With love from Novigrad

Novigrad docks

This is not a game review but more of a collection of thoughts about a game in a very subjective and personal way. This contains spoilers about the game!

For this past Christmas, Kristen surprised me with an Xbox One X and I also got The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt gifted to me.

At first, I was really excited to play Battlefield V on the Xbox, since the specs are better than PS4 and videos of the gameplay looked very nice on Xbox compared to PS4. But this excitement quickly died down as I realized that BFV isn’t what I expected it to be. For the month or so I toiled through BFV, I didn’t even touch The Witcher 3.

I had gotten the recommendation to play the Witcher series from my brother and a couple of friends. I even listened to the soundtrack before I played the game because I didn’t buy into the hype.

Well, the hype had died down a long time ago, since I started playing at the beginning of 2019 and the game had come out in 2015. If you read any game reviews between 2015 and 2017, you would’ve seen The Witcher 3 mentioned and still I didn’t care for what it was. This is mostly because the last major game like this that was hyped for me was The Last of Us which is a great game but I didn’t like it.

Well, on to the actual game and what this post is about. I am now about 3+ months into playing the game and there have been a couple of weekends where I spent most of the weekend in front of my TV playing Witcher and if I wasn’t playing it, I was thinking about it.

The game has such a rich gameplay and story that I couldn’t get my mind off of it. There are tons of characters that are developed so well, you start to miss them if they’re not in the game for some time.

Geralt is the best developed game hero I’ve ever played with (Master Chief is second). His personality is dynamic yet deep and interesting. The concept of a witcher in general is great, I didn’t know before the game about the word witcher but essentially it means a male witch (even though that’s a wizard). A witcher is like a superhuman because early on in their life, they go through training to “transformed” or changed into a witcher. Witchers are also longer living than regular humans so Geralt is estimated at somewhere between 90-95 in the game.

The game is based off of books and the whole of the witcher world is set in the 12th century. It feels very medieval and in a very accurate way, in my opinion. The world isn’t the brightest or happiest places, there is war, disease, witchcraft, many different kinds of monsters, haunted places, dark swamps, evil spirits, madmen, power hungry kings, and many other things that go very well with a medieval world.

There are times when you’re so entrenched in something you forget all that’s around you and for the witcher, there are many elements that play with this. Perfect game engine, game play, and obstacles are one thing. The graphics are great for being an almost 4 year old game but the very uniquely amazing thing that this game has is the coupled music. The soundtrack is a work of art on its own but within the game, at the perfect moment, the music just adds to the overall game play so much more. There are some songs that come on when you’re in the swamps and dark forests, the long lonely caves, and the elven ruins that will haunt me for awhile. I won’t share those as there are a lot of those from the official soundtrack.

Before I go on, the game is focused on finding a girl named Ciri who is like Geralt’s goddaughter and also a very important person to the world of witcher. With her, the end of the world is coming. She is being hunted by group of evil “people” (idk what they really are) called the Wild Hunt (where the name of the game comes from).

Gwent

There is one thing to say that the Witcher universe is rich in jokes, jibes, natural dialogue, deep cultural expressions, and many other things that aren’t required of a typical game but it goes a step farther by introducing a card game within the overall game. This card is called Gwent and you can read more about its rules here: https://gwent.fandom.com/wiki/Rules.

At first, I was aversive to playing Gwent as I wanted to get through the main story quests as quickly as possible but this all changed with the Kaer Morhen quest. More on the quest later. Gwent is a simple card game where there are unit cards and special cards, unit cards have strength that helps you fight against your opponent’s unit cards, special cards change the weather or strength of your unit cards. At first, I was really bad at the game but I quickly started realizing the basic strategies until I got to a point where I was winning almost every game if I tried to be strategic about it.

Kaer Morhen, Novigrad, Velen, et al.

