excellent food (prime rib with au jus, roasted prawns, skewered pork, mahi-mahi, carrots and Brussels sprouts with bacon and potato gratin). I’ve got another Christmas party lined up on Thursday with the office, but beyond this, I am looking forwards to a quieter Christmas Day with immediate family.

  • 2022’s been an eventful year, especially with the big move and building of a new desktop back in March, but things settled down reasonably quickly, so I am able to look forward to some well-earned downtime at the end of the year. I am glad that I was able to get my desktop set up when I did: the ongoing microprocessor shortage has meant that new parts will continue to be hard to come by, and Intel forecasts that said shortage could last into 2024 because of a lack of manufacturing equipment. As a result, prices are unlikely to see any drops, and this has been most visible with the Lovelace series GPUs, whose flagship model costs more than an entire PC.

  • The extreme price of hardware is what led my alma mater to remove their gaming PCs from the main library. When the new library had opened a decade earlier, the gaming computers were something students marvelled at and featured hardware comparable to my previous desktop. They received upgrades back in 2016, but when campus was undergoing a reconstruction project in 2019, the machines were decommissioned: some students have noted that their hardware was increasingly outdated, and beginning to fail, so the university decided to shelve these machines.

  • As of 2022, campus has not purchased new machines to replace the old ones, and for good reason: picking up eight brand-new custom-built PCs wouldn’t be a good use of the university’s funding, especially when considering that a high-end laptop now can have comparable performance. On the topic of higher-end laptops, my best friend recently picked up a new laptop to replace an aging machine that’d been giving him no shortage of trouble. This laptop, the MSI Katana, is armed with an i7 12700H and an RTX 3070, which puts his machine as having 90 percent the performance of my desktop.

  • With this, I am looking forwards to playing Modern Warfare II spec ops with him in the near future, and in the meantime, the both of us can gloat about being able to enjoy games while Fighteer is stuck moderating pointless debates at Tango-Victor-Tango because aging hardware precludes his spending time doing more enjoyable and productive things, such as checking out the real-time reflections in Portal With RTX. Admittedly, the visuals here are such that it would be easier to show the effects in a video, rather than through screenshots, but one hopes that the stills I’ve got still convey the advances in lighting effects.

  • Back in Portal With RTX, after solving this puzzle, GLaDOS promises that there’d be cake, but for longtime players, what awaits is a hilarious outcome that also sends Portal into its second act. By this point in time, the sum of all of one’s experiences means that players should be able to quickly identify where portals should be placed in order to solve a given puzzle. In Portal 2, test chambers actually limited the amount of surfaces a portal could be placed on, which in turn would give not-so-subtle clues as to how things could be beaten.

  • However, in Portal, even though test chambers are largely portal-friendly, the game still gives some clues as to where portals can be placed. High-energy pellets, for instance, will leave scorch marks on surfaces they interact with, and the receptacles for these pellets similarly illuminate a path so one has an idea of where to aim things. Portal is one of those games where the puzzles, while sometimes challenging, aren’t impossible: it feels rewarding to work something out, but it won’t take one an entire afternoon to figure out one test chamber.

  • Portal is broken cleanly into two acts: the first is the test chambers, and the second is everything after players escape and do what they can to survive. From here on out, the game requires that players keep an eye on their environment and make full use of their creativity and ingenuity to survive. Along the way, scribbles on the walls will serve to guide one to their final destination, a one-on-one confrontation with GLaDOS. I found that Portal With RTX‘s second half was not quite as visually impressive as the first, but even here, the lighting effects are impressive, with things like the catwalks being rendered with reflections to give them a greasy, slippery sense.

  • Pressing through the bowels of Aperture Science with ray-tracing, it becomes clear that while Portal With RTX had refreshed the original test chambers, the back corridors of Aperture remain mostly untouched, and this creates an even stronger juxtaposition between the game’s first and second acts. In these corridors and maintenance ways, the effects from real-time ray-tracing are still noticeable (fans cast shadows in real time, and metallic surfaces interact realistically with light), but for me, the most impressive addition is volumetric lighting, which gives the entire space a musty, dusty character.

  • Owing to the volumetric lighting, spaces that were formerly dark are now much brighter than they’d previously been, and this brought to mind the changes that were made to Halo: Anniversary, where iconic spots on Installation 04 were rendered as being more detailed and bright than in the original. Fans were displeased with the changes, since the darkness had added to the aesthetics and unease those levels conveyed. By the time of Halo 2: Anniversary, 343 Industries took a much more respectful approach to things, and the game ends up being faithful to the original’s tone while at the same time, sporting much more detail.

  • Portal With RTX is more similar to Halo 2: Anniversary, or perhaps Half-Life 2: Update, which touched up the visuals without dramatically altering the game’s style. This speaks volumes to how things like RTX Remix can be used to add new life to classic games, and while I would very much prefer a proper remaster, the fact that the technology exist means that, at least in theory, it’d be possible to run something like Half-Life 2 though RTX Remix and get real-time ray-tracing working. Of course, in a first person shooter, where frame rates do matter, I’m not confident the technology would produce the best experience, even if it does showcase how the potential for giving games new lighting exists.

  • The sky bridge leading into GLaDOS’ chamber in Portal With RTX looks much as it did in Portal, although better lighting means more details are visible. Here, I will note that in the time since I’ve graduated, many parts of my alma mater have undergone dramatic renovations and changes, so some of the features that were present when I were a student are now gone, and the professional building is among the places that have changed. The office perched beside an atrium is gone, but this is actually one of the smaller changes; because it’s been six years since I was a student, the library tower and student services buildings have been completely replaced, and even the iconic “Prairie Chicken” statue was removed for a few years while construction was going on.

