“But this does not define you…”

Cover image from Moana. Screen cap via. An approximation of how I’ve felt the past few weeks.

I’ve had a rough few weeks. Personally, professionally, mentally, emotionally, physically… you name it. It’s been difficult to fire on all cylinders. After a particularly trying week, I gave myself permission this weekend to just be.

Terry and I had a productive Saturday and spent time with friends, but I knew I needed today for and to myself. Based on my activities, here are some tips for a rejuvenating Sunday from someone who allowed herself to have one:

  • Sleep in.
  • Drink coffee.
  • Sink into something methodical—preferably with a goal or something easy to achieve—for a few hours. For me, this was crafting gear in Guild Wars 2 and listening to a podcast. I was playing an open-world MMO, but doing tasks with clearly defined crafting guidelines and a numerical goal to reach. This is not fun for everyone. I don’t even like it a lot of times. But it was perfect for today.
  • Eat lunch. Or a snack. Drink water. Just don’t forget to nourish yourself.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Spend time with your person. Or a person or creature who doesn’t make you make an effort to spend time with them. I’m fortunate to have a husband I can cohabitate with and not have to do anything. Most of the day we were within sight of one another, but we weren’t doing things together. We could just do our thing and have a good day.
  • Eat ice cream.
  • Watch Moana. I suppose you could theoretically watch any Disney movie, or any movie that makes you happy. But I highly suggest Moana for empowerment, good music, tears, and happiness.
  • Do Yoga with Adriene’sYoga for Depression.” Again, you could do any workout or yoga you like, I suppose. But Adriene just posted this today, and it was exactly what I needed. More so than I could have thought.
  • Bathe and pamper yourself. Take a bath, take a hot shower, put on a face mask, shave your legs, pluck your eyebrows. Whatever gets you clean and makes you feel a little special.
  • Dance and sing to the Moana soundtrack while you write a blog post. Okay, maybe that’s just for me.

Take a deep breath and get out there and kill it this week.

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EXPeriencing The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD

Cover image via.

The Legend of Zelda is my childhood, but not for the same reason as most of my peers. In 1992 when I was three years old, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was released in the United States. Like many families, mine had a Super Nintendo. My dad liked video games (my interests are genetic), and he picked up A Link to the Past in the early ’90s.

My mom and I would spend hours watching my dad play A Link to the Past in our basement. We’d pull up chairs between his desk and the tv stand and watch him run around as Link swinging his pixelated sword at long grass, shooting little arrows at knights, and catching fairies in bottles. A Link to the Past has always been one of my favorite video games, but not because of my memories playing it.

In fact, I didn’t try playing it myself until sometime in early high school when I found a copy of the game at a resale game shop. Now, I had fully adopted the PS2 at this point. Going back to a Super Nintendo, which doesn’t have analog sticks, was abnormally difficult for me. I didn’t get past the first dungeon before I abandoned my first attempt at nostalgia.

Occasionally someone would have a Super Nintendo and A Link to the Past and I would attempt to play it. I would fail miserably ever time. I eventually gave up in my quest to defeat the game.

You may be wondering if I played any other Zelda games growing up. The answer is actually no. After Super Nintendo, I moved on to PlayStation, PS2, then Xbox 360 and Xbox One. I never even owned an N64 until I bought one second-hand in high school. My sister got a Wii for Christmas one year, but the only games we ever played were Wii Sports, Wii Sports Resort, and Wii Fit. It wasn’t until I bought a Wii U for myself and Terry for Christmas last year that I had actually owned a new Nintendo tv console.

And you know what Wii U has? A Virtual Console. Do you know what’s in the Virtual Console? Just about every Nintendo game ever created to buy and download and play right away. Finally, finally I would play  A Link to the Past and beat it!

I was so naive.

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The eternal frustrations are real. Image via.

A Link to the Past is a hard. freaking. video game. Top-down, 8-bit, retro games are hard to adjust to in the age of hyper-realistic first-person shooters, 3D movement, and analog sticks. I think I made it through two or three dungeons this time around. I abandoned it this spring.

