On the last episode of Cat Context Podcast I mentioned that game backlogs appear to be a real theme this year with folks. Perhaps it’s the natural result of a few years of binge-buying from Steam sales, or maybe it’s just an easy resolution for the new year, but no matter what the reason behind it is I too have been feeling backlog guilt.
With that in mind, myself and Ellyndrial and a couple of friends decided to knuckle down a make a giant spreadsheet of all our backlog games… which brought up the question of “what counts as backlog, anyway?”.
Not every unplayed title on my Steam list made it to the spreadsheet. As someone with a weakness for Humble Bundles, I’ve ended up with a number of games that I never intended to play, or that I just didn’t like enough to play more.
And once you finish making a list, then you have to try and figure out “what does complete really mean?” (Who knew that the act of making a backlog was so fraught with philosophical questions?) For me I have to consider a game complete when I finish the main story. 100% — heck, even 90% — completion is a standard that I will never reach unless your game starts with the words “Mass Effect”.
The sad fact of the matter is that the best way to get me to play and finish games is to gamify game playing. Getting to tick the “Completed” box next to a title and compete with friends over how many we’ve knocked off in a month has inspired me to play my library more than anything else in recent memory. Man, we are such suckers.
Anyway here is what I worked on in January:
* I started off the Year of the Backlog with Tropico 4 (Amazon link) because it’s one of the games on my list that I have spent the most time with already and also I love me some Tropico 4. The problem is that this game is long. Like, HowLongToBeat.com has it listed for at least 40 hours without the Modern Times DLC, and I admit to being prone to wasting a lot of time trying to line my city blocks up perfectly. In January I knocked out 3 more of the total 20 missions, and I still have lots of time to put in here.
* After running into the quagmire that was Tropico 4 I figured I should finish off something short, and Double Fine’s adorable Stacking (Amazon link) was an excellent candidate. In Stacking you play Charlie Blackmore, the world’s tiniest Russian doll who also has the ability to stack other dolls around him to use their unique skills. Stacking has the quality of art design that we’ve come to expect from Double Fine, and while the puzzles themselves were on the easy side everything was cute enough that I didn’t mind.
Sort of Completed
* I only played Guns of Icarus Online (Amazon link) once (so far), but seeing as it’s an arena-style game with no storyline I think that counts enough for this list. In this game you and 3 friends pilot a steampunk airship to steer, shoot, and extinguish fires in an air battle. If you can wrangle 6+ people together then GoIO is highly recommended! Shooting a giant flamethrower through the air and listening on Mumble as your friends shout about being on fire is frankly exactly why I play games.
* I finished Episode 1 of The Wolf Among Us! (Amazon link) Just in time for Episode 2 to be released! Back to the “incomplete” pile… (PS: The writing in this game is really good and I love how badass I feel while playing Bigby.)
Next up on my list is Shelter, aka the game that will make me feel guilty for being a horrible badger mom. Can’t wait!
Hello? Hello? Why am I at work? Where is the eggnog? What is going on? Oh. Dammit.
Anyway, remember how I said before the holidays that I saved up all my game-buying for the Steam Christmas Sale? I predicted three titles that I would probably pick up, which I felt was generous at the time, but now that the frenzy is over I see that I was just fooling myself. Behold the terrifyingly large list of games I bought:
- The Stanley Parable: I’ve actually watched multiple walkthroughs of this game already but it’s really really really good, so I wanted to give some money to the developer.
- The Testament of Sherlock Holmes: I’ve had a craving for more point-and-click games after The Wolf Among Us, and this one got some okay press when it was released. Plus: murder! And mystery!
- Surgeon Simulator 2013: This is one of those stupid physics games that people like to play on YouTube because they can be cheerful idiots and look it was $2.50, okay? … I’m the worst.
- Guns of Icarus: You and a few friends pilot a steampunk airship around, blowing up other people’s airships! This looks like great co-op action, so I picked up a 4-pack to spread the joy.
- Dust: An Elysian Tale: Jumpy-choppy-actiony titles aren’t necessarily my thing, but this game was highly recommended by a few people I trust and what else are Steam sales for if not trying new things?
