Category Archives: Gaming

Musings on my everlasting quest to slog through my backlog.

For The Glory Of The Empire

I got a huge nostalgia hit, recently, in the form of a fan video. One person spent over four years hand-animating a tribute to Star Wars, but not the side of Star Wars most people are familiar with. No, this short film chose to focus on the Empire, as seen through the lens of the classic flight simulator TIE Fighter.

If you haven’t seen it, take a few minutes and watch it below:

When I was a kid, I loved Star Wars (still do, to a certain extent). But I was also really in to video games. There are several Star Wars games that stand out to me: Droidworks, Episode I Racer (which I played to the point of wearing out my joystick). But none stood higher in my mind than TIE Fighter.

Somehow (I forget the details), my family ended up in possession of the X-Wing Collector’s Edition game, which included three different flight simulators: X-Wing, TIE Fighter, and the multiplayer-focused X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter: Flight School. In fact, I still have the discs.

Like any good Star Wars fan, I started playing with X-Wing, which took me through various scenarios from the films, including (of course) the Death Star trench run. But for me, TIE Fighter was always the better experience. The Empire had better technology, a wider reach, and I loved the mystique of being able to complete secret mission objectives to gain acceptance to the Emperor’s secret society. The thought of playing as “the bad guys” very rarely crossed my mind; I took great pleasure in shooting Rebel scum and Imperial defectors out of the sky with my increasingly-powerful ships and abilities. There’s nothing more satisfying than latching on to an A-Wing with your fighter’s tractor beams so the quick little bugger can’t escape and pumping wave after wave of proton torpedoes into its backside.

As mentioned above, I still have the original game discs. But the game is old enough (1998!) that it’s difficult to get running on modern computers. GOG recently re-released the game, however, tweaked and reformatted to run smoothly on new operating systems. But I had resisted the urge; after all, why buy the game again when I already (or still) had the CD-ROM?

Well, after an attempt at tweaking and optimizing, nostalgia got the better of me. That, and the $10 gift-card-cum-rebate burning a hole in my pocket. So in probably less time than it took my 1998 PC to boot up (maybe an exaggeration), I had downloaded and installed the best flight sim I had ever played.

It’s amazing how quick things started coming back to me. Sure, my skills are a bit rusty (yeah, that’s it, not the fact that my reflexes have dulled with age), but TIE Fighter scratches an itch in a way very few other space flight sims can. My fingers found the shortcut keys and commands with uncanny familiarity, and while I still remember some of the mission details, the experience is as amazing as ever.

So if you don’t hear from me for a while, it’s probably because I’ve taken to the stars, trekking across the galaxy for nostalgia and the glory of the Empire.

(Don’t) Play This

I’ve been talking about how I’m working on convincing my inner voices that playing video games can have its own merits beyond wasting time. And while that’s true, some games really are just wastes of time. One of those is Clicker Heroes.

And I can’t stop playing.

The concept is simple. You click on the monster to do damage. Monsters give you money. Money lets you buy heroes. Heroes boost your click damage, as well as doing a certain amount of passive damage per second (DPS). The more damage you do, the tougher monsters you can defeat, which gets you more money, which lets you buy more heroes, which lets you do more damage… Ad infinitum.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the sort of game you sit down at for a good six-hour session on the weekend. But it is the type of game that you can have open in the background, while surfing the Internet or doing other things. Eventually it gets to a point where it basically plays itself: you get enough DPS that monsters basically disappear as soon as they spawn, and all you have to do is check in occasionally to spend the gold you’ve accumulated and restart the forward progression.

And something about it never ceases to draw me back in. I’ll find myself staying up a few minutes later, just to see what level my current build will top out at. I had to stop checking it at work, because it became too distracting. It’s a free flash game, and I’ve somehow been playing it for three months.

The developers have added variations on your basic idle game format. Once you stop making considerable progress, you can do a “soft reset,” where everything resets back to square one (first level, no heroes, etc.), but with each reset you receive a certain number of “hero souls,” a sort of premium currency which you can either use to purchase special heroes (which don’t reset, and can give you bonuses like gold multipliers, extending the boss timer, etc.) or which add a certain amount of DPS when left unspent.

So the whole point of this game is to get the numbers to go higher for their own sake. It’s pretty much a distillation of every abhorrent, shallow, Skinner box game mechanic out there. If I truly valued your company, I’d tell you not to play it. But since I’m a bad person, I’ll just mention that hey, it’s a free game that can pass the time, and can even play itself to a certain extent.

