Laser art part 2: Mars

[Part 1 here]

M1

Let me tell you, friends, this project was a big one, and I made it bigger by making more dumb mistakes. First, I found a topographical map of Mars that was made in 1993. It was only after tracing the entire thing that I learned the first of two important facts: we didn’t know much at all about Mars until 1997 when the Mars Global Surveyor arrived; every map made before that point was based on data gathered in the Mariner missions in the 1960s.

M3

The newer maps of Mars measured elevation in a color gradient rather than in convenient lines at each kilometer mark. Rather than start from scratch, I layered this map over the one I had made and started nudging my lines around. Eventually I got it looking pretty accurate, except there was one weird thing about the two maps. The elevations didn’t line up.

Here I learned the second important fact about Mars: since Mars doesn’t have a sea, scientists had to choose an elevation to use as “sea level,” which is where you would define 0 on a topographical map. Up until 2001, they measured sea level by atmospheric pressure.

But then in 2001 the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter arrived and gave them more specific data, and they decided instead to base sea level on the equipotential surface. So in other words, not only was the map I made only vaguely accurate in terms of landmarks, it also started counting up from 0 at a different height.

Mars vector

I don’t know how many hours I put into just making the file. Dozens, anyway. Then I had to split the whole map into three sections so it would fit in the laser cutter. I used twelve sheets of 12″ square birch plywood. You can buy this in bulk from Michael’s, so the whole thing ended up costing me only about $22.

I paid attention to the grain of the wood this time and I masked everything first so I wouldn’t get smoke stains on everything. I even lightly scored lines on each layer to show where the next layer was supposed to go, so I could align things exactly and so I wouldn’t end up with a bunch of random bits and no idea where they were supposed to go. I still ended up with a bunch of random bits, but fewer than I would have.

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It was in assembling the thing that I learned a final important fact, not about Mars but about topography in general: when you’re making a topographic map on birch plywood that is 1/8″ thick, and each level of elevation on the map is 1 kilometer of height, that means 1/8″ up and down = 1 kilometer. But if the map is 27″ wide and the planet has a circumference of 21,343 km, then 1/8″ left and right = 98.8 kilometers. Because of this discrepancy, everything gets stretched out to look much taller than it is.

If I were making the map completely accurate, then each layer of this 27″ wide map should have been .001″ tall (or about the width of a human hair). The entire 25 kilometer height of Olympus Mons would end up being 1/32″ tall (or about the thickness of the lead in a mechanical pencil). But that makes for a very boring topographical map, so I didn’t do it that way.

The end result is that Olympus Mons ended up looking VERY TALL.

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I took out every other layer of all of the mountains to get them down to a more reasonable looking height, since I didn’t want any of them sticking up three inches over the rest of the map. I think the end result looks quite nice.

Mars last

All I have left to do is mount the three parts on a single sheet of plywood and then maybe frame it or something. Maybe I’ll hang it on my wall, if it’s not too heavy. I’m already thinking of what to make next. What’s bigger than a planet?

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Laser art part 1: Cape Cod Bay

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Last year I got my hands on a Glowforge Pro laser cutter. It’s not mine (it may be cheap for a laser cutter but it’s not actually CHEAP) but I needed to learn how to use it, and what better way to do that than try my hand at making some art.

Glowforge has a whole catalog of projects you can make, as well as forums full of people showing off their own projects, but I actually got my inspiration from seeing this gorgeous thing and deciding I could make one just like it. Because, you know, I wanted to start simple.

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You can find topographical maps of just about anywhere online. The US Geological Survey has a ton of maps, both current and historical, and you can download all of them for free. You can also find bathymetric maps (that’s underwater topography) of just about any significant body of water. Yes, all of those links are US-centric, but I’m sure you can find similar repositories for elsewhere in the world. I haven’t done anything outside of the US yet. …Well, actually I have, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

CCB2

Actually cutting out the image and assembling it is the easy part. It’s making the file to cut out that takes a billion hours of tedious work. If you’re extremely lucky, you’ll find a PDF of a map that’s already mostly in vector format, although even those take many hours of cleanup before they’re usable. Mostly you just find a flat image and you have to trace it. For hours. And hours.

