Weekly status update [0033/????]

What a week.

  • Saturday, Sunday, and Monday: the storm that didn’t really hit us.  I had thoughts.
  • Most of my weekend time–and, actually, most of my time during the week as well–was spent reading.  I think I read something like twelve novels in the last seven days; I know for a fact that I read three just yesterday.  It was nice.  I particularly want to note the three Seanan McGuire novellas that start with Every Heart a Doorway and the three Ben H. Winters novels that start with The Last Policeman.  They were all particularly pleasant reads.  I’m currently in the middle of Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee, the first in another trilogy.  It had a bit of an impenetrable start, but I’m over halfway through it and enjoying it thoroughly now.
  • I also got back (at least temporarily) into watching television.  It’s Last Man on Earth and Brooklyn Nine-Nine in the morning, then the just-released season of Bojack Horseman and season two of Jessica Jones in the afternoon.  Both of those are almost done, though; I’ll move onto Luke Cage for sure, and probably finally start the second season of Fargo as well.
  • Several of my old coworkers (and some that would be new, were I still working) were in town this week, and I was invited to a pair of group events.  Those were nice, but honestly the best evening was Tuesday, which involved just three of us having a long conversation about science fiction over dinner at the best local Tex-Mex place.  It’s always nice to catch up with folks, but I do much better in small groups than I do in large ones, and I’m delighted that someone reached out to plan that dinner.  (Thanks, Mike!)
  • The downside of said dinner: despite getting through a dozen novels this week, my library stack actually grew (in word count, if not volumes) thanks to suggestions-slash-recommendations from that extended conversation. Sigh.
  • Puzzles provided a nice series of interrupts over the course of the week.  Not just for me, too; I had Amazon ship a fat stack of puzzle books to one of my cousins back home, who had expressed interest in them back when I visited in April, and spent a couple of hours on the phone over the course of the week helping her work through some of them.  She seems pretty hooked, which gives me a good feeling.  Puzzles are awesome.
  • Nothing exciting on the video game front, though; I’m mostly taking a break after the heavy Creeper World action from the past few weeks, just maintaining my dailies in the handful of free-to-play games I still muck around with.  I really, really need to put Let It Die to bed.

I’ll finish up my Cardpocalypse series this coming week.  I know my tiny readership isn’t big on commenting, but: this is your final chance to get me to cover anything you think I’ve missed.  So, uh, get on that, I guess?

Weekly status update [0032/????]

I’m writing this one early, since it’s entirely possible that by the end of today I’ll be without power for a week or so.  That’s what I get for thinking that western North Carolina is all that different from Louisiana…

  • Speaking of which, a non-trivial amount of time this week was spent on preparations for Florence.  I bought a bunch of low-carb snacks, along with a lot of liquids (read: Coke Zero and, as an even bigger treat, Ginger Lime Diet Coke) to add thermal mass to my fridge, which is usually almost completely bare.  Charged spare phones and, vitally, my Kindle Paperwhite; checked out a metric ton of books from the library, washed every scrap of clothing I have, et cetera.  I’m as prepped as I’m likely to get.  Now it’s just a matter of lasting through the storm.
  • My reading binge continued, albeit at a bit of a slower pace.  Noir wasn’t as good as The Serpent of Venice (both by Christopher Moore); I actually really liked the latter, although I have no particular attachment to either The Merchant of Venice or Othello.  I thought it was quite a bit better than Fool, even.  Now I’m working on The Black Opera by Mary Gentle, which is good if dense… and glancing over at the 25 (!) other books I have checked out.  Woof.
  • I also played quite a bit on the computer.  Specifically, I finished off Creeper World 2 and its free Flash sequel CW2: Academy.  I really liked it, although the time pressures in a couple of the levels were very non-traditional for the series.  If you’re a fan of tower-defense-y RTS-y turtle-y indie-y games, the series will provide many hours of fun for not a lot of money.  It’s available on Steam.  Now to see if I can get Particle Fleet: Emergence working…
  • Still haven’t touched the code for Dudes.  Life got a little more hectic slash stressful than I like for jumping into something with that level of complexity.
  • I did find time to watch a couple more episodes of Jessica Jones, which seems to finally be picking up steam halfway through the season.  And the new episodes of BoJack Horseman dropped just this morning.  I watched the first one and see no reason to believe it won’t continue to be, for my money, the best show currently “on television” (whatever that means in the streaming era).
  • My order of puzzle books from Turkey finally came in after spending over a week in Customs.  I’m super-stoked about them; there seem to be lots of neat, interesting puzzles inside, even if some of them (like the traditional logic problems) will be forever cut off to me since I don’t read Turkish.  It’s every issue of the magazine ever published, and they only cost me $2 apiece even with shipping halfway around the planet, which goes to show just how big a price disparity there is on these sorts of things.

