The Backlog Report: January 2014
Feb04

The Backlog Report: January 2014

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.

backlog 500x188 The Backlog Report: January 2014

Stop buying games, Liore.

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:

In Process
* I started off the Year of the Backlog with Tropico 4 The Backlog Report: January 2014 (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.

Completed
Stacking 500x300 The Backlog Report: January 2014
* After running into the quagmire that was Tropico 4 I figured I should finish off something short, and Double Fine’s adorable Stacking The Backlog Report: January 2014 (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 The Backlog Report: January 2014 (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 The Backlog Report: January 2014! (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!

Chromecast: a review
Jan29

Chromecast: a review

When I received a Chromecast for Christmas I was excited because I love new toys, but admittedly I wasn’t really sure how much use it would get. I already had a living room computer that did media handling duties, and it seemed like that would be much more flexible, if more elaborate, than a Chromecast Chromecast: a review (Amazon link).

One month later, my living room computer has been powered off and the Chomecast has become an integral part of my media consumption. Who knew?

The first thing that struck me about the Chromecast is how small it is. The hardware itself is no bigger than a chunky USB key, although I was surprised to see that it does require a power cord and outlet (included with the box). Installation is also quick — just pop it onto an HDMI port on your TV and run the free Chomecast app on a smart phone that’s connected to your wifi network.

It will ask you to identify the correct Chromecast (which means you could run more than one in a household if you have multiple TVs), then it’ll download a lot of software updates, and then you’re pretty much done!

I was sort of confused about how it all works until I saw it in action, but in practice it’s straightforward — you tell the Chromecast what you want to stream from your desktop or mobile, and then it takes that address and downloads the media itself. That means that your phone, for example, is basically just sending a file URL so the stream isn’t limited in any way by your mobile hardware.

chromecast 379x500 Chromecast: a review

You also use the mobile app to install specific Chromecast support modules, like YouTube and Netflix. These are fairly limited in number at the moment, although there have been vague promises by Google that they’ll open up the API later this year. Once you add a module to your Chromecast it affects both the desktop and mobile versions, so if I’m sitting at my computer or on my phone watching a movie I can just tap the Chromecast symbol, select “living room”, and in a few seconds the film is playing on my TV at the exact point I left off.

This is great, but the real power of Chromecast for me is the Chrome web extension, which will cast any tab in your desktop Chrome browser to the TV. A lot of the stuff I watch is foreign-language television, which can come from a variety of video sources like Daily Motion or Dramafever. The “cast this tab” feature means I can watch any online video on my TV with the Chromecast, which really opens up options.

What what about offline video, like downloaded AVIs and the like? Chromecast has official module support for media managers like Plex, but at the moment it’s all behind premium service paywalls. If you’ve already got a Plex Premium account that’s fine, but for the rest of us there’s a little trick — use the free Plex manager to play your local AVIs, and then stream it with the Chrome tab streaming! It’s a little kludgy, but it works just fine.

Speaking of kludgy, while I’m extremely satisfied with the Chromecast there are a few nagging issues. Streaming from a tab that is set to “full screen” messes with the aspect ratio so you lose some of the top and bottom of the image. It’s only a tiny bit, but I find it frequently chops off subtitles in particular.

Also I wish there were more consistent volume controls, much less some kind of volume normalization. It’s hard to tell when something is going to start blasting out of my TV speakers. Adding a “cast this tab” option from my mobile Chrome browser would be high on my wishlist as well.

And while I appreciate the simplicity of the Chromecast interface, it would also be nice if it produced an error log somewhere. When I initially started using it, the Chromecast would frequently drop out of a stream. After a lot of trial and error I figured out that my router needed a firmware upgrade, but even minimal error messaging might have helped me make that discovery a lot faster.

All in all, though, the utility of the “cast this tab” feature in particular plus the super low $35 price tag makes the Chromecast a easy sell. If you don’t already have a Roku or AppleTV or whatever, or you’re looking for something with “grandparent-friendly” simplicity, I highly recommend it!

Legendary Liore! (WoW)
Jan27

Legendary Liore! (WoW)

It was a sickie weekend in the Liore household, so in between napping and.. napping, it seemed like a good time to finish up Pandaria’s quest chain for a legendary cloak.

I had already finished most of the monotonous grindy chapters of the quest before Saturday, and man, was that ever a relief. Most of my raiding nowadays is in the form of LFR, and going back to Throne of Thunder in particular over.. and over.. and over.. for months was getting a little tedious. However, after one final kill of Lei Shen I was out of the doldrums and on to Chapter V, or basically the Timeless Isle chapter. For this part of the quest chain I had to earn 5000 Timeless Coins and kill all four Celestial world bosses.

(Side note, but have y’all ever read the lore explanation for why Timeless Coins exist? On the one hand I kind of want to give Blizzard props for even bothering with a story behind yet another currency, but on the other hand it’s that the locals had to come up with a monetary system that wouldn’t be affected by time distortion? Really? Like, there are only maybe six NPCs on Timeless Isle. Couldn’t they just, I don’t know, keep a list or something?)

Earning the coins was fairly trivial — just hang around and hit the ghost ship whenever it appears — but I was worried about finding groups for the Celestials. Fortunately, the awesome Kadomi told me on Twitter that there’s a world boss LFG system (it’s true!) and it worked like a charm. I just put myself on the list and people from across all servers invited me to their groups. I had to take part in about 10 kills to get the 4 I needed, but that isn’t so bad and again I find myself impressed with all the different ways there are to find groups in WoW.