Geralt and Vesemir in Velen (image credit)

You start the game in Velen aka “no man’s land” which is a large rural area filled with various kinds of monsters, most pretty weak (since its where you’re starting out). Velen is my least favorite since it’s so depressing, scary, and dark all around. When I started out, I didn’t know about Novigrad or any other places so I went along with it and as most games go, you kind of have to get through the first few levels and quests to make sense of the world you’re in. After I found other places, I didn’t like going back to Velen. There were a few days when I played primarily in Velen, doing the contracts and going through the swamps, dark forests, and empty villages. It’s so well done that I still get goosebumps thinking about some of the weird wraiths that would pop up when I would be going through an abandoned village.

Kaer Morhen is the place where witchers used to train, it’s a fortified castle with not much going on in it. Think of Winterfell from Game of Thrones with a lot less people. You’re taken to Kaer Morhen once when you start the game (basically a tutorial) and again when you find Ciri. Without getting too much into the actual story of the game, Kaer Morhen to me is like an old home of Geralt that is now long abandoned by most people. The world of the Witcher is an empty and lonely place but Kaer Morhen has an atmosphere of long forgotten mightiness. Vesemir is probably the person who trained Geralt and he’s also the caretaker of Kaer Morhen. Spoiler ahead, skip to next paragraph if you don’t want to see the spoiler. When the battle of Kaer Morhen happens after finding Ciri, this is about 3/4th of the way into the main quests of the story, you are fighting the Wild Hunt and amidst the fighting, you’re surrounded by most of Geralt’s companions from the rest of the game like Yennefer, Triss, Zalton, etc. Amongst these is Vesemir who isn’t a major part of the fight until the end when Ciri is almost caught by the Wild Hunt. At this point, some guy from the Wild Hunt proceeds to kill Vesemir and Ciri is outraged, and so was I. I was very saddened by this. It was so unexpected since Vesemir is an all around good guy!

My favorite place of them all is Novigrad, a medieval city full of many different characters. Merchants, thugs, beggars, and drunks all around! The city has a perfect Kings Landing feel to it and especially since it’s the city part you get to experience more than the palaces and grand buildings of any kind. Novigrad is a big city (according to medieval standards), it has tons of peoples and a lot of things happening in it. About half the story missions are here. You meet up with previously met friends like Zalton and Dandelion. Dandelion is a flamboyant and funny guy who runs an inn, I loved going in here just for the music. In Novigrad, you also can find the best weapons blacksmith. There’s the Hierarch Square in which you can find the people of the Eternal Fire preaching to city dwellers.
Whenever I did a mission that required me to be in the swamps of Velen or the caves of Skillege, after finishing the mission, I would fast travel to Novigrad’s Hierarch Square to just feel “safe” even though it’s all a game, the music, people walking around, and some times the sunny sights would be so much better than wherever I had just left.
Geralt can get a haircut, drink some beer, buy food to eat, play gwent, and so many more things in Novigrad, I never wanted to leave it.

The last place you visit is Skillege. A group of islands that reminds me of the roughness of Viking era settlements and superstition to match the time period. It’s a desolate place with a lot of cloudy, rainy, and snowy days. Geralt travels to Skillege in search for Ciri and ends up meeting a lot of interesting characters along the way, like the future queen of the isles who ends up befriending Geralt and eventually helps me out here and there. There are different traditions on Skillege, there are clans that only abide by rules set on the islands and not on the mainland. I liked playing here for a bit but then I would resign back to the mainland as traveling from one small island to another was a depressing experience since most islands were nearly abandoned with tales of ghosts, wraiths, and other creatures haunting each new place.

Aftermath

After you find Ciri, there is a little of the game left in regards to the main quests and as I wound down the game, I felt a bit nostalgic and a connection I’ve never really felt with another game before. It’s an insanely well develop game that contains intuitive controls, beautiful environments, amazing storyline, and so many small details I couldn’t get over it. This game was release almost 4 years ago (May 2015) and I’m raving about it in 2019! That’s an amazing feat for a game released in the current gaming world. Most games will have a long lifecycle but will require constant updates and DLCs while The Witcher 3 only had some initial expansions, not much to keep people coming back and still there’s a strong follower base.

I would recommend playing this game if you’re looking for a casual yet fun game that requires some time, because you can’t finish it in one day. I played over 60 hours in total by the time I had finished the game. That’s a lot for me. The only other game I’ve played more hours on is Battlefield 1 with about 200 hours.

