My Steam Award Nominations

It’s been three days since the last GW2 patch dropped and I haven’t even set foot in the story chapter or the new map yet.

Why?

  • Beyond suffering a mild, low-level crisis of the faith in terms of where my life priorities are going;
  • being distracted anticipating the upcoming Breach League in Path of Exile (launching Dec 2-ish);
  • and gleefully indulging in a spur of the moment Steam sale purchase of Hitman;

I took up starting a new Expert Mode world in Terraria last week to try out version 1.3+.

I can quite confidently state that it deserves the following:

As proof, I submit my Hours Played as recorded by Steam:

playedtime

Beyond noting that I spent a lot of time on simple but fun grindy mini-MMOs and idle breeding games, nothing even comes -close- to the hours spent in Terraria. Not idling, I assure you.

Next up, an oldie but a goodie:

Honorable mention: Blackwell Epiphany (It’s the last game in the Blackwell series, which I rhapsodized about. When you play five games with a set of characters, it hits you in the feels when it comes to an end.)

I went for something completely different for the next one:

Eh, everybody’s going to vote some version of Civilization anyway, right?

Alpha Centauri wasn’t on the Steam menu. Looking at my played time, the -honest- answer would probably also be Terraria, but apparently you can’t vote a game for multiple categories. So I went for the game of the moment.

Bought three days ago, and already at 11 played hours…

My rationale is to highlight this strange oddity of a stealth sandbox game that -encourages- you to wait globs of time doing nothing (ie. waiting for NPCs to move into position or to the next part of their pattern so that you can act) and get the entire multiple part mission -complete- before you quit for the night… which is easier said than done when something goes wrong and multiple save/reloads come into play.

Well, yes, theoretically one could just save and come back the next night where one left off… but, who does that, really, when there’s an outstanding target to be headshot/garrotted/poisoned/otherwise offed in an entertaining manner.

A really broad interpretation is possible for the next:

I have a strange sensation that proponents of the “hard, painful, masochistic mindblowing challenge” school of thought will set a Dark Souls game on the throne.

But you know, I read “crazy plot twist” and I’m going the “whoaaaaaaa, this started awesome and unique but what did we suddenly just smoke, my mind is expaaaaanding far out, duuudde…”route.

Honorable mention: Her Story is also pretty mind-expanding.

This one took a while to figure out – I apparently don’t play that many games with outstanding villains:

The Batman: Arkham variants were briefly considered, for their rogues’ gallery full of villains, but ultimately… the Joker man just wants to watch the world burn. He doesn’t need a hug. He’s villainous through and through. Sorta like Sephiroth.

Shadow of Mordor, though… ha. Sauron, The Bright Lord, you, the orcs, everybody needs a hug.

Honorable mention: The Masked Kidnapper from Tales from the Borderlands. He needs a hug too. Cos…reasons. (That you will know, if you finish the game.)

I -was- planning on voting Batman: Arkham City in, to reflect all the time I’ve spent chasing one Enigma achievement or side challenge or another. I -was- going to mention Skyrim’s many mods as an honorable mention.

Then out of the blue, while clicking on the voting button, this lil classic came to mind.

Nobody plays Magicka to be wannabe wizards defeating the dark lord of darkity dark. It’s all about the ARSE mines and murdering your friends.

See the date? October 11, 2012.

Released on Steam: October 9, 2013.

I remember when it was being Greenlit, nyah. So yeah, I totally found it first. And don’t you ever forget it.

(Everybody’s just gonna go vote ARK: Survival Evolved, I’m sure.)

If Goat Simulator doesn’t win this category, I’m going to be very very surprised.

Hell, even it was the game that first came to mind for me, though I’ve never bothered to buy it or try it.

But you know me, I can’t do things easy. I was going to think of something completely different. Preferably from a Steam game that I own, and love enough to recommend.

One word. “Pig.”

I couldn’t think of a funny ha-ha category. So I went for something safe that still served the purpose of showcasing some of the most played games on my Steam list.

Sleeping Dogs was an unexpected gem that never quite got its day in the sun. Hell, it took me two posts before it sunk in that I really kinda liked it.