But, the  Wii U Virtual Console has other Zelda games, too! Like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time–the Mecca of Zelda, Link’s Holy Grail, everyone’s favorite Zelda game. $10 and a download later, I started my quest.

There was just one problem. The games on the Virtual Console aren’t optimized for the Wii U. They’re straight copies of the original games. So nothing has been updated or reconfigured or adjusted for the Wii U.

Which can be problematic. Remember those analog sticks I love so much? Yeah… Enter the Fire Temple.

In the Fire Temple, you have to carefully make your way around a narrow ledge to get the hammer you need to complete the rest of the dungeon. The kicker? It’s timed. So you have to gently maneuver Link around the narrow ledge so you don’t jump down two floors and have to make your way all the way back up to the hammer room.

Because Ocarina of Time wasn’t optimized for the system or controllers (yes, I tried two different types of controllers–the Wii U GamePad and the Wii U compatible GameCube controller), there is no “gently” with the analog stick. Link is either standing still or running full tilt. You cannot gently maneuver him to do anything, meaning I cannot proceed with the Fire Temple. Ocarina was abandoned. I was annoyed.

With the upcoming election (deep breaths two days we can do it), I was looking for a story-packed new video game to play for distraction and escape. Knowing The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess had been remastered for Wii U, Terry suggested we run to Target and get it so I could finally try my hand at a Zelda game on its intended console. When we got to Target, I saw The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD was also remastered for Wii U. I remember my best friend playing through the original Wind Waker on GameCube, and even though most people I know give it grief because “it’s not really Link,” it was also only $20 to Twilight Princess’s $60. So I got that instead.

Two weeks later, that is some of the best $20 I’ve ever spent. After 27 years of my life, I am proud to report I have finally beaten–and loved–a Zelda game. Of course there were frustrations, a couple deaths, and more than one “How do you ____” Google searches, but I did it! Link and Zelda beat Ganondorf and I was able to tune out reality for a few hours every night.

Wind Waker HD‘s cell-shaded animation may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it made all the stakes feel just a little lighter. It was still very much a Zelda game with all the same puzzles, a dozen different special weapons and items, and a big open world to explore with plenty of dungeons, fairies, and magic. There’s even a dragon.

While my childhood memories of Zelda are likely very different than most people’s, I finally have one to share with everyone else: the satisfaction of beating all the dungeons, beating Ganondorf, and having more than three hearts.

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You know a game’s updated for modern times when you get to take selfies in it. Image via.

EXPeriencing Overwatch (and Why It’s Better than Team Fortress 2)

Last year I wrote about watching the amazing cinematic trailer for Overwatch. I also noted that while it was an awesome trailer, it looked like a Team Fortress 2 ripoff. I am here to report that after playing Overwatch in its first week, it may have similar elements to TF2, but it’s not a ripoff. In fact, I am having a blast playing Overwatch—more so in its first week than any time I’ve spent playing Team Fortress 2 in the past three years.

My husband will say I haven’t enjoyed playing Team Fortress 2 because I didn’t give it a chance. However, just like books, if a video game doesn’t hook me after a few hours, what’s the point in continuing? There are too many other good books/games out there to slog through one you don’t enjoy. And in TF2′s case where there is no story, no character development, and no objectives beyond obtaining silly hats and winning five-minute match, there was nothing to keep me playing it. (This is why I haven’t logged onto Steam in over a year.)

Enter Overwatch. There are 21 playable heroes in the game, eight of which are women (as well as two robots and one genetically-enhanced gorilla). It may not be perfectly even, but compared to TF2′s all-male line-up—and almost any other video game’s character pool, particularly shooters—this is something to get excited about. The women (and men) also all come in varying ethnicities and body shapes.

On top of that, each character has an in-depth background. Several have received cinematic shorts à la the trailer (such as Genji and Hanzo and Soldier 76), and some have even gotten comics sharing their background in the Overwatch program (like Torbjörn). These shorts and comics create another layer to Overwatch outside of the game itself that not only create more content to consume, but make you want to play these characters and get to know them in-game, too. Sure, “getting to know them in-game” equates to “what fun voice line can I unlock for 250 credits?” and “what does my left shift button do for this character again?” But this creates a good balance between throwaway characters and Hodor-level devastation when you get shot out of the sky by Bastion in turret mode.

