Prime Day Watercolor Brush Pens

Prime Day has been pretty mediocre the last few years.  This year I just got some books and a set of watercolor brush pens.

This was my first attempt at using them on normal printer paper.  I started with the big flower, then the Pusheen, the Jack, and finally the rose.  The rose isn’t terrible.  Dragon placed her paw in the photo for scale.

After that I decided to get watercolor paper to see if it would be better.  I feel like the watercolor paper attempt didn’t come out as good as the rose on printer paper – I got impatient and didn’t wait for various parts of it to dry, so some of the colors got blended together that I didn’t intend to blend… so I decided to outline it with a thick Sharpie to try to hide the weird blended parts.  It did not work.

London, Paris, and Edinburgh

We recently took a vacation to London, Paris, and Edinburgh – May 27th to June 11th.

Yes, in that strange order.

We don’t go on many vacations, so I wanted to fit in as much as I could, since it is highly unlikely we would ever go back together (though I’ve been to London and Edinburgh before, in high school).  I was worried I might get too overwhelmed partway through – being around lots of people and trying to be out and about the majority of the day are literally the opposite of what I would describe as my ideal day.  However, I decided to just plan for it and try to power through it… even knowing I had to go straight back to work afterward and wouldn’t have any recharge time at all.

Before I started the planning for each day, we had already made some dinner reservations we needed to make early.  This included one Michelin-starred restaurant in each city:

We started off making a Google map of each city and putting in the reservations we already had.  I made layers for each day of our trip, and put those locations on the appropriate layers.  Then we each added things we wanted to do on a “Planning” layer – with color-coded icons, of course.  Using the map, I planned specific days we would do specific things, with location being a very large factor.

Finally these were moved to a Google calendar.  I color-coded them:

  • Yellow – general notes (like hotel stays, leave this chunk of time free so you can go home and change into fancy clothes, etc.)
  • Red – strict times (we have reservations or tickets)
  • Blue – flexible times (we have tickets for this day but it doesn’t matter what time)
  • Green – completely flexible (planned for this day but we have no tickets and we could move them or just not do them)
  • Grey – while we were there I also ended up coloring some stuff grey if we didn’t end up doing them

Unfortunately, it seems like color-coding in a Google calendar can only be seen by you even if you share the calendar, so Jack couldn’t even make use of the colors.  I also left the time zone as my local time zone but found that you can add a secondary time zone for reference, so I added London’s time.  Unfortunately that also seems to only apply to yourself, so Jack had to add it separately for his view.

And now, one photo from each city

(Coca-Cola) London Eye

Eiffel Tower

Calton Hill

Productivity Stress

In January, I wrote about how I more clearly understood my need for recharge time after being around people.  My recharge time typically would involve just sitting around on the couch lazing around, using my phone, not really doing anything “productive”.

I say “productive” because it is productive to me as I need the recharge time to continue so I am gaining something positive from it, but from the outside it looks like I’m just wasting my time.  However, I decided to try to be more actively “productive” by working on projects or reading more often.  This was part of the reason I decided to do a challenge every month.  In addition, I decided to finally go through two books I had bought in 2011/2012 – Seven Languages in Seven Weeks and Seven Databases in Seven Weeks.

I am very motivated by lists and can tend to feel (overly and unnecessarily) like I failed if I don’t complete lists that I give time restrictions to, so I tracked these productivity projects in my planner, written on specific days, with little checkboxes that I had to check off.  I figured this would give me the motivation to do everything.

January, February, and March, I decided on challenges that required me to do something daily (daily yoga video, daily donation, daily wiki page).  It started off okay – the daily yoga video was a structured 30-day challenge so I didn’t need to make any decisions other than deciding what time of day I should fit it into.  We went on a short weekend trip, but I was still able to do the daily video while on the trip, so I got through it pretty smoothly.

February started to get a bit more stressful.  Before starting the month, I had already made a list of potential places I could donate to, and also asked for suggestions on Facebook.  I wanted to write a bit about all of them in Facebook posts, and especially for ones that I had a specific connection to, give more information about them and donate to them on relevant dates (for instance, donating to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) on Rare Disease Day).  Even though I had a pre-made list, it has hard for me to decided which donations should go on which days – sometimes I spent up to an hour trying to decide on a donation because I knew I couldn’t get through all of the ones on my list in the month, and I wanted to prioritize ones that I felt were more important to me.  I also stressed myself out because typically after work I want to just relax and sit on the couch and just browse Reddit or play some games, but I had to make sure to do my donation and post before midnight in order to do it on that exact date.

