I’m so proud this morning: Gavin went on a gaming tear this weekend. I’ll let him fill you in on the particulars, but believe me when I say that you will be green with envy.

Thinking about Gavin’s amazing weekend gaming victories got me thinking about finishing games. More specifically, why it’s so rare for me to see a game to completion. I think we’ll be pretty evenly split on the topic this week, and I’m sure I’ll fall on the “extreme” side, as usual. Still, I’m not alone: Consider that 54% of Steam games are played for less than an hour (or not at all). What does this mean to developers? Do they try and pack as much fun into the first 5-10 hours of a game knowing that’s what most people will experience? Or do they spend time making sure the end of the game is a worthy final act for those few dedicated folks who will see it?

Thursday, 5:44 pm – Albert

I’m not really sure if developers are really concerned about front-loading action (or compelling material) or spreading it around to create a balance, I think they just create a game that they want to make and as long as people buy it… meh.

Personally, I don’t really finish games. And here’s why: 1. I have limited time. 2. I have commitment issues. 3. I want to play the new hotness.

I basically just play what I want, when I want it. I buy games for that off chance of thinking, “I could really go for some Zombie killing… oh here’s State of Decay”. 15 minutes later, i’ll be like “I’d rather be playing a strategy game… I have COH, that will do.” etc, etc.

My current story driven To be Finished games are: Bastion (2 hours), Deadlight (1.5 hours), Far Cry 3 (12 hours), Hitman: Absolution (18 hours), Jagged Alliance – Back in Action (105 hours!), Thief (0.5 hours), Batman: Arkham City (2 hours), Tropico 5 (21 hours). As you can see they are pretty spread out. I started a lot and haven’t finished them. But take Thief for example, I game I truly wanted to play. I played it… didn’t get into it. And I haven’t looked back. Do I feel purchase remorse? Yeah. Do I want to power through and see if I like it? Nah. There is too much Assassin’s Creed Black Flag to play.

10 minutes later — NEXT GAME.

I’ll finish games when I damn well please. And I felt exactly like Gavin did and I finished Bioshock Infinite. That was awesome.

Wednesday, 3:30 pm – matt

nothing like taking advantage of some serious gaming time when the significant other is away, good job Gavin. I actually don’t have many “beatable” games so my personal “backlog” (if I can even call it that) was down to Tearaway on the VITA and re-beating several classic PSONE games. I decided it had to change so I bought Watch_Dogs on the weekend – and I am freaking loving it. everything about it reminds me of classic third person adventure games that flooded the market in the mid 90’s after the success of Tomb Raider. I know its not the “greatest” game ever made, but I really don’t care – it’s hit me in a way that I overlook the shortcomings and focus on just enjoying the game.

Wednesday, 9:18 am – Ricky

Well, I for one welcome our new near-0 backlog overlord! Well done Gavin, you’re truly an example to us all.

I’ve actually played some stuff this week! Albert and I got some multiplayer time in on Project Zomboid, which, once we found each other, was a total blast. Although I’ve yet to play the single-player game, I quickly figured out that some of the core mechanics (like sleeping) weren’t present in the multiplayer. That said, the game is still tagged as early-access, so there are more updates on the horizon. I like diving into these early access games for a taste, then ducking out for a few months while updates are being made – I’m doing the same thing for Starbound right now, and I’m just waiting for “the next big update” to see what they’ve changed.

I also played some of the Company of Heroes 2 expansion: The Western Front armies. Albert and I played a couple of matches, and as with any real-time strategy game, there’s a ton of stuff to figure out the first time you play. Of course, we have some CoH and CoH2 experience, but there was still a bit of a learning curve. That’s why we chose to comp-stomp some AI on Easy! We’ll do Normal next time.

On-topic, and coincidentally enough, none of the games I played this week have a distinct “end” state – Project Zomboid is endless (until you die), CoH2 has a single-player component, but I didn’t buy it for that, and FIFA14 is a devourer of time for millions across the world. Maybe the “end” of some games is just when you’re done playing it.

