How to Track and Attack the Gaming Backlog

Backlog, Wing Commander PrivateerI realized a while ago that I was losing track. Steam sales and Humble Bundles were so enticing due to the low costs, but they were adding into a collection of games that was quickly getting out of control. Feeding the backlog, but not doing anything to reduce it’s size. I was restarting games I had taken breaks from, which had caused me to forget my progress, so starting over seemed sensible. It wasn’t helping. My spending, though on sales and bundles, was excessive, and I wasn’t making progress. I had to change.

So, I did. To start, I made a conscious effort to start keeping track of everything I was doing in the gaming space, from the minor to the major, and to analyze the data later. Keep track of my backlog across every website and physical copy, and keep meticulous notes of my gaming habits. This was about 2 years ago, and I highly recommend it for everyone. I’ve curbed my spending, become more invested in the games I play with my limited time, can hop back into the games I’ve put aside easily, and finish games I’ve had on my list for years. Here’s how I did it.

Secret World Legends, Gatekeeper, Backlog

The Gatekeeper fears the size of his own Backlog.

Step 1: Create A Literal Backlog

The first step is knowing exactly what you’re up against. You should know the height of the mountain before you start to climb. Though there are some websites that are specifically designed to help with this, like Grouvee and The Backloggery, I opted to take a more manual route and just use Excel Online. I consider myself fairly skilled in the use of Excel, so using it’s online version seemed like a good start. Google Sheets would also work well, just try to use a method that is easily accessible.

Step 2: Fill Out Your Backlog

Once you have a spreadsheet ready, take every game you own and enter it. This would include every physical media game you own on all systems, PC and console, and every website you own games on. For me this includes my Playstation 2, Wii, physical games on CD and DVD, Zip files, and from websites like Amazon, BattleNet, Gamestop, Humble, GOG, Origin, Rockstar, RSI, Steam, Telltale, Twitch, UPlay, and the Windows Store. With more online options to download games from, it’s easy to forget where your games are located.

Break your columns up into Game Title, what Platform the game is found on, what Series the game is a part of, Release Year, if the game has an Ending, if you’ve Beaten or are done playing the game entirely, if you would still Play it, if you would Highly Consider playing it over others, a Counter column, and general Notes field.

Take a look at my own backlog for an example. As it stands, I own 775 games, 651 of which are beatable, 80 of which I’ve actually beaten, with 665 that I would still consider playing, and 98 highly considered. This is my backlog mountain. You can see why I had to take drastic steps.

Star Trek Online, Klingons, Backlog

The Klingons would attack their backlogs without mercy.

Step 3: Attack That Backlog

If you’re anything like me, with all the games you may own now staring back at you, your will to add to it may be quite diminished at this point. Would you really feel compelled to pay $60 for one game if you have 665 unplayed games staring back at you? I mean, for real.

The reason why you should add a “Play” column as well as a “Top Play” column is to make the decision of what game to play easier. Because you’ve paid for or received any of these games as gifts, you owe it to yourself to at least try them and not let that money go to waste. My philosophy is that even if you give it a try and quickly decide that the game isn’t for you, then at least you tried and you shouldn’t feel bad crossing it off your list.

To that effect, sometimes you should let fate decide what you play. Using the total “Play” and “Top Play” numbers, you can use a site like Random.org to make the choice for you. For example, based on my backlog I’d have it choose a number from 1 to 665 (my “To Play”). In this instance, it just picked number 85, which on my list is Company of Heroes, a RTS released in 2006 with a WWII setting I own through Steam. Would I ever just go “Hey, I should boot up Company of Heroes!” No, probably never. But at some point I acquired the game, through a Humble Bundle or a Steam sale, and now it’s fresh again in my mind. Maybe I will go give it a shot.

You don’t have to agree with the first RNG picked, of course. You’re in control, you can use RNG to pick a top 3 or 5 and pick one from that list, or just pick another one entirely. The overall goal, though, is to cross them off the list. Plus, you never know when RNG might pick a game you surprisingly find yourself really enjoying.

Euro Truck Simulator 2, Backlog

If you had told me I’d be a big fan of Euro Truck Simulator 2, I’d have called you a liar.

Step 4: Track Your Individual Progress

I know spreadsheets tend to have a bad rap and they’re seen as “taking the fun” out of games to use them. Not every game needs to be “Accounting: The Game”, I get that. But a general direction you were heading in the game helps to give you a point of reference. Like a method of using Champion Points in Elder Scrolls Online, or general quests to be done in a DOS game, a list of drops needed to craft armor upgrades in Guild Wars 1, or where to get trait upgrades in Lord of the Rings Online.

Having a quick list handy of what you were up to from times you’ve played before gives you a starting point when you come back, making it easier to jump back into where you were. This helps to alleviate the overwhelming stress and curb the desire to start over from scratch. If you’re not always starting over, you’re more apt to complete games and, most importantly, cross them off your list.

