Review: Hero Core (Freeware)

Genre: Shooter, action adventure
Developer: Daniel Remar
Platform: Windows, Macintosh
Release: May 3rd, 2010
     Latest Windows version: July 22nd, 2013

Hero Core is an open-ended shooter game from Daniel Remar, the creator of fellow freeware title Iji. While Iji is an unusually intricate Game Maker creation, with complex stat development, branching plot, hacking minigames, and two competing enemy factions, Hero Core takes a simpler approach, and ultimately a better-rounded one.

You play as Flip Hero, a being locked in never-ending combat with a war machine called Cruiser Tetron. With his legion of robotic soldiers, Tetron aims to destroy the earth, and you simultaneously. Flip Hero has defeated Tetron many times in the past, including in one of Remar’s prior games, but the machine’s servants rebuild him each time, and relief is fleeting for both both sides.

It’s a familiar plot for a game, but Tetron receives more development than you would expect, a predator enslaved by his own programming.

The game contains two primary difficulty levels, each with different architecture and enemy placement. Both take place in Tetron’s asteroid base, a black-and-white maze of angular combat machines and automated war industry. The entire game is drawn in flat, colorless pixel, from the largest mecha to Flip Hero’s own health bar. The artwork made me skeptical at first glance, but it fits the tone perfectly, vibrant and alienating at the same time.

Tetron can be challenged from the beginning, if you desire, but you start with a single weak blaster and minimal health. The other areas of the base contain numerous upgrades, guarded behind blast doors, turrets, molten metal, and fearsome bosses. Each room spans only a single screen, imitating older games on primitive consoles, but the enemies are quite diverse, with robotic snakes that jerk across the screen, mobile turrets armed with heavy cannons, lethal fish-shaped machines that summon smaller ones, and mecha with every combination of those attack patterns. Many robots also have smaller destructible parts, removing weaponry when disabled.

Combat in Hero Core is more complex than it appears. The screen tends to overflow with bullets in harsher stages, but there are plenty of walls to duck behind. Your blaster can only shoot left or right, but you can move fluidly in any direction, and with good enough reflexes, you can weave through most bullet patterns without harm. The primary keys shoot slowly, but you can activate a faster auto fire mode, offering devastating power at close range. Since only eight (player) bullets can exist on screen at once, this mode is less effective at a distance, delivering a potent initial burst with a mere trickle afterward. It’s an elegant system, encouraging strategic pauses in use.

You also acquire the Blade, a melee weapon capable of deflecting bullets and smashing environmental barriers. For combat, I found it less satisfying than my blaster. It inflicts severe damage, but it charges slowly, and the range is uncomfortably short. It’s easy to crash into an enemy you were trying to cut up, reflected shots don’t harm them, and many stronger attacks will run right through it. Regardless of your health and armor upgrades, sustained fire is impossible to withstand.

I died many, many times on each playthrough, but I rarely found the game cheap or unfair. Enemies respawn on each screen if you return, but they’re frozen for a few seconds on arrival, granting time to dart past. If you die, you respawn at the last save station you visited, shaped like a save icon on a computer document.

You can fast travel between each station, easing navigation, and different areas can be conquered in almost any order. The interface displays a relative threat level for each section of the base, from the opening Natural Caves to the lethal Guardian Zone, and I generally found it accurate. In addition to weaponry and suit upgrades, you’ll find small computers hidden throughout the base, providing lore on Tetron’s past and his nature. He becomes easier to empathize with, though clearly hostile. Each area has a different chiptune theme from Brother Android, adding bleak color to the monochrome design.

The boss encounters are the strongest aspect of Hero Core. From a walker that splits into three parts to a drone that attacks with arms made from copies of itself, they offer battles as diverse as they are lethal. Some bosses spawn with numerous minions, and some fight as a single overwhelming combatant. One machine encases you within their body for the entire battle. Many contain destructible weak points, and some even split into multiple units. Subverting conventions, most weaken as you hammer them away, aside from a metallic hydra that simply grows more heads.

Except for the final boss, each uses the same haunting soundtrack. It becomes repetitive over so many trials, but when fighting machines, it feels appropriate.

