“The Quest:” Practicing Writing Through Fanfiction and Using NaNoWriMo as Motivation to Write!

Good morning and welcome to another edition of “Games with Coffee!” How is everyone today?

As you may or may not know, November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo): the annual event where writers from all over write a minimum 50,000 word novel in one month. It’s a pretty big deal, since it motivates people to get off of their butts and start writing, instead of thinking about writing something, but not doing anything about it.

Why am I mentioning this? Well, one of my goals in my Quest to be a better person this year was to improve my writing with the determination to fulfill one of my biggest life goals; to write and publish my own original story. While I’ve made a lot of progress on it this year by building a world, a loose timeline of events, some character development and a plot structure, I’m probably a year or two away from starting to put it all together. A lot of my progress was possible thanks to all the practice I’ve done writing fanfiction, which (as I may have mentioned this once or twice in previous posts) I’ve been doing ever since I was a kid. The biggest problem I have, however, is the fact that I’ve been unable to properly finish a story that I’ve started, whether it was an original story or fanfiction. Most times, I’d start, only to give up after the first few sentences and scrap the story. Other times though, I got pretty far into it, but my endings were terrible. However, there’s one story right now that I’m determined on finishing: a fanfic that crosses the universes of Final Fantasy VII and Sonic the Hedgehog, which I’m using mostly as a practice board for the real thing when I get to it.

Now, the operative thought you may have here may be; “A crossover fanfic!? What in hell’s name are you talking about?!” But seriously, here me out for a second; it may not be as far-fetched as you think!


Ten years ago, I got bored with studying advanced mechanical dynamics for my engineering degree, so I started writing character comparisons between the personalities of Sonic the Hedgehog and Zack Fair and Miles “Tails” Prower and Cloud Strife (from the Sonic the Hedgehog and Final Fantasy VII games respectively) after noticing similarities between them. As I delved deeper, I noticed a lot of things in both games/series somewhat coincided with one another. Examples include:

  • FF VII’s ‘Materia’ system consists of the five common types of Materia (Green, Red, Blue, Purple and Yellow), along with the rare White and Black Materia, which makes seven. Know seven other multicolored gems that fit that profile? Chaos Emeralds.
  • Robotnik’s (Eggman’s) desire for world conquest is analogous to Shinra’s naked ambition for world domination. Both achieve this through scientific means; genetic, robotic or otherwise.
  • In the Sonic comic series published by Archie Comics, several issues speak of a gold-silver substance called “The Source of All,” which is a form of spirit energy used to create life in the Sonic universe and which also has a link to the Chaos Emeralds and Power Rings in that canon. A similar link exists between the Lifestream, Mako and Materia in FF VII.
  • Finally, in the Sonic Archie Comic canon, prior to the start of the war between the Freedom Fighters and Robotnik, the Power Rings, created by an object called a “Ring Forge,” allowed the Mobian race to rapidly move from a primitive, medieval age to a hyper-advanced golden age. The same can be said about the Shinra Company’s discovery of Mako and the subsequent construction of Midgar leading to an age of advancement and prosperity thanks to cheap energy.

Using what I’ve found, I expanded on the initial comparison and eventually created an alternate Sonic universe, combining the story elements from the games and the Archie Sonic comic book universe canon with Final Fantasy VII’s plot as its backbone. I published portions of the first installment (out of six or seven!) on the Fanfiction.net website (My pen name’s Zonic Warrior-STH) – one of the largest sources of online fanfiction.

Six years later, I started rewriting the story, partially due to some harsh, yet constructive criticism, partially due to paying attention to how other author’s structure their stories and mostly because I hated how the original sounded. I mean, I read it out loud once and I cringed at how terrible it sounded…

So, for the rewrite, I decided to change my approach to writing. I started taking notes on what to write in terms of narrative and character dialogue relative to the backbone of the plot. I did even more research into FF VII’s plot and the world encompassing both the Sonic games and comics and continued to note things that sort of matched between the two and things that would need to be modified to fit the narrative that I wanted to portray. I studied both action and dramatic scenes in movies, TV shows and other games and wrote what it would look like in a book. And finally, using those same mediums, I tried to interpret how the dialogue and narrative would play out in scenes and how to describe in detail the present setting and character’s body language to better form an image in a reader’s mind. These strategies proved valuable both for developing the fanfic and eventually my original writing; in fact, just this June, I finished all the rough notes for the fanfic, which would make finishing this thing much easier, while I use note-taking apps like Google Keep, on a day-to-day basis to jot down and organize my plot, dialogue and action scenes for my own personal work.


I’m determined to finish this thing, more as a way to prove to myself that I can actually and properly finish a story. That’s why I’m using NaNoWriMo as motivation to finishing it. By scheduling time every day in November to write a few hundred, even a thousand words, I’ll be much more closer to finishing this thing than any other point before.

So far, as of writing… I haven’t gotten too much done, sadly; I barely hit 20% of the goal. But there’s still just under half a month left – I got time and resources (Thanks Google Docs!) on my side! And even if I don’t make 50,000, I would have done more now than I have in the past, which is something I can be proud of.

If you want to take a peek at my writing style or get a better idea of what the story’s about, check it out here. Bear in mind that I’ll be revising the hell out whatever you’ll be reading when I finish writing the whole thing, but still, let me know what you think. I’m always open to constructive criticism.

Stay tuned for the next edition, because I’m not done with November just yet! This month will mark twenty years that I first played Final Fantasy VII, the game that made a HUGE influence in my life. That will likely show up at the end of the month. Also coming up soon, I’m going to talk about some hardware I picked up a while ago, how to use a gaming mouse for work purposes and two more Espresso Shot Reviews!