Step 5: Create A Daily Log

At the beginning of 2017 I started keeping a daily log of what game I was playing, what progress I made, and any other gaming-related metrics that I might find helpful. With days of the year on the Y axis and Game Titles on the X access, the list is simply calculating what days I played, and what games. If I felt I made some progress in the game, I would add a 1 in that game’s column. Since I also stream my play of Twitch, I added that as a column. Same for Podcasting, and Blogging/Writing.

Excessive? Maybe. But more data isn’t hurting anything, and helps you to better understand your own patterns. The MMO I’ve played the most? Secret World Legends. Since the beginning of 2017 I’ve streamed my play 236 nights, and podcasted 66 nights. This is only my 10th night writing, but my 5th time this month, which shows you the push that Blaugust Reborn has given me to take it up again. Most played game in April of 2017? Mass Effect 1, which took me a total of 15 nights to beat. What game did I play on August 31st of 2017? Guild Wars 1, I hit level 16.

Backlog, Icewind Dale

Using RNG might get you to play your classics, too. I mean, just *look* at this gorgeous artwork.

So does all this help? Do I feel like I’m better off than I was 2 years ago? Absolutely. I haven’t stopped buying games, though. In fact, GOG right now has The Witcher 3: Game of the Year edition at $20! How could anyone pass that up? But I have dropped my spending significantly, as well as crossing those games off. Realistically, I don’t think I’ll ever catch up. My backlog is just too big, but I at least have a handle on it, and I feel a lot more in control. Beating the backlog is the real game, so you may as well be as well equipped as you can be.

Good hunting, all.

// Ocho

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Tales from the Backlog: Champions of Krynn

Champions of Krynn

If you’ve been paying attention to my site, and I don’t blame you if you haven’t, but I tend to play two types of games: MMOs and Old-School. I will occasionally boot up a non-MMO game that has been made in the past 5 years, but that’s a rare event for me. I’m generally immune to the rush that I must play the absolute newest stuff. My rationale is that if it’s claiming to be really good now, it’ll also be really good in a few years, too. The benefits of this thinking are obvious: when I do go to purchase the game, it’ll be at a steep discount, bug fixes will have made the game more stable, technology improvements mean I’ll be able to play at the highest graphic settings, and I’ll still be getting the same quality story and gameplay as if I bought it on day 1. Also, the lens of time better shows which games are actually considered great games than the day one impressions do. Good games are like good wine, they last and seem to improve with age.

However, when it comes to *really* old games, sometimes the lens of time is tinted with too much rose-coloring. One question I find I ask myself all the time is were the games I played when I was a kid, the games that have shaped and molded my gaming interests today, were they any good? If I go back and play them now, will I still find them enjoyable? One such game series I remember having a very hard time with when I was younger, but I was still very enamored with them. Namely, the SSI Advanced Dungeons and Dragons “Gold Box” series of games based on the Dragonlance universe. And since I’m a fan of playing games in order I set on to find and play the first game in the series, Champions of Krynn.

Champions of Krynn

Just trust us on this one, it’s opulent and not just cracked stone walls. Opulent.

Abandoned, But Not Forgotten

When looking for the game, my first attempt is to always find a legit copy first, unless doing so is price or sanity prohibitive. For example, the game seems pretty easy to find on Ebay, but I honestly couldn’t tell you the last time I owned a PC that actually had a 3.5″ or 5.25″ floppy drive drive on it. SSI, the maker of the game was acquired by Mindscape in 1994, and eventually was acquired by Ubisoft in 2001, who retired the brand. In fact, you can’t even find Champions of Krynn on the Internet Archive, although you will find the game’s sequels. A 25 year old game, you’ll forgive me, but I gave up on paying for it and instead went to my favorite site for the games that have lost their respective owners, Abandonia. To make up for it, I’ll make a donation later to one of my favorite charities, and maybe one to Abandonia as well as soon as my browser informs me that Paypal isn’t being attacked anymore (there… didn’t take long). Karma and I have a funny relationship and I don’t want to upset that balance.

At this point, I’m pretty proficient with using DOSBox, so getting the game to run was pretty easy. If you want to check out the Options file I use, which I have tweaked over time, feel free. And after loading up, then spent the rest of the night trying to build a party based on a version of Dungeons and Dragons that was out of style by the time I entered high school. I decided to stick with your standard party makeup of pure classes, and then balanced out races as appropriate. For naming, I crowdsourced by sending out a tweet, and taking the first people to reply or favorite the post, just to make it a little more social.

Champions of Krynn

THAC0?! That should really say “Rocket Science”.

The Party of Champions

First we have our Lawful Good Half-Elf Knight, Windcaller. The Knight is an interesting class, mostly for a mechanic you just don’t see in games anymore, a class that will straight up give away all the money they find. Knights have taken a vow of poverty, and as such will donate any money you hand them as soon as you get back to town. Giving away loot? What nonsense is this! The trick is, of course, to not hand them any monies. However, gold doesn’t seem to be that important so far, so keeping it from him is kind of mean. Donate away, my friend. The tradeoff is being able to cast Cleric spells at higher levels.

