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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Game #1: Gabriel Knight, Sins of the Fathers

Gabriel Knight, Sins of the Fathers

What better time to work on resolutions than right now?

Over the past few days I’ve made a spreadsheet of all the games I own (~360). First, organizing them by media type (Steam, GOG, CD, or downloaded as Abandonware) , then removing all the ones I’ve already beaten and all the ones I didn’t have the slightest interest in playing. Finally, I removed games that were sequels of games that I do have some intention of playing. This final list was around 125 different games.

I told my wife to pick a number between 1 and 125, and then also told a random number generator the same task. I figured out, in the list, which of those two games I preferred to play more, and then I would play it until I either beat it or got too tired of it. I will hopefully keep this up until I’ve finally played through them all, which I figure will take me the rest of my known life.

Gabriel Knight, Voodoo

Game #1

So, lucky me, the first pick was Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers! I remember playing Gabriel Knight back in the hayday of Sierra, and it being the first game that ever made me literally jump out of my seat. Released in 1993, I was 12 years old, and so have may been a little young for the more adult themes portrayed in the game, but as an adult, I am more than willing to jump back in and catch all the Voodoo goodness. All I remember are maybe a few scenes and the game being, well, good.

So I quickly downloaded the files off of GOG, set up DOSBOX’s configuration file so that it would be optimized, read up on the meager manual, and fired it up.

Gabriel Knight

The first thing I notice: Holy crap! Voice acting! Out of everything I remember, I don’t remember anybody in the game speaking a word! When did this happen?! Apparently, it happened on the CD-ROM release, also back in 1993. I must not have had that version. So then I probably had the *gasp* 11 3.5″ Floppy Disks! 11. Holy heck. I haven’t had a floppy disk drive in years! This probably took hours to install.

The game apparently came with a comic book, as referenced by the manual, to give some back story, but GOG doesn’t have that. I’ll have to eventually dig that up out of the internet somewhere. I’m sure it’s not that long, but knowing these old Sierra games, it may be important.

Gabriel Knight

My wife quickly points out that A) Gabriel sounds like a douchebag (and I agree… he’s not exactly a moral upstanding pillar of society) and B) that the character of Grace REALLY sounds like that actress from King of Queens. Now, remember, this is 1993, about 10 years before King of Queens. So, on a whim, I look it up and WHAT?!! Not only is she right and the character of Grace is Leah Remini, but Gabriel Knight is voiced by none other than Tim Freaking Curry! But wait, there’s more! Act now and you also get the voice of Gabriel’s best friend Detective Mosely played by Mark Hamill! Seriously.

So, I haven’t decided whether to do an essential text-based Let’s Play or not, and just give my reactions along the way. But, for all those playing along at home, here are some of the shenanigans I’ve made Gabriel get into so far: hitting on his assistant, stealing a priest’s shirt from a priest’s closet, having a mime be chased by a cop, try to talk with a woman who is obviously already talking with her boyfriend, trick the misogynist Detective into having a photograph taken while Gabriel photocopies evidence, asking his Grandmother a lot of really personal questions, be really attracted to a woman in a limousine, and showing a picture of a dead body to literally every person I come across. That’s just Day 1.

Gabriel Knight, mime

This is going to be fun.

// Ocho

P.S. – Oh, and Michael Dorn, too!

Next: Gabriel Knight: Day 2

Valve’s Steam Machines: Who Exactly Are They For?

Steam Machines, Steam

Source: Steam

So far I’ve very loosely paid attention to the latest generation of console releases as a bystander. I have a Playstation 2 at home, still hooked up for some reason. I also have a Wii which sits unused, and a Netflix machine, aka the XBox 360. You see, I’m a fan of tech. More than anything, I just like giving new and revolutionary tech a try.

However, I’m far from a fanboy of any of the systems. For what I paid for them, except for the 360, they’re all collecting dust as my PC gets all the attention. This past round of new system releases was far from exciting. A new Playstation that plays new games. Okay. A new XBox with an upgraded Kinect that… does pretty much the same things as it’s predecessor. Cool, I guess. There’s really nothing new here. In both instances, to reach the same graphics capacity in my PC, all I’ll need is a small video card upgrade. The whole “next-gen” fight was nonsense, since the systems felt like a generation behind at release (although I really do like Ctrl+Alt+Del’s take on the console wars). 

