Archive for the ‘guides’ 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.

Let’s Play!

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Back around 2006 or so, some of the folks over at the Something Awful forums apparently decided to start playing through some video games and providing commentary via screenshots and captions. Which is a great way to vicariously experience a game while you’re browsing the Internet at work.

Then, sometime in 2007, the Video Let’s Plays started to appear. This was essentially the same thing, but instead of pictures and captions, we get full video and running commentary. Kind of like one of those old hint videos in the 80s/90s, but going through the entire game. (Without the commentary, it’s what’s called a Longplay)

There are lots of kinds of Let’s Play videos, but I think I can break them down into four categories:

  1. People who play through games just to get angry and yell/cry.
  2. People who play through games without a specific goal, just to play until game over (they may or may not complete the game)
  3. People who have a vlog, but with a video game playing instead of showing their face
  4. People who play through the game to completion, showing off gotchas, tips, and tricks, while providing interesting commentary

The barriers to making a Let’s Play video these days are absurdly low. All you really need is a game to play, a video capture device, a microphone, maybe some video editing software, and an Internet connection. Since I had all of those things handy (and there are about 7 million Let’s Play videos on Youtube already), I figured I’d dip my toe into the world of Let’s Play as an excuse to play through some of the games just kind of sitting around here, but I didn’t want to do any of the first three, since they’re pretty boring to watch. So, I figured I’d give #4 a try, which you can see below.

So, if you ever wanted to know what I actually sound like, or if I actually have any video game chops, now’s your chance to find out!

The Stages of a Video Game Purchase

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

From a casual glance, it might seem that your average obsessive video-game geek is a slave to retail impulses. That he just goes to the store, picks up an armload of software, and runs home to ravenously digest it all, but you might not know that this is but just one phase in a cycle that repeats itself over and over again. Here’s your guide to recognizing these stages so that you can be better informed about what it is that’s going on in the mind of your local video game hobbyist.

It’s worth noting that these phases may happen slightly out of order or my be skipped altogether. They’re just numbered here for reference.

Phase 1: Rumor-mongering

At this phase a game may or may not exist in any form. The player may have heard from a friend of a friend’s uncle who has a friend who has a daughter that knows a guy that works next-door to a developer of one of his favorite games. Will there be a new game in the BloodPhaser X series? Or another game by the same company, only this time with 34% more applesauce? This person seems to think so. At this stage you’re likely to hear your gamer-friend say ‘You know, I heard that BloodPhaser X2 is totally in the works and supposed to come out sometime in the Spring of 2015′. You, of course, haven’t heard anything, so you should just nod, say something agreeable (i.e. ‘Really? That’s awesome!’) and then move on.

Phase 2: Official Confirmation

You know that game that your friend told you might or might not exist? He’s just been vindicated. Someone with some authority on the matter has openly announced to whoever will listen that the sequel to BloodPhaser X, BloodPhaser X2: Double Montana is indeed in the works and will be released… when it’s ready. (Incidentally, saying that a game will be out ‘when it’s ready’ is a slightly less pretentious way of saying that ‘you can’t rush perfection’.)

Phase 3: Media Collection

Invariably, after the Official Confirmation, the Media Trickle begins. The developer will excruciatingly slowly release a screenshot here, an extremely short gameplay movie there, possibly some unrecognizable corner of a piece of concept art to keep the game fresh in the minds of the salivating public (some of them are literally salivating at this point). This slow media release then becomes like a game of Pok√©mon for the player, he’s gotta collect, or at least view, every screen, every video, every concept piece, and read every last tidbit of information about this game. He’s vicariously playing tiny morsels of this game through the previews and screenshots that he can find.