One optional boss appears randomly throughout normal screens, engaging you in a duel it flees if you don’t kill it quickly enough. It doesn’t pack as much firepower as other machines, but it’s difficult to shoot down in the allotted time. I’ve played Hero Core for years, and I rarely succeed. Fortunately, it can eventually be challenged without a time limit.

It’s possible to beat Hero Core in a few hours, but Normal and Hard mode contain different level geometry, and both are well worth playing. A third mode, Annihilation, appears after completing the game on either difficulty. Annihilation is a side story that takes place on the starship Ciretako. Compared to the primary game, it lacks upgrades, but it provides a short, punishing change of pace. You can also unlock a Boss Rush mode, a hidden minigame, and several other items.. I would not be adverse to paying $20 for that amount of content, and for a free application created by a single developer (plus the musician), it’s remarkably polished and durable. Iji spends more time on characterization, but Hero Core doesn’t punish you for combat, and the gameplay is stronger as a result.

Hero Core emulates the past visually, but the presentation and enemy design are decidedly modern. It has some of the most varied boss encounters I’ve ever seen, freeware or otherwise, and the fact that it is freeware only makes it easier to admire. The controls work perfectly, and aside from the limited utility of the Blade, I have few complaints about combat. Tetron wears the familiar mask of a doomsday villain, but his war with Flip Hero becomes more pitiable the further you look, as colorless as the robots that follow him.

If you’re interested, the game can be downloaded here:
http://www.remar.se/daniel/herocore.php

Rating: 9/10 (Remarkable)

An excellent game with few identifiable blemishes, or too many positive aspects to do much harm. Won’t turn bread into wine, but belongs firmly in the upper echelon of its genre.


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Works of Fiction (and Research) I Should Have Finished by Now

An incomplete list:

Woken Furies – Richard K. Morgan
Havoc – Chris Wooding (Lost under my bed for several months)
The Diamond Age – Neal Stephenson (Checked out online numerous times; too lazy to finish)
Ravenor Rogue – Dan Abnett
Caves of Ice – Sandy Mitchell
NeuroTribes – Steve Silberman
Complete CompTIA A+ Guide to PCs, Sixth Edition
– First semester HTML and C++ textbooks (Busy compensating for lack of friends in high school)


Fringe
Doctor Who (Removed from Netflix)
House, M.D.
Supernatural (Watched halfway through Season 6)
– Carol
OZ (Too cheap to buy on Amazon)
– The OA
– Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Every other Netflix show I’ve watched for an episode or two

– BioShock 2: Minerva’s Den
(Father’s PC kept crashing)
Batman: Arkham Asylum
Final Fantasy V (Too many random encounters)
– Unreal Gold
– S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat (Bought too many games at once)
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages
– The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Why does my sword break every four seconds)
Metro: 2033 (Last level, so no excuse for this one)

iOS, Kovacs, and Other Winter Distractions

Even Google’s in on it

Ah, December. The month of an arctic-dwelling fat man who runs a factory of elves, handing them manufacturing quotas from lists written in childhood handwriting. Their orders are many, encompassing brands from Lego to Sony, but the elves possess the technical knowledge, company schematics, and rare metals necessary to assemble them, because otherwise they wouldn’t be elves. They receive most of their lists a week or three before Christmas, but they never collapse while operating heavy equipment, or misplace important parts, or call their labor union; they churn out products hour after sacred hour, as if fed meth through their office coffee maker.

All must be completed by Christmas Eve, when their employer loads the enormous heap of merchandise into a single wooden sleigh. Like an inflammatory Instagram post, he traverses the globe overnight, delivering presents to every child who didn’t skip their homework too many times. He has no difficulty locating their gifts, or remembering the hundreds of millions of address throughout his path. He enters each family’s house through the chimney, no matter how narrow, or the porch, if they don’t have one. He deposits his cargo under the Christmas tree, consumes a glass of milk and a plate of cookies as payment, and flies away without waking anyone, no matter how many children inevitably suffer insomnia from their excitement.