Then there is Valve’s new Steam Machines. Now these I’ve been paying some attention to. I’m not necessarily going to purchase one in the first round, but they have piqued my curiosity. For all intents and purposes, a Steam Machine looks like nothing more than a PC you can connect to your TV. I’ve done this before. Back when Comcast was playing a lot nicer, I hooked up a custom PC with a few tuner cards to my TV, used Windows Media Center, and had a system you could watch TV, record shows, play movies, check your email, etc. It worked well until one of the components in the box gave out, as happens to PC’s.

So this product looks like it’s aimed right at me. Someone who uses Steam like it’s going out of style, enjoys knowing what is under the hood, tinkering with the tech he has, and sees the benefits of having a full-blown PC as an entertainment center. But am I the right audience? Is this aimed at me? And if so, why am I only half interested? Deep down, I don’t think I’m the right target market, but I’m having a hard time figuring out who is. 

Alienware, Steam Machine

Source: Engadget

The Console Crowd

Those who are solidly in the Sony or Microsoft console camps are already there, and they aren’t really moving. They have their systems, defend their purchases, and generally are already happy. What they want, it seems, more than anything else, is access to the games they are the most interested in. Some console buyers will buy every console just to play those few games that are exclusive that they must play. To them, what are Steam machines bringing? Steam is bringing a lot of new games to play, sure, but these games are far from exclusive and have already been out for a long time. If anything they’ll get to play the games that are only released on PC, which may include a lot of indie games, which Sony and Microsoft have been pursuing as well. Although I’ve heard a lot of PC users complain about console exclusives that only come to PC as a lame port much later, rarely do I hear about the opposite, of console gamers complaining about PC gamers getting everything.

The Power PC Users

So if it’s not really for the console owners, is it for current PC power-owners who want to move into the living room? Maybe. On this surface this seems like the most viable. If they use Steam, they already have a collection of games for the new system. They are more comfortable with the overall workings of PC units, knowing their strengths and weaknesses, and would enjoy playing some of their more action-style games on their much larger TV screen. But these individuals already have PCs that play all of these games. So, is the pricetag, which is looking on-par or significantly greater than consoles, worth the price of just moving from your desk to your couch? I don’t really think it is. I didn’t exactly jump to fix the home theater PC I had set up before. The cost/value calculations weren’t pushing me to do so. I just wasn’t getting enough out of it to seriously justify the price, and the Steam Machine is no exception.

The PC Future

No, I believe the Steam Machine will be for those that really want to get away from the desk and move into the living room for good. They’ll already be living a very mobile lifestyle. Using their laptop or tablet, but wanting something with a little more power, the Steam Machine will be their PC replacement. It’ll have the power to play the latest games, but the versatility so that they won’t have to bust out their laptop if they want a web browser. They won’t be the most tech savvy, but they won’t be computer illiterate, either. They also may own a console, too, and plan to use the Steam Machine to make up for the consoles limitations.

Steam Machines, if nothing else, look to be attempting to really bridge the gap between the computer desk and the living room and attempt to really start the slide of the end of the PC-era. Computer PC sales have been on the decline for a long time. The advent of tablets and better smartphones has only sped it up. I’ve always said the day the PC is dead is the day that a more portable device finally shows the same power and versatility. Valve, then, appears to be placing themselves in a position to ring the deathknell of the desktop PC. With companies like Alienware and Gigabyte in the mix of partners, and the smooth business savvy that Valve has displayed, they may be on to track to do so.

Just as Apple revolutionized the smartphone and music, Valve has already revolutionized video game sales and is looking to push the PC revolution forward even more.

// Ocho

P.S. – And boy do some of them look pretty, too.

MANOS: The Hands of Fate, The Secret World, Final Fantasy VII, Star Trek Online, Lineage, and Other Ramblings

MANOS: The Hands of Fate, Freakzone

I am not interested in playing ANYTHING!

That’s an exaggeration, of course, but it’s not that far off. Over the past week, I’ve had some rough days at work. So, I’ve come home feeling like relaxing, I sit down at my PC, fire it up, and then I do…nothing. I check the Book of Face or Twitter or some random article that catches my attention. The last thing I’ve wanted to do is game. This is not like me, but then, we all go through these downtimes.