- Roller Coaster Tycoon 3: Finally, something from my wishlist! I love builder games like Tropico, and although this game was originally released in 2004 I hear it’s one of the best.
- Shelter: An indie title, I bought this ENTIRELY based on a guildie telling me it involved “saving baby badgers”. I may have had a touch of Steam madness by this point, but it DOES look legit good (I checked later).
- The Swapper: This game caught my eye back when RPS looked at it, although that was mostly because of the name. This has turned out to (thus far) be the jewel of all my holiday purchases. It is precisely my kind of puzzle game, with the bonuses of beautiful graphics and freaking freaky setting. More on this game later!
And as if that wasn’t enough, I was also fortunate enough to receive a few games as gifts! Like these:
- Starbound: I super extra wanted this game, so hooray! It’s Terraria in space! I’ve only played around a bit since there’s a character wipe coming soon, but I feel like this will be big in my future.
- Papers, Please: Another great game! I played the heck out of this in beta, and I am happy that dev Lucas Pope got some money on my behalf.
- Tower Wars: According to the internet, this is “competitive multi-player tower defense”. Co-op gaming is going to be a thing for me in 2014, and I love tower defense.
- Hammerwatch: More indie co-op games from the indie co-op specialist. (Thanks, you!) This looks like a hack’n'slash title, although I haven’t had time to get into it yet.
The only proper conclusion from all this is that I have too many games. Therefore, I declare 2014 to be The Year of the Backlog. I am gonna play all these games, dammit. The terms of said project are still being determined with a few co-conspirators, but prepare yourself, game library, to be played!
December is a bit of a jerk. I mean, the last week or so of it is great — most folks have presents and turkey and a week off work and hugs from family — but the three weeks before that strike me as being some of the worst of the year. It’s cold, and dark, and we all have a million things to do and functions to attend and dollars to spend on top of our usual life routines.
(Not to mention that as a content creating type there’s at least internal pressure to create exciting “end of the year” summaries and special features and things.)
It has all left me with a pretty solid case of the BLEHs. Bleh! Bleeeeeh. So instead of writing anything terribly thoughtful, behold a bunch of links, game updates, and a recipe. Yes, a recipe.
* Out of Beta on why the Argent Commander card in Hearthstone is better than you.
* Doone on the importance of speaking up about inequality in games and otherwise, along with j3w3l on sexism in games.
* Game By Night is back and wants us to remember that games are supposed to be fun
* Speaking of GbN, I was a guest on the last episode of Game On ESP Podcast, presented by MMORPG.com, and I think it’s probably safe to say now that I’ll be appearing there more frequently in the future. Awesome!
I didn’t buy anything in the Steam Fall Sale because I know that the Winter Sale is coming (and at a time that is much easier on the pocketbooks) and also.. I just have a lot of games, okay? I own many many wonderful games, and lately I have been ignoring all of them for WoW and Hearthstone.
In Hearthstone I have been continuing to lose arenas, but I feel like I’m improving! I think my weakness is in picking the deck as a whole — I can identify the best cards in each set of 3, but I need to better identify the focus of the deck.
For constructed I finally levelled up a Paladin deck to 10, the last hero I had to level for the basic cards, and it turns out that Paladin is.. really fun! The playstyle suits me very well, with a bunch of smaller minions and big buffs, and playing the Sword of Justice card always makes me smile.
In WoW I have been somewhat focused on making gold and working on the legendary cloak quest chain. My server, Nordrassil, was just merge– I mean, connected with Muradin, which means the Auction House just almost doubled in potential shoppers.
All this gold is good, because I’m working on a Vial of the Sands. I got a small discount on the mandatory vendor items for being a goblin, and hopefully by the end of the month I will be able to pick up guildies and ideally drop them from great heights. (Wait, forget I said that last bit out loud.)
The legendary cloak quest chain was designed to be done gradually over a number of patches, and while I am glad that I just came back to WoW recently and so have no patch-related gating it’s also a bit of a slog all at once. I like the idea, and I enjoy the chain a lot particularly when it wants you to do diverse things like win a battleground or work on reputations or hit a world boss, but in-between for me anyway it’s pretty much an endless sea of LFR. Go collect X in any raid! Cool, now go get Y in these particular raids! Great, now go get Z also in those raids!