Mind you, it’s also the Best Game That Doesn’t Exist Anymore, because they’ve apparently replaced it with a “Definitive” edition, while I made it a point to vote for the original version.

Aesthetically, the original has a dramatic vividness of color contrast that got obliterated by overzealous reality-recreation of Hong Kong fog. In my opinion, anyway. See for yourself and decide:

So those are my Steam Award nominations for this year.

What are yours?

The Month, The Year in Review

I have been trying to write this post for a month now. I think this is draft 4, or 5… I’ve lost count.

I’ve been searching for a way to write a post that doesn’t sound negative, or depressed, or tired, or recount a billion unimportant incidents in roundabout fashion. (That is, “unimportant” to me, specifically.)

Suffice to say that a couple of things have happened in the intervening month that have helped to reshuffle priorities that were already mid-change process. Thankfully, none of them were serious, drastic or tragic things, but meaningful enough incidents that shook loose some established habits.

For example, GW2 raid-wise, after 2-3 weeks of in-retrospect overblown anxiety and frustration at not being able to kill the Vale Guardian due to the vagaries of my guild groups, I decided to take matters into my own hands and resolved to devote the next week to all-out 100% game time spent mercenary-ing until I encountered enough raid groups to luck into one that -could- kill VG.

That first Monday night, on the very first PUG group, we killed the Vale Guardian. Just like that.

(Albeit with the potion of elemental slaying still in effect, and a raid leader that cherry-picked OP classes, but still, VG dead, using cc strat, no other shenanigans besides the potion.)

Doing that suddenly cured me of the desire to race any further ahead. It was possible, yes, but I’d have to over-devote my time to a very specific aspect of the game, go hunting for a likeminded guild in my timezone, and then spend way too many hours practising and specialising in that one thing with a limited group of people.

I realized that I had the most fun in TTS training raids, where there’s a pool of 20-30 odd interested individuals – small enough to get familiar with names and large enough for some people to not be able to attend on certain days while the group still continues on and improves their general ability. (There have been the odd success as the weeks past; I was in on one of those, so twice VG down now – alas, in the same week as the PUG, so I only got a shabby exotic once.)

Another guild that I joined to try out their raid plans has pretty much demonstrated much of the issues and drama of a casual raid (from plenty of no-shows to people who show up frighteningly unprepared, thus virtually guaranteeing failure,) to which I can only look on with some distant hilarity. (Better to laugh than get angry and upset, right?)

We’ll see, I plan on giving everything another month or two to settle down, since the Christmas period is kinda hellish on everybody’s schedules, but to be honest, I don’t know if I’ll be one of the devoted any longer at that point and may back out gracefully after some time.

You see, some of those things that have happened in December has also helped me reassess what GW2 has become for me.

It’s become a game, like any other.

Not a world. Not somewhere immersive to play out my characters’ stories or discover new things. Not a lifestyle or social club / network where I must needs make a name for myself or build a reputation in order to succeed at future goals.

Hell, it’s become a place where I can’t even fool myself with the comforting escapist illusion that I can win all the things or achieve all the goals (or most of them) or collect all the minis or what-have-you.

These days, you have to choose. If you spend 3 hours every day playing PvP matches to rise in divisions for one shiny, you don’t have the hours to chase another shiny such as the fractals backpack, or a new legendary, or an old one, or raid shinies, or festival shinies, or well, whatever.

Having to choose makes the artificiality of ALL the choices more evident to me. I become more aware that whatever goal I pick is an arbitrarily chosen one that I decided to value at this point in time, for fun, for entertainment purposes (since it would be quite sorry to believe any different and over-invest too much value or meaning into a certain goal.)

It is like the mobile games I have taken to playing (another one of those December things):

I suddenly had the urge to revisit my Dragonvale park this month. So I did. I clicked all the things, collected the gold and food that had been stored up to the max limit for eons, and then checked the little goals notebook for something to do. There seemed to be a hundred new goals and new dragon eggs to be bred and hatched, so I picked one at random, googled for a little helper guide to suggest the best dragons to put together to produce what I wanted, then clicked some more. After 1-3 days of what is essentially a random dice roll on a table, I felt cheered up to see the egg I had set my sights on turn up.