To be honest, I have felt a bit burned out. Take The Secret World’s augment grind as a reason for burning out, for example. Those scenarios are just brimming with decent loot and ability points, but they do get old quick. I mean, as Joel Bylos said in the latest November 2013 Game Director’s letter, Scenarios are really tuned to be an epic end game grind. I haven’t done all the full calculations yet, but my preliminary calculations are showing me that, oh dear lord, a grind is an understatement. And there is nothing wrong with that. A grind really works for MMOs. Games that theoretically never end should really never have an ending. So if you do every quest, every dungeon, and explore every corner, there should still be something there to strive for. Plus, I think people secretly really like the grind.

But not me. I’ll generally grind if there is a specific item to grind for, and then once that item is attained, I’ve always found my desire to play satiated. For example, last year I was all about playing the Winter content in Star Trek Online. I even got the big fantastic Breen ship that you acquired after running the same daily mission 25 times! And you know what I did with my new ship? Absolutely nothing. It’s still sitting there unopened in my bank. So this year, Star Trek Online brought back the Winter zone, with all kinds of fun new extra things, and my want to play it is nonexistant. Not to say it wasn’t fun last year. It was a good time. But I know I’ll put in all that effort, get the ship… and then it, too, will languish in my bank. I might log back in to check it out, check out the new Dyson Sphere, the dinosaurs with fricking laser beams, the new Worf mission, etc… just as soon as the mood strikes. … Anyday now… Whenever you’re ready mood…

Final Fantasy 7, Square Enix, Steam

So what else is there? I’ve been checking out a bit of my other purchases, like Final Fantasy VII, picked up in Steam’s latest Autumn Sale (Oh yea, I haven’t been in the mood to play anything, but yet, that hasn’t stopped me from buying more games… I really do have a problem, don’t I…). I never played it the first time around, and it’s been fun so far. Also, Humble’s Weekly Sale had a title that I couldn’t resist dropping a few bucks for: Manos: The Hands of Fate.

MANOS: The Hands of Fate, Freakzone, Humble, MST3K

Yes, based on THE Manos: The Hands of Fate. If you don’t know it, the good people have given the IMDB’s rating of the movie a more than generous 1.8 out of 10. It’s not just bad, it is phenomenally bad. The movie is so bad, it TRANSCENDS it’s badness. Mystery Science Theatre 3000 fans will look back on it fondly, though. The MST3K riffing of Manos: The Hands of Fate on IMDB has an 8.8 out of 10 rating. Freakzone, the developer, decided to use the awesome source material and turn it into a pretty awesome old-school platformer. For the low price of “whatever the heck you want to give them”, it’s a decent platformer. So far, I’ve found it challenging, easy to play with a controller, and bug-free. A total win. Available for the next 4 days and change, check it out.

Also, although I’m not as prolific a reader as say, Mogsy, I have also delved back into B.J. Keeton‘s NIMBUS. Also the author of Birthright, 1st of his trilogy mixing sci-fi and fantasy elements, B.J. just released yesterday the 2nd installment, Lineage! Do me a solid and check it out. And oh, seeing as how B.J. is an avid MMO player, you might see a heavy helping of MMO influence in there, too.

Final Fantasy 7, Square Enix, Steam

Alright… enough rambling. Game on, my friends.

// Ocho

The Genius of Steam’s Trading Cards

I popped open Steam today and saw something unexpected; a number one surrounded in green next to the letter icon by the top of the screen. I wasn’t expecting anything, so I found this curious. Lo and behold, I had received a Space Pirates and Zombies Booster Pack! SPaZ is a surprisingly fun and deep indie space arcade shooter title I recently picked up from a Humble Bundle that has since ended. Quite a fun title.

So out of all the games in my collection, and out of all the titles I just received in the Bundle, why did I decide to try out SPaZ? Simply… the cards.

If it’s a mentality that Steam knows well, it’s that of the gamer. We collect, we hoard, we have long term digital goals and there isn’t much that will stop us from reaching said digital goals. One of the first questions asked of new MMOs is always “What is there to do at end-game?” A new title can be months or years away, and we have already planned out that we will play it to it’s completion and want something more to do when we reach it’s highest peaks.

