Lockdown Lowdown, Uncategorized

Lockdown Lowdown – 3 ways you can make the most of Learning At Work Week – 21st May 2020

It turns out there’s a lot going on this week! As well as being Mental Health Awareness Week (click here for a little exercise you can do for that), it is also Learning At Work Week. Whilst many of us are currently either off work, or at work but swamped with essential duties to carry out, I believe it is still well worth taking advantage of. These themes actually ties in quite nicely with Mental Health Awareness Week, as lifelong learning is a core part of promoting good mental health.

If you are on furlough or waiting until things settle down before looking for work, now could be a great time to think what skills you’d like to develop by the time this is over to help you in your current job, prepare yourself for another role you’ve had your eye on or just engage in the joy of learning something new that interests you. And if you’re working at this time, asking your employer about learning at work, if appropriate, could be a good way of keeping your spirits up and refining your skills.

Here’s a few things I’d recommend checking out if you’re keen to make the most of this special week – though it’s worth pointing out, they aren’t looking to go away once Learning At Work Week is over so keep a cool head as you consider your options!

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Tall Hobbit Takeaways, Uncategorized

Tall Hobbit Takeaway – Exercise your Gratitude for Mental Health Awareness Week

Hello everyone!

You may or may not be aware that this week (May 18th – 24th) is Mental Health Awareness Week, and so this week’s Takeaway will give you a short activity to help give you a little mental health boost and a week long challenge, should you choose to accept it.

Each year, Mental Health Awareness Week has a guiding theme, and this year’s theme is ‘Kindness’.

Kindness

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Lockdown Lowdown, Uncategorized

Lockdown Lowdown – 6 great console games to connect with friends over – 13th May 2020

It’s been a little while since my last Lockdown Lowdown. This is partly because of other projects I’ve been working on, but also, not going to lie, it’s because I’ve been indulging in a few choice video games.

Video games have had a reputation of being quite solitary activities. However, as time has gone on, the medium has evolved to become more social and attitudes towards it have changed, making it more of an acceptable pastime. Now, with the lockdown still in full swing, people are turning to games as ways of staying connected with one another.

I have been doing just that lately and I would like to share with you my suggestions for games you can use to connect with your friends, and tips on how to get the best social experience out of them:

Borderlands 3

I figured I’d start with the obvious one – the one I’ve mentioned in at least two other blogs by now! Borderlands 3 is a brilliant open-world shoot-and-loot game that you can play with others online, or split-screen offline with housemates.

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It has become a regular treat for me and my partner, Megan, to jump into every now and again as we team up to fight psychotic cults and evil corporations throughout the galaxy. Gearbox did a brilliant job with the main story campaign, filling it with colourful and endearing characters, detailed worlds and a dizzying variety of weaponry and character customization.  But, they didn’t stop there! They just kept on releasing new content; not just the 2 paid DLCs (Moxxi’s Heist of the Handsome Jackpot and Guns, Love & Tentacles are both well worth the money!), but also free events, including the current Revenge of the Cartels and Borderlands Science (which you can find out more about here). Even without that, there’s so many engaging side-missions and elevated challenges thanks to the multi-tiered Mayhem Mode, you and your friends are unlikely to run out of things to do!

Whilst we mostly use the offline version, the online features of Borderlands 3 are well worth using, allowing you to form up to a 4 person squad to take on the dangers of the galaxy – though bear in mind, those dangers tend to be greater with a bigger squad, with enemies getting tougher to match the advantages of having a bigger squad. It is also worth noting that Borderlands 3 includes a feature where players playing the same game session can experience different tiers of loot and enemies to match their level. That means that if you’ve just started your game and are at Level 1, you can play with your level 57 friends and everyone will experience roughly the same amount of challenging enemies and loot appropriate to their level. If you want to play the game this way, you need to select ‘Cooperation’ mode, rather than ‘Coopetition’ mode when you first start the game. You can always change this later in the menu if you want to.

If, somehow, you do run out of things to do in Borderlands 3, then Borderlands: The Handsome Collection is also available on current and previous generation consoles. This gaming bundle includes Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel along with all the many accompanying DLC attached to these two titles. Though they both lack some of the features and polish of Borderlands 3, they do allow up to 4 players split-screen which should be of interest for those of you with 3 housemates you think would make great vault hunting companions, and the gameplay and story is still engaging enough to happily spend hours in with your friends. And if that’s not enough, then you can always take a virtual trip back to 2009 with the Borderlands Game of the Year Edition to experience the original shoot-and-loot in all its remastered glory!

Overcooked & Overcooked 2

Although the fate of galaxies or planets aren’t at steak anymore, the Overcooked series can often feel like the stakes are higher. These games allow you to team up with friends offline and online to form kitchen crews of up to 4 to rapidly complete food orders under difficult conditions.

