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Side Quest – #7

– By Aecium


Islanders is a city building game developed and published by GrizzlyGames, and it’s not just another SimCity or Cities Skylines clone. It takes a different approach, one that’s more laid back and less hectic. It’s minimalistic in its visual details, the scoring system, and its currency.

islanders

Visuals 

The art style is simple yet descriptive. You can quickly identify what is what without needing a lot of explanation. You can easily tell what is grass, rock or sand, something that is important to the placement of some buildings. Similarly, the look and feel of the buildings remind me of plastic toys I could have played with as a child (or an adult, for that matter) which again lends itself well to easy identification. This also reinforces the fact that Islanders is just a game, and not something you need to worry too much about while you play. You are presumably playing it for fun, after all, a fact that many of us can lose sight of while playing some of the more involved city sims out there.

Mechanics & Game Play

Islanders sets you up to focus on the placement of buildings on its procedurally generated islands to earn points and unlock the next set of buildings or the next island. How many points you need is something that’s easy to track with the circular progress meter in the lower left, which displays how many more points you need. 

points

When you fill up the progress meter in the lower left you get a plus sign indicating you can pick the next set of buildings; normally you get a choice between two categories of buildings. 

pickone

Categories include but are not limited to, Farming Pack, Brewing Pack, City Pack, Seaweed Farm, Logger Pack, Fishery and many more. Another progress indicator in the lower right is a faded island icon that fills up as you earn more points.

islandicon

When it is full you can choose to move to a new island or keep playing the one you are on. 

As you place a building/structure (such as a mansion, fishing platform, fountain, or many others), a point value is shown along with a radius indicating which buildings affect the value. Placing a lumberjack near trees increases its value but if you place a second lumberjack within range of the first, points will be subtracted from the total placement value. But keep in mind that as you place your sawmill you get more points for each lumberjack that is in range of the mill.

 And the pluses and minuses of buildings get more complicated as you play on. For example, the shaman gains points for being by flowers or trees, but losses points for being near the city center. Houses and mansions get plusses when being placed next to a shaman. This may sound complicated to keep track of but the game helps out by showing the potential value before you place anything. There is even an undo button that lets you take back your last placement. This is another feature that helps create the low-stress environment.

My Take

To be honest, at first I was not impressed but as I played on (mostly haphazardly) I started losing! I was like, “What the hell! They show me how many points I need and how many I’m going to get for each placement, how can I be messing this up?” Well, as I started to pay more attention, I realized that you need to apply strategy and forethought to each placement. You need to plan what you are going to use each space on the island for, and make sure your spacing is close to optimal along with keeping in mind what building packs you might get to pick from next. It all adds up and if you pick wrongly it can be a detriment to your score and the likelihood of getting to the next level. As I play more and more, the skill is in learning the buildings and how they can boost your next set of buildings. Even though the game is laid back and chill, I find that there are times when I still worry about not being able to earn enough points with the buildings I have left to place. When this happens, you get a game over screen and the option to try again. 

Final Thoughts

The creators of the game highly recommend you watch the video explaining how the game is different than a normal city builder, as they want you to have an understanding of what you’re buying before you do. I agree with them on that point. Islanders in not your standard city sim and you should know that going in. Then again, at US$4.99 price, I would find it hard to go wrong with this deceptively easy to learn and hard to master take on the city sim.

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Side Quest – #6

– By Aecium


CypherCon 4.0 is the fourth year of Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s very own hacker convention that takes place each April. I was hooked from the first time I attended the event for CypherCon 2.0 and this year’s con exceeded the expectations I had from the past two years.

CypherCon has something for anyone who uses tech in today’s world. Whether or not you consider yourself a geek or a nerd, this con is accessible to anyone willing to ask questions, make mistakes and try new things. If you’re willing, you can learn everything from picking locks, cracking safes and decoding ciphers. You can also learn just how easy it is to exploit some of those Internet of things (IoT) devices everyone seems to have their homes these days, such as your smart thermostat, wireless printer, even your wireless light bulbs, and many others. And that’s just scratching the surface of the skills you can explore. Each skill has its own village set up with everything you need and specialists just waiting to help and break it down so you can understand how it all works.

While you’re learning new skills you also earn points toward the Capture the Con, an overarching contest that works to gamify learning and encourages socializing with your fellow con-goers. All three of the cons I have attended provided each attendee with a social QR code used to gather points by asking to scan other attendees’ codes in trade for scanning your own. Every point you collect puts you that much closer to winning some great prizes including cash, hard to get electronic badges from previous and even a coveted red badge that grants you lifetime entrance to future CypherCons.

This year the organizers took encouraging social interaction to the next level with the con’s interactive badges. This year’s badge, like all the previous years, was made by the amazing Tymkers (Toymakers) and was a working data tape reader.

cyperCon4badge

To get the data tapes you had to find codes hidden around the con and submit jobs to the badge village. The catch was that each badge only had a certain number of tabs that would be punched out for each job you submitted, meaning you needed to find and talk to other people to trade data tapes in order to collect all the codes. As you scanned good codes, a row of LEDs would light up on your badge letting you keep track of how many correct codes you had scanned.

In addition to all the villages and the interactive badge, there were three information-packed presentation tracks that covered everything from digital forensics, remote wireless penetration testing, and even foraging for food in your own backyard. All the presenters I saw were passionate about their topics and excited share their knowledge.  

While the con is over, its effects are lasting. I’m still thinking about the new things I learned and the great people I met. I have a list of areas that I want to explore and deepen my knowledge including hacking old hardware and making sure the code I write is safe and secure, all the while knowing that sharpening my skills for my own sake will also give me a leg up at next year’s CypherCon.

