The Lost Reviews – Big Pharma

19 10 2016

big-pharma (twice circled - 2015)

You know when you played Theme Hospital (assuming you did, because, you know; why wouldn’t you?), did you ever think to yourself: “I could be doing so much more here, why don’t I leave the life of being a Hospital CEO and go into Pharmaceutical Production?” Well chances are that you thought no such thing as for one; Theme Hospital was a game, not real life or an RPG, and for two; you were really quite content with the game you were playing at the time. If it were the case though that one day while playing Theme Hospital and you actually thought the above statement, well now you can – not in Theme Hospital, but in a game that focuses on the production of Medicine based products.

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Big Pharma (produced by Twice Circled) is a game where you the player are managing director of a pharmaceutical company. You start your company off with a small brightly coloured interior warehouse and a few inventions and ingredients at your disposal to which you can use to create cures for illnesses. All you need to do is put these assets into production and sell sell sell.

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Game play is very simple; in your empty warehouse you need to use one of the holes in the wall to import an ingredient, and then use machines at your disposal to meet certain requirements before either finishing off the ingredient mixture or upgrading it to be a cure for something else. Once that is done, you need to turn the current ingredient into a manufactured cure by putting it through a pill maker, and then transport it to another hole in the wall to name it and sell it. Later options at your disposal include creaming the drugs instead of selling them as pills, and even packing them. The game though is not as easy as it sounds as machines, conveyor belts and equipment take up space (turning it into a mini puzzle game in the process) and you have a limited area, plus in some cases are required to create a catalyst in order for some cures to be upgraded. The game though is not all about Medication Manufacturing, as it’s also a part business and research sim. You will be required to hire explorers and researchers to discover new ingredients and new machinery, while at the same time use their down time to provide you with upgrade points. At the same time however, you need to be concerning yourself with making money too, as production costs can be quite astronomical, and your company is in competition with others.

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Big Pharma is a nicely animated little game. The game graphics are nicely detailed, but not too detailed so can work on most machines without a fuss. The Animation though is superb. It can be quite mesmerizing watching the ingredients progress along the conveyor belts, changing form and colour as machines work on them, and watching the machines work is a nice little added extra, and comes with a form of animation very similar I find to that of Theme Hospital. Watching the water boil in the Dissolver, or seeing ingredients pulped in the Agglomerator, working their way down the production line and being made into either pills or as a cream. It’s really fun to watch and nice little bits like that really help this game to provide a detailed experience.

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The game; all be it relatively fun and still pretty unique, does have its short comings. For one, I like the idea of creating a production line, but the production line does seem to be rather slow, I did not know that Conveyor belts started and stopped every second, I thought they just kept going? It can take a while for the process to complete and when you need money fast, but the conveyors only move at one speed (which is sort of move and stop, move and stop), or the other cases where you are trying to reach a deadline in the game’s objectives mode, it can be very annoying. You can of course speed things up with the mystical speed change options in the bottom left of the screen, but you may as well just keep it up at full speed in that case just to speed up the game and make the conveyors more realistic. The objectives are not bad and it is pretty fun going through each one, just to give you something to do in the game, but with your mind on reaching a certain objective, you may as well ignore everything else in the game, and concentrate on what you need to do rather than what else you could be doing. Then once you have done enough and or have reached your goal, you do have the option of getting a better score than the basic score which is a nice added add-on, but by this point you may as well just speed up the game in places or end the level just to be done with it and do something else.

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Most of the cures you make can be upgraded relatively quickly on, but they require the use of machines you have not unlocked yet, in which case I found myself spending time and money in researching the things I needed each time before sending anything in production, just to be able to give the game the best I could. The other thing though is the Catalysts. The game comes with a very comprehensive tutorial mode which is very descriptive and also very fun, but each time I tried to do a catalyst in the real game, I would not achieve it. Making catalysts is supposed to be hard, but when you are doing everything right, the catalyst still does not make itself, and it can be very annoying, especially as sometimes you need that upgraded cure to move on.

