Lifeline

Lifeline

Summary

You are Taylor’s only contact after his/her* ship crashes on an alien moon. Help Taylor through life or death decisions as the text-based story plays out in real time.

*I said his/her because Taylor’s gender was intentionally left ambiguous. I personally imagined Taylor as a guy because he made me think of Mark Watney in Andy Weir’s The Martian.

Review

For a few days, Taylor and I shared a bond. Whenever Nick asked what I was up to, I usually said something like, “I just helped Taylor find a generator!”

Lifeline decisionsThe game plays out in real time, so you won’t hear from Taylor while he’s sleeping or busy doing something. You just have to cross your fingers and hope he’s okay. With other games, waiting between playing is frustrating and annoying, but with Lifeline, it adds realism. It takes about three days to play if you respond to Taylor regularly.

After you finish the story, you have the option of going back in time and making different decisions. You also unlock “fast mode,” so you can skip the waiting time if you want.

Taylor died the first time I played. And the second, third, and fourth times. It wasn’t until I went back to the very beginning of the story and changed a few early decisions that I found a happy ending for Taylor.

I liked Lifeline a lot. It is engaging and suspenseful. Buy it. 😛

My criticisms are that you are limited to only 2 choices per interaction. Sometimes I wanted more options than that. Also, although Taylor usually listens to you, he’ll sometimes argue with you or ignore your suggestions altogether. This is realistic, but on Day 3, Taylor is going to the peak regardless of any choices you make.

You might like this game if you like…

  • Text-based games
  • The Martian by Andy Weir
  • Choose your own adventure games
  • Space exploration
  • Sarcastic characters
  • Suspense and horror

Want to play?

$0.99 on Google Play & iOS (currently on sale)

Annihilation

AnnihilationAnnihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (2014)

Summary

Area X was once a place of human civilization, but nature has since taken over. Four female scientists embark on an expedition (the twelfth such expedition) to learn more about the strange place that has been cut off from the rest of the world.

Annihilation is the first book in the Southern Reach Trilogy.

Review

Ugh, this book was really weird. I thought for sure I’d like it, so I bought the whole trilogy before I read the first book. Now I’m not sure if I should continue reading it (I heard the second book was very different from the first) or if I should just leave it alone and move onto something else.

The book didn’t explain any of the bizarre things happened, any of the history of Area X, or any of the rules about the expeditions. I get that it’s a mystery and only the first book of a trilogy, but I found it really hard to enjoy the book when I had no idea what I was reading.

At least it was short.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Weird science-fiction
  • Female scientists
  • Arguing about whether to call a building a “tower” or a “tunnel”
  • Apocalypses
  • Creepy mysterious environments
  • Dolphins with human-like eyes

The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (2015)

Summary

A woman named Rachel takes the commuter train every day where she imagines the lives of a couple who live in a home along the train tracks. When the wife goes missing, Rachel feels compelled to help in the investigation, which she might be more involved in than she realizes.

Review

I was eager to see what the hype for The Girl on the Train was all about. Overall, I thought the book was okay… not terrible, but not spectacular either. I liked the premise and the plot was fast-moving, but the characters weren’t very interesting. There were a few red herrings, but I predicted some of the ending fairly early in the book.

The Girl on the Train is often compared to Gone Girl. Both are thrillers that revolve around marital problems and have multiple narrators, but they’re definitely two distinct books. If you’re a fan of Gone Girl, though, I think you’d like this book (and vice versa).

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Psychological thrillers
  • People watching
  • Marital problems
  • Gone Girl
  • Alcoholism
  • Unreliable narrators
  • Learning British terms like “off-license”

A Little Experimentation with Photography

Over the last year or so, photography has become one of my favorite hobbies. I don’t have any formal training; I’ve been teaching myself through practice and the wealth of knowledge available on the internet.

Anyway, I’ve been having fun experimenting a bit with photography lately. Here are a few of those experiments:

Long exposure

Long exposure of a lake at night
Long exposure of a lake at night

At my grandparents’ cabin a few weeks ago, Nick and I experimented with long exposure photography for the first time. We took some photos of a fire in the cabin’s wood-burning stove and then we went down to the dock to take some photos of the lake.

It was completely dark and nearly freezing, but we had a lot of fun. Because it was so dark, we couldn’t really see what the camera was pointed at until the photo was taken. We tried to take photos of the stars, too, but there was too much light from the full moon.

See the rest of the photos in my Long Exposure album on Flickr.

