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Simon J McDonnell

Creating cool stuff

Staying Linear in an Open World

This guy is having a great time

This guy is having a great time

I sometimes have trouble with open world games. There’s too much to do. I noticed it again when playing The Witcher 3 recently.

I’m the kind of player who has to complete everything there is to do. I draw the line at pointless collection fests like Ass Creed 2’s feather quest, but everything even mildly story related will usually be totally cleared out before I’ll move on. I’m the kind of guy who will complete everything even if it makes him over levelled for the next area, which he then fully completes which expands the problem for the next one, and so on. I’m the kind of guy who, in Deux Ex, hacked EVERY hackable thing in the game, read every piece of written text, and knocked out every guard (yes, every) in the entire game.

I like to complete things, okay?

But that’s a big problem in open world games. They pride themselves on content. On having a million and one things for the player to do and complete. This encourages the kind of player who likes to play loosely, taking the game as it comes to them.

This is really hard for me to do. I keep trying to complete everything, even when doing so is not even that fun. I’ll give you a couple of examples.

In Saints Row 3 I only completed the first two or so story missions, and then spent about ten hours completing assassination and car jacking missions. I had fun for the first while, but then it just became about completing all of them. I was no longer having fun, I was just completing things.

At the start of The Witcher 3 there’s a battlefield nearby. A couple of quests are completed there, but nothing starts there. Despite this I spent a good half an hour picking up rusty hatchets from the many many many corpses. I then died to some wild dogs because I am a fearless monster slayer with a weakness to things that bite me. So what did I do, as I reloaded to before I picked up these hatchets? I picked them all up again, of course.

A whole city of new things to collect! Great.

A whole city of new things to collect! Great.

These are minor incidents, but they exemplify a style of play that clashes really hard with the ethos of open world games. It leads me to playing things in a way that is really not that fun, and it’s something I have to guard against when starting out. I hadn’t even played the witcher in a week or two because I found it kind of boring. After doing some of the main story missions again I realised I wasn’t really bored of the game, just the endless procession of tiny quests I was doing.

The designers made these worlds to lose yourself in, to follow where you want, and do what seems fun, because there’s content everywhere. They didn’t intend for people to joylessly hunt down every piece of content in each area before allowing themselves to move on to the next. Because that’s crazy. It would take forever and wouldn’t be fun, and then you’d be left with a barren map, with no diversions from the main plot.

It requires me to relax my usual standards of collection and completion, because I’m not not taking the game the way it’s meant to be taken.

Open world games aren’t really meant to be finished, just inhabited.

Scope

Scope is a very important thing.

DONE, drop the mic, I’m outta here.

Ahem.

I’m talking about project scope. A problem that a lot of beginners fall into is having too big a scope. So an aspiring game developer likes World of Warcraft and Guild Wars, right? They’re a big part of their life and they inspire them to create games themselves. Wonderful! Problem is that this aspirational person then decides to make an MMO like WoW as their first game. I mean, it’s the kind of thing they play, and they know just how they want it to play, so it’s perfect!

This could not possibly be more wrong.

For those who aren’t very game-savvy (which is probably few of you considering my profession and interests) an MMOG is a Massive Multiplayer Online Game. It is a type of game where hundreds, thousands, millions of players will be playing together in various worlds completing various tasks. These are enorrrrrrrmmous undertakings. They frequently take large, experienced teams many years to develop one. That’s not even the end, as current MMO’s have conditioned players to regular updates of new content.

You may now be seeing why having your initial effort be an MMO is such a bad idea.

Your first project in any new field should be incredibly small. It should be something that you can accomplish quickly and with minimal knowledge. The project after that should be a bit more complex in areas you haven’t covered, and so on and so on. The idea is that trying to tackle a huge project right away is just a recipe for failure. It’d be like trying to run a marathon before you’ve run a mile.

A great beginner project for new game developers is Asteroids, or Pong. These are games that have very, very simple mechanics, and which have very few demands in terms of art of content. They will teach you basic skills which you can take forward to your next projects. They’re also both games you can start and finish within a reasonable frame of time. Having regular successes is really important for your motivation. You don’t want to be slaving away on a single project for months or years when you’re starting out. Number one: the mechanics will likely be harder to implement than Pong’s are, and Number Two: your motivation will dry up long before you finish it.