Eventually you start to fudge things because seriously, no one is going to look that closely and no one really knows where Dead Neck is or how many shipwrecks there really are off Provincetown. But it’s really cool to know that every single sandbar and pile of rocks off the coast has a name.

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I made SO MANY MISTAKES on this project. For one thing, the size of my project was too large to do in one go on the laser, so I had to split each layer into two halves, and I didn’t figure out a good way of doing that until after I’d finished the whole project, so there are a lot of uneven gaps and things not lining up correctly.

I didn’t notice that the grain of the wood was going in different directions until it was far too late, although in my defense there wasn’t much I could have done about that even if I had noticed ahead of time, since the wood was pre-cut into 16×20″ rectangles so I couldn’t rotate them.

Also, I hadn’t done any tests ahead of time to see what settings I would need to cut through the wood, so some places got scorched and other places didn’t cut all the way through and I had to hack at them with a knife.

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When the whole thing comes together, though, it looks amazing. You can make anything look good when lasers are involved. I like the effect of the smoke marks, although you can avoid that with masking tape.

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I did this entire project last May. Around December I decided to try my hand at it again using the stuff I’d learned, so I made two small town maps for family members. And then I thought… well, what next? What can I make for myself that will look just as cool as Cape Cod Bay?

The answer, it turns out, was Mars.

[Part 2 coming soon!]

New year, same me

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You are here

Happy New Year! Let’s make this year a good one.

To start: if you happen to be nominating for awards right now, my short story, “All Profound and Logical Minds,” is eligible as a short story published in 2018.

Last year was a particularly long one, and not just because it was the hell year that was 2018. No, last year was 15 months long because I started it in October of 2017, since 2017 had been such a hell year itself that I wanted to cut that one short.

On a personal front, the extra-long 2018 was marginally better than 2017. I bought a house, which I’m still happy about despite the traditional breaking-of-all-the-things that happens when you become a homeowner. In fact as we speak I’m waiting on some plumbers to come and fix my steam heat, which another plumber broke a year ago and which has been banging and howling ever since. Yes, it’s been a literal year of banging and howling pipes (save the months when it was warm enough not to turn on the heat), but the plumber who broke it insisted that “that’s just what steam heat sounds like” and that I was overreacting. Folks, if you can’t sleep on the second floor because it sounds like someone is standing in the basement banging on pipes with a wrench and blowing a whistle, that means there’s something wrong. But other than that, the house is wonderful and I’ve enjoyed every second of my time here.

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A beautiful June day in P-town

In October, I was diagnosed with ADHD and started taking Adderall, which had the immediate and unexpected side effect of causing me to start reading books again. Up through high school, I read nonstop, but that changed in college and my reading has been slow and sporadic since then. I read, but mostly I would abandon books partway through. Most of my fiction consumption came through podcasts like Escape Pod and Pseudopod, which I could listen to on my commute.

I started Adderall on October 10th. Starting that day and going through December 31, I read 22 books. That works out to a book roughly every three and a half days, but actually I know that I took a week or two off of reading in November while I was doing Nanowrimo. This has been so refreshing. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to read again.

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So without further ado, let’s look at last year’s goals and see how we did:

  • Write a novel during at least one of the two Nanowrimos that 2018 is projected to have, assuming 2018 doesn’t go poorly and there’s another schedule change—Sort of! I wrote the first half of a novel this past Nanowrimo. It’s a good start and I’m excited about it, so I’ll count this as a win.
  • Finish 5 short stories—Not quite. I finished three short stories and got halfway through two more. Close but no cigar. Though I’m happy with the three I finished.
  • Compose more music. Say 5 more songs, just to quantify it.—I started to say that I hadn’t composed anything in the last 15 months, but actually it looks like I uploaded 2 songs to my Soundcloud back in February.
  • Get a Y membership and start taking classes again—I did get a Y membership and I even took a 5am spin class for a while. Then I stopped. But that still counts.
  • Start rock climbing again, once I start getting active.—I did for a few weeks. Then I stopped. But that also counts.
  • Start jogging again.—Nope.
  • A SINGLE PULL UP.—Nope.
  • Make sure to have at least one story out on submission at all times—I believe I did accomplish this.  I don’t think there was any length of time in 2018 that I didn’t have at least one story out on sub. I did sell a reprint to Glittership in February.