I live in a neighborhood in the Deep South, where guns are nearly as plentiful as secondhand Marlboro fumes. When I learned about Santa Claus in elementary school, I expressed fear that our neighbors would shoot him. My mother reassured me they would make an exception for him; if I’d been older and less impaired, I would have realized the truth. As it stood, between The Polar Express, YMCA nursery rhymes, and fear of no longer receiving presents, it took me until grade five to realize Santa Claus didn’t exist. Many children are disappointed; I wondered how I could be so dumb, and then I wondered why my parents would lie to me. I write sarcastically now, but as a ten year-old, it was an unpleasant experience. Afterward, my father apologized. My mother told me I discovered the myth in preschool, and she feared the social consequences if I argued about him with the rest of the class. In retrospect, I can’t blame her, but deception unsettles me. At least where science is concerned.

I’m writing this on an iPad Pro I purchased from Best Buy several weeks ago. It measures 10.5 inches in height, with four speakers and a 64-bit A10X Fusion chip. With the case and the stylus, it cost slightly over a thousand dollars, and I was lucky enough to find a used model in excellent condition. The system boasts 4GB of RAM, and my particular model carries 512GB of storage space, before the operating system is accounted for. Weak by modern desktop standards, but stronger than computers from older decades, and far more portable. Apple’s trying to market it as a laptop substitute, but it’s more of a souped-up iPhone. Some models even possess cellular capability. Still, it works well for many tasks, if you don’t require a USB port. The battery also lasts for slightly over ten hours, which is more than my gaming laptop can say.


In many ways, iOS offers a more focused experience than Windows 10, if social media apps are used in moderation (or not at all). The virtual keyboard is large enough for comfortable writing, unlike my old iPod Touch, and it can run Google Docs, Microsoft Word, Pages, or other software. The larger screen makes web navigation richer, and iOS Safari almost feels like a desktop browser at times, although there remain glimpses of dodgy mobile loading. On the other hand, iOS is much less vulnerable to viruses than Windows 10. On the entertainment side, you can download Spotify, Netflix, Kindle, YouTube, and numerous other apps, and the larger screen offers many advantages. It would be difficult to watch a movie with two other people on an iPhone, but I could imagine doing so with my iPad.

It doesn’t have the firepower to run intensive PC games, and most of them can’t be installed on iOS anyway, but it does handle App Store releases quite capably. Being App Store games, a lot of them suffer from microtransaction abuse, but there are decent titles—Infinity Blade II, Final Fantasy VI, and Bloo Kid II, to name three I’m familiar with. Final Fantasy I, II, III, IV, and V were ported to iOS as well, although I haven’t tried them here. You can even get Final Fantasy VII and IX, which were PlayStation titles.

When you wish to include an Octorock in your game,
but you don’t work for Nintendo

I’m currently playing Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas, a Zelda clone created by Cornfox & Bros. The graphics are slightly clearer than a 3DS title, and the levels are built decently enough, but I’m finding the controls somewhat awkward, and combat is shallow as a result. It’s not very difficult, mind you, but pure touch controls have issues with this style of game, and it’s hard to move and attack precisely at the same time. Even Spirit Tracks and Phantom Hourglass had a few buttons to augment their touchscreen maneuvers. It also takes great inspiration from Wind Waker, but sailing occurs through rapid autopilot, sacrificing both the frustration and the adventure that defined the GameCube title.

On the other hand, I haven’t encountered any ads or microtransactions yet, which does wonders for immersion. There’s nothing wrong with imitating Zelda, per se: good ideas are good ideas, no matter where they come from. I’m glad Oceanhorn exists, but we’ll see how it holds up by the end of the journey.

I’d planned to finish Dark Souls II by the end of the week, but when I take the DLC areas into account, I doubt I’m going to get there. It’s a massive title, and I’ve devoted so much (extra) time to level grinding that I’m only at Dragon’s Aerie after a hundred hours of play. My tentative score for the game is a 9.25/10, unless something very disappointing (or impressive) happens in the final stretch. I feel some of the lore was squandered, which is an issue in a game this fucking long, but it offers enormous challenge and freedom of movement. After the tutorial realm of Things Betwixt, you’re presented with two large areas to explore: Heide’s Tower of Flame, and the Forest of Fallen Giants. You select a character class at the beginning of the game, but those merely determine your starting gear and abilities, and you can adopt an entirely different strategy by the end. There are four different types of magic and numerous weapon classes to choose between, and with the proper stats, a single character can experiment with all of them.

