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Night in the Woods: Brilliant indie game you should try

Wish I’d played it sooner!

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I know, I know. It’s been over a year since the first release of Night in the Woods, but if you need little bit more than just a release and a trailer to give an indie game a try, let me tell you here and now: This game deserves to be on your must-play list and I’ll tell you why in this review.

Night in the Woods has been nominated for many awards since its release and to this day, has been earning critics’ and players’ acclaim for its story and design. It won the Writing in a Comedy award at the National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewers Awards and has recently rightfully earned Excellence in Narrative at the Independent Games Festival Competition Awards at the Game Developer’s Conference this year.

The game’s design is charmingly simplistic, the music score is unforgettable, and the cryptic story line leaves you wanting more; but when you sink your teeth into it, it will leave you feeling strangely reflective. If you let it, this game will stick to you even long after you’ve finished playing.

What will pull you in

Whether you’ve installed the game with high expectations or none at all, the game will stun you with its characters. In Night in the Woods, you play as Mae, a college drop-out who returns to her hometown, Possum Springs. Her return shifts the dynamic the town has sustained since she left for school.

And, that’s not all. When you explore the world of Possum Springs, you not only reunite with family and reignite your friendships, but you also slowly encounter strange ambiguous pieces of darkness hidden within the town.

There are a lot of mysteriously vague loose storylines at the beginning that come at you when you start off talking to people in the town. The game begins with you in a bus stop having left college behind. When Mae comes back to the town, she’s forced to walk back home — her father forgets the day she’d be back. You wander off the next day to meet her friends only to find one of them, Casey, missing.

That’s a striking contrast to the most charming part of the game which is the characters. From broad-daylight stargazing with your high school professor; to late-night diner adventures with friends; to spending time by the train tracks with a new-found friend, Night in the Woods will tug at your heartstrings with its earnest characters.

Subtleties that pull at heartstrings

Night in the Woods will reel you in with stunningly reflective moments wherein characters develop into intimate conversations. How much they tell you of their story will depend on how often you converse and hang out with them every day.

It’s good to note though that there’s more to just talking to your three friends. While playing, I highly recommend wandering around the town. The game gives you so much time and space to wander about and if anything, this is what makes this game amazing.

You can wander outside the area, hop around rooftops, and make new friends. The town definitely changes day after day and you’ll find yourself meeting surprising characters if you’re meticulous enough to notice.

Slow-paced but beautifully so

You’ll realize quickly that this game is not as action-packed as most and it can feel a bit of a drag once you get used to the town. I found myself struggling to care when I began playing but over time, I’d gotten hooked. Much to the title’s credit though, it puts so much effort on the little subtle stories within the town. You can really notice the time and effort put into the game’s storyboard and it pays off.

If you’re feeling a bit bored from the general routine you’ve built in the game, that’s fine. This may be a sign you should visit parts of the town you didn’t know you could. Even when you’re told to not do things, it’s fine to jump on reckless parts of the town — maybe even hop on the electric wires even after being told not to.

Fun games within the game

Luckily, if you’re not feeling like talking to your friends or people in the town, there are mini-games within the main title that might suck you deeper into the game. I can take back the lack of action in Night in the Woods with the mini-game, Demon Tower. It’s an arcade hack ‘n’ slash game that’s installed into Mae’s laptop where you can also have her chat with friends.

This game is addictive, and sometimes too much so, that you forget you’re in another game — game-ception, I swear.

Another mini-game you can play is a music rhythm game with your bass in Mae’s room. Mae plays the bass and aside from getting to play during practice with your friends, you get to practice in your room whenever you feel like mastering a song before performing with your friends. This one was a bit of a challenge to play on a controller — here we go with excuses again. But, really.

This game is properly tough and challenging so if you manage to perfect every song I send you all of my undoubted respect.

What reels you back into it

If you think you’re beginning to lose interest in the game, it dumps you straight back into the plot. There are moments that stick out when you go about your daily life and you think the game has had its run. Then, something happens and it kicks you back into the seeping darkness that lurks in the town. It brings you straight back into the main plot after allowing you to explore the town for a while.

There is something wrong with the town and you learn that through Mae’s dreams and little hints while you speak with people in the town. There are instances that characters around you begin to have a resounding sense of resignation to the growing troubles of the place. This, more than anything, had me running around every inch of the town being straight-up investigative and borderline paranoid.

