Video Game Family Time: Never Alone

Sometimes, sitting down to play with your kids can also include playing video games together with them, especially if it’s a lazy rainy weekend afternoon!

Here at Owls Well, we don’t see video games as a way for kids to isolate themselves but as a way for families and siblings to bond with each other over a shared experience.

In this Video Game Family Time series, I’ll be talking about some video games that we like to play together as a family and some rules that we have to keep everyone playing together nicely.

This time, I’ll be talking about a very beautifully crafted video game, Never Alone (Kisima Innitchuna).

Never Alone (Kisima Innitchuna) is a puzzle-platform game born from a collaboration between E-line Media (which specialises in educational games) and Upper One Games, a game company set up by the Cook Inlet Tribal Council which serves the Alaskan Native and American Indian people living in the Cook Inlet region.

The Upper One Games development team includes over 3 dozen Alaska Native elders, storytellers and cultural advisors from the Iñupiat people, who worked very intimately with all levels of the game design, to produce a game that celebrates Inuit folklore, cultural beliefs and values.

The game story follows the adventures of the Iñupiat girl, Nuna, and her arctic fox companion as they traverse the harsh but beautiful Northern Arctic in an attempt to solve the mystery of the endless winter. The game graphics are really something to behold, and are closely based on Alaskan Native art, whilst the story itself is a traditional tale licensed directly from the family that was first recorded telling it.

Never Alone – Game Trailer from Never Alone on Vimeo.

We like to play the game in local co-op mode, taking turns to play as as Nuna as well as the arctic fox. Most of the puzzles require the arctic fox and Nuna to work in tandem in order for the game to progress, and it is truly heartwarming to see J and Little E help each other through the game. The game narration is all in the Iñupiat dialect with subtitles, so it was lovely to see J immediately reading out the subtitles to Little E so that she could understand the story.

Additionally, solving new puzzle elements and entering new game areas also unlocks game ‘insights’ which are videos documenting information about the Northern arctic region and the Inuit way of life including interviews with Alaskan Native elders, storytellers and hunters. This is the part where we all get to sit back as a family and learn about a culture that is utterly different from what we know and how the people in that region adapted to their climate. It really is a journey!

When we are playing together in Never Alone, there are certain rules that we insist the children have to observe:

  1. We listen to each other’s ideas on how to solve each puzzle and try it out, even if we think it won’t work
  2. If a puzzle is difficult, we patiently try again and encourage each other to think of solutions – there will be no belittling of another person for having an idea that didn’t work
  3. We talk to each other nicely – there will be no yelling or getting over-excited during time sensitive sequences
  4. When Mummy and Daddy say that game time is over, everyone puts their controllers down immediately with no fuss or bargaining.

Do you think family video game time is a good way for families to spend time together? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!

Video Game Family Time: Resogun

Sometimes, sitting down to play with your kids can also include playing video games together with them, especially if it’s a lazy rainy weekend afternoon!

Here at Owls Well, we don’t see video games as a way for kids to isolate themselves but as a way for families and siblings to bond with each other over a shared experience.

In this Video Game Family Time series, I’ll be talking about some video games that we like to play together as a family and some rules that we have to keep everyone playing together nicely.

This time, I’ll be talking about one of the first games we played together, Resogun.

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Picture Source: Resogun Official Webpage

Resogun is a really fun shoot ’em up game from the Finnish indie game developer, Housemarque, which brings be back to the days when I used to play Choplifter on PC.

This is a side-scrolling video game, that is, the action is viewed from a side angle and onscreen characters move left-to-right and back again to achieve their objectives. Players control little spaceships and have to shoot invading alien ships whilst rescuing humans trapped in glass cages. The game is pretty fast paced, so it’s a good one to play if you want to keep the game time really short and yet satisfying (like 15-20 minutes).

We like this game for playing in pairs (the multiplayer function only goes up to two players), and the fact that in-game resources like special weapons, extra lives and bonuses, are shared between both players. This means that the game encourages cooperative play (not competitive play), and J and Little E have to work together to defeat the game, collect bonuses and upgrades, and protect each other when carrying a people to safety.