March I actually got behind on reading some of the daily wiki pages.  I read the ones featured by Wikipedia each day, and sometimes the topics were just very boring to me (you should read about Ferugliotherium and their teeth).  Since I wasn’t doing anything public about them like a daily Facebook post, I actually felt less stressed about being behind, and would just catch up on them a day or two later.  Here I discovered how much being publicly accountable for things puts stress and motivation on me – not just in situations where it’s my responsibility and people are depending on me such as at work, which I knew about before, but even where I just arbitrarily gave myself some public deadline and no one else even knew or gave a shit about it.

Having discovered this, I decided to give myself a much more relaxed April challenge – each week, restart a conversation with an old friend, and also send a postcard to a friend.  That was definitely less stressful… but remember the two books above that I also decided to finally get through?  I decided to start the Seven Languages book in February.  Each language involves a short intro, 3 days of info + homework, and a short wrap-up.  I split these into 3 days a week (intro + day 1, day 2, day 3 + wrap-up) and slotted them into days we don’t go to the gym.  I got through Seven Languages smoothly, and Seven Databases started off pretty smoothly…

But then this month (April) we went on a 5-day trip where I did not do any of the book at all.  Of course after being on a trip I needed recharge time, but we came back in the middle of the week so I had to go straight back to work the next day and didn’t get the full relaxing I needed.  Instead, did the relaxing after work and put off catching up on the Seven Databases book… and it just got put off further and further.  I got really stressed and anxious and panicky – the last few days were not pretty.  Seeing the empty checkboxes and having visual confirmation that I was very behind on things (there were other month tasks I was behind on too because of the trip) put a lot of pressure on me, and the more anxious and panicky I got the less I felt like doing any of it so I wasn’t even slowly catching up.

Slowly though I’m getting my previous tasks done… today, 15 days after we left for the trip, I am finally caught up on the Seven Databases book up to the point I had pre-planned to.  I still have other things I’m behind on though.  I’m trying to get over putting so much pressure on myself for these things – it’s not that big of a deal!  I literally just made up the dates I wanted to do them on!  It’s okay to be behind!

I’m trying to find a balance – lists definitely get me to do things (no list is just me sitting around thinking about the things I should probably do), but too much listing stresses me out a lot.  I think part of it is that I’m using a pre-made year-long planner, and I fill it out a month at a time – one of my weekly tasks (that I am going to be behind on because I was supposed to do it today but I need to go to bed soon) is, on the last weekend of the month, to fill out the monthly challenge and monthly tasks for the next month.  However, this means that if anything comes up and is unexpected, it throws up to an entire month off and gets me stressed about being behind and not checking off all the little checkboxes.

I’m still using this planner because I went and bought a customized one with my name on it so I feel like I need to use it entirely to get my full worth out of it.  But on the side I am also using a separate blank notebook to do some bullet journal trackers – after this planner is done with (omg it feels like so far away, 8 more months…) I’m going to switch fully over to the blank notebook and do more of the bullet journal system for daily planning.  From the ways I’ve seen people do it, I’ve tried to think of a system that would work for me, and I think I will have a yearly summary page, where I can put dates and tasks that come up and have a deadline in future months.  This will just be a general aggregate page.  Then when a month is coming up, I will create a monthly summary page, where I migrate the dates/tasks for that month from the yearly summary, and can also add more dates/tasks as they come up in the month.  Then I will have a weekly spread as a week comes up, where I migrate dates/tasks from the monthly summary, and actually put down per day of the week the tasks I will do on those days, with checkboxes.  If things don’t get done in a week, I’ll migrate them to the next week and mark them as “resolved” – that way even if it’s not done I don’t feel like it’s unaccounted for and I need to keep going back and stressing about it.  Hopefully this way I’ll only have one weekly spread I need to look at at a time, and I don’t pre-schedule things too far ahead and stress myself out.

This was very long.  I’ll be honest, I just wrote this because one of my monthly tasks that I’m behind on is to write a blog post once a month, and it’s coming up very close to the end of April.  Luckily this also made me a bit less stressed out though, especially writing out how I’m planning on using a bullet journal to solve the stress I’m putting on myself.  Also I am definitely now more convinced that I really need that time just sitting around on the couch, and am going to try to stop stressing that I’m “wasting time” when I use that relaxation time.

