Another recent gaming purchase of mine has been My Time At Portia, which is basically a life simulator similar to games like Harvest Moon and Stardew Valley. Interestingly enough both this and my previous purchase, Genesis: Alpha One, were published by Team17. It seems they know how to pick good titles as, like Genesis, Portia is a pretty great game albeit for very different reasons.
Building, Mining and Learning
Portia is essentially a crafting game that has similar fundamentals to games like Minecraft and other survival titles, but that’s about where the similarities end. While crafting follows the same formula of chopping wood, mining ores and smelting stuff to create tools and other bigger and cooler things, the crafting in Portia is far more integrated and purposeful than most purist survival titles.
As I mentioned previously, Portia is a life sim, and it takes that life part very seriously. After being given a run down workshop that your absent father left you as a parting gift, you begin taking commissions and other side quests that help you start patching up the workshop and making some kind of living. This involves learning how to build tools which you then use to get resources, and then from those resources learning how to build more things.
Commissions are a good way of learning the ropes, as every day when you take one you have to figure out, on your own, how to craft the items that have been requested; and within a certain time limit. Failure to complete it in time means a reputation drop for your workshop and negative relationship points, but meeting the deadline rewards you with cash, rep and relationship points with the commissioner.
The reputation you acquire has a purpose, and that is ranking up your workshops level so that higher rank commissions can come along, as well as adding onto a ranking system where you compete against other local workshops. Being placed in the top 3 at the end of a month comes with a very lucrative reward, so there is incentive to increase your reputation and work hard. Rep can be increased in other ways too, such as spending some money to advertise in the local newspaper, or doing particular side or main quests that don’t have a set time limit and reward you with a bunch of reputation. It’s nicely put together and is the primary function behind the game, but not the primary goal.
The reason I defer from calling it the goal or purpose is because Portia is a life sim and a sandbox style one at that – you don’t need to compete to be the best workshop. In fact you can defer much of the quests and story aspects that unlock new areas and just do your own thing for a very long time, and the amount of things that you can do are immense.
Socializing, Farming and Building Whatever
If you decide to defer from being a hard core builder, you can make money and build a life in different ways, such as with farming and building upgrades at your own pace. Much of this still requires crafting and progression in the main story, but the pace at which you progress to more advanced setups is entirely up to you. Money can be made by making things and selling them on the market in bulk, which is a great addition to the game because you’re not forced down a certain method of sustainability.
You also have the ability to become a farmer; something that still comes down to crafting (as after all, this is fundamentally a crafting game), but it is no longer for the purpose of building and selling, but growing crops and selling instead, which is also quite well integrated in the main game too. Farming requires all the necessary tools such as fertilizer, boxes for planting seeds, etc, and can also be enhanced with automatic fertilization systems and other advanced machinery. I haven’t explored farming much as I much preferred the builders route, but it is something I may look at in the future; there’s no limit to what you want to do.
There is also, as a side note, raising animals and even breeding them, too. I haven’t even touched this aspect of the game, but there are options to actually purchase more land and buildings such as stables, so that you can accommodate animals you have purchased and begin building up your own little animal farm. It’s remarkably deep and relieving, as “grinder” games really require a diverse set of options so that the player doesn’t get bored.
Of course, a “life” game like this has a social aspect too, wherein you can develop friendships and romances with people in the town of Portia. This is done through gifts and paying attention to them, as well as fulfilling their “wishes” (random requests) or quests given out. I haven’t delved into this so much, but this relationship building aspect grows into play date scenarios where you spend time with the character you’re befriending/romancing and do things with them. As mentioned, I haven’t really progressed to this point yet as it takes time, but different people react to different gifts and they all have different personal backgrounds, so you have to pay attention to these aspects in order to befriend them.
This can ultimately culminate in marriage if things get romantic, too; and can lead to having kids (!). This is a long way away from where I am in the game, but it is impressive to see a game with already so much content have these aspects too. It’s Harvest Moon but several times more complex.
Apart from all these things, you can also attend town events that happen throughout the year, such as a “martial arts” tournament or a “fishing day” event. I’m having a difficult time even going into how much you can actually do in Portia while maintaining the length of this post – there is fishing, farming, dating, playing with friends, dungeon exploration, playing checkerboard games, the building aspect and I think even flight later on. I’m sure I’m missing many things there, but in terms of content and things to do, Portia has you quite well covered.
The primary reason I write about My Time at Portia though is to discuss why it’s such a well developed and impressive game – the fact that it is so well integrated.
Portia encourages doing multiple things that all interconnect with one another to create reward after reward. Some rewards are not very impressive, but those rewards are scaled to the appropriate challenge. A tiny commission does not yield much, but the long range consequence of doing many of these as well as working on other aspects leads to the effect of a higher workshop rank and massive rewards that come with that.
In other words, it mimics reality in that small, quality habits lead to large, highly rewarding outcomes. The game is actually very life-affirming in that sense – it is implicitly telling you that consistency leads to good results, and the harder you work the better (and faster) the outcome.
Its freedom to do whatever also encourages the setting of goals – it’s pushing you to figure out your own path and work towards it. You can faff about and do everything all at once, but you’d immediately recognize that progress would not be as fast doing that, because your time every day is valuable and you can’t do everything. What it instead encourages is focusing and creating specific goals per day. When you learn to do this, you reap rewards and progression at a much faster rate, and it’s very satisfying. Through this you also recognize what is valuable to you – whether it be in focusing on fishing, building, commissions, etc. You can do all of them in the long range, but paying attention to each of them on specific days; creating routine is where the greatest reward comes from.
It’s remarkably well made and structured in such a way that you can do whatever you want within its world, but only gives massive rewards to those who put the work in and focus. Which leads me to my final point.
Teaching Children Quality Habits
My Time at Portia is a perfect game for educating and entertaining children, and balanced enough to be enjoyable for adults. The reason it is so good for children is because it doesn’t educate them explicitly, but does so through implicit means.
Everything you do in Portia requires taking specific steps to meeting a goal, but it does so in a logical and progressively more rewarding way. While kids wouldn’t see this, what the game is teaching them is how to solve problems within “soft” time limits (the time of day), and learning to prioritize tasks that help them solve the problems faster. It teaches them how to set goals and how to meet those goals. Basically, the importance of quality habits and why those habits lead to a greater level of success in the long range.
The workshop booklet that provides all the ways you acquire all the resources for an item or tool as well is also exceptionally helpful – it deconstructs the end result down to its fundamental resources, and helps you calculate what you need, how much you need and hints at where to start.
The fact that it is visual about this is excellent for children – it’s immediately apparent, and helps children connect those things together in their head logically. This kind of structured thinking teaches them to start from fundamentals and build “up”, because you can’t build starting from the “middle”.
There are many more aspects to Portia that teach kids positive traits that can be applied to reality – but ultimately it comes down to teaching why it’s important to be consistent in whatever craft or task you apply yourself to. Whether it be in building a relationship, building something or even fishing for money, all of these things in Portia implicitly teach that consistently working at them leads to better and better results, which translates to the real world, in that focusing and maintaining quality, life-affirming habits leads to a greater outcome long range.
It is an excellent game overall. If I’m going to give some critique, I think the combat could use some more work as it’s somewhat clumsy and simple, but otherwise I’ve had a lot of fun with the game and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys setting their own goals and “building” things.