Turning in the final quest in the legendary chain is suitably satisfying. Wrathion and Cho got together and put on a little stage play about some of my heroic deeds, and then I got a (temporary) statue thingy in my honor which indeed made me feel pretty slick.

2014 01 25 22 29 53 World of Warcraft Legendary Liore! (WoW)

Hey that looks like me!

The cloak has amazing stats and a proc and occasionally gives me angel wings, you guys. You just can’t beat that.

All in all, I think the legendary quest line was a lot of fun and a great idea. I liked how it involved a variety of activities like raids, scenarios, reputation, world bosses, and PvP, and they even managed to make philistines like me pay attention to some lore. The random raid drop quests were quite grindy, but probably would have been less atrocious if I had done them with the original content gates and not basically all at once.

I’m not sure what the feeling is towards this quest line in the general playerbase, but if something like it appears again in Warlords of Draenor you can count me in.

Cat Context 43: Broken Age, Backlogs, and Insta-levelling
Jan22

Cat Context 43: Broken Age, Backlogs, and Insta-levelling

cat context vertical Cat Context 43: Broken Age, Backlogs, and Insta levelling

Arolaide was a Kickstarter backer for Broken Age and she’s here to give us the inside scoop! Did one of the first and most successful gaming Kickstarters pay off? She reports on how the game plays and also how it feels to see her donation become something real.

This week we also lament our huge Steam backlogs and discuss what “completing” a game really means. Ellyndrial is pretty sure he’ll work through his backlog eventually and even looks forward to buying more games, while Liore is both appauled at her competion stats and pretty sure she has more games than she could ever, ever play.

The final topic is the news of instant level 90s in WoW’s Warlords of Draenor expansion! As usual we’re of divided opinions about the new feature, and we wonder if levelling even valuable anymore in WoW or any MMO.

Also: The Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter! More Magic: The Gathering Tournament reports! Really bad segues!

This podcast was also livestreamed as a hangout on air:

It would be downright awesome if you gave us a vote on iTunes. :)

* Free Music Archive page for our theme, in THE crowd by The Years

What Class Will You Insta-Level?
Jan20

What Class Will You Insta-Level?

Last week the World of Warcraft team released a blog post updating everyone on the status of Warlords of Draenor, and it included this little tidbit:

In addition, when you pre-purchase either digital version [of Warlords of Draenor], we’re going to grant you your level-90 boost at the time of pre-purchase. That’s a little different from the plan we laid out at BlizzCon, but based on the feedback, it’s obvious that many of you would like the chance to get acquainted with a new class before heading into the expansion.

This statement, along with a survey that asked users how much they would be willing to pay for an instant level 90, has caused a lot of consternation in the MMO community. I understand why people might not like the idea, but for myself I’m more bothered by the incorrect comma use in that quotation than its content. (Look, grammar is the true serious business.)

I can’t find a source for this number at the moment, but I’m fairly certain that there are more North Americans who used to play WoW than those who currently play. And I suspect that luring back ex-players is easier and more cost effective than trying to snag new ones.

Level 90 is a huge barrier for returning folks! Even if you wandered off after Wrath, that’s 10 levels before you can join your friends in end-game activities, or more if you want to try a different class. Ideally WoW would create some kind of mentoring or sidekicking system, but barring that I think a paid insta-90 option (along with the free on you get with purchase) is fine.

Yes, it means people will be level 90 without having played their class for the paltry 15 or so hours it takes experienced players to level nowadays, but if you’ve done any LFRs or BGs lately you’ll know that there’s probably not much difference between that and half your group anyway.

But worrying about instant levelling is really beside the point. The important issue here, I think, is what class am I going to level up with the free 90?!

I currently have a 90 priest and an 85 shaman on the Horde side, as well as an 80 Alliance mage. It seems to me my top 3 options are:

Warlock: It is undeniable that warlocks are rad as hell. They’ve always gotten the best looking tier sets, they have cool demon pets, and neat utility spells. I’m not sure where they are right now in the DPS hierarchy, but in the past they’ve been very competitive damage dealers and occasionally even good tanks. While I don’t think levelling up a warlock would be that difficult, they are cool enough (and I am lazy enough) to be an excellent insta-90 candidate.

Rogue: I basically play healers at almost every opportunity, so the appeal of rogues is that they seem to fill the exact opposite role. Rogues are traditionally light on buffs or support mechanisms, and instead have the sole mission of stabbing things as hard and as fast as possible. On the one hand I’m a little iffy on playing melee, but on the other what better opportunity to Learn2Fight than an instant max-level character?

tier 2 paladin What Class Will You Insta Level?

Paladin T2: Still the best armor set Blizzard ever made.

Paladin: As an eternal priest player, I have always been secretly a little jealous of paladins. Not only can they be competent tanks or melee DPS, but as healers they seemed to have such a delightful bag of tricks. Their plate armor makes them probably the best choice for PvP healing, and the old Divine Intervention was not only a great cooldown but also a lot of fun for playing tricks on people. (Semajftw, we miss you!)

However, what I have learned about paladins first hand is that they are sooooo boring to level. So much. The boringest. Right now paladin is my #1 choice for instant levelling, and hopefully in Warlords of Draenor I can become the PvP menace I have always wanted to be.

So what class will you use for your free insta-90?

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