The game is also very simple to learn as it has a straightforward control system and really smooth graphics that are sensitive and responsive to the player. The challenge in the game lies in being able to react quickly and use special weapons more strategically as the levels progress in difficulty. This means that our 5 year old Little E can still play with our 8 year old J, and both of them are engaged in the game.

The little ships and people are very cute, and the alien spaceships are not visually frightening or ugly. The game does involve shooting down evil alien spaceships, with a great deal of cartoon violence (the ships explode into colourful pixels).

Another aspect of the game that I like is that you can build and customise your own ships. J and Little E get a kick out of designing their own spaceships and seeing them rendered in 3D!

Here’s an example of a ship that Little E designed for Valentine’s Day this year.

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Little E’s ship, the “Love Butterfly”

J also drew and coloured his own spaceship, the “Rainbow Tornado”.

Then, The Barn Owl and I helped them turn their drawings into playable ships that they could use in the game!

Each of them had to choose what sort of characteristics their ships would have based on how they like to play the game. Little E’s ship was made faster but with less firepower so that she could concentrate on saving more people and collecting bonuses (you can see the “Love Butterfly” carrying a little green man who is dangling from the belly of the ship in the picture below), whilst J’s ship is less agile but has stronger shields and firepower, as well as a bigger boost engine.

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J and Little E piloting the “Love Butterfly” and “Rainbow Tornado”

When we are playing together in Resogun, there are certain rules that we insist the children have to observe:

  1. We remember to be patient – we don’t get cross with each other if the game doesn’t go the way that we want, and we are kind with our words
  2. We listen to each other – we discuss and work together to form a common game strategy
  3. We take turns to be the team leader
  4. When Mummy and Daddy say that game time is over, everyone puts their controllers down immediately with no fuss or bargaining.

Do you think family video game time is a good way for families to spend time together? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!

Video Game Family Time: Minecraft

Sometimes, sitting down to play with your kids can also include playing video games together with them, especially if it’s a lazy rainy weekend afternoon!

Here at Owls Well, we don’t see video games as a way for kids to isolate themselves but as a way for families and siblings to bond with each other over a shared experience.

Growing up, ABC and I were fortunate enough to own a PC, where we played adventure games together going from text-based games like Zork, to graphic adventure games like King’s Quest and RPGs (Role Playing Games) like Quest for Glory! The Barn Owl didn’t have a computer but he owned a video game console and would play strategy or racing games together with his sister and his parents. So it only makes sense that we would join our children as they make their first few forays into the virtual world.

There are tons of multiplayer video games that are cooperative in nature with split-screen or couch modes which mean that families can sit together and play together.

In this Video Game Family Time series, I’ll be talking about some video games that we like to play together as a family and some rules that we have to keep everyone playing together nicely.

Let’s start with one of our favourite games, the very popular Minecraft.

Minecraft is what is considered a ‘sandbox’ video game, which means that it allows the player complete freedom to make open-ended choices as to how, when and what they want to do in the game world.

The biggest feature of Minecraft is the creative building aspect of the game which allows players to build complete 3D structures out of cubes that have various properties and textures. The game also includes resource gathering and crafting, exploration and combat.

There are several gameplay modes to choose from, but we only use two of these modes at the moment:

  1. Survival Mode: Players have to acquire resources to progress in the game, fight hostile night creatures and maintain their health and hunger status.
  2. Creative Mode: Players have infinite resources to build with and can create their own world or map, or even make their own mini-game.

There are also interactive online modes where players can share maps, worlds and even mini-game adventures they have built themselves in creative mode, or be spectators in another player’s game. They can even play multiplayer games with other online gamers. As our children are still young, we don’t feel that these online multiplayer features are for them right now, so we do not log into the internet whilst playing the game.

When we are playing together as a family, we usually choose to play in Survival Mode and we turn off the ‘Player vs Player’ option to encourage cooperative play instead of competitive play. This makes the game much fun because we have to work together as a family to get through the game.

