Beginnings, Continuings and Microgoal Endings

A week earlier, this would have been a different blog post. It would have been called “Beginnings and Continuings” and likely wound up an unstructured mess of semi-lamentations about issues commonly faced by video game players and me having run headlong into all of them lately.

First world problems like impulsively buying a bunch of video games on Steam sale and struggling to even start playing all of them. Or accumulating a lineup of games in the process of being played, and having the sneaking, uneasy, growing, doom-laden suspicion that one is never going to actually -finish- any of them but trail off somewhere between the beginning tutorial and the mid-game some place.

But I just couldn’t get started on the blog post. It just bothered me. Too much hanging in limbo like the rest of real life at present. Y’see, stories, articles and yes, even blog posts are supposed to have beginnings, middles and ends.

Video games have beginnings, middles and ends… by design… except that I very well know I don’t have enough free time to see all of them to those ends. Let alone write about them afterwards. And I’m OK with that, theoretically:

On a personal level, I’ve come to terms with taste testing a whole slew of video games. I buy a thousand cheaply, at prices I don’t ever regret if I never get around to playing them. Every so often, I go through a couple hundred and get a sense of them, enough to put a personal score label on them and revisit the ones that become my favorites (score: 9-10), and maybe pop in on the good or great in their own way ones (score: 7-8) now and then. The meh to decent but not really my cup of tea ones rest easy on the virtual Steam shelf (score: 3-6) having been taste tested and contributed to the developing sense of what I like and what I don’t.

Barely any of them get completed, except the ones I really love and/or the short ones, minus those that are essentially forever games, and that’s totally fine. That’s how I roll, and enjoy my video game hobby time.

Except it becomes really impossible to write about, because a shopping list of random games and incoherent, subjective sentences about brief glimpses at a video game do not a blog post make. Not something I can pull off, anyway.

Such a post would probably boil down to banalities like “Fun. Not fun. Liked the aesthetic look of this game. The colors of that game make me want to barf, so I hate it and won’t even give it a chance. Played this till Chapter 2, then stopped – no real reason, really, just haven’t gotten back to it again.”

What changed the course of this blog post was a re-read of “Refuse to Choose!” by Barbara Sher, just to refresh my mind on what people like me, generalist Scanners with a gazillion interests struggling to keep many balls up in the air, could do to deal with this scattered unfocus.

(The re-read is still in progress. Mostly for pep talk reasons. It’s something I’m struggling with lately, being caught in the middle of doing many things, all of them dragging on and me feeling in limbo and unproductive and yet caught by analysis paralysis and the paradox of choice. Too many options, all of them take too long to complete.)

It wasn’t anything really specific from the book per se, but more of an inspired revelation combining bits and pieces from it. One part about getting clear on what you really want out of your interests – the best, most exciting parts that give you good feelings. Another part on being able to declare yourself done with any project at any time with a Scanner’s Finish, aka wrapping up the project in brown paper and putting it on a display shelf, with a note on where you were when you stopped and what the next step would be if attempted again.

It all combined into a way to stop the feeling of endless continuings – the limbo of being “mid-game” in multiple games and never finishing – that I’d somehow gotten stuck into, after indulging my novelty-seeking with all the beginnings I was craving.

That is, I needed to get really clear on what I wanted out of the games that I’d started and was currently in the middle of. And then create my own micro-sized goals to give me what I really wanted. After which, I’d be able to happily declare an end to the game if I wanted, without feeling obliged to keep playing until the actual end.

S’not a new concept by any means. I sort of touched on this lightly way back in 2019. I guess the part about specifically defining the goal of the microexperience to address one’s specific desires is the add-on concept in 2021.

On to the games:

These were the impulse buys of the week. No real reason beyond seeing 60-75% off discounts and having vague urges to taste test them and add ’em to the collection.

Mind you, I was already hip deep in other games.

Cook, Serve, Delicious! 3?! was chugging along with nary an issue.

I’d progressed to the 7th route, all the way to Houston, Texas, and had only completed 191/387 levels.

Still a long way to go. Still fun in bite-sized pieces.

Not-so-microgoal: Get gold medals in every level.

I had suddenly got bitten by the nostalgia bug and started in on a Nintendo Switch version of Final Fantasy 7.

(The remake is out of the question at the moment. The PS4 has been effectively kidnapped by another family member and it’s in an awkward locale to play comfortably. Let’s not even talk about the PS5. It’s at the same stock and price levels as a fancy RTX graphics card, aka beyond my current willing-to-expend effort and wallet levels.)

