Archive for August, 2014

LAN Party Redux

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

A little bit over a year ago, I wrote about how I was going to the first actual LAN party that I had been to in several years. My intention was to write a followup to that article after the event, but I kind of got sidetracked and didn’t actually remember to do that until right now.

In the older piece, I expressed some concern that LAN Parties might be a relic of a time when broadband internet access was something that was nigh unattainable, and online gaming was tough to organize. Now that broadband internet access is (relatively) cheap and (relatively) ubiquitous, tearing your computer down, driving 100 miles, setting it back up, playing video games constantly while taking breaks to sleep in your car, a LAN Party just seems like a solution for a problem that no longer exists.

So, I took my four days off work, tore down the computer, packed it up and drove to Louisville, KY to see whatever became of the LAN party where I spent so many of my weekends during my college years. And to my surprise, I learned that almost nothing had changed. I don’t mean that in any good way. I’m just going to run down a few of my recollections from the event:

  • There was a projector projecting mostly short videos on the wall with audio being piped over the house speakers. The videos being shown were mostly from the early 2000s, when I went last, with a few newish ones mixed in. One of the videos that got a lot of play was a kind of mean-spirited video where a young kid ran his mouth about his Unreal Tournament skills, and got ‘put in his place’ by one of the ‘pros’. I’m not going to link it here, but the footage from that video was recorded in March of 2002 and the video came about some time around that same time. We were reliving a moment of history that was only mildly interesting to a portion of the 200 people that attended 11 years prior. If any of those guys even attended, do any of them still think it’s funny?
  • There were very few LAN games being played. I figured as much in the leadup article to this one, where I speculated that most gaming was moving toward MMORPGs and Free To Play titles that you played over the Internet. Even Diablo III did away with LAN play that was a huge part of its predecessors. You play games while connected to the server on the Internet at all times. Period. To curb piracy, or stop resales, or whatever reason you want to subscribe to. So I had to look around to see if I found any games that people were playing that I could join. And I found lots of DOTA, lots of LoL, lots of MMORPGs of several flavors, lots of Team Fortress 2, and not a lot not being played offline. But that’s not too bad, we had a connection to the Internet2 backbone, and speeds were good, until people started showing up. And anyway, I could always hop in IRC to see what people were talking about and shoot the breeze for a bit during downtime
  • The IRC server was practically dead. I might be showing my age, but I spent a lot of time in college fooling around on IRC, or Internet Relay Chat for you whippersnappers out there. There were usually a few dozen people in IRC that were in the channels between games or taking a break or whatever, so you could talk about just about anything that you wanted: what was going on during a tournament, comment on the video playing, make requests for food or whatever you wanted. Basically, it was something to do that didn’t involve losing whatever game you were playing. Except that the IRC server was practically empty. There were a few people in there talking about what servers they had up on the network that were hosting games nobody was playing, or hosting files for trade (ahem), but very few actual people having very little conversation about just about anything. The biggest issue I saw was that some person was expressing some concern that there were naughty words in the chat, and that there were children present, so they shouldn’t be seeing that. The staff member poo-poohed these concerns by saying that the event was not and had never been family-friendly, and seemed to indicate that if parents had a problem with it, well maybe they shouldn’t have brought kids to the place in the first place, since it’s really not an event for them. I pointed out that not only were several of the attendants that had been coming for years old enough to have kids who, themselves, are old enough to come to the event now, but the organizer of the event, President LAN Party himself, had his kids in attendance, working the snack table. So, maybe considering making the event more family-friendly wouldn’t be an altogether bad thing. But that, of course, was not acceptable.

And so on, and so on. It turns out that I requested four days off of work and paid to attend for four days, but only stayed for about 36 hours. In those 36 hours, I played a lot of RIFT, I played a lot of Team Fortress 2 on the Internet, and I used the 100mb/100mb to download a lot of the titles in my Steam library that I had been putting off doing. I wanted to be able to say that the magic was still there, that the few hundred attendees that make the semiannual trek to keep the party going are keeping a piece of history alive. But what I found was a shell of a party. Going through the motions of the event that they’ve done a hundred times before. Every strand of cable is in place, and every mark is hit with expert timing. But the passion just isn’t there. The sense of community isn’t there. An event that needed to change with the times, but just didn’t. A time capsule that’s only been maintained in the very barest sense of the word that continues to exist just because it’s been going on this long, and maybe some people can’t imagine life without it (or they bought a lot of networking equipment that will go unused otherwise). Either way, I’m glad I went back to check on it. It reaffirmed that I may not have outgrown LAN Parties in general, but I’ve certainly grown away from this one.

