Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Backlog

After Brad Gallaway put together his backlog, I though it might be fun to do mine. Here they are, ranked by system then by preference. Bear in mind that theoretically I'm working on a book on 1990s video games, and would like to be able to make more time for that, so in order to not have "Every 90s game I never played" as a list, I'll only list the ones I specifically acquired and haven't played before (a general rule for the list anyway.


Syphon Filter - Yeah, I never played this, picked it for the book for $2.


Persona 4 - I started this, got 30-40% done, but got overwhelmed and let it go.
God Hand
Sly Cooper
We <3 Katamari 
Disgaea - I've started this and stopped at the same place 2-3 times, early on. Would like to push further someday.


Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Chaos Bleeds
Mystic Heroes
Metroid Prime 2 - I've had this for years, but every time I start, I want to play Metroid Prime 1 then I do and get my Metroid fix. One day.
Zelda: Ocarina Of Time

Nintendo DS

Radiant Historia - started this, maybe 25% through. I enjoy it but it hasn't grabbed me and demanded I keep playing.
Castlevania: Portrait Of Ruin - started this, enjoy the central out-of-the-castle conceit, but never pushed myself to go back. You know, if I had a job where I left the house, I'd play more DS games.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dubious, but it has so many fans I want to do it.
Dragon Quest IV/VI - picked these up for cheap, played a notable amount of IV, haven't started VI.
Lost Magic - Had this one on my list for so long I kind of forgot why.


Monster Hunter Tri
No More Heroes 2
Little King's Story - Started this, very much liked it, but was driven away by Nutcracker music (sister's recital aversion therapy)
Metroid Prime 3
Zelda: Twilight Princess - I did play most of this on the Gamecube when it was released, but it probably deserves a Wii play.
Super Smash Bros Brawl - Obviously it's best multi-player, but it's terrible with the Wiimote. So I need to get a Classic controller or two and have some friends over.
NHL 2K10 - I read this was one of the best games for use of the motion controls, but the controls didn't really click with me, and I think I have a bum shoulder.


God Of War III - Slowly working my way through this one, and it's top of the list of New PS3 game since it's borrowed.
Brutal Legend - I mean, Double Fine.
Valkyria Chronicles
Demon's Souls
3D Dot Game Heroes
Heavy Rain - I have this (borrowed), I started it, and I can't read it on my non-HD TV.
Resistance 2
Killzone 2
Brothers In Arms/Motorstorm - These were hand-me-downs, but I'll probably give them at least a quick try before trading them.


The Old Republic - Like anything's getting played as long as this is #1....
Fallout: New Vegas
Bulletstorm/Portal 2 - I want to feel like my 2011 Best Games list is more complete. Own these. Haven't played. Should.
Bioshock 2
Bastion - Okay, I've played this, but is it New Game+ time? It should be, right?
Atom Zombie Smasher - This is kind of getting played alongside The Old Republic, so it's not quite a "backlog".
Skyrim - Yeah, I'll go back. Maybe let some mods and DLC show up?
Cave Story+
The Witcher
Dragon Age: Awakening
Just Cause 2
Assassin's Creed
Alpha Protocol
Recettear - Played long enough to get a good feel for the mechanics but not so good I didn't fail. Would like to go back and win.
King's Bounty/Crossworlds - I would like to finish one or both of these
SpaceChem  - Played a while, need to play more.
Metro 2033
Binding Of Isaac 
Shogun 2: Total War - NEVER ENOUGH
Rock Of Ages
Diner Dash
Beyond Good & Evil
Mirror's Edge - Probably would be higher, but I have it on disc and don't have a CD-ROM drive at the moment.
Baldur's Gate II - I played this long enough to get a good idea that there was something impressive, but got stuck and said I'd come back to it. 
E.Y.E. Divine Cybermancy
Frozen Synapse - Was not impressed when I started playing, but the Steam gift contest will push me into at least another try.
World Of Goo
Battle For Wesnoth
Vampire The Masquerade Bloodlines
Tomb Raider/Myst - These two are probably close on the "Most Important Game I've Never Played" pedestal
Prince Of Persia 2008
Mount & Blade Warband
Majesty 2
Titan Quest
Time Gentlemen, Please!/Ben There, Dan That
Splinter Cell
Ghost Recon
Might & Magic Heroes VI - I liked this a lot and I want to get back and finish more of the campaigns but oh man.
Terraria - Gave this a quick start, but was immediately pissed off by the lack of tutorial or manual. I guess it's hip to make your fans put videos up on YouTube instead of teaching your players how to play. Doubt I'll go back, honestly. Or play MineCraft. But I probably should.
Solar 2
Thief: The Dark Project/Thief: Deadly Shadows
Quake I/II/III
Orcs Must Die 
Overlord I/II
Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus/Oddysee
Monday Night Combat - I played this a bit and really liked it but there are so many team-based shooters around I'm not sure I'll ever go back.
Medieval Total War II/Kingdoms - I have so much love for the Total War but they're such an investment.
Max Payne I/II
Inside A Star-Filled Sky
Grand Theft Auto V
Gemini Rue
Dead Space 2
Delve Deeper
Cthulu Saves The World/Breath Of Death VII
Broken Sword
Avadon: The Black Fortress
1...2...3...KICK IT!