Honestly, there’s something pure about the polygons of the original.

The cartoon aspect, the exaggerated body language animations, scrolling text and no voice acting… they all encourage the player to project on and imbue the characters with their own voices, deepening the relationship.

The music in every scene, meanwhile, is the emotional anchor that tells the player how they should feel.

I have no illusions about whether I’ll ever finish this game. I never did as a kid; I got derailed around the you-know-what spoiler area and got frustrated about loss of progress and ended up discovering how to “preview” cutscene videos – including the ending – on the CDs instead. (Ah, those days of CD swapping.)

Microgoal: See if I can play beyond the point where I stopped in my childhood and see a little more “new” content. Currently around Rufus’ Shinra parade.

As if my Nintendo Switch game goals aren’t already big enough, having Hades on the same console risks derailment of the FF7 goal at least 50% of the time, because goshdarnit, I really like action combat.

One more roguelike run is always a thing.

You’d think defeating the big bad 10 times to end the main story is a great ending, but no… the character dialogues are always compelling, there are always new side quests popping up and new reasons to go for one more Underworld run.

Microgoal: Earn 5 diamonds to progress on the Achilles side quest. Earn about 1500+ more Darkness to unlock some other side quest that needs 3600+ darkness currency. (Whenever one has the urge to play, otherwise we’re good.)

These were the assorted game samplings of the past weeks.

Fury Unleashed was not-half bad; a comics-like aesthetic, 2D shooter/platformer roguelike where you played a Rambo-like action hero and shot and bounced your way across comic book-like levels. Personal score: 7 – quite enjoyable, would play again.

Size Matters was an odd, somewhat janky and clunky experience that felt like one of those 3D games cobbled together in Unity. The concept is cute – your avatar is slowly shrinking, and you need to find chemicals, locate recipes, then mix them together using various machines for the cure. Part logic puzzle, part struggle-with-janky-controls-being-part-of-the-game, and part-impromptu-platformer-when-shrunk-and-desperate.

The pacing felt off – the lower difficulties which I tried didn’t feel like the rate of shrinking was urgent enough; and I didn’t dare go for higher difficulties because struggling to platform with clunky controls would be a supremely frustrating experience. Maybe better as a streamer game. Personal score: 5.5 – Meh. It’s OK. Cute enough to try once. I wouldn’t throw a fit if someone made me play it again, but I can easily find more fun things to do.

Yet another attempt at Tyranny. Owned for forever, just can’t quite get anywhere with it. The Baldur’s Gate start and stop combat style of games seem to have been left behind in my past and haven’t quite managed to read up enough about how to not die in combat. The urge to not play is stronger than any pull or push factors to study up on how to enjoy the game enough. I’ve gotten to some Archon’s camp, is about it. Far more interested in the world and the lore – I’d rather read an RPG book on the setting. Score: 8 – I’m sure it’s good, willing to revisit, just not right now.

Had a good couple days with Epic Battle Fantasy 4. It’s a guilty pleasure nostalgia sort of game, I first found the series on one of those Kongregate or Armor Games Flash sites possibly a decade ago and just found it compelling enough to keep playing. A touch of whacky Flash game humor, a hefty helping of JRPG turn-based combat with skills and spells out the wazoo… level up, explore new map screen, fight monsters, level up, rinse, repeat, what’s not to love? Score: 8.5-9 – objectively, it’s probably the lower score, subjectively I love me a purified dose of JRPG monster grind. Would play again.

Started up Cyberpunk 2077 to see if the hotfixes have improved the game any. Was thinking of actually finishing the game and closing the chapter on it, in order to free up valuable hard disk space. Hard to say if there were improvements really. There was some kind of crash error triggered on first starting, but repeat pressing of the “Play” button got it to start as per normal.

I also crashed out as per normal when I tried to stay too long in Quickhack scan mode, but then I read a forum post that it might be a conflict with the TAB key and Steam’s overlay, so I changed the control key and made it a toggle instead of a press-and-hold, and then I didn’t crash.

The city is still lovely. Too lovely for me to ignore and just drive to the next main quest chapter. So I wound up randomly snipering a bunch of gangsters because that was the nearest do-this-thing waypoint on the map while trying to remember how to play. Then my inventory overloaded looting their corpses and I had to hobble to the nearest booth to offload stuff, while still trying to cling on and hoard all the shiny purple weapons weighing me down.