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Big Pharma is one of these Production line games that have begun to make a real appearance in the industry along with other games like Factorio. Making a production line is a good fun idea and when combined with making product to sell turns the game not just into a factory based game but also a resources and economic game, where you need to concentrate on not just making a good product but also turning a profit. I like that idea, and when combined with the games look, idea and animation, it makes a good fit that is at least to begin with a fun game to play. But as the game progresses and its short comings come to light, it becomes a game that I was once excited to play but now don’t really see a future for. Maybe I like my games with a little more realism in its depictions of production, but for its slow speed, but also relatively pointless extras during its objective based gameplay, I feel that this game was once fun, but then just ended.

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GENEPOOL





Sam’s Rant – I Am Holding Down Triangle!

29 04 2015

Far Cry 3

Recently, I have been replaying Far Cry 3 on my PS3. It’s been an enjoyable experience, replaying one of my absolute favourite games and re-experiencing the story and re-interacting with the characters along with the fun of exploration, hunting, crafting and of course; shooting bad guys. There is one thing however that really perturbs me: Healing.

Far Cry 3 Syringe

Healing is a very important thing of course. I can’t possibly count the number of times I have found myself in combat and needing to heal because I (as in the character I am playing) am losing health. Most of the time, when it comes to healing, all I need to do is hold down the triangle button and I either perform self first aid on myself or more likely stab myself with a healing syringe in the arm. Healing myself though for the benefit of staying alive is not the thing that perturbs me about healing; it’s being asked to hold down triangle when I already am holding down triangle to heal myself when in a certain situation of needing to heal. This usually comes in the form of me being on fire.

Far Cry 3 Fire

Fire is something that is hard to miss in this game, especially when so many villainous characters carry around Molotov Cocktails and Flamethrowers, as well as the number of fires in camps which I always end up walking past that burn me, but not the other characters for some unexplained/unexplored reason.  Anyway, in the cases that I find myself on fire, I instantly know this fact and hold down triangle to heal myself/put out the fire. At this point though the game tells me to hold down triangle to put out the fire. As I am already holding down triangle to heal myself from being on fire, I would assume the game would automatically do what it is prompting me about. Unfortunately however, it does not and so to put the fire out on me, I have to release triangle and hold down again.

PS3 Controller

So, I am on fire, and cannot heal when it tells me to put out the fire; and when you are in the middle of a firefight with a bunch of guys who probably prefer it that you are on fire, and therefore lose health; it’s probably not all that helpful prompting me to do things even though I am already doing that thing in the first place, but still require me being told to do and redo that in order to heal myself and no longer be on fire, and not do that until I do so. It’s a complicated issue, and one that being kind of obvious happening to you, even if it is not actually real, you should be able to do without being prompted to do it. So, being the case, as the game is made, I cannot possibly count the number of times I have found myself in a firefight and mildly shouting under breath at the game saying “I am holding down triangle!”, but still have to redo all of it to accomplish it. It’s sort of like finding yourself in a situation where you have a broken leg and need to ring for an Ambulance, which you do, but then get prompted by some text in front of your eyes (or maybe more likely someone passing you by telling you that you should ring for an Ambulance) telling you to ring for an Ambulance and then not able to ring for the Ambulance (even though you already are) until you ring for an Ambulance.

UK Ambulance

Anyway, I completed Far Cry 3 for the second time on Sunday and so for the time being I don’t necessarily have to worry about holding down triangle whenever I get burned by a camp fire.

Far Cry 3 AK-47

GENEPOOL (While I do consider this one of my favourite games, this is not the first time I have raised a complaint about it).





My Big Cuddly Friend – My Neighbour Totoro

15 04 2015

My Neighbour Totoro (Studio Ghibli - 1988)

When I was young, I had a lot of Teddy Bears. I loved each one of them and can remember taking them days out with me including the zoo, and on holiday. I still have my Teddy Bears, plus two lovely cats, one of which I have nicknamed Teddy Bear due to how big and cuddly she is. But just imagine that you move into a new house, and in the forest there is a large, and very fury cuddly creature; how would you react? Well, how else, other than give it an extremely large hug.