Brief Thoughts

I haven’t been feeling the writing bug much lately, but that probably comes as no surprise. Work, combined with the dog, has me using enough mental energy that when I get home I don’t want to do much other than play video games.

So I’ve been working on that a lot. Mostly on not feeling bad about enjoying myself when “wasting” time on games, and I’ve actually been relatively successful recently. I’m slowly but surely working my way through my backlog, and doing so actually fills me with a sense of progress and accomplishment. After all, if I’m not gaming just to pass the time but to accomplish something, that seems to sit better with my overdeveloped conscience. And it’s not like I’m neglecting my other duties; I’m still walking the dog, doing my job, and making it to SCA practices.

That’s the other thing: I worry that if I “game too much” I won’t be a Productive Member of Society (whatever that means). But in reality, I already am a reasonably responsible adult. I have a full time job, I pay my share of the bills, and I generally do a good job taking care of myself and those close to me. So why should I worry about anything past that?

The funny thing, though, is that if I tell myself “stop worrying about how much you game,” I then start worrying about my inability to do that. So I end up just giving myself something else to worry about. So I’m not going to do that. I’m going to strive to just enjoy myself, passing my free time how I see fit. And if I miss the occasional blog post, I’m going to try not to sweat it too much.

We’ll see how that goes.

Gaming Vicariously

It’s shaping up to be A Week.  People are in town from the home office, I started off the week with a sleep debt, and I’ve got a fair amount of sewing to do.  If this post seems a bit disjointed, that’s probably why.

I like video games.  But like many people, I don’t have as much time to play them as I’d like.  So rather than lament my lack of free time, I’ve been trying something different lately: I’ve been listening to people talk about video games!

That is to say, I’ve been listening to The Diecast, a podcast where people talk about video games and the games industry.  It’s been pretty fun.  And while it doesn’t scratch the itch the same way that actually playing games does, doing so has allowed me to engage with my hobby in a productive, safe-for-work manner.

I often try to put something on in the background while I’m drafting.  Sometimes it’s music, sometimes it’s podcasts.  Depending on what sort of work I’m doing, different things can help my productivity in various ways.  Podcasts are nice because they’re interesting and engaging, but not so much you need to be paying attention all the time.  This one is nice because it’s really just a conversation amongst friends, and while the discussions can sometimes get technical, they’re not too engrossing that it distracts me from my work.

Well, or so I hope.

And they really do have interesting things to say.  I’m slowly but surely working my way through the backlog, and the gaming news is becoming more and more current.  I will say it’s also contributed to my backlog problem, as I’ve picked up a few of the games mentioned throughout the various segments.  But it’s refreshing to hear from people that are both passionate about gaming and interested in its more philosophical and artistic aspects.

Because that’s something we don’t really get enough of, in my opinion.  I know it’s something I don’t do enough of.  But I think my recent attempts to reconcile my collecting habits with my playing habits has caused me to think more and more along these lines.  After all, most of my angst comes when I think of games as nothing more than throwaway entertainment.  But when you think of them as having more cultural cachet, of having something to say, it can go a long way towards not feeling guilty.  At least, that’s what it does for me.

And since I can’t spend as much time as I’d like gaming, the least I can do is think about games and encourage other people who do the same.


I’ve been thinking a bit about my video game collection, and how it really isn’t feasible to play all of them. But at the same time, there‘s something to be said for the simple act of collecting, of building up a library. And that got me thinking: maybe the reason I feel so weird about my video game collection is that, unlike my book collection, it’s largely virtual.

There’s something to be said for wandering through a room where every wall is lined with books. The image of a private library is one that still holds a lot of cachet in our culture. At some point, a library becomes less about the individual books and more about the collection. A book collection is something to be proud of. To put on display. To overwhelm others with your learnedness.

It’s harder to do that with a virtual collection. Sure, I can tell people I have over 400 games attached to my Steam account, along with the over 60(!) in my GOG library, but I can’t exactly take someone on a tour through all of those titles like I can my books, or even my console and physical-media PC games.

So that feeling of tangible investment is missing. I’ve started brainstorming ways I could address that, and one of the ideas I came up with is putting together a “display collection,” where I could take empty DVD or CD jewel cases, print out “box art” for the various titles, and then put them all on a shelf. It would look pretty neat, no? But then I realized that spending that much money on empty plastic and printed paper would be silly. Maybe if I burned backups of the game files to a DVD? No, that would also be a waste of resources when I can just download everything on demand. Besides, there’s no way I have that much shelf space.

