The Games with Coffee Guide to Last-minute Christmas Shopping!

Another day, another edition of “Games with Coffee,” and what a great edition it will be! As of today, Christmas is a little less than a week away: are you ready for it? Or have you run right out of ideas for what to get for your favourite gamer? Or perhaps you’ve put Christmas shopping to the very last minute and don’t know where to start?

Well, God rest thee merry gentlepeople, because I got you covered! Below are a few ideas that you can either quickly run to the store and pick up, if you’re up north here in good ‘ole Canada, or order online: chances are, you’ll be able to get all of the below by Christmas (barring a few additional charges for expedited shipping). I’ll have plenty of links available to access, so no worries. So, keep that itchy trigger finger ready on your mouse and let’s make some magic happen!


Game Ideas

Well besides the obvious items on a gamer’s Christmas list (new systems, latest popular games, everything Nintendo, etc.), here’s an idea for you: how about trying something a little outside of the norm?

Stardew Valley, Axiom Verge, Cave Story+ and Shovel Knight are excellent choices to buy: all four are great games with retro-inspired graphics, poignant storylines, excellent controls and are available on all current generation systems, with the exception of Cave Story+. Check below on where you can find these games:

Stardew Valley:

Shovel Knight:

Axiom Verge:

Cave Story+


Gaming Apparel and Accessories

Graphic T-shirts: for the individual who loves to show off what they love.

Who among us used to hate getting clothes for Christmas? Well, with these selection of men’s, women’s and kid’s game culture T-shirts, your favourite person will hate you a little less this year.*

*Results may vary.

Men’s T-shirts:

Women’s T-shirts:

Kid’s T-shirts:

Ugly Sweaters: for the gamer who wants to rock this year’s Christmas party.

Ugly Sweaters are all the rage these days! Why not get something that reflects your favourite person’s gaming passion? Whether it’s Mario, Sonic or any of gaming’s famous faces, you’ll definitely have some heads turning at your next Christmas gathering! Here’s a few examples:

Satchels, Bags, Cardigans and Scarves: for the lady with a love for fashion and a passion for gaming.

If you’re looking for a great gift for an even greater gal in your life that enjoys gaming, check out these choice selections from EB Games (Canada) and ThinkGeek (everywhere else):

These aren’t limited to just gift-giving alone; ladies, in the words of an almighty master: Treat yo’ selves!


Toys and Games

Nerf Rival Guns: for the individuals who dreams of LARPing a Call of Duty scenario with their good friends.

With a variety of guns available, free-for-alls have never been so much fun! There are plenty of guns available, bit my personal favourite is the Artemis – a shotgun. Check em out!

Funko Pop’s, Nendoroids and Amiibo figures: for the consummate collector.

It figures that figures would be a great gift to give! From the highly collectible Funko Pop’s, to the picture perfect and adorable Nendoroids, to Amiibos that combine collectibility with function, there are plenty of options available! Now, there are too many for me to link, but check the stores; there’s bound to be plenty available!

Board Games: for those looking to game offscreen.

Want to bring the family together without resorting to playing Mario Kart? How about a few board games? Some of gaming’s biggest names have been associated with board game classics, like “The Legend of Zelda” Monopoly and Clue. Others, like Mega Man, have their own board games and there are even some video game inspired tabletop and card games, like Boss Monster. Finally, games like Settlers of Catan are a perfect gift for those who enjoy games like Civilization.

MegaConstrux Pokemon: for the kid or kid at heart.

If you’re kid’s like any other kid, they have vivid imaginations, a desire to build anything their minds can conjure up and a love for all things Pokemon. How do you combine the three? Easy: get them a Pokemon they can build themselves! MegaConstrux has several Pokemon related figures kids will go nuts over, especially Charizard and Gyarados! Heck, I’m a grown man and I want those for myself!

A Raspberry Pi, a Pi Case and the SNES30 Bluetooth Controller: for those who enjoy retro gaming as much as they love building things from scratch.

Ah, the good ol’ Raspberry Pi, giving you the ability to access all the games you used to play as a kid in a device the side of a credit card. If you got a tinkerer on your list who also loves dropping rounds of Super Street Fighter II Turbo on the SNES, then this one’s for you!