I’ve been reading a novel called Woken Furies. It’s the third book in a cyberpunk trilogy by Richard K. Morgan, which began with Altered Carbon and Broken Angels. It takes place centuries in the future, when mankind has learned to upload their minds into computer stacks and travel to distant planets. Fatal injuries can be survived simply by transferring to new bodies, and minds can be kept in storage for tens or hundreds of years with no loss in functionality. If that sounds idealistic, rest assured; it’s one of the bleakest fictional worlds I’ve ever encountered. The main character Takeshi is a former U.N. Envoy soldier with extensive mental conditioning that enhances his reflexes, memory, and capacity for violence. The books follow his journey from detective to mercenary to vigilante, with different employers each time. He initially comes across as a power fantasy, but he either lost some of his humanity to gain those abilities or never had it in the first place.

The series has a bit of a liberal bent, with extreme technological advancement, numerous female authority figures, cynical treatment of religion, and a few homosexual characters that are described quite casually, but it also contains copious bloodshed, cursing, references to sexual violence, use of fictional hallucinogens, and warfare with nuclear weapons and civilian casualties on every side. It blends philosophy and scientific details with naked human barbarism.

It’s also one of the few series I’ve encountered that contains pornographic sex scenes without being pornographic in general. Altered Carbon features a passage where a male and a female character have explicit, prolonged sex under the influence of Merge-9, a drug that causes each partner to share the sensations of the other. It’s just as explicit as Fifty Shades of Gray, if less sadistic and more clearly consensual, and the writing is much, much less clumsy. You could probably use it as masturbatory material, if nothing else was available. But against a backdrop of spinal mutilation, chemical weaponry, murderous corporate figures, virtual torture realms, and other such wonders, it feels downright wholesome.

Like Dark Souls II, I planned to finish it by the end of the week, but at the time of writing, it’s 3 AM on Friday and my Kindle position is 24%. On the positive side, I wrote this almost twenty-four hours after taking Adderall, and little of the drug remained to assist me. My natural state is slightly easier to tolerate than when I was younger, although great stupor remains. I suspect my brain is improving as I mature, and I also had ordinary, garden variety childhood deficits to contend with, which behave almost like a disorder in their own right. On some level, I probably still do, but I’m approaching my twenties, the peak of human fluid intelligence. If that sounds harsh, then perhaps you understand why I dislike lying to children, or corporal punishment. All humans are impaired in my eyes; we merely suffer to different degrees. My kind know that well.

First Impressions: Dark Souls II

Genre: Action role-playing
Developer: FromSoftware
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Platform: Windows, PS3, Xbox 360, PS4, Xbox One
Release: March 11, 2014

Our hero. Armor may vary.

I’ve spent around seventy hours with this game, and so far, it’s handily one of the best I’ve ever played. The graphics are slightly outdated, as you’d expect for a 2014 title, but aside from a few bland stone textures, the artwork remains appealing. Drangleic is a broken realm, and decay runs through every lifeless wooden shack and moss-infested tower. You play as an Undead (yes, capitalized), a human branded with a cursed mark known as the Darksign. The mark grants your kind potential immortality, reviving you at magical bonfires whenever you die. But though you begin with human sentence and flesh, each death rots your body and corrodes your mind, bringing you closer to the walking corpses of old superstition. The final state is a being known as a Hollow, an animalistic predator that exists only to feed on the souls of humans, sentient Undead, and other lifeforms. Hollows also die permanently when killed, removing the Darksign’s only gift.