I discovered that I still wanted to clear every last waypoint and refuse to do the main quest just yet; at the same time, the map felt too big to deal with every last waypoint, so I wussed right back out of the game entirely. Guess I have to deal with 60 GB sitting on the hard drive until I can clear up enough concentrated focus to play one primary game over some time. Microgoal: Not now, but maybe clear a map region when you’re in a Cyberpunky mood.

Apparently, the mood of impulse buy week was spaceships.

Bought Battlefleet Gothic Armada 2 for 75% off when I haven’t even installed and played the first game. Just wanted to see spaceships firing off long range laser shots at each other, and some WH40K skins don’t hurt the aesthetic any. Played the tutorial campaign and got a few missions into the first campaign. It’s turning out to be one of those strategy games that may be a bit too smart for me – or at least require me to apply a bit more smarts learning the UI and appropriate strategies than I generally have the patience for.

It is slightly glitchy, or at least I ran into one mission where I failed to move my spaceships near enough to trigger a story progression step, and it wound up making the enemy spaceship unkillable – which was supremely puzzling why I had managed to outnumber and surround it, strip it off its shields, board and kill nearly everyone on board, and bombard the hull to the point of having a sliver of health remaining, and have my tanking spaceship still be steadily getting nickel-and-dimed to a risky point of might-get-destroyed. I finally got curious enough to move my spaceships elsewhere, trigger the required dialogue, and then the enemy ship almost imploded as my ships got back into range. Score: 7.5-8 – I kind of like it, but it’s not a perfectly polished game and it has a learning curve.

The stuck-in-limbo thing is, I don’t know if I have the patience to go very much further. Certainly there are too many campaigns than I’d want to play right now.

Finally decided that what I really wanted out of the game was to see spaceships shooting lasers at each other, so I created a microgoal of set up a custom game with lots of ships and just let the AI go at it. Discovered with some disappointment that only 1 vs 1 was possible, 2 vs 2 required a human player on my team, but just went for it. Leaving autopilot on my ships pretty much meant that they got absolutely destroyed, but hey, I did see lots of spaceships and lots of lasers. And that seems to have gotten most of it out of my system.

New microgoal: Watch a Youtube video or two on actual BFGA2 combat strategies (it basically seems like tallships in space) and decide if it’ll interest you enough to play further, or if we can close the chapter on this game for now.

Bought a discounted Klei bundle out of a sense of collector’s completion.

I was lacking Don’t Starve’s Hamlet DLC and while I wasn’t exactly craving to play Don’t Starve immediately, somehow picking it up for cheap in a bundle with other possibly-interesting stuff down the line seemed about right.

The microgoal was just check Hamlet out in a casual no-wiki-research exploratory run, fully expecting to die fast.

Surprisingly survived a little longer than expected. No real progress though. Had difficulty finding gold to unlock a science machine. Just wandered through the world looking at all the new items and monsters. Watched a pig guard set fire to a clump of tall grasses and suiciding himself while murdering some other monsters in the process. Found the Hamlet city, talked to some shopkeepers who wanted things I didn’t have.

Finally bored, I walked straight into some new ruins with lots of darkness and no real light besides a torch or two, knowing full well I was going to die. Got a few rooms in, found some interesting door/trap button puzzles, was plentifully poisoned by scorpions, and opted to die via a darkness grue than the venom death coming five seconds later.

Mostly confirmed that Don’t Starve is still very much a wiki game. One can get by with a few completely blind runs for fun, but after that, dutifully looking up the wiki and finding out more about each new item encountered will get one a lot longer way in. I’m sure Hamlet’ll be fun to play some time down the line, just not in the mood for it right now.

Yet to explore:

Choices That Matter: And The Sun Went Out – I did a playthrough of it on mobile once. It was very discounted, under two bucks, so might do a repeat run through at some point to see how the story changes.

Hot Lava – part of the Klei bundle, an actual Klei game I didn’t own. The trailer honestly sold the game to me more than the actual game. Literally 80’s cartoon nostalgia.

The game itself looks to be bit of random platforming parkour stuff. Since I’m not playing GW2 lately, I guess I can always give jumping puzzles in another game a go at some point.

Microgoal: Get around to trying them out once.

Starbound. It’s only been sitting in my wishlist for… oh… three years? More?

Stubbornly refused to turn up in a bundle. Haven’t found it on 75% off ever. Finally hit a historical low of 60% off, and I surrendered.