Phase 4: Early Reviews

After months of very little in the flow of information, finally, the game’s retail appearance is right around the corner. Some media outlets have gotten their mitts on the game a few days/weeks early so that they can get their precious reviews up on their sites. Did they like it? Did they hate it? Did they give an arbitrary number that agrees with what he had built up in his mind that it should be? This is a time for a decision by the player. Is the review and negative, in which case it was probably done by a complete moron, or was the review glowingly positive, in which case it was probably done by someone extremely talented and insightful? Does the review contain anything that might spoil the experience (revealing key plot lines, for example)? Is the review going to even weigh in on his purchasing decision?

There are no easy answers to all these questions. In fact, you’re very unlikely to even find someone in this Phase, unless he makes you read some review online and tell you how great or awful it is. Your best bet here is to just agree with everything that he finds good or bad with the review and move on.

Phase 5: Retail Release

After months and months of nail-biting, collecting and digesting media, and generally knowing as much about the game is if he’d actually been on the development team, the day has arrived. The game is in his local retailer and just waiting to be purchased. But now new issues crop up. Does he buy the dumb-old Regular Edition, or does he get the super-snazzy Collector’s Edition with Concept Art Book, Game Soundtrack, BloodPhaser X pin, window cling, and a coupon to mail-order a customized action figure? Sure, it costs almost twice as much, but he’s getting oh, so much more. You might want to question that decision, telling him that he’s spending an extra $50 for a CD, a pin, some plastic, a ten-page ‘book’, and a coupon that will cost him more money to redeem, but he’ll refute every one of your points and tell you that it’s an investment.

Which, of course, is total hogwash.

But you probably shouldn’t stand in his way. Let him get the limited edition bonus stuff if he wants. He didn’t stop you from getting that super-sweet limited edition novel that was autographed by the guy who swept the floors in the author’s apartment complex, did he? Wasting a few bucks on a couple of junkets isn’t the end of the world.

Phase 6: Getting the game home

It’s all been building to this. The game is in his hands, the cellophane has been shredded, the bonus goodies are in a bag on the floor for later, and the game goes into the game playing device of choice (PC, console, whatever). This is where one of several things might happen:

Phase 6a: The game is phenomenal

This is the best possible outcome. The game is great in every sense of the word. Your game-playing friend will probably lose vast tracts of time to this game. He won’t call, he won’t email, he might even forget to eat, sleep, and/or bathe until the game is done. He’s got to get to the end and see as much of the game as he can as quickly as he can. And if you do manage to see him outside of his house, he’ll probably talk to you about it endlessly, telling you all about the minutiae. You’re going to feel like you’re the one playing the game after all is said and done here.

Phase 6b: The game is mediocre

This isn’t quite as good a result as if the game had been awesome, but it’s not all bad. He’ll play the game off and on until he either trudges his way through to the end or he just gives up on it. The good thing here is that he probably won’t want to talk to you endlessly about it, which is something.

Phase 6c: The game is garbage

This is absolutely the worst thing that can happen (in this context, of course). The game that he’s poured his life into following for the past two-and-a-half years somehow turns out to be slightly less fun than getting punched in the face repeatedly by a guy wearing gloves covered in red-hot sewing needles and dipped in a mixture of lemon juice and salt. He’s disgusted and will actually probably not play the game much at all. He’ll probably quickly jump to…

Phase 7: After the game’s done

Once the player has completed as much of the game as he’s going to, he’s got a choice. He can add it to his personal archive of video game titles and paraphernalia (saying that he’ll play it again someday, but he probably won’t), or he can try to recoup a portion of his money by selling it off. Sure, he spent about $100 getting all the goodies that came with the game, but the used game store doesn’t want those, they just want the disc and they throw the rest of the stuff in the trash, and give him $25 (if he’s lucky) that he can apply to his next purchase.

This is fortunate because he just heard that Dungeon Disaster IV is supposed to be out in a few months…

How not to choose an online name

Sunday, January 11th, 2009

Choosing a name to represent yourself on the wild, untamed Internet can be tough. You have to try and figure out something unique, memorable, and easy to type.