You begin the game partially Hollow, and your character visits Drangelic searching for a cure. You never reach the final stages in gameplay, but your character loses maximum health each time you die, down to a minimum of fifty percent. Your health and humanity can be restored by viewing magical effigies, but it’s a brutal system nonetheless. You meet many sentient Undead throughout your journey, but most of the enemies you face are Hollows, wrapped in bandages or tattered armor and cloth. You also find blades and contraptions dedicated to torturing your kind, or locking them behind metal bars. The Undead are feared even when they remain sentient, because the Darksign’s Hollowing has brought many nations to ruin. It’s a much more nuanced take on the undeath concept than usual, although the core is still negative.

But at the core, Dark Souls II is about combat. The lore is mostly optional, spread through item descriptions, conversations with NPCs. It reminds me of the modern DOOM, in that sense; there’s plenty of worldbuilding, but you can skip most of the finer details, at least to the point I’m at. I could do for a little more character development, but it keeps the gameplay in firm focus.

The combat system is exceptionally brutal. At the beginning, you have little health, and enemies can stunlock you at a moment’s notice, delivering two or three blows in rapid succession. Defense is key to survival; you’re often forced to lure enemies out one-by-one, using rolls, backsteps, and shielding to bait them into overextending themselves. It sounds tedious, but it’s really quite a fluid system, if you’re paying attention. If you swing too quickly or get lazy about defense, even the weakest enemies will cut you down in seconds. When you die, you drop all the souls in your inventory, which serve as both experience points and currency for merchants. You can collect them again after you’re revived, but if you die beforehand, they disappear forever. The enemies in each area respawn twelve times, which allows for efficient level-grinding, but also makes travel unrelentingly dangerous. Fortunately, most locations contain more than one bonfire, which you can quickly teleport between kneeling at other ones.

Adding to the difficulty, most of your actions consume stamina, from swinging a sword to sprinting away or blocking an enemy attack. The stamina meter begins fairly short, although it can quickly be upgraded. Unless you’re holding a shield up or wearing equipment you’re too weak to carry, it rapidly recharges, but you can still be left helpless and exhausted for a few seconds if you act too aggressively. Most shields also allow a small portion of enemy damage through, as they would in real life. On the positive side, this means you can often finish off an enemy who raises their shield at low health. You can also perform a quick shove to knock them off balance, but many enemies can break your guard with their own special attacks. You acquire a rechargeable healing flask early in the quest, but it requires extensive upgrades to be very useful, and you need several seconds to drink from it, which Hollows will gladly take advantage of.

To make matters worse, the game has no pause button; you remain exposed while changing your equipment, key bindings or other settings. The core experience is singleplayer, but other users can leave messages and bloodstains on the ground, warning you of impending danger. They can also invade your game and try to kill you, which rarely takes more than a few blows. You’ll gain an effigy to reverse Hollowing if you kill them first, but the invasions force you to remain vigilant, even when all nearby enemies have been vanquished.

It sounds difficult, and it is, but I’ve rarely died in a way I could honestly call unfair. Usually it springs from fighting multiple enemies in a small space, not dodging properly, falling off a boardwalk, allowing enemies to get behind me, exploring at low health, or other self-inflicted follies. Many action RPGs, such as Fallout 4, become very easy in the later stages, because you gain enough health and attack power to make severe errors without consequence. Not so with this game. My character is currently level 156, but even when visiting the forest that held the first boss, I have to pay attention.

You can also gain levels and items quite rapidly, if you don’t keeping losing your souls. From Software’s decision to combine experience and currency focuses the gameplay, creating a constant resource tug that prevents even small acquisitions from feeling empty. If you don’t have enough souls to level up, there’s probably something useful to buy, and vice versa. You can also upgrade your weapons and armor, if you find the right equipment. It has a real addictive quality, but you’re constantly rewarded, unlike some more sluggish RPGs I could name.

So far, I only have three serious complaints: the PC version still displays console buttons in the menus and tutorials, I had to disable double-clicking to get guard breaks to work right, and you sometimes have to cover a lot of ground to reenter a boss battle if you die the first time, even when all shortcuts have been uncovered. The lack of a pause button can pose issues when real life intrudes, but it contributes to the atmosphere of threat, and it would be difficult to include the PvP elements if one player could halt things. I also wish the lore elements were more prominent, but the ruined fortresses, undead huntsmen, and haunted prison cells already tell a dark tale themselves. Every area seems to have degenerated further than the last, and Drangelic’s world is fascinating to uncover. The trail is always grim, and a few areas become truly frightening, even though the game is rated T instead of M.