Anyway, that’s the end of my brain dump.

February 2018 Daily Donations

For my February monthly challenge, I decided to donate a small amount to something different every day.  It was a mix of organizations I already knew and cared about, and others that I discovered or were suggested to me.  I wrote a small bit (okay sometimes it was a large bit) about them on Facebook each day, and tried to donate on relevant days if there were any (for instance, the 28th was Rare Disease Day) to make it more interesting.  My goal was to not only expand my knowledge of organizations doing good stuff, but also spread knowledge and awareness of them.  It was interesting to look into the organizations and learn more about them – hopefully you also discover something new and interesting in this list!

  1. Wikimedia Foundation
  2. Humane Society Silicon Valley / Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA / Nine Lives Foundation
  3. Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge
  4. International Pemphigus & Pemphigoid Foundation
  5. Second Harvest Food Bank
  6. Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation
  7. Planned Parenthood Northern California
  8. Sharks Foundation / Golden Knights Foundation
  9. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)
  10. The Dancing Cat
  11. Code.org
  12. Freakonomics Radio
  13. Electronic Frontier Foundation
  14. KitTea Cat Cafe
  15. Free Software Foundation
  16. Kitten Lady
  17. Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy
  18. World Food Program USA
  19. DonorsChoose.org project
  20. Mario Lemieux Foundation
  21. Kiva / a Kiva loan
  22. Heifer International
  23. First Exposures
  24. Fred Rogers Company
  25. Palo Alto Medical Foundation
  26. San Francisco Symphony
  27. World Wildlife Fund (WWF)
  28. National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)

What Makes Me Happy?

I decided to do a Year in Pixels for 2018 (basically a daily mood tracker), and just finished up January:

It’s a bit hard to figure out the dates, because I had deliberately not put months/days to keep it cleaner.  I may add them later though; it’s getting annoying to count them out to double check the date.

I also did one for Jack:

There was a weekend that we were in Tahoe (the large green chunk in my tracker), and when I asked Jack for his mood to fill his in, it seemed a bit like he was just saying he was happy because he felt like he had to since he spent the weekend on a trip with me (something that he denies).  It made me think about the days I was marking as happy, and I realized that I didn’t necessarily actually feel happy.  I was doing things that I wanted to do, on a trip having fun, and it felt like I should feel happy, so I had marked those as happy.  But I realized I didn’t really feel that much happier than a normal day – to be honest, all of those happy days were probably really neutral days.

So in reality, my month was pretty much just chugging along and being pretty meh the whole time.

After we got back from Tahoe, I tried to think of things that actually made me feel happy, and this is what I had come up with at the time:

  • Cat snuggles
  • Skiing amongst trees
  • Going to Penguins games
  • Sleeping in
  • Snuggles

Cat snuggles, sleeping in, and snuggles are pretty passive and more about just relaxing – I think it would probably be more appropriate to say that I am content in those cases, rather than happy.

Skiing amongst trees was something I only remembered because we had just gone skiing; it made me think of one time years ago in Idaho when I was skiing somewhere further away from the more popular runs, and for some reason I was by myself.  This was many many years ago, probably middle school, and the Lord of the Rings movies were very new.  It was just me skiing in an area where the path was narrower and there were more dense trees around, and in my head I just heard Lord of the Rings music.  I had a sense of wonderment, and felt very calm and connected, just surrounded by nature.

Going to Penguins games is something I can definitely say makes me very happy.  It’s really exciting to be at the game watching everything happen.  It’s a lot of fun to be around everyone else cheering or booing along with you, with no obligation to actually talk to any of them.  Even though I have to be around large crowds of people, the excitement and happiness outweighs the feelings of being overwhelmed and exhausted, and the lack of actual interaction with strangers is relieving to me.

I figure I should probably try to do more things that make me happy, after this very blah January retrospective, so I asked Jack what makes him happy and what he thinks makes me happy.

For Jack, he is happy playing games, especially with friends.  He is also happy when he drinks and plays games with friends, or drinks and talks about thought-provoking topics with friends.  Personally, hanging out with friends is fun for me, but I think it’s overall more neutral than happy because being around people, paying attention to so many conversations and reactions and anticipating if people need something (especially when we’re hosting) or watching out for when people are done with things so I can clean and get them out of the way (when hosting) makes me exhausted, and I need recovery time afterward to just stay in and not do anything.