This has been Ryan from Games with Coffee, getting back to work on writing this beast of a story and always reminding you, dear reader, to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!

Advertisements

Beginner’s Mindset, Failing Forward and Starting Over: How They Relate To Gaming and Real Life

Good morning and welcome to another edition of “Games with Coffee!” May today reflect the contents of your mug: filled to the brim with hot, delicious goodness!

Today, I’m going to talk about having a beginner’s mindset, failing forward and starting over. I want to talk about these because several situations have happened at my (now former) place of employment that I could have avoided if I took those three things seriously. Don’t worry though, I do have a new job lined up and I talk about it in this post.

I also feel that it’s important for mature, distinguished gamers to keep these three things in mind, whether you’re crushing it in the office, in front of the TV/PC/Handheld, etc. or wherever you are. With that said, let’s get started.


Beginner’s Mindset

Whether it’s in real life or video games, being an expert at something feels amazing. If you’re not careful though, it can really get to your head. You might either stop learning from or listening to others who are willing to teach you because you consider yourself such an expert at things, and that can cause lots of problems. I say this because that’s what happened to me at my old job. I thought I was the best at what I do, but it took two bad summers, several little mistakes that grew into huge problems and flat out pride to cut me down to size. I’m kinda glad that it happened, to be perfectly honest, because it got me to rethink what I really wanted to do with my engineering career and, after speaking with friends, family and career specialists, I’ve left my old job and am starting in a new, totally different direction in my career. I wanted to go into this new opportunity with a different mindset than I had previously; I already knew I was no expert, so I’m going to do the opposite – I’ll adopt a beginner’s mindset.

I learned about the beginner’s mindset idea after listening to an audiobook about Mindfulness by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Mindfulness movement. Beginner’s mindset is one of the several behaviours he explains helps a person become more mindful of their surroundings and it was his explanation of it that inspired me to adopt it for myself.

Having a beginner’s mindset doesn’t mean to forget all that you know; it means to let go of the notion that you’re an almighty expert and to accept the fact that there’s always something more to learn in your field by listening and learning from those who are either more experienced, or from those who have a completely different perspective on the subject you’re learning about. Being an expert is good for several things but it limits your mind and makes you think that you know everything when you don’t. To have a beginner’s mindset is to embrace learning as an ongoing thing.

This doesn’t have to be limited to real life – it also applies to gaming as well. Take for example fighting and racing games; you can always try out new tactics you’ve learned from other players in versus mode and understand your character’s or opponent’s moves  better through the practice mode. In racing games you can shave off your best time and understand the track mechanics in Time Attack/Time Trial mode, or even go through the tutorial modes to brush up on and explore driving techniques you’d never think of using before.

On top of that, having a beginner’s mindset also means continually going back to basics, which can encompass many things, such as reviewing proper communication protocols between clients and colleagues, relearning how to take effective notes and regurgitating them when the situation calls for them and ensuring that checks and balances are in place to catch mistakes. In gaming, it can also mean going through basic controls and movesets, reviewing basic strategy, understanding strengths and weaknesses of things like weapons, armour or elements, playing through the tutorial levels a couple of times as a refresher or even re-reading the game’s instruction manual. Those are but a few examples; there are many more situations that can apply here.

You might be saying now, “What’s the point in all this?” Well, I look at it this way: Sometimes, after a situation in game, at work or home, or wherever has long happened, I’ll come across something so basic and obvious that I overlooked earlier and I think “Man, if I had paid attention to this basic thing earlier, I could’ve avoided that messed-up situation I encountered at home/work/in the game I’m playing. But now that I’ve reviewed it and better understand how to apply it, I’ll be ready for when that same or similar situation happens next time!” Reviewing the basics while maintaining a beginner’s mindset is something that I encourage everyone to do, whether it’s in the real world or in video games. It may help to raise your awareness of things that you may have overlooked.

Star Fox 64 (U) (V1.0) snap0000

Listen to ROB64! Always practice the basics!

Sometimes though, all your best efforts will result in failure, but it’s never a bad thing. If there’s two things I learned after leaving at my last job, it’s that you should never be afraid of failure and that it’s never too late to start over.

Failing Forward and Starting Over

In a job interview I had recently, one of the questions my interviewer asked me was if I would be OK with starting over. This question was a follow up after they asked me what kinds of mistakes I made at work, whether recent or not.

Here, I sort of panicked. Job Interview 101 made me think: “What mistakes do I mention that won’t make me look bad but were negligible compared to the overall completion of the project?” So I started with something that happened some time ago in one of my first positions in my career. The fact that I don’t remember what I said now was a testament to how lame my initial answer was. So, in a moment of honesty, and trusting my instincts (Thanks Peppy), I revealed that I recently (like in the last two months) made a major design error which required me to go to the construction site, review how much work was already done with the incorrect design, return to the office to correct it and resend it back to the mechanical contractors to fix, causing a huge inconvenience for everyone involved and an resulting back charge to our company for the extra work. When the follow up was asked, I took no time in answering yes, that I would be willing to start over and relearn everything if it meant that I would succeed in my new role.

I pondered over those two questions after reading the offer letter in my inbox. To honestly admit some of my greatest mistakes was a difficult thing for me to do. I imagine it’s the same for many people but for me it’s nearly crippling; I tend to beat myself up, agonize and criticize myself over my mistakes and failures, to the point where it sometimes becomes destructive to my self-esteem, causing me to make further mistakes. It’s become a real problem for me which I’m slowly working to get better on with the help of some coaching and self reflection and learning how to really let go of my fear of failure.

video games 90s GIF

Me, running from my failures. (Image from Giphy)

Admitting my failures out loud, even to a potential employer, ended up being therapeutic for me and it allowed me to really examine what I’ve done and come up with a way to make sure these mistakes don’t repeat themselves. Even as I speak, I’m coming up with new ways to identify and learn from my mistakes, whether it’s through building checklists and logs or (my favourite option) performing a post mortem/lessons learned report to review what went well and what didn’t, along with ways to change my thinking whenever I do fail. What really surprised me was that after I mentioned that blunder in the interview, I still ended up getting the job. It felt like I was given a second chance to prove myself, even though it’s with a new company rather than the current one I’m was in before now.

