Dream Daddy Is a Dream Come True

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I don’t normally like to do anything for Valentine’s Day, since it’s kind of a crap holiday all about making romantic love seem like it’s the be-all, end-all goal for everyone in the world, and transforms acts of love and lust into obligations, BUT this year, I’m going with a themed post. Sort of. There’s dating involved…

Let’s talk about Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator.

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Official promo art from the Steam Store.

Dream Daddy is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin: You play as a dad. You hang out with and date other dads. But there’s so much more to it than just romancing attractive men (which, don’t worry, there’s lots of that, too!). It’s got mystery. It’s got heartfelt emotional sequences. It’s got great music. It’s got dad jokes.

So. Many. Dad Jokes.

Character Design

Let’s start with character design, since one of the first things you get to do is create a dad to play as. I love character creators and always spend an unholy amount of time customizing my avatars, and Dream Daddy did not disappoint. I spent a long time customizing Alex and had a huge amount of fun doing so.

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Side note: Don’t name your character Alex. Story makes it confusing later.

Dream Daddy offers lots of different options in every category (except clothing. Not a ton of choice there.), but let us focus for a moment on the foundation: The body. I immediately loved this game because of those two rows of body types available. Because those two body types allow you to play as either a cis- or trans- man.

That’s right. All three body types are available as both cis- or trans-. Holy shit. It’s such a small thing to include, development-wise, but not small at all in terms of representation. LGBT+ representation is not where it should be in games, and it is so wonderful to be able to play as a trans man in a world where it’s no big deal. It’s just another fact about you, but does not define you. You are treated just like the cis men around you, because everyone knows you are just as worthy of love and respect as them. The utopian future liberals dream of.

God and Snitches
This man has four children. I never once saw the fourth child.

Appearances aside — though the appearances are no small part of this game, it looks great — the characters are interesting and engaging. The various dateable dads are each charming in their way and contain a bit more depth than their outward archetypes would lead one to believe. And the kids are great too, each with their own personality, even though we don’t see a whole lot of the various children.

Amanda Yelling Dog
A child truly after my own heart.

Except, of course, your character’s child, Amanda. Amanda is an amazing character who I grew to love over the course of the game. She’s cute and charming and smart while also containing flaws and going through struggles that keep her interesting and grounded. My heart sank when I saw her struggling or hurting, and soared when she triumphed. I really felt like her dad.

Gameplay

With all that gushing out of the way, let’s get into gameplay gushing.

Since Dream Daddy is a visual novel, most of the time spent in the game is reading, which is to be expected. There are a decent number of dialogue options that appear frequently enough that Dream Daddy does feel more like a game than a novel, though many of them seem to be false choices. While interacting with various dads in dates, your dialogue choices impact their affection for you, but pretty frequently — especially outside of dates — the various options are just different quips that will give your character some flavor, but not have a huge impact on how the scene plays out.

Coffee Shop Awkwardness
There were a couple of options here, but all of them ended in this basic (too relateable) awkwardness.

I was pretty pleased with the frequency of interaction present in the game and was fully engaged any time I turned it on. I always felt like I was interacting with the experience, rather than just letting it wash over me like some visual novels do.

Aside from the dialogue options, there are also various mini-games scattered throughout the experience. I liked the games, since they link directly into the story while still providing some variation. Each one I played was fun and simple, but I was a little annoyed that none came with any sort of directions. I was able to figure each out, because they really are simple, but I usually lost a couple of points while I figured out if I was supposed to click or use buttons or whatever. A bit more guidance would have great, especially to help out more casual audiences who don’t have as much background skill/experience with games.

Narrative and General Mood

I won’t get into any spoilers, but rest assured that the various stories in this game are great. I haven’t done all of the romance tracks yet, but the ones I’ve completed have been absolutely charming and contained pleasant surprises in character development and story progression. And for the non-date stuff, please see the gushing about Amanda above. Again, I won’t spoil anything, but I loved the story with her.

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Oh, Amanda. I love you.