One of the things I like most about Overwatch is that it gives you the tools to be good at it—or at least not completely terrible. You can play against AI and try out different characters and get their abilities under your fingers before you face real people. Nothing shakes my self-confidence quite like getting my ass kicked by other people in video games, so the fact that Overwatch has provided me an arena where I can learn how to not suck at all the characters is a nice touch. And with 21 characters, that’s a lot of abilities to get a handle on.

The game is also built on team collaboration. Unlike Team Fortress 2 where you more or less blindly pick a character and run in, Overwatch helps you compose the perfect team. It tells you if you have too many snipers or not enough support or low team damage. And, the best part, is that people actually pay attention to it. I haven’t witnessed many teams where one or two teammates haven’t switched to different characters after the game says the team composition is off. Every once in a while I’m stuck with a mediocre Hanzo and a crappy Widowmaker and we’ve done poorly, but I’m happy to report that’s rare. (P.S., I’m the crappy Widowmaker.)

My favorite thing about Overwatch, though? It’s just plain fun. As this article from Forbes details, even losing can be fun. Or at the very least, not devastating. Often when playing TF2, because I had no idea what I was doing, losing sucked even more. I was fumbling around, dying all the time, and ultimately letting my team down. In Overwatch, though, even if I really suck, I’m not shamed for my terrible kill-to-death ratio or for not having a bunch of solo kills. Sometimes, sometimes, I even get the play of the game! That’s really fun and makes me feel special, important, and like I contributed to the team.

If you’re at all curious about checking out a new team-based first-person shooter, I would definitely recommend Overwatch! I play on PC, so I can’t speak to the console versions, but shooters are always just better on PCs anyway. Happy shooting!

Traversing “Monument Valley”

I almost never spend money on apps. Case in point, I’ve owned an iPhone since 2011, and I’ve only spent money on two apps: a Couch to 5K running trainer app and “Monument Valley.”

I had never heard of “Monument Valley” until my sister texted me a screen cap of the intro screen (above) saying, “YOU NEED TO BUY THIS GAME RIGHT NOW!!! It’s the most beautiful game I have ever played.” Considering my sister hasn’t played many video games, I took that with a grain of salt. Also considering the app was $3.99, I was hesitant. Is $3.99 really worth it for a puzzle game? But when my sister texted me the next day saying, “Did you get it!?!” I figured I might as well check it out since 1.) my sister isn’t this adamant about anything that we have in common, e.g. video games, and 2.) it would make her stop bugging me.

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So I downloaded it this morning, and it’s a fun little puzzle game! It’s like ustwo, the studio who created “Monument Valley,” decided an M.C. Escher painting needed to be interactive and filled with pretty colors. And not only are the levels filled with creative puzzles, there’s an interesting little story line to go along with them.

I keep saying “little” because for $3.99, the game was awfully short. Ten levels that I was done with in less than two hours. Granted that’s less than a movie ticket for the same amount of time in which I’d be entertained, but still, spending money on an iPhone game feels like it should be more of an investment than a quick Sunday afternoon play-through.

I wondered where my sister would have heard of this game, so I Googled it to see if it had recently gotten some publicity or if there was a compelling story behind it. Well, “recent publicity” is probably a pretty gross understatement. The game was featured in House of Cards Season 3. I’m way behind on HoC (I haven’t even watched Season 2 yet… oops), so clearly I had missed its mention there, but no one else did. According to IGN, since the game’s appearance on the show, “the game has soared into the top 10 top paid apps on iTunes, and is currently number three in the paid games category on the Google Play store. The game did not rank in the top 25 on either app store before appearing on the show.” Nothing like some political drama to get your indie puzzle game on the map! (P.S., Although my sister does watch HoC, she isn’t to that particular episode yet. She found out about the game on a blog.)