With this in mind, along with a beginner’s mindset, I’m also going into this new opportunity with the notion to fail forward. That means reviewing the failures I’ve made and will continue making along the way in a nonjudgmental way, give myself the opportunity to learn from them, why they happened and reduce the likelihood of a repeat happening.

“But how does this all relate to gaming?” you ask, as you roll your eyes at my boring work story. Well, in platforming games, like Super Mario Bros. or Sonic the Hedgehog, you always have extra lives to use in case you die mid-level. However, if you really think about the mechanics of platformers and about how tricky they can be at times, when you lose a life, it gives you an opportunity to review and learn from your mistake. You can either perfect your timing, adjust the height and length of your jump to that difficult platform, or save that power-up for before you meet that tough enemy on your run instead of after, to name a few examples. In RPG’s, like Final Fantasy, you have the Save Point; a restore point where you can return if you lose your fight. It’s a great opportunity to either retool your characters’ weapons, armour or magic or refine your battle strategy when everything goes south and your characters fall in battle. Video games essentially teach a person to fail forward; make the failure, analyze and understand why it happened, try again with a new solution and repeat until success is found.

In real life though, you don’t always get extra lives or Save Points to retry from, but you’ll still get the opportunity to learn from your failures. Failing doesn’t mean that your less of a person or that you’re not good at what your doing (which were things that I had to come to terms with), it just means that you’re learning the right things for the next time that scenario comes forward again. As someone once told me, you got to fail your way toward success, and these days, I feel like video games do a good job in teaching that, I just never paid attention. Either way the moral of the story is: Fail forward and fail often.

Sometimes though, you can fail so hard at a job, in a relationship or in a game, that you’d think to yourself, “Man, I’d love to do that over again… I would have approached it differently/said something that fixed things, etc..”  There have been many times where I wished that I could start over and approach things from a different perspective.

In gaming, we have the reset button; used to either start from a save point or from the very beginning.  Resetting a game allows us an opportunity to choose a different approach to an in-game situation vs. the choice made prior to the reset. For instance, you can do that side-quest differently and receive an alternative reward that may be better than the one you first got, you could use a different strategy to take on a tough boss, take a different path that may be an easier way through than the one you were on before, or even choose a different response to an NPC you spoke to earlier to elicit easier or more favorable conditions for your journey.

video games snes GIF

If at first you don’t succeed, reset and try again. (Image from Giphy)

Life, unfortunately, doesn’t really give a person a reset button to fix their current situation, but it’s the lessons you learn in those situations that you can apply when you do decide to start over, whether it’s in the same, or in a different direction altogether.


So, there you have it. Have you adopted a beginner’s mindset? Ever struggled with failure? Started over somewhere? Let me know in the comments below!

Stay tuned for the next edition, because I’m doing an Espresso Shot Review on the game, Golden Axe! Also coming up, I’ll be talking about a fanfiction that I’ve been writing and using the NaNoWriMo challenge to motivate me into finishing it, how using a gaming mouse at work may lead to increased efficiency and a brand-new gaming keyboard that I picked up from Amazon to replace my laptop’s faulty one.

Until next time, this has been Ryan from “Games with Coffee,” reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing! 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this post are of my own and neither reflect the views of company I am currently employed for, nor the views of my former place of employment. 

“The Quest”: Using Video Games to Fulfill my Dreams

Good afternoon and welcome to a special edition of Games with Coffee. Why special? Because today, July the 13th, is my 30th birthday! And while the jokes start coming around about how I’ve become practically ancient, I want to talk today about something completely different than the usual stuff I talk about.

Today’s subject is something I like to call, “The Quest.” Why is it in quotation marks? To signify its importance of course! Joking aside, “The Quest” is something I developed in late 2016 for myself to do one thing: to make my dreams reality.


The Back Story

I’m going to be honest here: I always hated New Year’s Resolutions. You make a set of broad, sweeping goals in the hopes that you’ll achieve something this year, like losing weight, or finishing that personal project or develop a new skill, only for it to go off the rails after February hits. Don’t get me wrong though, I made resolutions as well, in fact, the very same ones I listed, but I got lazy, forgot about my resolutions and wound up at the end of the year wondering what exactly did I achieve?

2016 was no different than the other years. At the start, I was on track to fulfill my resolutions: I started a job closer to home with better pay (get a new job), I was on track with my writing (write more often) and I was eating healthy and working out fairly often (lose weight). But by the end of summer, it all went downhill.

The company’s busiest time of the year is the summer, since our major client’s (a large school board) facilities close down for two months and creates a scramble to get things fixed up for when they open in the fall. During this time though, little mistakes made by myself and other new people opened huge cans of worms with the school board, who questioned our ability to do our jobs, hurting our reputation and making this the worst year the company has ever seen since it started back in the 70’s. Everyone in the office absolutely hated each other at that point, with screaming matches going on almost weekly amidst the countless fires that needed to be put out on job sites. In the middle the chaos, I started looking for a new job even though I’ve only worked there for six months. I thought to myself at the time, “Working at such a volatile company isn’t good for me or my family. I need something more stable and established.”