The only new thing we could come up with that makes me happy was eating good food.  However this is not very practical to do often, as all the instances of good food where I was very happy were expensive fancy places.

In writing this and reading back through it, I think I’ve found the disconnect between when I have fun and when I’m happy.  Having fun for me is something that is very in-the-moment, but there are consequences to the fun, especially since being around people drains me.  So I can have a lot of fun but not end up being overall happy, because I’m exhausted and I need recharge time.  The cases where I’m happy are situations where I have fun but don’t get as drained, or where I get recharged (as it seems like being surrounded by nature may do, or just lazing around at home doing nothing).

So perhaps I should not be measuring purely just how happy I am?  It would be a very boring life if I was happy but not also having a lot of fun.  Maybe I should start splitting my tracker to track both mood and level of fun, and keep mood more honest to how I’m feeling overall, but also track when I had moments of fun.

I don’t really have a specific plan to make February more happy, but being aware of fun vs happiness will hopefully help me find ways to increase happiness.

So I guess the answer to what makes me happy is that I don’t know, but I’ll make sure to have fun finding out! (Wow that was so cheesy)

New Year Rest

It’s a new year, and the day before work starts again.

All I’ve done today is rest and relax, only leaving the house to go to the gym and pick up some food.  Did some Blogilates after I woke up, ate a light lunch while reading Hedy’s Folly, wrote in my planner/journals, watched the Pens @ Flyers game (Fuck the Flyers), worked on the weight average app I’m making for myself, went to the gym, ate dinner, did some cross stitch, did the second day of the YOU-NICORN 30-day workbook, did the second day of the OmStars 30-day yoga challenge, and read a chapter of War and Peace.

Even though I think I’ve always needed it, it hasn’t been until this last year that I’ve really put into a conscious thought and words my need for recharge time.  I guess that it’s pretty classical introversion, though I never really connected it together before.  When we take vacations, if we’re coming home the day before we go to work, I prefer not to come home too late so that I can just sit around on the couch for at least a few hours doing nothing important.  For this long holiday break, even though I’ve had days in the middle to just rest and relax at home, I pre-reserved the last day to just spend at home doing my own thing.  Even just going out for dinner takes energy away from me; being around people, even if not talking to them, makes me really tired.  Being in very loud and energetic environments is stressful and completely drains me.

In fact, even though I’ve been at my current job for over 5 years and am very comfortable and familiar with what I do and the people around me, so I don’t have the anxiety of finding my place and getting used to people, I come home exhausted just from being around everyone.  Jack used to ask me why I just sit around and do nothing so often, and I think it came from that that I gradually had to put it into words that I need to just sit and re-energize.  Even if we’re hanging out with friends we like, even if we’re out doing something fun that doesn’t involve interacting with the people surrounding us, just being around the people is a lot for me.  I need mini home vacations after actual vacations where I’m continually surrounded by people.

I bought the book Quiet in 2012 but I never got around to reading it.  Seems like it should be the next on my list.

Anyway, I decided this post is also a good chance to look back on the cross stitching I’ve done this past year.

  • I made this Pusheen for Jack to put on his desk
    • Made this for some friends getting married
    • Two sets of friends had babies within 3 days of each other… so I did two of these in a row
    • Made this as a housewarming gift
    • Making this now to be a birthday gift

Tabs vs Spaces

Recently StackOverflow released an article about how developers that use spaces make more money than developers who use tabs. They found this to be true even when taking into account factors such as years of experience, language, and country. Another article took an even deeper look at the data, and while it also pointed out some additional correlated factors (open source projects and version control), it also couldn’t fully explain the difference.

Obviously, nobody is saying that switching to tabs tomorrow will guarantee you a raise at your next performance review. There are a million other more important things that affect the quality of a code project. I believe we can safely declare that this is correlation, not causation. However, it’s such a large difference that it’s hard to ignore. There must be some underlying reason for this delta.

Anytime the topic of coding style appears, developers will rush to support their preferred method, often with religious-like zeal. Just peruse the hackernews post about the aforementioned StackOverflow article and you’ll find a great deal of animated discussion covering the advantages and disadvantages of both methods. What I find more interesting is not the actual pros and cons, but the motivation behind them.

