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Archive for the ‘game design’ Category

Apple Doesn’t Work on This Anymore

Posted by Ad on March 9, 2012

Remember AppleWorks? I remember it from back when it was called ClarisWorks. I like it. Sure, it wasn’t Photoshop, it wasn’t Office, it wasn’t even Word, but over the years, it became a useful wrench in my workflow. While the database and spreadsheet functionality saw some use towards the latter years, the painting functionality barely any use at all, those are fairly easily replaced. Now if only I could get LibreOffice spreadsheets to convert a text-based field to boolean while keeping the information…

The drawing functionality, however, is difficult to replace. Any DTP layout program should suffice, but it’s hard to find something affordable and stable. Especially now that I’m out of a job and don’t have spare hundreds to spend on software. Vector graphics and layout programs are sort’a in the right direction, but not quite. EazyDraw, developed as a replacement for the drawing tools in AW and capable of reading most of the information in AW drawing documents would be great, if not for a clunky interface.

That’s probably what irks me the most: interfaces. X11’s interface puts two rows of redundant stuff on the screen, and Inkscape looks ridiculous with 5-6 rows of menus and margins before I actually get to the document itself. I kind’a feel the same about OSX sometimes – the dock is useful and looks nice, but it takes up precious real estate on a laptop screen.

Anyway, I spend some of my spare time trying to design board games, card games, games of whatever type I can. Before I do any prototyping and testing, I sketch it out on the computer. I mean, I did. Now I have to rely on TextEdit – which works ok when it’s just notes and card lists, but it doesn’t let me put text blocks, lines, and images wherever I want. That’s what I did in AppleWorks.

On a related note, I use Snow Leopard’s TextEdit because Lion’s doesn’t fit my workflow, and didn’t give me any working options to change its behavior. For that matter, lots of apps in Lion don’t even understand command-Q because they don’t have a quit option, only “quit with windows” or “quit, close windows”. Apple, Y U NO keep it simple, stupid?

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The Pros and Cons of Game Writers

Posted by Ad on February 23, 2012

I’d much rather give this a lengthier and more applicable title, but it’d be too long for Twitter, I’m afraid. Id’ call it something along the lines of: “The Pros and Cons of Game Development Using Writers Who Do Not Appreciate Games” or something like that. At least I’m not talking about how ppl are ruining the internet again.

Yes, there’s a shitstorm concerning BioWare writer Jennifer Hepler‘s ill-conceived idea that games should let players skip the gameplay, much akin to having an audience skip the destruction, violence, and stunts in action movies, the songs in a musical, or the reading in a book. Seems to me like Hepler is in the wrong industry. If you want to write stories but don’t like having a lot of words, you should write write comic books, or children’s books, not epic fantasy tomes. In the same sense, if you don’t like the interactive aspect of games, find a different medium to write for.

That said, I may be misrepresenting her position of several years back. I think the ability to skip combat is ridiculous (grinding, on the other hand…), but there are some merits to having writers that aren’t pleased with or familiar with the medium.

An obvious pro of having non-game writers write for games is that the outside perspective and outside experiences can bring in fresh new ideas. Voice acting in games is something that can be used badly in so many ways, so having someone with experience with voice acting would certainly alleviate some of those issues. At the same time, gamers play to _do_, not to watch and listen, so a counter-balancing perspective is obviously also needed to avoid turning games into movies with chores between scenes.

Another pro is similar, but rather concerns storytelling itself. Unskilled or inexperienced writers or non-writers can look at the writing side of storytelling in games and think of it as needing to _tell_ the story, leading to excessively wordy stories, story scene upon story scene, dialogue line upon dialogue line repeating ad nauseam what the players figured out a few minutes into the game. A skilled writer, gamer writer or non-game writer, would understand the story elements that need to be told, the ones that can be shown, and hopefully what can be experienced rather than shown or told. Let me re-iterate my position on interactive mediums: they’re the only art that within a work lets you experience regret.

The obvious con is that non-game writers might not write for the strengths of the medium. A non-game writer wouldn’t necessarily make the scenes between Guybrush and Elaine in Monkey Island 1 interactive (to the limited, hilarious extent they were). A non-game writer wouldn’t necessarily understand that gamers play to act, to do, to have agency in that world and influence over the characters they play. There are linear stories in linear games with linear characters, but not all games can be like that, nor should they.