If you’re up for a technological adventure or just interested in the history or future of the tech around us be sure to follow @CypherCon on Twitter to get all the updates on CypherCon 5.0. I hope to see you there.

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Content Creation Lab #2

If you haven’t read the first part of this series, make sure to check it out here.


I assume by now, you’ve been pondering your project long enough. You answered the questions and did your research. You’re probably already browsing through Reddit looking for the best stream setups, configurations, and equipment.

Now, the question is, “should I design something for myself? or should I let someone else do it for me”?

This is an important question to answer. I can say from personal experience that designing for myself back when I started Grizzly Gaming was extremely gratifying. It gave me a sense of ownership that is unique to creation but this is not for everyone to do.

If you choose to design for yourself, chances are the process will happen naturally (especially if you read the first installment of the Content Creation Lab). If it doesn’t, though, there are always some common places that we can search for clues as to what’s going on:

1.- Doodle like you’ve never doodled before.

Before designing the logo for Grizzly Gaming, I went through a myriad of sketches and doodles. There are a couple of reasons for this:
1.- Create different options for yourself to choose from.
2.- Flesh out an idea that’s already very clear in your mind.

Regardless of what your motives may be, going through this process can help you boost your confidence in what you’re creating.

Pro Tip: Always keep your sketches in one place. Doodles of the past can be the great ideas of the future. Personally, I like to use sketchbooks but I sometimes will use loose sheets of paper. Set aside a folder or binder to keep them safe. Revisit your sketches from time to time to find any hidden gems of the past of just for inspiration.

Esports Logo

2.- My obsession with perfection gets in the way of me moving forward.

If you’re already starting to sweat, take a deep breath. This happens to a lot of people. Demanding excellence from yourself can be beneficial to the process of developing a strong work ethic. But being too hard on yourself can also lead you to kill your project before it even seeing the light of day.

One of the things that took me the longest about starting my stream, was overcoming my insecurities with regards to the quality of the content I had to offer and the quality of the skills I had at the time.

Once I started though, things began to move forward quite fast. I got my first donation not long after I started streaming, my viewership started to grow and I also made new friends.

“Obsessions make my life worse but my work better”, is one of my favorite quotes of all time. But I don’t take it as a motto, but rather as a warning to keep my obsession with perfection in check in order to be able to move forward with my projects. Allow yourself to make mistakes.

Let’s all make a conscious effort to live a little…

Pro Tip for: For some people, validation from others is very important in order to make decisions and empower their vision. But don’t just go out on the streets asking random strangers. Ask your viewers and community members, as well as mentors and other professionals that you trust and could point you in the right direction. (Hit me up on Discord for input or feedback on your project!)

3.- What if I’m not ready?

Committing to a logo can be nerve-wracking to some. It’s ok to postpone this part of the process. Getting comfortable on camera, learning to speak fluently while you grind through ranked play and testing out your gear are much more important things than having a logo so, take your time! And revisit that idea when the time is right. It will come!

In the next installment, we’ll discuss how to create a consistent brand throughout all of your social media outlets, broadcasting channels and even apparel.



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Side Quest – #5

– By Aecium


Magic: The Gathering – three powerful words that transport me to a simpler time. One where most of my concerns revolved around what homework was due the next day, how many days until summer break and how long it would take me to save up allowance and birthday money to buy more packs of Magic cards.

I started playing Magic after a friend introduced me to the game in 1994 when Revised Edition was the newest release. I had never played anything like it. Magic gives you the chance to be a creature-summoning, lighting-wheelding, magic-slinging, death-spreading, counter-spell-casting mage. It was amazing! To be fair, you can do or be all those things in many role playing games, and I had. But Magic boiled it down to just the fast action packed spell-casting battles, which in my opinion were one of the best parts of any role playing game. Magic made it so that now all you needed was a deck and someone else with a deck to challenge.

When I was in high school, the first place I looked for someone to challenge was a gaming store called Wonderess Realms. They sold games of all kinds but Magic seemed to be the mainstay for them. They had a small back room, that smelled of unwashed nerd and stale Cool Ranch Doritos, with several tables, a soda vending machine, an arcade game and the best pinball game ever: Star Trek: The Next Generation. I dropped many quarters into that game in between Magic games. But the main reason to be in the back room of Wonderess Realms was to meet up with friends, open new packs, build and improve decks and play against whomever else happen to be there. I can still remember the feel of the glossy plastic wrapped booster packs and the crinkling sound they made as I carefully opened them. Many hours were whiled away playing in that back room. But really anywhere that was protected from the elements and had a flat surface was fair game – high school lunchroom, mess hall at camp, or just a picnic table on a calm day. It was rare back then to find me without a deck on hand, ready to accept the challenge of a fellow mage at any time.

Somewhere between the years 1998 – 2000, amidst homework, getting a job, preparing for and starting college and life just generally getting more complicated, I stopped playing Magic. It was not an abrupt thing at all, it just sort of faded from being an everyday activity to every now and again. and then not at all. Oh, every once in awhile I would come across my cards and all those fond memories would come rushing back, but finding people to play with was hard. For most of my friends, Magic had also faded from their everyday life. Still, now and again a few of us would go out and buy a starter deck of the newest expansion and a few booster packs and play for a bit, but keeping up with all the new expansions and rules changes proved too difficult.

Magic had truly become just a game I used to play.

That is until the end of September 2018, when the open beta for Magic: The Gathering Arena on the PC was announced. Sure, there had been other attempts at digital versions of the game, like Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers in 2002 and Magic: The Gathering Online in 2009, which were the only two I ever tried playing. But they were both riddled with bad interfaces and lacked polished features which prevented them from ever really rekindling my interest.

