This issue of my newsletter comes to you largely while simultaneously playing Animal Crossing and Teamfight Tactics. Having new games really has helped with staving off the pandemic boredom, so yay video games! Also, it turns out my domain was misconfigured which caused my first two emails to end up in some people’s spam folders — whoops! I managed to track down the problem, so this one should arrive in everyone’s inboxes.
Shortly after I hit ‘send’ last week, the COVID-19 response took an interesting turn. Washington announced that all restaurants and bars were to be closed, only allowing deliveries and takeout, and it seems like other places across North America followed suit. The Bay Area took took the most drastic move of any US municipality, enforcing sheltering in place for at least three weeks.
I made the trek into the outside world earlier in the week to pick up takeout, and there was virtually nobody else walking around. The roads around Bellevue Square seemed like a quiet suburban neighbourhood at 4pm on a Tuesday. Nearly every business had hastily-printed fliers on their doors listing their reduced hours or announcing temporary closure altogether. (Side note: having allergies at this time is terrible, since it makes you look and feel like you’re sick.) OpenTable has started to maintain a site where they compare the year-over-year reservations on their platform, and the numbers are very alarming. Given that restaurants are a very low-margin business, it seems inevitable that there are going to be some closures after all of this, which is a huge shame.
Working from home gave me a convenient excuse to upgrade some of my home office setup. Now that I seem to have committed to making this newsletter a weekly thing (two points forms a trendline, right?), I decided to use it as an
excuse opportunity to buy yet another mechanical keyboard. I wanted to set my iPad on my coffee table to use as a dedicated writing device, and rest a keyboard on my lap while sitting on my couch. Anything I can do to make it a nicer experience to write will improve the chances of keeping this newsletter going.
There aren’t too many wireless mechanical keyboards on the market, so it didn’t take me too long to settle on the Keychron K2. I would have loved to try out the K6 (the 65% format is appealing for even greater portability), but I didn’t have the patience to wait until after April for preorders to ship, so I went ahead and ordered a K2 with Gateron Brown switches.
This setup works really well! After flip-flopping between my multitude of iCloud-syncing text editors, I decided to go back to Bear, since it just feels really clean on both macOS and iPadOS. I did run into a couple issues (that other people have too) namely, invoking Spotlight or the app switcher doesn’t work while inside an app, and switching apps occasionally causes Caps Locks to trigger. Other Command-key shortcuts work just fine, so it’s almost certainly a bug in iPadOS. The convenience of having a proper wireless keyboard more than makes up for these shortcomings, though, and I find writing a lot more satisfying with a nice clicky keyboard.
The other improvement I made to make working at home nicer was getting an ultrawide monitor. At the office, I like to use a two monitor setup: I have a main monitor centred on my desk, and one off to the side oriented vertically, where I keep things like my email and work chat open to stay on top of notifications. I think this works well at work, but when at home I prefer having a single, large monitor so that my focus can stay centred (I also feel the windowing system on macOS favours “one big monitor” over multi-monitor setups).
Since I’ve been spoiled by Retina displays, I only like using monitors with HiDPI support. Up until now, I had been using the Dell P2415Q, and I upgraded to the LG 34WK95U-W, which is effectively a 4K monitor with an extra “slice” on the side to bring the aspect ratio from 16:9 to 21:9. I was hesitant at first because there were apparently problems with my model of MacBook Pro not being able to drive the monitor at its native resolution, but I can confirm that on macOS 10.15.3, it works 99% of the time (sometimes when waking from sleep the resolution is funky, but restarting seems to fix this). Now I have enough screen real estate for Tweetbot on the left side of my screen, my primary app in the centre, and an auxiliary app on the right side, which is exactly what I was looking for!
As alluded to in the introduction, the majority of my non-work waking hours this week have been spent playing the new Teamfight Tactics set and Animal Crossing: New Horizons. These games perfectly complement one another; after getting 8th place from terrible RNG in TFT, I can take a break and do some chores on Null Island (my not-so-creative Animal Crossing island name).
Alongside the release of this set was the release of TFT on iOS and Android, which is super exciting because it marks Riot’s entry into the mobile space (critics may disagree with me, but I don’t consider Blitzcrank’s Poro Roundup a full-fledged Riot title). I was disappointed when I learned it wasn’t iPad-optimized (I was looking forward to playing it on the couch), but I realized that not having a keyboard is a pretty large disadvantage at later stages in the game, when you are aggressively rolling for the units you need.
The reason I was looking forward to this set so much was that I grew bored of Set 2 extremely quickly. The problem was that Set 2 was missing the wow factor that was present in the original TFT. Seeing a Draven pop off was a lot more satisfying than winning by spreading Infernal tiles everywhere, or having a mass of summoned minions. So far, this set has not disappointed. I think Riot made really good design choices, with legendary units being extremely powerful for their cost, and making 3-star epic units almost as overpowered as legendaries, giving an alternate win condition.
As an aside, I find it quite amusing how two of the most popular game genres right now stemmed from fan-made mods of existing games. Teamfight Tactics and other auto-battlers follow in the footsteps of Auto Chess (a mod of Dota 2), and Fortnite and other battle royale games have their origins in Hunger Games mods for Minecraft and DayZ, a mod of ARMA 2. It goes to show that it doesn’t necessarily take a massive AAA game studio to create an enticing game experience — just a great idea, creativity, and passion for game design.
I’ve only had Animal Crossing for three days at this point, but it’s been a ton of fun as well, for precisely the opposite reasons that make TFT so much fun! Surprisingly, this is my first Animal Crossing game; the closest game I played as a kid was probably Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life on the GameCube, which if I recall correctly, I plucked out of one of those bulk $20 game bins at Toys “R” Us. It seems like my Twitter timeline this weekend went from 100% pandemic talk to 70% pandemic talk and 30% Animal Crossing screenshots, which is honestly awesome. In this time of being trapped at home, I feel like we can all use a deserted island life simulator to remember what the outdoors is like.
I’m purposely taking the game slowly and not doing any trickery to progress the in-game days any faster, in the hopes that I don’t burn out of it too early. So far, though, it’s very charming, and it’s been a lot of fun connecting with other friends playing and visiting their islands. Fun, except of course for the fact that Nintendo managed to yet again inject their “terrible online play DNA” into the game, making playing with other people nearly cumbersome enough to deter you from trying to do it at all.
If it wasn’t bad enough that you have to do about 30 seconds of menu-ing at the airport to confirm that you want to visit a friend’s island (not to mention the fact that the dialogue options default to local rather than online multiplayer), anytime you or anyone else arrives or leaves an island, everyone on the island is forced to watch a 30 second cutscene. Obviously this is Nintendo’s way of masking the time spent downloading the island’s data and making sure all peers are connected, but surely it could have been implemented in a more elegant manner.
Disregarding all of the shortcomings of the online gameplay (as Nintendo fans are well accustomed to), Animal Crossing is excellent. I’m not currently playing any MMORPGs, so it’s filled my need to complete dailies. Hopefully next time I write, Null Island will be a bustling place.
Thank you for reading, and stay safe out there everyone!