Everyone’s attitude at work, with people consistently blaming each other, coupled with my sneaky attempts at trying to find a new job put my writing permanently on the backburner and, even though exercise could have decreased my stress during that time, I stopped working out to focus more on job applications and interview preparations. Even playing video games wasn’t enough to help me relax. It was a pretty bad time.

At the start of December, I ceased my job search for the time being since no one’s going to hire somebody during the holidays. I instead looked at the paper that I wrote 2016’s resolutions on and, again, wondered:

What exactly did I achieve?

The short answer was only a little bit (the getting a new, higher paying job was the only thing I accomplished) and I was tired of only getting a little bit done every year. On top of that, 2017 is the year I’d be turning 30, a huge milestone, and while I could say that I’ve accomplished much by that age, to me, I felt truthfully that my efforts towards accomplishing those things were mediocre at best.

I jumped from one thing to another and left things half done, both with work and my own personal projects. I had trouble focusing at times, especially with things I have no interest in. I wasn’t very good at planning ahead and whatever plans I did make, I barely followed through with them. I’ve set the same goals for the last ten years and I wasn’t getting anywhere with them with my current methods (of which, I had none). I’d try to work out on a consistent basis, only to stop and not start again until the next year comes. Finally, I knew that I’ll eventually be a dad myself one day and the last thing I’d want my kids to see is their father being unable to work hard enough to see his goals through to the end. I want to be a role model for them, for them to see that, with hard work, perseverance and discipline, even a life-long gamer can achieve anything.

It was from that moment on, with all of the above in mind, that “The Quest” came into existence.


So, What is “The Quest?”

Instead of trying to achieve my goals outright, I decided that I would get into the habit of doing things that aligned with my goals instead. For instance, instead of having a goal to work out and lose weight, instead I’d try to get into the habit of working out at least 15 days in the month. If I made twenty, that’s great! If I felt short, then I’ll try for 15 next month.

The bigger question though, was how to stay motivated to do 15 days of exercise, or half an hour of writing, or anything really on a daily basis? Well, video games have always motivated me to keep going to that next level, beat that next boss, reveal that latest story twist and find that rare item, and I thought, “Why not make that work for me!?”

That’s what “The Quest” really is: my goals gamified*. Inspired by both “The Legend of Zelda” and “Final Fantasy”, I modeled the game around the RPG mechanics used Final Fantasy XV and Link’s quest to save Hyrule.

In Final Fantasy XV, even the most insignificant of actions, like helping someone stranded on the road, driving in your car or even fishing, yielded experience for the four friends.  So, I decided that for every action I took that aligned with my goals, I would earn experience points. After a set amount, I’d gain a level in relation to that goal, showing me that my commitment to achieving it had grown stronger.

For Link, storming Gannon’s main stronghold right from the start was practically suicide. Instead, the Hylian warrior and bearer of the Triforce of Courage started small; breaking his objective (Defeating Gannon) down into smaller chunks (infiltrating dungeons across Hyrule to obtain powers to defeat Gannon) and accomplishing them one by one. I decided to do the same with all of the goals I wanted to achieve this year; start small and follow through.

“The Quest” is also similarly modeled by what real-world comic, Jerry Seinfeld did to keep motivated, back when he did the comedy circuit before hitting the big time. He’d mark on a calendar the days he would do any writing with a big ‘X’. Soon enough, there was a chain of X’s and it made it harder to break that chain because he was so motivated to maintain that string of X’s. It’s the same feeling I got whenever I saw those points accumulate. After a while, it became harder to break that chain of experience points that I kept pushing every day to get something done to keep it going. Which in turn gained me levels, which then strengthened my commitments to keep going.

Writing this down here and now on the blog, it sounds really childish. (Experience points? Levels? Final Fantasy?! Legend of Zelda!? X’s?!?! Balderdash! Poppycock! You’re thirty for God’s sake!) But, honestly, it’s actually working! For some reason, I felt motivated to keep earning points and gaining levels and the more levels I gained, the more I felt that I accomplished! Even when life threw curveballs, screwballs and knuckleballs (Haha! Baseball references!) to try and derail me, I found that I didn’t want to give up. I mean, you gotta work for your dreams, right? And doing it this way, using video game concepts, helped me to stay on top of my dreams.

Still not convinced? Think I’m full of it? Well, let me tell you how I organized it and my results so far. Perhaps you’ll be impressed?


The Method

I created the infrastructure using several Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. The first thing I did before delving into game mechanics, was to list all of the goals that I’ve ever wanted to accomplish in the last ten or twenty years of my life, and eliminated the one’s that were either unrealistic or that I didn’t care much for, until I narrowed it down to five core goals:

  1. Advance in my career.
  2. Read more books.
  3. Finish and publish my fanfiction/ work on my original story
  4. Work out.
  5. Start a blog about video games (The one you’re reading right now!).

Once I established my core goals, I built a spreadsheet for each of them to track my progress. In one of the tabs on the spreadsheet, I set up an experience chart and built a formula to calculate the experience required for a level up (there are lots of resources online to help set this up). In another tab, I have my full status for that goal, including my current level, experience and what experience I needed to get to the next level. Finally, I set up tabs for every month of the year, which I used to track my progress Here’s a sample of my Writing Goals sheet for the month of May:

Writing Status Sheet

This was back in May, a pretty productive month for me in terms of my writing.

And a sample of last month’s Blog Goals sheet:

Blog Status Sheet

June was a good month for the blog.