Let’s google “tabs vs spaces” and select the first result, conveniently another StackExchange question. It generally boils down to two major arguments.

  • Tabs are better because they are variable, allowing developers to personalize their tab width
  • Spaces are better because they appear consistent across all editors, increasing readability

Both have advantages and it’s entirely personal preference which advantage you place greater value on. So let’s ignore that and instead focus on the reasoning behind the argument. Tab users want to be able to customize how their code looks. They prefer some specific width and want their editor to use that. Space users are concerned about the code looking inconsistent. Tabs can create readability problems due to code looking misaligned across different editors with different tab widths.

There is a fundamental difference in the motivation behind these two statements. One is arguing about personal preference, while the other is arguing about code readability. One generally only benefits yourself, while the other is concerned about the entire team. Simply put, tabs vs spaces is a debate over whether developers should have to surrender their personal preference for the benefit of the team.

As a software developer, you will often be forced to do things you disagree with. You have to adhere to coding styles that are different than what you are used to, work in languages you hate, and move forward with an idea you think is worse than your own. The ability to accept something you disagree with is a valuable skill when working with a team. Flexibility and open mindedness make you easier to work with and also benefits the team overall. This translates to better engineers who get paid more.

So the next time you have to make a decision that impacts your entire team, don’t just go with what you like the most. Take a moment to consider what is best for everyone involved, even if the decision is something as trivial as tabs vs spaces.

 

Addendum:

There is typically another argument for tabs that states that they take less bytes to represent, resulting in a smaller file size and potentially faster performance. I think technology is past the point where we need to be concerned about saving a few bytes here and there in our source code, especially with tools that do code obfuscation/minification.

The Un’Goro Disaster

The Journey to Un’Goro Hearthstone expansion released yesterday. While it is probably one of the most unique and interesting sets in terms of card design, Blizzard somehow managed to make a fundamentally stupid blunder that will likely further alienate the player base.

Un’Goro introduced a new set of Quest cards, spells for each of the 9 classes that require you to complete some goal in order to get an extremely strong reward. While some of the quests are quite dull, such as “Play 7 minions with Deathrattle” others are much more varied, such as “Cast 6 spells that didn’t start in your deck”. Regardless of how good these cards are, they at least create unique and interesting deck types to play around with. One could say the entire Un’goro expansion revolves around these Quest cards.

The general idea behind Quest cards seems commendable. However, that’s before you realize that Blizzard made every Quest spell legendary. In order for a player to open or craft all 9 legendary Quest cards they would need to spend hundreds of dollars. Now I’m all for micro transactions and price obfuscation through randomness, but the way this is implemented is just a disaster. In order to play a Quest themed deck, you MUST have the Quest card. This means the average Hearthstone player can only experiment with one or two, and it’s very likely they will never obtain a single one. This is utterly stupid and a waste of potential.

Here’s how you’re supposed to design a rarity system. Make all the Quest cards easy or free to obtain for 100% of players. This allows every player to try the decks and have fun playing them. Then release complementary legendary and epic cards for each quest that must be included for the deck to be competitive, but are not strictly necessary to play. For example, let’s take the Mage Quest. Un’goro introduced three new Mage cards that help you get access to spells that were not originally in your deck. It would have been trivial to make the quest free to obtain and instead make all three of these cards epic or buff them slightly and make them legendary. None of these cards prevent you from making the Mage Quest deck, but without them you may struggle to complete the quest. Players having fun with the Mage Quest  will eventually feel obligated to pay up in order to make their deck stronger.

We see this sort of system happen in every single competitive Free2Play game, ranging from League of Legends to Clash of Clans. Give the player a taste of the fun but force them to pay in order to be competitive and keep up with their friends. Even Blizzard did this exact same thing when they released Whisper of the Old Gods. In that expansion there was a new deck type involving a legendary card C’thun. However, instead of forcing every player to spend $100 trying to randomly open it, they gave everyone a copy for free. Then alongside C’thun they released Twin Emperor Vek’lor. What happened? 100% of competitive C’thun decks included Twin Emperor and it was stupid to play the deck without it. However, your average Hearthstone player was still able to mess around with a highly unoptimized version of C’thun Warrior or C’thun Priest.