SteamCards2

If you haven’t heard of them by now, Steam Trading Cards are collectible cards acquired by playing participating games through Steam. You collect a full set of these cards, combine them together, and receive more cards, items to customize your Steam background, emoticons to chat with your friends, and possibly receive a coupon for another Steam game. So, essentially, a collecting game on top of a game. Just what we need, a meta-game, right? Well, even if you have no interest, but still use Steam, it definitely behooves you to join in the Trading Card circus. 

So, okay, say you don’t care about backgrounds, hats, or other fluff. That’s cool. For you folks, there’s the Steam Community Market. Don’t like a card you have, sell it! Just like any MMO’s auction house, you can sell any card for a small profit. I do mean small, though, maybe about 10 – 20 cents per card. But they add up quick. Especially if you acquire randomly dropped booster packs just by logging in to Steam. $.40 here, $.20 there. With the funds, buy a small indie game that drops more cards, collect more cards, sell them, etc. No money needs to be invested to start on it, either, just sell them to other gamers. The more badges that are created, though, the more cards are handed out, to keep the card economy stable.

From my good buddy Windcaller. Play games to pay for other games. Simple and elegant. I like it.

Here’s where it’s a genius strategy and a Win-Win for everybody. We all know this and it’s the fact casinos use and was made famous in the movie Office Space: Small profits multiplied a million times over equals huge profits. This IGN article sums the math of Steam cards up nicely, so I’ll quote it here:

“…The company takes a 5% cut of every transaction, and a 10% cut goes back to the game publisher (encouraging widespread adoption of the trading card system). So those 115 booster packs sold yesterday? They made Valve $10 and 2K Games $20, as well as $175 for gamers directly. Of course, the “profit” gamers make goes back into each seller’s Steam wallet, ensuring Valve eventually gets a bigger payday.

$20 doesn’t sound like much, but individual Borderlands 2 cards and items are also for sale, to let people fill gaps in their collection. Around 2,000 were sold yesterday alone, for around $0.30 each. That’s another $40 for 2K and $20 for Valve. Around 225 ultra-rare “foil” Borderlands 2 cards were also sold yesterday, for around $1.85, generating $36 for 2K and $18 for Valve.

Suddenly, these numbers aren’t so small. Totaled up, Steam users selling Borderlands 2 digital goods generated $96 for 2K and $48 for Valve in a single day. That’s $35,040 a year for 2K and $17,520 for Valve. For one game. There are 144 (and counting) Steam games that support trading cards.”

See that? It’s not just Steam making the money off the sale of cards, it’s the developers of the games, too. Trading cards helps the companies who make these games, especially these great indie titles, even more money at practically zero effort on the part of the developers.  In the above example, $35k might be chump change for 2K games, but that’s not chump change for someone like Team Meat, makers of Super Meat Boy. That’s a nice payday and extra appreciation for their work.

So, overall, Steam wins, the developers win, and gamers win. What’s not to like about that?

// Ocho

Living the Half-Life [Half-Life]

I am Gordon Freeman, a recent Ph.D. graduate of MIT in theoretical physics, with an entry level position in a desert research facility owned by Black Mesa, and despite being ridiculously smart and disciplined enough to earn my Ph.D…. I am almost an hour late to work with no good reason why. Go figure.

A little over a week ago, I came out of my posting funk and hit it off with a poll of what you, my fantastic readers (You look really nice today, by the way. I love what you’ve done with your hair), think I should be playing. The reasons behind this are three-fold. One, it forces me to play something I’ve always wanted to play, but it never made the tops of my priority list. Two, it forces me to write by making me accountable to my previous decisions, thus giving me more practice at this whole writing fiasco. And Three, readers are more inclined to read an article they already have a vested interest in, such as by participating in a vote, so people will read this , and thus feel they have an interest in my blog in general, which then prompts me to write more. Consider this a social experiment and if you couldn’t tell, I’m big on the social experiments (and I hope you are, too!).

Winning by a very slim margin was, kind of a surprise to me, Half-Life, the 1998 award-winning sci-fi shooter that put the current-day behemoth Valve on the map.  And no, I wasn’t referring to Half-Life 2, I was specifically referring to the original Half-Life. I may get to 2 eventually, but I wanted to get through the story to the first game… well… first.