There’s a new Netflix series coming out so be sure to check that out too!

Thoughts on the Spotify IPO

When Spotify announced their IPO awhile ago, I was surprised they were even going for an IPO because of their financials. I'm not going to make this post a deep dive into the financials of Spotify but more on a layperson's thoughts on something like this IPO.

I've used Spotify since the very first day they launched in the US, I'm a huge fan. The product has incrementally gotten better over time, so much that I'm amazed at how well the team has been able to iterate and slowly but surely move the product forward. The music discovery and radio have improved, enough to the point that I cancelled my subscription to Pandora about 6 months ago because I felt like Spotify was close enough in the suggestions that I was wasting my money on Pandora at that point.

Spotify's a good product but I'm not too keen on the business model. Software usually wins when it scales well, the initial effort is huge but over time the number of users start to match the effort and surpass it. Economies of scale work very well for software companies but I think that's not the case for Spotify.

Spotify's biggest issue right now is paying record labels. You can't have popular artists on your platform without paying big record labels. I'm thinking early on it was a side business for record labels but as CD and digital sales have gone down and streaming has become a popular option for consumers, they've started paying more attention to it, money has started rolling in. This means Spotify is at the mercy of record labels, they're going to need to renegotiate better contracts and if they can't they're going to have to pay whatever the record labels are asking. Of course, this is pretty baseless and opinionated but I'm sure it's not far off from the truth. 

As the user base grows, the amount of songs being heard grows as well, this means more money will need to be paid out to the record labels. Ignoring bandwidth and user acquisition costs, the cost of paying record labels increases as users increase and that means it's going against the phenomenon of economies of scale. It sounds to me like Spotify is getting paid by users, taking that money and paying record labels, paying operating costs, and probably not having much money left after, this might not be the best investment to make right now. 

I'm personally waiting to see how they do during their first quarter being public and then I'll decide if I should buy their stock or not. Currently, I own no Spotify stock and I am not affiliated with Spotify. These are all just opinions so please don't take it as facts or investment advice. 

Goodbye Bilo – December 2nd, 2017

Earlier today, we had to put Bilo to sleep.

Bilo Star (pronounced Be-lo) was born in the first week of February in 2015. He was just a few months short of his 3rd birthday. When he was just a few weeks old, my sister had adopted him and in July of 2015, I brought him to live with us in San Francisco.

Here's a video of Bilo and his sister playing when they were just a couple of months old:

Bilo and Heisenberg became friends and they started to spend time together.

Heisenberg and Bilo on the cat perch, July 2015

From an early age, Bilo was always a little unhealthy but once he came to San Francisco, we fed him on time every day and we started to notice his health and playfulness increase. Spending time with Heisenberg allowed him to get stronger.

Bilo in December of 2015

But slowly, he was starting to get less active and eat less. It started getting bad again where you can see he was sleeping way too much and never eating on time.

About four months ago, Bilo started getting food allergies so we took him to the doctor and they recommended a better food and gave him some allergy medicine. Over the next few months, his eating improved a bit but he was starting to get weak again. We had some other tests done when we took him for that checkup, and nothing conclusive was in the lab results so the doctor recommended we keep feeding him properly and paying attention to him.

This past Tuesday, Kristen pointed out to me that he was starting to sneeze a lot and wasn't touching his food at all. On Wednesday, we took him to the doctor and did some more tests, nothing came out of those. The hospital did give him some fluids and some medicine to decrease his pain.

This morning, we took him to the doctor and they told us he did not look well and his health is not going to improve so the humane thing to do is to put him to sleep. I didn't wake up today thinking I was going to have to do this and I didn't know he would be gone so soon.

Bilo was a mysterious and very loving cat, he loved sitting on people's laps and he loved watching birds on TV. I'm going to miss him a lot.

Here are a few songs for Bilo that remind me of him a lot.

The Boxer by Simon & Garfunkel

Our House by CSNY


This was posted on my previous blog but I wanted to keep this post on this blog because it means a lot to me.