I did find a neat little utility, however, called SteamHeaderDownlader, which can generate a collage of all your Steam games. So now at least I have a giant, chaotic collage on my computer desktop of all the Steam games I own.

But I guess the real epiphany I had is that there’s something to the act of collecting in and of itself that can be enjoyable. Of having things for the sake of the aggregate whole, rather than individually. Collecting can have its own merits; in fact, I’d miss a lot of my things if all I had was what was “necessary.” The cruft we accumulate is what can make life interesting.


I guess part of the angst I feel from my video game collection comes from the fact that I’m something of a completionist. For whatever reason, I feel that not managing to finish something I’ve started is some sort of gross personal failure on my part.

It’s not just video games I feel this with. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read that I was only mildly interested in that I’ve plowed through just to say I didn’t leave it half done. I mean, that’s pretty much what got me through the Wheel of Time series while I was in college. This drive is what got me through grad school, when they were actively trying to weed us out.

Seriously, though. Wheel of Time? Each book was longer, taking place over a smaller and smaller period of time. One even took place in the past.

But I digress. I guess what I’m trying to say is that, on some level, each unfinished game in my collection feels like a failure. Each one represents something I set out to do/play/experience that hasn’t happened yet.

Of course, my use of The Backloggery doesn’t help that mindset at all. My number of unplayed and unfinished games is right there at the top of the list, for all to see. And the language they use, while designed to encourage people to work through their backlog, can make me feel more guilty when I’m in a dark state of mind.

But I don’t always feel this way. I haven’t even come close to reading every book in my collection, especially now that I’ve picked up several ebook bundles. And yet I don’t feel nearly as guilty bout that as I do about my video game collection. And it’s not like my purchasing habits between the two are really that different; when I don’t get them from the library, I tend to buy used books, especially if the bookstore is having some sort of “3 for $4, 20 for $10” special.

Although that is a good point. I don’t tend to buy many books these days (aside from ebook bundles), but I am still actively buying video games. So there’s much more of a feeling of “sunk costwith video games. And given how I’m often frugal to a fault, a part of me likely resents any money I spend on “non-essentials.”

Thinking and writing about this has helped. If nothing else, it’s made me realize the ridiculousness of resenting one collection of entertainment media over one equally unengaged. Remembering that all the time is of course going to be a challenge, but at least I’m feeling better about it now.

Never Enough

Having just made it through another Steam Sale (right on the tail of a GOG sale and a Humble Bundle or two, of course) slightly poorer, I got to thinking about why I continue to buy games. Because let’s be honest: I’m not likely to ever be able to play all of them. So why do I do it?

Maybe it’s some sort of collector’s instinct. A lot of the games I pick up are “classics,” or are at least titles that I’ve come across over the years that piqued my interest for one reason or another. And if I have those games in my collection, at least there’s a possibility that I might actually experience them one day.

Maybe it’s some sort of purchaser’s compulsion, where the steep discounts short-circuit some inhibition routine in my brain that causes me to think “Sure, you’re never likely to play it, but 75% off! You’re not spending $5, you’re saving $15!”

Maybe it’s my way of supporting the work of developers and programmers I appreciate. Sure, maybe I never get around to playing their work, but they still have my money. I know there are games I’ve bought on general principle because I liked what they set out to do.

And to be honest, I really don’t like admitting to myself that I’m not likely to get to all of my games. But it’s an unfortunate truth. When you get down to it, I really don’t have as much time for gaming as I think. Really, Mondays are my only free night to myself. Tuesday is taken up by Agents of SHIELD, Wednesdays are… you know what, I’m sure I’ve talked about this before, and I don’t really want to belabor the point yet again. Suffice it to say, between my various hobbies, interpersonal relationships, and adult responsibilities, the amount of “game time” I have is limited.

But what can you do? I don’t want to sacrifice the SCA or my friends and family “just to play games” (and yes, I admit there is some judgment in the use of “just”). And just as I’m going to keep all my hobbies, I’m not likely to stop purchasing games any time soon. I suppose I’ll just have to be content with the fact that I’m not blowing huge wads of cash on things I’m never going to touch, while at the same time remembering to still have fun. After all, I picked up all the games in my collection for a reason. They piqued my interest in some way, and will likely still do so whenever I get around to experiencing them.

Shakedown Cruise Successful

This past weekend was pretty fun. Sure, Thanksgiving itself was kinda crazy (we had three different dinners to attend), but the fact that there was an actual weekend on top of the holiday helped a lot. I could go out and socialize and still get my required amount on down time in. It was awesome! But even more awesome was the gaming night we had on Friday.