I’m pretty happy with what I achieved. Sure, I didn’t get all of them, and some of them only passed on a technicality, but I did make an effort towards most of them, so I’ll take it.

This year’s goals:

  • Read 50 books. I just set this as my Goodreads goal. I’ve already read two books this year. (Technically I started one of them on Dec 31 but I finished it Jan 1 so that counts).
  • Finish 5 short stories. This can include the two that I started in 2018.
  • At least one short story on submission at all times. Might as well keep up with this.
  • Finish a novel. Whether this means the one I started in 2018 or a new one, I want a finished first draft.
  • Start one regular physical activity (such as jogging, rock climbing, an exercise class, or something new) that I stick with at least once per week for at least six months. No more winning on a technicality for this one.
  • A SINGLE PULL UP. Maybe this year is the year.

Podcasts of two of my stories

Two of my stories have come out in podcast form in the last couple weeks, and I’m extremely excited about both of them. Having your work read aloud by someone else is such a weird and delightful experience.

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The first is a reprint of my first short story, “Smooth Stones and Empty Bones,” about a girl who decides it’s time to show her girlfriend how to raise the dead. It was released on Glittership on Feb 24th. You can also read the text of the story at that link.

There’s a skeleton in the chicken coop. It’s some bare collection of abandoned bones, maybe a former fox, and it’s slishing through the pine needles and bumping liplessly against the gate. The chickens, for their part, don’t look concerned.


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The second is a new story, “All Profound and Logical Minds,” about a woman who exorcises space stations, which was released today on Escape Pod for Artemis Rising month. The full text is also there at the link.

The space station was silent in the way that a black hole is black; it was more than just an absence of noise. There was something physical to the silence, a force pulling in all sound and eating it. Hannah anchored her boots to the floor of the atrium, feeling the reassuring click as the magnets engaged. Emergency lights washed the atrium floor with a watery red light.

Go forth and listen!

Let me tell you a funny story

Disclaimer: This is not a funny story. In fact, many people find it disturbing. I’m going to put in a content warning here for voyeurism and maybe stalking. Also, if you’re prone to paranoia about cameras, I’d give this post a miss.

Given that Time’s Person of the Year is the silence breakers, I thought I’d tell you about something that happened to me that I haven’t talked about much online. In fact, this post has been kind of loitering in my drafts for about a year. I’m not even sure I’m going to post it, but if you’re reading this, I guess I did.

Continue reading “Let me tell you a funny story”

Award Eligibility 2017

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I did band camp for a weekend in November. This is not my band.

Greetings from the future! Assuming you are still in the year 2017, you are probably approaching the end of your year. Myself, I began 2018 back on October 1st in an effort to curtail the absolute shitshow that 2017 was turning out to be. I’m a mere month and a half into my new year.

So far the plan has worked pretty well. I sold two short stories, and my weird West story “Forgive Us Our Trespasses” was published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies on October 26th. I purchased a home. I joined a band and am re-learning how to play the keyboard. I finished writing a handful of new short stories. I inherited a bunch of furniture, which I am spending all my free time refinishing.

However you measure time, it’s award nomination season. If you’re able to vote in the Nebulas or Hugos, you may be interested to know that I am available to be nominated. Here is the grand total of my work that is eligible in the Short Story category:

“Forgive Us Our Trespasses,” Beneath Ceaseless Skies #237, October 26, 2017.

This is also my second (and therefore final) year of eligibility for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Boy would I love a nomination, but let’s be real here: my buddy Aimee Ogden deserves it more because she’s a fabulous writer and I’m not just saying that because she let me stay in her house and pet her dog. Go check out her list of eligible works here.

That’s all for now! I must head out to the garage and sand more furniture.

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This was a couch and armchair once, and maybe it will be again.

Happy New Year 2018

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What’s that, you say? It’s not even October yet? No, you must be mistaken. 2017 was a terrible year and, on my friend Aimee‘s advice, I’ve decided it’s over. Let 2018 be marginally better.

2017 was a bad year for many, many, many, MANY reasons, both local and global. In my personal sphere, my cat, who had lived with me for 19 years, was given two months to live in March. She died in May. In July, my childhood best friend, who was three months younger than me and whose triumph over leukemia was short-lived, died suddenly just a day before starting her next round of chemo. In early August, my uncle who I love very much and who I’ve been closest to of all my aunts and uncles, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He is in hospice and has perhaps a few days left. I said goodbye to him today.