Still, for whatever past failures to understand the medium and its audience, Hepler does not deserve the response she’s been getting. Those that say they want no part in an industry she’s part of should stick to their word and stay out of video games. Don’t play them, don’t talk about them, don’t get a job that involves them in any way.

On a related topic, the rules (especially the Swedish rules) for Antoine Bauda’s 7 Wonders, a board game, are terribly written, and the version I got my hands on didn’t have an English rulebook included. I know ppl around here are expected to be able to read one of the local languages, but when the rulebook is a wordy mess, I’d prefer to have an English version available, one with a little more effort put into clarifying the rules and not leaving portions of other languages (plural) in it. Whoever wrote the rules is a bad writer. The game is good, tho.

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Adventure and Wonder plz

Posted by Ad on January 26, 2012

Many games in the Zelda series and Seiken Densetsu 3 (only released in Japan) are among my favorite games ever. Been wondering why that is lately.

My introduction to Zelda was during the snes era, when a friend from school lent me ALttP. I made it all the way to Turtle Rock but couldn’t figure out how to get it. That was then. I found Seiken Densetsu 3 in the days of the internet before console game companies realized their games were just sitting there for random ppl to nab, before Nintendo started with Virtual Console. And it was awesome.

It’s not like I haven’t played other games along these lines, I have vague memories of Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, Terranigma, the Lufias, Romancing SaGa, Bahamut Lagoon, Front Mission, Breath of Fire, EarthBound, Tales of Phantasia, Star Ocean II, Super Mario RPG, and of course I know the FFs and Chrono Trigger. Most of these I encountered during the wild wild net period of the console game scene.

But ALttP (and some of the more recent Zelda games) and sd3 stand out. Why? Link is a blank slate mute whereas the sd3 characters are all well characterized with their own stories in the game plot. sd3 goes all over its world to a plethora of friendly and unfriendly locations, while ALttP has essentially one friendly town in the entire game. ALttP is full of minigames. sd3 has tiered equipment. ALttP is an action-adventure puzzle game. sd3 is an action-jrpg. Zelda has block puzzles. sd3 has grinding and element spells. Zelda is single-player. sd3 could be played two-player, and has a three-member party. Many of the aforementioned games have some of these elements, but they didn’t appeal to me nearly as much.

Both games have nice music. Iconic, even. Angel’s Fear might not quite compare to the popularity of Zelda tracks, but it’s repeated and alluded to all over the sd3 soundtrack, cementing it as the central theme of the game. Most of the music is location-based, some belong to or has ties to characters (the Zelda theme we’ve heard ad nauseam was introduced in ALttP), keeping the flow of the game rather than breaking out a rocking battle track whenever a rabite appears and jumping forth and back between an overworld/dungeon and a battle scene. They don’t separate travel from combat the way using random encounters does. They don’t take control away from the player just because a minor enemy shows up.

Both games have a fairly standard snes jrpg look. It’s an unrealistic, cute-ish look that still allows the characters to appear capable in combat. And on that topic, the combat isn’t menu-driven (aside from inventory/spell screens) – it’s action. Yes, there’s some cooldowns between attacks in sd3 – so is there in fighting games like Street Fighter, don’t tell me there’s not action in SF games.

Both games have unobtrusive characterization. In Link’s case, it’s because he doesn’t get much characterization. He’s not very emotive in this game. The characters in sd3 are quite emotive, tho mostly in cutscenes. They were used well imo, not detractingly, not breaking up the game into grinding to the next scene, not a lot of superfluous sprite films. Once you’re through the character intro section and in the game proper, the characterization is kept out of the way of the action, only brought out when needed (or funny).

Both games have friendly npcs that explain the world and offer some services or hints. Interestingly, both games have fortune tellers. Both games had important npc characters, be they Sahasrahla or the king of Forcena, or whatever. They also have prominent bad guy characters, like Jagan and Agahnim (…ish).