But Magic: The Gathering Arena is leagues ahead of its predecessors. That’s not to say that it is perfect. It is worth keeping in mind that it’s still in beta and has some bugs, and some of the interface interactions are still clunky and a bit frustrating. However, the game is definitely playable and they are making changes and improvements all the time. Up until recently you could not play against your friends; it was all just random players that you would get matched with, and the matchmaking and ranking system had no meaning. You could win four games in a row and a progress bar would fill up, seemingly randomly, then lose one game and all your progress would drain out of it.

After a recent update, you can now play your friends. This is a major and much needed feature. Having the ability to play against your friends is great for more than just the fun of playing. No more hoping your deck plays out just right. Being able to play with a friend means you can have them “play nice”, maybe not attack at all, giving you time to practice and get the cards you need to try out that new combo. Or… maybe it’s time to go toe to toe with the friend who taught you everything you know about Magic, and possibly even prove that the student has become the master.

Another improvement is with the ranked ladder system. The solid progress bar has been replaced with a segmented bar so that you can now easily see your progress. It fills one segment per win or empties one per loss, making it easy to see your progress. And more importantly, you can see how many more wins you need to rank up.

Even though the beta still has a few bugs and some of the features could be made smoother (finding newly acquired cards and adding a friends list being the ones that jump to mind), the game is very playable. So much so that it has not just rekindled my passion for Magic, it has set it ablaze.

Magic: The Gathering Arena has removed the main barriers to playing. I can always find someone to play with at the press of a button. I can play with my friends no matter how far away they live. The game client knows all the rules and won’t let me or the other player do something wrong. And best of all, you can play for free! That’s right free! When you first start out you get some prebuilt decks and you earn more decks just by playing. You also earn booster packs, single cards and gold (one of the in-game currencies) used to buy more boosters. You can also spend real world money to get cards faster or buy gems (another in-game currency), which are harder to earn than gold. You can enter constructed tournaments with gold or gems but you can only use gems if you want to play draft tournaments.

Paying to get more cards is not a must. So far I have only spent US$5 on a beta only deal. The rest of the cards I have earned through playing. The game has quests you can do each day to earn gold, which you can complete without winning a single game. The majority of the daily quests will be something like “Cast 30 blue or red spells” or “Attack with 25 creatures” and so on. There are weekly quests that you can earn gold, a single card, or packs for winning but the bulk of your gold will be earned by completing the quests that don’t require winning.
At the time of this writing I have ranked up to Mythic, the highest level in the constructed ladder. I was able to build the decks that got me there only spending US$5 and earning the rest my cards by playing. The majority of what I have spent is time, and I don’t mind that at all. I’m really enjoying the game and the journey very much.

Magic: The Gathering Arena has enchanted me with nostalgia, sung the most perfect siren’s song, and has summoned out of its fallen predecessors an online version of Magic that has me once again under its spell!

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Content Creation Lab #1 – A Brand is Born

Logos come and go. But a brand, a brand that is loved and cared for, is meant to last. Creating a brand is not only a creative exercise. It’s also an exercise of visualization. 


When a new project begins, it’s hard to know exactly where the journey will lead you. This happens to everyone who decides to embark on an entrepreneurial journey. 
For some, it’s easy to have a sense of direction and to navigate the waters of uncertainty with confidence. For others, it’s much more complicated than that and external validation can play a huge role for them.

Regardless of what side of the spectrum you might be on, one of the first steps entrepreneurs take is creating a logo.
Logos give us a sense of identity, something to rally behind and use as our banner when subjecting your project to public scrutiny for the first time, so it’s normal for us to resort to it.


When it comes to creating anything, I always involve paper and lots of notes.
I like to keep track of my creative process and ideas for future projects.



Although this would seem to be the most obvious approach, the fact of the matter is, that before we can go anywhere near a blank page, it’s important to figure out a couple of things:

1.- Why are you starting this project?
2.- Do you have a vision for the project’s future? And if so, describe it briefly.

It’s useful to write your answers in order to organize your ideas and have greater clarity. This isn’t by any means, unchangeable. The passing of time will most likely change your initial expectations. 

Your vision is probably the most revealing part of this exercise, as it will help you take the first steps into your project. 
It’s ok if these questions turn out to have an “I don’t know” for an answer, this will tell us that maybe our project needs a bit more time before we commit to a pretty icon.


More important than a logo, are your goals and dreams for the future.
What kind of content creator or esports professional do you want to be?



I don’t believe a logo can make you or break you as this statement is too simplistic and ignores a lot of factors related to a project’s success. But it is an element of great importance in the process of building a brand.

Let’s take the example of Team Liquid. If there’s a team that has created  longevity for their brand, it’s this top tier esports organization. 
From its early beginning, Team Liquid’s logo hasn’t actually changed much. But the strength of its brand has grown throughout the years.
From mere observation we can infer that Team Liquid has great clarity of what their values are. This is something that permiates their branding (web design, apparel) but also their choice of players and esports professionals. 

Could you imagine some of their most iconic players like TLO, sporting any other jersey? Probably not. The return of Taeja to StarCraft happened under his former team’s banner. 
When you see a Team Liquid jersey on a Team Liquid player, a lot of things come to mind. Victory, honor, commitment, work ethic. The elegant lines, the bold color blocking paired with a sober color palette. This is not an accident, these are deliberate choices. And said choices seem deliberate to the spectator because of that clarity of ideas. 

This is what we want to communicate from the very beginning. It doesn’t matter if Day 1 is just one or two nerds with a dream. Having a clear sense of identity from the get go will naturally influence your decision making and take you to make better decisions.

Once our vision is clearly stated, individually or as a collective, it’s easier to brainstorm what your logo will look like.

There are many factors to consider beyond aesthetic. Things like personality and character are often overlooked and this is something that well developed brands know very well from the get go. 
It’s useful to think in terms of adjectives when trying to define what you want your brand to be.