Amazingly, I felt more cheerful and happy at this than doing anything in GW2, including winning a Vale Guardian fight (which was mostly a neutral relief.)

I don’t think the level of challenge was a factor for me, I suspect it was more the shorter term time between setting out on a goal and receiving a reward, and the novelty factor of me imbuing more meaning and value into something new and unique and pretty, as opposed to “more tokens, another orange, meh, ok.”

That’s not to say that the latter is wrong, or that GW2 should take a 180 degree U-turn and award a unique and pretty skin for each raid boss killed (I might -really- freak then), but I suddenly recognized that I was over-investing way too much time and over-valuing one particular game when other games might give me whatever buzz or emotion I’m looking for in a faster, easier, less stressful, less time-consuming manner.

That’s not to say that I immediately ragequit or dropped GW2 like a hot potato either, I’m still playing it, pretty contently. Nibbling away at dailies, being an opportunist and jumping into group content as and when free time and mood coincide. But I hope, a little less one-sided or obsessively.

I also downloaded Freeblade onto my iPad, which is a pretty fun Warhammer 40k game where you pilot a sort-of mini-Titan, an Imperial Knight (not a true Titan, according to the fluff I haven’t had time to read) a one-man combat walker death machine (call it a mech or by any other name, it all sounds good to me.)

The aesthetics and graphic quality is pretty true to the franchise and good for an app game. Gameplay involves aiming a reticle with your finger for a light weapon burst, two finger targeting for a heavy weapons shot, and double-tapping for a little extra boost from a secondary back-mounted weapon, while the titan (ok, knight) marches on automatically following a preset path.

It rather reminds me of some of those old arcade shooting games that work in similar fashion, where you’re just concerned with manipulating a gun and shooting and aiming while the computer does all the behind-the-scenes work of moving and offering you plenty of targets to shoot at. I found it pretty fun.

There’s the usual gear level sort of design where you find that you end up needing higher and higher stats and crave shiny purple and orange stuff to more easily get through higher level missions. In usual microtransaction fashion, you can do it for free, super slowly, in time-limited fashion and reliant on RNG and patience, or you can put money down and be decked out like a god and skip all gameplay (*ahem* speed to more advanced areas without wasting any time and presumably complete the game or reach endgame faster)…

Some people loathe the monetization of the app, which pretty much pulls out all the stops and does it all, but I’m quite immune to this sort of thing and have cheerfully ignored stuff like Dungeon Boss’ attempts at eyebrow-raising money grabs that ask for minimum sums of $20 and go all the way up to $160+. (Obviously, they’re catering for whales far richer than I.)

I found Freeblade’s monetization to be priced more reasonably in general, with lower ranges of $3-$10+ and ramping up from there to catch the big whales.

I was mildly amused and even entertained by the stuff given as a freebie, in exchange for watching ads. Not any random annoying ad, mind you, these were very well targeted – iPad game apps that I found myself quite enjoying (at least, until you see Star Wars; Galaxy of Heroes for the 40th time, no thank you, I really detest the Star Wars franchise, I’m a heretic, I know.)

I even learned that the company that made Dragonvale, Backflip Studios, was pushing out a new Dragonvale game called Dragonvale World. That was ad success right there, because I rather cheerfully and agreeably downloaded that. (In a stunning reversal, Dragonvale World has apparently launched onto the Philippines and Singapore stores first, before places like North America. It seems to be a variant of Dragonvale with 3D dragons and a little bit more MMO-like in terms of cycling daily quests and longer time to level up dragons and being able to send them out gathering stuff for you – possibly like garrison followers, though I don’t play WoW, so that may be a very off-the-mark guess.)

I played Freeblade for free up to chapter 5, though I had to wait a couple days for patrol missions to reset so I could earn the necessary unlocks to get to the next chapter. Around that time, during an expected plot twist which changes the enemy type you’re fighting, a bundle offer popped up for three nice purple weapons and some miscellaneous goodies for 50% off, $10 dropping to $5.