I started a game on Medium settings. I ain’t no hardcore, but I imagine my skill is above any easy modes, and with that, I found myself on a tram car. The tram was being taken through an underground desert facility, presented in as blocky an environment as could be. I know at the time, now 15 years ago, this was graphic intensive, but as a current-gen gamer it’s not the easiest on the eyes. However, I do hope the story could still stand the test of time. Seeing as how they have made a sequel with multiple expansions and spin-offs, my guess is it will.

After the long and intricate tram ride through the facility, I come to my stop, exit the tram car and proceed to mosey into work, pushing being almost an hour late. Man, my ego must be huge. After strolling in, having a few scientists scold me, seeing some of the guard crew to whom I am buddies with, I make my way to pick up my awesome EV suit. Being late doesn’t seem to phase me much as I stop by my locker, check out some personal effects, and finally meander my way to where I’m supposed to be.

Once locked inside the testing chamber, I’m told to head on up to the top and activate this giant machine. Cool… but odd considering it couldn’t be activated from the outside, If it’s so dangerous I need to be wearing an EV suit for it, why isn’t the ON button on the outside? No matter. I press it, watch as it bursts to life, and then am told our sample for the day, something very important, is waiting for me to clumsily push it into the path of the testing beam. We’ll just start with the entire sample. Sure, just shove it all in. No idea what it is. Are we sure these are real scientists? This does not sound like proper scientific method here. Ah well, I’m just the grunt. Who am I to argue.

And then all hell breaks loose.

An explosion rocks the facility to it’s core, a green energy burst with lightning bolts rips around the room. The world goes black. Suddenly I’m in an alien swamp. Black again, I’m chilling with some green dudes. Black again, then back to the facility where I have, miraculously, survived. Making my way out, the calm research facility is now in shambles, and escaping is the only option. I must find my way to the surface and get some help. Even if I get there, in the desert this may be easier said than done.

Running my way through the facility, I pick up what appears to be the godsend of all weapons, a grail of awesomeness, the crowbar. I know I’m wicked smart and all, but the alien face-jumpers I keep coming across, the mutated scientists, and green dudes seem to have a weakness to a good throttling with this bad boy. Brains I got in spades, but braun it shall be.

As I run through the facility, I keep spying a dude who looks awfully smug and quite satisfied with what has transpired. It has hints of X-Files, with a shadowy, suit wearing guy watching the progress of the travesty befalling the facility. Along with X-Files, Fringe, The Secret World, and many other forms of entertainment have that same suit-wearing shadowy corporate menace backing a disaster feel to them. It’s a trope that works, playing to the conspiracy parts of our minds that we are just pawns in a much larger game we aren’t aware of. Paranoia is something we all have to differing levels (except those with pronoia, of course), and when made manifest strengthens our mistrust of the huge powerful corporations. As they say, beware the power you give to the soulless.

Finally, I make my way closer to the surface, and am told the military is on their way to assist… only to find them gunning our scientists down. Welp, a crumbling facility behind me, and a gun-toting army in front of me. Looks like the only way to go is forward. I finally make it topside only to see helicopters dropping off more troops and a huge bullseye on my forehead. It looks like a higher-up gave the order to cover-up whatever is going down here, but I won’t give up without a fight.

I played a decent stretch and made it half-way through Chapter 5. I love that there doesn’t appear to be any stopping point in between levels. No loading screens, no wait, no cutscenes. This gives the game a very fluid motion, one that I am in full control of. Even during scripted events, I am still in charge, capable of running around as they talk. This leads to a very heavy immersion level. Not once has my complete control of the character been taken away. Seeing as this is 15 years old, and our immersion is still being pulled away to load screens, this feels revolutionary. I can see why it won the awards. Finding a stopping point is tricky, like having a continuous book with no chapter points, but that’s okay. What’s not okay is my inability to jump on small boxes.

Seriously, just pick up your damn feet, Freeman!

// Ocho

A Plan to Chip Away at my Gaming Backlog

Ack! Zombies!

Have you ever taken a look at your Steam list of games and thought “Damn. By the time I get to playing all of these, we won’t even have computers anymore! We’ll be downloading games directly into our brain-chips!” I think this a lot. And yet, it doesn’t stop me from seeing that great 80% off deal and adding onto the list. There is some tricky psychology at work here, and I’m sure it’s pretty obvious, something like False Scarcity or The Sunk Cost Fallacy, but hell if I’m powerful enough to stop it.

