Archive for the ‘collecting’ Category

Backlog, Schmacklog

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

As recently as a month ago, I was making grand proclamations about how I was going to knuckle down and get my backlog under control. I was going to pare down that list bit by bit and eliminate it once and for all. That was a good idea, in theory, and I am still making progress toward that goal, but I very quickly came to a realization: No matter what I do, my backlog is probably never going to be zero.

And I’m okay with that.

Now, I’m not saying that I’m giving up and am going to let myself drown under an ever-growing pile of unfinished games. That would be crazy. But I did go through my backlog and I identified three kinds of games in there and my likeliness to get them finished as a good first step.

Type 1 – Games I got as a part of a bundle that I didn’t really want in the first place. There are way, way too many game bundles floating around on the Internet. Lots of these game bundles are ‘pay what you want’ with special plums if you pay over a certain dollar amount. The big problem is that you get a game that you want, that is maybe pretty good, and you also get four or five (or more) other games that you’ve never heard of, didn’t really want, and may never play. I have lots of these artificially inflating the number of games in my backlog, so it looks worse than it actually is. It’s tempting to get rid of a lot of these games, but since most of them are digital-only, I’m stuck with them.

Type 2 – Games that looked interesting or were recommended, but it turns out that I didn’t like. Games like 3D-Dot Game Heroes get moderately favorable reviews, and look interesting enough for a try (or were in the bargain bin), but on putting them in, it turns out that they’re just not very good. I’m sure that to someone somewhere these games are good, but I’m not going to waste my time slogging through them if I’m not having any fun doing it.

Type 3 – Games that are just too long. Probably until I either retire or hit the lottery, my time for playing games is limited, and even when I do get a chance to play, I may not be able to play in long stretches. Some weeks I can manage six or eight hours, and other weeks it’s a bit less (like zero). That time may not be in big chunks, either. Some days I might only have a few ten or twenty minute chunks of time that I can devote to a game, other days it might be two or three hours. If I can’t pick up a game and put it down after a few minutes, I may end up putting it down and coming back to it just after never. If a game takes 40 or more hours to complete, and I can work in 10 hours a week playing it, it’s still going to take me a month or so to get to the end.

What are the odds that I’m going to finish these up? Type 1 is very unlikely. I might play it once to see what it’s all about, or I might never look at it. I didn’t really want it in the first place, so these don’t count toward my backlog. I can write them off.

Type 2 games can also be written off. I’m not going to force myself to play something I didn’t like. If I gave it a try and didn’t like it enough to finish it, or at all, then I’m knocking it out of the backlog.

Type 3 games are an interesting category. Games that I liked, probably, but took so long to play that I just got tired of playing them every free evening for a month or more. These games I’d like to get back to, but the odds of me doing that are directly related to how long it’s been since I played it last. A game that I last played a month ago? There’s a decent chance I’ll give it another go in a couple of weeks after I’ve played something short to ‘cleanse my palate’, so to speak. Something I stopped playing in 2007 two consoles ago? Assuming I remember that I have a saved game, and the console is still hooked up to my television, I might play again. But, realistically, we can take these off the list, too, if they haven’t been played in the last year.

And, just like that, my backlog goes from insane and completely unmanageable to slightly off-kilter and kind of manageable.

It’s a start. I’ll take it.

My love/hate relationship with video games part 2 – The Media

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Welcome to part two of my series exploring my relationship with video games. Part one is available here. I’ll wait while you get up to speed, and you can join me in the next paragraph.

Writing is hard. Maybe I should qualify that a little bit: writing things is easy, any schmuck can go to his local library, access a computer, and start up a blog for the low price of free. And just like that, you’re a blogger. No requirements, experience, or anything required other than being able to remember a password. The barriers to entry are the lowest they’ve ever been to be able to write about whatever pops into your head and present it before a worldwide audience. It’s actually kind of ridiculous. But actually getting someone, anyone, to read what you wrote? That’s the hard part. No matter how good your writing is (or how good you think your writing is), unless you get an audience for it, you’ll be just about as effective sitting at a rest stop in the middle of Arkansas, writing your articles in a spiral notebook, crumpling them up and throwing them at anyone that happens to walk by, and hoping that they’ll be interested enough to read what you threw.