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Directed by Hayao Miyazaki and produced by Studio Ghibli; My Neighbour Totoro is a Japanese animated film originally released in 1988, about a couple of girls who go on a series of mini adventures, along with a big fury creature called Totoro. While this being a Japanese film, the one being reviewed here is an English Dub release (as that is the one I recorded on Film4).

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Set in the recent history, the film opens with father; Tatsuo Kusakabe (Shigesato Itoi,  Tim Daly) and his two children; Satsuki (Noriko Hidaka, Dakota Fanning) and Mei (Chika Sakamoto, Elle Fanning) moving house. They say a quick hello to a young boy named Kanta (Toshiyuki Amagasa, Paul Butcher) and his family next door before they arrive at their new home. Tatsuo starts to unload into the house while Satsuki and Mei explore their new home. At first they are interested in the discovery of acorns in one of the rooms to which their father suggests could be because of Squirrels. The girls go into the bathroom and first floor to discover dust like creatures moving into the rafters. A local woman who cleans the house called Granny (Tanie Kitabayashi, Pat Carroll) suggests that she used to see them when she was young, and that the dust creatures might move out; to which they do late that night. Satsuki and Mei along with their father go to the hospital the following day to see their mother (Sumi Shinamoto, Lea Salonga) who is recovering there; in which along the way they spot Kanta again who pulls faces at Satsuki.

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The next day, when Satsuki is at school, Mei plays on her own and sees a strange white creature in the garden. She follows it, but loses it, only to spot it again along with a similar blue creature. She follows them into the forest and finds a large, grey, fury creature of the same kind. She calls it Totoro (Hitoshi Takagi, Frank Welker) guessing from what the creature roars, before she falls asleep on its belly. Satsuki returns home, only to discover Mei has gone missing, finding her sleeping in a cluster of trees. Mei tries to show her family the Totoro, but when she looks for it, she cannot find it. Her father tells her that she may have seen a forest spirit, which only appears when it wants to. He takes her and Satsuki to a tree nearby to say hello and thank you before Satsuki writes the first in a series of letter’s to her mum.

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The next day, while Tatsuo is at work and Satsuki at school, Mei is looked after by Granny. In the same class as Satsuki is Kanta and while in class Satsuki spots Mei. The class teacher allows Mei to join the class where she draws a picture of Totoro. That afternoon, they walk home and it begins to rain, stopping on the way by a little shrine. Kanta comes along and offers them his Umbrella before running away. The sisters later on travel to the bus stop to give their dad his umbrella. At the bus stop, Mei starts to fall asleep and while Satsuki keeps her dry under the umbrella, Totoro turns up. Satsuki gives him his umbrella, to which he rather enjoys playing with. He then disappears on a bus that is also a 12 legged cat (Naoki Tatsuta, Frank Welker), giving the girls a little present in the form of acorns, which Mei plants.

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A few nights later, Totoro and the other animals are in the garden performing a ceremonial dance, to which the girls go out to join them. Totoro makes the acorn seeds grow into a giant tree, where the girls and the animals play instruments and enjoy their time with Totoro. The following morning the acorn trees have begun to sprout. While helping Granny one afternoon; the girls receive a telegram which tells them that there is a problem with their mum’s treatment. This leads to an argument between Satsuki and a disappointed Mei. Mei decides to take some corn to the hospital to make her mum feel better, to which end, she goes missing. Granny, Kanta, their family and Satsuki start looking for her, but do not get much luck in finding her. Satsuki goes to the tree in their garden where Mei first saw Totoro, asking him to help find her. Totoro calls the cat bus which takes Satsuki straight to Mei. Once finding her, the bus takes both sisters to the hospital where they see their father with mum who is actually alright. They watch their parents from the tree before secretly putting the corn on the window. Their mother says she thought she saw them there, before seeing the inscription on the corn. The cat bus then takes Mei and Satsuki home, where Granny is happy to see Mei safe as the cat bus disappears from view. As the credits roll, it shows the girls mum coming home, plus what they, Totoro and friends get up to, following the end of the film.