The best thing about Dream Daddy is the absolute joy that radiates from this game. It’s not always happy — sad things happen and there’s a fair bit of disappointment and sadness scattered throughout — but it’s always joyful. I always left the game feeling good, no matter how I was feeling when I started it. It made me laugh out loud more than any other game I’ve ever played and I loved spending time in its bright, candy-colored world.

CONCLUSION

If it’s not painfully obvious at this point, I highly recommend Dream Daddy to anyone who enjoys visual novels. And if you’re not sure if you like visual novels, it’s a pretty good introduction to the genre. Play it if you like comedy, romance, and cute dads.

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Mat is Best Dad. Fight me.

 

 

Dream Daddy Is a Dream Come True

Praise for The Productivity Project

I’m a person who loves systems. I thrive on routines, plan for fun, and have tried more life hacks than you could shake a stick at. Because of this interest in organization, I’m a little bit hooked on “productivity porn.” I love seeing how other people organize their lives and shamelessly stealing aspects of their routines that I like.

One of my favorite sources to steal from is Cortex, a Relay.FM podcast hosted by Myke Hurley and CGP Grey. Both are “independent content creators” and the show covers various aspects of their working lives and how they stay productive. In one episode, Grey recommends The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey as a great productivity porn book, which I immediately placed a hold on at the library.

Me and everybody else in my area, it seems. I was on the wait list for over a month. But it was well worth the wait — I loved The Productivity Project.

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The book is a look at a year in Bailey’s life which he dedicated to studying productivity. He threw himself into productivity experiments and relates the entire experience in a way that is both helpful and humorous. Unlike many other productivity books on the market, The Productivity Project does not prescribe a certain approach or system, but rather provides an overview of many different systems and hacks that Bailey tried over the course of the project and a rundown of how they affected his productivity, as well on thoughts on why they either worked or didn’t.

Bailey’s writing is inviting and conversational rather than instructional or commanding, like so many time-management solution books slip into. I enjoyed it because I didn’t feel like Bailey was trying to get me to buy into any one approach, but rather laying out tools I could work into any system that I liked. And he wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel and create a system from scratch. It was just a guy trying out a bunch of stuff to see what worked and what didn’t, which I totally related to.

If you are at all interested in The Productivity Project, I recommend picking it up. It’s a quick read and a great resource that I think anyone bothering to read this review will like. If you’re the type of person who would grab a book called The Productivity Project, you’re set for a good time.

 

Praise for The Productivity Project

Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake: A Nancy Drew Review #7

Introduction

This is a post I’ve been both looking forward to and dreading. You see, Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake was the first Nancy Drew game I played and remains my favorite to date. It’s near and dear to my heart, which makes it pretty much impossible to view objectively. Fortunately, it wasn’t just my nostalgia coloring my fondness for the title. It holds up to the passage of time pretty well and remains a solid game.

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Not the most welcoming place to come spend the night alone.

Story

Nancy’s father’s friend, Sally McDonald, recently bought an old cabin to fix up in the Moon Lake area of Pennsylvania. It’s a beautiful area and a nature-lover’s paradise. But soon after buying the home, Sally started receiving terrifying visits from ghost dogs who attack the house. By time Nancy arrives to investigate, Sally has become so frightened that she’s left, leaving Nancy alone in the haunted old house.

Now, I realize that a cabin haunted by ghost dogs sounds really, really stupid, but Her Interactive has the skill to bring the idea to life. The first night you’re there, you experience one of their attacks, and it’s scary. Back when I was a kid, this was the first game I played that scared me. I didn’t know games could be scary, and it added a whole new dimension to the way I approached play.

Characters

At this point, Her Interactive has proved that it knows how to make great characters. Ghost Dogs‘s cast is no exception.

emily
Too bad I don’t like fishing. I’d like to be on Emily’s Wall of Fame.

Emily Griffen owns the general store Em’s Emporium. It has everything the tourist camper would need to enjoy his or her time on the lake, and many of the basic staples residents would need as well. She’s obsessed with combing the lake for Prohibition-era treasures, and firmly believes that Mickey Malone’s cabin houses valuable secrets.