Certainly, for single-player games, you hope that the end is when you wrap up the last story mission, but with expansive open world games for example, the story missions are but one of hundreds of things you can do (looking at you here, GTA 5). So even this changes the concept of “beating” a game. To that end, if “beating” a game involves getting 100% completion, I’ve only “beaten” 3 games in my whole life: Bully, GTA 4, and Red Dead Redemption. The common thread between these games? I was yound and single when I 100%ed them all. Between life commitments and other games to play, I’m certain I’ll never 100% a game again.

However, if “beating” a game is finishing the content that the developer wants you to see (like a main story campaign), then I’ll be beating games again eventually. I’ll probably be getting to the “end” of games much more often, getting what I want out of a game and happy to move on to something else.

Monday, 11:50 am – Gavin

I thought it would be better to separate these into two posts – one for the topic, and one to talk about what I played.

My games list is broken down into three categories – played and finished (or where there is no win-state, “satisfaction attained”), played, and unplayed.  I’m only going to bother with numbers, not titles.  Many of the “played” titles are ones that I’ll never pick up again.

Played and finished: 37

Played and not finished: 15

Unplayed: 12 (a bunch more if you consider all of the games I was gifted without putting them on my wishlist)

Many of my “played and not finished” games were played for less than an hour, simply because I could tell I wasn’t into them.  On my list, that would be Braid, Machinarium, Limbo, Cogs, Crayon Physics Deluxe, Cave Story+, And Yet It Moves (the Humble Bundle IV clearly didn’t have a lot of stuff I liked – in fact, the only game I beat from that bundle was NightSky), Shank, NFS: Hot Pursuit, Puddle.  This doesn’t count games that I played for less than an hour and deemed them “satisfaction attained”.

I generally like to complete games (that is, make it to the end credits) that I own, but I’m not going to stick out a game if I’m not having fun.  I don’t know what this means for developers – I tend to see most “major” titles all the way through because they’re the ones wherein I’m likely to see the bigger payoff.  They’re also more expensive, and when I buy them on sale, I feel like I’m getting a deal so I need to experience it.  When a game costs $5.00, it’s easy to set it aside.  When it’s $30, I’m going to want to get my money’s worth.  There’s definitely a psychological aspect to it that way.

I tend to think that the fact that so many games are played for such little time is directly correlated to the price and availability of games.  Think about it this way – how many TV shows go unfinished, how many books go unfinished, how many design ideas and household projects go unfinished?  They’re equally as accessible as the cheap games to which we have access now, so it explains a lot – when you pay so little for your games, you’re more likely to take them for granted and not invest yourself in them.  There’s a reason why I’ve beaten every single game for the Nintendo that I’ve played – a $60 title motivates me to get my money’s worth and experience everything more than a $2.00 title does.

So I suppose my message to developers is “I don’t know, because I don’t speak for the entire gaming community”, but I’m definitely going to keep with my existing approach – trying my games, finishing the ones I like, abandoning the ones I don’t, full stop.

Monday, 10:56 am – Gavin

Man, what a lazy, horribly amazing weekend.  To preface – my wife is out of town for the week, so I have no family responsibilities beyond making sure the house doesn’t burn down.

I’ve been burning through Mass Effect 2 over the past few weeks.  I had just started the final mission this week and had to leave it for a few days, so starting Saturday around lunchtime, I turned on the PC and got to that one and finished it up in about an hour and a half.  It was exhausting to be finished, only to realize that I still have another third of the series to go.  The game is four years old so you don’t need my reviews of it – all I’ll say is that it’s a genuinely great gaming experience, it thoroughly deserves the accolades it got, and it slides into #2 for best games of 2010 (behind Super Mario Galaxy 2).  It’s a huge improvement on the first in every regard, and the first was a great game too (once you got past that initial hump, and once you came to terms with the horrendous inventory micromanagement)

Once that was done, I recalled my gaming 2014 backlog challenge.  There have been some modifications since January – I didn’t buy Yoshi’s New Island or Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (I will – I just haven’t gotten to it yet), but anyway, I had committed to Bioshock Infinite as a title I needed to play this year.  So, I installed it and got to work around 4:00pm on Saturday.  After pausing for dinner and a brief phone call to my wife, I got back to it, and somewhere around 3:30am, I finished it.  I can’t recall a game that I’ve wanted to start and finish that quickly, and that’s high praise for BI.  It took about an hour for me to really get into it, and once I did, I just couldn’t turn it off.  I was exhausted by about 1:00am, but I refused to give up.