So, in that mess above, I calculated how much experience I’d gain per action based on a function of time and relative to the XP Difficulty Factor of the goal (Each sheet had its own formula for determining that amount). I’d tally up my experience (under the XP Gained column) to get the experience I would earn for the month. On top of that, I’d determine if any bonus experience was gained, either from finishing and publishing chapters or posts online, or how many days I’ve worked out in total, or how many books I read, or if I fulfilled my Monthly Side Quests (Listed as Quest XP). Summing up all that experience back to the main status tab gave me my total experience thus far, giving me a good indication of how well I’m doing with my goal.

I mentioned Monthly Side Quests in the above and they are just that: Optional goals, or side quests, for the month that would earn me extra experience once completed. They’re usually highly ambitious, like publishing blog posts three times in a month, working out for more than 20 days in a month, or writing notes for or actually writing out three chapters for example. The rewards were always worth it though – not only did I accrue more experience, I also furthered myself in each of my goals. And even if I didn’t finish the quest, I was a lot farther along at the end of the month, since I broke the monumental task at hand down into smaller monthly chunks. Side quests are one of three things I used to keep myself motivated. I call these my “Fail-Safes.”


Fail-Safes???

The side quests were one of three fail-safes I initiated after starting “The Quest” to keep myself motivated throughout this experiment. The second of these was my Quest Log: a daily journal listing down all the things I did that day and how much time I spent working on actions related to my goals. At the end of each entry, I noted both the successes and failures of my day. I found that noting down the failures of the day motivated me for the next day. For instance, if I skipped my workout for the day, I’d note that down as a fail. From there, I’d tell myself “OK, I’m definitely going to make an effort to work out tomorrow!” And nine times out of ten, it happened. Plus, writing everything down helped me to keep my goal status sheets accurate and up-to-date.

20170713_064513.jpg

My Quest Log – You may have seen it in many of my posts and part of the site banner as well. Ush gave this to me for Christmas last year and it was one of the best things I’ve ever received.

The final fail-safe is what we engineers call a Post Mortem report. Post Mortem reports are done at the end of a project, where they highlight what made the project successful, what hindered or held it back, what things to change for the next project and any additional thoughts or reflections about the project itself. At the end of every month, I prepared a Post Mortem of my own, reflecting on the successes and failures of the month in relation to my goals along with what I think needs to change for the next month and any additional comments about anything that made this month a success or failure. Writing this report helped me to list priorities and prepare side-quests for the following month, while giving me an idea of how I performed on the previous month.

All of this looks like a lot of hard work and sometimes it can be. Trying to find time to record everything on top of writing for myself or the blog, working out, taking courses to build new skills for my job or read, along with spending time with the wife and family AND playing games can sometimes be a bit difficult. The results, however… I’m glad to say have been worth it so far.


The Results So Far

Here’s what I achieved six months into this crazy experiment of mine:

  1. I’ve never been consistent with working out, always starting and stopping and never really getting far with it. Since starting “The Quest,” I’ve spent less time beating myself up about skipping a workout and spending more time pumping out quick (sub 45 minutes), quality workouts that I enjoy, like practicing martial arts (I was a green belt in Tae-Kwon-Do) or my favourite, the Super Saiyan Workout from Darebee; a quick and easy cardio workout that makes me feel like Vegeta training to surpass Goku. It’s awesome and you should try it!
  2. Writing fanfiction is an extremely nerdy and guilty pleasure of mine and I’ve been writing a particular one for the past ten years. Like the workouts, I’ve started and stopped writing it too many times to count, but since focusing on writing something down every day for at least half an hour and tracking that through my status sheets, I’ve finished the rough draft of the fic and am working on the good copy with the hopes of putting it all online by the end of this year! A major leap from previous years when I thought I’d never even finish it!
  3. Speaking of writing, “The Quest” gave me the courage to continue writing my own original content. Last year, I started putting together a few notes here and there of ideas and themes that I’ve been toying with for the last fifteen years. Thanks my continued motivation to write every day, to date, I have characters, a setting, several magic systems (I’m writing a high fantasy) and the beginning of a timeline of events that will span from before the start of the story all the way to the end, which, again, was much farther than I could have imagined a year ago.
  4. Career-wise, I decided to stay at my current job and focused on building my skillsets, moving away from engineering design and into programming, project management and graphics creation/manipulation. Those efforts have helped me move into a more hybrid position instead of pigeon-holing me as a designer. I’m now looking to take some professional development course in order to improve even further.
  5. I love reading, but lately I haven’t set a lot of time aside to do any and I always read the same books over and over again. I’ve changed that by reading a whole wack of books, from self-help titles to high fantasy stories not unlike Game of Thrones. I’ve now noticed these days that my writing style has improved, as I read and analyzed the works of multiple authors, such as Brandon Sanderson, Lily Singh and Pierce Brown.
  6. Finally, I’ve always wanted to start a blog about video games, but never had the guts to do so. Mainly because I could never prioritize and plan ahead for creating new content. Tracking my progress on the blog with “The Quest” made me feel regretful that I didn’t start earlier; I’ve put up content that I feel proud of,  made a few new friends along the way and read their amazing content and even those in my current circle of friends and family see me in a different light, which I’m pretty happy about, y’know? The confidence I’ve gained through blogging has led me to think about doing freelance writing on the side, which is something I would have never even considered in the past.

So, there you have it, What do you think? Am I balls-to-the-wall crazy with this quest idea, or does this actually inspire you to go on a Quest of your own? Let me know if the comments below! Stay tuned for the next edition, where I travel back to the dark world of Wraeclast and provide a brief, but entertaining update of my progress in “Path of Exile,” of which I’ve become pretty obsessed with!

Before I sign off, I want to add a few extra notes here. To those individuals who are reading this, have subscribed to this blog, followed me on Instagram or even encouraged me from the sidelines; thank you. Thank you for sharing this experience with me and for making my 30th year on this chaotic plane of existence a great one so far. Here’s to many more where that came from.