  • Although lower frame rates are technically okay (anything north of 30 FPS is playable in the test chambers and while escaping), 45 FPS is more than enough to beat GLaDOS, and I had no trouble completing the final fight. Having said this, it is here, during the final fight, that frame rates do matter: beating GLaDOS, even though it is a relatively relaxed task, still demands some degree of precision and coordination, and a janky experience can prevent one from timing their jumps well enough to grab some of GLaDOS’ personality cores.

  • Ninety minutes later, I had completed the whole of Portal With RTX and was treated to the final cut scene, wherein the infamous black forest cake is rendered using real-time ray-tracing. I found myself vaguely filled with a desire to enjoy some cake, and while the local grocery store sells black forest cakes for 16 CAD, the fact that we’re so close to the holidays means that other Christmas classics will soon dominate the menu (including my personal festive favourite, the chocolate Yule Log).

While ray-tracing has only really taken off with NVIDIA’s Turing series of GPUs, the techniques have been proposed since 1986 by James Kajiya, and during my second year as an undergraduate student, I put together my own ray-tracing method for dynamically computing fluid flow in complex paths for physics objects. The object of this project had been to see if I could solve the problem of the in-house game engine being constrained to linear models of fluid flow. As the lab was trying to simulate more complex paths, the only solution was to approximate these paths by placing what we called “flow fields” into vessels. This was a painstaking task, and the concept of ray-tracing had been a promising way to simplify things. I was asked to explore an algorithm that each physical agent in the model could use to computer its path, and over the course of a summer, fine-tuned it so that it could convincingly “nudge” objects flowing to follow a path for visualisation. While the method had similarly been computationally demanding, it demonstrated that it was possible to push physical agents through any arbitrarily-shaped vessels without manually defining the paths. At the time, hardware meant that doing this for a few hundred objects and maintaining 30 frames per second was an accomplishment, but as more agents were added, performance correspondingly took a hit. Through this summer project, I felt that ray-tracing was a fantastic way of simplifying some tasks at the expense of performance, and while hardware today has improved, the trade off between convenience for the developers, and an end user’s experience, is one that real-time ray-tracing continues to face. In the case of Portal With RTX, using an AI to remaster lighting in a game is an exciting new development, and while it may not produce an optimised product for retail, evolving technology and hardware means that such methods simply open up more possibilities: rather than remain disappointed about how Portal With RTX cannot run on all hardware, one can instead look to the technology as simply another sign that things will never stagnate and continue to advance in new directions: although at present, path-tracing as RTX Remix implements it remains something that needs to be brute-forced, over time, improving software techniques will make things more efficient, and players will be glad that the technology had a starting point from somewhere iconic and reasonable.

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.

ШХД: ЗИМА / IT’S WINTER: A Reflection of the Darkest Season on the Coldest Days of the Year

“He looked at the snowflakes dancing above the fire and remembered the Russian winter with a warm, bright house, a fluffy fur coat, swift sleighs, a healthy body, and all the love and care of a family.” –Leo Tolstoy

I’m standing in a dark kitchen, and there’s a snowfall outside. After retrieving the house keys, I walk down a flight of steps and close an open window before stepping out into the frigid night. There’s no one around: most of the neighbours are already asleep, although I encounter a sparkler that was left in the ground. A faint rumbling noise can be heard in the distance, and I walk on over to the bus station. A snowplow is busy clearing the roads from the snowfall, but there will be no buses at this hour. A sense of tranquility overtakes me: a familiar world is buried under a few inches of snow, drowning out almost all ambient noise (save my own footsteps). After a few minutes, my fingers and ears begin to feel the bite of this winter night. I prepare to head back to my apartment, passing by the local convenience store, whose sign is aglow in a vivid green despite being closed. I return to the warmth of my apartment and gaze outside again before turning off the lights and head for bed, falling asleep under the quiet of a new snow. This is Alexandre Ignatovo’s ШХД: ЗИМА / IT’S WINTER, a recreation of the Хрущёвка (khrushchyovka, literally “Krushchev Slum”, or panel housing) common to the Soviet Union. Although Ignatovo suggests that IT’S WINTER is meant to convey the endless melancholy of the Soviet Winter, and Russians can attest to the fact that IT’S WINTER accurately captures a world that otherwise remains far from the minds of those who live elsewhere, this title actually does something else, as well: it reminds those who experience it to count their own blessings. After wandering the deserted apartment blocks, my own small unit feels warm and inviting. I’ve got a roof over my head, a well-stocked fridge and a warm bed to return to. While the snow falls outside, I can read a book, watch some TV, listen to the radio or doze off. IT’S WINTER is not a game in a traditional sense: in fact, it lacks the features that make a game (a clearly-defined set of victory or failure conditions), and instead, gives players the freedom to do as they will. Imaginative folks can spend hours mastering the game’s mechanism for a manipulating objects to cook themselves up a fabulous dinner, or else do a bit of reorganisation if they so choose. In this way, IT’S WINTER also speaks to the idea of perspective, of counting one’s blessings: temperatures yesterday reached a low of -34°C before windchill (-40°C with windchill), so rather than braving the biting cold of an otherwise gorgeous day, I ended up staying in and eating tang yuan, at peace with the cold weather and short days.