But Grizzly, what if I’m the brand?

In the case of branding for individuals as opposed to organizations, the approach is a little different. When the brand is conceptually linked to an individual, the inspiration will be drawn from his/her personality traits. Careful, though. There’s a difference between who we are and who we wish we were. Our goal here is to make of this project something sustainable in the long run. Being true to one’s identity helps achieve this goal. You brand should reflect you as honestly as possible. 

Ready to get started?

In the next post, we’ll discuss the process of creating the right logo for your brand.



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Side Quest – #4

– By Aecium


Here we are. At the tail end of another year. Over the next couple of weeks we will all be inundated with “best of 2018” lists: the best news bloopers (one of my favorites), best books, movies, games, and of course, the best of the worst. I thought of going full meta and creating a “best of 2018 best of lists” but I couldn’t fully get behind that idea. So instead I created a list of some of the programing games that I have played, none of which are from 2018. But I figure now would be a good time to share them with you; with the holidays coming up you may have some time off and be looking for something to help fill the void.

I have a soft spot in my heart for programing games. There is just something about solving a level by piecing together a set of instructions or processes, pressing the play button and watching it run. If it succeeds then you’ve beaten the level and can advance (or just keep running it and marvel in your work). If not, you have the chance to review what went wrong, rework it and try again. Programing games tend to be low pressure, allowing you to play at your own pace and take all the time you need, and try as many things as you want. Regardless of how long you spend working out your solution, there’s not going to be a horde of zombies, mutants, or aliens trying to kill you while you work. I find that refreshing.

Even if you think programing games aren’t for you, I encourage you to give these a try. Each game teaches you by building on the previous levels so you learn the steps as you go. And there are plenty of videos and hint guides out there to help you along. If you are stuck, and it’s either stop playing or get a bit of help, I encourage using hints. With the internet no one needs to play in a vacuum.

In the past there weren’t too many entries in the programing games genre, however, Zachtronics has become a beacon of hope for the genre and all three games I’m covering here are from them (there would be more but I’m only listing the games I have played). These games will have you create solutions to the various problems by dragging and dropping predefined actions or blocks of machinery, or by typing out specific instructions to solve a problem.

SpaceChem was the first programing game I played that did not have you writing actual code to solve the presented problem, which in this game is to create designer molecules. You create these in reactors by drawing out a path and placing instructions like grab, rotate, bond or unbond on that path for a circular atom manipulator called a waldo to follow and execute.

spacechem

The goal is to use the incoming atoms and molecules to create the desired molecule, which must match a given pattern. You also need to be careful to prevent any collisions as the waldos move the bits and pieces around. If there is a collision the reactor will stop and you’ll have to modify your design to fix that flaw. There’s a story alongside the levels which gives context and a bit of drama to what you’re doing as you go, and the creators have even released a stand-alone version of the story incase you don’t beat the game but still want to know what happens. I have not personally beaten the game yet, but have picked it up several times and always enjoy playing until I get stuck. *Shrug* I’m sure I’ll play it all the way through one of these times.

I like to think of the next game, Infinifactory, as a 3D SpaceChem. In this game you are an abductee that is put to work by aliens that don’t speak your language and don’t really seem to care that you don’t understand what they are saying. They also don’t seem very concerned for your safety, as you are expendable and replaceable. Like SpaceChem, Infinifactory has you building a product to match a desired blueprint. However, you are now working in a 3D space and each level has its own shape, which adds to the challenge. Conveyor belts are the main way you get parts from the inputs to the many stations where you will be welding, milling, rotating, stamping or destroying unneeded parts, all before sending them to the output where they will be checked against the requirements. To get the full story you’ll have to do some exploring. In each level you can find a log recorder which contains the story and wisdom from someone who has gone down the path you are on now. Infinifactory satisfies a very specific desire of mine to build a factory line that moves raw materials from station to station, each one building on the last until you have your final product.

Infin

I don’t know, maybe I’ve watched too many TV shows that show how things are put together from start to finish. Regardless of the reasons, I find constructing these autonomous factory lines to be quite fulfilling.

TIS-100 is the final game on this list, and it’s the first one that actually has you typing out code to solve each level. Now please don’t let the word ‘code’ frighten you off. In TIS-100 you only need to use 15 commands to move and manipulate data that can be moved or loaded from 6 locations (registers) per node (more on that later). In this game your uncle has died, and your aunt has sent you a strange computer that your uncle had been working on along with the user manual for said computer. The manual has parts highlighted and some notes that your uncle had jotted down. While all progress that had been made seems to have been lost, you do find notes and musings that your uncle stored in otherwise unusable nodes in the TIS-100. You progress through each stage repairing the antiquated computer by rewriting its missing/corrupt programs. As you continue to find these notes, you start to piece together what it is you’re working on. Each level has 12 nodes arranged in 3 rows of 4 nodes. In most cases not all the nodes are usable, which adds to the challenge. There are set locations where the input comes in and set locations where the desired output needs to be moved to. In the simplest case you just need to move the given input to an output with no change to the input value. You can see an example in the screenshot which shows the first level with the game’s example code in the leftmost column.

tis100

While the TIS-100 is a fantasy computer, the steps you take and the solutions you come up with are nonetheless programing. And more specifically it is most like assembly language (albeit a simplified version), which is a class of low level programing language that all computers and smart devices run on and is only one step above the raw zeros and ones of binary programing.

All three of these games have an added challenge that you can take on. They all track statistics from your solutions like instructions/blocks used, cycles needed to complete, foot print of your design and they show you how you stack up with your friends who play, as well as with the global user base. If you solve a level and then see your buddy solved it in fewer cycles or using fewer blocks, you can, if you so desire, rework your design and try to beat or at least tie their score. Each level has a best case solution that you just can’t surpass due to parameters of the level.