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Owls Well in Minecraft

How do we work together in the game? Well, let’s take this picture as an example.

One of the first things you have to do when you start the game is to build a shelter to hide in so that you can avoid having to fight off monsters at night or have a place to recuperate after going on a night hunt! In the picture, you can see a simple house that we built together during one of our gameplay sessions.

The wood for the house was from trees that I cut down using an axe made by the Barn Owl. The glass windows were made by J from sand blocks that he heated in a furnace. The Barn Owl lured animals like sheep, pigs and cows into a wooden pen so that we could have a steady supply of food. Little E cleared the land and planted wheat which can be used to feed our livestock or used to bake bread, then she tamed dogs to help to protect the land. So you see, we created a base from which we can explore the rest of the game map at our own leisure.

The multiplayer mode can be played using a ‘split-screen view‘, which means that we can all be in the same room at the same time sharing the same screen. This also means that every player in the game does not have to do the exact same thing at the same time (although we try to stay around the same location) – for example, J happened reading books about pyramids and monuments, so he spent time building the ziggurats that you can see in the background of the picture, whilst Little E and I went fishing in the nearby lake.

One of the aspects of Minecraft that I like is how items are constructed as part of gameplay. For example, if I want to craft an iron pickaxe, I have to mine iron ore out of the ground, smelt it in a furnace to make iron ingots, then use several ingots in combination with a wooden stick in order to make a pickaxe. This gives kids an idea of some the real world processes involved the creation of manmade objects, and is one of the reasons why J and Little E were excited about visiting an exhibition on rocks and gemstones!

When we are playing together in Minecraft, there are certain rules that we insist the children have to observe:

  1. We play nice – that means no destroying each other’s buildings or killing each other’s pets, it also means that we are kind with our words
  2. We share – all resources must be shared and no one will be excluded from any in-game activity
  3. We are respectful towards each other – we ask before taking or using resources that have been stored away, especially if those resources are difficult to obtain
  4. We look out for each other – that means nobody gets left behind, we help defend each other against hostile creatures
  5. When Mummy and Daddy say that game time is over, everyone puts their controllers down immediately with no fuss or bargaining.

Do you think family video game time is a good way for families to spend time together? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!

Author Showcase: Chris Haughton – Children’s Book author and illustrator

Last year, we were very fortunate to have been able to attend a workshop at the Singapore Writer’s Festival led by one of our favourite authors, Chris Haughton.

J and Little E were ecstatic when I told them that we were going to meet the author of one of their favourite books A Bit Lost – a charming story of a sleepy little owl looking for it’s mummy with some help from a friendly but confused squirrel.

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At the Closetful of Books pop-up store, holding their precious copy of ‘A Bit Lost’

We got to the workshop early so I had some time to browse some of Chris Haughton’s other award-winning books at the pop-up bookstore run by Closetful of Books.

Oh No, George! is a funny story about a well-meaning but unfortunate dog who is always getting into scrapes. I love the colours in this one, and I think kids can really relate to George’s many difficulties.

Shh! We Have a Plan is about a group of unsuccessful hunters who keep running into all sorts of trouble whilst attempting to capture a brightly coloured bird. This one is particularly good for reading aloud, and the kids find it absolutely hilarious.

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J reading ‘Shh! We Have a Plan’ to Little E and Thumper

When Chris Haughton arrived, he was utterly captivating from the start, managing to hold both J and Little E’s attention for nearly a whole hour. He talked about the different ways in which he planned and created each book, and the inspiration behind some of his character designs. It was enlightening, listening to him talk about his creative process and watching him engage with the children.

Mr Haughton showed us some pictures that he drew when he was a very young boy. He told us how he loved drawing and would draw all the time, everywhere. This was something that resonated with J especially, who owns a small sketchbook that he takes around with him.