Both games have magic and mythology, be this the Triforce, the descendants of the seven sages, and the ruins all over Hyrule; or the Mana Tree, the mana god-beasts, and the ruins all over whatever that world is called. A lot of the world storytelling is done in the world design rather than long cutscenes and monologues (intros don’t count). They have a Mana Goddess in sd3, and later Zelda games established the games’ three creator goddesses.

Both games exist in a medieval-esque era, with peripheral anachronisms. They both feature convenient transportation over long distances. They both let you backtrack (most of the time), whether to grind against easier enemies or to look for treasures and rupees. Both games have a varied world with fairly easily defined or distinguished locations – be they thematically winter-y, mountain-y, desert-y, swamp-y, ruin-y, or whatever.

Storywise, the world is in peril and ONLY YOU CAN SAVE IT. And there’s a legendary sword. And you’re a teenager. As much as I loathe the idea of teenagers being the saviors of a world, for some reason this doesn’t bother me at all in these games. Why not? probably because they’re not as annoying as more recent teenage heroes, and their characterization doesn’t get in the way of _my_ saving the world.

You know, this is all well and good, but the formula for a good game according to this is just:
– great music, with leitmotifs
– no separation of travel and combat, player retains control
– cute-ish look
– action gameplay
– unobtrusive characterization
– friendly npcs
– fortune tellers
– bad guy characters
– magic and mythology
– ruins
– storytelling in world design
– medieval stasis
– anachronisms
– quick transportation
– lets you backtrack whenever
– patchwork map
– the world is at stake
– legendary sword
– you’re a teenager

I think the big thing about it is the feeling of adventure. These games maintain it better than many others. Chrono Trigger does quite well, as does FF6 – but their gameplay isn’t as action-y. Even if CT has a more active battle system than the FFs, it still amounts to standing around, waiting to get hit. Tales and the FFs take you off the map when fighting (random encounters are stupid).

In other words, the ideal Zelda/sd3-like game would be something that instills and maintains a sense of adventure and wonder (as someone somewhere else phrased it). The title screen from ALttP, the intro missions and opening credits of sd3 – they instill adventure and wonder, and then move on to exploration of the world. Xenoblade didn’t do that for me, despite my brother’s insistence that it gets better later in the game.

So I guess I’m asking for more wonder, less tedium, in future games. Can I have that?

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Posted by Ad on January 24, 2012

I just noticed there’s a big scale on the side of my post (when I’m logged in), saying I have 2 more posts until I reach a goal of 50 posts. Yaaaaaaaaaay. <- notice the full stop rather than an exclamation mark.

This is gamification, the practice of using game-inspired elements, such as short-term goals and little rewards for meeting them (such as acknowledging that you’ve reached an arbitrary number of posts on your music/rant blog). There’s a few places where it’s a bad idea, there’s a few places where it’s a good idea, but it’s mostly just annoying. The fact that it works says something about ppl.

I guess I’m now one post from that magic number. Hooray.

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Talking about Fighting

Posted by Ad on November 21, 2011

How do you make talking as interesting as fighting? Extra Credits had an episode that touched on this. It got me think, and that got me writing, and now I have a few ideas. If only I could program; I could whip up a concept demo thing to see how it works.

I wrote a little dialogue (or monologue) script, essentially a one-sided dialogue tree, and that got me thinking further, on how to actually taking combat mechanics from jrpgs and make a fighting game about talking. Say you have three ways of influencing someone – appeal to their heart, their brain, and their guts. Just three, to keep it simple. Different characters would have different values, so they’d be influenced differently. The attacks would be akin to those in Pokémon, attacks of different types.

Dude attacks Opponent with Vulgar Reference. -20 IP.
Opponent attacks Dude with Your Mom. -7 IP. It’s not very effective.
Dude attacks Opponent with Appeal to Honor. -63 IP. It’s SUPER EFFECTIVE!
Opponent uses Pep Talk on himself. +12 IP.
Dude attacks Opponent with Your Mom. -3 IP. It’s not very effective.
Opponent attacks Dude with Neologisms. -33 IP.
Opponent is confused.

You get the idea.

