Blog » My Sixteen Games

Kirk Hamilton on Kotaku came up with a new type of video game list. It’s organized by how people take time to play video games, focusing more on our mood than mapping genres.

Here’s my life in video games.

A white spaceship on a grey planet, overlooking a dark blue planet with a thin ring system

Mainstay

Absolutely Elite: Dangerous. I’ve been off and on since beta, but now I’m definitely on. I discovered how to use the reputation system to get better missions, how to board flip, and when to pick money or components. Plus when to ignore passenger requests (constantly). I made a ton of cash doing the Road to Riches and have my own well-equipped Python. I’ve spent probably $50 of real money on cosmetic accessories for my ship, all of which feel fair and non-exploitative. Last month I claimed my first fully undiscovered system and right now I’m unlocking and upgrading engineers using the new system. It’s a grind, but a fair and steady one.

I also bought a Samsung HMD Odyssey to play Elite in VR. The enhanced resolution makes a big difference, as all but the tiniest text is readable without squinting. This isn’t high praise; it’s more like saying “ah, I love that my drinking water is now potable,” but it’s significant.

A warrior confronts a bad guy inside a hazy, bat-infested dungeon. The bad guy looks over an unconscious woman. He (Garland) says: The king will have no choice but to exchange the the kingdom for his daughter's life. Cornelia will be mine!

Time waster

I’m not sure if this qualifies as humblebragging, but I don’t have one. I own an iPhone 8 Plus with zero games installed. I don’t enjoy match three games, ports of console titles poorly adapted to a touchscreen, or even well-designed one-button games native to touch devices. They’re either too simple to be rewarding, or so annoyingly complex and microtransaction-stuffed that I can’t see the gameplay through the popup windows. My last time waster was the original Final Fantasy on iOS, and I enjoyed SimCity for a while, but I’ve long since bounced off those.

Nighttime view of docks overlooking New York. Some crates are visible in the foreground. A man named Alex Jacobson visible on a HUD element says: Heads up, JC. Your brother Paul is on his way to meet you at the dock. The NSF is raiding the island, and shots have been fired. I repeat: find Paul. I will monitor your situation from HQ.

Fave

The original Deus Ex or System Shock 2. Both are deep, dark FPS RPGs from my adolescence. I reinstall them every year, check out the new mods, and play the first few levels. I love the novel interactivity of Deus Ex and its smooth stealth gameplay. I love its compounding conspiracies and intricate levels. And System Shock 2 continues to terrify with its well-defined enemies and sound design. Those psychic monkeys are the worst.

Link on a brown horse, overlooking a green valley

Traveler

Contain your surprise: it’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I played it a ton at home, but when I travel (rarely) it’s a delight to toss the Switch in a bag and pick up a full console game on a plane. But you already know this. Everyone loves Breath of the Wild, which means the constant gushing over Ocarina of Time has ebbed somewhat. The Nintendo Switch is an outstanding piece of hardware. Thank goodness they’re consistently in stock.

A three-sailed galleon shadow on a large rock

Socialite (online)

Another game I’m not sure I have. I don’t like multiplayer games. I’m terrified of switching Elite: Dangerous to Open Play. It might be Sea of Thieves, but I don’t play it regularly. I bought Overwatch but getting good at it holds no value. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds doesn’t appeal to me, and my one session of Fortnite Battle Royale was a snoozer. I used to play Heartstone but it did bad things to my blood pressure even when I won. I was into Titanfall when that came out but the sequel didn’t recapture the magic. I can’t remember the last time I intentionally grouped up with other players in Destiny 2.

A panda, two women, two men, and a small dog pose theatrically in front of a colorful background

Socialite (local)

This probably sounds weirder to me than to you, but Just Dance is my local party game of choice. For a long time I looked down on the Just Dance series. I know too much about how capricious motion sensors are and how the algorithms governing them are usually best guesses. Shaking a Wii Remote in time with the dancing character on the screen will never be as precise and technical as Dance Central’s Kinect showing you exactly which part of your body is out of sync.

That was a huge mistake. I’m a terrible dancer, and being judged by the accurate Kinect sensor isn’t fun. What is fun is doing a wild dance that’s vaguely in sync with the hilariously costumed people on screen. The completely nonsense scoring becomes meaningless: it’s not tracking you accurately anyway, so who cares? Or maybe that’s just my defense mechanism to repeatedly losing dance battles to my wife.

The cockpit of a large spaceship as it looks down on a craggy grey planet

Newsmaker

Oh, Star Citizen easily. I paid $40 for it years ago and accept the trailers they publish as fair trade. I find myself agreeing with the rumors that it’s been poorly managed, given how badly it runs and how undelivered the deliverables are. I think it’s a beautiful dream. It’ll certainly be the most exciting space game to play if a third of its features are implemented. For now I’m happy “playing it” on YouTube.

A screenshot from Fallout: New Vegas, as a man in a brown shirt and slacks walks through a western town

Spectator sport

Many A True Nerd playing the modern Fallout games. He’s done “kill everything” runs for Fallout 3 and New Vegas, no kill runs, survival, “you only live once,” and every time I watch with rapt attention. I’m enthralled with his expertise at these games. Almost every item pickup and enemy spawn is announced way ahead of time, like a blind man navigating a forest he planted himself. The things you learn with him - like New Vegas’ health regeneration - are astounding. I wish he’d do deep dives into more games, like *cough* Deus Ex and System Shock 2.