With the Un’Goro expansion, players will eagerly pay some money to be able to try the new decks and be sorely disappointed when their $50 of packs results in 0 or 1 Quest cards. Again, the problem isn’t that the expansion is too expensive or it’s impossible to get all the cards. The core problems lies in how rarities are assigned. Blizzard could have very easily distributed the rarities in a way that quests are more accessible to all players while still creating a paywall to competitive versions of the decks. Instead, they are left with an expansion that the majority of players are unable to experience. That is not the way to do Free2Play.

And this is coming from someone who has been primarily playing Arena since the expansion came out.

The Beauty of Dark Souls

I’m a huge fan of the Souls series. Having finished all three Dark Souls, Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne, I am constantly amazed by the high quality bar set by these games. Whether it be with the tight controls, the precisely tuned encounters or the immersive atmosphere, these games never disappoint. I’d go so far as to call Dark Souls 1 my favorite single player game ever.

No conversation about the game can be had without some mention of it’s excruciatingly high difficulty. I can fully understand why. My first ever experience was with Demon’s Souls, where I died 24 times before reaching the first boss. Unfortunately, the brutal difficulty tends to dominate the discussion and create a very polarized reaction. People sometimes dismiss the game because they feel the high difficult curve is not for them. The issue isn’t helped by the veteran community that can treat the game as a sort of trial by fire, looking down on those who aren’t “hardcore” enough to undergo the challenge. Difficulty is so much a part of the stigma of Dark Souls that “Prepare to die” is an official marketing slogan for the game.

However, it’s important to note that Dark Souls isn’t a good game because it is difficult. It is a good game that happens to be difficult, and it utilizes that difficulty to help weave the player experience and create unique scenarios. If there was an “easy” setting to the game, it would still be impressive both mechanically and visually. However, there are certain feelings and emotions that would not be possible without the adversity the game puts you through. Just as a team forced to overcome obstacles together becomes united through hardship, Dark Souls uses difficulty to create different emotional responses.

For example, while this game isn’t a horror game in the traditional sense (e.g. Silent Hill), there have been multiple points where I have felt pure, unadulterated fear. This wasn’t from some cheap, jump scare or gruesome imagery, but simply because of the game mechanics. In Dark Souls, you gain experience (souls) from killing enemies, but if you die before you return to a checkpoint, you can potentially lose them all. As you make your way through a difficult area accumulating more and more souls, the thought of dying becomes increasingly traumatic. The fear of dying and losing all my progress built up so much tension that a random noise in the game would make me scream out loud in terror.

However, I’m not here to talk about horror, I’m here to talk about beauty. While I could show you screenshots of some awe inspiring scenery and landscapes, the beauty of Dark Souls extends beyond graphics. Just like the difficult game mechanics manifest as terror in the player, they also instill a sense of appreciation and reflection that would not be possible without them. Two events in particular have stuck with me to this very day.

The Real Dark Souls Begins

Let me paint you a picture. Dark Souls begins in a grim, desolate dungeon. You spend the majority of your time killing pitiful, miserable zombies on a quest to ring two bells. The atmosphere is drab and depressing, ranging from an undead parish, a corrupted forest and a diseased, makeshift town. You struggle through these dreary, bleak environments in an attempt to achieve your goal, and when you finally do, the gates to Sen’s Fortress open. This was a victorious moment for me. The ringing of the bell is accompanied with a triumphant cutscene, an appropriate reward for my toils. At this point I had spent many hours playing and felt like I had mastered the game.

As I approached the newly opened gates, I was immediately skewered by a giant, armored lizard wielding a butcher knife. It’s hard to explain in words just how ruthless Sen’s Fortress is. The enemies are relentless and unforgiving, punishing your every mistake. Traps lay in wait around every corner, with treacherous ledges that threaten to claim your life at the first misstep. Sen’s Fortress acts as a hard wall, forcing you to call upon every skill you’ve acquired since the beginning of the game. Traversing this nightmare was easily an order of magnitude more difficult than everything the game had presented beforehand.

Upon reflection, Sen’s Fortress was the hardest point in the entire game for me. Yet, I persevered through it. Little by little I learned to defeat the enemies and navigate through the numerous pitfalls. It took tremendous focus and determination, but eventually I made my way to the summit and defeated the towering Iron Giant who stood in my way. The glory I felt when ringing the bells was a drop in the ocean compared to jubilation from watching this final boss crumple before me.