Another way of doing it, or a way of adding to the above, would be to string attacks together in combos, where Vulgar Reference would do some damage, but Your Mom would do _more_ when following up a Vulgar Reference (against someone weak against those kinds of attacks), not to mention that it might let the user recover some of his IP. Not sure what IP stands for here, I forgot what I wanted it to stand for while I was writing the examples. Oops. Intellectual points? Maybe it should be Conviction Points, or Persuasion Points? Or Willpower?

There’s probably some game out there that uses stuff like this. Would be interesting to work on a game like that. Wonder how they make the graphics as appealing as combat graphics… on the other hand, FFX and similar game has a lot of redundant animations between combat options, and old FF just have the sprite move forward, wave an overlaid weapon, and the enemy flash and shake slightly.

Character design would need work, tho. A suit might sway the brain, a sweater the heart, a military uniform the guts? idunno. What kind of equipment do you need to talk? Megaphone? Talkbox? Breath mints?

On a mostly unrelated note, the dialogue-wise uncomplicated (well, occasionally an option more advanced than before, and some humorous responses) new Zelda game is out. And I have it. Yay.

edit: silly me, I forgot to write a post title. The Twitter post was smart enough to just use the text instead, with the last word getting hilariously truncated.

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Stupid Creativity

Posted by Ad on November 18, 2011

I make music. I make video game music remixes; new arrangements for (usually) old games. Some people like my work. I easily get stuck with my songs, having written half of it, and getting tired of it. Whether it’s remixes or my original work, I just hit a point where I can’t get anything done.

Instead of sitting and doing nothing, my brain switches to some other creative mode, getting me interested in something else for a while. I go back to stories, writing, fiction, worldbuilding, and from there to just about anything. I might come up with an idea that would make a great movie or TV show, or a great computer/console game, or a great board game (less risk of appearing on torrent sites), or a great book, or a great… idunno, comic book?

Now, I could pursue a career in writing for these media, but I fear that’d take me away from doing what I love doing… and I don’t even know what I love doing. Maybe I love telling stories. Maybe I love to build things. Maybe I love entertaining. Maybe I love educating. Maybe I love expressing myself. Maybe I love putting hidden messages in everything I do to manipulate ppl into doing… something.

I realized the other day that despite my liking of video games, it’s not what I wanna spend the rest of my life making. Yes, I wanna make video games. Yes, I have more than a handful of ideas. Yes, I have stories I wanna tell through video games. Yes, I have game mechanics I wanna make use of. Yes, I think my games would be pretty good.

But I also want to write a couple of books, and I wouldn’t mind making a TV series (tho the thought of letting go of my intellectual property is a little troubling, good thing it’s not something I have to think about). I wanna make some board games. I wanna make lots and lots of music.

I wonder what the best approach is. Naturally, I’d wanna get the remix project I’m heading out of the way before trying to build a career doing something creative, but I should figure out what to do next. Try to make that board game I’ve been sketching out? Try to do something for a real video game (indie, probably)? Isolate myself from everything and everyone to write my book or my music? Try to juggle work, life, creative pursuits and sleep?

In any case, I should get a proper job, tho. I wouldn’t mind one in the game industry, but there’s quite a surplus of ppl who can write stuff or make music. Dunno how to market myself anyway. Sure, I’ve got an almost unique artist name, and ocremix has spread my name all over the net, but how do I actually communicate to the right ppl that I want to make music or write stuff for their game? Who are the right ppl, where are they?

tl;dr: Rozo, stop whining, get a job, learn programming.

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Thoughts on Civ V

Posted by Ad on November 12, 2011

Civilization V is annoying. I mean, I like this game, it maintains the flavor of Civ while innovating a lot of the gameplay. But there’s a lot that annoys me. But first, improvements.

You don’t need fragile little transports to move units across the sea anymore, tho why you can’t upgrade your old ships to ocean-faring ones at the same time bothers me, and I’d still like to see an explorer ship that can find new land and build some kind of colony, or at the very least make landfall and explore further.

The hex grid. So much cooler, and it makes distances a little more sensible. I’m still waiting on a spherical map. Realism. Coolness. An icosahedron subdivided into triangles, maybe?

No “stack of doom”. The new system isn’t without its problems, it doesn’t always recognize that I wanna switch places between two units… and what if I wanna rotate places between three units?