Having a finished product in your hands is a great feeling, and it’s revitalising. It means you can show people something that you’ve done and be proud of it, while also freeing you up to try that new fun idea that might have been bouncing around in your head during the last development days of Pong 2: Pong Harder.

I’ve framed these examples in terms of game development, but the same logic can easily be applied to other fields, like writing. A lot of people want to write, but they want to write books. They want to write books right away, without ever trying something shorter. This fails a lot of the time, and then they get really discouraged and decided that they just can’t write.

This approach is so flawed! Of course you’re bad when you start off, everyone is, at everything, ever. The key is to start small. Take on projects that you know you can finish quickly, and work, slowly, up to bigger things.

Remember, Rome wan’t built in a day, and neither was Pong Galaxy: Legacy of the Pong Crystals, the hot new MMOG from Aspiration Studios.

 

I am Ironman

Screenshot 2015-06-08 20.11.25

XCOM 2 was announced last week and since then I have just been super excited about it. I loved the remake so much, and the new direction they were taking it in seemed really really cool. The world reimagined as if the aliens won, and you as the commander of a guerilla force fighting back against their sinister motives. Ahh, it just looks great. Oh, and there are going to be swords! Oh man I was so excited when I saw that. Even if it’s kind of dumb as guns would clearly always be better, I have a childlike love of swords that can’t be overcome by my desire for realism.

That's Colonel Sniper guy to you

That’s Colonel Sniper guy to you

A side effect of this enthusiasm is my renewed interest in it’s prequel, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, with it’s expansion pack, Enemy Within. I’ve completed a Classic run through of the original campaign, utilising save scumming to it’s utmost to ensure victory. However I never did complete the full Enemy Within campaign. I’ve also never completed an Ironman attempt. So I decided to do both!

This resolution quickly led to me dying over and over again. Usually this was on the same mission, Portent, where you have to escort the lone survivor of a raid to safety. Thin Men abound in this mission and I would constantly outmanoeuvred and fucked up by their crazy-accurate light plasma rifles.

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My repeated deaths and restarts caused to become super crazy cautious, to the point where I just completely ignored any Meld on the battlefield. Meld is the new resource for giving your soldiers gene mods or cybernetic augmentations by the by. It comes in handy canisters on the battlefield which expire after a set number of turns. I figured that as I wasn’t actually going to have any of the facilities for doing these augmentations for at least the first few months then there really wasn’t much point in risking my incredibly fragile low ranked soldiers on a resource I couldn’t use.

This paid good dividends, as this approach led to me actually progressing in the game. I now have a slew of high ranked soldiers with laser equipment and armour, only one member has left the council (fucking Mexico), and I have a couple of continent bonuses. I’m doing really well and the game has become a lot more fun as a result. It’s nice to actually feel like you have a fighting chance of winning, as opposed to the raw fear and hope for good luck that comes with the first few missions.

I have in fact come to the point where I need to worry about Meld again! I’ve finally done the research and am on track for building the Gene Lab some time this month or the next. I’m going for Gene Mods because while I like mechs, I just find the idea of super soldiers a whole lot cooler. I will probably pick up a mech eventually, but it’s definitely not my first priority.

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I’m quite enjoying playing on Ironman now that I’m to the point where my guys aren’t just dying all the time. In fact only two soldiers have died on my entire play through. BOTH of which were due to sneaky thin men not triggering any of the 3+ overwatchs surrounding them and critting for a full health to dead shot. ugh, god they felt so fucking cheap. Luckily I now have carapace armour, so that can’t happen anymore. But now I’ve begun encountering tougher enemies! Ugh, it’s a nightmare.

That worry and anxiety over my soldiers is part of what make XCOM, and Ironman in particular – so great. I agonise over decisions, over which missions to take, over who to send where. I hold my face and say fuck over and over again any time there’s an enemy turn when they’re actually revealed and active. I get so angry when a surprise shot takes out my only backup sniper in one go. BUT, but, without these lows, without this anxiety, the highs that I get from the game wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying. Because every mission could end in failure, because every encounter is a big risk, every time I get to that mission complete screen with no soldier deaths…it just feels awesome.