For gift ideas, I would go with the CanaKit Raspberry Pi 3 kit, available on Amazon; it has everything one would need to get started. Alternatively, if you have time and resources to spare, you can buy the board, a case and an SD card and really personalize it for the recipient. I highly recommend the Smraza case, again from Amazon: it’s a case divided into seven layers that comes with two heat sinks, a fan to plug into the GPIO on the Pi and a power supply with an on/off button! It’s a great little package!

But you can’t just the Pi and not get controllers? PS4 and Xbox One controllers work with Retropie, but if you want to give that real old-school feel, I recommend the 8bitdo SNES30 Bluetooth Controller. Easy to set up and use, this is the controller of choice to delve into old-school gaming! Here’s where you can find it:


Stocking Stuffers and Other Small Gifts

Books: for those who appreciate a great story on and off screen.

This might sound odd, but books are an awesome gift to give. I say this because some of the best presents I got, besides video games, were books. I’ve gushed many times about the Mistborn series, it’s perfect for those who are obsessed with RPG’s, magic systems and a deep, immersive world full of lore and legend.

Another book I recommend is Red Rising, a science fiction/fantasy set on a colonized Mars. This might sound a bit spoilerish, but I feel that the story is somewhat analogous to God of War, with Kratos’ struggles for revenge, mixed in with undertones of power and politics a la Games of Thrones. My description doesn’t really do it justice, but fans of the God of War series may enjoy it.

Finally, Ready Player One is the perfect book to give a gamer, either young or old. The younger generation will appreciate the plucky protagonist’s journey from rags to riches, while the older ones from the late 80’s and below will fall in love with the heavy retro gaming and pop culture influences that are scattered throughout the book.

Gaming Ornaments: for those who want to combine Christmas with Gaming.

Ornaments make for great stocking stuffers! Check out a few here:

Journals and Notebooks: for those who want to write the story to the next big blockbuster game.

I got this Legend of Zelda journal as a present from my wife and I’ve yet to stop writing in it. In fact, I picked up a second one for my birthday this year. There are plenty of others available, check out below:

Gift Cards: for when you’re truly stuck on what to buy this year.

If all else fails, there’s nothing wrong with giving a PSN, Xbox Live or Nintendo e-Shop gift card. Unlike most other gift cards, the receiver will definitely appreciate it. Bonus if you get them a year-long subscription to PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold: you’ll be appreciated all year round!

If they’re a mobile game lover, an iTunes or Google Play gift card will also go a long way!

Coffee Mugs: for those who literally want to have their Games with Coffee.*

Didja see what I did there? Didja? Eh, I digress, coffee mugs make for excellent stocking stuffers: they’re statement pieces tailored to that person’s particularly favourite game or series and they can drink coffee out of it! Win-win. Here’s some examples:


And that’s that! Hope this helps with your last minute shopping. Today (at least up here in Canada) is the last day you can order online for it to reach before Christmas! (Additional shipping charges will be required…). So get cracking!

As for the next edition, I’ll catch up with you all near the end of the year, where I’ll talk about my Quest status in “The Year In Review.” Of course, I’ll be working on a few Espresso Shot Reviews, which will come in the new year, along with something else. What that is, you’ll have to stay tuned to find out!

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and hoping you’re spending equal time with loved ones and cherished games this holiday season, this is Ryan from “Games with Coffee”, reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing.

“The Quest”: Using Video Games to Fulfill my Dreams

Good afternoon and welcome to a special edition of Games with Coffee. Why special? Because today, July the 13th, is my 30th birthday! And while the jokes start coming around about how I’ve become practically ancient, I want to talk today about something completely different than the usual stuff I talk about.

Today’s subject is something I like to call, “The Quest.” Why is it in quotation marks? To signify its importance of course! Joking aside, “The Quest” is something I developed in late 2016 for myself to do one thing: to make my dreams reality.


The Back Story

I’m going to be honest here: I always hated New Year’s Resolutions. You make a set of broad, sweeping goals in the hopes that you’ll achieve something this year, like losing weight, or finishing that personal project or develop a new skill, only for it to go off the rails after February hits. Don’t get me wrong though, I made resolutions as well, in fact, the very same ones I listed, but I got lazy, forgot about my resolutions and wound up at the end of the year wondering what exactly did I achieve?