I want ability to just draw how I want my land to look like (tile improvements) and have the workers just work accordingly. I don’t trust the auto function, and working with them manually is annoying. Besides, idle workers could reduce maintenance on tile improvements. Someone, make this happen. Currently, I don’t know what to do with them once they’re done with all tiles until I discover Oil, Uranium or Aluminium in my territory. Fortifying them somewhere and then trying to find them amongst other units and details on the map is annoying.

I want more diplomatic options. I can’t threaten blockade or go to war, and I can’t threaten to attack the other player’s friends or allies. It’d be nice to have more spice in the single-player mode. Civ is a difficult game to play multiplayer, in that not everyone have that much time to spare, and games today tend not to be cheap, either. Not seeing who is friends with whom (especially with city states) from a single diplomatic window is annoying, I have to close two diplomacy views to get to a scren that provides _some_ of that information.

I want a more advanced culture system. Yes, it’s simplified to make it a more valuable and versatile game mechanic, but I’d like to see culture divided into multiple cultures, a military culture that every military unit, military structure, and military diplomatic option adds to. Likewise, science, industry, and whatever else works. In Civ 4 you could basically take over the world with culture, much like the USA seems to have been doing irl. Why not have a few stacks of policies that require a certain amount of a specific culture type to use, so that a militaristic civ gets bonuses for their military, while a scientific civ gets bonuses for that?

I want Animal Husbandry to be researched faster if there are animal resources in the Civ’s territory, likewise Mining if there are hills, naval research if there’s sea, metal research if there’s metal, etc.. Combine this with a spherical map (assuming axial tilt) and Calendar would be research sooner further from the equator.

But most of all, I want a game that loads faster. I don’t need every graphical detail, the game can’t possible need to load the main menu for a minute (and the legal notice before the menu may be necessary the first time you start the game but it just annoys ppl after that). Really, the game looks nice, plays ok, and does a lot of unnecessary stuff in between.

I want options to turn off all sound. I want options to turn off leader backgrounds… or leader screens at all. Having to start/load a game every time I change any video options (or worse, restart the whole game) is stupid. A lot of the game is stupid. I don’t mean gameplay things, I mean the program itself. A lot of it is stupid. And slow.

So what I really want is less waiting, more playing. And a Mac version that’s not watered-down. It doesn’t even do mods without screwing with files that any update would revert and who knows what else.

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Need more zombies…

Posted by Ad on May 20, 2011

I wrote a post about an upcoming zombie game a while back. Didn’t publish it, but I probably will eventually, with a big disclaimer over how it’s outdated and stuff. Anyway, I’ve since played two other zombie games, that got me thinking of a new zombie game that would be cool to play. Lemme explain…

The first game is Left 4 Dead (and its creatively titled sequel Left 4 Dead 2) by Valve. I play with my friends some of the time, some of the time solo. Playing with random strangers online isn’t really my thing. Aside from getting kicked whenever they feel I’m slowing them down by not knowing every map by heart, it just doesn’t feel the same to play with some random ppl I probably won’t and wouldn’t even like to play with again. But the gameplay itself is great. Hordes of fast zombies, melee weapons, explosions. If only there was more destructible terrain and different routes through the levels…

The other game is an online thing I found on Kongregate, called Rebuild; it’s a mid-zombie apocalypse game where you… rebuild. Colorful graphics and named population, missions to slowly retake the city. Turns into a lot of tedious micromanaging towards the end of the game, but as I often play this kind of games to keep my hands and eyes occupied while listening to ted talks or watching movies or something, it’s not that big a deal for me.

But these games got me thinking… What if there was a game where we band together, some random ppl from the same online community, irl friends, whatever – and retake a city, block by block, from zombies? This would mean going into buildings and clearing out any zombies, fending off attacking hordes, and stuff. New, strange zombies that jump over the fences and palisades? Sickness among the humans, need to raid a hospital or pharmacy outside the safe zone? Find some people while exploring outside the safe zone, zombies or survivors? Human population need to expand beyond the safe zone? Need more ammo?