So yeah, I’m thoroughly loving XCOM right now. It helps that my current playthrough is actually going okay. So I guess what I’m saying is that you can look forward to a post soon that details the exact ways in which all my soldiers died horrible deaths.

Imposter Syndrome and Failing to Finish

There’s a thing called “Imposter Syndrome” Put simply it’s the feeling that you’re just tricking people with your competence, and feeling that they’ll eventually find out how terrible you really are. This is something that I feel is probably common among beginner game developers, at least it is in my completely anecdotal experience. I know plenty of developers who feel they always have to work, and always think they’re terrible. I also know ones who let this fear of being secretly awful paralyse them into never doing anything, because they just assume it’ll be the worst, that it and they will never be good enough.

Imposter Syndrome is a really shitty thing to be suffering from, and it’s a pretty hard thing to escape. You feel like you’re shit, so you don’t make things, so you feel shittier about not doing things, and so on.

i-have-no-idea-what-im-doing

I’m someone who very firmly believes that most people can do most things if they apply enough dedication and practise, and even I struggle with this still. Something that helped me was getting and maintaining a job, eventually I began to feel like maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t tricking them and was actually decent at my job.

I’m sure that’s only one way of getting out of that funk, though. A key component of it is becoming more forgiving of yourself. Perfectionism will only ever make you miserable about the things you create. I was only able to enjoy my work more when I stopped beating myself up over every mistake. That’s also only in regards to my engine coding side project by the way. I still give myself tons of shit whenever I try to design a game, or when I write something. I always think it’s garbage. Always. But I’m working on it.

Something that helps me right now is just trying to finish things. A lot of the time I’ll start something with an initial surge of excitement, and that will fade and I’ll think it’s all shit. Then I never work on it and never recoup anything from my investment. Whereas if I’d simply stuck with it I’d have at the very least learned some useful things about what doesn’t work. When you abandon something early on you miss out on all those learning opportunities.

This is actually part of a theory that’s been percolating in my head lately about creative work. Which is that you have to be okay with making shitty things. I realise this isn’t something new, but there’s a difference between hearing something and internalising it. You have to be okay with making shitty things because that it is literally the only way to make good or even great things. I can’t expect a game idea to spring into my head fully formed, be amazing in it’s implementation the first time I try it, and have no unforeseen issues at all. That’s crazy.

Every single project that I’ve worked on has started with some excitement and then eventually run into serious issues. The difference between the ones that I’ve finished and the ones I haven’t is that the ones I finished usually had outside pressure applied. They were either for college, a competition, or my actual job. I had no real choice, they HAD to be completed. This made me/us actually work through the issues that came up, and I learned valuable lessons each time. They never turned out exactly the way I liked, sure, but they were never as awful as I thought they’d be. Each one was usually better than the last, too.

Now I’ll wrap up this meandering post by linking to a typography of an Ira Glass quote that says all of this far more succinctly than I did.

The Urge to Create

I work in a creative industry. From indie exploration of obscure subject matter, to AAA blockbuster thrill-taculars, there’s a lot of imagination and creative juice running through the veins of game development. So why do I struggle to create so much in my personal time? I always feel like I should be creating, but it sometimes feels like an uphill battle.

Dare to be Digital
I competed in Dare 2013. It was a very creative environment, with multiple teams all making some really innovative stuff whilst being very passionate about it. Being constantly surrounded by that many people focused on producing things was a really great seedbed for further creative output. It was like a snowball effect, the more surrounded by creative people doing creative things I was, the more creative I became. More and more and more. I had this incredible urge to make things, cool things. It was a virtuous cycle. I created all day long (and sometimes all night), and then I would go and have these great conversations back our lodgings, and then I would write.

I had a saying during that time whenever I would begin to watch some tv or mess around on the internet which was “Would I rather be creating or consuming right now?” The answer would always be creating, and so I would get a lot done.