Seven years earlier, I was enveloped by a sense of bitterness: after the Alberta floods took out any opportunity I had to attempt a kokuhaku, I entered my first term of open studies without resolve or determination. My work suffered for it; besides Japanese history and a course on proteins, I ended up taking a special projects course, where I attempted to continue the work I had done that summer on peer-to-peer networking as a mode for sharing computational loads in multi-system biological simulations. However, I was preoccupied and thus, never made the same progress as I did in previous years: in retrospect, I consider my grade in that course (a B+) to be highly generous, considering I made next to no advancements. That term, I only had the winter anime convention to look forward to, and even that proved to be a disappointment when I learnt that the organisers had unveiled a secret collectable pin available only to those who attended a special session. The winter break came and went, taking with it the festivities and lights of Christmas. During the dark of that year, I fell into a depression that worsened upon finding out the individual I’d been waiting for had begun seeing someone else. In the years following, I’ve associated the winter months after December with misery, darkness and the near-total absence of hope. Combined with the need to frequently shovel the walk, navigate icy roads and deal with bitterly cold weather, the winter does appear to offer people with very little to like. However, in recent years, this stance has softened somewhat: a failed kokuhaku does not render a cup of cocoa any less warming, and even after the last of the Christmas lights are downed, I have the consolation that every day I get through means I’m one day closer to the summer, a time of exploration and joy. Kokuhakus may fail, and darkness may fall upon the world after each summer, but as long as I’ve got it in me to put one foot in front of the other, there will always be something to look forwards to, and something new to work towards.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When one opens up IT’S WINTER, they’ll always spawn in the dark kitchen of a Soviet-era apartment in the middle of nowhere. Developer Ignatovo had stated that IT’S WINTER could be set anywhere in Russia, from the outskirts of Moscow, to the heart of Vorkuta in the Komi Republic, or even the Kolyma region’s Magadan. I quickly glanced around the small but cozy-looking kitchen before deciding that I should get a feel for this small one bedroom, one bathroom apartment before taking a look outside.

  • The bedroom is the largest room in the flat, and there’s a balcony players can walk out to. Russians consider the balcony an essential part of their space, and while they are largely used for storage, some creative residents have transformed balconies into makeshift rooms. While balconies and patios are great for places where it’s summer for at least six months of the year, in somewhere like Russia or Canada, I would prefer more interior space instead: a lot of condominiums in my area have balconies, and while they’d be a brilliant space during the summer, we recall that in Alberta, winter dominates for up to eight months of the year.

  • I’d much rather have more interior space for something like a home office or reading nook. While the bedroom is minimally furnished, it does feel like a comfortable space, as well. I do realise here that my thoughts about IT’S WINTER stand contrary to what Ignatovo had intended to say: small hints of the protagonist’s monotonous and depressing life can be found scattered around the apartment, from anti-depressants to notes speaking to the inescapable boredom that one might face while being confined to their small homes for much of the year owing to the bitterly cold Russian winters.

  • IT’S WINTER can be thought of as a statement about depression from the Soviet perspective: the apartment is a small space, and even outside, there’s a limit to how far players can go before being enveloped by the winter weather. No matter where one goes, it’s always nighttime, and the skies are cloudy, only being lit by the glow of street lamps below. In this function, IT’S WINTER succeeds entirely in its function: there is little doubt that the me of seven years earlier would’ve found this experience to be a profoundly relatable one: I’d been dreading the arrival of winter, a time when being outside isn’t possible, and the only thing that I could do was focus on my open studies, completing courses that ultimately might’ve been completely pointless.

  • After I stepped outside for a walk, I found myself taken aback at how quiet everything was: the centre courtyard is completely devoid of life, and the playgrounds are deserted. Everything is bathed in a gentle glow from the streetlights: there is a beauty about this type of setting, although strangely enough, rather than finding myself feeling saddened by what I was seeing, I felt a sense of tranquility instead. IT’S WINTER offers players with no objectives or goals, but this near-total freedom meant I was also able to impart my own feelings on things.

  • Here, I encounter a lone sparkler that someone had left behind. Larger sparklers can burn for up to a minute-and-a-half, so it is clear that there are other people with me, but perhaps the brutal winter cold forced them back inside after they’d lit the sparkler. This small sign of life was regarded as saddening for some, but again, a different perspective from me gave me a bit of reassurance, that I wasn’t entirely alone: on nights like these, people would have an inclination to remain in their flats, and some might have even turned in already. I would chalk up my different stance on winter in the present to be a consequence of where things have headed for me in the past year. After conversation with family yesterday, I finally confirmed the date that I will be moving in to the new place: they’d figured out what date was the most optimal (i.e. lucky) for the move by means of feng shui.

  • While I won’t share all details at present, I can say that it is happening in the spring, and that I am very excited. The new place is a luxury condominium located in one of the best parts of Calgary, close to public transportation and numerous shopping and dining. I’d long been in love with that side of town, and it also means I’ll be much closer to my parents, and some relatives. After touring the space back in September, something in me clicked, and this space became something I found myself daydreaming often about. As a luxury condominium, there’s a well-equipped gym, complete with dedicated bench press and squat racks, plus a beautiful rooftop patio and meeting hall with a gorgeous view of the mountains. The unit itself is beautifully appointed, affording me with a gorgeous view of the north from the solarium, kitchen and my bedroom.

  • It’s a far cry from the view that the apartment in IT’S WINTER provides: the more I explored IT’S WINTER, the more I realised that this was a title that conveyed melancholy, depression and the inescapability of these conditions to me. I am aware that some time ago, I disparaged Depression Quest for its poor execution and portrayal of depression. My thoughts on Depression Quest have not changed since then – it is a low-effort hypercard game made by those with only the vaguest idea of what depression entails and no idea what software development requires. IT’S WINTER manages to do what Depression Quest could not, and the reason for this is because IT’S WINTER gives players options and lets players work out that whatever they do ultimately ends up being futile. Depression Quest, on the other hand, takes agency away from those who’ve got the patience to sit through it.

  • Moreover, IT’S WINTER visually captures what depression might look like – a foggy, cold and snowy evening illuminated by the occasional light, but in a dark world where everything is otherwise closed. There is no incidental music to speak of, leaving players to get lost in their own thoughts as they wander the frigid wasteland. By comparison, Depression Quest makes use of a repetitive and insensitive piano piece that feels completely out-of-placed. Altogether, it is sufficient to say that IT’S WINTER is a proper experience, whereas Depression Quest should be removed from the Steam Store for making a mockery of what is a very serious mental health issue. As it stands, I enjoy things where an honest and sincere effort was made into conveying an idea to players, and IT’S WINTER does this very well through its simplicity.