2016 was no different than the other years. At the start, I was on track to fulfill my resolutions: I started a job closer to home with better pay (get a new job), I was on track with my writing (write more often) and I was eating healthy and working out fairly often (lose weight). But by the end of summer, it all went downhill.

The company’s busiest time of the year is the summer, since our major client’s (a large school board) facilities close down for two months and creates a scramble to get things fixed up for when they open in the fall. During this time though, little mistakes made by myself and other new people opened huge cans of worms with the school board, who questioned our ability to do our jobs, hurting our reputation and making this the worst year the company has ever seen since it started back in the 70’s. Everyone in the office absolutely hated each other at that point, with screaming matches going on almost weekly amidst the countless fires that needed to be put out on job sites. In the middle the chaos, I started looking for a new job even though I’ve only worked there for six months. I thought to myself at the time, “Working at such a volatile company isn’t good for me or my family. I need something more stable and established.”

Everyone’s attitude at work, with people consistently blaming each other, coupled with my sneaky attempts at trying to find a new job put my writing permanently on the backburner and, even though exercise could have decreased my stress during that time, I stopped working out to focus more on job applications and interview preparations. Even playing video games wasn’t enough to help me relax. It was a pretty bad time.

At the start of December, I ceased my job search for the time being since no one’s going to hire somebody during the holidays. I instead looked at the paper that I wrote 2016’s resolutions on and, again, wondered:

What exactly did I achieve?

The short answer was only a little bit (the getting a new, higher paying job was the only thing I accomplished) and I was tired of only getting a little bit done every year. On top of that, 2017 is the year I’d be turning 30, a huge milestone, and while I could say that I’ve accomplished much by that age, to me, I felt truthfully that my efforts towards accomplishing those things were mediocre at best.

I jumped from one thing to another and left things half done, both with work and my own personal projects. I had trouble focusing at times, especially with things I have no interest in. I wasn’t very good at planning ahead and whatever plans I did make, I barely followed through with them. I’ve set the same goals for the last ten years and I wasn’t getting anywhere with them with my current methods (of which, I had none). I’d try to work out on a consistent basis, only to stop and not start again until the next year comes. Finally, I knew that I’ll eventually be a dad myself one day and the last thing I’d want my kids to see is their father being unable to work hard enough to see his goals through to the end. I want to be a role model for them, for them to see that, with hard work, perseverance and discipline, even a life-long gamer can achieve anything.

It was from that moment on, with all of the above in mind, that “The Quest” came into existence.


So, What is “The Quest?”

Instead of trying to achieve my goals outright, I decided that I would get into the habit of doing things that aligned with my goals instead. For instance, instead of having a goal to work out and lose weight, instead I’d try to get into the habit of working out at least 15 days in the month. If I made twenty, that’s great! If I felt short, then I’ll try for 15 next month.

The bigger question though, was how to stay motivated to do 15 days of exercise, or half an hour of writing, or anything really on a daily basis? Well, video games have always motivated me to keep going to that next level, beat that next boss, reveal that latest story twist and find that rare item, and I thought, “Why not make that work for me!?”

That’s what “The Quest” really is: my goals gamified*. Inspired by both “The Legend of Zelda” and “Final Fantasy”, I modeled the game around the RPG mechanics used Final Fantasy XV and Link’s quest to save Hyrule.

In Final Fantasy XV, even the most insignificant of actions, like helping someone stranded on the road, driving in your car or even fishing, yielded experience for the four friends.  So, I decided that for every action I took that aligned with my goals, I would earn experience points. After a set amount, I’d gain a level in relation to that goal, showing me that my commitment to achieving it had grown stronger.

For Link, storming Gannon’s main stronghold right from the start was practically suicide. Instead, the Hylian warrior and bearer of the Triforce of Courage started small; breaking his objective (Defeating Gannon) down into smaller chunks (infiltrating dungeons across Hyrule to obtain powers to defeat Gannon) and accomplishing them one by one. I decided to do the same with all of the goals I wanted to achieve this year; start small and follow through.