Rather than tell you what to pick, I’ll tell you what not to pick so that you don’t pick something that you’ll end up regretting… though that’s likely to happen anyway.

Video game character names

I know, you really liked Final Fantasy VII, you thought that Sephiroth was some super-awesome bad guy, or that Cloud’s sword was big and really super-cool, or that Vincent is just so awesome because he sleeps in a coffin and is all mysterious-like. But, lots (and lots) of people played that game and liked the characters in it. So, picking something based on these guys means that the name you choose is already taken. It’s just the way things are. Though you could try to be ‘different’ by adding letters, numbers, and lots of junk to the beginning or the end. Then you end up with stuff like: Sephiroth_Cloud_X, Cloud1982, SephClouderoth[84], or stuff like that.

Seriously, don’t pick your name based on something that’s real popular, even if you do like it. Odds are good that several thousand other people have already beaten you to the punch. And if you have any doubts, here’s a (very) partial list of names to avoid, bonus points if you recognize them all (points don’t actually exist).

  • Cloud
  • Sepheroth
  • Aerith
  • Cait Sith
  • Mario
  • Luigi
  • Link
  • Sonic
  • Eggman
  • Toejam
  • Gabe
  • Tycho
  • Dante
  • Master Chief
  • Fenix
  • Radd
  • Wesker
  • Arthas
  • Thrall
  • Sylvanas
  • Gordon Freeman
  • This list could go on nearly forever. I think you get the gist

Avoid a ton of gibberish before and after your name

So you’ve picked something that is interesting, unique, and describes you perfectly, then you find out that a hundred other people picked the same thing. So you decide to ‘personalize’ it by throwing your team affiliation in front of your name, or just some gobbledygook. Or maybe you’ll join all the teams you can and want to support them all. Or maybe you just got frustrated and wanted to put in something, anything that’ll make the name unique. Not only does that make your nickname look goofy, it also makes it hard to type. You might not think that’s a problem until someone tries to send you a private message ingame and your name has lots of brackets, braces, and colons, or worse, characters that aren’t on their keyboards. An occasional team affiliation tag (like [EvL] or {wsVT}) is fine, but if you have {Mje}-tec-|OrangeJuicer[88killazz!!] in front of your name… then you might want to consider trimming it a bit.

Don’t get arty with your nickname

In that same vein, there’s a temptation to make your nickname look awesome by using letters, numbers, and symbols to make your name look way awesome to the max. You want to use your nickname to show how awesome it is that you were able to go to some website and it was able to spit out characters that looked like waves or some other nonsense.

Let’s say that I’ve decided that I want the nickname, basscommbobulator. Then I want to jazz it up a little so I decide to alternate case in each letter

bAsScOmMbObUlAtOr

Then, I change the o’s to zeros.

bAsSc0mMb0bUlAt0r

Then I change a couple of letters to recreations with symbols that kind of look like the letters that I’m replacing.

b^s5<0mMb()bU|At0r Then I put my team affiliation on it [EvL]b^s5<0mMb()bU|At0r And we've metamorphosed into something that resembles what you'd get if you threw a PHP book into a blender. And for the people that have never seen your nickname before, how do they pronounce that mess? How do they type it? I guess you might not care so much if you don't want people talking to you, or if you don't mind explaining it each and every time you do meet someone new. So, what do you pick?

You pick something that sounds good to you, is easy to type, and is something that you can live with. You don’t want to change up your name willy-nilly, unless you have no problem with your friends not being able to find you. Basically, don’t be this guy:

“Well, I was LeftHandedOcelot241 for a few months, but I decided that name wasn’t who I was any more, so I started calling myself TheOneRealNeal39, but after a year I decided to move on to a new game, because that’s where my friends were playing. I logged in under UnbridledShotgunnery, but for some reason some of the people I’d been playing with haven’t found me yet, not sure why.”

And if you’re still not able to come up with anything on your own, you could always try an online service like this one to get you started.