I’ve mentioned Artemis before, but for those of you who don’t know, Artemis is a “spaceship bridge simulator” in the vein of Star Trek. It’s played with at least 6 people, and each person has a distinct job to do at their console. I had played it at a friend’s house previously, but seeing as they live on the opposite side of town I was itching to get my own setup.

And what a setup it is. Each bridge position has its own console, which translates to each person needing their own computer or tablet, plus a computer to hook up to a TV for the main screen and server. The game itself also costs more than I tend to spend on games, let alone ones that don’t have a significant single-player component.

So where does one get six computers? Well, believe it or not I actually don’t have enough lying around at home (that can run the game; there are a handful of older laptops still in my office). So I put the call out to my friends, and asked those that were interested to bring a suitable platform to participate.

I’ll admit, I was nervous. Because of its multiplayer nature, Artemis requires buy-in (at least participatory, not necessarily financially) from a number of people. And as with any new experience, you never know quite how it’s going to go over with any group of people. Plus there’s quite a setup: the program has to be installed on each computer, the server needs to be hooked up to the television, and everyone needs to be in the same place at the same time. Not a small task in these busy days. Plus, one of the computers I was bringing was an older desktop, which isn’t exactly the most portable.

But it went off great. We had enough people interested that we could swap around console positions, and even managed to keep the observers entertained. I also got to try my hand at most of the positions, even captain (turns out being the one with very little experience is better than having no experience). And where my first experience with Artemis was a little crowded and confusing (there were two ship’s worth of people in a relatively small area), this group was a little easier to follow. And while we occasionally trended more towards Galaxy Quest that Star Trek (turns out you need to dive further under mines than I did during my first turn as Helm), it was still pretty awesome.

Hopefully this won’t be the last time we get to play as a group. It turns out there’s a lot of fan-created scripted modules that could be interesting to run through. And I’ve heard rumors we might even be able to get access to a computer lab. But even as we were, sitting on the floor around a coffee table loaded with various laptops, it was a lot of fun.

Burning Time

So today kind of got away from me. I spent most of the work day re-doing a drawing set I thought I had finished, and then I spent most of the evening burning things. The work was annoying, but I went back to Little Inferno because I watched a YouTube review/commentary of the game that really put it in a new light. Turns out it’s a lot deeper than it first seemed.

I’ve been having fun watching and listening to these long-form critiques about video games. It’s a chance to look at the why behind the hobby, the more introspective and artistic side. Plus, since I can’t exactly game while at work, it lets me somewhat vicariously engage in my hobby while doing other “productive” stuff.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve been getting to bed too late this week, and while it’s a short one, I do still have to work tomorrow.

Wanting To Escape

I’ve been thinking a bit about why my night of checking out earlier this week was so effective in helping me relax and recharge. After all, I spent the evening playing video games; isn’t that a “bad” thing to do? Isn’t that a “waste” of my time? Does the fact that I was that desperate to play video games speak to some unhealthy habit on my part?

I’ve touched on this before, but I have an odd relationship with video games. I really enjoy them, but growing up they were framed to me as an inconsequential pastime, something to be experienced in small doses so they didn’t interfere with more worthy pursuits. And I think I internalized the whole “games don’t have many redeeming qualities” thing a little too well, so there’s a part of me that always feels a little guilty indulging in one of my big hobbies.

But the more I think about it, I think my break earlier this week was less about playing video games and more about escaping. Video games, in addition to letting us feel a sense of accomplishment, also provide us with an alternate world to experience and enjoy, in the same way that fiction books, television, and movies do. And I think that’s more what I needed: an escape, a break from the day-to-day world that had been demanding a level of engagement that was starting to break me down.

I also think that there was a slightly more petulant reason behind my night off: not having been able to sit down and play video games for a while. Remember back to when you were a young kid (or your last dealings with a child). What was the best way to get you to want to do something? That’s right, telling you you couldn’t. Suddenly, that thing you were only slightly interested in became a much bigger thing because it was verboten. Want a cookie? Well, not that you can’t have one, you really want it. Can’t play with that toy? Well, it might as well be the end of the world.

So I think my need for a video game binge resulted from a number of factors. One, I was running very low on spoons. Two, I needed to escape from the inconvenient reality of normal life for a while. And three, I wanted to play video games because I hadn’t been able to. Luckily I got some time in, and I’m feeling much better. And I also don’t have to do much this weekend, so that should help even more. Plus, next week is a short week because of the Turkey Day celebrations. So if everything goes well, I might have enough mental energy to successfully navigate the holiday festivities. And that’s a good thing.