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My Neighbour Totoro is a brilliant film. I watched this film last week and couldn’t help but cry at the end credits. I was just so happy and loved what this film was and what it was about. My Neighbour Totoro is a brilliant piece of animation, it’s art style is one that ranks above many films released since then but also shows how traditional cartoon/paper based animation still has advantages over more digitally made films in the current forms. It is also a very colourful film and uses many different colours to not only show and define but also to represent. But these colours are not at all dark; it’s actually a very brightly colourful film and only appears at a real dark point during the night time scenes or inside a dark room. The film is mostly used shown in a day time perspective and allows the colours to flourish as a result of this. This use of colour really makes the film standout but also makes it more appealing and represents the mood of the film quite well.

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The film’s story is actually rather simple, but is one of its more alluring qualities. Throughout this film I was trying to predict what was going to happen. I was thinking all the time about plot directions, but none of them happened. What is given instead is a nice pleasant setting mixed with something a little different. The film in essence is about a couple of girls who move into a new home, which just happens to be next door to a forest occupied by some magical creatures. That’s it. It’s not the case of some girls who get lost in a forest and are helped out by the creatures, nor is it the case that the animals are threatened and the girls help them out. It’s none of those either. It’s just the case that a couple of young girls make some amazing new friends in the local wildlife. I did partially wonder if the story of the ill mother was going to lead in the direction of A Monster Calls with either the mother dying or the animals helping her get better. No, it’s just an incredibly pleasant film where new friends are made in a brand new place, sort of a combination of what happens when Imagination meets Exploration.

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Then film’s characters are brilliantly done with each one doing their part for the film in their own particular way. The film’s main cast is actually rather small, while there are other minor characters dotted around the place. The character of Granny at first looks like just an ordinary; maybe stereotypical grandmother, like character, but she is very knowledgeable of the area she lives in and comes highly respected. She is also very pleasant and supportive instead of cruel or strict. Her beliefs keep those around her going but also inspire them too. Her caring and supportive side comes as a relief to those around her, particularly Satsuki. The girl’s mother is something of an emotional background weight for the girls, but it’s not necessarily her presence on-screen but off-screen that character carries. The girls go through the struggle and worry about their mother’s illness but their mother’s positivity helps to uplift them. However the struggle for the girls causes an element of friction to them, more so for the film’s later moment. The mother’s sudden illness at the end really pushes a moment for all those around her, particularly the girls. While she is mostly something of an idea and more towards a minor character, the mother is actually more a plot carrier which eventually comes to a head. The father meanwhile is shown as being a lot of fun as well as caring for his daughters. His strong will and exterior is that of being supportive as well as possibly distractive for his daughters to their mother’s issue. The father is also really enthusiastic for legends and beliefs of the area and distils that into the girls by taking them to the tree and while unsure of what the girls see by mentioning Totoro does somewhat believe them. However his open exterior does bring up the pondering issue of how he is feeling regarding his wife. While he is strong for the girls given what everyone is going through, it does make you wonder what he is feeling inside. That’s one of the film’s most interesting achievements, the point that you really do care towards the feeling of its characters.

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Kanta is a strange character. It is obvious of note that he is actually quite shy but tries to hide it through being mischievous and possibly obnoxious. He is however very caring but doesn’t want anybody to know. His place in the lives of the girls starts off with his shyness towards them and continues to be quite withdrawn from them. But he does begin to warm to them slowly but gradually. Beginning with him giving them an umbrella to walk in the rain with, but then turning against his actions to help out the girls when he can after their mother gets sick, by this point he is warming to them, but is still rather shy around them though. Kanta as such is one of the more shy/secretive characters of the film.