I don’t have any gaming guilty pleasures

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

Every once in a while, probably to foster discussion, I see a website or a twitter account ask what gaming guilty pleasures that I have, and my answer is always the same: I don’t have any.

So, what is a guilty pleasure, anyway? A guilty pleasure is something that you enjoy (game, music, movie, activity, whatever) that you feel guilty about liking, and maybe want other people to not know that you do.

That’s odd, right? It’s not just me, is it? You have a thing that you like, but you have to keep it a secret so that other people don’t find out about it, because if they do find out about you liking the thing, then they’re going to think you’re weird. Especially if they all dislike the thing. Then you’ll be the only one in the group that likes the thing that everyone else doesn’t.

Which is not that big of a deal.

Maybe it’s because I grew up at a time where video games weren’t as mainstream as they are today. It was a time where having an interest in computers and video games was something that weird outcasts did, so it didn’t really matter what I liked. The other outcasts and I would talk about whatever games we liked amongst ourselves, and that was pretty much that. We liked a lot of the same games, sure, but we also liked games that the others didn’t, or even that the others had never heard of. But that meant we had more games to try and like or not like as appropriate.

Or maybe it’s because I’m comfortable in forming my own opinions without worrying what other people are going to think. Especially on matters as trivial as the kind of entertainment I like. I realize that this might sound like I’m being preachy or like a chapter out of a self-help book, but I don’t have a problem telling people what kinds of games I like because my friends don’t mind if like something that they don’t. Sure, they might think it’s a little weird that I don’t like the newest Shootymans 3 game or whatever, but I think it’s just as weird that they do like it. Besides, with friends lists, always online consoles, and game collections and activity being on the public Internet, trying to hide a game you’re enjoying playing from your friends is borderline impossible:

Oh, look, I spent 12 hours playing Faerie Solitaire, or I played a video game based on professional wrestling on the Xbox 360, or I imported a cutesy puzzler from Japan to play on my PS3.

So, I’m going to continue on, liking what I want to, and disliking what I want to without feeling bad about it in the slightest or worrying about what other people might think of something as trivial as my preferred video games.

I used to love video games

Sunday, August 17th, 2014

Given the material on this website, you may be surprised to learn that I have a few bits of video-game-related clothing in my wardrobe. No, really. Occasionally, when I wear something that features something from the 80’s, I get the reaction of someone who seems to be around my age or a little bit older that goes something like, “Oh, Super Mario Bros! I used to love that game! I haven’t played it in forever!” I’ll sometimes ask these people if they still play video games, and usually I’ll get a blank stare, or they’ll get a little crestfallen and admit that they haven’t played a video game in years. If I prod a little deeper, I find that most people have the same common excuses: they don’t have the time they once did, they went off to school/work/military and never circled back around to playing games as a leisure activity, games are only for kids, so their kids play them, or something like that. But one woman who I talked to yesterday and seemed to be about my age gave a more honest answer that I don’t hear much anymore: she loved playing the NES, but all the new games are just too complicated.

I didn’t really get to dig into the nitty gritty of her position since it was just idle chitchat while we were standing in line, so I don’t really know all the particulars, but it’s not hard to see where she’s coming from. If you played some games as a kid and cut your teeth on something like the NES’s controller and then, many years later, remembered how much you liked playing a few games to pass the time, but the controllers now looked like the control panel of a nuclear submarine in comparison, then you might be put off even trying to use one. Or if you used to like games like Super Mario Bros that had some backstory, but it was largely inconsequential (go right, kill things, rescue princess) to games that have their own website, strategy guides, book series, and so on, and it’s easy to see that a lot of games have lost that ‘sit down and play for 30 minutes or so’ quality that a lot of those early games had.