Much has been said about BI by now.  I didn’t play the first one, so I don’t have anything to compare it to, but as a standalone title, it is fabulous.  So much of this game is fresh and unique and different that it’s let down by its conventional gameplay.  There’s nothing exceptional about the combat and it does snap you back into reality when you’re getting lost in the world and then all of a sudden you need to personally murder an entire army.  But while the conventional gameplay is above-average, the rest of the game is through the roof incredible.  The story, the setting, the attention to detail, the music (which is arguably the best part of this game), all the little things come together to produce a game that is significantly greater than the sum of its parts.

The game has a fairly steady and smooth progression of “weird”, to the point that you get fairly comfortable with it, but midway through the game, it steps on the gas and you’re jerked out of your comfort zone.  As the story progresses, you’ll get fairly certain that you can see the twist coming, but you really don’t have any idea, and that’s all I’ll say about that.

It shines a light on some serious racism issues and weaves them into the narrative flawlessly.  The entire setting is informed by the Jim Crow segregation laws, and the game speaks openly about segregated the whites from the blacks and the Irish.  It’s uncomfortable in a really great way, because it’s obviously satirizing and treating the topic respectfully.

The most common criticism I hear about BI is that as the story progresses, it starts to jump up its own ass a little bit.  It’s weird and slightly pretentious and deliberately confusing, but I think that’s precisely the point of it.  BI is set in some weird alternative history.  The principle plot device in this game is Elizabeth, and without getting too far into her character, she’s fascinating and convoluted and and confusing, but in a way that is well-defined.

Bottom line?  Play this game and experience a fabulous story, a beautiful setting, and an attention to detail the likes of which I’m not certain I’ve ever seen in a game before.  All in all, it took me 10 hours on easy.

Anyway, so, I get up on Sunday morning, and I think “Alright, one beast off my backlog.  What else is there?” and of games currently in my possession, there’s only three – Batman: Arkham City, Mass Effect 3 (which I purchased recently during the massive Origin sale), and The Swapper.  I knew that I wouldn’t have it in me to start a huge game, so I installed The Swapper.  Bottom line?  Metroidvania puzzle-platformer where the principle mechanic is that you can create clones of yourself and alternate between them.  It challenges movement, requires planning and trial-and-error, and implements its own mechanics and limitations such that you can’t just place a clone anywhere.  There are no enemies in the game, so everything is just about movement.

This game landed on my radar shortly after it hit Steam, as it was well-publicized and scored some primo advertising space.  It’s very heavily inspired by Super Metroid (greatest game of all time!), both in terms of layout/design and visual aesthetic.  I knew it wasn’t desperately long, so it fit in well for a Sunday.  It’s slightly difficult to fully grasp the mechanics, but you do so quite well within about the first 20% of the game.  No shame here, I needed to consult a video guide on three of the puzzles near the end.

There’s a fascinating story going on in the background, and there information terminals you can access to understand a bit of the lore about the Swapperverse (I promise I’ll never say that again).  The lore certainly explains a lot about why you’re doing what you’re doing, and it also hits on the moral quandry of clones and identity.

All in all, it took me about 5 hours from start to finish.  I highly recommend it if you’re a fan of puzzle-platformers.

Then I installed Arkham City and Mass Effect 3.  I didn’t touch either of them – both Steam and Origin were going quite slow last night, so it took me about three hours to install both.  But I have some choice waiting for me when I get back to it.  I’m debating, but I’ll probably go to Mass Effect 3, as everything is still fresh in my mind.

And that’s the story of how I fused to my desk chair and had to call 911 to get myself separated.

Monday, 6:17 am – Ricky

I’m trying to update my copy of Star Citizen. I have 14 GB worth of patches to install, so I don’t think I’ll be flying out this morning. Bummer.