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Dancing, puppetry and general awesomeness

Towards the end of the workshop, Chris Haughton demonstrated how he would use a single picture to tell a complete story. He got children in the audience to shout out ideas for a ridiculous and unlikely method of capturing squirrels, finally settling on the most outlandish idea of all (which you can see in the picture below).

The kids and I stayed until the very end of the workshop, and Mr Haughton was kind enough to autograph our books. He even gave J the picture that he drew during the session! J was so thrilled.

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Drawing with Chris Haughton

Chris Haughton, is first and foremost, an artist. It just so happens that his work as an artist includes creating children’s books using different mediums.

One of his other works is an app for children called ‘Hat Monkey‘. The app is an interactive story about a little Monkey who needs a lot of help, and kids can feed, sing, dance with and even talk to the little Monkey. Isn’t that cool?

Chris Haughton’s awesomeness doesn’t end there, by the way.

Before Mr Haughton started publishing children’s books, he worked as a volunteer designer for fair-trade organisations for over 10 years. After he published his first book, he went to Nepal and India to work with various fair-trade projects who now produce handmade toys and other products related to his books. These are sold on his personal website (where you can also get signed art prints), and all the profits from each sale goes right back into making more fair-trade projects.

Mr Haughton also set up aother fair-trade project called NODE, which works with a Nepalese non-profit technical school for disadvantaged adults. The employees are all given an education and apart from receiving fair wages, they also support a school and orphanage. The school now produces gorgeous hand woven rugs designed by Mr Haughton (and many other designers who collaborate with NODE to produce custom-made rugs).

I felt really privileged to have had the opportunity to meet with such a lovely person, who is using his skills for good and for awesome!

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Chris Haughton and the Owls Well fan club

Find Chris Haughton’s books here.

Download Hat Monkey here.

Support Chris Haughton’s Fair Trade projects here.

Find out more about NODE handwoven rugs here.

Expanding a child’s worldview (with Junior Explorers)

J and Little E are reasonably well-travelled children, and I am very grateful to have the opportunity be able to take them abroad. I have always felt that expanding a child’s worldview by learning about other places in the world is an important part of a child’s education, helping them to have a more concrete understanding of their earthly responsibilities. Environmental awareness is just one of the many things that we are trying to instil in our children, which is why I was very excited to be offered a 12 month subscription to the Junior Explorers Club in Singapore!

The Junior Explorers Club is a monthly subscription kit that aims to teach primary school kids about ecology through science kits chock-a-block full of fun activities, notes and collectibles as well as interactive missions and games online. I am particularly drawn to the online component of the subscription kit which is tied to a programme called Mission Giveback, where kids can convert the points earned from completed missions into real world money which is then donated to NGOs working to conserve the very same habitats and animal species that they are learning about in each kit!

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Learn about conservation + Supporting conservation efforts = Two for the price of Awesome

Look how excited J and Little E are about receiving their first Junior Explorers kit in the post! What a thrill it was for them to receive a hefty package from the postman with their names on it!

As promised, the box was full of materials – stickers and temporary tattoos, a wristband and pin, a water bottle, a large world map and a pocket-sized field guide. The kids got to work straightaway, decorating their trunk with the stickers, and then flipping through the field guide together, identifying the various biomes on the work map. Afterwards, I had them store all the loose items in the trunk, which would keep them safe from the Thumper, who is still putting everything and anything into his mouth.

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Unboxing the first Junior Explorers Kit

After reading through the field guide together, they headed to the computer to complete the online missions. This was a set of quizzes which introduced the concept of biomes and helped J and Little E learn some interesting facts about the different sorts of animals which lived in each one. This gave me a good opportunity to initiate discussion about how different animals are adapted for life in different climates, and it certainly encouraged J to look up related facts on his own.

Although the kit is aimed at Primary school level kids between the age of 6-12 years old, 4 year old Little E seemed to enjoy it too, although she needed a little bit of guidance with reading. In fact, just having J around seemed to suffice, and J seemed to get a kick out of guiding his little sister through the online games and reading the field guide to her.

