Game Review: 7 Days to Die

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 8.12.13 PMMy gaming buddy Mel bought me 7 Days to Die a few days ago to replace Minecraft, since she can’t join the server at the moment. I’d watched a Let’s Play of the game a while ago and it looked interesting but was still in early alpha, so I hadn’t checked it out. Right now it’s on alpha build 10.4 and is a thoroughly enjoyable game. If they iron out the remaining bugs, it would be well worth the money.

Come at me bro

Come at me bro

7 Days to Die is a sandbox survival horror zombie game set in a post-apocalyptic world. You have the choice between a pre-built world or a randomly generated one, both of which have a range of biomes from snowy woods to barren desert to fire-scorched wasteland. During the day, zombies roam around, stumbling at half your speed, hunting you if they sense you nearby. At night, they sprint at twice your speed and will break through anything including solid stone if they know you’re on the other side.

Spider zombies run like dogs at night which is kind of terrifying.

Spider zombies run like dogs at night which is kind of terrifying.

In terms of user interface, it’s very similar to Minecraft. You collect resources like wood and stones and plant fibers, and can use them to craft tools or building blocks to build your base. You can mine for iron, or you can melt down metal things you find in a forge. Your hunger and thirst levels are very important, and making sure you cook your food or boil lake water before drinking it can mean the difference between life and death. You can hunt animals or grow your own crops. You can also make guns or crossbows or land minds to assault other players on the same server.

Motor oil. That should come in handy.

Motor oil. That should come in handy.

Where 7 Days excels is in going a step beyond typical survival horror games in its realism. The things you build can only hold so much weight, and sometimes you might climb out onto a second floor balcony to escape a zombie and find the whole thing collapses under your combined weight. If you drink untreated water, you can get dysentery, which doesn’t go away until you take antibiotics, which are surprisingly hard to find. Uncooked or spoiled food can give you temporary food poisoning, which will definitely slow you down. A broken limb needs to be splinted until it heals. Neglecting your hunger and thirst levels reduces your overall wellness, giving you fewer hit points to work with. If you hunt a deer and collect its meat, the smell of the meat can lure in zombies for as long as you carry it. The more time you spend in an area and the more noises and scents you make, the more zombies will be attracted to it, and the more you risk calling down the horde.

Less realistic: the zoms that stroll along riverbeds.

Less realistic: the zoms that stroll along riverbeds.

The horde is the truly scary part of the came. It’s not quite like the raging horde in Left 4 Dead, but only because zombies are far more likely to kill you in 7 Days. A pack of twenty zombies sprinting toward your base in the darkness and clawing through the walls can destroy days of work, and the more noise you make fighting them, the more zombies will come your way. Mel and I holed up in a farmhouse and naively lit it with torches in our first play-through, and on day seven, the horde tore through that place like butter, collapsing our barn and ripping the house to pieces. They even destroyed our couch. Using a gun only called in more. It’s the kind of game where stealth is a better option than trying to mow down the enemy with more firepower. It certainly makes the game more stressful when you choose to crouch in a dark house, listening to the footsteps of a half dozen zombies crunch through the gravel on the other side of the wall, praying they won’t sense you.

Hosting your own server is ridiculously easy with 7 Days. You don’t even have to port forward. After months weeping over my Minecraft server, the ease of this game is refreshing. Servers are also customizable, so you can change the difficulty level, percentage of day versus night, the length of a 24 hour cycle, whether you drop all your inventory on death or just some of it, and so on.

There’s an option to play a server in creative mode, so you can access all the objects in the game and build your own base easily. Some objects are only accessible in creative mode.

You're probably wondering why I called you all here.

You’re probably wondering why I called you all here.

The game has its flaws. The main issue I have with it is the extreme lag. Half the time things run smooth. The other half of the time, especially when a horde is spawning in, the game slows down to a crawl, and everything moves in extreme slow motion. It feels like fighting off a horde of zombies while swimming through honey. But sometimes it’s laggy even with no discernible reason. Walking through wasteland is especially hard.

Sensible apocalypse clothing.

Sensible apocalypse clothing.

You start the game in your underwear, and lose any clothes you found whenever you die. My character spends nearly all her time in a bra and panties (and seriously, a strapless bra? Really? Was she on her way to a formal party when the apocalypse started, and she somehow lost her dress?), and occasionally in a hat or shoes if she finds them. Armor covers you up, but only to a certain extent.

Much better.

Much better.