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If this is starting to sound too mundane, I should mention that these difficult conditions include, but are not limited to cooking in a volcano, on a pirate ship, on a space station with moving parts and on a hot air balloon as it falls out of the sky. The conditions you and your team need to operate in are so wacky and diverse, the experience of attempting to make order out of chaos with your team will give you plenty of opportunities for good teamwork and cooperation, or just leave you running around in circles and laughing as your kitchen catches fire.

Like many well-designed games, the challenges steadily ramp up over the course of the game, so don’t be intimidated, and enjoy the ride. Whenever you’re ready for the bigger challenges, they’ll be there for you!

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint

Back to saving the world again. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint is an online co-op game that allows you to form a team of up to, you guessed it, 4 players to take on a hostile insurrection on a high-tech facility on the fictional pacific island of Auroa.

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As an elite special forces group known simply as the ‘Ghosts’ you are given full tactical freedom to take on challenges as you see fit. Want to go in all guns blazing? Go ahead. Want to sneak in an out without a trace? What? Who said that? Wanna parachute in, commandeer a vehicle and execute a flawless chase scene through the mountains? You do you boo!

Although the story’s not much to write home about, the gameplay really captures the thrill of tactical espionage and survival in the wild, and as a longstanding fan of Metal Gear Solid looking at the lack of new games on the horizon, this has been a great game to jump into with a buddy!

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There is also a whole lot to be done – aside from the main story campaign there are also a variety of side missions you can do, as well as raids for the more daring 4-person squad. There is also the promise of live events, including a Terminator themed event that released earlier this year. The event is still playable now, allowing players to still test their metal against that of The Terminator, but the exclusive rewards from the event are no longer available. On top of that, if you purchase a Year 1 pass for the game, you will also get access to hours of extra storied content released over the year, in the form of New Adventures: Episodes 2 and 3. Episode 2 is out now and has you teaming up with another Ubisoft icon; Splinter Cell’s Sam Fisher, whilst Episode 3 we’ll have to look forward to June before getting to play. All this said, if you don’t want to buy a Year 1 pass, but know a friend who already has one, joining their session will allow you access to this exclusive content.

This game is a direct sequel to Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands, which has you and your squad taking on the Santa Blanca Cartel that has taken control of Bolivia. It is also well worth a play, giving you similar tactical freedom as you target and dismantle different sections of the cartel bit by bit.

As a heads up, Breakpoint was somewhat difficult to get into with its overwhelming amount of menus and glitches, but it is well worth sticking with. Ubisoft have done a great job of responding to player feedback, tidying things up and allowing players to customize their playing experience. I’ve opted for a simpler gear system and a navigation system that allows greater exploration of the world. The later has been very satisfying to use – rather than the game simply giving you waypoints to show you exactly where you need to go, you’ll need to look at clues, listen to dialogue and figure out where you need to go yourself which I’ve found much more satisfying and allows you to form a greater connection with the in-game world.

Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley is very much a warm and wholesome hug of a game. The game has you giving up your life in the city to go and be a farmer in the beautiful Stardew Valley – I’m sure that idea must resonate with some of you. This game was originally a solo gaming experience, but has since been updated to allow you to link up with, let’s say it all together: up to 4 players online!

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There’s no fixed story to follow in Stardew Valley, but instead, there is a series of opportunities that lets you and your fellow farmers decide what you want to spend time doing and work towards. Do you want to focus on your harvest, rear animals, help the rundown community centre, delve into the abandoned mine or make friends with everyone in the village?

Although it has a lot of similarities to other games in terms of following objectives and earning enough ingame currency to earn more benefits, I’ve found it a really refreshing change where a lot of the tasks you do are so lowkey, such as foraging or planting and harvesting crops, that when you’re playing with others, it’s easier to focus on just chatting together whilst enjoying the virtual space.

XCOM 2

Now, this may seem an odd choice as XCOM 2 isn’t technically a multiplayer game (apart from a small player vs. player mode, but that’s not what I’m going to suggest here), so just hear me out a moment.

XCOM 2 is a turn-based strategy game that has you leading a human resistance group against an alien coalition called Advent that has overrun planet Earth. One of the things that makes this game special is that you get the option of designing and customizing your own squad members yourself and when you take them out on missions, you can pass the controller around so that everyone can effectively have their own character(s) to control and look after in the field. At the start of the game, you are allowed a squad size of 4, but later on you can upgrade your squad to allow for 6 members, meaning you could have up to 6 players at once! And with the in-depth character creator, you can literally play as any character you can think of! Ever wondered how the crew of BBC Sci-fi comedy, Red Dwarf, would do against an alien invasion, or perhaps you wanted to play as freedom-fighter/Member of Scottish Parliament, Ruth Davidson – well now’s your chance!