  • This leads to the question of whether or not IT’S WINTER is worth the price it commands: a lofty 10 USD (12 CAD) for an experience that typically lasts about a quarter hour. I can’t answer this for others, but for me, the price represents a means of supporting the developer and his other projects. Routine Feat is another work from Ignatovo, but it is set during the summer and has a slightly more developed narrative. The way I see it, since Routine Feat is free to play, contributing to IT’S WINTER means also supporting Routine Feat: looking around at the aesthetics, I feel that it would be a great game to frame my recollections of the MCAT, as well as of the flood that struck my home town some eight-and-a-half years earlier.

  • I found out about IT’S WINTER a few weeks ago while browsing around articles about Russian apartments. Folks over in North America are accustomed to their large homes of 1700 square feet or above, so the austere and small size of khrushchyovka can come across as being quite unlivable in comparison. While there are some aspects that can take some getting used to, such as the relative lack of space and nonexistent control over the heating, Russians have also managed to turn these spartan quarters into personalised homes. Russians are fond of redecorating their interior spaces, and the inside of a seemingly drab-looking khrushchyovka can look unrecognisable.

  • The nature of khrushchyovka contributes to the Russian belief that the inside is what counts, and in IT’S WINTER, this aesthetic seems to be retained: the lifeless apartment blocks outside stand in contrast with the small but cozy space belonging to the player, and I found that on several occasions, there was a feeling of reassurance whenever I stepped out of the winter night and climbed up the stairs to my place. It felt good to know that no matter where I explored, there was always a place I can return to. One small detail that I did find amusing was how I could jump off my fifth floor balcony and land on the snow below, unharmed.

  • Here, I encounter the snowplow that is making the rounds. Its cabin glows brilliantly: besides the sparkler and lights in the other units, it’s the only sign of life in IT’S WINTER. Despite its simplicity, I found myself watching its progress: some audio will play if players spend enough time looking at the snowplow, and this in turn prompts thoughts of who the driver is, whether or not he has any stories to share, and what his thoughts on the cold winter weather are. As it is, IT’S WINTER offers no answers for players, leaving them to draw their own conclusions.

  • Temperatures today reached a much more agreeable and comfortable -15°C, so I capitalised on this as a chance to go out and pick up ingredients for the New Year’s Eve dinner, as well as our annual New Year’s 打邊爐 party. Despite some issues with availability, we managed to pick up most of what we were looking for, and I am quite looking forwards to things. The forecast indicates that New Year’s Day is going to see a high of -8°C, which is very comfortable by all standards, but it’s still cold enough to really enjoy hot, savoury food and good conversation.

  • The fact that this year’s Christmas Day and New Year’s Day land on a weekend means that there have been observation holidays on Monday, so I’m going to be returning to work on Tuesday, January 4. With the time that has passed in my break, I’ve managed to take delivery of both beds and mattresses, and I’ve also moved most of my old university books over. In the time remaining during this break, I’ll aim to finish assembling a shoe cabinet. Whatever time is left, I’ll take easy: I’ve made some progress in levelling up in Battlefield 2042, and I’ve just unlocked the PKP, a LMG that is said to be as accurate as an assault rifle with the capacity of a machine gun. In Halo Infinite, I am at the excavation site, and I’ll be looking to finish that mission before writing a post about my experiences in the open world.

  • Here, I walk by a store with a green sign. WIRED erroneously indicates that this is a pharmacy, but closer inspection finds that it reads продукты (produkty), which refers to convenience stores. The nearest convenience store to me is about a three minute walk away, but they’re open twenty-four hours a day, so on paper, it means I could head out at 2 AM and pick up a coffee if I felt so inclined. Here in IT’S WINTER, the convenience store is about a minute and a half from the player’s flat, but it’s closed, so there’s no opportunity to browse around and see what they’ve got.

  • One of the most visually distinct features about IT’S WINTER is the fact that it has a very Minecraft-like aesthetic. This works to IT’S WINTER’s advantage: while photorealistic graphics are often touted as being the driving force behind hardware and algorithmic advances, they alone do not improve a game. What’s important to a game (or experience) is the aesthetic, and as such, while IT’S WINTER might not have the insane visuals of something like DOOM or Crysis, the art style works perfectly for what Ignatovo is trying to convey.

  • The quiet playgrounds here really speaks to IT’S WINTER‘s desolation: ordinarily, playgrounds are venues of amusement, filled with children’s laughter. I glance around the empty courtyard before making my way back into the player’s flat. One thing I had worried about was whether or not I’d be able to find the entry again after exiting: there are very few identifying marks, and I ended up making use of the fact that walking out, I could immediately see a flat with a purple light in it. Since I was across from it, if I could find this purple light, I knew I could find my flat again.

  • The interior of the apartment complex is filled with locked doors, and people seem to be fond of leaving their refuse in the hallways. Being a good Samaritan, I cleared the hallways out before returning to my unit. To remember which unit, one simply needs to recall that they’re adjacent to someone with a steel-black door. Of course, if this isn’t viable, then a fair way would be to approach every door and see if the prompt to open it appears. Upon returning to my flat, I head to the bathroom, wash my hands, turn the lights in the bedroom on and prepare to catch some shuteye.

  • IT’S WINTER is certainly one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever tried, and I can say that it was quite worthwhile in making me count my blessings, as well as showing me how even in a melancholy environment, there can still be things to be grateful for. I’ll likely play through this whenever I’m feeling introspective, and depending on my experiences, I might return to write about things again. With this post in the books, I have two more posts planned out for this year: a talk on PuraOre! now that I’ve crossed the finish line, and then as I’d noted earlier, a talk on Halo Infinite. It’s now a ways past lunch, and after enjoying an English muffin with sausage, there’s nothing left on my itinerary for the day, so it’s time to make as much progress as I can with my remaining blog posts, wrap up the excavation site mission in Halo Infinite and then see if I can get Ace Combat 5 up and running.