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The film though really hangs on the characters of Mei and Satsuki. Mei is young and playful and it’s through her exploration and interest which leads to the discovery of Totoro. She loves those around her and likes playing with her sister in particular. She is however also rather boisterous and moody, which can lead her into troubling situations. Being young though it could be seen as a lack of understanding for her mother’s situation, something that comes to light as she gets more sick. Her relationship with her older sister is strong, but possibly too strong and due to a lack of people her age around, she does struggle coping without her. But here is a level of animosity towards Mei from Satsuki, which comes out when Satsuki shouts at her. Mei though is also rather headstrong and while she feels it unfair that her mother cannot come home yet, her attitude and love for wanting her to get better, plus the corn she got from Granny leads her to getting lost on the way to the hospital, however the desire for her mother to get better is inspirational enough to attempt it. Satsuki meanwhile is not simply a big sister; she is more grown up than that. She presents the feeling that school is something of a release to her as she has become something more of a carer to Mei rather than just her sister. While she is presented as a head strong, playful and rather mature person, there is also a level of vulnerability in that too. While caring for her sister plus writing letters to her mother keeps her hopeful and headstrong, she eventually breaks down as what she truly thinks and feels comes flooding out. She feels very responsible for the things she does and the people round her, but in turn she does drown a little from within. While initially jealous of Mei for seeing Totoro, she too gets to see Totoro later on and helps him out, which leads her to come to trust his abilities, which in turns helps her find Mei and becomes a stronger person thanks to those experiences.

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For me though, the film’s best characters are its non-human characters. The characters of the forest creatures were introduced in a rather interesting way, as they weren’t stumbled upon but more rather suggested. From the films early moments as the soot creatures appear to the sounds of something upstairs leaving acorns behind. While the soot creatures do have a short time onscreen, their early introduction suggests there being something else too. This would eventually come to Mei discovering them, rather than really stumbling upon them. The first sighting is actually rather fun. Mei discovering the small white creature, it running under the house, but then appearing behind her with another one leading the way (one of the film’s best moments). The 2 creatures are rather cute and a bit silly in design, but also very adorable. The 12 legged cat bus is a rather interesting idea but adds to the mystery of the creatures. It is very cat-like in nature and looks as cuddly as the other creatures.

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Unlike the case of other creature based films, the creature of Totoro does appear rather soon, but it means as an audience member; we can get to know him and his friends (almost personally). While his name is in the film title, he does not spend all that much time on-screen. While Tatsuo does suggest that they only appear when they want to be seen, it is also the opposite, them appearing when the girls need some accompaniment. Totoro and the other two smaller ones are actually very friendly and playful but also caring and respectful. When Satsuki is waiting with a sleeping Mei at the bus stop, Totoro appears. While he does catch a bus in the end, he just stands there, but gives Satsuki something to think about but also have someone around, even if they do not talk much. Totoro is also rather silly, something shown at the bus stop when he likes to hear the rain come down on his umbrella.

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Totoro though does show something of the unknown secrets of the world. His own forest friends show an element of variety of the creatures yet to be discovered, as well as those in dreams and fantasies, such as the 12 legged cat. He is not just a creature though, but a caring and respectful friend. When he is given an umbrella, he repays the girls with a present to say thank you, he then helps them to grow the tree by taking them on a mini adventure during the night which leads to an enjoyable time for all. With the new friendship in him from the girls, he grows to care for them and helps in the search for Mei by asking his forest friends to help out. His caring for nature and mystical tradition also shows with him taking part in the ceremonial dance to help grow the acorn tree. While they are all still rather mysterious, their onscreen presence makes them the most enjoyable, defining characteristic of the film, making it so happy and lovely to watch. For the entire film, I was just wanting to jump in a cuddle them; even more so after the film ended. The little kid in me wanted to go on an adventure with them. I just wanted the good feelings the creatures bring to come into my world.

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My Neighbour Totoro makes great use of its music, composed by Joe Hisaishi. The soundtrack though is rather hard to talk about, mostly because it’s easy to join in with and the minute I start thinking about it, I start wanting to sing it. The opening song is nice and cheery and sets the film up rather nicely; starting as it means to go on as it were. It’s a joyous piece as is most of the film’s music. The final piece though stands out the most to me. It’s a catchy song featuring the titular character’s name. As said before, it’s hard for me to talk about it, as I would rather just listen to it instead. The soundtrack is really terrific and will want you to sing along to it, take my word for it, it’s worthy of listening to, even if you don’t watch the film.