Aluminum foil bokeh

Lego motorcyclist with aluminum foil bokeh
Lego motorcyclist with aluminum foil bokeh

I read an article about using aluminum foil to create a bokeh effect and decided to try it out. I set up Lego minifigures on my kitchen counter so there would be a reflection from the granite. Then I crumpled up a piece of aluminum foil and used it as a background with a shallow depth of field to get the bokeh effect.

I don’t have any flashes or other lighting equipment yet, so the lighting was just overhead lighting from the kitchen. I wanted extra lighting on the Lego, though, so I turned on the flashlight app on my phone and pointed it at the Lego while I was taking the photos. Pretty crude, but it was fun to use just what I had lying around. 😛 I already have a few ideas for when I try again.

See the rest of the photos in my Aluminum Foil Bokeh album on Flickr.

Selective color

Selective color Columbine
Selective color Columbine

This one is less exciting to write about, but I’m really happy with how the photo turned out.

I took a photo of a columbine plant in my backyard and I wanted to be creative with the editing. I made the background black and white, leaving only the purple flowers in color.

See the Columbine photo on Flickr.

Dead Wake

Dead WakeDead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson (2015)

Summary

In May 1915, a luxury ocean liner called the Lusitania left New York for Liverpool, full of passengers. Believing the Lusitania to be safe from attack, passengers and crew traveled through a U-boat-infested war zone, ignoring German warnings. A single German torpedo took out the world’s largest passenger ship, claiming the lives of 1198 people.

Review

Dead Wake is an extremely well-researched non-fiction book. It tells the story of the sinking of the Lusitania through its passengers and crew, as well as the German U-boat captain who torpedoed the ship, a top secret British intelligence unit, and President Woodrow Wilson. I liked all the various perspectives, though there wasn’t enough to become attached to any of the characters. I also felt that including Woodrow Wilson’s courtship of Edith Galt should have been left out.

It was a good book and I respect the research that went into it, but I didn’t love it.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • The Lusitania (duh)
  • Well-researched non-fiction
  • World War I
  • American and/or European history
  • Sinking ships
  • U-boats

Squishy the Suicidal Pig

Squishy the Suicidal Pig Title

Summary

Your goal is to die in this puzzle platformer so that you can join your parents in pig heaven.

Review

Squishy the Suicidal Pig Screenshot
Broken screenshots

Disclaimer: I’ve only spent half an hour playing this game.

When I first launched Squishy the Suicidal Pig, I was surprised by how small the window was (960 x 540 pixels) with no option to change it. The only setting was to stretch the game to fullscreen; there weren’t even audio settings. I couldn’t even use my mouse to navigate through the menus. Then I tried to take a screenshot via Steam’s built-in screenshot functionality, which didn’t really work (see screenshot on right). All of that plus a semi-hard-to-read font and misspellings like “basicly” make for a game that is severely lacking polish.

That said, I think Squishy is a pretty clever concept because the goal is not to survive, but to die. The puzzles are well-designed and challenging and I like the bright, colorful art.

I’m not sure what I paid for this game, but it’s currently on sale for $0.33. At that price, it’s worth picking up in spite of its flaws. You’ll even get some of your money back by selling trading cards.

You might like this game if you like…

  • Puzzle platformers
  • Killing pigs
  • Frequently restarting levels
  • Unforgiving obstacles

Want to play?

$0.33 on Steam (currently 67% off) | $0.99 on Google Play

Hatoful Boyfriend

Hatoful Boyfriend logo

Summary

You are the only human student at St. PigeoNation’s Institute, a school for talented birds. Your goal is to find love in this bird dating sim visual novel. The decisions you make affect your story and determine which bird you romantically pursue.

Review

My friend, knowing that I had not yet played a bird dating sim (shocking, I know!), generously surprised me with Hatoful Boyfriend from the Humble Bundle Spring Sale.

Rather than reviewing this bizarre bird dating sim in depth, I’ll share screenshots of my experience:

Hatoful Boyfriend 01
I show up for my first day at school and I’m already running late! Jeepers!
Hatoful Boyfriend 02
I have to decide which school activity I want to participate in. Library staff!
Hatoful Boyfriend 03
After going on a run and getting lost, I meet Azami, a sparrow with an affinity for traffic laws.
Hatoful Boyfriend 04
I get a summer job at a cafe. Apparently, I have a thing for my boss.
Hatoful Boyfriend 05
A gang of pigeons threatened to beat me up and steal my cash! Oh my!
Hatoful Boyfriend 06
My quail math teacher is narcoleptic… and evidently occasionally sleeps in washing machines.
Hatoful Boyfriend 07
The English translation is quite good. No errors at all.
Hatoful Boyfriend 08
The crazy partridge doctor locked me in a room. I’m in despair! Thankfully, the math teacher is there to rescue me.
Hatoful Boyfriend 09
After my rescue, I apparently confess to my math teacher that I have feelings for him. He says I’m a little young, but to come back to him after I graduate. He’ll be waiting for me. Sudden cut to game credits.