I like Emily because she’s just so normal. She runs her business, has some strong opinions on what’s best for her community, wishes for more for herself, and is just living her life. She’s down-to-earth and easy to relate to.

Red Knott
For heaven’s sake, don’t scare the birds!

Red Knott is an avid birdwatcher who comes to Moon Lake every year. He hates tourists and doesn’t like Sally much, since her cabin — long abandoned — is right next to his stand. The loud renovations and general noise of living have scared away many of his precious birds, and he may have turned to extreme measures to rid the area of her.

 

Jeff Akres
Everyone loves a man in uniform.

Jeff Akers loves his job as a park ranger, which is good, since he’s the only one at Moon Lake. He strictly adheres to all rules and regulations, and takes a great deal of pleasure from making others adhere to them as well. He was desperately hoping that the parks department would purchase the land Sally’s cabin is situated on, expanding the size of the park and allowing for more tourism. Perhaps he wanted it badly enough to scare away the obstacle to his career success.

Puzzles

There are lots of different kinds of puzzles in this one, which help to make it so good. There are “arrange the things” puzzles, “find the things” puzzles, and “figure out how to fix the thing” puzzles. While this isn’t much different from other games in the series, there are a better-than-usual mix of the puzzle types. And a higher frequency of them in general. Rather than the game progressing due to overtly triggered events (here’s looking at you Stay Tuned for Danger), the plot moves forward based on Nancy’s ability to get puzzles solved. What I mean by this is, there’s more action on the player’s end and less dialogue tree manipulation and looking at the right thing at the right time. This makes everything feel more involved and fun.

New Features

Nothing new, which isn’t a bad thing. Her Interactive has found a system of features that works, and it’s sticking to what it knows it can do well. Nothing stands out as spectacular because everything works seamlessly, which is the best situation to be in, honestly.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re a seasoned veteran of Nancy Drew or mystery games or looking to get your feet wet, Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake is an excellent gaming choice. In fact, I just replayed it myself AND found a copy to gift to my cousin-in-law who has started getting interested in puzzle gaming. If people are interested in the genre, I always recommend Ghost Dogs.

Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake: A Nancy Drew Review #7

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Sometimes a book comes into your life at just the right moment.

When a friend of mine recommended The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, I was struggling with a bout of depression brought on by the winter holiday season. I’ve struggled with depression my entire life, so I’ve learned a lot of techniques to keep me above water during the bad times. But the holidays always trigger periods of severity for me, and this past December was my first without antidepressant medication in many, many years, so it was hard.

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The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was exactly what I needed to get through that time. The first of a trilogy, THTK serves as the introduction to a world that is a pleasure to get lost in. It’s hard to believe that the novel is the debut of author N.K. Jemisin, who shows a mastery of characterization, world-building, and stunning prose usually only visible in later-life works. I slipped into the city of Sky like a warm bath and was enthralled the entire time the book was in my hands.

I particularly loved the main character, Yeine. She’s a driven young woman who is strong, but not because she’s perfect. She suffers from the stress of being thrown into a strange, dangerous situation; the self-doubt that comes from not being completely sure of one’s identity; and the pangs of loneliness that come from being far from home. In other words, she’s emotionally vulnerable, and I loved her for it. Because that emotional vulnerability didn’t keep her from doing what she needed to do. And though it made her human, it didn’t make her weak.

I highly recommend The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms to anyone who enjoys fantasy. It has elements of both high/traditional- and urban- fantasy, so everyone has something they can enjoy. The best part? Despite its epic feel, it’s only a trilogy. And the whole trilogy is out right now for your binge-reading pleasure!

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

Please Don’t Touch Anything: The Game with the Big Red Button

Please Don’t Touch Anything is a tiny game that looks really boring at first. The entire thing takes place in one room — really just a desk in a room — so there’s just one screen. You can’t move or look around, just stare at this bland, industrial-looking desk and wall with a screen on it. The only exciting thing is this big red button.

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Screenshot from the Please Don’t Touch Anything Steam store page.