And honestly, it’s so easy to die that some of the debuffs like being infected or having a broken limb aren’t much of a drawback, since you know you’re going to die from one hit soon anyway. I’ve never used a splint or antibiotics in the game because there’s no point. Sure, dying often means I’ll lose wellness points and have fewer hit points overall, but it’s really impossible to stay alive more that five or ten minutes at a time even with all the food and antibiotics you can eat.

You drop a backpack full of your inventory whenever you die.

You drop a backpack full of your inventory whenever you die.

Overall, I’d give it three out of five stars. The score will go up if the bugs are fixed by the official release. Is it worth the money? I’d wait for a Steam sale, honestly, but I do think it’s worth it.


Game Review: This War of Mine

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 10.06.34 PMA few days ago my friend Mel recommended I check out This War of Mine, because I don’t spend enough hours a day playing video games already. I’ve played it for 29.6 hours since then, and the only reason I haven’t played it for more is because I was at a Christmas party yesterday.

In This War Of Mine you do not play as an elite soldier, rather a group of civilians trying to survive in a besieged city; struggling with lack of food, medicine and constant danger from snipers and hostile scavengers. The game provides an experience of war seen from an entirely new angle.

I’ve played through it three times, reaching day 42 the first two times and 22 on the third. The game can last anywhere from 30 days and up, but generally 30-40 days. I guess I was just unlucky on my first two tries.

You start the game with one to four survivors (usually three) squatting in a half-destroyed house. You’re living in the city of Pogoren, which is in the middle of a war. Everything has been shelled, and most buildings are ruined. Snipers keep you in during the day, but one survivor can go out and scavenge every night under the cover of darkness. You can scavenge in a number of different places, though some places might be blocked by fighting, and if it’s winter, the snow can keep you from getting into others. You’re not the only scavenger out there, and a lot of the people you meet can be dangerous. Staying home can be dangerous too; if your defenses aren’t good (or even if they are), you can be raided by other desperate survivors.

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 10.09.40 PMThere are twelve possible survivors–seven men and five women–and you get a random assortment each time. More may show up later, although you never seem to get more than four at a time. The locations available in the game and the dangers in each one are also randomly selected, making each play-through a little different. Sometimes you have a while to get ready before winter starts; sometimes the game starts in a blizzard.

Your survivors all have four stats: happiness, hunger, illness and wounds. Each of those has five levels: for example happiness ranges from content to normal to sad to depressed to broken. Illness can go from normal to slightly wounded to wounded to seriously wounded to lethally wounded. If any of the stats gets too low, the survivor can die, which will seriously bring down the happiness levels of everyone else in the house.

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 10.19.51 PMThe game was inspired by the Siege of Sarajevo, and is influenced by real events. 11 Bit Studios, the developer of the game, partnered with the charity War Child and their campaign “Real War is Not A Game“, which encourages games to demonstrate the realities of war. It’s a brutal game and really gives you an impression of how incredibly difficult it would be to live in this situation. It’s also very addictive, being just challenging enough to keep me playing again and again. I bought it for $19.99 on Steam and think it was well worth the price. Five out of five stars.

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 10.33.22 PM

A new low for gaming


Let’s try to look at this week’s gaming news without dying a little inside.

Zoe Quinn, the game developer for Depression Quest, was targeted by a vicious harassment campaign headed by her ex-boyfriend. The boyfriend started a blog about her, accusing her of cheating. This ballooned into him and his 4chan army posting nude photos and YouTube videos with personal information including her home address, sending her death threats and rape threats, and on and on. In order to pretend this campaign was anything other than some douche whining about his ex, 4chan accused her of sleeping with a journalist at Kotaku in order to get a favorable review of Depression Quest. Since the journalist in question never reviewed Depression Quest, that excuse quickly fell flat.

Meanwhile, Anita Sarkeesian released the next episode in her series, Tropes vs Women in Video Games. This episode was part 2 of Women as Background Decoration, and pointed out the many, many, (many, many, many) games where women are used as sexy props, or murdered in sexualized ways, or raped just to make a game seem gritty. This, like all of her other videos, was meticulously researched and impeccably presented, which naturally resulted in a surge of misogynistic frothing and wailing. At this point it’s coming routine.

This time the rape and death threats were horrific enough that Anita was forced to call the police and evacuate her house for an evening. Yes, men threatened to rape and kill her in very graphic ways. Because she was talking about video games.

Phil Fish, founder of Polytron and creator of Fez, had his Twitter account and website hacked and personal information, including banking information and passwords, released on the internet. On his now-deleted Twitter account he wrote:

I would like to announce that Polytron and the Fez IP are now for sale. No reasonable offer will be turned down. I am done. I want out. RUN AWAY. Just don’t do it. Give up your dreams. They are actually nightmares. Nothing is worth this. To every aspiring game developer out there: Don’t. give up. It’s not worth it. This is your audience. This is videogames.

