Welcome to Punished Notes, a series of (not really) weekly articles outlining many of my random thoughts on games I’ve been playing, reading about, or even watching on YouTube or Twitch. This week, I dive into the difficulty of chipping away at your backlog, talk about how much the conversation around No Man’s Sky has changed, and list the best game for each year of my life. Also, I bring the TRUTH on this new Oscars category for “Best Popular Film.”
Why Backlogs Build Up
As this very site’s name suggests, gamers typically have a large backlog of games they want to play but can’t for a number of reasons. I can’t speak to why any of my fellow writers here haven’t gotten to that one Final Fantasy title they have yet to try or that cool-looking indie game they got for $3.50 during a Steam sale. Everybody has their reasons. For me, every game inherently carries a certain amount of risk, namely the risk of wasting time.
In my current life, where I work a full 40-hour week with a long commute and attempt to have a somewhat active social life, I cannot abide a single minute spent on something not worth my time. Avoiding getting trapped by a disappointing slog like State of Decay 2 or a dressed-up pig like Battlefield 1 is necessary to maintain sanity and no different than seeing a preview for the latest Transformers film and saying, “I’ll keep my $15.”
Detractors of video games as a medium likely view every single button press as a waste of time, and sadly they are not always wrong. A bad movie will end in a couple of hours, while a bad game might demand as much as 30 hours of playtime. In almost equally insidious cases, games might take a while to “get good,” essentially telling the player the first few grind-heavy or confusing hours are all a set up for when the REAL action starts.
Even if a game improves after a few hours, as Dragon Age: Inquisition allegedly does (I wouldn’t know; I gave up after five), you can never get that time back. It’s been discarded, just as you would discard spoiled food from your fridge. For me, playing DA:I was a risk I wish I hadn’t taken, even if I had just used those hours to play more Rocket League.
Most of the time, attempting to plow through my backlog doesn’t end up this way. Sometimes, I’ll experience something truly special like Gone Home or Superhot. The risks pay off more than they don’t. Still, the risk of lost time often leads me to the same question: do I really want to finally give (INSERT GAME HERE) a chance, or just play Donkey Kong Country for the 1000th time? Sometimes, there’s a good reason why you haven’t touched everything in your backlog.
(Side note: the weirdest thing I do as a gamer is tell myself, “Once I’m done playing this game, I can definitely get to all those untouched titles in my Steam library.” This thought is promptly followed by me playing through Donkey Kong Country for the fourth time this year.)
Have We Largely Forgiven No Man’s Sky’s Disastrous Launch?
The latest update for No Man’s Sky and the warm welcome that has accompanied the beleaguered game in recent weeks reflects much of what separates the modern gaming landscape from what we knew just a mere decade ago. Everything surrounding the Hello Games title shows how the games media and players alike have grown accustomed to Early Access culture and “Games as a Service,” particularly how much we’re willing to overlook past failures if the game eventually becomes good.
When No Man’s Sky launched two years ago, it was simply an unfinished product, one that justifiably received an enormous amount of criticism and derision, as it was one of the most hyped-up video game concepts in recent memory. Now, after a myriad of enormous, game-changing updates, people feel as though the title has achieved its intended goals. While this may seem true, it’s weird how quickly one of the game industry’s biggest punchlines became this incredible turnaround story. Seeing dozens of beautiful No Man’s Sky screenshots littered throughout my Twitter feed ironically reminds me of all the memes that sprung up during the game’s initial roll-out mocking Hello Games, Sean Murray, and anyone who pre-ordered the game. Today, those memes feel as ancient as “took an arrow to the knee” jokes, and I doubt we’ll be hearing much mockery of No Man’s Sky for a while. It seems we’ve forgiven Hello Games, but does that also mean we have to forget?
The ethics behind Early Access and Live Services games are murky, and it’s generally a good thing that developers have the opportunity to improve their product, especially since they have not always had that privilege. Still, I can’t help but think of that famous Shigeru Miyamoto quote: “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.” This isn’t literally true anymore, but I wish that the sentiment remained. If you expect players to give you money for something, it should feel finished.
By the way, I just started playing No Man’s Sky recently, and I actually really like it! The space exploration is smooth and exhilarating, and the mining and crafting systems are more enjoyable than I thought they would be (side note: many of the crafting and mining functions have been updated as part of Next). The universe of No Man’s Sky feels endless and random, just like how Sean Murray wanted it to be. It’s just a pity that this wasn’t the game the people initially paid $60 for in 2016. It’s fine to enjoy No Man’s Sky, so long as we continue to hold its creators accountable for their misdeeds.
Best Game from Every Year of My Life
Just for funsies, here is a list of the best games that came out every year I’ve been alive on this earth. Just to be clear, I’m listing one game per year. As expected, this will be pretty Nintendo-heavy:
1991: Super Mario World
1992: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
1993: NBA Jam
1994: Donkey Kong Country
1995: Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest
1996: Super Mario 64
1997: GoldenEye 007
1998: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
1999: Pokémon Gold/Silver
2000: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2/Perfect Dark (tie)
2001: Super Smash Bros. Melee
2002: Super Mario Sunshine
2003: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker/Soul Calibur 2 (tie)
2004: Halo 2
2005: Resident Evil 4
2006: Elite Beat Agents
2007: Super Mario Galaxy
2008: Fallout 3
2009: Street Fighter IV
2010: Red Dead Redemption
2011: NBA 2K12
2012: Forza Horizon
2013: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds/Super Mario 3D World (tie)
2014: Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft/The Banner Saga (tie)
2015: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
2017: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
2018 (so far): Celeste
There you have it.
-Now that I’ve played a decent amount of No Man’s Sky, the jokes mocking Sea of Thieves when the game launched a few months ago (e.g. calling it No Man’s Sea) seem even more ridiculous, as the two experiences are virtually nothing alike. I guess that’s what happens when people don’t actually play the games they’re mocking and just read Metacritic scores and a few snarky Reddit posts.
–Hollow Knight is a perfect example of a fantastic game where I have no idea what’s going on or whether I’m remotely close to finishing the main story.
-The most recent Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Nintendo Direct was made perfect by the inclusion of King K. Rool, a character I was concerned many gamers had forgotten.
-As great as Red Dead Redemption 2 looks, I’m mildly concerned about its story. One of the greatest aspects of the original was that it opted to forego the “GTA but with horses” route in favor of a truly remarkable plot that served as a criticism of older American ideals and an indictment of the fallacious mythology surrounding the “free cowboy.” Based on what I’ve seen, RDR2 looks like a gangbanger power fantasy but with more responsive horses. Hopefully, Rockstar remembers why the first RDR is regarded as a masterpiece.
-The Academy Awards adding a “Best Popular Film” category risks further entrenching the Academy into irrelevance. Offering the most meager of olive branches likely won’t make directors like Ryan Coogler feel more included in the festivities; it will serve to patronize the auteurs of films that people actually like and further alienate most moviegoers from the Oscars institution itself. While we’re here, if the “Best Picture” category always reflected the films people actually saw and enjoyed each year, superficial trash like La La Land would have never had a chance.