Interestingly, Dark Souls II has the highest Metacritic score of the series, but I’m told many fans prefer the first and second games. I’ll have to finish the game for a full review, but if this is even arguably the weakest entry in the series, then Dark Souls strikes me as the equal of Zelda, Final Fantasy, and other classic franchises. At a minimum, it certainly handles breakable equipment better than the latest Zelda, simply because it’s possible to prevent.

Sleep Deprivation

I hate sleep deprivation. Of all the mundane physical sensations, it’s probably the shittiest. It’s also been a frequent companion. When I was very young, staying up late excited me, but my sleep reached an average of three hours by the first month of grade eight, which forever killed my enthusiasm. The following 2.5 years were a single never-ending day, a haze of social fears, sleep deprivation, and untreated ADHD. I started sleeping better afterward, but I was also self-medicating with caffeine pills, which caused occasional nights where I couldn’t sleep at all. I usually sleep for seven or eight hours now, but I stupidly, stupidly played Zelda II: The Adventure of Link until 1 AM this Tuesday, and I couldn’t shut my brain off afterward. I spent the next day at college with no sleep whatsoever. It’s a little better than in grade 11, since I take stimulants now, but it’s still one of the shittiest feelings in recent memory. And self-inflicted, no less.

Every time I have a night like that, I remember: there are people who brag about losing sleep, or think you’re lazy if you can’t get by on five hours every morning. There are times when you have to wake up early, just as there are times when you can’t get enough food or water, but it should be avoided as much as possible. It doesn’t just make you tired, it impairs you. According to the CDC,

  • An estimated 1 in 25 adult drivers (aged 18 years or older) report having fallen asleep while driving in the previous 30 days.
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving was responsible for 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths in 2013. However, these numbers are underestimated and up to 6,000 fatal crashes each year may be caused by drowsy drivers.

Sweet dreams. However, I’ve always wondered if the severe stages affect others as much as me. My senses were hyperactive in childhood, and when I stay up all night, the slightest touch feels deeply nauseating, like nails over chalkboard. I would rather suffer twenty-four hours of influenza symptoms. It sounds melodramatic, but that’s the best description I can give. As such, I’ve prepared an account of those feelings: I’m curious how familiar they sound.

For me, lost sleep affects the senses as deeply as the mind. At the beginning, it decays vigilance, it impairs memory, and it leaves eyes coarse and bloodshot, as if they’ve been soaked in chlorine. The effects are minor with one missed hour, but they worsen quickly afterward. Muscle tremors set in, punishing movement, exposure to cold, or further attempts at sleep. When they develop late at night, it becomes tempting to get out of bed, but that only makes them worse in the end.
At amounts below two hours, it feels less like drowsiness than poisoning. The brain is prevented from clearing certain neurotransmitters, and the journey begins with mild euphoria. The room seems further away, and normal thought disintegrates, removing fears and expectations that seemed overwhelming before. Plans are formed for staying awake the next day: caffeine, lots of social interaction, and sharp focus on simple chores.

But the hope fades around the time the sun rises. Hours become an undifferentiated mass, as if buried under cannabis, but my muscles protest at the slightest touch, and the world acquires a harsh, grainy filter, leaving nearly everything painful to view. When I shower, the water clings sickeningly to my face, and my shirt disgusts me as I slide it on. If possible, I hide in my room all day with the door locked, skipping meals to remain alone. You hate yourself for reaching this state again, but your only priority is forgetting you’re there. I’ll often watch Netflix or other websites to distract myself, although I have to remove my glasses, because otherwise the most attractive sets and people look highly disgusting. I’ve watched entire television seasons in a single day, which is a dubious honor. Video games can also be an effective distraction, but it’s difficult to gather enough energy, and I usually don’t perform well. Books are almost impossible to focus on. Masturbation is an option, but it produces sweat, which reminds me how shitty I feel.