First Job
Since then I’ve found it a lot harder to create. I’m not sure why that is. My day job almost directly after Dare was being a game programmer. Every day was filled with game development. That said, it was developing games which I personally wouldn’t play. Not because they were bad games, but because they weren’t for me. Moshi Monsters village, for example, is a kids game in a franchise that is also for kids. Not exactly something that’s going to set my world on fire. This would certainly explain some damping of the creative juices. However I lived in Dundee during that time too, which is a university city that has a very vibrant game development community. My girlfriend was finishing up her course in computer arts, my friends were almost exclusively programmers, artists, and audio developers for games. You would think these two competing elements would balance each other out.

So why the drop off in creative energy? One reason could be that competitions are intense things. In Dare we were under a very strict timeline (8 weeks) to create a game from scratch, which we would then have to showcase. That kind of thing leads to a very singular focus. All anyone talked about was game development, or the competition, or exciting social drama!

Perception of Self
It may also be that while I was confident in my ability to design and improve games, I was a lot less so in my technical skills. I felt that I had ill-prepared myself for an actual career in games programming during my college years. I didn’t have nearly the skills I felt I needed to be successful. So I began to improve them. This has led to some fun things, like SimEngine. However it’s also led to me only focusing on improving my technical skills when sitting down to do some of my own development work. I’m a game developer who doesn’t make games in his spare time.

That statement being a fact is really damaging to my perception of who I am. When looking at the media surrounding games I’m constantly presented with people whose creative output is insanely prolific. I think of these people as game developers. I also think of myself as a game developer, but how can I do so when I don’t match one tenth of these peoples output? I’m afraid that my love of my craft isn’t sufficient for success, artisticly or financially.

Creative Failings
Writing is something I like to pretend I do. It’s something I’ve always admired and it’s always a skill I’ve always wanted to cultivate within myself. I’ve tried a website like this before, with regular posts. I have always failed. I just get bored and don’t bother writing new stuff. This one’s the first time I’ve decided on a regular schedule. A new post every Tuesday. This is hard for me to do. Yet so far I’m doing it, and I’ve produced more regular content than I’ve ever done before.

I say the thing about writing because I think of it as another example of how I find creative work difficult. I wonder is it a common thing, to enjoy/ long for the end result while dreading doing the work to get there. Probably. There are plenty of people who want to be in shape, after all, who never attain the golden body they dream of. The people who actually do get in shape are the ones who found a way to make the work to get there enjoyable, or who pushed through the discomfort.

Conclusion
I don’t create as much as I think I should, and it’s damaging to my perception of who I am. Having a regular deadline for writing new things has made me create more regularly than I did before. A similar deadline for games development might work. Creative work is difficult. I wish I had more drive.

 

The Importance of User Testing

meeples_stock_photo

What is User Testing?

Fairly self-explanatory, user testing is when you test your games with actual people. Either letting them play and jotting down notes or guiding them through and giving them a questionnaire. User testing has a lot of approaches. The beta testing weekends that in-development MMO’s tend to use are a kind of user testing, as is getting a family member to try the latest build of your game.

Why should I care?

You should care because user feedback is important. Nay, it is probably the MOST important thing for you to get when building a game. You know why? Because after working on a game for a while you lose the ability to gauge a few things, namely:

  1. How easy it is to understand your game
  2. How fun your game is

I don’t say this out of the blue as a strange aside, it’s happened to me on nearly every game I’ve worked on. It’s easy to lose track of what fun is when you’re focused on meeting deadlines and implementing new features.

The game I made for my fourth year project in college is a good example of the importance of user feedback. The base of it’s combat was a directional system like Mount & Blade’s or War of the Roses. You could attack and block in three directions. The only way to negate an attack would be to block in the appropriate direction: top block with top attack, left block with right attack, etc. We thought it was a good system and we had fun designing and implementing it. All was well and we did our first round of user testing about 2 weeks before the deadline, this was when we got an unpleasant surprise. It turned out that no one blocked, ever. Most didn’t even know they could, but even those that did couldn’t be bothered. This was a big problem because it rendered the main meat of our gameplay unused and weak. People couldn’t engage with the system because it was poorly explained, unwieldy, hard to understand, and not that much fun to execute successfully.