What was his crime? He’d publicly supported Zoe Quinn.

Saturday, hackers posted a bomb threat on Twitter about the flight carrying Sony Online Entertainment president John Smedley. The flight was diverted to another airport. The hackers also took down the Playstation network under a DDOS attack the same day.

Yesterday, someone called 911 and reported an active shooter in the home of Jordan Mathewson of The Creatures while he was livestreaming Counter-Strike. This is called SWAT-ing, and, as intended, resulted in a SWAT team bursting into the house and throwing Mathewson to the floor, on live camera.

Dan Golding’s article The End of Gamers suggests that these events–or at least, the ones involving Anita and Zoe–mark the end of gamers. ‘Gamer’ in this case refers to members of the community of video game players whose identity is constructed around the idea of being “outsiders.” It’s a demographic that has been targeted by video game designers in the past, but now that more adult women play video games than teenage boys, the market is going to change. For guys who are beginning to realize they’re no longer the target demographic, that’s scary, and they’re reacting with psychotic violence in a futile attempt to stop it.

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 2.19.39 PMOne can only hope.


Further reading:

An awful week to care about video games by Chris Plante

Video Games, Misogyny, and Terrorism: A Guide to Assholes by Andrew Todd


top image is from Wikipedia, and is in the public domain

Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles-movie-posterLet me start this spoiler-free review by saying that I had extremely low expectations for this movie. I don’t read reviews before I see a movie, but I’d seen headlines, and I was prepared for this to be the utter destruction of my childhood. I was…pleasantly surprised?

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, directed by Michael Bay, was a poorly written but entertaining movie, and my childhood survived with only a few bruises. It’s a modern reboot of the 90s cartoon show and movies, though thankfully goes more for “campy” than “gritty”. In this reincarnation, the turtles and their rat father figure/sensei Splinter were lab animals. An experiment with some alien goo turned them into grotesque parodies of their canon personalities. Leonardo, always the leader, is quiet and stoic and has very few lines. Rafael has gone from broody rebel to nine-foot-tall hulking brute whose secret is that he’s always angry. Michelangelo, no longer a California surfer, is now a keyboard-cat-loving dudebro, which is surprisingly endearing. And Donatello—oh Donny. Donny, Donny, Donny. What did they do to you? Donatello, instead of being the quiet, bookish brother who I had a crush on when I was ten, is a gangly mouth-breathing hacker nerd with taped glasses and a penchant for speaking like nerds do in movies but no sentient being has ever spoken in real life. I cringed every time he was on the screen.

April O’Neil, played by Megan Fox, was a disappointment. She’s a hot but expressionless news anchor who’s always doing fluff pieces but dreams of being an investigative reporter. Her idea of “investigative reporting” is doing an ill-conceived Nancy Drew impression and getting in trouble a lot. At one point she sneakily takes pictures of a crime in progress, except that she has the camera turned around backwards and is actually taking pictures of her own face. I don’t think that was in the script.

The plot was too stupid to talk about, so let’s skip that part.

Ultimately, it was enjoyable, especially once it got away from April’s search for a real news story and focused on the turtles. They had some funny moments, and you got the impression that they really had grown up with only each other for company. Their interactions were the best part of the movie, and are what saved the movie from being utter drivel. The fight scenes seemed to take place in an oddly frictionless environment, but they were exhilarating. I enjoyed seeing the turtles in the modern world, talking about watching Lost and doing Nolanverse Batman impressions. I wish there had been some character development—literally the only character development in the entire movie was Rafael learning the same lesson he learns in every single movie, which is that he’s a follower, not a leader—but that seems to be too much to ask for action movies these days.

I’d rank it far below every other TMNT movie (yes, even Turtles in Time) but I might consider adding it to my collection someday, just for the sake of nostalgia. I’d give it 3 stars out of 5, though that includes half a star for the theme song cameo at the end of the movie. Don’t watch it in theaters. Wait for it to come out on Netflix and keep your expectations low, and you’ll be fine.

Book Rec: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie


I feel like I don’t actually need to recommend Ancillary Justice, since everyone’s been gushing about it all year. It won the Arthur C. Clarke award for best novel, the Nebula for best novel, the BSFA award for best novel, and currently it’s up for a Hugo for best novel. Plus a boatload of other awards. Still, I’ll toss in my two cents and say that I thought the book was fantastic.