As I prepared to rest on my laurels, I was presented with this cutscene:

When I first watched this, it blew my fucking mind. I had just overcome an enormous challenge and instead of letting me bask in the glory, the game reveals that this was only the beginning. The entire time I was playing Dark Souls, this looming mountain range has towered over the world. In most games, you would assume this wall of rock is simply background art, a boundary to the world that exists to keep the player on the right path. In reality, it’s been an ominous backdrop, hiding a entirely new civilization, ready to be explored.

The gorgeous horizon and awe inspiring architecture are a visual treat to behold, but the true impact comes from the emotional state of the player when they watch it. The fact that this comes immediately after the hardest point in the game so far is what gives it such a lasting impression. It’s as if the game is saying to you “You thought you were done? That was just the beginning. The real Dark Souls begins now.” This point, when you are first introduced to Anor Londo, is the most memorable moment I have ever had in any game, bar none.

Defying Expectations

Dark Souls is a game that utilizes vertical height very well. As you progress in the game, each subsequent goal has you climb higher and higher, culminating in a climax at the peak. Humans tend to equate ascension with progress, and simply placing the goal above the player creates incentive for them to continue forward. A great example is what you just saw with Anor Londo, a sprawling kingdom high in the mountains that you gain access to after defeating the strongest enemies in the valley below.

However, Dark Souls also has moments where you instead descend deep into the bowels of the world. These tend to be some of the most dark and depressing moments in the game, where you find nothing but more and more despair. Nothing exemplifies this more than Blighttown, a rickety village built on top of a toxic lake. The entire area is comprised of dilapidated wooden shacks, hastily lashed together with whatever makeshift tools the inhabitants could find. As you pass through, the miserable residents who have made this diseased world their home attempt to fend you off.

At the very bottom of Blighttown, after wading through the noxious swamp, you encounter a hidden wall. Behind this secret lies an enormous, dying tree and a treacherous path down through it’s hollowed trunk. Inside you encounter demonic basilisks that can curse you and bizarre, giant mushroom men that literally crush you with their bodies.

It took me forever to descend through this misery known as the Great Hollow. The aforementioned Basilisks can apply a curse to you, probably the most frustrating mechanic in the entire game. This curse reduces your maximum HP, stacks multiple times and can only be removed by a limited item. Once you run out of that item, you cannot remove the curse, even by dying. As you can imagine, this creates a slippery slope where the more cursed you are, the less HP you have, the harder it is to continue. In addition, the mushroom men are unusually strong for this point in the game, harboring enormous health pools that took multiple minutes to take down.

The most depressing part of all of this is the decent. There is no known goal at the top of the mountain that you can use as motivation. Instead, you are descending forever, moving further and further from the safety of the surface. The layout makes it impossible to see the bottom, so you never know when the struggle will end. The entire atmosphere is a suffocating web of rotting roots and winding branches. Sen’s Fortress was punishingly hard, but this was a completely different type of despair.

After what seemed like an eternity, I finally made my way to the bottom. By this point, I was super depressed, confronted with the drab, dark atmosphere you would expect from being miles underground. Then I exited the base of the tree and saw Ash Lake.

Everything about Ash Lake defies expectations. Vertically, this is the lowest point in Dark Souls, so you would expect something appropriately dark and gloomy. Instead, you are greeted by a vast, open beach with an ocean as far as the eye can see. The non-existent music of the Great Hollow is replaced by a haunting choral arrangement. In the horizon you can glimpse the silhouettes of hundreds of other trees similar to the one you just descended. How is there even light? It’s an incredible juxtaposition from the claustrophobic environment you just exited. When I first saw Ash Lake, all the frustration that had been building up within me melted away into awe.

In a vacuum, the graphics don’t stand out as particularly visually impressive. What really makes it memorable is the path you take to reach it. The tremendous struggle immediately preceding Ash Lake is what amplifies the beauty beyond plain, good looking art. The ironic part of all of this is that Ash Lake is a completely optional part of the game and provides almost no in-game benefits. There’s a few minor crafting items and a huge dragon NPC to talk to, but otherwise there is nothing of significance. No amazing weapon or item to justify the brutal journey. Only a beautiful stretch of beach to sit and reflect upon.

Conclusion

Simply put, the beauty of Dark Souls goes far beyond the actual game. It resonates with you on a deep, emotional level, creating an immersive experience that sticks with you long after you’ve finished playing. It’s a truly fantastic game that anyone who loves games should definitely play.

tldr; If you haven’t played Dark Souls yet you are a noob and need to go play it.