To which you’d probably say, “Yeah, that’s true, games are more complicated now, but that means that they’re so much better! We have rich worlds with engaging characters, we have graphics that look so realistic that you can hardly tell if you’re watching live television or playing a game. Games are better now than they’ve ever been, and they’re only getting better!”.

And you wouldn’t be completely wrong. Even though the games industry is trying to emulate the movie industry with its products (which I’m not a fan of) a lot of games now are good. If you’re willing to take the time to play them, and given the length of some games these days, that’s not always easy. Also, you can’t just pick up a copy of, say, the latest Battlefield game and play something in Single Player for 15-20 minutes while you’re in between doing Grownup Stuff(tm). Heck, you might not even be able to learn how to work the controls to the game in 15-20 minutes, much less learn how to play something.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

I think Nintendo was partially on the right track with the Wii. They catered to the market of people like my friend above. The people who used to play games, Nintendo game, but now games are too complicated for them. People who want an easy, pick-up-and-play experience that recaptures a piece of their youth. They’ve kind of misfired since then (which is another topic for another day), but the general idea was sound. Unfortunately, a lot of the people I talk to about the old games they played as a kid seem to be completely unaware that a lot of these games are available again, right now, without having to track down an old console (which is becoming difficult to do) and finessing it into working correctly. And if I do make them aware, they just kind of dismiss it for the usual reasons, and that’s the end of it.

That makes me sad that there are people out there who would probably enjoy playing a video game now and again, but don’t really know that there are games out there that they would like, or even that the games that they already like are likely still out there. That there are short, enjoyable, pick-up-and-play experiences to be had outside of Facebook. That the video game console doesn’t have to be a toy in the kids’ room that only they play, but it can be an entertainment device in the living room that everyone can enjoy at the same time. Or even something that the adults can enjoy while the kids are occupied with something else, or vice-versa. Instead, we have a stigma that games are for kids and immature manchildren, and anyone else who plays games is a weirdo. That’s been tough to shake, and I really would like for us to get past that. And, hey, comic book movies are box-office gold right now, and comic book lovers have been dealing with similar problems for years. So maybe there’s hope, yet.

Until then I’ll keep wearing my 80’s game tees to give lapsed gamers of my generation a bit of (hopefully) happy nostalgia.

I don’t like Minecraft

Sunday, August 10th, 2014

Several years ago, in the early part of the decade now known as the 90’s, I got one of my first actual jobs: working in the hands-on sciency part of the local museum. In the very first hour of the very first day on the job, my boss at the time came to me and handed me a checklist of things I was to do that day and most days. He said to me something along the lines of, “I get the impression that you’re the kind of person that would benefit from having some structure.” Consequently, I spent the remainder of the summer doing the things on that list, day in and day out, as well as any other jobs that came up (we set up a couple of 486‘s to play Tetris over a serial link. It was totally rad). It was a great job for a middle-schooler, and one that I am glad to have had.

Fast forward to about 2010 and someone forwards me a link to a thing called ‘Minecraft‘. It’s a beta, but it’s totally a blast. People are having lots of fun with it, and Ican’tReallyExplainItYouHaveToPlayThisNOW. So, I checked it out, and I farted around with it for a while, but got really bored really quickly. There was a huge expanse of stuff there, stuff that I could take, I guess? I could take the stuff and either craft it into other stuff or maybe try to build things with it? When night time comes around there are things that try to kill me and/or destroy the things I made, but they kind of come out of nowhere. The interfaces for gathering and crafting are kind of a mess, and there aren’t really any directions or anything… and I’m dead. Well, that sure was an experience.