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If you’ve seen the game on House of Cards and are thinking about checking it out, or if you’re just looking for something to kill some time with on your phone, I would suggest “Monument Valley.” It’s a pretty game, it’s got great music and sound effects, and it won’t steal all your free time for days on end like “Candy Crush.” One word of caution: if you’re prone to motion sickness, pace yourself. Rotating Escher stairs for two hours maybe isn’t the best for one’s tummy.

I’m always an advocate for games with a story, though. Doing puzzle after puzzle can be entertaining, but when there’s a story–especially one with a princess, and especially one with a princess whose name is the same as one of my sorority’s founders–I feel compelled to reach the end. Although I reached the end of “Monument Valley” more quickly than I had hoped, traversing it was a treat.

EXPeriencing the Best Game Trailer I’ve Ever Seen

Trailers are an important marketing tool, obviously. For movies, video games, and even books, the trailer heaps on the hype leading up to the work’s release. Trailers are so important nowadays, we even have trailers for our trailers (lookin’ at you, Ant-Man).

Sometimes those trailers are good, sometimes they’re meh. Sometimes it doesn’t matter whether they’re good or bad, just that they do their job of getting you excited for the upcoming movie/video game/book release. But it is pretty refreshing when you get a good trailer that does its job so well, something you didn’t really care about becomes something you can’t wait for. In this case, the cinematic trailer for Blizzard’s Overwatch. I’m not going to say anything else about it until after you’ve watched the amazingness that is this trailer:

I share the little boy’s sentiments completely: “That. Was. AWESOME!” Seriously. That is Pixar-level, not just in art and animation, but in storytelling, too. I don’t know much about this world they’ve created, but I want to learn more.

The only thing I knew about Overwatch before seeing the trailer was that it was kind of a rip-off of one of my husband’s favorite games, Team Fortress 2. If you’ve never heard of it, TF2 features nine (mostly white and all male) characters who fight each other for kicks. Maybe there’s more detail to the overall game than that, but you really don’t need to know anything else besides it. It’s a first-person shooter, and basically you just pick a character to play as and run around shooting bullets, arrows, and/or fire at your opponents. It’s pretty straightforward.

When Terry, my husband, first told me about Overwatch and showed me some initial release footage, yeah, it looked like a TF2 ripoff. There was the super-quick skinny character whose job is to run in and get back out, just like TF2’s Scout character. There was the big beefy character whose job is basically “destroy,” just like TF2’s Heavy. There’s a sniper. There’s a healer who heals with a magic healy-gun. There’s an engineer who builds turrets. Most of the characters line up so perfectly, they even have similar accents.

But there’s one major difference: NOT ONLY does Overwatch have female characters, but it ALSO has characters of varying races and ethnicities! So while yes, there is a super-quick skinny character, she’s a she. And the sniper is a she. And the healer is a she. And the characters aren’t all white! They’re Indian and Egyptian and Japanese and… giant gorilla. Yes, there’s a giant gorilla. Also, robots.

I’m not a huge fan of Blizzard, mostly because I just don’t like WoW. But, I am definitely willing to give this game a shot, thanks in no small part to the cinematic trailer. I’m not terribly great at first-person shooters, especially not TF2, but this game just looks, well, fun. And if that trailer doesn’t make you want to jump in and at least experience the world a little, I don’t know what would. Add in that I actually have the option of playing as a girl, and yeah, I’m definitely gonna check it out.

Now, we’ll just have to wait and see if Overwatch also has silly hats.

EXPeriencing the Hype: Guild Wars 2’s First Expansion

You know I love Guild Wars 2. I just recently told you how much I love it. So it’s no surprise, then, that I am super. freaking. pumped. for Guild Wars 2’s first expansion, Heart of Thorns.

Starting almost exactly two years ago, GW2 launched what they call the “Living Story.” Season 1 of the Living Story built upon what had already transpired in the game and introduced new group of heroes to interact with, new alliances and enemies, and created more content for players to jump into. In my opinion, it started out a bit slow–these tiny events were happening, and you knew were building up to something, but it took almost a month to find out just what they were building up to. But they improved dramatically as 2013 carried on, building a greater story with many moving parts, all leading up to a giant boss battle with the Living Story’s antagonist, Scarlet Briar. At the end of this battle, it turns out Scarlet has awoken another elder dragon–the overall antagonists of Guild Wars 2.