Right now I’m sitting in my comfy recliner, watching the wind steadily pick up in speed outside while I prepare to curl up with a book for a while.  I’ll post again here later this weekend, assuming I can.  See you on the other side!

Weekly status update [0031/????]

After the (relatively) busy times of last week, we’re back to something rather more like my usual speed.

  • I read a lot.  A lot.  I still have a stack of a good dozen books I checked out at the library (which prompted me to write my paean to the institution earlier this week), but on the whole I made a bunch of forward progress.  Most of it was fiction; Lamb by Christopher Moore stood out, although it suffers from the problem that those most likely to get the most out of it are also those most likely to never, ever read it.  The sole non-fiction book was Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, which was impressively readable.  I typically take two to four times longer to read non-fiction, but I tore through Peak in a single afternoon.
  • I also watched a whole bunch of TV for basically the first time in months.  For whatever reason I was in the mood to give The Good Place a shot; cue spending much of three days tearing through both already-aired seasons.  It’s extraordinarily good, probably the most clever show I’ve seen in years, with a bunch of genuine laugh-out-loud moments and a stellar cast.  Most impressive (to me) is the showing that the main actors who aren’t Ted Danson and Kristen Bell make; I had never heard of Jameela Jamil, not being British, and she is absolutely fantastic in her role as a do-gooder aristo.  The real find–I assume everyone in Britain already knew of her awesomeness–is William Jackson Harper, who plays against Bell’s “banality of mediocre not-quite-evil” with a combination of exasperation and existential dread that is absolutely pitch-perfect.  Never has the word “what?” had such an impact.  I don’t want to write an article on the show, because to really cover what I’d like to cover it’d be spoiler-y as heck, but if you haven’t watched it yet: what the fork are you doing?
  • After getting my second Burnout Paradise Platinum trophy (per my past article, the game thankfully only has one really stupid one), I went back to mostly just playing my daily free-to-play stuff on my PS4.  The computer’s another matter, though; I’ve been on a huge “old strategy game” kick, playing the original Heroes of Might and Magic and Warlords and other games of that ilk.  Most of the time has been with Creeper World 2, which is… wildly different from the first and third games, not just in raw design–the side-view thing is a big twist–but also in its heavy use of timed stages.  Lots of fun, though.
  • Other than all of that, just the typical “spending too much on games I don’t need,” on both the digital and board-type front.  You know, the usual.
  • I haven’t touched the code for Dosat yet.  Soon.

To be fair, after the relative excitement of last week, it was nice to mostly just curl up with a stack of books and get my literature on.  Which I will likely continue this coming week… to my distinct pleasure.

Weekly status update [0030/????]

A busier week than usual, that’s for sure.