Of course as a filthy casual mostly non-raider I don’t need the cloak and I could quit or at least stop caring for a few weeks, so any duress I feel is something I am doing to myself. Really, though, as much as I good naturedly gripe in guild chat I do enjoy a good masochistic grind. (Hmm. That sounded better in my head.)
One of my non-game hobbies is cooking. I find it really soothing, all that chopping and stirring and seasoning, and then when it’s all over you have a delicious thing! A few weeks ago I bought a slow cooker, and it’s opened up a whole new world of recipes for me. Below is one of my recent favorites, Korean Tacos. Make the pork and pickles ahead of time, and this is a super quick weeknight meal.
- pork shoulder roast
- yellow onion
- green onion
- cilantro (if you like it)
- cabbage (pre-chopped coleslaw mix works great)
- rice vinegar
- soy sauce
- gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
- sesame oil
- small tortillas
the night before…
- Chop up the yellow onion into bite sizes
- Put the pork shoulder in your ceramic slow cooker insert. Throw in the onion, a few splashes (seriously, not more than that) of rice vinegar and soy sauce, and a heaping tablespoon of the gochujang. Put the ceramic in the fridge.
- Slice (a mandolin works great if you have one) cucumber and ginger.
- Put all the slices in a bowl with about 1/4 cup of rice vinegar, salt, and crushed red pepper flakes. Add water to cover the veggies and put it in the fridge.
the next morning…
- Put the pork in the slow cooker and set it on low. Now go to work, you slacker!
- Does your house smell amazing now? I bet it does. Take the pork (just the meat and onions, no juice) out into a bowl and use a fork to shread it.
- Grab a bowl and mix up a few tablespoons of gochujang, lots of rice vinegar, some soy sauce, and a splash of sesame oil. If you like spicy (I do), try adding a squirt of sriracha!
- Chop up green onion and rough bits of cilantro.
- Grab a tortilla. Combine the cabbage, some pork, a few cuke and ginger pickles, a sprinkle of green onion and cilantro, and then a few tablespoons of sauce.
- Eat it and make yummy noises.
I’ve been in an interesting conversation on Twitter over the last day about Hearthstone’s place in the pantheon of online collectible card games. It seems, perhaps not surprisingly, that some serious CCG players are not impressed by Hearthstone’s fairly simple gameplay and casual rules.
Take, for example, this tweet by blogger Scree:
— Craig 'Scree' Schupp (@TheScree) November 15, 2013
I kind of disagree with Scree here — I suspect Hearthstone’s gameplay is not as shallow as presumed — but more importantly his response reminded me a lot of… me, like 4 years ago.
Blizzard is dumbing down MMOs for a mass audience! They’re making raiding for the lowest common denominator! Ugh, why are you making WoW for tiny casual babbies ugh I hate it whyyyyy.
And now, years later, I still believe those things and I think I was right, just like I’m sure Scree and others are right about Hearthstone being a simplification of online CCGs. However, what I have come to realize over the last few years is that not everyone wants the same thing from their games and a diverse marketplace makes for happy players. The casual-ification of WoW is only a tragedy if WoW and WoW clones are the only MMOs available.
For example, my sense from blogs and podcasts is that Hearthstone’s playerbase is different from, say, the player pool for Hex or Sol Forge. Hearthstone seems to be drawing from past and present players of WoW, past and present players of Starcraft, and previous players of the paper WoW:TGC. In short, it’s a Blizzard property and has drawn in a ton of Blizzard players.
I could be wrong, but I feel as though most of these people are not leaving one CCG to play another. In fact, in the alternate continuity where Hearthstone does not exist and Garrosh runs free in Draenor (*cough*), many of these same people would not be playing a CCG at all. I know I would not!
(I also think that WoW’s audience has a lot of women in it, arguably moreso than the traditional CCG audience, and some may feel more welcome to dip their toes in the card genre now strictly because Hearthstone has a simplified ruleset and is set in the Warcraft universe.)