Tears through real-world dilemmas

Night in the Woods deals with a lot of real-life and relatable subjects. From the struggles to have ends meet with financials, the wearing friendship due to unresolved jealousy, the existential crises wrapping itself around you day after day, and even the honest urge to leave the town to start anew. Much of the game is wonderfully written and it manages to throw hilarious lines from beginning to end, without making anything that happens in the world feel out of place.

You can undoubtedly feel for each character in what they’re going through and that is pretty ballsy to say seeing as most of the characters in the game are anthropomorphic animals. Night in the Woods is just an overall well-thought-out game. No character feels forced. Even in many cases, you have a false sense of control of Mae when she talks since you control her dialogue.

But, that doesn’t stop her from being the pesky brat that she is. Your choices are limited as well, and she will do things you didn’t sign up for. Even I caught myself feeling like there wasn’t much else to do besides watch and laugh at the train-wreck she’s so recklessly created.

Calls for a replay

If you’re a full-fledged completionist, I wish you the best of luck because this game is tough to complete all the achievements for. This game will require a second playthrough and maybe even more. There are so many secrets in the game and looking for them is a bit of a headache. On the bright side, you learn more and more about every single person in the town.

Night in the Woods rewards you with depth when you put the time into playing the game. The game calls for your attention without forcing it upon the player. At first, the ambiguity will frustrate you and will make you feel like creating a limp story behind all the unexplainable hints, but playing it a second time will be refreshing. You won’t run out of spots to explore in the town on your second run. I was genuinely surprised to have missed so many conversations on my first go at the game.

Is this your game match?

This game is undeniably gorgeous. It has characters that you feel for — if not relate to on a deeper level. The story is haunting, the design is stunning, and the music is catchy. It’s a game you should most definitely try out. There are so many parts that stole my heart so quickly. I caught myself relating to every character in the game — even the struggle of missed opportunities.

Although it’s slow-paced when it comes to building back into the main plot, it’s only because it’s space for you to rediscover the town you left behind for college — and that’s great. Even if exploring lore, character build, and clever design bore you over time, that’s perfectly fine. This game is still worth a try. Playing it with a friend will most definitely help.

If you want to give it a go, the game is on Steam for US$ 19.99.

SEE ALSO: Small Talk: A new beautifully engaging indie game

SEE ALSO: God of War: An older Kratos needs a wiser you

24 Hours Series

24 hours in Caramoan

Shot with the Xiaomi Mi 9 SE

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Tucked in the easternmost part of the Philippines, one can find the beautiful Caramoan Islands. Known as the setting for the hit American reality show Survivor, tourists visit this place to rekindle their Survivor dreams.

But Caramoan is more than just a Survivor destination. It’s home to white and pink sand beaches and tropical activities such as diving, swimming, snorkeling, and spelunking. To get to this paradise, you must take a sixteen-hour drive from Manila.

When we arrived, my friends and I opted to do island hopping for one day to see what Caramoan has to offer. I brought the Xiaomi Mi 9 SE — my favorite midrange smartphone this year — to capture my travels for the day.

Perfect summer weather

Caramoan, like other tropical destinations, is prone to rains and storms. Thankfully, we started with a fine, sunny morning. There were no hints of rain clouds and gloomy skies so we were permitted to roam and go on an island hopping tour.

A day won’t start without a selfie. Before we hop on a boat, we took a selfie under the sun to show-off the blue sky, and of course, us.

Tip #1: When in a tropical destination, make sure you’re wearing appropriate yet fashionable clothes. In this case, I wore a yellow tie-dye sleeveless shirt that I can easily take off should I decide to dip into the water.

Contrary to my previous island hopping tour experiences, the view we had here was kinda gloomy. The sea looked silky as it was enveloped by fog, just like a scene taken right out of Pirates of the Caribbean. While my friends were sleepy, I took advantage of taking photographs since the view will be the same for at least half an hour.

Tip #2: If you’re not exhausted, observe and soak up the surroundings. Everything is picture-worthy, only if you know when and how to.

Guinahoan Island

Our first stop was Guinahoan island, where the popular lighthouse is located. You need a ten to fifteen-minute walk before you can reach the summit where a magnificent view awaits.