In the present day, winters no longer quite bother me to the same extent as they once did. While sleet and slush still evoke in me a twinge of annoyance (I hate ice more than I do extreme cold), the snow and darkness simply acts as a reminder that I’ve got a roof over my head, and like the protagonist of IT’S WINTER, my fridge is in good shape, so I’ve got much to be thankful for. In the New Year, the list of things I am to count my blessings for will lengthen: at the time of writing, all of our beds and mattresses have been delivered, and after speaking with a feng shui expert in the family, we’ve now locked in a time for moving-in day. This is going to be busy season, as my goal now is to begin finishing the move ahead of this day and finalise all of the furniture that we’ll need. Quite simply, I’m going to be focused on something with a tangible goal, and I’ve long found that to ward off feelings of loneliness and melancholy, a productive mind acts as the perfect countermeasure. The future is one I am quite looking forwards to, creating a bit of warmth in me even as we’re in the middle of winter’s darkest, loneliest months; after Christmas, winter is at its most miserable, but knowing there is something to both work towards and look forwards to is a massive psychological boost. Memories of months I once spent memorising physics concepts for will be displaced by shopping for furniture and arranging for movers, as well as packing and cleaning, and right as winter ends, it’ll be time to begin a new chapter in life. One could say that I no longer regard winter as poorly as I once did: it’s taken almost a decade, but I do feel like I’ve pulled through and overcome my dislike of the winter months. Like IT’S WINTER, an experience about winter melancholy and loneliness, I’ve found that changing my point of view on things transforms something negative into something more welcoming. I’ve only really explored a few areas of IT’S WINTER insofar, and I’d certainly like to try my hand at making a more scrumptious dinner with the ingredients available in the fridge seen in-game, and mess around with the physical objects in the apartment, as well as see how far I can go before I hit IT’S WINTER‘s map boundaries. Finally, Ignatovo has also released a title called Routine Feat, set in the same apartment blocks, but now, during summer. A decade earlier, I would’ve been staring down the MCAT, and nine years ago, despite the pleasant sunny weather, I found myself in the throes of melancholy after the Great Flood washed away my summer. I am now curious to know if Routine Feat is able to capture the melancholy and loneliness I’ve come to associate with those experiences.

Portal 2: A Reflection and Recollections of the Perpetual Testing Initiative

“All right, I’ve been thinking. When life gives you lemons, don’t make lemonade. Make life take the lemons back! Get mad! I don’t want your damn lemons! What am I supposed to do with these?! Demand to see life’s manager! Make life rue the day it thought it could give Cave Johnson lemons! Do you know who I am?! I’m the man who’s gonna burn your house down! With the lemons!” –Cave Johnson

Chell finds herself pulled out of stasis by the AI Wheatley, who informs her that the Aperture Science facility has fallen into a critical state and that they need to escape. Leading Chell through old test chambers, Wheatley attempts to work out a plan while Chell locates a portal gun. However, they inadvertently reactivate GLaDOS, who separates the two and sends Chell into a series of test chambers to continue on with where they’d previously left off. When Wheatley figures he’s got a solution, he creates a distraction, allowing Chell to escape into the maintenance passages beyond the test chambers. Chell sabotages the turret production line and disables the neurotoxin generator before heading off to face GLaDOS, successfully inititing a core transfer. Wheatley takes over Aperture Science’s main system and places GLaDOS in a potato battery powered CPU. However, he reneges on his promise to send Chell to the surface, and when GLaDOS reveals Wheatley was designed to inhibit her, he throws the pair into a shaft leading into the bowels of Aperture Science. Making her way through the old Enrichment Spheres, Chell learns that Aperture Science was once a shower curtain manufacturer for the military and received an incredible amount of funding to test their products. Helmed by Cave Johnson, Aperture Science began exploring the realm of science with a reckless abandon, and over time, the company began failing even as Johnson started developing an illness from testing products on himself. His final act was to transfer control of the company to his assistant, Caroline. When Chell reunites with GLaDOS, the two set their differences aside to return to the upper levels and stop Wheatley from destroying the facility. GLaDOS reveals that she has Caroline’s memories and begins opening up to Chell. Upon their return, Chell makes her way through Wheatley’s test chambers to stall for time and manages to elude his crude traps, eventually returning to GLaDOS’ main body. She manages to change out the personality cores and places a portal on the moon, sending Wheatley into the depths of space. Back in control, GLaDOS stabilises the facility and decides to let Chell go, figuring that killing her is too much effort. Wheatley laments his decision to betray Chell and wishes things were different. This is the adventure that Chell goes through in Portal 2, the 2011 sequel to 2007’s acclaimed Portal, a highly innovative and remarkable puzzle game built in the Source Engine with Half-Life 2 assets.