So, you take the advice of the Old Guard that have been where you are now. The people who started out with nothing, grew it into a publishing empire, and get paid to do what you’ve wanted to do since you could hold a pencil: they get paid to play and write about video games. You write what you know. But you find that, since you’re not already in the news business, you don’t really know all that much that nobody else already knows, and what you do know has already been reported on by everyone. But, I mean, people already do that, right? Any major news story is going to be reported by everyone, so you can just use their same stories, slap a veneer of your own couple of sentences of commentary, and you’ve got a news article. Keep doing that all day every day and you have yourself a news site.

Kind of.

Creating something original that’s consistently great (or at least good) is hard, and the people who are truly great at it can make it look easy. So easy that people will see something successful, and immediately emulate it, maybe changing one or two details to ‘make it their own’ (“Everybody loves nostalgia, right? So how about we make a video series talking about some old games, but the hook is that the guy talking about them is furious. All the time. It’ll be hilarious!”). The problem is: it sometimes works. We eventually get to the point where (in this case) video game news spread across dozens of big sites and hundreds (maybe thousands) of smaller sites becomes a homogenized grey mass, with the occasional original piece thrown in for color. That’s just a fancy way of saying that the bulk of most video game news sites are interchangable, so why would I bother visiting more than one? For the original content? Nope. If Kotaku posts something interesting, Destructoid will mention it. If Joystiq posts something worth reading, the MTV Multiplayer blog has you covered.

That’s not new, I have some experience in the news industry, and it’s how news reporting has works. It’s understandable, really. There are only so many hours in a day, and if you had to personally research and vet everything that you posted, you’d only get two or three stories a day done, maximum. The world of video games is bigger than it’s ever been, and yet practically the only place you can find coverage of the industry is on the Internet. And on the Internet, for better or worse, coverage == blogs.

Blogs are interesting. They are (usually) easier to update than a static site, they can be updated any time by anyone without having to figure out how to upload a few new .html documents via FTP, and are good for things like a personal diary or, yes, even news coverage. In fact, that you’ll be hard pressed to find a site covering video game that isn’t a blog.

So many blogs

So many blogs

Why is that? Because it works. Why does it work? Well, for me, that’s trickier.

I grew up reading computer and video game magazines like BYTE and Compute!, and eventually stuff like the How to Win at Nintendo Games series, Nintendo Power, EGM, and the occasional GamePro. All of those are defunct now (although EGM has been revived, apparently), but before they left, they impressed one thing on me: people who write about video games (even when what’s getting written is aimed at a child) have a certain style. They would sometimes use words I didn’t know, which was totally fine, they’re professional writers, after all, I could glean the meaning or go research what the thing meant, which was great. It slyly made me learn something I would have never learned on my own while I was learning about something I wanted to know. It reminds me of a quote by Stan Lee (you know, the comic book guy (no, not that Comic Book Guy)):

“People thought (comics) were just for very, very young children or semi-literate adults; nobody had any respect for comics,” Lee said. “Little by little — and I’d like to think Marvel had something to do with that — I started using stories that had college-level vocabulary. I would use whatever word is apt in a sentence. If I would use like — oh, I don’t know — ‘misanthropic,’ let’s say, I’d go ahead and use it. I figured if the kids didn’t know what it meant, they’d get it by osmosis, by the use of the sentence. If they had to go to the dictionary and look it up, that wasn’t the worst thing that could happen.”

Which just a lot of words to say that these early writers started covering an unfamiliar medium using conventional media, and didn’t dumb down their writing for the masses. Things were a little stuffy, sure. But I loved it anyway. I always loved how the books and magazines I got my hands on felt like the writer was having fun exploring each of the games or programs he was covering. It’s like I had a relative who worked at the game factory, got the game a couple months early, and was excitedly telling me all about it.

Coverage of video games nowadays typically bucks all of that.

Sure, they put on the veneer of ‘hey, we like video games as much as you do, you should come let us tell you all about them (please visit our sponsors and click our ads)’. And that may be true, on a strictly personal level. The individual authors might actually love video games, but I do sometimes wonder (playing a lot of games is not necessarily the same as loving games). Regardless, the way old media covers news just doesn’t work well for video games, now that the Internet is a thing. Print and broadcast media are just animated corpses who don’t know they’re dead, and will continue shambling on until their viewership dies and that recurring subscription drawing directly from their checking account that they forgot about setting up in 1998 finally stops. Besides, websites are easier to update, can get information to more people more quickly, can be corrected in real-time if errors are discovered, and so on. Which is all true. And video games are a unique product, they combine elements of books, theater, music, art, mime, imagination, interactivity, and so on into a multimedia product that stands alone.