And that’s all for today. Once again, this has been Ryan from “Games with Coffee,” reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing! See you next time!

*Gamification: applying game elements to real life to achieve real goals or improve productivity. A couple of good examples online include Level Up Life and SuperBetter. I could have used these for my own use, but I decided to be extra and build my own game from scratch. What can I say? I’m complicated like that!

How Mega Man X Gave Me My Artistic Groove

Hey all! Welcome to another edition of Games with Coffee! I hope everyone’s weekend (whether it was a long one or not) was well!

Today, I’m going to share a personal story about the Blue Bomber himself: Mega Man! Mega Man (A.K.A Rockman in Japan) holds a special place in my heart, along with other characters such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Link and Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII. But what’s special about Mega Man, specifically Mega Man X, was that he pulled me out of a very dark place in my childhood and helped me discover something about myself that I thought I never had before – that I can be a creative and artistic individual.

(Warning: This may get a little heavy. Bear with me.)


Let me cut to the chase: Growing up, I’ve had lots of self-esteem issues. As I mentioned somewhere on this blog, I was a very awkward kid and by awkward, I mean I was never good at making friends. I was disruptive, unable to sit still, had a very short attention span and I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, which got me into tons of embarrassing and problematic situations. My teachers, frustrated by my irregular behaviour, urged my parents to get doctors involved. They first diagnosed me with Tourette’s Syndrome, before performing a battery of tests and settling for the catch-all adolescent boys issue made popular back in the 90’s: Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, or ADHD.

On top of taking meds that would turn me into a vegetable, produce violent mood swings and made me chubby due to water retention, I also had to start wearing glasses from the third grade on, due to becoming near-sighted. All of this, along with my last name sounding eerily similar to a delicious dairy product and my penchant for being too trusting and gullible in an attempt to be likeable and friendly, made me a very easy target for bullies and set me down the path of isolation and loneliness. Academically, the medicines didn’t really help (since I was more or less a carrot at that point, so concentration was non-existent) and my teachers (bless their souls for putting up with me…) were even more frustrated at my obvious lack of effort, despite the fact that it was because I dreaded going back to school to face both meds and savage classmates that I didn’t want to try in the first place. The constant slog of side-effects, brutal teasing, loneliness and the inner disgust I directed to myself for being so abnormal compared to everybody else eventually snowballed into me feeling completely worthless and useless; that I had nothing to offer to this world and that I was just a burden to everybody.


It was some time in fourth grade that Mega Man first came into my life; both the animated TV series by Ruby-Spears and the video game “Mega Man X.” While the TV series was enjoyable (yet cheesy), it was X’s struggle, both against the forces of evil and within himself, that I really resonated with. For you see, X was unlike any robot ever built.

His creator, Dr. Thomas X. Light, designed him with a revolutionary neural structure that gave him the ability to think, feel and make his own decisions, essentially making him as close to human as possible and making him VERY different compared to his fellow robots. While a robot’s only concern was to obey the orders given to them by their human masters, X thought about things that were highly abstract from typical robot-think: Why was he created? What was his purpose? And if he was intended to bring peace between humans and robots as Dr. Light intended, why was he then given such a sophisticated battle interface, including the powerful X-Buster and Weapons Copy system?

On the introduction screens of the game, Dr. Light explains his intentions for X, that his unique neural structure and limitless capacity for thought would usher in a new generation of robots that could bring peace between man and machine. A part of his explanation eventually helped me to understand how ADHD affected me, four years after I was diagnosed with the disorder. A therapist I once saw explained it to me simply – that because of a chemical imbalance in my brain (which apparently is the cause of ADHD), it’s as if my head was rewired in such a way that I thought, saw and felt things differently from others. It’s that configuration that brings about the potential for immense creativity, just like X and his limitless potential for anything he puts his highly-advanced mind to. I initially took it as hogwash; I didn’t think I had it in me to be that creative at that time, but thinking about it years later and even now when I’m writing about this, I realize that the explanations, given by both the therapist AND Dr. Light, made sense.

X really helped me out in the seventh an eighth grades in school though. Those were the years when I was at my absolute lowest; I was always angry, got into fights at the drop of a hat and hated everyone and everything (typical pre-pubescent angst). One day, I rented out Mega Man X4 for the Playstation and, either it was X’s battle against Double, the traitor he thought he could trust or Zero’s story of love and loss on the battlefield, I don’t remember, I felt so inspired by the game that I pulled out a sketchbook I got from taking an art elective, took the cover art from the game manual and freehand drew the cover art. It wasn’t half bad, to tell you the truth. I’d show it to you all… but I seem to have lost my oldest sketchbook…

20170703_180810

So instead, here’s an old sketch I drew, loosely inspired by X’s base armour design. I made this… roughly ten years ago?

It was that one drawing I did of X and Zero, side by side that started to convince me that “Hey, you know what? I’m not half bad at drawing, let’s keep practicing!” I was really surprised at myself. And so, I drew. I drew as I weaned myself off medications, I drew as my classmates liked my work instead of teasing me about it. I drew when I was happy, I drew when I was angry and I drew when I was stressed. Drawing became a therapeutic release for me.

Since those days, I’ve moved on from drawing Mega Man, drawing other characters like Sonic and even creating some of my own content. For example, for my wife’s 18th birthday (when we were still dating), I drew her a full comic book, listing eighteen reasons why I love her. She still has it to this day, laminated and preserved in our shared memory box.

20170703_183940

I’d also show you that, but it’s way too embarrassing… So, here’s one of my favourite Sonic sketches instead!


I used to feel that I was useless, but because of X, I learned that I had hidden talents I never knew existed before and I gained the confidence to work on them. These days, I write more than I draw, but I can safely say to myself now that I’m not so useless after all. And that’s a good thing.