I hope that if you do find yourself with some down time, or maybe you’re just looking for your next game to play, that you consider any or all of these great games. Even if you don’t fancy yourself a programer, these games might help you discover that you actually enjoy a bit of programing. After all, programing is not just for creating the games you enjoy, it can be the game itself.

While all three of these games are worth their face value, you can always snag them at great prices during sales on your favorite game delivery platform like Steam or GOG.

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Side Quest – #3

– By Aecium


Disclaimers: First and foremost, I am NOT a medical professional and this article should not be construed in any way as medical advice. Second, all experiences are mine and what has worked for me may not work the same for you. In short, your mileage may vary. If you have not read part one of this series, the following will make more sense if you do.

After dealing with my anxiety ineffectively for many years, I finally took the first step toward better mental health, although at the time it felt more like a leap over an impossibly wide chasm. But still, I took that leap. I, rather casually, mentioned to my doctor that when I’m dealing with new situations or new people, or old friends in new situations, or large gatherings of any kind, or even just thinking about those things and an almost endless array of other situations, that I felt anxious and sometimes that anxiety could be extreme. Like wanting to run and hide extreme. Like not being able to make simple decisions because I was paralyzed by the thought of making the wrong decision extreme. And that prior to said situations I would spend a lot of time worrying about all the possible outcomes, good or bad (my anxious brain did not discriminate). And that I would be left exhausted after.

He asked some questions and we had a discussion about the benefits of medication and one-on-one therapy. “Ha!” I thought. “Me, one-on-one with someone I don’t know, laying on a couch spilling my guts about my childhood and what this or that inkblot reminds me of, while this therapist, this stranger, sits smugly scribbling notes on their notepad, all the while silently judging me. I think not!” So we went with the medication only route.

Over the course of several months, not much changed. We changed and fiddled with the medications and doses which led only to small improvements. I wanted more. That’s when my doctor referred me to a psychiatrist for further scrutiny (treatment). I was reluctant about seeing a psychiatrist. I thought, “Great, I’m so messed up that my regular doctor can’t fix me so he’s giving up and offloading me on to a crazy people doctor.” Not to mention this would mean rehashing everything I told my regular doctor to a new doctor. No, not just a new doctor. A stranger. At that point, my regular doctor had literally been my doctor since birth – he delivered me. I was comfortable with him. And now he was telling me to go see someone new. Not what I had been hoping for.

The day came. I – was going – to see – a psychiatrist. It was not a productive day. I was too preoccupied with what I felt for sure was my impending doom. The I best I could figure, one of two things would happen. He was either going to tell me I was completely nuts and should be committed (I pictured him pressing a inconspicuous button and guys in white shirts and pants bearing a straitjacket coming to collect me). Or he would read me the riot act and say I was just whining about what everyone deals with every day and that I just need to suck it up and deal with it, and to stop wasting their time.

To my surprise, however, nothing of the sort happened. Amazingly, I was not the first patient anxious about meeting him. From the way I was greeted to the way he explained his process and treatment options, he put me at ease. Mind you, part of our conversation did include the fact that being there made me want to crawl out of my skin and go hide. He completely understood and assured me this was not uncommon. He assured me I was not the only one struggling with anxiety of this kind. I found that rather comforting.

We had a conversation that was not unlike the one I had with my regular doctor, although longer and more detailed, and we formed a plan. My psychiatrist, like my doctor, explained the benefits and side effects of medication, and just like my doctor, he pointed out that seeing a therapist in combination with medication would be the most effective way to deal with my anxiety. With the way they were pushing a therapist on me I would swear they were getting kickbacks from the therapist union. Like before, I expressed my strong dislike of that course of action and he agreed to table the topic for the time being. When all was said and done, I walked out with a new prescription. And the confidence that all my problems would be solved.

After six months or so of regular visits with my psychiatrist and some more fiddling of my medications, we found the right dose. It was like a someone reached into my head and flipped a switch. Suddenly, my anxiety floodgates were not swinging wide open at the drop of a hat. It was amazing! And yet… And yet, after a short adjustment period, and more conversations with my psychiatrist, I knew it could be better. I saw marked improvement and I wanted more! With that progress I was finally able to tackle the next step – going to see a therapist. This is where the work really began for lasting change.

My first therapy appointment was still rather nerve wracking, even with the improvements from medication. And not at all like the chaise-lounge-laying, rorschach-test-taking, parent-blaming experience that pop culture had lead me to expect. While those methods are not complete Hollywood inventions, they were not what my therapist practiced. He practiced cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on changing thought patterns in order to change behavior. Which is not to say that you come out a brainwashed, ear-to-ear grinning, mindless-shell of your former self. It’s a method of helping you amplify positive thoughts and minimize negative thought patterns. Still, a few things were the same as Hollywood would have you believe: he did have a pad where he jotted notes during the session, and there were a few “How does that make you feel?” questions, but all and all it was more like a conversation than an inquest.

With the help of my therapist, I tackled some of my most stressful problems, like catastrophizing. I gave a full example here in part one of this series, but to summarize, I was afraid to tell my coworkers about a personal project because, in my mind, it could lead to me losing my job, car and home. No really – that’s how I thought it would end. So in therapy we would start with something like “What do you think would happen if you shared one of your personal projects with a coworker?” and I would explain the whole convoluted way it could leave me homeless. Then he would help me work backwards from the worst point and we would discuss the true likelihood of ending up there. For example, I have a strong family safety net so when I got to the part about losing my car or house, he helped me realize I have family that would step in and help. Of course, once we reached that conclusion, I proposed “OK, but what if I have a falling out with my family?” and we talked about the likelihood of that happening. And in the unlikely case we did have a falling out, I still had a safety net of friends I could go to for help. Basically it went on in this manner: I would come up with what was to me a very plausible situation, and my therapist would help me work backward step-by-step and realize that, while possible, my dreaded scenarios were not very likely to come about. And that’s the way it went for a long while during my therapy sessions. Over time, it started to sink in that he was right. No matter how bad of a situation I dreamed up, it was not very plausible. And the strongest proof? None of my scenarios had come true. Ever. Rather damning evidence if I do say so.