I have sympathy with the view of Scree and others, I really do. I can totally understand how Hearthstone seems like a step in the wrong direction for a genre that they like, and it’s disappointing to see a game you think is bad do well while games that you love languish with a fraction of the media coverage and players. But complaining about people flocking to a simplified card game is pretty much the same as complaining about casual scrubs who wants to raid.
For Scree, Hearthstone is “simplified garbage” while for me it’s the game that kept me up until 3am on Wednesday night. (Can’t sleep, winning arena…) That’s marketplace diversity in action! As long as companies are producing games for both of us, I am all for a range of both the complex and the simple. And yes, that goes for MMOs too, Liore-of-the-past.
So I’ve played a lot of Hearthstone. A lot a lot. On the Massively Speaking podcast a couple of weeks ago Syp mentioned that one of the reasons he has been enjoying the game is because it isn’t the “type of thing you’d play for hours”, but clearly he is not a compulsive overachiever. Like.. a friend of mine. Yes.
(I get excited about learning new things, and this is my first CCG okay?)
In Constructed I’m 2-star Gold rank, and I haven’t been tempted to get much higher than that because I hear once you hit the Master tier suddenly it’s a big legendary card party and I am not prepared. I can beat all the expert NPCs handily with low level decks, and I have a few constructed decks that I feel pretty good about (Shaman and Warrior in particular).
And I am still terrible in arena. And by terrible, I mean really really bad. I have never gotten more than 2 wins in a round, and going 0-3 is not unheard of. It doesn’t matter if I have never played the hero or I play it all the time, or if my deck is all common or has two epics and a legendary. I do my dailies for gold and play arena every time I get 150 together, so every couple of days at least, and yet I think I’m getting worse, not better!
My inner overachiever is starting to panic. I don’t want to be awesome (not yet anyway), just “good”, with all the blissful mediocrity the word implies.
I keep my decks to a mana curve that peaks around 3 or 4, make sure I pick 15-20 playable minions in each deck, and I’m fairly familiar with which minions are routinely better than others. I’m trying to stay aware of tempo and not just blowing all my cards at the earliest opportunity.
I know it’s tough without specifics, but do you, dear reader, have any Hearthstone arena tips? I’ve been watching Trump’s Twitch channel when I can, and watching Northern Lion learn to play in his videos, but I’m not getting any better!
Help me internet, you’re my only hope.
The Extra Life Marathon is over for another year, and it was great fun for a great cause! Myself and Ellyndrial seemed to handily stay up for the full 25 hours, particularly with the support of friends and guildies who kept us company on Mumble, in games, and in Twitch chat. I also gave out a whole bunch of games for Steam and Origin, which is always really fun for both me and the winners.
As for the highlights of the 25 hours of gaming, top of the list has to be Magica. I don’t even own the game, but it was free on Steam for the weekend and so a bunch of us figured we would give it a shot. It’s a little too twitchy for me to play on a permanent basis, but it was still a lot of fun and the action helped keep me awake.
If nothing else Magica has friendly fire and some amazing ways to “accidentally” explode your team mates, something which I always enjoy. I described the game later as “Diablo meets Typing of the Dead” which is somewhat accurate: there’s lots of click-to-move and strings of letters representing elements that combine to create complicated spells.
I also dropped $4 on arenas in Hearthstone at like 4am, which while fun was probably not the smartest investment. I am terrible at arenas while wide-awake and fully functional! I did get to play a ridiculously amusing combo of Ragnaros followed by Mind Control on the high value minion my opponent played to counter, but my best arena record remains 2-3. Yes, I really am that bad but I enjoy playing a lot (which is what counts) and I figure practice makes perfect.
Also you know you play too much Hearthstone when…. the Pandaria loading screen in WoW makes you automatically think “Mogu’shan Warden, 1/7, substandard taunt card.”.
Anyway, thanks to everyone who donated and who participated during the marathon in Twitch or Twitter. Overall the Extra Life folks raised over 3.8 million dollars for the Children’s Miracle Network, which is pretty great. I am already in for next year!