To that end, I need to get to playing some of these eventually! And what better time than the present. But how do I go about it where I get the most out of the limited time I already have available?

Syp over at Bio Break has his gaming time scheduled down to the day. I like it, but then what happens if real life responsibilities or just other events cause you to miss a day? Do you then have a two week stretch in between sessions? Can you even make progress at that rate?

Nicole over at Mama Needs Mana takes a different turn with scheduling ahead of time, but still keeping it loose. This also has lots of merits, but sometimes I find it even harder to schedule even what I’m going to play tonight! If there are other people involved, I tend to back off as I know how flaky I can be.

And finally, the prolific Rowan at IHTTS tends to just play as long as a game holds his interest. This is how I normally roll as well, but at this rate, I’ll drown in my backlog. If I wait until I’m jonesing to play a game, it’ll never happen as something new and shinier will have surely come along.

So to recap so far, I want to play different games, not to have too long of a stretch in between game sessions, not schedule ahead of time (as I know myself pretty well), but still make some progress. Seems like a tall order.

Well, this may not be perfect (but what first attempts usually are), but based on all of this I’ve devised a system that I think will work:

1) To start, on the first day, play whatever game you like. Anything.

2) On your next play session, you can’t play any game you played the previous session, but you can play any other game.

3) Quick maintenance sessions, like a holiday daily ala Star Trek Online, or setting up graphic requirements after installation Do Not Count as a play session.

4) Enjoy as you start ticking games off your list.

So, as my above spreadsheet shows, I started off on the 29th with The Secret World, so on the 30th I couldn’t play TSW. So I played Bully instead. On the 31st, I could play TSW again, but decided to give Torchlight a shot, as its a quick easy game and I didn’t have a lot of time. On the 1st, I only couldn’t play Torchlight, but the next chapter in The Walking Dead was calling me. Friday and Saturday I didn’t have any time to play, although I did buy the last Skyrim expansion, Dragonborn, so on Sunday I played that.

The way I see it, it could roll that I then end up switching off on two separate games as I get hooked on them, but then I’ll be making headway in two games. If I’m really getting into a particular game and have the dopamine flowing nicely when I play it, it’ll only be a single day minimum in between when I can play it again, and during that time I can make progress in other games. I see this as a win-win.

Of course, the saying that keeps flashing through my head is “The best laid plans of mice and men / often go awry.” We’ll see if this works for me in the long run, but I think it’s a good start.

// Ocho

P.S. – Voting has concluded on what YOU think I should play, and at 20 votes, it ended up being a really tight race, but with a majority of 5 votes, Half-Life ended up the big winner! So, on my next play session, Half-Life it will be! Thank you to everyone who voted!! Ended up being a few more than the 3 votes I thought I would get. 🙂

So Much To Play, So Little Time [Poll]

So, tell me, what exactly do I play now?

Welcome to my summer gaming habits. I know, I know… I haven’t updated since May 12th. Bad Ocho, very bad Ocho. So sue me. I have this thing that happens during the summer where suddenly my want to sit behind my computer screen playing games suddenly falls off the table. Going for walks, grilling on my deck, visiting friends, impromptu bar runs, it all suddenly becomes a much greater priority than gaming. Hence why I shall always remain in the “casual” category of gamers. It’s not that I don’t love my hobby, it’s just that it’s still just a hobby and as such, takes that low position amongst my priorities. So, during the summer, I may not update as often as other times, and also sometimes I don’t feel like I’m adding a whole bunch to the conversation, so this leads to periods of inactivity. That is just my introverted, worrying, insecure side talking, though. And sometimes it’s right. However, I’m sure I’m not inconveniencing my legion of readers by taking periodic breaks.

But ANYWAY, I’m starting to see a trend among my fellow bloggers, a trend of… exploration. And I, being an intrepid explorer myself, am willing to leave the choice of which game in my collection I should play up to the fates (that would be you). Now, my collection is pretty big, what with Steam and GoG.com being sooo tempting at times, so below is a list of 5 games that I have never touched, or never really got that far in, that I would like to give a shot.