  • I spent a non-trivial amount of time this week playing Burnout Paradise Remastered on my PS4.  I spent something like 60-70 hours in the game back on the PS3, and it was a delight to play it again… although I don’t plan on doing nearly everything there is to do in the game like I did back then.  Racing games generally leave me cold, but there’s something about Paradise that makes it a delight to play.  Except for the fact that it plays “Paradise City” every time it boots up.  Ugh.  I have to mute the TV each time I start the game.
  • We had a board game night Tuesday at Fercott.  We played the second edition of London; previously, I enthused about the game, and I still think it’s really good, but I also think that you probably shouldn’t play it with more than three people, and really two is best.  There’s too much “luck of the draw” for the result to be very stable at four.  (I’m not just saying this because I got crushed… but I got crushed.)
  • I spent much of Wednesday up in the hills and mountains with a friend; we went to Wiseman’s View.  A non-trivial amount of the trip’s time was spent on the barely-maintained gravel road leading to the View, and we were the only people there, which was a bit surprising; the day was beautiful, if warm, and the sight down into the gorge utterly stunning.  I had a really good time.  It was nice actually getting out in the woods and into the sun; as I lose weight, my desire to take up hiking is beginning to grow again.  Perhaps next season.
  • I went to the library Thursday to get a single book I had on hold and ended up with ten, which went into a stack with a bunch of other books I’m behind on reading (mostly thanks to Burnout Paradise Remastered).  I’m almost done with one today, though, and plan on tearing through much of the rest in short order.  Libraries are awesome and people don’t use them nearly enough.
  • The programming urge has been growing steadily stronger, so I finally steeled myself and bugged Donald X. Vaccarino (of Dominion fame) to release a game he wrote for himself as open source.  He actually went for it, to my mild surprise.  It’s written in Object Pascal with some very old DOS graphics and mouse tech; my current plan is to basically rewrite it 1:1 in C so that it’ll actually be maintainable into the foreseeable future.  Once I get that done I’ll look into actual improvements to the game itself.  I haven’t actually started coding on it yet; I plan to begin with some of the tools he wrote to mess with the data files, so as to get my feet wet again.  But I am excited!
  • I watched the first episode of Jack Ryan, mostly to get the Twitch bits.  It was… fine?  I mean, I love Wendell Pierce to bits, and after seeing A Quiet Place I’m down with John Krasinski in serious roles, but it sure feels not nearly enough removed from the torture porn of 24 for my liking.  I may watch another episode or two… or I may not, given how little TV I’ve managed these last couple of months.  We’ll see.

So, yeah, lots of stuff going on this past week, including some things I hadn’t done in ages.  I look forward to working on the game, reading these books, and, y’know, in general continuing to chip away at the infinite rock face of “things I want to do.”  As one does.

Weekly status update [0028/????]

This was a week that even I found surprisingly quiet.

  • After over a month of off-and-on effort, I finally managed to order a bunch of back issues of Akıl Oyunları, a Turkish puzzle magazine that comes highly rated from several people.  It’s basically impossible to get in the United States without some serious shenanigans.  Whether they’ll actually arrive successfully at my house or not is another matter entirely…
  • I actually watched a tiny bit of television this past week, namely two or three more episodes of the second season of Jessica Jones.  It definitely got better from the first, rather dire, one.  I’m still not sure it’s good, and it definitely comes across as particularly weak after the fantastic first season, but I’m going to finish it off… if only so that I can watch the second season of Luke Cage.
  • I even watched a couple of movies, another rare event for me.  The Avengers: Infinity War was pretty much exactly what I suspected it’d be; I don’t want to talk about it too much, for fear of spoilers, but I can imagine some people who aren’t aware of comic book tropes were Real Shook Up by that ending.  I also watched A Quiet Place, which was excellent.  It had a couple of silly bits, but overall it was a finely-crafted bit of horror.  It’s basically Signs but only 5% as stupid.
  • After working on it off-and-on for well over a year, I saw the end credits of Picross 3D Round 2… which unlocked a whole other set of puzzles.  Heh.  This wasn’t surprising to me, as that result had already been spoiled… and I hadn’t gotten the final score emblem yet even though I’ve received a perfect score in every level.  I’m taking the post-game easy, though, as I solved a lot of puzzles in a rush to get there, and it’s one of the few videogames that actually hurts a bit to play, due to the weird claw grip you have to hold the 3DS in.
  • I’m not playing this one, but Landail is: he’s made it to Panzer Dragoon Saga, a game I played back in the late ’90s or early ’00s on a loaned copy from a friend.  It goes for over a thousand bucks now (!!).  I was a bit worried that it wouldn’t hold up to my memory… but, no, it’s still a beautiful, well-designed game.  Phew.  Sometimes it’s not Happy Sappy Delusion Syndrome muddling your memories of the past.  It’s been a blast to watch.
  • I actually made more-than-single-line changes to Giles over the past week.  Nothing too exciting, mind, but it required me to actually look at some Python documentation, which is more of a commitment than I had made to programming in quite a while.

As is often true for a quiet week, I still somehow figure out how to write several hundred words…

Weekly status update [0027/????]

A week past the six-month mark, and… well, other than that particular milestone, it’s been a pretty bog-standard sort of thing.