That was the microtransaction that got me. It wasn’t necessary, per se. It was just pitched so reasonably that I felt it was time to pay for the app that I’d been enjoying for free, and that the gameplay offered was worth 5 bucks to me, and well, if you want to give me some extras in return, it’s mutual win-win.

Beyond playing app games in casual fun-seeking fashion, yet another December thing that happened was a sort of half-assed search for meaning.

Mostly the daily grind and GW2 routine had gotten to me, and some random Googling and e-library searches led me to a guy called Eric Maisel. He’s a bit New Age Psychology (“natural psychology” is part of his special terminology) and has written a frightening amount of self-help books targeted at the creative, depressed, anxious, self-defined intelligentsia. Much of the content of his books is fairly repetitive, and I can only recommend them if you a) don’t mind new-agey, self-help pep talk, b) get them for free, aka temporary loan from a library and c) skim-read.

In between the padded wordage, I found some insightful nuggets that helped my current thinking quite a bit. In essence, he suggests that “meaning” is a very subjective experience, that different people can imbue the same situation as being with or without meaning, depending on their perspective and where they’re coming from.

He also suggests that the best way to find meaning is to “make” it, to knowingly choose opportunities that may give rise to an experience that feels meaningful to you, rather than wandering around in a hopeless search for meaning or waiting for it to stumble into your lap.

(I’d personally disagree with him about the search for meaning being meaningless or valueless, but certainly, the concept of choosing to purposefully ascribe meaning to particular moments/opportunities in life is something I hadn’t actively considered or been working at, having been operating on autopilot for a good many months, maybe years.)

Another concept I found fairly valuable was that it’s perfectly acceptable to operate on “meaning-neutral” mode for parts of your day. Not every last waking hour -has- to feel meaningful, or else… Life just doesn’t work that way and it’s ok.

The basic idea is to just balance those parts with intentionally chosen activities/states of being where one -hopes- that meaning will arise once given the chance, but doesn’t feel put upon if meaning doesn’t arise, at least one tried to make opportunities for it.

So yeah, from now and into next year, expect me to be re-balancing stuff in my life that has gotten somewhat out of whack.

I forsee that much of the time to do this is going to come from the one over-prioritized thing, which is mostly GW2 time. The good news is that some of that re-balance may be a re-dedication to blog posting, which is, after all, a creative outlet where one can make and derive meaning.

Top 23b

This, by the way, is my lazy person’s shortcut to summarizing my major games played in the year 2015. (Checked are those to be displayed on the graph below.)

Or rather Mar-Dec 2015, since that was when I had the urge to set up ManicTime, a time-tracker software Endgame Viable was using, and never got around to uninstalling it.

ManicTimeStatistics_2015-12-24

And the graph by weeks.

I actually “played” a bunch of random Steam games for less than an hour or so, but I thought the graph was getting a little too messy.

GW2 was naturally the biggest time-suck, especially when the expansion came around.

Objectively, I have been spending more logged-in hours post-expansion than pre-expansion. (Considering most of this year was mainly waiting for the expansion and doing dailies and lacking motivation for anything else, that’s not exactly hard…)

Subjectively, however, I am not sure those hours were terribly enjoyable, which does suggest a pressing need to re-balance priorities and time.

Path of Exile and Trove were the two backup secondary games, at different times of the year, with Minecraft a very close third.

One might observe that I keep trying to fill the gaps with singleplayer narrative or story-heavy games, usually of an adventure game-ish bent, with branching story choices, which is the one thing that my main games haven’t been doing very well, since they are mostly multiplayer and action RPGish or MMOish.

All in all, it’s been a very purposeful game-playing year – I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend anything on the above list, besides Pixel Piracy and Savage Lands as the major exceptions, and X:Rebirth as the minor one.

Not that they were bad, I spent a decent amount of time playing them and having fun, it’s just that Pixel Piracy is quite basic and doesn’t feel entirely finished (even though it is a finished game) and Savage Lands is still an early access work-in-progress sandbox. X:Rebirth, meanwhile, is of the singleplayer spaceship trader genre, which I suspect only appeals to a limited subset of people.

Everything else is definitely worth a play. You still may or may not like them, but they either do things differently enough to be worth experiencing once, and/or they do what they do very well.