If forced to travel in public, I slide my glasses in my pocket, try to avoid looking at anyone, and attempt to hide my disgust over wind, cold temperature, insects, moisture, and anything else that happens to brush my face. I don’t think I’m successful, because people often ask if something’s wrong; my grandfather once thought I was on drugs, and not legal ones (I wasn’t). I’ll complete work or chores if they’re right in front of me, but it’s physically difficult to get anything myself, or sometimes even to remember it. As the day progresses, I start involuntarily sleeping for brief moments, leaving time disjointed and spotty. It’s unsettling to become so weak, so confused by simple activities.

Often, sleep deprivation is caused by having too much work, taking too long to do it, or some insidious blend of the two. Writing is a particular culprit, because you have to focus on it very deeply, but you also have to relax yourself to really get anywhere. Otherwise, if you’re like me, you’ll spend six hours writing three sentences, and other tasks—math, laundry, job applications—will fall by the wayside, until they form a heap that can only be conquered by staying up until three in the morning. Of course, the more sleep you miss, the dumber you get, and the more you forget what you’re doing. In accordance with circadian rhythm, your energy dips between 2 and 5 PM, leaving precious little behind. You accomplish nothing until the evening, when it begins to rise, and nighttime hormones relieve stress, making you forget how tired you were. You’re tempted to stay up until three again to catch up, promising yourself you’ll do better tomorrow, or when you finish this class, or in a year or two.
Electronics are another culprit. I’ve been known to play video games until eleven or twelve at night, and I regret it almost every time. It’s easier to play for longer than I intend, but more importantly, they affect me afterward. There’s a particular sort of energy that leaves half your mind in the game, even when you’re lying in bed with the lights off. When I reach that state, it can take two or three hours to fall asleep, if it’s even possible. First person shooters seem to be the worst, perhaps because of the intensity, and perhaps because I keep my computer in my room. But any genre or console can do it. While rarer, television can have the same effect. Web browsing hasn’t induced as many involuntary all-nighters, but it’s a good way to stay up an hour or two late, particularly if I don’t brush my teeth or clean the kitchen first.

The other primary cause has been frustration over the sleep itself. It’s much, much harder to sleep well if I’m scared I won’t be able to. When I started trying to correct my sleep cycle in high school, it had been almost three years since I’d reliably gotten eight hours. The first time I tried to sleep at nine or ten, my mind wouldn’t shut off until well after midnight. I faced the same problem again the next day. My body wasn’t used to sleeping that early, and I was going to bed excited about getting more rest. Both made it difficult for my brain to shut off, and some adolescent chemistry might have contributed as well. The transition into sleep involves letting go, and my desperation pushed it away. Our bathroom also had a mold problem, requiring several walls to be cut open, and the repair company left two loud devices running there. They were necessary, but they woke me up two or three times each night.

I also had unmedicated, undiagnosed ADHD, and it was worse back then. Even when I did manage to sleep for eight or nine hours, I never stopped being tired, no matter how much exercise, caffeine, or loud music I added to the picture. My mother still smoked back then, and she rarely slept for more than four or five hours. She’d always encouraged me to go to bed earlier in the past, but this time she just wanted me to shut up about being so tired. I suspect she was still bitter about me setting my own bedtime, and I started plenty of stupid arguments myself, as you’d expect. But the end result was that no one listened, and I essentially had to relearn how to sleep in a normal fashion. It took months to accomplish.

On the positive side, I finally beat Zelda II Wednesday morning. It’s probably the hardest Zelda game, but it’s also the only flat-out RPG, with the possible exception of Breath of the Wild. And like most RPGs, you can get stronger than intended if you’re willing to spend hours grinding. I started a new game Tuesday evening, found a room in the first palace with three respawning Bubbles, and killed them for experience until my attack stat reached seven. The rest largely followed. The last two palaces murdered me even with all stats at eight, but I pushed through, and Dark Link has an A.I. oversight that makes him much easier than he appears. This could have been accomplished without missing a single of sleep, and probably more efficiently, but at least something good came of it.