  • I’ve been having fun writing my Guide to the Cardpocalypse, and plan on writing the first one that actually covers games tomorrow or Monday–it’s going to be on trick-takers–so if you have Opinions you want to Express, now’s the time.
  • A lot of reading this week, but not of the book variety.  Instead I read through a couple of very good Let’s Play threads.  For those unfamiliar, a Let’s Play is a playthrough of a particular game–in this case, early Dragon Warrior/Dragon Quest games, along with the original Master of Orion–done by someone who is usually very familiar with that game.  They show off the inner workings, interesting strategies, and hidden bits.  Most modern Let’s Plays are done in video on YouTube; some huge Internet personalities like PewDiePie (ugh) got their start in the format.  But the original form was a combination of text and screenshots in a forum (most famously the Something Awful forum, which I won’t link for… pretty much the same reasons I didn’t link PewDiePie above), and that’s the format I like the most.  It’s easy to pick up and put down, and I read way faster than I watch video, even at 1.5x speed.  If this sounds at all interesting to you, check out the Let’s Play Archive and find some game you’ve always been interested in.
  • Also actually playing games on my own, mostly Let It Die, where I continue to delay my storming of the endgame for no good reason other than that I’m scared, but also some Dead Cells now that it’s out on consoles.  Yeah, that means I bought the game twice, which is dumb, but I really like playing it on my big TV with my PS4 controller.
  • Had dinner with friends not once but twice over the week, which was nice.  Particularly since one of the meals was with someone who moved to Europe in the last few months–it was nice to catch up–and the other was with someone who is moving away soon; another opportunity to socialize with people before they leave is always nice.
  • One of those dinners ended up being not-the-best for my diet, though, so I’ve been playing it tighter for the rest of the week.  I’ve (sadly) gotten used to going to bed hungry, but it’s necessary to help get my “desire to eat everything under the eaves” under control, which (like all addictions) has a nasty habit of springing up with just the slightest provocation.  I’m actually genuinely curious at this point as to how much I weigh now; I don’t know how much I had gotten up to, but I have a rough idea.  I’m not going to seek out a scale, though.  Regular weighing has been one of several things that has completely ruined my self-control due to over-correction.
  • Other than some more time with Picross 3D Round 2, I didn’t do much in the way of puzzles… but I did finally get a lead on getting a bunch of back issues of a particular Turkish puzzle magazine that comes very highly recommended.  (Don’t look at me like that.  I already have a ton of Japanese puzzle magazines; why not Turkish too?)  I’m waiting to hear back from the publisher/editor.  The magazines themselves will be dirt cheap.  It’s gonna be the shipping that’s killer.

The weather’s been uncommonly pleasant here in North Carolina, not but not crazily so, although the off-and-on rain makes it hard to enjoy.  I’ll take it, though, along with the lassitude of my current lifestyle.  It’s been a very different August than my last twenty or so, that’s for sure.  And that’s a good thing.

Twenty-six weeks and what do you get?

…half a year older, for sure; thankfully not deeper in debt.

(A quick note: I added a widget to the side that lets you subscribe to the blog via eMail; put in your address and you’ll get a message whenever I write a new article.  Several people have asked how to follow along a bit easier.  Hopefully that helps.)

My last day of work was February 2nd, 2018.  This past Friday marks twenty-six weeks since then, fully half a year of retirement.  It’s kind of crazy to think about; I remember when I was in my late twenties and thinking, “huh, maybe I can pull this off sometime in my mid-forties if I work really hard at it.”  Working in tech let me pull that off seven or eight years before my original plans, and for that I will always be grateful.

It doesn’t feel like it’s been six months, but it doesn’t feel like it’s only been a couple of weeks either.  If I had to put a number on how long it feels, I’d say something like three months… but I’m not sure that that perception of time is really any different from when I was working.  I was at my last job for just a bit over five years but it felt like three at most.

Let’s answer the most obvious question first, because it’s also the easiest: No, I don’t regret retiring.  Do I have any concrete regrets at all?  Sure.  I miss the social aspects of my workplace, playing board games at lunch and chatting with people in the halls.  I miss the food team and the delicious free food (although my waistline is rather happier now).  But I honestly hadn’t been all that happy with my day-to-day job for a couple of years when I left, and there’s no question that I enjoy what I’m doing now–even if, to the outside world, it might look like a fat lot of nothing–quite a bit more.

