Thursday, 16 January 2014

A Habit of Excellence

HabitRPG is my latest productivity kick, from my opinion it's got me going gangbusters. I just did a quick breakdown comparing it to my other self-improvement tool/website, but I want to go over it at length on its own as well.

In HabitRPG you get a little avatar that you have to level up and keep alive by completing your tasks. The word avatar has been debased in recent times, nowadays it can mean something as minor as an icon that represents you in a chat forum. But it used to mean a vessel of a divine being - ole JC hisself, or Vishnu come to put the smack down, or Zeus to get it on with the ladies. That's how I feel with my 8 bit sprite, filled with even more potential than when I last had an alter-ego me who journeyed through Azeroth (though that could be because while I enjoy those sorts of games, I am terrible at them, and largely looked at WoW as a prettier IRC client with things I could poke with axes when there was no-one to talk to).

It's a me, Mario Snellopy!
As you tick things off, you're awarded gold and experience. After level 2, you're able to buy things (armour, swords) for your avatar, and you can also set up custom rewards too - though I don't find these as useful. For certain activities, not doing the task (or doing a bad task) inflicts damage on your little avatar, and you either need a cleric to heal you, level up for an XP refill, or spend your hoarded gold on a healing potion.

Since no-one else sees your list (except for specific ones that are added to challenges) you're free to list anything down without fear of judgment. Since you don't have to explain your ideas to others, it's also possible to gamify everything, which is what I've done. I also added a little icon emoji next to each one, to help me find things faster, and there's mouse over text explaining what each one is just in case I forget (like after my holiday).

Habits are best thought of as things that you do either more than once a day, or every now and then. They come in three different types: positive only, positive or negative, negative only. Each suit a particular situation. Writing an email is just a positive one. Having one too many beers is a positive/negative one... I click on the minus when I have an extra one and take damage, and click on the plus when I've been all saintly. Sitting for a whole period is just a negative one. I could make it so that it went both ways, but since I count even the most tokenistic foray from my computer chair, I don't think it'd be fair.

The vast majority of mine are plus only, but I do have a couple of each of the other types.

I didn't realise I had so many until I screenshotted them all.
Here's a screenie of all my non-challenge habits (I took this at the end of the day, that's why they're pretty much uniform in colour). Normally they're in one single big scrolling column, but I figure this way they're easier to see. Some of them map obviously to what they are - tome of knowledge is reading a self help book, Soulbond is spending time with Tho. Flash of Magic is posting flash fiction. Some of them are more fictionalised like regaling over ale (forum interaction) and dented shield (too much internetting).

Dailies are things that you want to do on specific days every week. Most of mine I have set up to only be active on Monday to Friday, because they're school based. I do have a few for weekends as well, but if we go away for the weekend and we have no internet, then my little guy is going to take damage.

I have my dailies set up in five main groups. Everything is gamified with a dwarven or cleric bent.

Clan and Kin, Forge and Foundry, Axe and Anvil, Mine and Mountain, Beer and Beards. These headers are always grey because they're inactive. This means I never take damage from them. They're also set to hard, because when I've had a crazy productive day in that area, then I can tick it off for an extra payout. All my habits are tagged with at least one of them too, so even if there's not a lot sitting in the list under dailies, there might be other things causing the free points. I like this idea because often they're pulling me in different directions, so it is really hard with the way I have set it up to get a clean sweep of all my dailies.

Clan and Kin is stuff to do with family. Vespers with the Novitiate is playing with Madeline, Circle of protection is cleaning up the house.

Forge and Foundry is works stuff as you might guess by the mark roll online. Goblin warband is homework and the Slay an Ogre is my weekly plan (they're grey at the moment as they're not due every day)

Axe and Anvil is self improvement stuff. Kern is mentioned in a few places, I made that my dwarf's deity's name. Communing with Kern is meditating (which I suck at). Hang up my axe is a productive day in general.

Mine and Mountain is writing or other creative pursuits. Sellsword and Swordplay have tomato icons as they are pomorodos for work and fun respectively. I have different variant of the pomodoro system that is tailor made to me. When I was at uni, I was a terrible slacker, leaving all my essays till the last minute. When it was time to write them, I'd put on Cotton Eye Joe (the most annoying song I could find) on repeat until it was done. I wasn't allowed to turn it off when I slept (if I needed to sleep) and I took it with me on an mp3 player if I left my room. My mates all knew if that song was playing it was pointless trying to talk me into anything. Even now if I hear that song playing anywhere, my fingers start twitching and I feel all jittery if I am not typing, have a pen in my hand or looking at papers/books. Possibly I should be kinder to myself, but it is working so far.