Then I kind of forgot about for a while. Until the game’s popularity absolutely exploded. I had to ask myself if this was the same game I played a few years ago, with the aimless gameplay, the chunky LEGO-ish sandbox that only has the barest of gameplay elements to it. And it was. Millions upon millions of people were buying this thing, but I gather that they’re not really buying it for its… erm… sparse gameplay. They’re buying it to use it as a construction kit to build stuff. And that’s great for them, and great for Minecraft. But I find that kind of thing incredibly boring. Not because I lack an imagination or anything, but when I play a video game, I like to do the best that I can, within the prescribed rules. I like to have a goal to achieve. Something to work toward. Handing me something like Minecraft where there’s no real goal (yes, I’m aware of the ‘Adventure Update’), but just ‘explore’ or ‘make your own fun’, then, well, you lose me. Not because I’m incapable of doing those things, but they’re not the kinds of things that I want out of a video game. I want my games to be structured activities. I want challenges to conquer, puzzles to solve, that kind of thing.

“But,” I hear you say, “you could just play around in sandbox mode and build stuff. You can give yourself infinite resources and build whatever you want, kind of like a big LEGO kit”. And, yes, I could do that, but I barely have the kind of time I want to dedicate to video games as it is. I can’t in good conscience dedicate the hundreds of hours that would be necessary to build anything more complicated than a one room hovel without neglecting absolutely everything else in my life that’s not work or sleep, and I’m not quite ready to do that yet. Plus, I’m kind of a lousy artist (even though I did play Mario Paint so much that I wore out the left mouse button and wore a smooth spot on my SNES Mouse Pad). But the main thing is that spending dozens or even hundreds of hours making a thing just gets to be too much like work, and I don’t usually want to feel like I’m working when I’m doing something to have fun. *Note, I said that I don’t want to feel like I’m doing work, I’ll still do things that look like work in my free time.

So, games like Minecraft, Terraria, and Proteus, giving me a box of tools and telling me to go do something, anything that I want to with it, just doesn’t do anything for me. I play a video game because I like playing video games. If I want to make a video game, well, I’ll just go do that instead.

Operation: Get Stuff Done

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

I’ve written on more than one occasion about how ponderously large my video game backlog has gotten. I would tell myself, “I’m saving up so I’ll have something to do when I retire.” Jokingly at first, and then semi-seriously. I kind of stopped saying that when I realized that the backlog had gotten so enormous that, at the rate I’m acquiring games today, even if I retired tomorrow, I might not be able to finish them all.

I mentioned before that a big reason that my backlog has almost taken on a life of its own has to do with the social component. Most of my friends and I have diverged in what kinds of video games we play, so there’s not as many things we can discuss about whatever game we’re playing, and there’s no friendly rivalry to see who can get all of the Gold Skulltulas first, or whatever.

But I think that’s only a part of the equation.

The second part is that there are just too many video games. There are so many video games coming out these days, and between the ludicrous number of bundles out there the wallet-destroying digital sales (Steam, Origin, GOG, etc.), it’s very easy, and sometimes very cheap, to quickly get so many games so quickly that the sheer number of the things hits you like a tidal wave. It looks daunting, but you can steel yourself. You know you can do this, you’ve been playing video games for years.

So you start trying to figure out what you want to play and analysis paralysis sets in. Do you want to play something relatively short, or do you want to play something that will take dozens of hours to complete? Which of these looks like it will be long enough, but not too long? Will I have time to play it around the times where I have to do Grown Up Stuff(tm)? Will I be able to put it down for a couple of days or even weeks and then be able to come back and remember where I was? What if it’s no good? The critics were all over the place with some of these games, what if I wasted my money on it? What if my instincts were right and I find that a game is actually good, in spite of the critical score. What if it was critically acclaimed, and I thought it was boring?

All of these whatifs were really slowing me down. I’ve been getting dragged down into analyzing the minutiae of my potential game experience and hemming and hawing about what game to play so much that instead of playing games, I’ve just been thinking about how nice it would be if I could play some of these games in my backlog, but I just don’t have time.

Or is that really true?

I wasn’t sure. I mean, I have more responsibilities now than I did when I was younger. I have a full time job, a house, I have to do my own laundry, buy and prepare my own food, maintain my own vehicle, and so on. But I’m not actively doing one of those things every moment of every day. For example, I do sleep on occasion. But what do I do with all of my time? Where does it go? I decided to find out by my typical method: overanalyzing the situation, to find out. And that means, making a chart.