The money situation requires a Magic 8-Ball response: Ask again later.  The market volatility this year has completely swamped any attempt I could make at understanding whether my rate of spending is sustainable or not in the long term.  That rate of spending has actually been surprisingly constant over the year, which I discovered almost by accident last week when messing around with graphs in Gnucash; it’s quite a bit higher than I would like–looks like it’s likely to be somewhere around $36,000 for the year, when I’m aiming for something more like $30,000–but there is still a ton of superfluous spending in there, if it turns out I have to buckle down and Get Serious about my money habits.  And assuming my spending increases at the same rate as the value of my investments (a pretty ridiculous assumption, seeing as the trend is downwards, not upwards) I still have somewhere around twenty years before I have to touch the first penny of my retirement, at which point I’ll be in my late fifties.  Yeah.  It’ll almost certainly be fine, but still: ask again later.

As for longer-term plans, well, I said I’d give myself a year before I started worrying about that sort of thing, so get back to me in six months.

From one perspective, these twenty-six weeks have been profoundly unproductive.  Other than this blog, I haven’t written anything of note; other than a few tiny patches and tinkerings, I haven’t written any code either.  But that’s at least partly by design; I don’t want to force myself into those things if I’m not really feeling it, and in both cases I can feel the desire to “do something” percolating more and more inside me.  I suspect it won’t be more than a couple of weeks before I sit down and write something, be it code or prose.  I’m going to let it happen naturally.

From another perspective, though, it’s actually been quite productive.  Changing the way that I type–something I do a lot of, even if it’s not writing prose–has been a huge undertaking; I remember that first weekend, typing at 5wpm and thinking it was the worst idea I had ever had in my life.  But now I’m back to something like 75% of my old typing speed, which puts me in the top 1% or so of typists in the world, and that is Plenty Sufficient for my needs.  It’s also way less strain on my hands, something I need to be careful with if I want to be able to do this for the next thirty-plus years.  It’s the sort of “short term pain, long term gain” thing that I couldn’t really justify back when my livelihood at least partly depended on how fast I could bang on the keyboard, and my life will be better now indefinitely into the future for it.

There’s the other stuff too.  I’ve read a bunch of books I hadn’t gotten around to, played a bunch of games I never finished, completed a couple of puzzle books that have been lingering near my chair for years… basically doing things I always pushed off because I didn’t have the time.  My backlog of media is effectively infinite, so it’s hard to say that I made progress on those fronts, and it still grows at a rate greater than my ability to consume it, but there’s no question that I did something there.  And that’s satisfying.

Another thing that retirement has made easier is taking control of my weight.  There’s no question that I’m addicted to food, and being alone at my house allows me to highly regulate the food I come in contact with; the ever-present snacks at my old work place were a serious impediment to my diet, and although I overcame that for a while it is always easier to just eat all the things.  I still have quite a way to go, but the combination of calorie restriction and keto is doing its job.  (It’s also making me pretty grumpy some days, but you can’t have it all, at least if you want to drop a bunch of pounds in time for the holidays.)

In some ways this was always something of an experiment.  You can plan and plan, hypothesize that “it’s going to work out,” but until you actually do the thing it’s almost impossible to know whether or not such a long-term life shift is actually going to work out.  And it’s still very much early days yet; I won’t presume to know that my first six months are indicative of the next six, much less the (hopefully) long life ahead of me.  But: so far, so good.  So very, very good.

Thanks for coming along on this ride with me.  If you have any questions or topics you’d like me to address, whether briefly in replies or via longer-form posts, just let me know.  Thankfully I get enough comments to know I’m not just screaming into the void, but I’m happy to hear feedback of all types.

See you here again in six months!  (Also on Friday or Saturday, for the weekly rundown.  But also in six months.)

Weekly status update [0026/????]

Half a year in.  Woof.  Let’s jump right in.