 After working with my therapist for a couple of years, and making very good progress, I got to a place where I felt I did not need any more therapy. I felt I had been provided the tools I needed, along with medication, to manage my anxiety. My therapist agreed that I had come a long way from where I started out at our first session. It was time to move on.

Life went on and was better after leaving therapy. For awhile. I went about two years using what I had learned in therapy and medication. However, this eventually devolved and I slipped back into old habits. I also relied on a less than ideal coping mechanism by drinking too much. Thankfully, my wife helped me see that how I was coping was not healthy and that it was time to go back to working with a therapist. At the time, I experienced a whole rush of emotions, most of them revolving around what I saw as my failure of not being able to make it on my own and that I couldn’t tell my choice’s were bad ones. I lost a lot of respect for and confidence in myself.

When I called my previous therapist to schedule an appointment, he informed me he was retiring and could no longer see me. My only choice was to see someone new. I was not happy about it, but I knew that I needed to get support from a professional to get back on, and stay on, track. My old therapist made some recommendations and I picked one that turned out to be perfect for my needs.

 A lot of really great breakthroughs and progress came after starting therapy again. I really clicked with her style. She used CBT, the same as my first therapist, but she figured out ways to explain it to me that really made sense. We were able to not just chip away at my distorted thinking, but actually took out chunks at a time. While I had slipped back into the habit of creating complicated catastrophe scenarios, she helped quickly restore and re-enforce the work that had been done with my first therapist. From there, we dug in one-by-one to find my patterns of distorted thinking and find ways to challenge each of them.

One thing we worked on was my tendency to dread future events. By this point in working with her, I had re-learned enough to (mostly) stop building elaborate scenarios for things to go wrong but I still spent hours dreading it, especially if it was something I didn’t want to do. She helped me work through the numbers to see how much time I spent dreading. Let’s say there was a party I had to go to in 3 months. Initially, I might spend 3 hours a day dreading it. As the event neared, that time would increase and when the event was still 2 weeks away, I was spending 8 hours a day dreading it. The few days before the party I would be almost consumed with dread. Adding everything up, she helped me see that I easily could spend over 400 hours dreading an event that would last only a few hours. This blew my mind! That long? Really? Think of all the things I could have gotten done in that time. Think about all the extra energy I would have if I wasn’t spending it on dreading future events! Just that thought alone was exhausting.

It took a few times of running the “Time Spent Dreading” exercise before I really stopped dreading events so far in advance. What really helped this click for me was realizing that most of the things I worried about were not even in my control. Since I couldn’t do anything to change the situation, I didn’t need to waste my energy on dreading them. Now, when I notice I’m dreading something in the future, I step back and ask myself if there is anything (within reason), that I can do about it? If the answer is no, I challenge my thoughts about it and try to put it to rest. I say try because I still slip sometimes, and my therapist will still on occasion run the numbers with me. But not that often nowadays.

Another distorted thought pattern we challenged had to do with my low self-esteem and low self-confidence. This was heavily driven by my tendency to minimize my successes and maximize my failures. At work, I could do 100 things well but as soon as I did one thing wrong, that’s all I could focus on. Even if I had been praised for the 100 good things, I’d discount that as just lip service. I would convince myself that I was at risk of being fired. Clearly, I could not be trusted to do good work. Situations like this drove me to develop an almost paranoid attention to detail and extreme drive for perfection. Both of which did not serve me in a positive or productive way. It really just drove my stress and anxiety higher and for longer as I waited for someone to discover the problems in my work.

My therapist helped me work through challenging my thoughts of being a complete failure and being fired because of it. She pointed out the 100 things I got right, or the fact that I corrected the one thing I got wrong. She asked if my peers ever made mistakes? “Everyone does,” I said. She asked if I thought my co-workers worried about being fired because of making a few mistakes? “No.” She reminded me that there had been many company layoffs over the years and I was never a part of them.

I’ve gotten rather good at challenging these thoughts on my own now. If something happens that causes me to feel inadequate or like a failure, and I notice that I start to minimize the positives of the situation and just obsess over my mistakes, I step back, take a deep breath, and re-frame my thoughts on the situation.

One time during therapy, after going through an exercise similar to the one above, I had a very disturbing thought and a strong sense of panic. I became very certain that if we challenged and corrected my distorted thinking about obsessing over my mistakes, that I would lose my edge, I would start to slip. I thought if I was not being driven by my extreme anxiety to do better than my best that I would very quickly stop trying and end up not performing well enough to be kept around. I asked my therapist to keep an eye on signs of whether or not I was starting to slip in work ethic and performance. She assured me that was an unlikely outcome. And I can report that to this day the only effect thought challenging has had on my work ethic and performance is that now I can actually enjoy my successes. As for my failures – I now accept that mistakes are inevitable and I understand that I can learn from them.

Getting better at challenging my distorted thinking was not immediate and it still requires a lot of work to maintain. I work at it in the therapist office and I practice outside of it. I’ve found it important to be open and truly vulnerable with my therapist, which is scary and also takes time and practice. Being open and vulnerable can lead to some very intense sessions. For me this is part of the process and helps me let go of the bad and clear a path for a healthier and more resilient mindset.