Tip #3: Never forget your sunblock and if possible, bring a shawl or anything to cover your skin from the harsh sunlight.

I know, I know. We all want to visit the beaches, but this scenic landscape of rolling hills and greenery is too beautiful to give a pass.

Tip #4: There are no trees or any shade so it’s a must to wear your favorite sunglasses whenever you want to have a photo-op.

Of course, there’s a high chance you’ll end up taking the same photos in the same spots with everyone. It’s important to be creative, even when you travel. While I have inspiration for the photos I want to take, it’s best to explore the area and look for a different perspective to be different. As you can see, my friends and I decided to have our photos taken in different spots so our photos wouldn’t look the same.

Tip #5: If you want a fresh take on your Instagram photos, maybe try adding foreground and forget using portrait mode. Swear, it does wonders especially when you have a scenic background.

Manlawi Sandbar

We headed to Manlawi sandbar where we were greeted with floating cottages. This sandbar appears only when it’s low tide, hence, the water is chest-deep for those who are swimming.

Our group rented a cottage — which was part of the packaged tour — where we could eat our packed lunch. We decided to bring reusable plastic containers we have from our homes so we can clean and pack them after. While it’s hard to steer away from plastic use, we did our best to keep the place clean and bring our trash with us wherever we went.

After lunch, we’re ready for another island adventure. Being in a tight space, I wished my phone had a wide-angle selfie meant for group photos like this. Nonetheless, we still tried taking a photo or two with my short arms.

Tip #6: I know selfie sticks are so 2015, but it’s additional safety precaution when taking your photos. Imagine if you accidentally dropped your phone in the water!

While on our way to the next island, I stumbled upon beautiful limestone cliffs and rock formations. Caramoan is like a combination of El Nido and Boracay — filled with limestone cliffs, white and golden fine sand, and blue seas.

Tip #7: Use 2x zoom (or more) to find a suitable frame for a scene you want to capture. It helps especially when the boat is a little bit far for you to take a photo.

Matukad Island

One of my favorites, Matukad Island is a heaven for beach lovers. There’s fine, white sand everywhere, where you’d rather stomp around barefooted and roll over than go back to city pavements. Since this trip is actually a birthday celebration of a friend, we brought Survivor props and played a game.

If I could go back, I’ll be sure to add this island to the itinerary again. I spent a lot of time running around, sitting, and rolling over in the sand. Life is really better at the beach.

This place is majestic, especially during the golden hour. Wherever you look, it’s instagrammable. If taking photos isn’t your thing, you can sit around and ponder about life since it’s peaceful and relaxing.

Tip #8: Wide-angle modes are your friend when it comes to scenic landscapes. Don’t hesitate to use them!

Going back

The sun is going down and we need to get back to the port before the seas get crazy. But before we arrive at the port, the boatman and our guide dropped us off at a small cove with mesmerizing rock formations.

Friendly advice, don’t climb the rocks barefoot. It’s too painful but I endured it to get the pose that I wanted. After twenty minutes, we hopped on the boat to finally go back to the port.

My friends and I were staying in Magindara Guesthouse, a beachfront resort filled with airconditioned cottages to give you that relaxed, tropical vibe. The sand where we stayed at is fine yet brown, but the foamy, bubbly waves compensate. It makes for a perfect profile photo!

Fun nights at Magindara Guesthouse

The sun has finally set and we’re down for a night of drinking and fun moments to cherish. Luckily, the Xiaomi Mi 9 SE can take decent photos using its front and rear cameras. You’ll never miss a moment to capture anymore!

Tip #9: Decent night shots are still a hit or miss. To capture better photos at night, find and lean your angle towards a source of light.

And before everything went south, we asked to take a group photo in front of our boodle fight. The whole experience in Caramoan was fantastic, made even better by my companions and the memories we made.

Caramoan is for the adventurous soul, and it’s a place I would come back to if given the chance. Luckily, the Xiaomi Mi 9 SE was more than enough to capture all the memories of this wonderful trip. I can look back without regrets, and I look forward to the time where I’ll be traveling to this paradise once again.

All photos are taken with the Xiaomi Mi 9 SE.