  • I made up for lost time on reading this past week; the first book (Ninth City Burning) was fun but slight.  The second, A Dirty Job, was so good that I read the whole thing in a single sitting, something I hadn’t done in ages.  Christopher Moore is always at least interesting and funny, but A Dirty Job was also very engaging, as evidenced by the fact that I couldn’t put it down.  Good stuff.
  • As mentioned here previously, we had a game night Tuesday that led to me starting a new series of articles about card games.  I’ll be writing another one up soon on card-playing etiquette before we jump into the games proper.  I’m still looking for feedback on what games you think should be part of the Guide to the Cardpocalypse.
  • I actually watched the tiniest bit of television this week, a single episode of Jessica Jones.  It was better than the first, which was good.  I have a lot of catching up to do with the Marvel Netflix series, not to mention everything else… but honestly I’d generally much rather read, play games, watch other people play games, or do puzzles.
  • Speaking of puzzles, while I didn’t do a whole lot in any magazines, I picked my Nintendo 3DS back up and did a bunch more of Picross 3D: Round 2.  It’s an excellent game, really hampered only by the clawlike way you have to hold the 3DS to be able to hit all the buttons; my hands actually cramp up after solving a puzzle or two, an issue I don’t have with any other puzzle games.  I’m close to the end, though, so I’m likely going to try and muddle through in the coming week or two.
  • I broke my diet somewhat for the first time since I started; I just really really needed some General Tso’s chicken on Thursday, and topped it off with jalapeño poppers.  It was delicious, and I suspect that one moment of weakness will help make the next several months easier.  I’m not really craving anything right now the way I was before… other than the always-persistent Ghost of Carbs Past moaning in the back of my head, but I’ve gotten good at ignoring that particular bugaboo.

Half a year.  I’m definitely going to write something up this coming week about what it’s been like so far, but just in case you were worried: still not bored.

Weekly status update [0025/????]

A pleasantly quiet week, punctuated with some quiet pleasantness.

  • As mentioned in my rant earlier this week, I finished up Final Fantasy XIII after years of having it hang over my head.  I then immediately started playing it again from the start.  I’ll probably write a “Here’s a Thing” about it soonish, but: it’s a lot better than people think.  Except for the trophies.  Damn the trophies.
  • We had the first extended game night in ages at Fercott Fermentables on Tuesday.  We played Power Grid at Jase’s request; despite him having never played the game, he won on the first tiebreaker, with Chad in second.  Power Grid is a stone cold classic board game, and I enjoy it every time I play, although in this particular game I knew I was going to lose and lose badly about halfway through.  Good times, though, with great company and a good atmosphere.
  • I have a big stack of books from the library but haven’t made a huge dent in them yet due to playing too many video games instead.  I did finally read/look at/gape at Banksy’s Wall and Piece, which Chad kindly loaned me.  It’s a gorgeous piece of art full of gorgeous (and sad, and clever, and all other sorts of things) pieces of art.  One of my favorite touches: a lot of the pieces have either how long it took to paint them–sometimes crazy short amounts of time–or how long they lasted before getting painted over or removed.
  • The diet continues to go well, inasmuch as I’m pretty sure I’m still losing weight and I’m definitely still managing keto.  I intentionally didn’t weigh myself when I started and still haven’t, due to my tendency to obsess over slight variations in the short-term numbers when long-term trends are the important part, but the key “clothes fit better” index is going strong.
  • Speaking of personal health, neither my back nor my wrists have been acting up recently, which is a very pleasant state of affairs.  I suspect the former is at least partly due to the continued weight loss; not sure about the wrists, but I’m not gonna knock it either.

All in all, a pleasant week, with the sadly-too-rare pleasure of an excellent board game evening in the middle.  I… should really try and do something to make those happen more often, but I’m not sure what.  Now, though, it’s time to get back to reading on this quiet Saturday, which is actually a whole lot like what I would have been doing on most Saturdays before retirement anyhow.  Funny how that works.

The devil in the dull

After seven years of it hanging over my head, I just “platted” Final Fantasy XIII for the PS3, and I’m here to tell you: trophies (or achievements, or whatever your favorite system calls them) are the absolute worst.

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the idea, a brief explanation.  Achievements (or trophies; I will use the terms interchangeably from here on out) are a way of tracking and rewarding a player’s actions in the vast majority of modern games.  It all started with the Xbox 360; the PlayStation 3 followed suit a couple of years late, and both Sony and Microsoft’s modern systems continue the trend.  Steam, the juggernaut of gaming on modern PCs, also tracks achievements, and people have even reverse-engineered them into games of yore.  They act as a “scoring system” for all of their platforms; for example, as of this moment I’m Level 20 on my PlayStation Network account, with 32 platinum trophies–essentially but not precisely “games I got every achievement in”–and another 3300 or so other trophies of less valuable metals indicating progress in hundreds of games.