In contrast to its predecessor, Portal 2 is much livelier, and although Chell is exploring an abandoned, derelict Aperture Sciences, Portal 2 never had the same sterile, cold feeling that Portal did. Portal 2 explores a greater range of Aperture’s constructions, and in doing so, also explores a greater range of emotions. Wheatley provides an endless supply of comic relief, driving players forward with an improvisational tone even when he does take over Aperture and develops GLaDOS’ old tendency to want to kill Chell. When she falls into the depths of Aperture Science, Cave Johnson’s old recordings give insight into a once-brilliant mind and his fall from grace. The ruins of the old facility are the only remainders of his legacy, giving the entire area an air of melancholy. GLaDOS is a more multi-dimensional character, carrying out her directive per her programming but also recalling that she was once human and coming to understand why Chell chose to act the way she did. The characterisation creates a much richer experience that ultimately tells a story of regret and longing, as well as coming to peace with what has come to pass, set in the cavernous interior of Aperture Sciences. Besides an enriched story, Portal 2 features all-new mechanics to properly differentiate itself from its predecessor and Half-Life 2. Aerial faith plates propel players to new heights from fixed points, thermal discouragement beams require careful placement to activate exits, hard light bridges to reach distant points, special gels encourage lateral thinking to help players pass otherwise impassible areas, and excursion funnels provide a thrilling way of transporting player and materials across chasms. Like its predecessor, players must use a combination of their knowledge of previous mechanics to devise solutions for clearing different areas, and as Chell edges closer to escaping Aperture Science, she learns more about its storied past. In this way, Portal 2 and Portal share the same relationship that Halo 2 and Halo: Combat Evolved shared; both sequels participate in extensive world-building that enriches the player’s experience of the world, at the expense of the suspense created through the minimalist story-telling of their predecessor. In addition, the sequel’s introduction of new mechanics also changes the strategy players take in completing the game – in the case of Portal 2, the new mechanics cement the notion that the game has evolved into a separate entity from Half-Life 2 with its own distinct elements, but it also creates the caveat that some areas must be cleared a certain way, which restricts players’ freedom to solve puzzles in their own way.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • An indeterminate amount of time has passed since Chell last ventured through Aperture’s test chambers, and in that time, the facility has become dilapidated, overgrown with vegetation and mould. It is through these test chambers that Chell makes her way through, and initially, she’ll find the single-portal gun and advance a short ways before locating the full portal gun. Like its predecessor, Portal 2 gradually introduces players to game elements, although players familiar with Portal will doubtlessly have itched to advance further more quickly.

  • It’s been eight years since I last wrote about Portal 2 – eight years earlier, I had been staring down the MCAT, and at this point during the summer, I had just begun my MCAT course; my physics course had finally ended, and I could turn my full attention towards what would certainly be a challenge. However, in between studying, I was able to unwind by going through a friend’s Steam library: in between study sessions, I was able try a few of his games out, among them Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Portal 2. I blazed my way through the former before beginning the latter.

  • Chell’s gear has changed somewhat since the original Portal: long fall boots take place of her original her knee replacements, and she dispenses with the top of her jumpsuit. I’ve seen a few Chell cosplayers at Otafest in past years: when I first attended, Portal 2 would’ve been two years old. The game’s requirements aren’t steep at all, and even in those days, my old desktop had no trouble running the game smoothly, although there was the minor annoyance that the light on top of the portal gun never lit up owing to a limitation in my old GPU. This particular matter is no longer an issue, and in my current screenshots, the light on the portal gun lights up as expected.

  • Death lasers (formally, “thermal discouragement beams”) replace the high-energy pellets of Portal, and require redirection towards a receptacle in order to activate doors and lifts. Like the high-energy pellets, lasers can kill Chell, but only after prolonged exposure, and they typically must be redirected using a combination of portals and redirection cubes. Portal 2 also introduces hard light bridges, which function similarly to those of Halo. The new mechanics of Portal 2 are fun additions to the game, adding further nuance to various puzzles. Not everyone shared this sentiment, and many regarded Portal‘s simplicity as being more conducive towards creative solutions for solving a particular test chamber, whereas the new mechanics made it clearer how one could solve the test chamber and restrict novel solutions.

  • The lift taking players to the next level have changed in appearance: originally, they were solid, and Portal loaded different segments similarly to Half-Life 2, but by Portal 2, they look sleeker, and the game loads new levels quite separately. The lifts are surrounded by screens that give a visual representation of how a new mechanic works, and one of my favourite animations was the one depicting the turrets in action, showing the automatic chambering and firing of rounds. In Portal, turrets could be disabled by knocking them over, and while this is still viable in Portal 2, there is a rather more entertaining way of dealing with turrets.

  • Using a redirection cube allows one to focus a laser on a turret, which heats up its inner structure and eventually causes it to explode: back in Portal, the high-energy pellets could only knock turrets over, which, while functionally equivalent, was nowhere nearly as satisfying. Because Chell is completing these test chambers to occupy GLaDOS while Wheatley works out an escape plan, there’s the sense that something big is in the making.

  • The new test chambers of Portal 2 have a different aesthetic than the test chambers of Portal, being composed of sliding panels rather than the metal cubes. The amount of portal-conducting surfaces are also reduced in many places. While this initially felt restricting, it’s also a bit of a clever way to subtly hint at where portals should be placed. Here, I grab ahold of a weighted cube and make my way across a hard-light bridge: it suddenly strikes me that, since the Perpetual Testing Initiative days, I’ve not actually gone back through Portal 2 until now.

  • Test Chamber 20 is the only test chamber that’s completed and ready to roll: it most resembles the test chambers of Portal and every surface is capable of conducting portals. While seemingly simple, it involves redirecting the lasers into the right receptacles using a combination of redirection cubes and portals. I’ve heard that it’s possible to finish this test chamber without placing any portals, but this requires precise use of the redirection cubes. Once this test chamber is cleared, Wheatley returns and prompts Chell to go into the maintenance access surrounding the test chamber.

  • Portal‘s maintenance areas had a more Half-Life feel to them, and Portal 2 modifies them to have a different aesthetic. I can’t help but wonder if the design was inspired by areas of Facebook headquarters. Once Chell’s escaped, Wheatley will have her help in sabotaging the turret manufacturing line and disabling the neurotoxin supply before taking her to face GLaDOS. Chell manages to perform the core transfer, placing Wheatley in charge of Aperture Sciences, but the additional processing power drives him insane, and he reneges on his promise to Chell. When GLaDOS insults Wheatley, he loses his cool and smashes the lift Chell is in, sending her and GLaDOS tumbling into the depths of Aperture Sciences.