Now you might argue that if the system was this bad then we are simply bad designers for having chosen it, that a better game designer wouldn’t have made the same mistakes. This is possible, but does not negate the usefulness of user testing. More experienced game designers won’t make as many mistakes; they’ll churn out work of a higher quality at a quicker pace. But the simple fact of the matter is that you won’t always be working with great designers, and even great designers can get things wrong. The nice thing is that even if you’re amazing and wonderful, user testing can still improve your game. It allows you to see through the eyes of the people you’re designing for, and shows you the game from a viewpoint unclouded by the development process or familiarity.

When should I User Test?

As soon as you can. Your first goal when developing a new game should be to get it into a state in which you can user test. It can be rough, just use cubes and raw geometry if you have to, but it’s important to get your basic gameplay there and working. Hell, if your game is the type that’s semi-easily transferred to paper or board game format then mock up a quick paper prototype. This will save you lots of time in the long run as you find out what features are and aren’t fun at an early stage, before they’ve sucked up a ton of development time.

stock-footage-board-games-for-kids-rotates

The sooner you learn what is and isn’t fun the sooner you can correct it and the less negative impact a silly design decision will have on your game. Plus you have a much closer idea of what players find fun at all times; use that to guide your further decisions.

Also, don’t worry if some parts of your game aren’t ready before you start testing – you can still test the other elements that are. You have to be wary when testing this early though, ensure that any negative user experiences stem from genuine distaste with a feature and aren’t just because the stuff that makes it fun isn’t implemented yet. Think of a game with great shooting; how much of what makes it great lie in the execution of the shooting mechanic? I bet not so much. If you were to remove the recoil, the particles, and the sound effects then you would almost certainly find it lacking. User dissatisfaction then isn’t always because of a problem with your base mechanic, it could be a problem with it’s presentation.

That leads to an important point, however: the user is not always right. Sometimes a person is having a bad day, isn’t interested in the genre of the game you’re making, or the game just doesn’t click with them. That’s okay, not everyone will like your game (hard to bear, I know). That is why it’s important to do a lot of user testing. Test with your target demographic, test outside it, test with people who play games, test with those who don’t. All this will give you a broad base of data from which to draw results. If a lot of people find your combat engaging then you can probably ignore (or just cursorily consider) complaints of the few that didn’t. However, if a lot of people from different demographics are finding it difficult to understand then you KNOW you have a problem.

User testing is cheap, easy to do, and nearly always improves your game; often in ways you didn’t even conceive. So go on and get your game to that playable state, then moan at your friends until they come test it for you.

You’ll hate hearing some of the complaints, especially the ones about your favourite mechanics. Grit your teeth, because you need it.

Sprite Animation

I’ve been working on Sprite Animation a lot in my home engine (a post about it is incoming). I thought I’d take the time to explain where I began and where I ended up.

During my first iteration of the engine I had a completely separate component than SpriteComponent for animating things. It was inventively called AnimatedSpriteComponent. This would form the basis of my later implementations, but it had some pretty serious drawbacks. One of which was that making an animated sprite with this method meant you would have a different sprite for every single animation you wanted to have. This would be pretty wasteful, and would get really annoying trying to juggle the animations on and off at the correct times.

On my second (and current) engine iteration I began doing things a little differently. I decided to make all sprites animated by default. They could be passed some optional parameters on creation that would give the relevant animation info. This had a similar drawback to the first iteration, where each sprite could only have one animation that was either on or off. This would make it cumbersome to use. Also it took different textures for each frame, which is a big no-no as switching textures is really expensive, so all frames for an animation should rightfully be in one texture.

The most recent improvement to this system came with the introduction of a middle-man between Texture and Sprite – Images. This is also when I introduced support for Texture Atlases. Images are essentially a way to pick a single picture out of a big texture packed with a lot of different ones. Images made it so I didn’t have to have different textures for each animation frame, I just had an Image for each instead.

My second improvement was making animation something the sprite class had no active hand in. Up till now all animation has been done in the SpriteComponents Update method. I decided to take the animation functionality out of SpriteComponent and made a new class out of it – AnimationClip. Now each Sprite has a collection of AnimationClips which are referenced by their names. AnimationClips can take a start frame and a number of frames, which they will then attempt to load in order.

E.g. spriteComponent->AddAnimation(“animationName”, 6, “testAnimFrame”);

It will then attempt to load testAnim1, testAnim2,…testAnim6. Alternatively you can just supply a list of as many frames as you want.