There are fundamentally three types of achievements:

  • Some you get for passing certain points in the game; these tend to be unmissable, assuming you play through the whole thing.
  • Others you get for doing certain challenge-y things within a given game, such as beating it on a particular difficulty level or using a weak weapon, or simply pulling off something clever or challenging that isn’t required to beat the game itself.
  • Lastly are achievements that pretend to be the second kind, above, but are secretly actually “play the game until you hate it with every fiber of your being because this stupid achievement is making you do something tedious and awful.”

Now, perhaps you can put your sleuthing hat on and figure out which of the above I abhor.  (I’m actually not a big fan of the first type of achievement, either; they feel like participation stickers.  But at least they tend to be inoffensive.)  Sometimes the second type can even shade into the third, if the challenging thing you’re asking a player to do ends up being too challenging; game designers tend to be a little too close to their games, and often don’t realize that what is easy for them and their testers can be downright devilish for players out in the real world.

The problem is that almost every game with achievements has at least one of that last type, even games I’ve otherwise really enjoyed.  For example, Axiom Verge–one of my favorite games of all time–has an achievement that requires you to “glitch” at least one of every enemy in the game.  This is quite tedious and frustrating, as some enemies only show up in one or two rooms in the game, and missing one means scouring the map for That One Thing You Didn’t Do.  Now, I happen to have collected all of the achievements in Axiom Verge on three different occasions (two different PSN accounts, plus on Steam), but I still hate that particular achievement with a passion.

I recently “platted” (short for “platinummed”, a delightful verbing of the act of getting the last trophy/achievement on a PlayStation game, which nets you a special platinum trophy on top of the copper, silver, or gold one that whatever the actual thing you did provides) Diablo III.  That game also had a couple of awful trophies; one required you to essentially beat the game with six different characters, which is a lot of one game for most people, but that wasn’t the big offender.  No.  The awful one was the “complete 500 bounties” trophy.

Bounties in Diablo III are semi-random tasks the game assigns you, five at a time.  The thing is: after you’ve done twenty bounties or so, you’ve basically seen everything that the bounty system can offer.  And yet you have to grind out another 480 of them.  480!  Even a fast bounty takes a couple of minutes to complete.  It took me hours of completing bounties while doing other things (mostly watching Twitch) to complete that trophy, none of it fun.

So, back to Final Fantasy XIII.  It, too, has a couple of awful achievements, but one of them takes the grand prize in the Garbage Design Sweepstakes.  You have to “hold” (i.e. have in your inventory) every single weapon and accessory in the game.  Many of these you can’t actually find in the game; instead, you have to upgrade other, weaker items into the missing ones.  The details of the system aren’t important.  What’s important is that getting this one trophy easily adds another ten or so hours onto the game, minimum… all of which consists of repetitive tasks where you kill enemies over and over and over and over and over to get items to sell (or use) to feed the upgrade engine.  It is awful, unfun, and you are basically forced into using a guide off the Internet to make sure you don’t miss any of the upgrade paths.

So: I beat the game back in 2011, looked at what I had to do for the last trophies–there are some other really stupid ones in the game that I won’t get into–and went “nope.”  But it’s been nagging me in the back of my head ever since then.  I platted both of FFXIII‘s sequels, and FFXV as well (for those of you wondering “why not FFXIV?”: it’s an massively multiplayer online game, and I’m not allowed to play those for a whole bunch of reasons having to do with my well-being), and still FFXIII sat there, trophy list 60% complete, mocking me.

And so this past week I decided I’d finish it off.  And finish it I did.  A tiny bit of that was fun; a couple of the bits in the game that I hadn’t done were interesting and challengin.  But mostly it was miserable and boring and tedious.

But.  By merely existing, achievements are a gamification of the act of playing games.  And a lot of people–myself included–are easily susceptible to that sort of thing.  I look at a game where I have 70% of the trophies and go: I should get the rest.  Then I have a shiny platinum!  Then people will know I beat the game.   And so I found myself listening to The Dollop for two hours tonight while tediously playing the same battle over and over and over to get enough in-game money to just be done with this.  This is not good game design.  It’s captive, sure, but it’s unhealthy.  And I don’t like it at all.  But I can’t help myself, either.

At least I can blame Bill Gates.