So, that’s my story for today. What do you think? Was there ever a character or a game that inspired you to be more creative or get out of your comfort zone? Let me know in the comments below.

Also, stay tuned for the next edition of Games with Coffee because I’ll be talking about another personal subject. Since the beginning of this year, 2017, I’ve been undergoing a Quest for personal development, doing several tasks to help me grow both creatively and in my career. Starting this blog was one of those tasks. With my 30th birthday coming up in the next two weeks, I want to share with you all what this Quest is all about; what inspired it, how it works and my progress six months into it. Maybe it’ll even inspire you to go on your own Quest as well?

With that said, this is Ryan from Games with Coffee, reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!

Travelling Essentials for the Mature, Distinguished Gamer

Good morning and welcome to another edition of “Games with Coffee.” Summertime’s almost here and with it, comes the desire to travel. As mature, distinguished gamers such as ourselves, whether it’s within the country (Canada’s turning 150 this year, so now’s as good a time as any to explore this great land), across the border or overseas, we know that boredom while travelling is an inevitability. You can only watch the same scenery, read that same travel magazine, watch that same movie or socialize with your co-travelers so much. Even when you’re at your destination, after all the sightseeing, visiting friends and relatives, eating exotic and delicious food and shopping the local deals, sometimes, along with proper rest, you just need some downtime for yourself. After all, you’re on vacation! Downtime’s important!

Fortunately, I have a list of essential items I always bring with me during my travels, both to keep me occupied during the journey and to keep me relaxed while I’m at my destination. And no, it’s not just video games either!

20170527_081730

As you can see before you

Here’s the list:

Video Games (Obviously)

What better way to start this list than the types of games to bring? For me, portables are my go-to for travelling; they’re easy to store, easy to charge and there are lot of great titles available. I usually take my GCW-ZERO: an excellent little system that plays a huge variety of games, either emulated or homebrew. Other times, when I get the urge to play some classic Playstation games like Final Fantasy VII, Crash Bandicoot or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, I turn to my PSP or PS Vita. For my Nintendo fix, I have a Nintendo DS Lite – another great choice due to the compact size of the unit.

A couple of honorable mentions:

The Nintendo 2DS/3DS – I never owned this upgrade to the DS, but it has an impressive library of games, including remakes of all-time classics like “Starfox 3D,” “Ocarina of Time,” and “Majora’s Mask.”

The Nintendo Switch – The latest console from Nintendo, it’s a hybrid between a traditional console and portable handheld system. By looks alone, it’s impressive. My cousin has one and he’s convinced me that it’s a worthy system for travelling. I’m hoping to get one of my own soon, so I’ll update this post once I get and test it out on a trip.

Chargers and Power Banks

No self-respecting gamer would bring a portable system with them without a way to recharge the batteries! It’s a bit of extra wires to bring with, but the convenience they bring outweigh the space it takes up in your bag. However, if you’re planning on taking multiple systems, expect to bring a charger for each one…

Thankfully, companies nowadays have made the realization that gamers don’t want to lug around a bunch of proprietary chargers: take for example the PS Vita, it charges using the ever-popular USB Micro-B plug, ubiquitous with practically every smartphone in existence. So instead of carrying two chargers (one for the phone and the other for the system), I’d only need one, which helps in the space and weight saving department.

For those times when you’re on the go and have no access to an outlet, power banks are a godsend. I have a slim, 10400 mAh capacity power bank that’s perfect for juicing up all my systems along with my phone. I also try to keep it at or near full capacity at all times, in case an emergency happens and my phone battery is dead.

Laptop

I own an ASUS Transformer: a hybrid between a tablet and a laptop. It’s the perfect laptop to bring on a trip – it’s small and it’s powerful enough for me to play emulated games and ROM hacks. I don’t just bring it to play games though, because my laptop serves two other purposes – to maintain the vacation budget and for me to write. Whether it’s in my hotel room, a cruise stateroom or at a relative’s house, I try to take every opportunity I can to do some writing. Speaking of writing…

 Notebooks and Pens

Along with video games, writing is a big passion of mine. I’m currently writing (re-writing actually) a fanfic (don’t judge!) that’s been rattling in my head for the better part of a decade. So, to help me actually finish this thing, I’ve taken to writing down rough notes about character dialogues, setting descriptions, action sequences and the like for each and every chapter of the fic, in a notebook which I carry around with me everywhere, even on vacation. The fact that I’m in a foreign location, away from the daily grind of home life, helps me to focus and churn out some high quality rough notes. That’s why I never travel without my notebook and several pens – you never know when inspiration will hit!

Headphones

Headphones are an absolute necessity for me when I’m travelling. I usually take a wired set of earbuds mainly for my gaming systems when I play during my downtime or at nights when I don’t want to disturb my wife’s slumber. When I want to listen to music, I go to my set of Skullcandy Uproar Bluetooth headphones. They don’t take up a lot of real estate in my bag, they have amazing battery life and the sound’s top notch. Playing video game music while you’re traveling to or staying at your destination makes me feel like I’m on an adventure of my own, and it also helps to get my creative juices flowing for my writing when I’m on vacation.

Books

Ah, the staple travel item for many people; a really good book. Books make excellent travelling companions, plus, they give your eyes a break from staring at a screen for long periods of time. On my last trip, I took with me a book called “Mistborn,” the first book in the “Mistborn” series written by Brandon Sanderson. It’s a great-high fantasy book, taking place in a post-apocalyptic, medieval world full of witty, memorable characters, a brilliant magic system and a well-thought out heist that hinges on overthrowing an immortal emperor-god. Bottom line, it’s really good​.