As I envision it, it’d feature a city map akin to that in Rebuild, and whenever someone decides the survivors need to get something from the outside, a mission is marked on the screen. Anyone interested and agreeing with the mission may join. Think of the map as a lobby for individual games. Those games, on the other hand, would be more L4D-style. Find medicine X, bring it back. Kill as many zombies as you can, get back alive. If we wanna go by the L4D rules, we could even pit different communities against each other, one always playing as the zombies vs another community’s survivors. And by zombies I mean something akin to the special infected of L4D, tho preferably with the option of playing as a group of regular zombies (or a clown leading a bunch of them as in L4D2).

That would be cool. Actual mechanics of expanding the safe zone, determining non-mission events (like the need for medicine), character handling, research, and whatever else would up to whoever would make such a game, but I’d be interested in playing it. Why is the end of the world as we know it so appealing to a computer-addict like me?

On a related note, the first season of The Colony is pretty cool (didn’t get into the second season), and the occasional episode of Worst Case Scenario I’ve seen has been interesting.

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Posted by Ad on December 16, 2010

Talking about Mass Effect brought up something else. Skill points. It’s the real-world equivalent of actual skills, except you don’t actually need to know anything, and learning is done by fidgeting with something for long enough or just accomplishing something possibly unrelated and deciding to gain that specific skill.

Which kind’a bothers me. I know how much easier it is for a game to have a vehicle which either is or isn’t operational, and letting a player character with motor skill x fix it if it wasn’t. But how about minigames that involve a simplified engine and replacing or fixing broken parts. Educational _and_ utilizing ppl’s real-world skills. But then the developers might actually have to know how car engines work. Oh, how difficult.

With more and more areas of education understanding the benefits of game-like learning tools, it’s rather silly that games themselves resort to silly numeric skills. Then again, telekinesis isn’t really a skill you pick up… well, anywhere irl. AFAIK, anyway.

I remember playing America’s Army back when it was compatible with Mac. It was fun. It was educational. Also, someone saved someone’s life using skills he picked up in the game. This is the kind of educational gains games can provide, if only the games would be built to incorporate real-world solutions.

What if you would, irl, successfully fix a car engine through guessing? It wouldn’t work because you don’t have the technical skill, right? Wrong, it’d work. because that’s how the world works. The real one. Now, extend that scenario to medical aid (instead of a magic healing bar or healing gun), electrical systems, metalworks, farming, aiming, etc.

Yeah, about aiming, you don’t really have crosshairs irk. Not half a meter above the weapon at least. Wanna aim close, you line up the sights; wanna run, can’t really aim well; wanna jump and shoot, goodbye accuracy.

But back on topic: the skill point system could be utilized backwards instead, as an indicator for how well you’ve performed different skills. Say we have a game where you’ve got first aid, broken engines, broken electrical systems, and shooting. Say players success rate with these things are tracked. Shooting would be kind’a easy to track, it’s all about how well you hit ppl/things that are clearly targets. Shooting into the sky (which is dangerous, btw) wouldn’t hurt your hit %, but hitting friendlies and missing hostiles would. Broken electrical systems and engines and stuff would also be easy to track – a success rate and a time spent per success… modified by how broken/complicated the things were. First aid could be tracked by checking if you’re following the correct procedure. I’ve taken first aid classes in our scouts group, in school and during my service. I should know the stuff better than I can remember atm. Give me a game with which to remind me, not a game where it’s trivialized in order to make it more “fun”.

On a related note, I want games where one player can command his forced RTS-style, and other players can fight those forces FPS-style. it’d make small LAN-parties so much more interesting.

Anyway, imagine if schools would track more interesting things than just proficiency in the subject taught in the classes taken. That could make kids more interested in learning. Imagine if schools would have disaster days, where select student get to treat (fake) injuries and get ppl out of a (not really) collapsing or burning building. Or give a class a couple of broken vehicles and let them fix them up. See how fast and how well they work. Teamwork _and_ technical skills. Or give them a completely out-there task, like build a synth (I’ve been doing that in Reaktor, it’s made me realize I should have taken more math classes) or do a TV commercial or an emergency plan.

Learning is more versatile than knowing. PPL should realize that while they’re still in school.

I’m becoming more and more interested in survivalism. Contrast that with how much time I spent in front of the computer, and see how that makes sense. 😀

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