About a year ago, Season 2 of the Living Story began as you the hero and your new band of buddies who you acquired throughout Season 1 begin learning more about the newly awoken dragon, Mordremoth. You’re trying to convince the different races that this is a big deal and everyone needs to work together to defeat it, and when they do realize it, what exactly you’re supposed to do about it. Season 2 has been much more well-paced, and the best part is, you can replay the different episodes. (In Season 1, a living story episode was one month or two weeks long, and when it was over, it was over. So if you missed something, you couldn’t participate and had to read about what happened on the Wiki site. It was kind of a bummer.) It’s all felt very much like it’s been leading up to something–you don’t introduce a new main antagonist if you don’t have big plans for it.

Enter Heart of Thorns. Guild Wars 2 has been out for almost three full years now, and man do I have the hours racked up to prove it… Many people have been chomping at the bit to get a new expansion, which would likely be accompanied by new classes, new areas of Tyria to explore, and who knew what else!

Well now we know:

New profession? Check. New areas to explore? Check. New weapons for existing professions? Check. New ways to master those professions? Check. Old enemies becoming new friends? Check and check. I. Am. Pumped.

I think the thing I’m most excited for is the new maps. I love exploring Tyria–in fact, there’s an entire title devoted to getting each map 100% explored. Of course I have it on my elementalist (Been There, Done That, y’all), and am steadily working toward it on other characters. But to have someplace new to explore with new events and (hopefully) new hearts to complete and new rewards to get… My need to be rewarded for hours of effort I’ve put into something craves this newness and satisfaction of completion.

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Image via Guild Wars 2.

Another thing I’m very interested about is how the sylvari play into all of this. I think it’s clear now that they were supposed to have been Mordremoth’s minions, a.k.a., enemies, but thanks to a centaur with a heart of gold, most of the sylvari aren’t evil. They’re a playable race that I quite like playing as, so it will be an interesting dynamic when we’re confronted with that. (I haven’t yet played the latest episode in the Living Story, so I’m not sure if this has been out-right confronted. Will update when I’m let back into the game, because of course the night I want to blog about GW2 again is the night the game client doesn’t want to let me in again. Bah.)

The downside to all the hype for HoT? Well, we don’t have a release date for this expansion yet. So, to my knowledge, we have no idea when we’ll be able to explore the Maguuma Jungle, create new characters, and see what the Mursaat have been up to all these years… I’m not complaining. I appreciate that ArenaNet doesn’t generally rush their content before its ready, meaning they have a higher quality product than what we could be subjected to.

So while I watch the Heart of Thorns announcement and story trailers for the 19,713th times, I’ll just have to speculate and give in to the hype.

My Favorite Video Game: Guild Wars 2

All images are my screen caps while playing Guild Wars 2.

My favorite video game, far and away, is Guild Wars 2. This MMO and its predecessor, Guild Wars, have played a huge role in my life for the past 10 years, and in light of what could be (should be, better be) Guild Wars 2′s first expansion (further confirmed by this amazing video), now is the perfect time to talk about why this game is so special to me. And why it’s such a good game, of course.

But first, some backstory.

GW1When I first started dating my now-husband 10 years ago when we were in high school, I went to his house one day and he was playing the original Guild Wars. I watched him run around for a while in this world and said, “This looks like fun. I’d be interested in playing it with you.” Having never dated a girl who really played video games, he bought me the game, and we started playing together after school. A couple of our other friends got the game, too, and also played with us. I fondly recall a snow day back in 2006 where we sat at our computers and played Guild Wars for eight solid hours, only taking a brief break in the middle of the day to all take showers and each lunch.

So we put some time into the game, to say the least. Finally, in 2012, conveniently when I happened to be funemployed about a year after graduating from college, Guild Wars 2 was released. I jumped into the world and it’s had a hold on me ever since. (You can read some more about what Guild Wars 1 meant to me and how hardcore I was waiting for GW2 in a blog post on my old blog.)