Next, we have our Neutral Good Mountain Dwarf Fighter, JerseyJim. Jim’s a close friend of mine so no offense on the Dwarf part, I needed a dwarf, and having all humans is rather boring. Fighters seem to be… well… Fighters. Strong on the front lines, and hard to take down… sort of. Jim seems to be one of the first ones knocked down being right on the front lines and so far the game seems to employ a lot of cheap one-hit methods. Anyone in magical Sleep or Hold are taken down in one shot, for example. One.

Champions of Krynn

Dammit Jim! Crit by a Rat?!

Then we have our Chaotic Good Qualinesti Elf Ranger, Royalite. Rangers are strong melee as well, but also decent at range. They seem to be very versatile, and Royalite is happy with being a ranger, so it’s all good. I have no idea what the difference between elves are, there is also a Silvanesti elf, so maybe it’s just character flavor. Having elves keeps you from being one-shot, as elves are resistant to sleep and charm… but elves, though. You never want too many of them.

Then there’s our Neutral Good Kender Cleric, Syl. Clerics are an absolute necessity. When resting, the only way to heal is to use the Cleric’s spells, and the game calculates the time when resting for the Cleric to memorize a heal spell and cast it, and rememorize it. Thankfully, it does this automatically with the Fix command, but you’re vulnerable to wandering monsters while resting, so it’s tricky. On top of that, Clerics can charm and hold, cheap tactics, but effective for one-hit takedowns. Syl didn’t reply to the tweet, but I was listening to a podcast of Battle Bards and Syl was praising her Lalafell in Final Fantasy XIV, so I decided to make her our diminutive Kender in homage. Kenders are a race that have an infectious charm and are good at finding trouble, and Syl was happy with that.

Champions of Krynn

Just trust us. They’re evil.

Then we have our True Neutral Human Thief, Grilledcheese. Thieves are very squishy, being held to Leather Armor only. They make up for it by being able to backstab, finding traps and doors, and leveling super quick. Oh, leveling is interesting. Leveling can only take place if we return to an outpost, which isn’t that bad, but each class has a completely different leveling table! With the same amount of experience, a level 5 Thief is only a level 3 Knight. So you have to keep track of each characters experience individually as it won’t tell you if they’re ready to level, either. Excel spreadsheets FTW.

Finally, we have our Lawful Neutral Human Red Mage, BC Jayson. Jayson’s a big Ultima fan, so I hope he doesn’t mind having a D&D character. Cross-geekery, you know how it is. Mages are as you would expect: super squishy, but bring out the big guns. Mostly Sleep spells are used at lower levels, sadly, but they knock out up to 4 enemies at a time and then a follow up long range dart provides the instant-kill. So cheap, but still effective.

Champions of Krynn

Thankfully the “Journal” isn’t a copy of 50 Shades of Grey, as this could’ve got really awkward real quick.

First Impressions, Very Rosy

Champions of Krynn is sooooo old school, though. Maybe *too* old school. First, the game doesn’t hold any punches and every fight that is scripted as part of the story is a party strength check. If you can’t beat it, well then you might have to try again with different strategy (or luck), rest up and choose different spells, or level, and the baddies will use every cheap trick they have. So saving all the time and loading again are common practice. On top of that, the game allows you to lower the difficulty, but doing so nets you less experience, so playing on Easy eventually under-levels your party. As any other game, the middle difficulty is the way to go.

On top of that, to save game size (3.5″ disks, don’t forget) and to have a form of DRM, every time there is an important plot point instead of just telling you the story, the game points you to it’s physical Journal and tells you which entry to read. You could read all the entries and spoil the story, but there are false-entries posted throughout the Journal, just to trip you up. It’s fascinating the methods like this developers used when their resources were limited.

Champions of Krynn

Dammit Jim! Just kidding. It was *everyone’s* fault this time. Falling asleep in the middle of combat and all.

So as of this writing, I have cleared the first level of the first dungeon. You’d think this would be a quick endeavor but, oh no, this has taken quite a few sessions already. Leveling in D&D is a rare event, but each character has leveled a few times, leading me to wonder how long this game actually is? Is it only just a couple of dungeons or will this take me forever to play?

I’m not sure I’ll stick to it to see the end, but I do enjoy a good D&D session, so you never know. Those graphics, though. The best part of the game is easily the strategic combat. The story seems very basic and pandering, though, and the graphics were considered dated even for 1990, so I’m not sure if the combat alone will hold my interest. We’ll see, though, it *is* classic D&D, afterall.

//Ocho   

P.S. – Also, I want to give a big shoutout to Xander of Holosuite Media fame for hosting Casual Aggro as part of their blogger linkfest. Holosuite Media has a ton of great people and great podcasts to check out, which I highly suggest you do. I especially am fond of Beyond the Veil, their podcast on The Secret World, but they have podcasts for all kinds of games.

P.P.S. – After the massive traffic spike I had yesterday, thanks to a popular developer RT’ing my post on Ultima 7 and EA, I was kicking myself that my blogroll hasn’t been updated since, well, since this blog was created. I have went through and updated it to a list of 25 glorious and amazing sites, which you should definitely check out.