All round, I love this film, I really do. I feel like this could easily make its way up in my favourite films listings. I haven’t seen much in the way of films this year, having only gone to the cinema twice this year, but My Neighbour Totoro is better than (Insurgent and Seventh Son) both of them. I have already begun highly recommending this film to all my friends, and started searching for a DVD copy too. This could well become my movie moment of the year, I loved it that much. While it does look basic and is probably more designed for a children’s audience, I feel it is enjoyable for absolutely everyone. Its animation and artistry is fantastic; the music is catchy and enjoyable; the characters, both human and non-human are terrific and brilliant; basically everything about this film is sheer Fantastic and one that everyone, and I mean everyone should watch at least once. I already look forward to the next time I see it, hopefully with people to share it with. I don’t know how much more I can say other than, My Neighbour Totoro is a Great Film starring the cuddliest, most helpful, wonderful friends; quite possibly, in the history of cinema.

GENEPOOL (now just need to see how it compares in the Japanese speaking version).





I Am Not Cut Out For Space Exploration

1 04 2015

Space Planet

Recently I have been playing FTL: Faster Than Light on Steam. It is a rather fun game. It’s sort of a cross between a puzzle game and an RTS (Real Time Strategy) intermixed with the subject of space exploration. I quite like it and continue to play it, but it has taught me one important thing; and that is that I am not cut out for space exploration (even though the likelihood of me receiving the opportunity of going up into space in the first place is very unlikely).

FTL

Now basing such a statement on a video game could be seen as something of a rash statement, but here is why I think that. When I got it; it made me think of games like Evil Genius in terms of its internal look, as in the ships in FTL looks like the lair design in Evil Genius. I liked the idea of doing something similar to Star Trek or possibly Firefly (Even though I have not seen Firefly and do not consider myself a Star Trek Fan, even though I have watched the occasional episode of Next Generation and occasionally Voyager). Just the idea of going through space, exploring it and controlling the aspects of my ship while engaged in specific situations.

Space Shuttle

The thing is, for many years I have calculated that I would more than likely go insane if I went into space. Just the idea of being somewhere that I would not exactly consider safe, but also being left to drift in space, even if I was in a ship or station. But it’s from playing FTL that I came to the conclusion of the earlier statement. While I have begun to improve through understandings of previous missions that have all gone belly up, even so much to the point of me having yet to clear the first stage of galaxies (I have unlocked the second ship; The Torus, even though it is a pretty pointless ship) my planning and reactions in the heat of the situation usually lead me to defeat. Some of these though can come down to me causing the issues from bad planning and excessively opening the doors. When an intruder is on board, or in more common occurrences, a fire breaks out, my first plan is to cordon off the areas where my ship’s crew are, and then open the doors into space to suck out the oxygen. It works mostly, but eventually people break through the doors. When an intruder is on board though, I usually stick as much of my crew as I can, in the medical bay so that when the intruders get there, my crew get healed quickly. These ideas though don’t work all the time and sometimes my crew will die trying to put the fire out as the doors are broken and me having to regularly send them to the medical bay before they die. Unless of course the medical bay is damaged and needs fixing, or the oxygen is cut off.

Kestrel

Other cases though include my willingness to fight ships to gain resources off them and denying them surrender in the hope of getting more resources off them. Eventually this has led to complete destruction, uncontrollable fires, intruders on board and oxygen leaks. The number of dead Kestrel spaceships that must be floating through space thanks to me must be astronomical. While my learning of these situations has led me to the point that I need to upgrade what systems I can to expect these situations, I need to show restraint when given the opportunity to fight, as well as let them surrender every now and then.

Kestrel In Space

I don’t know if FTL is how space exploration works or not, but given that I am playing it on easy mode and I have met failure on several occasions, I can quite confidently say; that I am not cut out for Space Exploration.

Space Planets

GENEPOOL








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