Back on the Digital Farm: Part 2 – The Indoor Farming Marathon

A truly gorgeous looking game that I couldn't quite see to the end.
A truly gorgeous looking game that I couldn't quite see to the end.

So, a while back now I thought I’d start a series of blogs on here about trying out various faming games, with a leaning towards the Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons games. After having a good go at Littlewood (which has had some great updates since that blog) my plan had been to dive head first into Doraemon: A Story of Seasons. And dive in I did – I was up to Spring of year 3, and I’d written most of a blog about my time with it when suddenly the world around us all changed rather dramatically. Suddenly, my time at home, mildly enforced by unemployment was governmentally enforced because of a global pandemic. Not what any of us, save the most dedicated Bill Gates fans, were probably expecting and certainly challenging to prepare and live through. Thankfully, despite the financial worries many of us have during this time, both me and my partner has stayed safe and fed. Which, considering some of the other stories coming out of London, I feel I can count myself lucky for. But that isn’t to say the situation hasn’t had more than a bit of a shake up on what games I’ve been playing and the feelings I have towards some game loops, narrative subjects and what I do and don’t want from a game.

Possibly the prettiest fishing I've ever fished.
Possibly the prettiest fishing I've ever fished.

So, the original blog idea I had for my time with Doraemon was love letter to a lack of choice that game gives you, relative to similar games like Stardew Valley, and even other Story of Seasons games. The very prescribed layout of the farm, the reasonably ridged storyline and the enormous care and attention to detail into the look of that game was just what I needed after some of the very open RPG Farming Sims I’d tried before. It meant the day loop for that game was shorter, felt less of a race against the clock and gave the game an idyllic quality that is sometimes missing from games that approximate a rural life. Then a massive amount of my real-life choice was quite rightly taken from me. Suddenly my couple of thousand work paean for taking choice away felt a little off the mark. Granted, I was linking it to a good restaurant with a limited menu being superior to a crazy big menu all done poorly (I’m looking at you Harvester Pubs) comparison but the sentiment seemed very much against my current mentality and rather insensitive given the global situation. I quickly screwed my laptop up into a ball, chucked it in the bin, got a fresh one out and started again.

Then I dropped off playing the game completely. Reduced attention span, needing a break from a game that I’d lumped a stupid amount of hours into in such a short amount of time, feeling deflated as my oh-so-clever idea to talk about it was redundant – all the excuses. But I just couldn’t face it, let alone write about it.

So, I don't have any screen grabs of FS 2017. Enjoy more Doraemon.
So, I don't have any screen grabs of FS 2017. Enjoy more Doraemon.

I thought I’d jump to a similarly themed, but wildly different styled game for the blog. And, as if it came like a gift from the gods, Farming Simulator 2000-and-very-recent popped up on PC Game Pass. Perfect. I’d played a reasonable amount of a Farming Simulator games on the 360, I remember enjoying it, so downloaded it got myself to a nice South American farm and got on my tractor. For close to ten hours over three shifts it was great, just the palate cleanser I needed. I was growing, delivering, enjoying the not too terrible looking scenery and driving in many, many, many straight lines. I totally get why this game has as big a following as it does, especially wih the mod scene attached to it. It’s like the Gran Tourismo/Forza of farming, getting those accurate engine sounds, collecting all the “insert your favourite farming machinery manufacturer here” bits and bobs. I grew up in a rural area, I had my fair share of Britain’s Farming Toys but I’m maybe not quite hooked enough into the scene to put up with the intensely slow build to getting any of the exciting vehicles. The task of refilling, refuelling and unloading on the entry level machines is so frequent it really starts to become tiresome and the specificity of the higher level machinery means that it’s a challenge to work out the most efficient upgrade path. I felt like I’d been dropped into Souls or other tough RPG where every level up feels like such a stressful choice to not paint myself into a progression corner. So I quickly succumbed to cheating money, getting all the things and paying drones to do the laborious sowing, fertilizing and harvesting. I was no longer playing Farming Simulator, I was knee deep in Farming Voyeur 20-something-something and not enjoying it.

It came to me that I’d probably over estimated the possibility of this digital farming blog being more than a few words I’d written about Littlewood, which was frustrating given how much fun I’d had playing the game and writing the post. I had four or five games in the docket to do as follow on post and now couldn’t really face any of them.

Bigger.
Bigger.

Then came Animal Crossing. I know this is no farming RPG, but it hooked me fast. And, more importantly, it’s real time clock gave me an excellent natural breaks and made me feel like I was not just tethered to a ‘just one more day’ cycle Doraemon got me into. Now, a month on from its release my hybrid flower focus has made AC:NH my own little farming RPG with an extensive decorative side quest. And huge debt.

Getting into AC:NH and then writing this has been a cathartic time for me. It would be fair to say I wasn’t dealing with unemployment very well, but it being in that state I don’t think the social distancing/lockdown affected me as noticeably as friends and family suddenly without their usual daily routine. As this situation has drawn on it’s gotten tougher to get into anything, and just keeping up with the real life chores it a challenge, which logically is madness given how much time we’re both at home for. The amuse-bouche of AC:NH has piqued my interest into some games again at least (might hold off on returning to the Division 2 anytime soon though). The news and media repeatedly use the phrase ‘the new normal’ when referring to the post measures situation most of us will be returning to and I hope for all of you, this is a side step, not a worsening of the old normal. And I hope for everyone whose small escapes from reality with whatever games you love get back to ‘old normal’ soon especially if, like me, this has not been the time of a game playing renaissance that the teenage me thought a lockdown would be.

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Stay safe all of you; and a big thank you to the East and West coast teams for keeping a very much appreciated bit of old normal in my life during all this.

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