What has surprised me the most is that with this new set of tools I have been able to stop daily medication for anxiety, something I had previously thought impossible. I have a prescription I can take for acute anxiety attacks, which still happen every now and again, but they are fewer and farther between. I know that anxiety will always be there, I’m not going to stamp it out completely. Anxiety is a natural and often useful emotion and getting rid of it would be bad. Right now, having the acute medication works for me. I understand that in the future it may make sense to go back on daily medication. I’m okay with that, because I don’t want those constant feelings and thoughts of dread, fear, and general anxiety to take hold again. I don’t want them to have a chance to hold me back again. I don’t want to turn down an opportunity because I’m afraid of irrational or illogical thoughts. I don’t want to be controlled by my anxiety to that extreme ever again.

I have come to realize that I don’t ever want to completely stop seeing a therapist. My appointments are farther apart than they used to be. At the moment I meet with her every 6-8 weeks and we might go longer than that at some point. But now I view seeing my therapist as part of good mental health maintenance, like getting a physical or going to the dentist. It’s just a normal part of my over health care regiment.

Looking back, I find it hard to believe that I once let myself be held back from things I wanted to do, but when I was in the thick of it there was no light at the end of the tunnel. I convinced myself that the activities and opportunities I avoided were ones that I did not want. I’m not ashamed of my anxiety or how I dealt with it. I did what I needed to cope and I survived the best way I knew how.

Now, armed with healthier and more appropriate ways to view and interact with the ever-changing world, I can look at situations that previously would have caused me paralyzing anxiety and see them as opportunities that I can chose to pursue or pass up. The difference is now I make the decision for the right reasons, not because of anxiety.

P.S. – If you found this useful at all or you think it might help someone else please share and pass on. There are easy buttons to share just below here.

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Review – Bad North – Rethinking Strategy

I’ve been a fan of strategy games for a very long time. I’m also a graphic designer and have a sweet spot for great art and beautifully crafted experiences. When I first heard about and saw the first concepts for Bad North, I just had to check it out.


Bad North takes place in a Norse inspired universe. Your goal is to explore as many islands as possible; find new allies and powerful artefacts as you defend the land from the vicious attacks of incoming barbarians.

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As straightforward as this sounds, there’s a lot more to Bad North than meets the eye. The seemingly simple and endearingly looking game unpacks its complex tactical mechanics as you progress in the game.

Units/Parties

You start off with two parties composed of a specific number of units. Parties have the ability to move around the islands without many restrictions, but so do enemies. Choosing your path and unit placement around the islands becomes extremely important if you want to mount a successful defense.

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Specializations

Basic units can acquire one of three specializations: Pikemen, Knight and Archer. Each one of these comes with stats and equipment as well as with upgradeable special abilities, adding a layer of unit composition to the game. Upgrades can be bought by defending islands and collecting gold from each of the buildings. If the enemy destroys one of these buildings, you’ll lose the chance to profit from it.

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Specializations are important as you’ll be facing different enemy units that can be weak or strong against some of your specialized units.

Islands: Terrain/Weather/Buildings

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An island’s terrain and surface can be used to your advantage during engagements. But time is of the escence and reacting timely to incoming enemies is important as it will take time for your units to move from point A to point B. There are building structures in every island which you can use to heal the parties that have suffered losses.
But beware, parties are innactive during this process and you can face the situation of falling a few men short during a battle if you decide to heal at the wrong time.

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Weather also plays a role in range and effectiveness of archers. Windy environments, for example, can affect the reach of a shot if your archers are placed in the wrong location.

Items

Items can be found after defending an island and can aid you in battle by calling in reinforcements and boosting your fighting capabilities. Each party can carry one item. Items are also subject to upgrading.

Game over

Bad North is an unforgiving game. Once all of your parties die, your journey starts all over again.
But don’t lose hope just yet! Fleeing the island is an option. You can use the enemie’s boats to evacuate your most battered parties to save them from death. Abandoning the island all together, however, comes at the cost of not receiving any gold.

Additional parties can be found when you aid islands against incoming enemy attacks. But gold is scarce in this hostile word so choose your upgrades wisely.

All in all, my hype for this game was met with more than what I expected. This title by developer Plausible Concept mixes tactics, real-time strategy and tower defense elements into a seamless gaming experience. If you’re into all things strategy games, make sure to grab this title. Bad North is now available on Steam and is purchaseable in all major consoles.

 

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Grizzly Gaming Journal #3 – Post Blizzcon: Looking back

Blizzcon

-By Grizzly

What an amazing experience.

That sums up the entire five days of pre, during and post Blizzcon adventure. As a first time attendee, I was amazed by the caliber of the event. There was no moment where I felt let down by it. I wanted it to keep happening for just a little longer.

Blizzcon is in fact, a celebration. A celebration of gaming, passion, and dedication to something we love. Despite the odds, the rough starts and the moments of doubt, we made it.
For me, it was the validation of my goals and dreams for my future. It was the most genuine pat on the back: “it’s all gonna be alright, little bears”.

It’s surreal to meet people you’ve known for so many years, for the first time and have it seem like it was always that way; just the way things are.

Registration Day

Blizzcon isn’t the first tech and gaming related event I’ve ever been to, but it’s definitely the first one I’ve ever attended in which, despite the number of people, everything ran smoothly.
Although fast, the feeling of getting my badge was one of the greatest things I’ve ever experienced. Not only was it the culmination of a long-term goal, but also a testament to hard work and dedication.

On this day, we finally had the chance to meet our dear friend OFY. A long-time supporter of the stream, OFY is a genuinely nice human being. We shared stories, great food, and seats as we watched the WCS Global Finals for StarCraft 2.

