Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Order in the Backlog: Making the Most of the Games You Own

So another Steam Summer Sale is behind us, and with it a fresh host of gamers will be looking at their newly swelled library and thinking "When am I going to have the time to play all these games?" It's a common question amongst gamers once we get to a certain age and transition from the period in our lives where we have ample time but little money to the much longer stage where the opposite is true. The concept of the "pile of shame", the either literal or metaphorical stack of  unplayed games is something that I've heard talked about in numerous circles. Some gamers carry it like a brand, or flaunt it like a trophy. It is something that most gamers will have to some extent or another. We buy all these games but never get around to actually enjoying them.

Some have resigned themselves to the fact that that's how things are and will always be. But a couple of years ago I decided to do something about it, and figured out a way of doing things that at least saves me money and gives a bit more of a chance of actually clearing my backlog. I doubt I'll actually ever actually end up in a situation where I have no games to play, but I will hopefully avoid the stagnating effect of newly purchased games constantly pushing older ones down the list.

The basic idea behind my system is simple: don't give in to impulse purchases, but don't ignore the impulse. If I see a game I really like the look of in a trailer or someone recommends one to me, then instead of immediately rushing off to purchase it I add the game to a list of games I want to play. In actuality I keep the lists by year, meaning that I have some notion of how long ago I had the impulse to buy it, but that's not really necessary. The important thing is that you channel the impulse away from actually purchasing the game and into a permanent record that can be referred to later. When I'm really tempted to buy something, I just have to remember that it will still be available to buy later, and probably much cheaper. When I'm considering what game I should buy next, I can look at my lists and pick something. More often than not, I just look at these lists and trim away a lot of titles. Once the zeitgeist of a new game has faded I often find that the impulse to play the game has diminished, and I can make time for more deserving titles.

The second basic idea behind my system is: organise and play the games you own. I suspect that the reason a lot of people's backlogs become stagnant is simply because they forget what games they have already bought when it comes time to pick something new. Make a big list of all the unplayed games you own that you will realistically play. Order the list with the next game you will play at the top and the game you are least interested in playing at the bottom. I also include games that I don't own but have easy access to, i.e. games that I know I can borrow off other people. Once that's done, it's just a case of popping games off the backlog one by one as you start playing them. If you do buy a new game, try to put it at the bottom of the list.

I say "try" because these aren't rigid rules that I always follow. There are currently 27 items on my backlog but I still dipped my toe into the Steam Sale just like everyone else. Usually there comes a point where a game you want to play isn't going to get any cheaper, which was why I picked up Just Cause 2 for £2. I do allow myself to buy new games on release that I'm especially excited to play, last month I picked up Remember Me whilst I was in the States. There's nothing wrong with indulging every now and then, especially since if everyone used this approach for every game then no games would ever sell at full price and the industry would collapse. Being a gamer is all about getting stupidly excited about new games and I'm definitely not trying to suppress that instinct. The important thing is to adjust your perspective to only make exceptions for the games you really care about, and for everything else you can either save a lot of money by buying it later or just skipping it entirely. I also frequently reshuffle the backlog to put the games I most want to play at the front, which does lead to some stagnation and has had the unfortunate effect of Bayonetta being stuck around 3rd or 4th place for almost two years!

As you can see, my system is heavily list dependent. I use Giant Bomb's list system since it ties into their video game database, but any of the myriad list or notepad apps and services you can get these days will do. I find it useful to have a list that can be synced between multiple devices, thus meaning that if I ever need to update or check a list I can wherever I am.

That's all there is to it really: keep a list of games you want to buy, and a list of games you already own that you want to play. If you're a gamer, hopefully you found these ideas helpful and use them to create your own method of keeping things organised.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Remembering Ryan Davis

This morning I was completely shocked to learn that video game writer and Giant Bomb personality Ryan Davis has passed away, aged only 34 and barely a week after getting married. It's a massive, unexpected loss and I can only imagine how those closest to him are feeling right now, but I felt like I had to write something because it's fair to say that, as with many like me, Ryan had a marked impact on my life that I feel compelled to share.

I only met Ryan once when I was in Seattle for PAX in 2009 and distinctly remember that he gave me a friendly fist-bump instead of shaking my hand to avoid the traditional contact based infections that run rife at video game conventions. But in his capacity as host of the Giant Bombcast, Ryan's voice has been a part of my life for a long time now. I actually have trouble remembering exactly when I started listening to the podcast, which gives some idea of how long ago it must be, but an educated guess puts it in the region of 2007. That's around 6 years of listening to a weekly show that frequently hit three hours in duration, which adds up to hundreds and hundreds of hours spent listening to Ryan and the rest of the Bomb Squad talk about innumerable subjects. And then there are all the videos on which Ryan featured, including all the Quick Looks, the excellent series on video game movies This Ain't No Game, the Endurance Run of Chronotrigger and the varied live streams in which he acted as host and anchor for the show. Not having him kick off my walk to work every Wednesday morning with his distinctive "Hey everyone it's Tuuuuesday!" is going to take a lot of getting used to.

As a person who had aspirations of becoming involved in the video game industry, Ryan was an inspiration to me, his unique brand of witty, absurd humour sitting comfortably with his ability to talk enthusiastically, interestingly and at length about seemingly any subject, and his infectious fascination with any subject with which he was unfamiliar. His style greatly influenced my own podcasting, and his love of games helped shape my relationship with the medium today. Equally important were his approach to life and the people in it, always advocating a position of inclusivity and generally just encouraging people to be cool and treat each other with respect. Ryan seemed to have a very low bullshit-tolerance level, and could always be relied upon to talk straight and get to the heart of an issue when needed. All this was a major factor in the Bombcast becoming the only gaming podcast that I listen to every week without fail.