I’d particularly recommend XCOM 2 (and it’s predecessor, XCOM) for people who are quite new to gaming. The turn-based element of the game means that enemy forces will politely wait for you to decide what to do before you before making their move, meaning you don’t need to feel rushed and pressured, and you can even consult the rest of your team for advice before making your move.

If, however, you are up for more of a challenge, there are several tiers of difficulty, as well as the infamous, IRONMAN mode. In this mode, the game will automatically save as you go along, meaning you can’t go back and try again if a beloved squad member gets killed. It’s tough, but I’ve found it does make the game feel more real and primal knowing that your squad members virtual lives are on the line and make your emotional investment in them, and the story, more real!

Read Dead Redemption 2

Finally, I’d recommend booting up 2018’s Red Dead Redemption 2 for a good ol’ mosey into its online world.

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This has definitely been the game I’ve been spending the most time in lately! Initially, Read Dead Online received a lot of criticism when it came out for not having enough for its players to do in the game world. However, it has since then developed many more features for players; most notably the Roles feature that allows players to turn their Old West characters into either a Trader, Bounty Hunter, Collector or, more recently, a Moonshiner, with varying activities and levelling up related to each trade. Word of advice, you can be have more than one of these roles, but the first one’s free, so choose carefully. After that, you’ll need to pay 15-25 of the illusive in-game gold bars to take on another role.

Read Dead Online is a Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game meaning that there can be many players in the same world at one time. This can be quite daunting especially when you look at the chaos  that occurs on Rockstar’s other title; Grand Theft Auto: Online. However, Read Dead Online gets around this in a number of ways.

First of all, you can form a posse of up to 7 members, including yourself. If you’re planning on teaming up with your friends, you’ll need to make sure you’re in the same gaming session, and then you can form up, simply by tapping left on the directional buttons, forming a posse and then inviting your friends to it. If you’re in a posse, other players may be less willing to mess with you, and if they do, you’ve got backup. It’ll also mean that you can do various missions and activities together, depending on who the posse leader is.

Secondly, Rockstar have introduced various ways you can avoid interacting with aggressive players altogether. Any player who is acting aggressively will be highlighted on your map with a red icon, whereas friendlier players will be highlighted with blue icons. It’s a nice feeling watching a friendly posse riding by on their horses and tipping their hat to you before heading on without any incident. Even if players do decide they’re not going to leave you alone, you have the option to press charges – which will put a bounty on their head and alert other players to their behaviour. You can also parley with them, which means you start a 10 minute timer, where neither you or your assailant can harm each other. You can use this time to sort things out with your words, or simply put some distance between each other.

The beauty of Red Dead Online, is that it can facilitate so many different experiences. It’s not the main draw, but you can follow the game’s story missions with your posse, giving you lots of opportunities for gunfights and group moral choices. The various roles can have you engaging in a variety of profitable activities as you level up your characters and by them more fancy gear. But there’s a lot to be said for the simpler things; playing poker, go canoeing (I really miss canoeing…) going on a fishing trip, or simply watching the sunset together.

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So there we have it, my suggestion of 6 games to play with your friends during lockdown. Let me know what you think of this list in the comments and let me know if there are any other games you’d recommend connecting with friends over!

Tall Hobbit Takeaways, Uncategorized

Tall Hobbit Takeaway – Planning yourself a Personal Retreat

If you’re used to being busy, or having your daily schedule dictated by external factors, such as work or family, you may be struggling with what to do with yourself in these current lockdown conditions. If you’re like me, you may also find that you are much better at taking care of other people than you are at taking care of yourself. If so, this may be a good opportunity to hire yourself as your own personal time manager!

retreat

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Tall Hobbit Takeaways, Uncategorized

Tall Hobbit Takeaway – Master your Distractions

Over the past week, I’ve had people say that they struggle to stay focused on various tasks and wondering how they could avoid distractions. I’m sure anyone who’s reading this can relate in some way, no matter what you are getting up to this week. My offering for you today is a simple activity you can do to gently master your distractions and work more productively. All you will need is some paper and something to write with.

Motivation

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Tall Hobbit Takeaways, Uncategorized

Tall Hobbit Takeaway – Dicey Decisions

If, like me, you’re quite good at generating ideas but less good at deciding which idea to go for, then you might find this Takeaway activity useful, and all you need to do it is a 6-sided dice!

Dice

(Image from Pexels.)

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Tall Hobbit Takeaways, Uncategorized

Tall Hobbit Takeaways – a new offering

Just a quick post to introduce a new bite-sized, interactive feature, giving you short activities and mental exercises for dealing with any challenges you might be facing personally or professionally; the Tall Hobbit Takeaway!

Tall Hobbit Takeaway

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