In subsequent games, I also pursued the pigeons Okosan (the pudding-loving captain of the track team) and Yuuya (the flirty infirmary assistant).

Hatoful Boyfriend 10
Our class decided to have a “maid cafe.” My crush, Okosan, would rather be nude than wear his maid costume.
Hatoful Boyfriend 11
Yuuya and I went on a date. He teased me to get me to hold his hand.

Before I can recommend that “everybirdie” buy this game, I would like to see more decision-making opportunities in the game. Hatoful Boyfriend is pretty much a lot of text with very few decisions to make. Replayability could be better, too; although there are several different endings and side stories, the base story remains the same each time. That makes it hard to want to pursue all potential bird boyfriends. 🙁

You might like this game if you like…

  • Dating pigeons (obviously)
  • Giving delicious beans to your love interests
  • Visual novels without a lot of choices
  • Lots and lots of screens of text
  • Deciding between attending math class, gym, or music class
  • Male birds wearing maid costumes

Want to play?

$9.99 on Steam and Humble Store

Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told YouEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (2014)

Summary

Lydia, the golden child of a mixed race couple, is dead, but it will be days before her body is found in the nearby lake. Lydia’s Chinese father wanted her to have the social life he never had while her white mother, who gave up her dream of being a doctor to have a family, pushed her academically. Now the lives of her parents and siblings are turned upside-down as they struggle to make sense of her loss and confront the secrets and strains that led to her death.

Review

Everything I Never Told You is told through Lydia’s family members — the father who wanted her to fit in, the mother who wanted her to stand out, and the overlooked siblings. It’s an emotional story about identity, unreasonable expectations, racial and gender prejudice, and family dynamics. Don’t expect a “feel good” story with this book.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Parents projecting their hopes and fears on their children
  • Strong character development
  • Dysfunctional family dynamics
  • Racial and gender prejudice
  • Fitting in vs. being different

The Buried Giant

The Buried GiantThe Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (2015)

Summary

King Arthur helped put an end to the war between the Britons and the Saxons, but his reign has come to an end and a mysterious mist has swept the land, clouding the memories of its inhabitants.

The Buried Giant tells the story of an elderly couple who journey across the land to find a son they can barely remember. When they find what may be a way to remove the mist, they must decide whether it’s worth it to risk bringing back painful memories and disrupting the peace in order to remember the past.

Review

Kazuo Ishiguro has written other books like Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day, but The Buried Giant was the first book I’ve read by him.

As I was reading, I felt pretty ambivalent about The Buried Giant. It was slow-paced and lackluster, but I still kind of wanted to keep reading to see if it would get interesting. And that was how my whole experience reading the book went: not sure where Ishiguro was going with the story, but hoping there would be some fascinating revelation on the next page or chapter. It never came.

I didn’t care about any of the characters and the dialogue was frustrating and excessively repetitive. The story lacked focus and drive. This is one book I’d like to forget about.

You might like this book if you are interested in…

  • Memory loss
  • Saxons vs. Britons
  • Charon from Greek mythology
  • Allegory
  • Widows who taunt boatmen by repeatedly slitting rabbits’ throats
  • Fantasy settings (dragons, ogres, giants, pixies, etc.)
  • Arthurian legend

Morphopolis

Morphopolis logo

Summary

Find hidden objects and solve mini puzzles as you go through a colorful insect world, transforming into a new insect with each chapter.

Review

Currently on sale for only 24 cents, I picked up Morphopolis without really knowing anything about the game. Colorful art, positive reviews, and trading cards I can sell to recoup the cost of the game? Sure, why not.

Morphopolis is pretty short; the 5 chapters took me 1.5 hours to complete. The art is gorgeous and probably the game’s biggest selling point. The gameplay itself isn’t unique; it’s a hidden object game with a handful of puzzles thrown in. For what is intended to be a relaxing game, though, the insects’ slow walking speed really hurt the experience, because it was frustrating to move between screens.

Not a bad game, but not a great one either. Worth the 24 cents.

Morphopolis

You might like this game if you like…

  • Hidden object games
  • Beautiful, colorful art
  • Mini game puzzles
  • The world of bugs
  • Machinarium
  • Slow-paced, casual games

Want to play?

$0.24 on Steam (on sale 95% off) | $3.99 on Google Play and iOS