Pretend there’s a chart here that shows what I’m likely to be doing at any given hour of the day.

The chart was interesting. It showed me that I have about 30 hours per week where I’m doing nothing in particular. It also showed me that even though I don’t have an 8-5 job any more, that I’ve still got my sleep schedule set up like I do. And that means that I’ve got a couple of hours that I’m spending idle every morning that I could be using for something besides sitting around waiting for time to go to work. I also have more time during the weekend than I originally thought, even though it’s pretty well scattershot through the day.

That’s encouraging.

That means that I do have time to get some game playing in, and I can slowly whittle down my backlog if I can manage to shoehorn it into the timeslots I have available. But, there’s another problem.


It’s weird to think that I would ever need to get myself mentally motivated to play video games, an activity that I have enjoyed for most of my life, but sometimes that motivation just isn’t there. I could play a game anyway, and see if that forces me to get motivated to play it more, but I don’t think I want to do that. Forcing myself to do something when I don’t really want to seems like a good way to sour me on the whole thing, which seems like a bad idea. But I can use that time to do other things related to games. I could update my blog (see the last few weeks’ worth of updates), I could read something, watch a video, create a video, and so on.

*A very important aside, I know that loss of interest in activities that you used to enjoy can be a possible sign of depression. I’m pretty sure that I don’t have that, but if you think you might, nothing I say in this article is going to help except this: I encourage you to find someone qualified to help with depression and they will help you. Depression is a serious issue, and not something that this article (or any other article on a crappy blog site) is qualified to help with.*

I also want to set some goals for myself so that I can revisit this post somewhere down the line and see if I’ve actually made any progress in whittling down the backlog. Feel free to follow along or add your own:

  • Play something for a few minutes every day.
    • Even if it’s something that I’ve played to death, playing something for a few minutes is going to keep my momentum going to tackle something bigger
  • Ignore the Backloggery
    • The Backloggery is great, but it’s a pain to remember to go update it when I buy something, when I finish something, when I 100% complete something, when I start playing something else, etc. etc. Plus, there are no penalties for failure, and no real reward for succeeding, either
  • Don’t go for 100% completion.
    • I wasn’t doing this much these days, anyway, but I need to avoid trudging through a game, trying to collect ant heads or whatever for some unlock or a trophy or something.
  • Don’t rush through the game, either
    • I’m weird, I know, but I hate rushing through a game the first time I play it. I like to soak in all the ambiance and immerse myself into it if I can.
  • Play one new game per month
    • This one is going to be tricky, and my not be sustainable. But the idea here is to at least try something in the backlog instead of letting it sit there and rot, especially if it’s one of the shorter games, to see if it’s even something that I’ll like. I’ve bought some duds before, and didn’t find out about it for over a year because it took me that long to get to them.
  • If a game is terrible, shelve it
    • This goes hand-in-hand with the above. If I try out the new game and it stinks, well, then I just won’t play it any more and I’ll move on to the next one. I don’t need to force myself to slog though it to the end, hoping it will get better. It might, but I don’t really want to waste my time not having fun now for promises of something that might be kind of fun later. I need to trust my instincts, if it’s not fun now it probably won’t be fun later, either.
  • Limit MMORPG time
    • MMORPGs are great, but they will sink and steal time like no other activity I know. And, since they never really end, there’s always something for you do to in them. I had to kill my World of Warcraft subscription a while back because that was all I was doing with my free time at the time. Now, since there are so many MMORPGs that are free to play, it’s incredibly easy to get lost running around a virtual world doing things for hours and hours without actually spending a dime. That’s almost worse than a paid subscription. A paid subscription makes you feel like you need to play something to get your money’s worth out of it, a free subscription is always there, waiting on you to have an hour or three to kill, and that can be dangerous.

Of course, these are only guidelines. Who knows if I can actually stick to them or not, but I won’t know if I don’t try. I’ll be refining them as I go on, seeing what works and what doesn’t. I don’t expect to ever have a backlog of zero unless I just sell all of my games and consoles (fat chance of that happening any time soon), but I can do more to get it pared down, it’s just going to take some work.

And, who’s afraid of a little work?