A human ranger stabs an orc in the head while another orc looks on in shock

Ego boost

Middle-earth: Shadow of War gurgles its bloody acceptance of this category. While I’m not a person who carries a lot of stress, decapitating orcs in this game is downright theraputic. The original Shadow of Mordor was the first open world game I actually finished. Neither Grand Theft Auto V nor Watch Dogs 2 have earned that honor. After bopping Sauron on the nose, I returned to the overworld to mindlessly slaughter orcs over and over. The sequel isn’t quite as straightforward, loaded down with surprise ambushes and spiders to dodge and giant bruiser Ologs, but being able to stealth-kill an entire conga line of baddies with three button presses is hilarious.

A spaceship prepares to land near a red planetary base, the orange star looming nearby

Podcaster

Elite: Dangerous again. Much as I adore it, some parts are mindless. Making a long passenger run, doing simple courier missions back and forth, working the Road to Riches, all are easy turn-your-brain-off activities. It’s a bit harder in VR, as I don’t trust myself to go back and forth to the desktop without crashing into a planet. Apparently there are virtual overlays you can use to watch Netflix or YouTube, but I haven’t found them for Windows Mixed Reality.

A warrior with a glowing sword looks out over a rocky hill edge into a forest

Bad habit

Dark Souls III. I know this game isn’t quite right for the category, but intuitively it feels correct to me. What can be worse than slamming yourself into a brick wall with a scary face drawn on it? I just restarted the game last week (Deprived, as always) and am enjoying myself tremendously. I beat the first two bosses by myself on my first try, feeling like an invincible god-king made flesh. Then the Curse-Rotted Greatwood yanked my ego down to Lothric. Four attempts and two summoned allies later, I was back on track. Now I’m dealing with the shrieking bird people and wondering if I can just crawl back into that coffin.

I’m trying a new tactic this time and seeing great results. My first run through every area is to collect items and find the next bonfire. I only kill any enemies who stand in my way. Ignore grinding or retrieving your lost souls: just grab items. Once I reach the next bonfire, I warp to the previous one and carefully retrace my steps the proper way to see if I’ve missed anything. It’s let me get farther into the game faster than ever before, and with much less frustration.

An interface screen showing a character considering upgrading his sword

Guilty pleasure

Final Fantasy XII, for some value of “guilty.” I don’t feel guilty. This is a game that lets you program your party members, for goodness sake. I love the music, I love the weapons and spells, and heck, I even love the grinding. If the music wasn’t so splendid grind while listening to podcasts.

I do fully acknowledge its faults: Vaan is annoying, Fran’s story is cliché and boring, the original Zodiac Spear chest requirements were a cruel joke. Oh, and Princess Ashe wears this ridiculous outfit even when you’re climbing Mt. Bur-Omisace. My eye twitches at every mispronunciation of French words the writing team clearly went out of their way to include (“mar-kwiss”).

But the interface is designed perfectly. The license board provides just the right level of agonizing decisions. The programmatic combat is sublime. I’m delighted to be able to play this on PC at 4K resolution and 60 frames per second.

A blue sportscar leading eleven other cars in a race on a sunny day

Palate cleanser

Forza Motorsport 7 by a mile. I wouldn’t call myself a car guy in real life (I’ve never even changed my own oil), but I do love me a simulated Ferrari. I’ve always preferred the more technical racers, but unlike Just Dance, I’m not super happy with casual fare like *cough* Forza Horizon 3. I used to own a copy of Drive to Win that served as my tuning guide. Once upon a time I knew how to calibrate toe-in.

The new Forza Motorsport has awful loot boxes that make it more annoying to earn money and cars, but it’s possible to ignore them. Per Kirk’s guide this category should be a medium-length game, the sort of thing an indie developer might produce, but I get my narrative structure from 45-minute races as my tires go from cold to conditioned.

A blue ringed planet is visible through part of a spaceship cockpit

Second job

Elite: Dangerous again. Farming planets for specific minerals, check. Sweating over single-digit percentage increases to spaceship attributes, check. Long, boring travel times to systems and planets and planetary bases, check. Takeoff checklists, check. I’m ashamed to admit that I appreciate minutiae of Elite. Lots of tedium would be present in the day-to-day of a Han Solo type. It’s not all hanging out in seedy bars and ad-libbing security checkups.

A man stands on a ledge overlooking a dock in ancient Alexandria

Mountaintop

I would love to wager what percentage of people put a Dark Souls game here (over 75%?). I’m going to be contrarian. My mountaintop game is currently Assassin’s Creed Origins, and not just because its uninteresting name makes me hesistate every time I go to click on it. While I appreciate the amazing graphics and streamlined gameplay, it just doesn’t feel like an Assassin’s Creed game anymore. Kudos for including more actual assassination, but the altered movement feels antithetical to the franchise, like playing a Mario game where you lock on to Goombas Dark Souls-style before jumping on them.

At least I realize this is my hangup. The flattened landscape of Egypt requires a new movement engine, and they’ve done right by it. I can forgive the Diablo-esque loot rarity and Far Cry animal hunting; it’s better than obtaining daggers from La Resistance in Unity.

Several characters stand outside a tent in a forested area. There is a campfire nearby.

Maybe-someday

What percentage of an average Steam user’s library would they mark as this category? Twenty-five percent? Fifty? I’m just as guilty.

The maybe-someday I currently have installed is Divinity: Original Sin 2. It’s a fully 3D, less verbose version of Pillars of Eternity as far as I’m concerned. Now, I love RPGs of all stripes. Final Fantasy, Baldur’s Gate, Darklands, Dragon Warrior… uh, watching YouTube videos of Xenoblade Chronicles and going nope!

All great.

But something about the paralyzing freedom of Divinity: Original Sin 2 ends up, well, paralyzing me. I don’t have the time I did when I was younger to poke and prod at the game’s systems. I end up quickloading to evade combat death instead of test scenarios. Maybe that will change when I get bored of Elite: Dangerous and can dedicate myself to this masterpiece.

Someday.