So much to do, so much to see

Blizzcon was everything we thought it would be and we saw just how proud the Blizzard crew and community members are of the games they put so much passion into.
We also had time to try out new stuff like new character releases, merch and licensed products that were coming soon(TM).

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The art of Blizzard is everywhere you turn.

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Blizzard is bringing Overwatch to the LEGO Universe. As a long time fan of LEGO, these two sets immediately caught my attention. What do you guys think?

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By far the best community moment apart from the Community Nights was The March of the Murlocs, which paraded the venue spreading the love for Blizzard games in true nerd fashion.

Overwatch Arena

The Overwatch Arena. Once you step into this area, you realize just how important Overwatch is as an esport. China, played some sick games.

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There’s no arena that embraces its lore as much as the Hearthstone arena does. Fans of the game gather around the hearth in this fully equipped tavern-like battlefield to witness epic battles.

WCS Global Finals

Since the World Championship Series became a thing, I might’ve missed some series but I’ve never missed a final.

All throughout our viewing, the hype was on a constant rise as players battled it out on the beautiful StarCraft 2 arena.

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Seeing Maru play and lose so quickly was an obvious upset, but I also think it is a testament to just how hard StarCraft is. As a game itself, but also, as a competitive practice.
The stakes in this tournament were huge and a lot of players crumbled under the pressure. Surprisingly, Maru fell 0 – 3 vs sOs and that was the end of what had been a very successful year for him.

But it was a historical Blizzcon for StarCraft as Serral was crowned the 2018’s WCS Champion after beating Stats in a beautiful 6 game series that represents everything that is beautiful and terrifying about StarCraft. How incredibly unforgiving a loss can be versus the magnitude of a victory.

Friends Galore

After years of watching each other’s streams, we finally had a chance to meet with Poizon and OFY, two long-time viewers and friends of the bears.

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StarCraft Family Photo (The Beasleys are missing, though…)

Seeing friends is always nice and I also had the chance to say hi to another long-timer, DukeNukem.

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Duke has been a long-time friend during my streaming years. Was happy to finally meet him.

I made some new friends as well and finally had a chance to meet face to face with one of the coolest individuals I’ve ever met. Temp0 was as excited to meet me as I was about meeting him, which I felt extremely honored by. We got to chat quite a bit and share the passion for StarCraft and the community.

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Maybe now, I’ll become a grandmaster and be faster.

I have been a long-time Neuro viewer for a few years now and I didn’t expect to just stumble upon him the way I did.
He was an easy person to talk to, friendly and open to say hi, and because of the great spirit he puts into the StarCraft community, I had to ask him to sign my Field Manual, which I brought with me as a sort of yearbook for my new friends to sign. His is by far the best signature I got.

Other honorable mentions are:

Meeting Maynarde.
I was really looking forward to saying hi to Maynarde because of the design work I had done for him. He was a pleasure to work with and I really wanted to express my gratitude for giving me an opportunity.
He was very kind and generous with his time. Unfortunately, I was too anxious to ask for a photo or a signature so, in the end, I just kept the good memories.

Meeting Rotterdam.
It’s awesome to exchange a few words with someone and immediately realize how passionate they are about StarCraft. That was the case when we approached Rotterdam. Over the years, Rotti has become one of my favorite casters. His passion and love for the game come through in his casting. We only exchanged a few words but I was glad I gathered the courage to say “hi”.

I really appreciated everything that Blizzard does to bring people together. Pin and badge collectors were all over the place, displaying their loot and trading with others. It was a scene worthy of any town market I’ve come across in gaming. Blizzard also included their very own trading posts and mystery box stands.

Closing Ceremony

We chose to watch Lindsey Stirling’s presentation and we were not disappointed. At first, we had to watch from the sidelines as all seats were taken, but half into the show we were ushered by a Blizzard crew member (bless that woman), and we were taken along with other people to our new seats.
I wish I would’ve asked the guy who sat next to me for some contact info because he was super friendly and just excited to be there. I did make sure to give him one of our stickers so I hope he’ll reach out one day.

The Aftermath

Last weekend I had the sudden, “wow, this is our first weekend after Blizzcon” moment. There was a bit of nostalgia involved but at the same time, I felt excited for the future. We plan on going back in 2020 in the hopes of seeing more of our friends there.
Coming back from Blizzcon, I feel more motivated than ever to continue working on this dream. The awesome community that has backed us for so many years is to blame for these amazing moments and the amazing experience that we had.

 

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Grizzly Gaming Journal #2 – The road to Blizzcon 2018

-By Grizzly

Not everyone allows his or herself to dream. To visualize something that they really want and commit to achieving it. Put everything they are on the line.
Sometimes, the opportunity just isn’t there. There are other priorities in life. The means are harder to attain than we iniatially thought. Maybe, we were afraid. Afraid of failing and being deeply disappointed by said failure.

The road to Blizzcon 2018 has been full of those moments. Moments in which we doubted if we were doing enough, working enough, streaming enough. “Are we even good enough?”

After almost a year of insanity, working hours that ran way beyond a nine to fiver; powering through hours of ladder, photoshop canvasses, illustrator artboards, classes and excel spreadsheets, I’m so glad the day is so close. I’m so grateful for today and for the adventure that awaits. It’s been a long time coming and every ounce of effort that we’ve put into making this trip happen has been worth it.

Amidst the turmoil of a world that doesn’t stop spinning, an event like Blizzcon happens. People from all around the world gather to celebrate a passion so innate to the human condition. Long time friends who are meeting for the first time and others who’ve waited for months to catch up; to have fun and celebrate another year at Blizzcon.

I’m the kind of person who spends a lot of time thinking about the future. But for the next few days, I’ll do my best to just be present and take it all in.

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