Out for a stroll after the end of civilization as we know it.

"I would totally kill for a pair of boots right now," I muttered.

"What?" My wife was confused.

"Oh, in this game I'm trying to survive after crashing a plane in the Canadian wilderness as a result of a massive CME. I've got a bunch of tools, rifle, hatchet, hunting knife, but I'm wearing a pair of sneakers...in the snow," I offered in explanation.

"Ah," she said.

"So it's hard to avoid freezing to death, as a result," I concluded. I turned my attention back to the game, where I was busy starting a fire to prevent just that very thing from occurring.

My latest focus is on an indie game still in development, The Long Dark. Initially funded through Kickstarter, at this time the game is only available via Steam Early Access, although a Steam key can be purchased through the Humble on-line store as well. The protagonist of the game is a bush pilot who was forced into a crash landing as a result of a coronal mass ejection from the sun that caused severe atmospheric ionization, effectively putting society back into the pre-industrialized era. Winter has set in, and in order to survive the pilot must locate and utilize any available tools, gear and food he or she can use to survive another day.

At this point in development, the only portion of the game that is accessible is the Sandbox mode, which permits free-form play through one of three available maps and their interconnecting zones. When the game first released in the fall of 2014, only one map was available, but the developers have been making steady progress at adding additional content to the game, in addition to support for crafting your own gear, tools and weapons to aid in survival. They also release frequent bug patches and interact directly with their player base via Steam's community discussions and their own forums. Consequently, even though I am typically reluctant to pay for an Early Access game (which may or may not be a developer attempting to cash in on a project they never intend to complete) the development team at Hinterland Studio has shown a clear intention to complete this game, with the Story Mode expected to be released sometime in 2015. In my mind, the most impressive move by the developers so far was the replacement of the game's Unity 4 engine with Unity 5, to enable better performance on computers with high-end GPUs and/or multi-core processors. This transition appears to have only taken a few weeks to accomplish.

If I'm starting to sound somewhat fanboy-ish, that's because (against my better judgement) I am. Previously I had ranked The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim as my favorite video game of all time. Even though the graphics in this game are not quite as realistic, I actually enjoy this game much more. That's probably because the challenge is real, and the scenario behind the game is one that could become all too real, should the Earth be caught directly in the path of a massive coronal ejection from the sun.

When I began the game, I immediately tried Voyageur mode, which is the middle difficulty level (and originally the only difficulty level available). Even though I was new to the game, I managed to survive for more than 5 days before I was finished off by a wolf in the dark. It was a harrowing experience, however, and even with the knowledge I already possess I found the only way I could stay alive was to keep moving and scrounging for food and clothing wherever I could. I expected to die any moment. Subsequent attempts to play the game at this difficulty mode met with disaster in less than 24 hours of game time, so I ended up switching to Pilgrim mode (easy difficulty) to get a feel for the game and attempt to learn the ropes. It didn't take too long to get hooked.

A significant portion of the game is exploration. Newcomers would probably find it best to use Pilgrim mode to get used to the game mechanics, because there is a lot to juggle. Thirst, hunger, fatigue, and cold are all statuses you have to keep your eye on as you play, because they impact your ability to survive. The type of winter gear you are wearing and the gear's overall condition directly impacts how quickly you get cold while you are outside. Tools are necessary for survival in order to do basic things like start a fire, harvest materials and food, and repair your clothing and equipment. All of this is hard enough without having to learn how to avoid and fend off attacks from starving, predatory animals.

I recently reached a point where I was no longer satisfied with the Pilgrim experience, because once you have successfully explored the majority of the three maps and their interconnecting areas, it turns into a slow, day to day experience which may feel like a bit of a grind to some players. At this point, confident that I had learned what I needed in order to survive a harsher apocalyptic world, I returned to Voyageur mode and subsequently died again within 5 days of game time. I returned to Pilgrim mode with the advent of an update bringing new craftable weapons and hunting mechanics, along with a new area to explore, but once I had achieved everything there was to achieve I returned again to Voyageur, where I have now survived over 11 days of game time, with successful hunting and as of this morning, surviving a wolf attack and living to tell the tale.

I have more to tell, but hopefully this should suffice until I have a chance to return and share my story.

Crows are your friend in the Long Dark