Yesterday was not a good day.
The day started with a headache in the morning, and developed into an anxiety episode in the afternoon. The afternoon and evening were pretty much a wash as far as productivity goes, but I did get some of my adulting done before it got bad. Budget was balanced. Some bills paid. Laundry and dishes were done.
An anxiety episode for me presents as an overwhelming feeling of tension and paranoia. I constantly feel like a deer caught in the headlights. I want to run and hide, curl up in a ball, fight, do something, but I can’t, because my brain is frozen.
Due to the tension, my neck and upper back are in near constant pain, since the muscles there don’t seem to know how to relax. This persists, somewhat, even when I’m not in the middle of an episode.
At these times, it’s hard to motivate myself to do anything, or find the focus stay on any given task. I spent the afternoon browsing Reddit, and switching between playing Kittens Game and Dwarf Fortress. Reddit and Kittens Game are tasks I can perform automatically, with only occasional appeals to higher brain function, which has made them my habitual diversion, and they’re well suited to times when my brain is otherwise experiencing gridlock. Dwarf Fortress has the one most glorious feature in strategy games, Real Time with Pause, allowing it to be played in bursts.
Both games also happen to feature kittens, of which I am a fan.
Pet Tax. These are my kittens. Raven on the left, Starfire on the right. They’re old ladies now, having just lived through their 14th birthday.
So, Kittens Game. This is an incremental idle game, much like Cookie Clicker. Resource progression starts slow, but it accelerates as you purchase new upgrades. Upgrades increase in cost exponentially, while the benefits they provide largely scale linearly, so even though your resource collection only gets faster, your ability to purchase upgrades slows down, leaving you constantly chasing the next tier of upgrades, which briefly make the game fast again. It’s an extremely addictive cycle, and one that can continue for days, weeks, even months. My current Kittens Game save has over a year of play time.
Kittens Game is notable due to the sheer variety of resources and their increasingly complex interactions. You start as a single kitten collecting catnip in the woods, but soon enough you’re managing a community of kittens collecting iron, furs, and ivory. Eventually you put kittens in space, travel to the moon, and start exploring the solar system. The progression is largely inspired by and reminiscent of 4X games, particularly Sid Meier’s Civilization series.
Incremental games are balanced around “idling”, or leaving the game running in the background with no interaction. In the late-game, it might take hours or days to collect enough resources for the next upgrade. I have gone entire weeks without touching the game, only to return and cash in my accumulated alicorns for a mountain of precious time crystals.
Yesterday I took advantage of another major feature of the game, the Reset. At any time, you have the option to start the game over from the beginning, cashing in your progress for a new kind of resource. In Kittens Game, you get Paragon and Karma, depending on how many kittens you had. This was my 24th reset on this save, and for this one I felt I was ready to take on one of the features unique to Kittens Game, reset Challenges. I started the Energy challenge, which doubles the energy cost for all buildings that consume energy. Each challenge also has a goal, and a reward. The goal is to build at least one of every energy production building, and the reward is that on all subsequent resets, production bonus cuts caused by negative energy are divided by two.
Post reset, the game becomes an extended whack-a-mole simulation, since everything is cheap, I can rapidly buy new upgrades, at first every few seconds, but now every few minutes. I have the game open on my second monitor as I write this, and I’m still playing.
Dwarf Fortress is more than a game. It aspires to be a complete fantasy universe simulator, which it does exceedingly well, despite its shortcomings. It’s been in development since 2002, and is still continuously updated and improved today. The game allows you to procedurally generate a unique world, simulate that world’s history, then enter the world in one of three ways. In Fortress Mode, you manage a party of seven dwarves striking the earth and digging out a fortress in the midst of the wilderness. In Adventure Mode, you take control of a single entity within the universe, and the game plays out as an adventure rpg. Finally, in Legends mode, you can browse through all of the recorded events in your world’s history, following the tales of notable individuals, monsters and artifacts as they played out their simulated lives.
The game has a reputation for brutality. There is no win condition, and the only goals are ones you set for yourself. There are hundreds, if not thousands of factors that, if unaccounted for, can sneak up on you and lead to disaster for whatever well-laid plans you had. Your dwarves can go hungry and riot or starve if you don’t keep up with food production. If you don’t maintain a steady booze supply, they’ll be forced to drink water, causing an extreme loss of productivity in the short term, and riots in the long term, or die of thirst. A nearby tribe of goblins may see your growing wealth and decide to bring an army to your doorstep. Dig too greedily, and too deep, and who knows what horrors you may encounter beneath the earth.
All of this leads to the game’s unofficial motto: Losing is Fun!
I played Fortress Mode, embarking with seven dwarves, two male dogs, two female dogs, two male cats, two female cats, a ram, two ewes, one rooster, and three hens, along with assorted tools and supplies to get me through the first year.
Things did not go well. After about a year a were-gecko showed up and started slaughtering my dwarves. !!Fun!! was had. This was a preventable disaster. I did not have my fortress properly sealed off from the outside world. I should have had an emergency drawbridge on the entrance, and burrows designated and assigned so I could recall my dwarves at the first sign of trouble. I was aware that I needed to do both of these things, and I was planning to do them eventually, but I never got around to it. The fortress has been abandoned. Long live the were-gecko’s reign.
On the upside, one of the children in the first wave of migrants went into a Strange Mood, took over a crafts workshop, and created an artifact musical instrument, and one of my dogs had a litter of puppies towards the end of the year. Yay puppies!