The two of them were completely engaged for the better part of a rainy afternoon indoors, which was a fantastic result! I think a subscription to the Junior Explorers Club would make a really great Christmas or birthday gift for the budding conservationist. J and Little E are certainly looking forward to receiving their next kit in the mail (which should be pretty soon!).

Get your own Junior Explorers subscription here

A Special for Owls Well Readers: The Junior Explorers Club is offering a generous discount on all subscriptions for Owls Well readers! Just quote ‘OW10’ at checkout to receive 10% off your order!

Midweek Break: Funtimes with the official Star Wars App

Okokokokokok so it’s clear from our previous posts on Owls Well that we are all Star Wars fans here, which is why I got really excited by this new Star Wars app from Lucasfilm and Disney Interactive that just launched this week.

This is the app you are looking for

This is the app you are looking for

It’s basically a customisable news aggregator that updates daily (and in real-time) bundled in with exclusive digital media content like sound clips, emojis, animated GIFs and behind-the-scenes videos.

What I am most excited about are the interactive features such as the augmented reality camera feature that allows one to unlock 3D characters from the upcoming Star Wars film Star Wars: The Force Awakens as well as the Star Wars “Selfie”.

Although the app is compatible with both iOS and Android interfaces, I was not able to download it on my Sony Experia smartphone (even though I have Android version 4.4, and this app should work on Android 4.1 and up).

Fortunately, I managed to get it on the Aged P’s iPad, which led to an afternoon of fun taking Star Wars selfies!

Little E-Leia, Debs G trapped in carbonite and J channelling Anakin Skywalker whilst wielding Mace Windu's lightsaber.

Little Leia E, Debs G trapped in carbonite and J channelling Anakin Skywalker whilst wielding Mace Windu’s lightsaber.

We took lots more of these selfies and I had far too much fun trying to imitate the expressions of various Star Wars characters, much to J’s horror and delight.

“Argh, Mummy, you are so embarrassing!” he said, grimacing at me in between chuckles, “I feel so embarrassed!”

Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen

Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen

Tip of the iceberg, baby. I haven’t even got started being embarrassing yet! Just wait until you hit your teens.

Download the official Star Wars App FREE from the Apple App Store or Google Play

Midweek Break: Musical Anachronisms

One of our favourite video game series over at here at Owls Well is the BioShock franchise, which has won awards for not only for its provocative, morality-driven storyline and but also for its vintage-inspired game design which is rich in detail.

In the latest release, BioShock Infinite, this attention to detail extends even to the soundtrack, which (in keeping with the time travel theme) includes musical anachronisms – the reimagining of current pop music in the style of an earlier music era.

A Becky Lee recently introduced me to the PostModern Jukebox, a band which features music arranged by Scott Bradlee, who was the musical genius behind the Bioshock Infinite musical anachronisms.

Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox (Picture Credit: Postmodern Jukebox)

Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox (Picture Credit: Postmodern Jukebox)

I really love this particular arrangement of “My Heart Will Go On” (yes, that soppy ballad from the movie “Titanic”) done in the style of a 1950s Frankie Valli doo-wop! It makes me smile and I always find myself unconsciously jiving along!

I also love this jazzy cover of Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” which features some really impressive and powerful vocals!

Anyhow, I was driving past the bus stop yesterday and was surprised to see a poster for PostModern Jukebox!

Apparently they are doing a world tour and will be travelling to various locations in Australia between 2 – 11 September, and will also in Singapore on the 13 September 2015, performing at our own Kallang Theatre! Isn’t that cool?

A Becky Lee, I am unable to watch them because bringing an infant to a live music concert isn’t fair to other concertgoers, so you better get yourself some tickets so that I can live vicariously through your experience!

P.S. Here’s one more of their tunes for the road – this Motown style cover of Demi Lovato’s “Really Don’t Care” may not be terribly different from the original version, but what really stands out is the Tambourine Guy strutting his stuff in the background! He makes me laugh!

P.P.S If you want to see all these videos and more of our favourite musical anachronisms, check out our playlist at the OwlsWellVlogs Youtube Channel!