Beer and Beards is the generic catch all/misc category. Wordstorm is always greyed out, it for an extended amount of typing in a day. Does that mean that I sometimes double/triple  dip, if I've done some flash fiction while listening to Cotton Eye Joe? Yes, but again, we have to use whatever motivates us, and I don't consider that cheating.

In association with the android app, the To-Do column is really useful, especially because I have such a piss-poor memory. If I think of something late at night that I have to do tomorrow, I just jot it down, and it's right in front of me when I open the website at either work or home.

Because of this improved organisation, this list as got very long very fast. I think I'm adding to it faster than I am knocking tasks off, but that can't be helped. I don't bother gamifying the to-Do's I add, because they're all one shot things, and hopefully knocked on the head quite quickly. But I do have headings for sorting them too.

Hack and Slash is the 2 things I plan to focus on the head today.

King's Sovereign is normally kept empty. It's for sudden, bullshittedly important things that get dropped on you and were due yesterday.

Caravan Guard is for things coming up in the next week or so.

Crows Nest is further down the line, sometime this term.

Scribing Spells emails to write to people

Flash of Magic creative writing or reviews I want to do.

Bag of Holding someday one day stuff. Some of it likely will never get done, some of it just takes a minute but there's too many other fires to put out.

Hired Blade is where I shove all the Challenge To-Do's so they don't clutter up my stuff.

The other reason for having headings like this is they slowly ripen for more gold and XP over time, so if something REALLY big comes up and I think I haven't got a decent reward that is commensurate to the effort and/or stress involved, I can click on a couple of these and cash them in for something more appropriate.

There's two sorts of rewards in the game - one's that you make yourself, and ones that are gear for your avatar. The latter are far more effective for me.

All but the starting gear has various stats that help out your avatar and change the gameplay mechanics. But since the introduction of the inventory, you can be waving around something big and stat-heavy but be wearing something else as a costume.

I recently restarted my character, so instead of the avatar of me at the top of the page, I currently look like this:
I think I look a bit like Van Gough, with a yeti-hair paintbrush and a blue paint palette
I am frantically trying to save up for the last bits of the cleric winter gear, before they disappear on the 31st. So extra motivation there! And much as it pains me to do so, I won't just wave my axe and horned helmet round, though I will have a soft spot for them. I guess I could set up my custom rewards as negative habits, and take a health hit each time I clicked on them, but that would make it more likely I would die, so I'd be less likely to actually click on them and just ignore them instead. With the way it is set up, they appear next to my to-do list, right next to my hack and slash and King's Sovereign headings, so it helps decide if I really do have time to slack off. They're also above the armour and weapons, so I have to consider how close I am to buying a new sexy piece of gear and if going to chase links for a moment overrides my desire for better equipment. After I've bought ALL the things, and my gold just starts stockpiling with nothing else to spend it on, I ratchet up the prices on each of my time wasters to compensate.

The old me

The new me. See how this me looks far more honest and trustworthy?
I recently restarted my character, as I was a dirty no good cheat (but I reformed). It's the second time I've restarted, for exactly the same reason. On my first run through, I was still working out the mechanics of everything. I saw a lot of people had an achievement for Ultimate gear, but that meant they all looked the same. So I zipped through, collecting ALL the things, and deciding on what I was going to use so I looked different. I've always been a fan of customisation, and that was the only way to know what was available. I've also clicked I've done stuff when I haven't really to keep a streak alive (doing things for more than 21 days), to keep my avatar alive (no way am I dying again!) and just on the off chance I got a drop, because today was rough and I wanted a prize. Yeah, yeah, you're cheating no-one but yourself. But that's OK, I do cheat sometimes in single player games. But with the advent of classes and the inventory, I instantly became way more attached to my avatar. My party is doing the occasional bit of RP (I haven't joined in yet, as I would feel silly doing so as a cleric with no healing spells, but I only have one more level to go and I have them all), and I want my little guy growing up properly, that's why I reset him. Will I stick to this new improved Snellopy? Only time will tell, but it is looking promising so far, especially as I'm idly telling myself stories about him, inventing a pantheon for him, and other facets that make him more interesting and appealing to me. Whatever works, right?

Interaction with others
There's a few different ways you can interact with others if you choose to. You can form a party that is supposed to help you be more accountable, especially if you're doing quests, as any dailies you don't complete while questing (if it's a boss battle) will injure your party members. I'm not sure if that's going to make me accountable, or more prone to cheat, but I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. My current plan is to be able to heal my party members for more damage than I inflict on them, so hopefully that will work out OK.