But why is this game so much fun? Why am I such a fan girl? Let me tell you.

First of all, this game is beautiful. Every city, every jungle, every mountain is just gorgeous. The gameplay and art quality is really just absolutely wonderful. It’s not cartoony, even when you’re running around as a three-foot tall creature with giant floppy ears and sparkly pistols. They put an incredible amount of detail into each map that makes the world come alive. Along with the art, the ambient sounds and dialogue between NPCs when you’re running by a random fort or shop add another layer of realism to the world that many games lack. NPCs aren’t just waiting around for you and only you to run up to them and start talking to them. Things happen independently of you in Tyria.

In the Maguuma Jungle.

In the Maguuma Jungle.

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My sylvari warrior, Casfiradei (left), and Terry’s norn guardian, Thor Hammerfell (right).

Another thing I love: the races and classes. There are five races and eight classes (or professions if you want to use GW2’s term). Everyone’s favorite race, including mine, is human, probably because their city and starting area are the best maps in the whole game. But I am also very fond of the sylvari, the plant people, because they’re such a unique race. I’ve literally never encountered another world with creatures like the sylvari. They’re not elves, but actual plants who are born from a tree as adults and share a Dream that teaches them about the world. The norn, asura, and charr, too, all add their own flavor to the world and your own gameplay experience. When you first join Guild Wars 2, you get five characters slots, and I strongly suggest making each of your characters a different race so you can get the full game experience.

The professions, like any good fantasy game, consist of light, medium, and heavy classes, but what GW2 doesn’t have, which I love, is the MMO “holy trinity” of tank/healer/DPS. There is not a dedicated tank class, though warriors come close. There is no dedicated healer. At. All. There were monks in GW1 that were in such high-demand if you didn’t have a healer you couldn’t play the game, and if you were the healer, you had the power of a god just by joining someone’s party. And there is no dedicated damage-per-second class. Most of the classes in Guild Wars 2 can do damage over time, but there’s also burst damage and ranged damage and magic damage and pretty much any type of damage to suit your unique style of gameplay. And you can do it as any class with whatever weapon combination works best for you. You can take care of yourself and you can play as a team, from two people in a party, to a dozen people doing random map events, to hundreds of people taking out one of the huge world bosses. I like playing by myself, but I do like having that option to join a group of people to accomplish the same goal.

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My human ranger, Chelle Quicksilver (left), and Terry’s human ranger, Fiyero Quicksilver (right).

The other thing I love is that you can play how you want to play. Do you prefer PvE (player vs. environment) to PvP (player vs. player)? Great! You don’t have to play PvP ever if you don’t want to (and I never do because I’m a PvE gal). Want to zerg across maps taking keeps and lighting other players on fire with burning pitch? Awesome! WvW (world vs. world) is for you! Like dungeons? You got ’em! Want to craft hardcore armor and weapons? Ya got that, too! Want to read a bunch of random history about a make-believe world to make it feel even more real than it already does? Books for days, friends. (I may like that particular option quite a bit.)

So there’s definitely a lot to do in Guild Wars 2, and the hundreds of hours I’ve put into the game can attest to that. You can also spend as much or as little time in Tyria as you want, because the best part? It’s. Free. To. Play. No monthly subscription. Yeah, you can definitely drop some cash buying mini-pets and keys to the million chests that’ve been dropped and stupid outfits, but hey. There are months at a time where I just need a Guild Wars 2 break. I love the game, but I can get burnt out on occasion. So when I do, I just step away for a couple weeks, then I come back when I want to. I don’t have to cancel or reactivate my account or worry about losing $15 per month. Guild Wars 2 is always there for me when I need it to be.

[With the exception of right now because I’m having connectivity issues that are preventing me from updating the game with the newest patch that contains the last part of the living story leading up to the expansion. So I’m kind of not okay with this particular development.]

But it’s cool, ArenaNet. I’ll be here for you when you get it up and running. And then I’ll be right back in Tyria on my ele ready to go.

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