  • After falling into the depths of Aperture Science, some four-and-a-half kilometres beneath the surface, Chell is briefly knocked out and comes to just as a bird carries GLaDOS away. This is the loneliest it gets in Portal 2, and Chell can only count on her wits to figure out how to return to the surface: there is no Wheatley to lighten the moment up, and no GLaDOS to make snide remarks. The sense of scale at Aperture Science becomes apparent here, giving an idea of just how extensive the facilities are. When I first came here in Portal 2 some eight years ago, I was thoroughly impressed with how the older facility was presented, and it was here that the melancholy in the game became visibly felt.

  • Wandering through the unused sections of Aperture Science, I would come upon the vault door that leads into the next section. Portal 2‘s designers stated they wanted to play with some visual humour, in which they would use an immensely large vault door to conceal an ordinary door. At this point during my first play-through, I was wrapping up a physics course and making more headway into the MCAT preparation course. The timing of this was excellent: I had been a little worried about a potential scheduling conflict, but with physic concluding, I was free to focus purely on the MCAT.

  • By the time I’d set foot in the catwalks leading into the first of the Enrichment Spheres, Portal 2 had been out for just over a year. One of my friends had already completed the game and began using the music to test to in accompanying his videos of his Otafest experiences. Portal 2‘s soundtrack was carefully composed to fit the atmosphere of different areas of the game. The music of the Enrichment Spheres, in particular, create a light-hearted sense of science fiction that suggests a combination of whimsy and cleverness that is needed to complete this section of the game.

  • I’m guessing, then, that for my friend, Otafest represents a similar challenge for visitors in that it requires an open mind and awareness of one’s surroundings to ensure one doesn’t miss anything. This turned out to be true: when I attended Otafest a year later, I planned to attend for one day and played things by ear. While it was a fun experience, I would subsequently learn that I’d missed a bunch of events and a chance to collect special pins. For future conventions, I planned ahead and would go on to have a more comprehensive experience. Here, I pass through one of the older offices, and a trophy case of Aperture’s best achievements of the day are visible.

  • Besides Otafest vlogs, my friend had also made extensive cross-overs of Portal and Team Fortress 2 with The Melancholy of Suzumiya HaruhiLucky☆Star and Puella Magi Madoka Magica. I’ll admit that I don’t fully understand half of the intended themes in crossovers, and upon asking my best friend to take a look, and they were similarly uncertain as to what was going on. If I had to guess, they probably represent how he may felt about certain character interactions and themes in a show, brought into a context he was familiar with. Portal 2 captures the feeling of loneliness and the hubris of ambition in this section, so for me, these sections of the game were the most memorable.

  • Chell eventually makes her way into the control rooms that activate the different mobility gels: these modify the properties of a surface, allowing for movement in areas that would otherwise be impassible. While it’s a lonely journey through the bowels of Aperture Science, Chell is accompanied by Cave Johnson’s hilarious, but also increasingly erratic dialogue, which gives a rather detailed history of Aperture Science, which began as a highly successful company that Johnson ran into the ground with uncertain, experimental projects. While a man of science, Johnson evidently had a stubborn pride about him, as well.

  • After reaching a series of abandoned offices, Chell will find the potato that GLaDOS is stuck to; a bird had carried her away earlier, and GLaDOS becomes deathly afraid of birds for a period after she reunites with Chell. Having GLaDOS attached to Chell’s portal gun, Portal 2 suddenly feels a lot less lonely, and the two work out an alliance with the aim of getting back to the main facility so that GLaDOS can stop Wheatley from destroying everything in his incompetence.

  • Once GLaDOS is back, she’ll occasionally react to Cave Johnson’s recordings: it turns out that GLaDOS was built from Caroline, Johnson’s pretty-as-a-postcard assistant with a bright personality who was also evidently competent. Upon hearing one of Johnson’s recordings, GLaDOS responds with a heartfelt and genuine “Goodbye, Sir“, hinting at her origins. It turns out that Johnson had intended to have his mind transferred, but in the event that he died before the process could be carried out, Caroline would take his place. These exchanges match the melancholy, wistful feeling one gets when traversing these test chambers. The inquisitive player can locate a picture of Caroline and unlock an achievement for doing so in this test chamber.

  • I still have vivid memories of being stuck in this enrichment sphere after arriving for the first time: I had started playing Portal 2 as a bit of a study break, having hit a wall of sorts in revising the new MCAT materials, but wound up without a means of completing this test chamber. I ended up putting the breaks on Portal 2, returned to hit the books and ended up understanding the concept I was looking at. The early summer of 2012 was characterised by me being entirely focused on the physics and MCAT courses; most days entailed me going to campus to take the courses and then returning home in the afternoon to study.

  • By June, my physics course had nearly wrapped up, and all that was left was the MCAT course, which ran until the end of July. I spent many a beautiful day indoors doing review problems with friends who were also facing down the MCAT or had previously done so. I constantly swung between an impatience to take the exam and a gripping panic during this time, but with support from my friends, I weathered on. Most of my days were punctuated by a great deal of gaming, which helped me to unwind and focus in between studying sessions.

  • Finally, August came, and I sat the exam. When I had finished, it was as though a great weight was lifted off my shoulders. With the remaining twenty days of the summer, I spearheaded an effort that some of my colleagues had taken to submit a paper to an undergraduate journal earlier that year: we had become swamped with coursework and the paper was shelved. However, two of the remaining colleagues had expressed an interest in continuing, and since I was not officially doing summer research then, I had unlimited time on my hands.

  • After receiving everyone’s drafts, I ended up writing out the entire paper and then asked that my colleagues review it as they were able. As August drew to an end, and my final undergraduate year started, we had a fully finished draft. My supervisor was happy to review it, and we ended up submitting it to the journal. It was accepted some time later, and I was invited to participate in the undergraduate research symposium with my older project from a summer earlier. Seeing the extensibility of this project led me to build my undergraduate research project off it, and for my troubles, I ended up doing very well.

