Kittens, Virtual and Other Varieties

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.

I made my bed specifically for this photo. It does not usually look this nice.

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.

This reset is coming along nicely.

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!

Smash Bro’s Ultimate [57/124]

Four more challenges down as of last night, bringing me to 57 of 124 complete.

  • Clear Adventure Mode
  • Win in all the battles.
  • See the true ending.
  • As Ganondorf, clear the first stage of the final battle without being KO’d.

This leaves three more achievements still to complete on my Adventure Challenge Board.

  • Win in the Final Round without being KO’d.
  • Start New Game +.
  • Obtain All Adventure Skills.

The latter two are easy. I could start New Game + at any time I choose, but I expect if I do I’ll temporarily lose access to the final boss fight, and have to grind all the way through the story again for a shot at the first challenge. Obtaining all the Adventure Skills is a grind I can complete fairly quickly once I start New Game +.

The first challenge is another matter altogether. Winning that charlie foxtrot of a boss-fight without being KO’d? Err…. Umm…. Yeah. I dunno if I’m that good yet. I’ve thrown myself at it a few times without success. This one is going to take more practice.

Now that I’ve completed a first run through story mode, let’s take a moment to reflect.

The World of Light adventure is a masterpiece of abstract storytelling. Each fight feels hand-crafted, a love note to gaming culture past and present. Throughout the story, I was constantly pausing to review the rules for each fight and thinking, “Yeah. That makes sense. Of course it would work that way.” I’m not as well versed in the myriad of games represented in the Smash universe as I’d like to be, so I wasn’t in a position to “get” all the references, but the ones which did trigger my nostalgia consistently felt “right”.

The majority of the fights were not challenging. The CPU level appeared to scale with the Novice > Advanced > Ace > Legendary tier of the spirits, and this left the Novice, Advanced, and several of the Ace fights feeling underwhelming. The distribution of the fights on the map also made progression relatively easy. Most of the Legendary fights were optional, and could have been skipped.

That said, the majority of the Legendary fights felt like they provided a pleasant amount of challenge. There were several that I had to skip early on in the story, as my personal skills were not up to the challenge and I needed to find appropriate spirits to back me up. On the occasions when I’ve gone to the Spirit Board, I’m consistently losing Legendary fights without my Adventure Skills providing their additional edge.

All in all, I’m quite satisfied with World of Light as Smash Ultimate’s single player “Story Mode”. I enjoyed playing through, and was quite entertained by the many nods and references to its constituent games.

Smash Bro’s Ultimate [53/124]

Knocked out two more challenges in Super Smash Bro’s Ultimate last night. Awakened All Fighters in Adventure Mode, and Unlocked >750 Songs. The latter also marked full completion of the “Other” Challenge Board.

The Legendary Dr. Eggman Spirit Battle was quite challenging. Trying to knock out Metal Sonic with swarms of bombs dropping was, for me, a largely luck based endeavor. I attempted the fight around 20 times before I finally won.

I believe I’ve completed all of the Spirit Battles in World of Light, though I won’t know for sure until I see the % completion. All that remains is the final boss fight. I’ve attempted it twice, and failed both times. I was getting a bit frustrated, and it was well past my bed-time, so I decided to call it a night and try it again this evening.

You’re just pretending to be people, aren’t you?

Tip Wilkin – Skin Horse (2019-01-10)

This line of dialogue from yesterday’s Skin Horse gave me pause. I often feel that I am, in fact, pretending to be people. When I interact with others, it seems like I’m acting out a role learned through rote memorization. Following a script with many blank or missing pages and barely legible scribbled notes. It’s almost like Impostor Syndrome, but applied to socializing rather than my career.

What does it mean to pretend to be people? I am people. I can’t pretend to be people, since anything I do is something people do, by definition. That’s where the problem lies. The definition.

Let’s start with the definition of “people”. As a transhumanist, I try to keep my definition of people simple, and inclusive. People are other sapients. This isn’t a universal definition, particularly since we don’t yet have other sapients around[1] to interact with, so it usually boils down to “People are other humans” in everyday parlance.

Looking back on that definition, I think I see the disconnect. People are other humans. I don’t include myself in my own definition of people. I am people, clearly, but I don’t think of myself as people. When I pretend to be people, I’m pretending to be what I see in others. This doesn’t come naturally to me. It takes conscious effort.

I don’t know if that’s true for most people. Most of the people I communicate with don’t appear to analyze themselves and their thought processes as closely as I do my own. From my perspective, this “pretending to be [like other] people” business comes naturally to them. Maybe it does, or maybe they’re successfully hiding their own struggle. Since I rarely find someone expressing similar sentiment, I’ve come to assume the former. Pretending to be people does come naturally to most people. It’s not pretending for them.

This train of logic has led me to classify myself as different from “most people”, and only reinforces the notion that I’m not one of them. I’m just pretending.

[1]I believe research into the sapience of other species of animals may alter this notion in the near future, if it hasn’t already.

Smash Bro’s Ultimate [51/124]

Completed the Dark World last night in Adventure Mode, earning the “Defeat [spoiler]” challenge and putting me at fifty-one challenges complete. Woo, progress!

Most humiliating defeat: I lost a fight to a pichu CPU. Wasn’t even a Legendary pichu. Overconfidence can be a slow and insidious killer. I re-matched and promptly curb-stomped him, but the shame still lingers.

Most humiliating victory: During the Legendary Mecha Ridley Spirit Battle, I won not through skill, but through CPU stupidity. Ridley was wiping the floor with me in a Stamina battle. I had under 20hp left, he still had over 100hp. He successfully captured me in a grab and… walked off the stage. His hitbox hit the edge before mine did, and he handily snatched defeat from the jaws of certain victory. I don’t deserve that win, but I’ll take it.

In other news, I’ve been listening to the Crash Course channel on YouTube. I have a one hour commute to and from work, and while I’ve normally been listening to my Spotify, I’ve lately been craving alternative forms of auditory engagement. I suppose this is the start of a slippery slope leading to pod-casts and audio books.

I finished their World History 2 playlist yesterday, and started their Big History playlist on the drive this morning.

I’ve learned more about the history of Islam, China, and Africa from watching their videos than I ever did in high school. I also found their video on the Dutch East India Trading Company quite interesting, as I was heretofore unaware of the extent of their power and prominence on the historical stage. While it’s nigh impossible to discuss those topics from an american perspective without significant Western and Eurocentric bias, I feel they’ve done an admirable job acknowledging their biases and attempting to filter them out. Which itself is probably a biased feeling on my part. Bias is tricky.

I’m a few episodes in to the Big History playlist, and while it’s largely been information I was already familiar with, there’s been a refreshing amount of new details filling some of the gaps in my understanding of the historical narrative, some of which I had not been aware were gaps. I’m going to have to re-watch this series and do some wikipedia binging to flesh out this new information.

Smash Bro’s Ultimate [50/124]

Finished the “Unlock all facilities.” in Adventure Mode last night, putting me at fifty challenges complete.

Currently playing through the Adventure Mode on Normal Difficulty. My main is Lucario, switching to Fox if I need range for whatever reason. Celebi as a Utility Spirit is broken. I’ve used her nigh exclusively since I unlocked her. I’m concerned that she’s a crutch, and is crippling my skill improvement, but that concern is currently overridden by my desire to finish the story quickly.

My right hand hurts from playing too much. It’s cramping up a bit. Gamecube controller adapter should have arrived in the mail today. Looking forward to checking when I get home.

Update: Adapter has not arrived. Apparently Amazon pulled a fast one, and even though I selected two-day shipping, it’s not actually due to arrive until January 22nd. I am mildly irritated at this discovery.