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I concur.

So yeah, I’m done with 2017, and given everything, I’m sure you’re done with it too.

Let’s see. What are my new year’s resolutions? I had a shorter time this year to achieve my goals than in previous years, but that’s okay. Let’s be real, I wasn’t going to reach my goals anyway. Here were last year’s goals:

  • Write an average of 500 words a day (for real this time)—Haha no, I didn’t achieve this. This is hard to judge, since I’ve stopped keeping track of my daily word count, but looking at what short stories I’ve finished, I’ve written a total of roughly… 34,200 words? I’m pretty sure I’ve written more than that, but not a lot more, so let’s round it up to 35,000. Divided by the 260 days of 2017, that makes about 135 words per day. That’s miserable, but a lot of my annual word count comes during Nanowrimo and oddly 2017 didn’t seem to have one of those, so I’ll cut myself some slack.
  • Finish and polish all 37 short stories that I started this year—Noooope.  I finished two of the 37 short stories. However, one of those turned into a novella, and I’ve picked away at a number of them, and I started a couple fresh new short stories. AND I sold two short stories, so that’s pretty decent.
  • If I don’t blog more often than 2016, at least don’t blog less—I wrote 19 blog posts in 2016. This posts makes an even 10 in 2017. So, goal failed.
  • Average of 7,500 steps per day—I stopped wearing my fitbit at some point because the band is uncomfortable, but I can tell you I did not walk nearly enough to reach this. I am a sedentary person.
  • ONE PULL UP. JUST ONE.—No.
  • Draw more often. At least once a month?—I did not draw once a month, but I did a little bit of drawing, and I also started a new hobby of composing music, so I’ll count that as a win.
  • Finish that cross stitch project from last year—Ok, technically I did achieve this one. I just need to fix one thing on it though, so that’ll probably take me another year. And I started a new cross stitch project that I have not yet finished.
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The MBMBAM show was one of the highlights of the short-lived 2017.

GOALS FOR 2018:

  • Write a novel during at least one of the two Nanowrimos that 2018 is projected to have, assuming 2018 doesn’t go poorly and there’s another schedule change.
  • Finish 5 short stories. Ideally more, but at least 5.
  • Compose more music. Say 5 more songs, just to quantify it.
  • Get a Y membership and start taking classes again. There’s no joiner’s fee this month, and I’ve been holding off because I’m morally opposed to the joiner’s fee and also I’m very lazy, but now I have no excuse.
  • Start rock climbing again, once I start getting active.
  • Start jogging again.
  • A SINGLE PULL UP.
  • Ideally I would say “sell at least one short story” but that’s not within my power, so instead I’ll say my goal is to make sure to have at least one story out on submission at all times. Don’t let that ball drop.

There. My goals are in place. Happy New Year, everyone!

 

WXR17: Water, Water Everywhere

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Narodovolets D-2 submarine in St. Petersburg

There’s a group of us in of a WWII submarine museum in St Petersburg, Russia. Across one wall is a glass cabinet full of miniature models of submarines from the first ones built in the city straight through the modern day submarines that are still in use. “Russia recently announced the largest submarine in the world,” our tour guide translates from the museum docent’s lecture. “It displaces 24,000 tons.”

“For reference, our cruise ship weighs 138,000 tons,” says Howard. “Much bigger, but doesn’t have nearly as much firepower.”

“This submarine has twenty ballistic missile launches, each of which can hold ten nuclear warheads.” A pause. “We hope we never have to use them.”

Howard: “We hope so too.”

Everyone in the room shares a dark laugh. If Russia ever does have to use those nukes, we all know who they’re going to use them on.

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The Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen

Our tour guide in Copenhagen is used to giving tours in German, and is a little rusty with her English. Many of her anecdotes about Copenhagen history end with “And I…forget the word.” I don’t think there’s anything lost in translation, though, when she tells us that the Little Mermaid statue, having been moved further out into the water for its own protection, is easier to take photos of now that it isn’t “covered in Japanese.” Later, while our bus takes a sharp turn in the middle of the city, we crunch into a post and have to sit, parked diagonally across the entire intersection, blocking all lanes of traffic, while the driver gets out to inspect the damage.