Friday, December 23, 2011

Too many good reviews?

One of the constant discussions I've noticed amongst my game critic friends this year has been about the excess of high review scores. Some see it as a sign that game critics are too soft, or even corrupt. Or perhaps the games really were just that good? Other, more detailed theories (like mine) focus on the 10-point review scale triggering a certain inherent inflation. Or particular review constraints and embargoes.

There's also the theory that maybe the games this year have really been just that good. I didn't necessarily buy this theory at first, but I've come to believe that a variation on it may be true. But "good" is a vague term, so I think we should be more specific.

I think it starts from the extra-mature console cycle. Traditionally consoles have roughly five-year lifespans, but we're getting into years six and seven for the Xbox 360 and PS3, which have come to dominate the blockbuster side of gaming. In the past, as consoles have matured, the games have tended to get slicker, more certain of themselves, and generally better. Consider God Of War for the PS2, or Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger on the SNES. But as we've moved past that rough time scale. The consoles are beyond normal maturity, they are, perhaps, stagnant.

So that's why we see a pile of third games in a trilogy coming out this year that all share similarities: Uncharted, Modern Warfare, Gears Of War, Battlefield, Resistance, Saint's Row, and a few other single sequels, Arkham City and Crysis 2. What do these all have in common? They're all slick, impressive, not-much-wrong-with-them sequels to popular franchises. That's essentially a guarantee of a high-scoring review. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

But the thing is, with three games using similar if not essentially identical engines over a five or six year span, there's very little chance of surprise. Which is why most of these games, with the exception of Arkham City, aren't appearing very highly on Game Of The Year lists, I think. Instead you have games like Portal 2, Skyrim, and Skyward Sword, which may all be sequels, but they're sequels to games from several years back at the very beginning of the console cycle. They have the chance to both surprise and impress.

I'm not saying this is a bad thing. Most of those third sequels are games that I'm not terribly interested in to begin with, so if the people who are want to give them high scores, it's no skin off my back. But I do think it's a plausible explanation for high scores that doesn't imply that reviewers or fans are idiotic slaves to marketing.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Rowan's Best Of Television 2011

When I voted for The A.V. Club's Best Of Television list, I included notes on all the shows I voted for. But since we only published the notes of shows that didn't make the main list, most of mine weren't included. In case you want more detail, here it is:

  1. Parks & Recreation (15) – Parks & Rec had an absolutely stellar shortened 3rd season, with maybe one episode of 16 being disappointing, and including all-time classics like “Flu Season” and “Fancy Party”, my pick for best episode of the year in any category. The 4th season has been a little wobbly, but not enough to take the show out of the top tier.
  2. Community (15) – A show this audacious should have less to show for it, but Community's hits vastly outnumber its misses. Even better, as its gimmicks have become standard, Community has also developed much more of a soul than it's given credit for.
  3. Misfits (14) – Misfits' combination of comedy, drama, character work, and utter absurdity means that it, more than any other show, gives the impression that anything could happen. The tension helps the show be both more amusing and more emotional.
  4. Justified (13) – You could easily make the case that Timothy Olyphant, Margo Martindale, and Walton Goggins were the three best actors on TV this year. I wouldn't argue with you.
  5. Game of Thrones (12) – Possibly the most interesting show on television this year, thanks to considerations both on the screen and outside it. Also one of the best, although it did have its growing pains.
  6. Louie (12) – Louis C.K.'s formal experimentation is marvelous. His use of drama in a comedy show is bizarre and intense, both in good ways. His willingness to dredge up the darker side of his psyche is impressive. It doesn't always hit, and it occasionally focuses too narrowly on a subject or scene, but I'm glad someone is trying that hard.
  7. Archer (11) – I may be in the minority in preferring Archer's more grounded, lighter first season to its second. But that's not to say that there wasn't some great stuff, especially the three-part fall episode.
  8. The Vampire Diaries (10) – At some point the ride has to end, yes? A show can't be this tightly serialized, with so many intense cliffhangers, and actually keep getting better and smarter. Can it? It's working for The Vampire Diaries so far. Why complain?
  9. Mildred Pierce (9) - It's deliberately old-fashioned in a way that you might expect from, say, Masterpiece Theater, but Mildred Pierce has a distinct American flavor that keeps it interesting.
  10. Treme (8) – It's a little less surprising in its 2nd season, and some of the story decisions have been awkward, but Treme is as warm as ever.
  11. Ricky Gervais Show (8) – Tighter editing transformed the 1st season's occasional so-funny-you-choke-on-your-drink moment into a regular occurrence.
  12. Bob's Burgers (7) – Halfway through its first season, Bob's Burgers switched from “potentially interesting” into “possibly magical”. Thanks to animal anus paintings, but hey, you take what you can get. If it can maintain that level of quality, it'll be towards the top of next year's list.
  13. Children's Hospital (6) – For bite-sized dumb fun, hard to beat Children's Hospital. For clever parody that shows just how manipulative TV shows can be, it's also a good choice.
  14. The Middle (5) – The Middle deserves recognition for being consistently good and sneaky-smart about class issues. It may never be one of the very best, but it's a great show to have around.
  15. American Dad (5) – Like The Middle, it's a show deserving of some recognition for consistency, although it does it from an almost totally opposite direction.

    Yes I Know About Breaking Bad - I started my catchup too late and it became a choice between that or three or four shorter, easier to handle shows. Next year.

    As a side note - I did the writeup for The Vampire Diaries on the main list, and also The Cape and cult-comedies-on-hiatus for the specific TV Club Awards.

Friday, December 09, 2011

That Glee episode of Community

I love Community. I think this season has been stronger than its gotten credit for. I will miss it during its break, and hope to see it back and renewed as soon as possible. So it's with that love in my heart that I have to say: last night's Community was among the worst of the show's run. Not because it wasn't funny (it was, often) but because it was almost totally soulless.

The key point of the episode seems to be when Abed says "I just like liking stuff." It's a rejection of snark, of mean-spirited jokes and criticism. It's an acceptance that things can be good just for being liked, that the heart wins out. It's a celebration of, well, the idea of Christmas and the television Christmas special.

Here's the problem: the episode undercuts that at every possible point. When Abed says this, he's been brainwashed by the Glee virus that, through him and his weakness, sweeps through the rest of the study group, forcing them to behave in ways they don't want to. The episode doesn't conclude with the group gathering to like things, it concludes with them gathering around to watch the Inspector Spacetime Holiday Special on the grounds that it's so-bad-it's-good.

But more to the point, beyond the interpretations of the characters' actions, the show itself doesn't abide by the idea that it "likes" things, because the entire episode is a vicious attack on its theoretical rival, Glee. As much as I love Community and as much as I might laugh at the jokes initially, they come across as just mean, jealous of Glee's popularity and zeitgeist. I mean, Glee deserves it, don't get me wrong. But Community has built its reputation on loving, character-based satires. "Modern Warfare" wasn't great because it was it a specific parody of an action movie using sitcom characters, but because it used action movie tropes in order to discuss the characters in a different, interesting fashion - notably the Jeff-Britta relationship. "Regional Holiday Music" dispenses with that in order to simply target one particular show, and a show that Community has already attacked multiple times at that.

Critics of Community often describe it as a soulless endeavor, a meta-sitcom that does parodies and pop culture references without understanding the soul beneath what it's making fun of. This description has always struck me as more fitting of post-cancellation Family Guy or worse, The Cleveland Show, which not a compliment, instead of Community. Community, I thought, was closer to The Simpsons, a show which was in love with the forms and history of television, but not so much that it couldn't make fun of them. Last night's episode? Last night's episode was Family Guy - cheap, mean-spirited jokes with a fake, ass-saving swipe at meaning.