E.g. spriteComponent->AddAnimation(“animationName”, 5, “testAnimFrame1”, “testAnimFrame2”, “testAnimFrame3”, “differentTestAnimFrame4”, “testAnimFrame5”);

You’re then able to reference these animations in an easy way:
spriteComponent->GetAnimation(“animationName”);

That’s pretty much where I am now. I’m pretty happy with my current system but there are definite improvements to be made. Right now a Sprite will just play whatever it’s active animation is if it has one. I’d like to add both default animations, and triggerable animations. So you can set a sprites default animation, and it will play that one whenever it doesn’t have anything else to play. This will make the introduction of triggerable animations easy, as they will just play for however long you want before transitioning back to the default.

Also it’d be cool if you could set event callbacks at specific points during the sprites animation, so you could, for example, set up the sound of a footstep to play each time a character took a step. ALSO it’d be nice if the timeline of animations worked in such a way that you could play them backwards by just specifying a negative speed.

 

I guess what I’ve discovered is that sprite animation is a very interesting thing to work on, I can see myself being distracted by it for quite a while.

Apologies for the bordering

Apologies for the bordering

Dark Souls, Or, How Ornstein and Smough are stupid fucking shitheads

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Same way I often feel while playing

So I’ve been playing Dark Souls recently and I want to talk about it.

Dark Souls is a game that rewards repetition. Repeat the same mistake with harsh enough consequences enough times and you will learn to adapt. You can only die to surprise attacks when emerging from doorways so many times before you start inching out of each one with shield raised and thumb hovering over the back-step button. Even the combat is based primarily on repetition. It’s about learning attack patterns and telegraphs. Bosses can be very intimidating, until you learn how they work, when they’re weak. Then it’s just a matter of exploiting that weakness successfully enough to win.

This repetition-based design doesn’t preclude skill, by the way. It takes a lot of skill to exploit these weaknesses on a consistent basis. Maybe Dark Souls then teaches us that skill is simply the accumulation of repetition to a certain point, beyond which you become “skilled.” This is as opposed to skill inherently requiring some natural talent. This is actually something I fervently believe; that anyone can become good at anything with enough practise. This comes with limits of course, someone with nerve damage in their hands is unlikely to become a champion guitarist for example. But on average, most people can become good at whatever they pour enough effort into.

Anor Londo is very pretty

Anor Londo is very pretty

My character wields a Zweihander, an Ultra Greatsword, and has done so for most of the game. I don’t feel like that’s bad or even boring because I’m constantly learning how to better use it. I went through a phase of foolishly jump-attacking everything, and had stopped using weaker attacks altogether. I’m now reintroducing them and finding their quicker speed lets me get in and out without getting hit quite so damn much.

He also wears the heaviest armour I currently have in my possession. It’s known as Havel the Rock’s set, and it is (unsurprisingly) made of rock. Not only do I wear it, I do so while being under 50% of my max equipment load, which means I run and dodge roll as daintily as someone in far lighter armour. My end goal is to also have enough endurance to wield Havels greatshield, which is monstrously heavy, while still remaining below this threshold.

Fuck these guys

Fuck these guys

I’m currently fighting Ornstein and Smough. They are….tough. I’ve killed Smough a good few times now, but I always die to Super-Ornstein. Apparently I’m trying to do it the harder way, but as Smoughs armour looks like freeze-dried shit I think it’s necessary. You can only get the armour of the one you killed last by the way, in case you didn’t know.

So a brief summary of the fight. You emerge from the mist gate into this room, with those two at the opposite end. You have to fight both of them at the same time, and when you kill one the other one grows to giant proportions and becomes way stronger. You know, because fighting two bosses at the same time wasn’t already hard.

When I started writing this post I had gotten to the second phase one time. I have since gotten there a few times, but every one has ended the same way, with Giganto-Ornstein at >50% health. Every time I play has now become a repetition of the same thing. I fight the two knights that are directly in my way, then run past everything else till I get to the boss room. I will then either die before killing Smough, or kill him and die to Big Daddy Ornstein. It’s becoming sort of depressing.