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Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn Old Town

Dea is our tour guide in Estonia, and she speaks with a dry humor and an accent that turns her words up at the end.

“To the right we have the war memorial,” she says as we approach a bare concrete structure with a sharp tower sticking straight up into the sky. “We call it ‘the grave of Pinocchio.'”

Later, going through the city, she points out the Hotel Viru, where foreign visitors to Tallinn were required to stay during the Soviet occupation. “While it was being built, the KGB would sometimes dismiss all the builders for the day and bring in their own builders. There was a whole secret floor inside the hotel. We would say that it was made of new ‘microconcrete’—fifty percent microphones and fifty percent concrete.”

On our way to the old city, we pass a different tour bus just starting the same route despite leaving the ship at the same time and she is quietly proud of our efficiency. “We’re making great time,” she says.

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Changing of the guard at the royal palace in Stockholm

The guide in Stockholm gives the tour in perfect English and German, switching smoothly from one to the other, since our group is half and half. He walks us around cobblestone streets, taking us down the narrowest road in Europe and showing us Stockholm’s tiniest statue. At the palace, he tells us that the changing of the guard happens at noon, but we won’t want to see it because it’s too crowded and hard to see. Instead, he shows us where we can stand to get front row access as the guards come in on horseback, led by a band. When they come through, they’re so close that the horses nearly step on our feet.

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Icebar, Stockholm

The Icebar in Stockholm is a small, refrigerated room in a hotel. We’re each given heavy ponchos with attached mittens, and we have to wait in line for the previous group to come out before we can shuffle into the airlock. Everything in the bar is made of ice, from the walls to the furniture to the glasses. All of it comes form the Torne River up north. The bartender serves vodka and lingonberry juice, and when we’re done with our glass, we can slide it down an ice chute into a warm water bath.

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Øresund Bridge

On the way to and from Copenhagen, we pass under Øresund Bridge, the longest bridge in Europe. It’s eight miles long and connects Sweden and Denmark. Our ship barely fits under its highest point. On the night we’re meant to pass back under it, I head up to the highest point of the ship we can reach without being in first class. When the bridge skims by overhead, just six feet over our smokestack, everyone cheers.

 

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Saint Isaac’s Cathedral in St Petersburg

They tell us not to smile when we go through passport control in St. Petersburg. Smiling makes us look suspicious. Putin just threw all the American ambassadors out of Russia a couple days before we arrived, and we want to be as inoffensive as possible to make sure we make it out of the country. I make it through fine by looking as bored as possible, but many of the men in the group are asked if they are American soldiers. In the city, though, they’re not nearly as strict about making us stay with our guides as the ship had made it seem. Our guide, Konstantin, takes us through the Metro and the subway train nearly leaves without half of our group.

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Several days on the ship, the doors leading to the outside deck have chains across them and signs warning about high winds. This isn’t really an issue until the final night of the cruise, when I’m trying to find my way to the farewell cocktail party. It’s set in the Liquid Disco, which is on the 16th floor of the ship and which is only accessible by one elevator. I choose the wrong elevator and come out on the fifteenth floor into an incredible wind. I’m wearing high heels, which doesn’t help as the wind nearly slides me down the deck. Luckily the ship has glass walls at strategic places along the deck that block the wind and allow you to open doors without them being ripped from your hands.

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On the ship, the head waiter keeps track of my milk allergy. Every night, I order my meal for the next evening. They don’t actually tell me which meals can be made without milk, so I choose the things that look easily modifiable. One night the head waiter calls me on it and says I can choose whatever I want. I don’t have to choose stuff I don’t want just because it’s easy. Just tell him what I want and they’ll do it. I tell him I want the tortellini. He hesitates. “We can’t make that,” he says finally.

The first few days, they give me some fruit for dessert, since obviously all the other desserts have milk in them. Then one night the head waiter shows up with three packages of Italian desserts, the kind you might buy in a gas station. They’re dairy and gluten free and they’re pretty terrible–basically made of pressed powder that falls apart when you touch it. After that they get a little more experimental, giving me meringue or jello or even some apple pie without the ice cream. On the final night they give me a fancy tart with meringue. Someone has written “lactose free” on the plate in raspberry syrup. This is actually very concerning, since lactose isn’t the problem, but hey, at least they tried.