Change of Clothes, a Toothbrush and Spare Change

Why do I have these items as part of my essentials? Simple; because years of playing RPG’s have taught me to be prepared for the unexpected. For example, if I’m at the airport and I’m either booted off of an overbooked flight (Thanks, United) or if my flight’s cancelled and I end up having to stay at a hotel until the next flight or even when I arrive at my destination, but my luggage is halfway to the other side of the world, I know I have a set of spare clothes and a toothbrush with me so I can maintain some form of cleanliness. I also bring spare change, just in case my debit/credit cards don’t work or if my wallet gets misplaced or stolen. Remember, you can never be too prepared!


So, those are my essentials for when I’m travelling. What do you think? Got anything to add to that list? Put it in the comments below! And stay tuned for the next edition, where I talk about the need for taking care of your precious consoles and handhelds.

So, once again, this is Ryan from “Games with Coffee,” telling you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing. Happy travelling!

My How-To Guide on Living with Non-Gamers: Spoken From Experience

Hello everyone, and welcome to another edition of “Games with Coffee.”  Grab a brew of beany awesomeness, sit down and let’s chat about an interesting subject.

As mature, distinguished gamers, we all have to face this particular reality at one point of our lives: how to live with others who have minimal or no interest in video games (ie. non-gamers). They could either be a spouse, a parent, sibling or other relatives, or a roommate. Let’s be honest; it wouldn’t be fair to that person if all you did in your spare time would be playing video games, since it wouldn’t bode for a good relationship. Conversely,  it also wouldn’t be fair to you if your S.O. or your roomie or whoever you’re residing with monopolizes all of your free time and prevents you from playing said games. While it’s the worst feeling in the world when the non-gamer living with you belittles you when you partake in your gaming pastime, on the flip side, it is kind of rude to hog the TV to yourself, especially if their favourite show is on. And finally, while you may think that you’ll get around to doing your responsibilities after you get to that save point or finish off that boss, the other person living with you may think otherwise.

So, what do you do to balance playing games with spending time with your favourite non-gamer?

It’s actually a lot more easier to accomplish than you’d think. The solution boils down to a few, simple things: Communication, Trust, Compromise and Moderation.


If there’s something I’ve learned after almost five years of being married, it’s this: Sometimes you not only need to listen, you have to speak up as well.

When I tied the knot in 2012, gaming took a huge back seat to my new life. This sounds like a first-world-problem kind of deal, but I went from gaming about 4 to 6 hours a day to 4 to 6 hours a month if anything,  and it was something that took a bit of time to get used to. My wife disliked watching me play video games, simply because she wasn’t interested at all – she found them to be a waste of time and would rather watch a TV show that we’d both be interested in. I complied because it was fair for the both of us – I wasn’t going to be rude and hog the TV all for myself, but there were days where I just wanted to veg out for an hour or two, especially after a rough day at the office.

Ten months into our marriage, after we became the proud owners of a nice little house, I decided that I needed to talk to her about my gaming hobby and what it means to me. I explained to her that there should be a happy medium that we could agree on when it comes to us sharing the TV and me playing video games.

Funnily enough, she understood and agreed with me and we eventually came up with a compromise: I bought me some wireless headphones to connect to the TV to use solely for gaming. During a session, she’s either right beside me reading a good book, watching a YouTube video, listening to a podcast, or at the kitchen table working on one of her many amazing hobbies*. When a reasonable amount of time passes, whether it’s an hour or two, she kindly asks me to stop, I listen and turn off my game and we go about our day.

FFXIII_Lit_Ret-Victory.gif

A victory for compromise! (Image from Know Your Meme)

Obviously, your situation may be different, but here are some tips that can help when you want to speak to that special non-gamer in your life about working out a compromise:

  1. Calmly argue your side of things: This may be a bit obvious, but don’t yell or whine at your special person and accuse them of never letting you play video games; that’s not the way a mature, distinguished gamer should act. Rather, calmly get that person to understand why you love gaming and that there should be a reasonable way for you to enjoy what you love to do without sacrificing your relationship with them, like playing during the weekends or so for example.
  2. Be persistent but don’t be aggressive: Especially if they bite back, saying to you that gaming is a waste of time or that there should be better things to do than sitting down and staring at a screen. Words like that do hurt and can cause tempers to flare, but keep your cool, explain that it’s as viable a hobby as any and that there’s no reason to judge you on what you enjoy.
  3. Work first, game after: Play games after you complete your daily responsibilities first. It’s a pretty easy compromise you can work out with your special person.
  4. Assure that person that you’ll exercise self-control: Practicing self-control develops trust between yourself and the non-gamer in your life. By developing that skill, you’ll find that they will be much more accommodating to hobby of choice.
  5. If all else fails, invest in portable gaming: There are a lot of great portable options out there to get your fix, from mainstream systems like the Nintendo 3DS and the PS Vita, to emulation based devices such as the GCW-ZERO, to custom-built options using the Raspberry Pi and RetroPie. If you’re still itching to play console games however, the release of the Nintendo Switch is (I believe) a perfect choice.**

Well, there you have it. What do you think? Are these tips helpful? Got anything else to add? Let me know on the comments below. And stay tuned for the next edition: I’ll be delving back into memory lane to talk about a series that’s been a huge influence in my life – Legend of Zelda!

Once again, this has been Ryan from “Games With Coffee,” telling you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing. Happy Easter!

*I’ll shamelessly plug my wife’s work here. She does lettering and she’s pretty good at it too!

**I haven’t picked up the Switch as of yet, but I assume it’s a great console/portable hybrid that fits the profile of a mature, distinguished gamer? I’ll write about it when I pick one up.