“The Quest” is also similarly modeled by what real-world comic, Jerry Seinfeld did to keep motivated, back when he did the comedy circuit before hitting the big time. He’d mark on a calendar the days he would do any writing with a big ‘X’. Soon enough, there was a chain of X’s and it made it harder to break that chain because he was so motivated to maintain that string of X’s. It’s the same feeling I got whenever I saw those points accumulate. After a while, it became harder to break that chain of experience points that I kept pushing every day to get something done to keep it going. Which in turn gained me levels, which then strengthened my commitments to keep going.

Writing this down here and now on the blog, it sounds really childish. (Experience points? Levels? Final Fantasy?! Legend of Zelda!? X’s?!?! Balderdash! Poppycock! You’re thirty for God’s sake!) But, honestly, it’s actually working! For some reason, I felt motivated to keep earning points and gaining levels and the more levels I gained, the more I felt that I accomplished! Even when life threw curveballs, screwballs and knuckleballs (Haha! Baseball references!) to try and derail me, I found that I didn’t want to give up. I mean, you gotta work for your dreams, right? And doing it this way, using video game concepts, helped me to stay on top of my dreams.

Still not convinced? Think I’m full of it? Well, let me tell you how I organized it and my results so far. Perhaps you’ll be impressed?


The Method

I created the infrastructure using several Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. The first thing I did before delving into game mechanics, was to list all of the goals that I’ve ever wanted to accomplish in the last ten or twenty years of my life, and eliminated the one’s that were either unrealistic or that I didn’t care much for, until I narrowed it down to five core goals:

  1. Advance in my career.
  2. Read more books.
  3. Finish and publish my fanfiction/ work on my original story
  4. Work out.
  5. Start a blog about video games (The one you’re reading right now!).

Once I established my core goals, I built a spreadsheet for each of them to track my progress. In one of the tabs on the spreadsheet, I set up an experience chart and built a formula to calculate the experience required for a level up (there are lots of resources online to help set this up). In another tab, I have my full status for that goal, including my current level, experience and what experience I needed to get to the next level. Finally, I set up tabs for every month of the year, which I used to track my progress Here’s a sample of my Writing Goals sheet for the month of May:

Writing Status Sheet

This was back in May, a pretty productive month for me in terms of my writing.

And a sample of last month’s Blog Goals sheet:

Blog Status Sheet

June was a good month for the blog.

So, in that mess above, I calculated how much experience I’d gain per action based on a function of time and relative to the XP Difficulty Factor of the goal (Each sheet had its own formula for determining that amount). I’d tally up my experience (under the XP Gained column) to get the experience I would earn for the month. On top of that, I’d determine if any bonus experience was gained, either from finishing and publishing chapters or posts online, or how many days I’ve worked out in total, or how many books I read, or if I fulfilled my Monthly Side Quests (Listed as Quest XP). Summing up all that experience back to the main status tab gave me my total experience thus far, giving me a good indication of how well I’m doing with my goal.

I mentioned Monthly Side Quests in the above and they are just that: Optional goals, or side quests, for the month that would earn me extra experience once completed. They’re usually highly ambitious, like publishing blog posts three times in a month, working out for more than 20 days in a month, or writing notes for or actually writing out three chapters for example. The rewards were always worth it though – not only did I accrue more experience, I also furthered myself in each of my goals. And even if I didn’t finish the quest, I was a lot farther along at the end of the month, since I broke the monumental task at hand down into smaller monthly chunks. Side quests are one of three things I used to keep myself motivated. I call these my “Fail-Safes.”


Fail-Safes???

The side quests were one of three fail-safes I initiated after starting “The Quest” to keep myself motivated throughout this experiment. The second of these was my Quest Log: a daily journal listing down all the things I did that day and how much time I spent working on actions related to my goals. At the end of each entry, I noted both the successes and failures of my day. I found that noting down the failures of the day motivated me for the next day. For instance, if I skipped my workout for the day, I’d note that down as a fail. From there, I’d tell myself “OK, I’m definitely going to make an effort to work out tomorrow!” And nine times out of ten, it happened. Plus, writing everything down helped me to keep my goal status sheets accurate and up-to-date.

20170713_064513.jpg

My Quest Log – You may have seen it in many of my posts and part of the site banner as well. Ush gave this to me for Christmas last year and it was one of the best things I’ve ever received.