Some are MMO’s, some are not. Some are newer, some are older. My tastes are very eclectic. So, please, pick the game that you would most like to play vicariously, and I will try my best to live up to it. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below…

All 3 of you. 😛

Paradox Sale on Steam! Pick up Magicka and Majesty for cheap!

This weekend, from June 7th – June 10th, 2012, Steam is having a sale on titles by Paradox. If you’re not sure who Paradox is, that’s alright, it took me a second as well to remember. They don’t have a gigantic selection in their stable of games, but two titles stick out that I highly recommend: Majesty and Magicka.

Magicka straight-up is one of the most fun action titles I have ever played. It combines an ever-present satirical humor with a “discover the best combinations on your own” dynamic gameplay. The premise is that you are a wizard from from a sacred order and have to use an elemental spellcasting system to stop a big bad evil. You have eight general schools of magic: Water, Fire, Lightning, Earth, Cold, Shield, Arcane, and Life that you combine to create devastating effects.  Combine Arcane with Fire to create a burning laser beam, combine ice with earth to create a huge snowball, combine earth and shield to erect a wall of spikes surrounding you. The combinations are numerous. You also have to be a quick typist as you set up spells by typing them in with the Q,W,E,R,A,S,D, and F keys. Then on top of this, you get higher “magicks” that require a specific combination. Think you’re a fast typer? Here are a few spell combinations I wrote down for quick reference.

Thunderbolt: QFASA ; Tornado: DQFQQF ; Conflagrate: FQFFQFFQ ; Thunderstorm: QFQFASA ; Napalm: QFDWFF (Napalm is only available in the Magicka: Vietnam DLC, but it’s well worth it).

Now how do I get my rogues to stop stealing…

The other title I recommend Majesty is a fantasy, real-time strategy title with one gigantic caveat: you don’t have direct control of your units. Essentially, you build a castle, then you start building “guilds” around your castle. A warrior’s guild, a thieve’s guild, a ranger’s guild, etc. Through these guilds you hire heroes who will show up and then meander around your town. They’ll wander off on their own, find monsters to slay, and acquire gold. Well, now you have to give them something to do with this gold, so you build inns, blacksmith shops, marketplaces, and trading posts. Your heroes buy stuff and upgrade their equipment, then you collect taxes generated by the sales and put it back into your town’s infrastructure. You convince your heroes to explore and attack by placing reward flags. Want that dragon killed? Put a nice bounty on it’s head and your heroes will rush for the reward. You still have scenarios to accomplish and foes to fight off, but it adds a nice twist to the standard real-time strategy model.

Game well, my friends. Game well.

\\ Ocho

P.S. – If you are an MMO player like myself, another title recently introduced to Steam is the Lord of the Rings Online, and a Starter Pack. Although the game is accessed pretty much the same way as before, I like using Steam as a platform not only for easy screenshots, but also for the nice extras thrown your way for using Steam. The Starter Pack comes with a Noble Grey Steed, Northdowns, Evendim, and Misty Mountains quest packs, a token that gives an extra 25% experience on monster kills, and 1,000 Turbine Points on top of that. Right now, it’s still at its introductory price of $15, which isn’t a bad deal at all, especially if you’re a new or free player.

If You Don’t Get The Humble Indie Bundle V, You’re Just Not A Gamer

I’ll flat out say it: If you don’t pick up the HumbleBundle.com deal, you’re probably not even a gamer. Really, look at this list!

Amnesia: The Dark Descent (Steam price: $19.99)

Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP (Steam price $7.99)

LIMBO (Steam price $9.99)

Psychonauts (Steam price $9.99)

And if you pay more than the average…

Bastion (Steam price $14.99)

Do the math! That’s $62.95 worth of games.

Now, I can’t really speak for Amnesia, Superbrothers, or Bastion, but I have played Limbo and Psychonauts and I can guarantee that they are worth Whatever-price-you-want-to-pay-for-them! I don’t know if there is a minimum, but that means if you even donate $1, you get the top 4 games, but you shouldn’t only donate that as the money is going to good causes like Child’s Play and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. If you pay more than the average, which is currently at $7.49 as of this writing and climbing quick with every purchase made, you also get Bastion, too, which looks pretty sweet.

Psychonauts: From a little known studio called “Double Fine Productions”. Oh, wait! They’re known by everybody!

Well, what are you waiting for! Go donate!

\\ Ocho