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Sony WH-XB700 hands-on: Extra bass, extra flex

Great for travels and even OOTDs

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Today’s gadgets are no longer just mere products. A lot have found their way to our daily lifestyle so it’s also important that they look good while we use them. And for others who are more trend-sensitive, these devices should blend well with their outfit and even character — all while doing what it’s supposed to do.

When it comes to headphones, Sony wants to offer something that you can bring anywhere during your travels while looking discreet yet fashionable. This is where the WH-XB700 comes into the picture. On paper, it ticks the boxes of what a casual listener is commonly looking for in headphones plus it’s geared towards those who prefer a bit of extra oomph in their bass.

It has a simple and straightforward design

Eye-catching but not too loud

Available in solid blue or black color options

We dig the blue one better

Soft padding on the earcup makes it comfortable

Has large cups which we like

Body is made of plastic so it’s light on the head

No problem using it for extended periods

Connects wirelessly via Bluetooth or NFC

Although an option to use its 3.5mm jack is available

Built-in microphone for hands-free calls

Can also connect to your phone’s voice assistant

Comes with 360 Reality Audio

Immersing you more in your music

The WH-XB700, among other models in Sony’s audio line, can be paired to your smartphone. And, using the company’s Connect app, you can tweak and customize your sound the way you like it. But as Rodneil mentioned in his WF-1000XM3 review (we know, confusing names), you wouldn’t really end up adjusting your settings that much.

In terms of sound quality, this pair of on-ear headphones deliver clear highs and decent mids. Vocals could be more pronounced but it’s still not bad. The lows, however, are indeed extra punchy. So if you like playing bass-heavy music like house, hip-hop, and the likes, you’d probably enjoy the extra kick in these cans.

Since it’s wireless, it has to connect via Bluetooth which means it has a battery. We’re glad to report that it has a decent battery life that doesn’t require you to keep on looking for sockets just so you could continue to use its wireless capabilities.

I brought it on one of my overseas trips and was able to use it at the airport while waiting to board, during the 4-hour flight, and while walking around for the rest of the entire day with a good amount of juice left when I got back to my hotel.

Charging time is also not bad with up to 90 minutes of music time just from a 10-minute quick charge.

Having the WH-XB700 for a while is basically being able to conveniently listen to your tunes anywhere you go. It doesn’t have the best audio quality in Sony’s lineup but having its flexibility for usage on-the-go sort of outweighs this shortcoming.

They are also light on the head and easy on the ears so fatigue has been kept down to a minimum. You also wouldn’t have to keep on charging it since it could last a few days of moderate usage.

The Sony WH-XB700 currently retails in the Philippines for PhP 7,999 (around US$ 150). It’s not the best wireless headphones we’ve tried on but it’s actually competitively priced for what it offers. Plus, it looks nice and goes well with almost anything you put on.

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Why Instagram is doing the right thing by removing the like count

We need to change this ugly culture we created

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Instagram used to be a space where you can get inspiration to nourish your creativity. It was also a place to connect with people through disappearing photos and videos called Stories. However, the platform took a different turn throughout the years and became an arena — a battlefield where people show off who has the most perfect life.

People started curating their feeds to make them stand out. The age of curation dawned upon Instagrammers, bearing unto the world themes and grids to reflect the user’s personality and aesthetics. Instagram fuelled perfectionism, too.

What used to be a space to share mundane moments of your everyday life became a place where you show your glamorous life which, frankly, only happens every once in a while for most users. Admittedly, I also succumbed to the perfectionism and the pressure. I would post only the photos where I looked like I was having the time of my life. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with putting your best foot forward, right?

Increasing cases of depression and anxiety

Apparently, not everyone thinks the way I do. In a study published in 2017 by the Royal Society for Public Health in the United Kingdom, social media — particularly Instagram — is a major contributor to the increasing cases of depression and anxiety among the youth today. The rise of influencers and other people with seemingly perfect lives made a lot of users feel inadequate.

“What used to be a space to share mundane moments in your everyday life became a place where you show your glamorous life which, frankly, only happens every once in a while for most users.”

RSPH Chief Executive Shirley Cramer said, “it’s interesting to see Instagram and Snapchat ranking as the worst for mental health and wellbeing – both platforms are very image-focused and it appears they may be driving feelings of inadequacy and anxiety in young people.”