An irresistible big red button. A button you just have to press, even though the game tells you not to. Even though the very title of the game tells you not to. But that’s all you can do.

Then the whole game opens up as a beautiful little gem of a mystery puzzler.

I love games where the whole game is pretty much just figuring out what the game is. No tutorials, no guidance, just a whole lot of trial and error. Please Don’t Touch Anything is a great example of this format. And it lends itself well to playing in short chunks, rather than long sessions, because there are a bunch of different endings that happen when you go through that trial and error process. I’ve “beat” the game quite a few times now, and each time took me a maximum of 15 minutes.

I hesitate to say anything else about the game, because the joy of it lies in the unfolding, but if your curiosity is roused, here’s the Steam page. I’d recommend it to puzzle fans, especially those who are looking for something to play in those odd pockets of time where you want to play a game, but don’t have much time to devote to the session.

Please Don’t Touch Anything: The Game with the Big Red Button

In Defense of In Defense of Food

Like so many others, I struggle with maintaining healthy habits in my life. I live a fairly sedentary lifestyle, with a desk job and a lot of hobbies that involve sitting in one place for long periods of time. I’m trying to get better about exercising, but finding the willpower is proving difficult.

I am also trying to improve my relationship with food. I feel like I eat fairly well, but I also know I could be more informed about what I put in my body. I mean, I know eating lots of sugar and fried things is bad, but what about carbs? Fat? What are all those additives doing to my body, really?

In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto is a book that tries to get at the heart of the human relationship with food. By examining the Western way of eating, Michael Pollan attempts to cut through all the complicated nutrition talk that has come to surround eating healthily and get back down to the commonsense, cultural knowledge we hold about food. “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.”

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Pollan is an excellent writer, and I very much enjoyed In Defense of Food. I devoured it quickly, took lots of notes for myself, and feel that a lot of the information has helped guide me towards a better way of eating. So much of the literature surrounding food is firmly entrenched in diet culture (don’t even get me started on that), but In Defense of Food is not. This is a book that celebrates the joy of food and doesn’t try to prescribe a one-size-fits-all plan for eating.

And, even better? It’s not about losing weight. It never makes you feel guilty for loving and enjoying food.

Imagine that.

In Defense of In Defense of Food

Secret of the Scarlet Hand: A Nancy Drew Review #6

Introduction

I remember hating Secret of the Scarlet Hand when I was younger, though I can’t remember why. I was dreading its approach in the queue, but was pleasantly surprised with my actual experience. I suppose the deeply historical subject matter was just a little too dry for my taste back in the day.

 

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promotional art from HerInteractive.com

Story

After the harrowing experience of seeing her friend kidnapped in The Final Scene, Nancy craves a summer of normalcy. Using her dad’s contacts, she snags a summer internship at the Beech Hill Museum in Washington, D.C. to help them prepare for their special exhibition on the Maya.

As the museum is preparing for opening night, one of its prize pieces — an incredibly rare and valuable jade carving — is stolen. The thief left behind a cryptic note consisting of ancient glyphs and a ghoulish red hand-print. In order to avoid scandal, the museum’s Board of Directors asks Nancy to work on the case.

All in all, the story of Scarlet Hand is great fun and fairly believable. Nancy is the type of character who would excel at curatorial work, and solving a modern mystery with historical implications winds up being much more entertaining than it sounds. In fact, I think I learned more about the Maya from playing Scarlet Hand than I ever did in school — and had a great time doing it. I know that it wouldn’t be a game if there weren’t a mystery involved, but it seems a shame that Nancy doesn’t get to have a normal internship with the museum. Everything about the position seems right for her.

 

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Characters

Scarlet Hand has a great cast of characters. There are the four main suspects that drive the interaction in the game, but there are also a number of other characters to speak to as well. The scope of the mystery has Nancy speaking with museum curators, post-modern artists, wealthy philanthropists, and even smugglers. Unlike many of the other games, the phone is not just for calling Bess and George. In fact, I barely called Bess and George during this one.