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We stay another day in Kiel, Germany when we get off the boat. The day is warm and gorgeous, but I end up napping through most of it. In the evening we head up to Deck 8, the hotel’s rooftop bar, and we’re just in time to see our ship pull out of the Kiele Fjord for another cruise.

Game review: Dream Daddy

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If you’ve been anywhere on the internet this week, you may have heard about a little game called Dream Daddy. It’s a daddy dating sim, where you—no wait, come back! It’s not creepy, I promise. You’re a single dad and your goal is to date other hot single dads who all coincidentally live in the quiet little cul-de-sac you just moved to with your daughter.

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I’m not a connoisseur of the dating sim genre. I’ve played a couple that seemed to be entirely about showing off artwork of sexy anime boys or girls, with poorly written dialogue and no character development to speak of. I’m not going to claim that there aren’t any good ones out there, since, as I said, I don’t play many of them, but that was my prior experience. But good news: Dream Daddy is not one of those games. It’s really well written, with funny dialogue, developed characters, and an ongoing story-line about your relationship with your daughter that is really sweet. The dads are likeable and your character has a good chemistry with all of them.

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This screenshot might not demonstrate the good chemistry I just mentioned but I loved it too much not to include it.

The premise, as I briefly mentioned before, is this: You are a single dad of an eighteen-year-old high school senior named Amanda. Your spouse (you can choose the gender, and whether or not you adopted Amanda or whether she was born to you and your partner) died a while ago and you’ve decided to leave the house you lived in for the last twenty years and move across town for a fresh start. Amanda is hoping to get into art school, and will be moving out of the house by the end of the summer, leaving you alone. Before she does, she really wants you to make some friends in the neighborhood so you don’t retreat into yourself and stay home alone all the time, as is your wont. You’re shy and a bit socially awkward, but you’re game to make the effort to meet new people.

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The main character is literally me.

The first thing you do in game is create your dad persona. Dadsona? You have a number of options to choose from—not just the usual facial features and hair color and body type, but also whether or not you’re cis or transgender, which I found really cool and inclusive. Once you’ve settled on your appearance and a name, you and your daughter go explore the neighborhood and start to meet the other dads.

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Got a pretty intense stare there, Glasses.

Once you’ve had a chance to meet them all, you peruse DadBook and ask other neighborhood dads out on dates. Actually, they’re not necessarily dates, per se; for the most part, you’re trying to make friends. You might play a father-daughter mini-golf game or help chaperone a school field trip. Each date has its own little minigame. Depending on how well you do on that, and how well the other dad responds to your conversation choices, you get a grade.

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You can date all the dads twice, but you can only go out with your dream dad on the third date, so I recommend saving just before you make that choice. The correct choice, of course, is Mat the hot barista and indie band aficionado, but I’d understand if you want to make an inferior choice just to see how it turns out. Actually I liked Craig the dudebro gym rat and chick magnet too, and of course I had to try seducing Robert, the one who looks like he’s going to shank you in an alley and steal your wallet. He’s actually well worth the effort, as long as you don’t screw up your first meeting with him, like I did.

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You and me both, knife dad.

I love the various tv shows they reference throughout the game. I would 100% watch Long Haul Ice Road Paranormal Ghost Truckers or Tiny House Hunting Amish Triplets: Extreme Edition or even Shark Tank But With Actual Sharks. The sense of humor is great. There are SO. MANY. PUNS. And all the dads are good dads. Even the ones who have difficult or rebellious kids are still decent guys who try hard to be the best dad they can.

The only drawback for me was that I wasn’t a big fan of the voice acting. There’s no real dialogue in the game, except for maybe a line if you finish a date with a high score. Mostly it’s just “Oh!” or “What?” or “Hmmm…” with every single line of dialogue, which repeats so often that it was hard not to visualize the voice actors in the recording studio, making noises into a mic.

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This game was produced (and voiced by) the Game Grumps, a group of Let’s Play Youtubers. It’s well worth the $15 price tag, especially if you try to get all the potential endings. I’ve played it for 7 hours and haven’t finished the game with every romantic option yet. In short, I highly recommend it! Get it here on Steam.