Technology companies’ response

With this worrisome situation on the youth’s mental health, companies made an effort to help through technology. There’s Android’s Digital Wellbeing feature which tracks the amount of time you spend on social media, although it still requires a conscious effort to break your social media addiction.

In the crusade against depression and anxiety caused by social media, Instagram recently made a daunting move. The social media giant has started testing the removal of like counts in some countries, removing the user’s ability to see how many likes have been racked up by a certain person in their feeds.

People in dire need of too much validation, fret not. The feature will let you still see who liked your posts. Think of it as your usual form of public affirmation, but you get it in private.

Just like our stories, only we can see who viewed and reacted. In this scenario, only we can see who liked our posts. While this recent move can put a dent on someone’s ego especially when they crave external validation, this can have real benefits for some users’ mental health.

In a country like the Philippines, where social media consumes a chunk of Filipino’s time, Instagram is a big contributor in rising cases of mental illnesses plaguing today’s youth like the common cold.

The social media age has created a culture where people value their smartphones, social media accounts, and the content they create rather than socializing offline and establishing real-life connections. The youth measure their self-worth through likes and other forms of metrics that it’s taking a toll on their mental health.

If this is the ugly culture we developed, Instagram is doing the right thing of removing the like count. At the very least, they can stop other people from comparing their worth and relying on external validation to feel better.

“I personally don’t mind if the feature comes here or not, but I’m sure a few of my friends would care.” — Patricia Medina, a medical practitioner in the Philippines

However, some people won’t be able to accept the upcoming feature should it arrive in the Philippines, similar to how we all panicked when Instagram removed our ability to see the viewers of our stories after 24 hours. Despite the outcry, we adapted and got used to it.

Likes are not the only measure of influence

It may be hard to believe, but Instagram is on the right track. Aside from tackling mental health and fixing the problem their app posed in our society, they’re reshaping the marketing and advertising industry. Some influencers might be affected by the like count removal, particularly those who buy fake likes and followers, as well as those who became walking billboards for brands and agencies.

But for content creators like Ceej Tantengco, removing the like count won’t have much of an impact, rather it will reinforce her influence among her audience. “The brand partnerships I tend to get are with sustainable fashion and brands running women empowerment campaigns. These brands are less about pure numbers and more about connecting with brand ambassadors who truly share their cause and can speak about it with sincerity,” Tantengco said.

“The chase for likes has led to a sort of cookie-cutter templating of content based on what the algorithm rewards or what is easiest to generate likes. We live in a world where a selfie gets 800+ likes and a photo of what book the person is reading gets only 50. But like-bait content isn’t always the most thoughtful, and we need to be careful to not equate the number of likes to whether the brand message was communicated effectively,” Tantengco added.

On the other hand, Castro Communications PR Director Janlee Dungca is unbothered by the like count removal. Dungca, who works primarily with content creators and influencers, will still approach a campaign based on a brand’s goals and objectives. Likes aren’t the only form of visible metrics available since comments still count as a way to measure engagement rate.

Macro-influencers — accounts with more than 100,000 followers — tend to have higher reach but lower engagement, thus she opts for micro-influencers whose accounts range from 10,000 to 50,000 followers to get higher engagement for the brand.

“We live in a world where a selfie gets 800+ likes and a photo of what book the person is reading gets only 50.” — Ceej Tantengco

With this sudden change in the marketing landscape, people — not just influencers — might be more keen on engaging with other people through comments. People might start to make an effort to share their thoughts and interact, rather than just dropping an emoji of fire, heart, or a star-eyed face.

Additionally, people might not be as conscious of what they post anymore. Tantengco affirmed, “this move is great for people with advocacies because we can speak about them without worrying so much about ‘how do I package this to get the maximum number of likes’ and just say what we want to say. This feels very freeing.”

Moving forward, we might start to see posts of what people really care about again should Instagram proceed with removing the like count forever. There will be people though who will try to game the algorithm by leaving comments on each other’s posts and uploading video clips instead of still photos for validation as Instagram has not said anything about removing the view count.

Nonetheless, the future is bright for Instagram. I can’t wait to see moments where people embrace their natural selves and flaunt the things they’re passionate about again.

Illustrations by MJ Jucutan

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