 

Joanna
Beech Hill’s curator, Joanna Riggs, is passionate about her job and enthusiastic about the upcoming Maya exhibit. However, her excitement comes with a fair amount of stress, which she occasionally unleashes on Nancy. As someone who has done event planning, I understand.

 

Henrik
Henrik van der Hune is the resident expert on Maya glyphs and dropped everything to come work on translating Beech Hill’s newly acquired monolith. I really liked Henrik because he’s obviously super intelligent and it would have been easy for the game designers to paint him as an aloof or holier-than-thou scholar. Goodness knows a lot of people who are the top of their field appear that way in media. But Henrik never gets impatient with Nancy’s questions and encourages her to learn as much as she can about the Maya culture he cares so much about. His lovely voice doesn’t hurt his charm either.

 

Alejandro

The anticipated success of Beech Hill’s monolith unveiling means that Mexico has a vested interest in what’s going on. Alejandro del Rio is an ambassador to the Mexican Consulate and has a hand in making sure everything Beech Hill does with Mexican artifacts is on the up-and-up. He’s mistrustful of American museums due to the long history of shady dealings in Mexican antiquities and feels that his country has been robbed of important aspects of its heritage. His passion is infectious, but sometimes becomes overwhelming and — under the circumstances — suspicious.

 

Sinclair
The art dealer, Taylor Sinclair, is my least favorite character in the game. He just feels too broadly drawn, too reliant on art dealer stereotypes. He sees art and artifacts only in terms of their monetary value, not their beauty or cultural significance. I’m so tired of seeing this stereotype and never any art dealers that are genuinely excited by art. His ugly tie did nothing to endear him to me either.

Scarlet Hand does a great job of keeping suspicion spread across the characters without pointing the finger towards any one in particular. But it also felt perfectly natural when the perpetrator was revealed.

 

Puzzles

Scarlet Hand”s puzzle elements are restricted to Beech Hill, mostly in the form of mini-games. The museum features a temple full of games that guests can play through in order to see more artifacts and exhibits. It’s a cool idea, but I didn’t enjoy it. I prefer puzzles that involve logic or object manipulation, but Scarlet Hand’s puzzles are mostly data entry. You go around and explore the museum for answers to trivia games. The nice thing about the data-entry style is that I never got absurdly stuck on a puzzle, because I knew I’d be able to find the answer somewhere.

 

New Features

Nancy got a laptop! It’s not that big of a deal, because it’s basically only used to read a couple of floppy disks (how cute) hidden around the game, but still. It’s a move to get Nancy up with the times. And it’s a feature that will stick around and be expanded upon later in the series.

Nancy Laptop
image from luxembourgish.wordpress.com

 

Technical Difficulties

As with the rest of the ND games thus far, I had some difficulty installing the game. I claim no technical knowledge of why it happens, but these older games have a hard time running on new computers. Fortunately, as with the others, it was an easy fix. I just typed “pathing error on Nancy Drew game” into Google, and it took me to a page on HerInteractive.com with instructions on how to fix the problem. Easy-peasy.

Once installed, I had only one other major issue with the game: it just stopped running. This only happened once and honestly, wouldn’t have been a very big deal if I hadn’t been stupid. You see, I had played for about three hours without saving. Like a dummy. So I lost all that I’d done. Like a dummy. Fortunately, I really like taking good notes. I replayed the first chunk of the game at warp speed.
There were a number of minor issues, mostly with the syncing of audio and visual elements of the game. More often than not, speaking to other characters would knock the video behind the audio, leading to some awkward moments of silence while the character finished displaying what they had to say. It didn’t affect gameplay and I was mostly able to ignore it, but it did get jarring at times, particularly if a character gestured while they spoke. 

Final Thoughts

Scarlet Hand was a lot of fun to replay. Though it’s not as strong or iconic as some of the other games in the series, it’s solid. If you’ve never played it or haven’t played it in a while, it’s definitely worth a shot, but I wouldn’t recommend it as an introduction to the series.

Secret of the Scarlet Hand: A Nancy Drew Review #6