The protagonist of the book is the spaceship Justice of Toren, or rather, the artificial intelligence that controls it. In the world of the novel, the Radch empire has been expanding unstoppably through space, taking over planets left and right. Some ships are crewed by humans, but some are crewed by ancillaries, which are bodies controlled by an artificial intelligence. The bodies themselves are supplied by people whose original personalities have been scraped away. Justice of Toren controls twenty such bodies, with hundreds or even thousands more kept cryogenically frozen in the ship, and can also monitor the emotions and vital signs of the entire crew. At the moment, they’re stationed on a planet that has recently been taken over by the Radch empire.

Running parallel to this is the plotline of Breq, who is one of the ancillaries of Justice of Toren. It’s twenty years later, and for reasons that are initially unclear, Breq is no longer a ship or a crew, but simply one person. She (and in the language of the narrator, all people are ‘she’, even if they are known to be male) is on a solitary mission of revenge and is making her way through a world that does not consider her to be a person.

It’s a very ambitious first novel, and handles the odd narration style beautifully. The writing is spare and elegant, told from the point of view of an AI that tries very hard not to become emotionally involved in the world. Despite the fact that the protagonist is so inhuman, she becomes immensely likeable. The book itself is the first in a trilogy, which I didn’t know when I was reading it but was delighted to find out. Breq is someone I really want to read more about.

I’ll admit that the intricacies of the plot were a little hard to follow at times, and I plan to read the novel again to understand it a bit better. I think the fact that I want to read the sequel so badly speaks well for the writing. It’s a gorgeous first novel and I highly recommend it.

Animating women is hard, guys

If you’re living under a rock, you might not have heard that James Therien, technical director of Ubisoft, said that Assassin’s Creed Unity will not feature any playable female characters.

“It was on our feature list until not too long ago, but it’s a question of focus and production,” Therien explained. “So we wanted to make sure we had the best experience for the character. A female character means that you have to redo a lot of animation, a lot of costumes [inaudible]. It would have doubled the work on those things. And I mean it’s something the team really wanted, but we had to make a decision… It’s unfortunate, but it’s a reality of game development.”

So you can’t add a female protagonist because wow, that perky bum is hard to do just right. And the hair! I mean, looking at the vast amount of exposed skin on the male characters, I can see why a female character would be drastically different:

dudebrosYou’d have to cut a boob window into that cloak, for one. They had nine studios working on this game, and that was just for the male characters. Imagine how many more they’d need to add to get some realistic breast physics in there.

You know, I feel like I heard this whole argument recently. When was that? Oh, right.


“Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, because they have to go through these range of emotions, but you have to keep them pretty and they’re very sensitive to — you can get them off a model very quickly. So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough, and having them both in the scene and look very different if they’re echoing the same expression; that Elsa looking angry looks different from Anna being angry.”

So what is it that makes men easier to animate? Is it because males are not supposed to be emotional, so you can plaster on an expression of grim determination and be done with it? Is it because it’s a lot easier to reuse the same character design from the last game and not bother thinking up a new one? Or does it just come down to the tired old argument that women don’t play video games and men won’t play games with female protagonists?

Book rec: Gulp by Mary Roach


Mary Roach is the kind of nonfiction writer who can make any topic fascinating. No, really, anything. Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal is a book about the digestive system, covering topics from the nutritional value of dog food to the optimal decibel level of crunchy snack foods to the stain-fighting properties of saliva. At one point she puts her hand inside of a cow’s stomach. There’s an entire chapter about smuggling drugs inside your rectum.

Roach has a history of finding the absurdity in science. Her other books, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers; Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife; Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex; and Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void are all playful but by no means disrespectful looks at serious topics. She gets very in depth with her research and isn’t afraid to ask occasionally embarrassing questions of the experts.


This suggests that saliva—or better yet, infant drool—could be used to pretreat food stains. Laundry detergents boast about the enzymes they contain. Are these literally digestive enzymes? I sent an e-mail to the American Cleaning Institute, which sounds like a cutting edge research facility but is really just a trade group formerly and less spiffily known as the Soap and Detergent Association.


With no detectable appreciation for the irony of what he had written, press person Brian Sansoni referred me to a chemist named Luis Spitz. And when Dr. Spitz replied, “Sorry, I only know soap-related subjects,” Sansoni—still without a trace of glee—gave me the phone number of a detergent industry consultant named Keith Grime.

Gulp is a book that’ll give you a new understanding of your own internal workings, and if you haven’t read anything by Roach before, it’ll probably act as a gateway drug into everything else she’s ever done. I highly recommend it.