Websites are uniquely positioned to cover video games precisely because games and websites can both be a multimedia experience. We can get an image, hear a sample of a song, see the game in action. We can vicariously experience every facet of the game itself without actually playing the game. That’s huge.

But this is the Age of the Internet. We want more. So news sites get lots more screenshots and preview videos, because those are easy enough to get and to distribute to everyone.

But we want more.

So they track down concept art, game play trailers, and developers will sometimes cobble together ARGs to increase awareness of games. It’s a little more work, but you can’t start the hype machine too early, right?

But we want more.

So sites start to bug developers to give out any morsel of information about whatever they’re working on. We scour twitter and other social media pages for anything even resembling news, because game developers can’t have normal lives on social media, they have to answer questions about their games constantly, we obsessively check the trademark office to see if something’s been registered that might possibly be the title of a game a developer might be working on now or in the future, or not at all. It’s all filler, of course, but you have to put up something to take up the time between the Good Stuff(tm), right?

But we want more.

There isn’t much more in the official channels, so sites will start posting rumors, water-cooler talk, and what few unique pieces might come from other sites that you don’t visit (so you don’t have to sully your fingers by going there yourself, you see). It’s filler that gets put up between the filler we mentioned above. If we don’t have something new up for our readers every time they refresh the page, then they might look at another website for a few seconds, and that means that we’ve failed.

But we want more.

It’s New Games Journalism, and I’ve grown to hate it.

I realized a while ago that blogging can be a form of journalism, if done right, but a lot of the blogs just don’t do it right. They update so often and many of the articles have so little actual content, that I gradually began to tune them out in favor of the actual original pieces. The news and original reviews that I was coming to the site in the first place to see began to get more and more unpalatable. In an earlier article, I called it Nerd Pride or Nerd Arrogance, but I think it’s more accurate to call it Nerd Hubris. I pick on Destructoid a lot for this, because they’re one of the worst offenders (“We’re so awesome that you should visit our site and love us because we’re so awesome and edgy, and we’re also attention junkies, just like you would be if you were awesome like we are”). Other sites are more subtle, but the subtext of a lot of the articles is the same.

And I don’t have to like it. I could try to change the status quo. To buck the trend of those already bucking the trend, and try to at least start my own site, covering things the way I want them to be covered. Without all the navel-gazing, the hip-edginess, the firehose of constant updates in favor of longer, more researched pieces, and so on.

But I can’t.

I don’t have the time, the energy, or the connections to do anything like that full-time. I could throw away my current career and try to get a job at one of these places, you know, try to change them from the inside. But:

  1. If the hiring managers from one of those sites reads this article, I’m pretty sure they won’t want to hire me. Don’t want any trouble-starters, you know. Even though starting trouble and bucking the system is what they do
  2. For the less edgy sites, my lifelong passion for video games, and the nearly 12 years I’ve spent documenting is is completely worthless, as far as writing experience goes (believe me, I’ve applied to every site mentioned here, on and off since at least 2004)

So, am I bitter, angry, antagonistic, or some other negative adjective? No, not any more. I just have to change where I get my news. Once I stopped going to websites with writing styles I didn’t like that were covering games I didn’t care about, I started to feel a lot better about video games as a whole. And, yes, it’s true that I don’t usually know when the new Gears of Duty is coming out. Or obsess over every instance of a game developer losing his mind. But instead I have a lot more time to play the games I buy rather than obsessing over every detail of their inception, production, and release, then moving on to the next one as soon as they come out. I can enjoy video games on my terms. I’m not under constant pressure to get the new, hot thing, and I can appreciate games as more than an ephemeral experience.

And that’s really what it’s all about anyway.

Never trust a gamer who doesn’t own any bad games

Sunday, August 5th, 2012

It’s no secret to anyone that’s visited the Crummysocks family of sites that I do sometimes play the odd, or sometimes very odd, terrible game, and then talk about it at length. Sometimes that’s because the game I played was so bad it crossed over into awesome, but that’s not always the case. A lot of times, the game is just bad. And, yet, I keep most of them.

That doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially for the truly bad ones. Why would I keep something around that I didn’t like, and have very few (if any) good memories about. I’ve touched on this before, but I think it can be summed up as: bad games make me appreciate the good games more.

Take a site like IGN for example. They love to gush on about how great Latest Blockbuster 4 HD is, and you will find the occasional review where they find something terrible and treat it appropriately. They even address this in their site’s Ratings FAQ

And yes, sometimes people are eager to play games that turn out to be really bad. No one wants to review just the AAA titles. It gets boring after a while to write high praise for everything.

And, even though IGN is currently hovering at about a 68% aggregate rating, which tells me that they might give some of the good games a little too much praise, and might knock a few too many points off for the faults in the less-than-stellar ones, they at least acknowledge that if all you have is wonderful things, those wonderful things become pedestrian, and your perspective is skewed.

So, with that said, I figured I’d share a few of the games from my actual collection, and how they make me appreciate something better.

Exhibit A:

Kung Pow

The uploader of this video has disabled embedding, so you’ll have to click the image above to view the video, and you really should. 15 years later, I’m still wondering how this game got released.

Game: Clayfighter 63⅓
Genre: Fighting
System: Nintendo 64
Released: October 21, 1997
Offenses: Aside from the massive delays, cut features, and the most unfunny jokes imaginable, this game also includes: poor controls, uneven difficulty, blatant racism (it was a different time, 1997), unbalanced characters.
What it makes me appreciate: The very games that this is attempting to parody: Killer Instinct, Street Fighter, Marvel v. Capcom, etc.

Exhibit B:

Game: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan
Genre: Side-scrolling beat ’em up
System: Nintendo Game Boy
Released: August 1990
Offenses: Prerendered cutscenes, challenge-free gameplay, somehow combines cartoon ninja turtles and video games to create something that boring and tedious.
What it makes me appreciate: That we live in an era that allows for video previews, enemies smart enough to not get stuck on terrain, player characters who aren’t just re-skins of each other.

“Oh sure,” you’re probably saying, “pick on games that are 15 years old or more.” Alright, how about something from the last five years?

Exhibit C:

Game: Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Burning Earth
Genre: Beat ‘Em Up
System: Xbox 360
Released: November 12, 2007
Offenses: Just the one. If you’re (somehow) unfamiliar with how the Xbox Achievement system works, it goes something like this: the game developers put in a series of tasks that a player can perform during the course of the game. These can range from hitting certain plot points to collecting some arbitrary number of widgets, to finding all of the secrets hidden in the whole game, to just about anything. Each of these tasks is worth a certain amount of points, which go on your profile along with a little picture and date you performed the task. Most games top out at 1,000 points for completing all of the tasks. Avatar, however, dispenses with most of the challenge of completing the tasks, and instead of giving you numerous varied tasks to perform, it asks you to do one thing. And, even if you weren’t trying to complete all the achievements in two minutes, you’d do it in pretty short order anyway.
What it makes me appreciate: I get it, coming up with achievements that are interesting, challenging, and achievable in a reasonable length of time, is really hard. So, it’s really great to see a list of achievements are actually fun to do, and not tedious grinding.

Now, I’m sure someone will point out that a lot of people sell their used games back to Gamestop or wherever. That they take the bad ones back and exchange them for store credit on something that they’d actually enjoy. And that’s fine. But if I can’t find something at least a little bit bad on their shelf, I start to wonder about where they’re coming from.

Their loss is my gain

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

We’ve all been there, right? Just minding our own business when we find out that a store is going out of business right now, everything is some huge percentage off, and we just have to get there before they close today… forever!

Well, that happened to me today.

Found out that one of the used video game traders in town was going out of business at the end of the day today and that it was all 85% off, so I headed on down and made a couple of additions to the ol’ collection

Now I just need to find time to play these. Good thing it’s Summer, right?

How do you get those games so cheap?

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

There seems to be a dearth of actual news this morning, but Nintendojo has an interesting article revealing one of the more inexplicably-unknown secret of game collection. Hitting garage sales.

“We were both surprised by the amount of gaming technology out there for sale, and even more surprised by how cheap some of it was (perhaps a testament to the fact that the sellers did not always realize the value of the items they were selling).”