Apparently the mods for this game are pretty good, so I assuaged myself with that excuse while giving the vanilla game a go.

It’s interesting. It’s not quite Terraria in space. There are parts where the scenery is already all pre-built and there are quests and arcade style combat missions and a bit more story than Terraria ever had.

I like that the view is a little more zoomed in than Terraria, so that I don’t have to keep squinting at my character on a large monitor.

Then there are parts that are totally Terraria in space.

There’s maybe more randomization and variety, given that you can fly to different planets with different biomes and difficulty. But you know, procedurally generated stuff might get same-y after some time.

I think it seems a bit more sandbox-y. You could probably divert to making a bunch of buildings and structures and “art” on various planets if you wanted to. You could just follow the given quests and missions for the main story. There’s less of that concentrated linear progression aspect of Terraria.

Combat feels a little bit more clunky than Terraria. Less continuous firing and more measured strikes. Not as fun, in my book.

I’m mostly afraid that my focus will undoubtedly fritter away on games that feel too big and chock full of possibilities. Starbound probably fits in that category. Score: 9 – I like it, would play again, just not sure when.

Microgoal: Go back and pick up all the items that scattered across the landscape where I died to some hostile mobs. Then maybe test run a few side quests like the mech and a penguin fight. Decide after that if I need to tech up and where to build a nice base for doing so. Soon(TM). Might put it off for later, seem to have taste tested it sufficiently for now.

So many games… Are we even done yet?!

Apparently not.

Apparently, all it takes is for someone to mention Monster Hunter (Aywren, in this case), and I start having some recurring thoughts about the franchise. The poke-poke-poke polka has sunk its hooks in me bad.

Not bad enough to buy Iceborne at full price though, so I do still have some grasp on sanity remaining.

Not sure how far that discipline is going to last once the next Steam summer sale rolls around. Maybe if it’s 50% off, I’ll bite, maybe. 60% off, yes, probably.

It’s a big game though. There are 14 weapons. Base Monster Hunter World could last forever at my rate of consumption.

The recurring thought that turned itself into a microgoal was: Learn charge blade. Or at least, enough to smack a few easy monsters around with it at a slightly-beyond-beginner to intermediate level.

So I popped back into MHW and made a basic bone charge blade and upgraded it to the max level I could afford, and then set my sights on a second odogaron charge blade as the next aspirational goal.

Turns out what this means is lots of odogaron hunts, because I lack a bunch of its parts. It is maybe not the best monster for learning charge blade that I could be using. Its quick attacks really wreck and punish my beginner attempts to use the slower axe portion of the weapon, and I have not have had much dodge practice in MHW after so much lancing. I keep wanting to block with my shield, and accidentally transitioning into axe as a result.

Still, the attempt is fun. I’m working on just getting familiar with the phial charging process and the related moves. Charging up the shield is still awkward. It took about 30mins of video study and training room practice to figure out how the eff to charge the sword. So definitely still awkward on that front. But well, that is part of the MHW process.

In the meantime, there is running around and smacking the big red dog on the paw with (occasionally glowy) sword and (occasionally glowy) shield.

You’d think this would be pretty easy, but there is this highly annoying flying B-52 bomber that keeps coming in and hoping to chow down on the dog, and between evading them and letting both angry things duke it out with each other, the fights are still 30-50min long. (I suppose me losing focus and trying to kill the bomber doesn’t help either. I did get it once. That was satisfying.)

I took a break once and just went with lance after odo. That was fun. Totally confirmed that I still have the pokey rhythm down. So in love with the pointy stick. Still.

Microgoals: Get enough odo parts to build Odium. Start looking into more appropriate armor than the Lance focused armor I’ve been using. Hunt monsters appropriately and keep getting familiar with charge blade. Maybe divert to dual blades again at some point.

Looks like the current game poisons of choice are Cook Serve Delicious 3, Final Fantasy 7 and Monster Hunter World.

Starbound and Hades whenever one is in the mood.

A bit of out-of-game research on Battlefleet Gothic, and taste test the as yet unplayed new games Hot Lava and Sun Went Out at some point soon.

Sounds manageable.

Until the next game distraction that suddenly crosses my path.

(X:COM threatens to be that game every now and then, but eh, I have no hard disk space for it, so I’m safe until Cyberpunk gets uninstalled.)

See you again on June 24th when the Steam Summer sale rolls around and wrecks all best laid plans?