  • As I return further up the facility, I recall that because I had been in the midst of MCAT season and had wanted to finish Portal 2 as quickly as possible. I therefore skipped over the sections of Portal 2 where Chell and GLaDOS return to the more modern Aperture Science facilities, returning to the point after the pair reach the stairwell leading back into a more modern-looking test chamber, shaving about 15-30 minutes off my run. In retrospect, I needn’t have skipped this part, but what’s done is done.

  • According to the screenshots, I finished my first run of Portal 2 precisely eight years earlier and ended up writing about the new mechanics here. At that time, this blog was really more of a side resource where I could go to write shorter articles, supporting the content at my main Webs.com page. However, as the limitations of Webs.com became increasingly apparent, I transitioned all of my writing to this blog. Here, I make use of a portal conducting gel to coat the interior of this shaft, allowing me to freely place portals in critical areas to reach further up.

  • While I had finished Portal 2 and wrote about it eight years ago to this day, that same summer saw Valve introduce the addition of Perpetual Testing Initiative, adding co-op chambers for players to complete. Any owner of Portal 2 was automatically granted a special discount coupon for Portal 2 to gift to friends so that they could claim a copy of the game for 5 USD. My friend, having heard about my enjoyment of the game, sent me his coupon, and a few hours later, I was the proud owner of Portal 2. I started my journey late in August, and finished the campaign a second time just before term started.

  • On my second play-through, I went through every area of the game, including the shafts leading back to the more modern facility and the crawlspace just beneath the modern test chambers. As I passed through familiar test chambers and the bowels of the facility alike, I recalled with vivid clarity the old thrill of studying for the MCAT. Three days later, my MCAT results came back, and it was to my immense relief that I’d done rather well. I wouldn’t actually use the results in later years, having developed a keen interest in software development following my undergraduate thesis, but the lessons and experiences from taking the MCAT persisted: besides being a better tester, I also relaxed considerably regarding challenges.

  • I don’t believe I have any screenshots of Portal 2 left over from those days: all of the screenshots for this post were taken relatively recently. Upon returning back to the modern facilities, it’s evident that Wheatley has made a mess of things, creating illogical tests. Fortunately, there are solutions to Wheatley’s tests, and the introduction of the excursion funnels, which act similarly to the hard light bridges but also offer laminar flow, allowing players and objects to be pushed across an area.

  • Despite displaying fluid-like properties, the excursion funnels are not liquid in nature. Special switches allow their direction to be switched, and they become an invaluable mechanic for crossing over large chasms opening into the deepest reaches of the Aperture Science facility. Wheatley’s tests leave massive gaps in the floor, which expose infrastructure and also give an idea as to how vast Aperture Science really is. Chell can exit the funnel at any time by means of normal movement, but careless movement at the wrong time will lead to death.

  • Besides Chell herself and objects like weighted cubes, the excursion funnels can also be used to transport mobility gels great distances. Solving puzzles with a combination of the mobility gels and excursion funnels turned out quite fun: by this point in time, familiarity with all of the mechanics means that players will have no trouble figuring out what needs to be done. Of note was the part where one needed to use the repulsion gel on turrets to safely deactivate them: once coated, they begin bouncing around erratically and plummet to the depths of the Aperture Science facility.

  • A distant light can be seen as Chell heads towards Wheatley with every intention of stopping him and restoring GLaDOS’ access to control Aperture Science. Traveling through this excursion funnel, with a distant light illuminating the way, players cannot help but feel that they are almost at the light at the end of the tunnel. This screenshot here perfectly captures how it felt to watch the days between myself and the MCAT count down to the doom of my time.

  • The fight with Wheatley is hilarious: while he takes measures to prevent himself from being defeated the same way GLaDOS was defeated, conditions transpire against him, and Chell is given all of the tools needed to stop Wheatley, by corrupting his main core with alternate cores and prompting a core transfer. Once successful, Wheatley is sucked into space, and regrets betraying Chell, while GLaDOS stabilises the facility and allows Chell to walk free, since killing her was too much work. This brings my third play-though of Portal 2 to an end, and having gone through both Lucky☆Star and both Portal games, I turn my attention towards The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya next, which holds the answers to lingering questions I had surrounding Otafest.

Being more extensive than Portal in every way, Portal 2 ultimately is an immensely enjoyable and immersive experience overall. In particular, I was most fond of the game’s midsections, which sees Chell explore the abandoned ruins of the old Aperture Science. The sheer scope and scale of the old Enrichment Spheres are a monument to Aperture Science’s hubris: Portal 2 demonstrated that level design and voice acting alone can tell an incredibly compelling story: Cave Johnson himself never appears, having long died from being poisoned by the moon dust used in creating portal-conducting surfaces, but old heirlooms and artifacts do much in filling in the gaps. Together with the derelict state of the old facilities, one really gains a sense of the hopelessness and desperation Johnson had to bring back the glory days even as Aperture Science fell further into ruin. These missions are reminiscent of exploring haikyo: although the walls of abandoned buildings might not speak, an entire story lies beyond their silence, told in stone and mementos alike. Altogether, Portal 2 places a much greater emphasis on the human elements of the series compared to its predecessor, which, while succeeding on the merits of its simplicity, left many questions unanswered. Portal 2 answers some of these questions and suggests that behind the events of Portal, there was a human element to things, which help players to really understand the dangers of an unchecked desire for progress. Together with areas that capture the scope and scale of Aperture Science, moments that help characters grow, and a generally livelier atmosphere, Portal 2 represents a novel direction for Portal that adds nuance to the series, and while its story leaves players no closer to understanding the role Aperture Science and the Borealis plays in Half-Life 2, does offer closure for those who had lingering questions after completing Portal.