Ryan's loss comes as a reminder of how fragile and precious life is, a life that had already given so much happiness to thousands. He will be sorely missed, and my thoughts go out to his family.

Monday, July 01, 2013

My California Adventure

I love visiting America. In the past few years I've had many opportunities to see the states, including my trip to New York with Mum and Andrew last year, and many excellent times spent with my NooBTooB friends in Seattle for PAX. I have actually been to California too, on a school skiing trip with Simon, but that was rather a long time ago and mostly centred around our ski resort in Lake Tahoe. As such when plans started to come together that this year the NooBTooB crowd would eschew PAX in favour of a smaller, more intimate vacation in SoCal I was very keen to go back and see more of the West Coast. Seattle has been extremely good to us, a lovely city that has been the backdrop for so many adventures over the years, but over the last couple of years the convention itself has become less and less important in comparison to the time spent with friends. In addition, Marina's Mum lives just sound of San Fransisco, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity for me to finally meet her in person. So it was that a few weeks ago Marina and I made the long flight out to LAX to spend a week in Newport Beach, followed by a second week in Mountain View.

The first week was, as to be expected, filled with nerdy activities and drinking. We had deliberately chosen the week of E3 for our holiday in order for us all to watch the live-streams of big hardware manufacturers' press conferences together. Having done this for years over the internet using a chat channel it was so nice to actually be in the same room as everyone, providing our own brand of commentary on the events that took place. We even took the time to record a round-table podcast about what we thought of the showings from Microsoft and Sony, the first time I've been on a podcast in an extremely long time. I really miss talking about games with my friends every week, so it was tremendous fun to take a deep dive into the discussion, hopefully in a way that was entertaining to listen to! As is customary we also played a lot of board games, including a spirited game of Cards Against Humanity, and a game of Cosmic Encounter that swung back and forth so many times that noone could have predicted the outcome!

Meals are always an important part of seeing my Internet friends, and over the week we had several nice meals out together, including the now traditional 'fancy dress night', for which we all dress in our smartest clothes and have a big family meal. Less fancy, but nevertheless just as satisfying was my first experience of In-And-Out Burger, a very high quality chain of burger joints only found in California, and I can confirm that if you like fast food is definitely worth the trip to the West Coast. Surprisingly, it wasn't burgers and fries or doughnuts that represented the most unhealthy thing we ate all week, that dubious honour going to the bacon explosion cooked up by our own resident chef thebgbb, which managed to make the whole house smell like bacon for the next several days but tasted amazing!

Despite all this gorging and gaming we did manage to get out in the sunshine on the odd occasion, the beach being only a short walk away from our house. The weather was actually rather overcast for most of the week, which we were sure to remind our Californian hosts about as often as they might forget, but there were a couple of days where it was warm enough to take a dip in the ocean. Not that many of us did, mind you, most just preferring to stand and look at the water rather than approach closely enough to get wet. I figured that it's not every day I get to paddle in a completely different ocean to that which I'm accustomed and so stood bravely in the surf with Marina to briefly commune with the rolling deep. The hottest day of the week by far even found us out in the open playing miniature golf, so everyone got their fair share of sun.

The time in Newport Beach seemed to fly by, and soon it was time for our journey northwards towards Mountain View. It had been Marina's idea to hire a slightly more flashy car for this voyage since it would take us the majority of the day and needed something to make it more fun, so we opted for a two-seater convertible. However, on arriving at the car hire place we realised that not only did we have an extra person with us to help navigate back to the beach house for the evening, but also that there was no way all our luggage would fit into our selected car. Which was how we found ourselves at 9am the following day pulling away from the house in an orange Dodge Challenger, turning what could have been a long, tedious slog through California's Central Valley into the stuff of legends. Having never driven in the US before it took me a bit of time to get used to driving the Challenger, but luckily the arrow-straight roads for which America is famous made it easier for me.

After a week of somewhat disappointing grey skies it was nice to find the sun shining in Mountain View, and a real pleasure to meet Marina's Mum and see the house were they lived for so many years. We did quite a lot of sight-seeing over the course of the week, going to the Russian Orthodox cathedral in San Fransisco, the lovely Half Moon Bay, and a little time exploring Japantown, enjoying some delicious Korean barbecue. Later in the week Marina and I spent the whole day in San Francisco, riding the famous cable cars up and down the hills and exploring Pier 39. It had been my wish to visit the infamous Alcatraz prison, but absurdly tickets for the tour were sold out for three weeks in advance! Still, it was nice to see the island and the Golden Gate Bridge spanning the bay.

We also took several trips to visit Videoscope, Mountain View's last surviving home video rental store and site of Marina's first summer job, which was in the process of closing down after over 20 years in business. It was very sad to see such a staple of the community going through its final days, but also really fascinating to walk between the shelves of DVDs and VHS tapes to see all the titles on sale. For a moment I thought I had even found a box of vinyls and started to browse through them, thinking that maybe there would be something that could be a gift for my parents, until I realised that they were in fact LaserDiscs!

I thoroughly enjoyed my two weeks in California, and feel very lucky that I was able to spend so much time with old friends, and get to meet so many new ones too! It's not surprising that it took me a few days to recover and get back into my normal routine, returning to a rather overcast and miserable London. Before we left Newport Beach there were already whisperings of another trip next year, to which I give my wholehearted support. Last summer was so packed full of stuff that I felt it would be impossible for this year to come anywhere close. I couldn't be happier to be proven wrong, and look forward to still more days of sunshine coming soon.

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