I would like to progress with the game and see more areas, but I’m stuck on these guys. God I want to beat them, I want to beat them so bad. But if I want to finish this then the only way forward is by ramming myself against this until I internalise their patterns enough to fuck them over.

Then I will pluck the armour from his flesh, piece by piece, savouring the feel of it’s cool caress against my skin.

Then I will be the Ornstein, and the Ornstein will be me, one Ornstein, unending.

Yes, yes, yessssssssssssss

Game Backlogs

I own a lot of games. Like, a lot. I have about 300 just on my steam account. I’ve come to this number through a mixture of steam sales, bundles, and bad decisions.

There’s a weird kind of paralysis that comes with having a ton of games to choose from. It gets very hard to choose one of the other, so you end up installing more and more, but never playing any of them. In a way it was better when I was a child and a teenager. My choice of games and my income was so much more limited that I ended up playing the small amount of new games I had to completion, rather than getting more before I’d even finished the ones I had. Now I own more games that I’ve never tried than I do ones I’ve completed.

Buying new games is something I now have to guard against. I’m drawn to the allure of something new, something that I’m sure I’d enjoy if I played it. The problem with that is the feeling can be fleeting. I can want a game so bad because my family and/or friends are playing and talking about it a bunch, but when that conversation abates then I find my urge to play wanes in time with it. This happened with Dragon Age: Inquisition. I wanted it so much when it first came out because my brother Michael was playing it and telling me about all the cool things he was doing. I haven’t thought about it in months, I only did so because I saw a picture of the cover the other day. My life carried right on without a hitch.

It wasn’t like I didn’t play any games during that time. I played a bunch, but that’s sort of the point, I didn’t need any new games; I already had so many that I’d never even touched.

You being to make weird bargains with yourself when you’ve got this much surplus. You say that you can only buy another game when you’ve completed at least one new one from your backlog. Or no new games till next year. One useful things I’ve started doing is to just wait. If I still want that new game in a month or two just as much as I did before then I’ll at least consider it. However if the urge to get it fades away then it takes care of itself, I won’t remember it so I won’t buy it. I ended up buying Sunless Sea this way.

It also affects your playing habits.

I find myself obsessed with finishing games. Red Alert 3 has three separate campaigns; I finished the first one, added it to my “Completed” category on steam, and uninstalled it. Once I had ostensibly completed it I was done. It didn’t matter that there was more fun gameplay there, or that I would enjoy it. Finishing the game had become more important than playing it.

I don’t play “Endless” games much anymore. Civilization 5, Eador, Crusader Kings 2, Don’t Starve. Or rather, I will generally play them for a length of time that I equate to getting my moneys worth out of them. When choosing a new game to play it’s imperative that it count towards reducing my backlog, and endless games are timesinks that distract from that. This is independent of how enjoyable the games are. I adore Crusader Kings 2. It’s a wonderfully enjoyable game that I sank a lot of hours into it when I played it. It doesn’t bring down my numbers though, so I don’t play it now.

I’ve become a slave to my backlog. It dictates what I play and what I buy.

This isn’t all bad. Curtailing spending is something I’m always looking to do (early retirement here I come!), so it does serve that purpose. It’s also very clearly not the worst problem to have. “Oh no, I have SO MUCH media it’s hard to consume it all!”

There’s a lot of weird thinking when it comes to game backlogs. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to play a game (but only one I haven’t played before).

Start as you mean to go on

Hi! I’m Simon McDonnell, I’m a game programmer who is currently living in Ireland. In the past I have completed a degree in Computing in Game Development in DKIT, and have taken part in the international games development competition, Dare to be Digital. I used to work for Tag Games in Dundee, Scotland, and am now working for another games company in Dublin, Ireland.

I really like programming (you may have guessed), and a decent chunk of my posts will be about things I’m working on either at home or at work. I’m also into game design and development (the surprises keep on coming!), so expect to see a smattering of posts on those topics as well. Apart from games I’m also an avid reader, primarily of genre fiction. I like writing as well, so don’t be too alarmed if my posts come in the form of english sentences, as opposed to the alien hieroglyphs that come so much more naturally to everyone.

I’m not sure what my update schedule will be for this website, but I have some posts in a backlog so feel assured that there’ll be something new here on a semi-regular basis.

 

Enjoy.