Our party: Snellopy (me), Questing Orc, Raymond Luk, Retridemption, aiseant, littleleez
We can cast buffs on each other, and we have our own chat section, and as I mentioned, we're even doing a bit of Role-play in there too.

There's guilds, which are larger groupings (where you can't buff each other) that are aligned more along the lines of interest groups - writing ones, parents, dancers etc. Some of them are a lot more active than others.

Finally there's the Tavern, the chat room for everyone who wants to hold forth. All these chat sections are ephemeral, storing only the last 200 lines of conversation, so during busy periods there's going to be things that you never see. As much as I like lurking and reading what people say, I find this a very good middle ground so it doesn't become a horrible time sink.

At all these grouping levels, players can set up challenges. This is a set of habits/dailies/to-do's that work towards a particular goal. There can be gem prizes for winning, and whoever wins the challenge also has it listed as their achievement. But even if you don't snag the top spot (if like me, you can't often do things on a weekend, or perhaps you start a challenge late) it's still worthwhile participating, as you're still working on forming habits that you want to instill in yourself. Though when challenges first came out, I did go overboard and took on too many, killing my avatar again because I had too many dailies that I couldn't complete. Now I'm more circumspect, and sometimes steal the ideas I see in challenges and add parts of them as habits instead, so they won't damage me if I don't get around to them.

There's plenty of friendly camaraderie at all three levels, with things to stimulate your creativity or some other facet of  your life. And the conversations are often fun to join in, too. If someone strikes you as interesting you can look up their character description by clicking on their name. A lot of people list blogs, twitter accounts or other places you can see their output. A nice way of grabbing new, interesting sources of distraction.

If you're really enjoying Habit, there's two main ways you can help out - one is by throwing money at them (always appreciated) by buying gems, and the other is by doing something that moves the project forward: pixel art, coding, or writing stuff up on the wiki. Do enough of it, and you'll be acknowledged by a different colour name for your chat messages, and an achievement listed. I've done a tokenistic amount on the wiki, just enough to stand out from the normal run of the mill folk. I plan on doing more, but life tends to get in the way, you know how it is. It's nice that they acknowledge you for your efforts, in a way that everyone can see. Depending on how much you do, you also can unlock special gear for your avatar. Gems can be used for buying customisation stuff for your character - it's important to note that no-one of it has buffs or stats, it's purely cosmetic. There's no pay to win or play to pay here, it's merely for the fashion conscious. Beards are one example of that. It also allows you to put up a challenge in the tavern and form guilds, or skip the randomness of waiting for a drop if you just have to buy a golden hatching potion.

Drops and Streaks
Two ways they try and motivate you (on top of the buying of armour and weapons) is by a chance of drops when you click on tasks. These can be eggs, hatching potions or food to feed the pets (that hatch out of the eggs). They give no boost apart from cuteness to your avatar, and if you give them enough to eat they can grow up and be ridden (again no bonus except for customisation, which is something I love).

Streaks are when you've completed a daily 21 times in a row (not necessarily 21 days in succession, for example if you have one for taking out the rubbish which only falls due on a Friday). I'm a bit ambivalent about these myself, as I have in the past ticked off some when I didn't really do much if anything towards them. For a while there I had a couple of rewards which for a hefty slug of gold I could tick stuff off that I hadn't done. That system didn't really work for me, so I've discontinued it.

What is really great about Habit is there's an app you can use to check off things while you're doing them. But far more useful for me is to list down things that I think of (usually while in bed) that I need to do tomorrow or in the near future. Grab my phone, pencil it in, then it is in front of me the next morning at work. Much better than writing it down on a piece of paper I will lose or leave at home, and streets in front of trying to hold it in my head until I need to do it. I've had a couple of nights where I haven't been able to sleep, so I have just lain there brainstorming things I need to do and entering them in. Good for productivity, and eventually I get tired enough that I can put my phone down and sleep, so win-win.

What are you playing?
Another serious advantage to Habit is both my students and my wife have glanced at the screen and asked me what game I'm playing (it was a bit more accusatory in the latter case, until I explained how it's been so useful for me, though I don't think I've convinced her of the need). The game elements are fun and not too distracting, the same as the chat functions. I have just added a fee in gold if I spend too long in any of the chat areas, especially if I am not posting and merely lurking. It's a great way of hooking you in and making dreary, boring jobs that you have to, should, or want to do more appealing.


  1. Wow this is very informative. It'll fun to read updates on how you progress/level up. Take care!

  2. I should point out that this is is not a static payload of Habits, To-Do's and Dailies. It's only a week (I think) since I posted it, and there's already been new things added, tweaks made, and other stuff ripped out