The final fail-safe is what we engineers call a Post Mortem report. Post Mortem reports are done at the end of a project, where they highlight what made the project successful, what hindered or held it back, what things to change for the next project and any additional thoughts or reflections about the project itself. At the end of every month, I prepared a Post Mortem of my own, reflecting on the successes and failures of the month in relation to my goals along with what I think needs to change for the next month and any additional comments about anything that made this month a success or failure. Writing this report helped me to list priorities and prepare side-quests for the following month, while giving me an idea of how I performed on the previous month.

All of this looks like a lot of hard work and sometimes it can be. Trying to find time to record everything on top of writing for myself or the blog, working out, taking courses to build new skills for my job or read, along with spending time with the wife and family AND playing games can sometimes be a bit difficult. The results, however… I’m glad to say have been worth it so far.


The Results So Far

Here’s what I achieved six months into this crazy experiment of mine:

  1. I’ve never been consistent with working out, always starting and stopping and never really getting far with it. Since starting “The Quest,” I’ve spent less time beating myself up about skipping a workout and spending more time pumping out quick (sub 45 minutes), quality workouts that I enjoy, like practicing martial arts (I was a green belt in Tae-Kwon-Do) or my favourite, the Super Saiyan Workout from Darebee; a quick and easy cardio workout that makes me feel like Vegeta training to surpass Goku. It’s awesome and you should try it!
  2. Writing fanfiction is an extremely nerdy and guilty pleasure of mine and I’ve been writing a particular one for the past ten years. Like the workouts, I’ve started and stopped writing it too many times to count, but since focusing on writing something down every day for at least half an hour and tracking that through my status sheets, I’ve finished the rough draft of the fic and am working on the good copy with the hopes of putting it all online by the end of this year! A major leap from previous years when I thought I’d never even finish it!
  3. Speaking of writing, “The Quest” gave me the courage to continue writing my own original content. Last year, I started putting together a few notes here and there of ideas and themes that I’ve been toying with for the last fifteen years. Thanks my continued motivation to write every day, to date, I have characters, a setting, several magic systems (I’m writing a high fantasy) and the beginning of a timeline of events that will span from before the start of the story all the way to the end, which, again, was much farther than I could have imagined a year ago.
  4. Career-wise, I decided to stay at my current job and focused on building my skillsets, moving away from engineering design and into programming, project management and graphics creation/manipulation. Those efforts have helped me move into a more hybrid position instead of pigeon-holing me as a designer. I’m now looking to take some professional development course in order to improve even further.
  5. I love reading, but lately I haven’t set a lot of time aside to do any and I always read the same books over and over again. I’ve changed that by reading a whole wack of books, from self-help titles to high fantasy stories not unlike Game of Thrones. I’ve now noticed these days that my writing style has improved, as I read and analyzed the works of multiple authors, such as Brandon Sanderson, Lily Singh and Pierce Brown.
  6. Finally, I’ve always wanted to start a blog about video games, but never had the guts to do so. Mainly because I could never prioritize and plan ahead for creating new content. Tracking my progress on the blog with “The Quest” made me feel regretful that I didn’t start earlier; I’ve put up content that I feel proud of,  made a few new friends along the way and read their amazing content and even those in my current circle of friends and family see me in a different light, which I’m pretty happy about, y’know? The confidence I’ve gained through blogging has led me to think about doing freelance writing on the side, which is something I would have never even considered in the past.

So, there you have it, What do you think? Am I balls-to-the-wall crazy with this quest idea, or does this actually inspire you to go on a Quest of your own? Let me know if the comments below! Stay tuned for the next edition, where I travel back to the dark world of Wraeclast and provide a brief, but entertaining update of my progress in “Path of Exile,” of which I’ve become pretty obsessed with!

Before I sign off, I want to add a few extra notes here. To those individuals who are reading this, have subscribed to this blog, followed me on Instagram or even encouraged me from the sidelines; thank you. Thank you for sharing this experience with me and for making my 30th year on this chaotic plane of existence a great one so far. Here’s to many more where that came from.

And that’s all for today. Once again, this has been Ryan from “Games with Coffee,” reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing! See you next time!

*Gamification: applying game elements to real life to achieve real goals or improve productivity. A couple of good examples online include Level Up Life and SuperBetter. I could have used these for my own use, but I decided to be extra and build my own game from scratch. What can I say? I’m complicated like that!