The Beginner’s Guide

The advantage of playing relatively short games is that it’s perfectly possible to complete several within a short space of time. As was the case with my most recently completed titles, ‘Light’ and ‘The Beginners Guide’. Unlike Light however, I knew exactly what The Beginners Guide was and was eagerly looking forward to playing it since I first purchased it.

For the uninitiated, The Beginners Guide is the latest game by Davey Wreden, creator of 2013’s ‘The Stanley Parable’. Although released in 2013 I actually only discovered the Stanley parable quite recently and it was absolutely brilliant. It, along with Dear Esther pioneered the walking simulator, a genre which has led to some superb, innovative titles and some absolute tosh. Whilst Dear Esther didn’t do a lot for me, the dry and dark sense of humour of the Stanley Parable, the clever concept and the great number of possible outcomes really appealed to me and I thoroughly enjoyed playing it.

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When I heard that Davey Wreden had released a new game, out of nowhere, I was immediately interested. I resisted it once, twice in a sale but on the third time of asking I took the plunge. Having completed it recently however I find I’m still digesting the content.

Without giving too much away, The Beginners Guide is once again narrated, this time by Wreden himself, lending the game a documentary type feeling. It initially has a simple enough concept, exploring the process of level design and game creation by looking at the work of a ‘friend’ name Coda. This however expands to explore creative struggles and themes such as depression, loneliness and anxiety through a number of not so subtle metaphors.

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Its a truly interesting game and a very personal one, really feeling like you are exploring the complexities of Davey Wreden’s mind rather than playing a game as such. At times I found the narrative to be a little too much, whilst the constant walking, waiting and repetition led to some boredom in the latter stages of the game. At this point I longed for the unusual, bizarre and more entertaining world which was visited in the Stanley Parable. However, this isn’t the Stanley Parable, it’s something entirely different and Wreden should be commended for that.

The Beginners Guide isn’t for everyone, maybe not even for me (I’m still undecided), but a great many will find something they will truly enjoy here and most others will appreciate the ride. In a medium increasingly dominated by tedious, overbearing open world games (more on that some other time) it’s refreshing to see another independent PC developer trying to do something so wildly different to so many others.

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Light at the end of the tunnel?

When you build up a huge digital library of games you reach a stage where you start to forget which games you actually own. If you share my affliction then you’ll have been there, the moment you go to redeem a key and realise that game is already in your library.  The next game I selected to play was Light and it fitted that exact bill. I had no recollection whatsoever of getting this game, I think it may have been in a Team 17 bundle many moons ago. Wherever I picked it up from it’s certainly not something I picked up on its own merit.

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So what exactly is Light? I hear you cry. Well, I have the answer to your question, Light is a ‘stealth, hacking and action’ game by Team 17 and Just a Pixel. It becomes quickly apparent that the game is primarily a Stealth game, borrowing ideas from the likes of Metal Gear and Splinter Cell. In some ways it nails it, you get to sneak around, you can wear disguises, killing enemies is optional and you can even hack into computers in order to disable cameras and open doors.

Unfortunately these mechanics are often rendered largely redundant. Sneaking will usually result in you ending up dead (after all the enemies can shoot through walls!) and the disguises are utterly pointless because the enemies will spot and kill you instantly. Once this becomes apparent it soon becomes clear that blasting your way through levels, killing enemies or running like the wind is by far the most effective approach

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Fortunately for Light, powering through the levels quickly dispatching enemies and reaching your objectives is quite satisfying. Ultimately the game ends up playing a little like a Hotline Miami vice, without the brash aesthetic of that game and with significantly toned down violence. It is however, over extremely quickly which makes it hard to recommend with a price point of £10. I don’t consider myself anything other than an average game but I successfully managed to get through the missions with 100% of achievements in less than half an hour.

It has frequently been available in the Steam sale for around 99p so if you can find it for around that then go for it, however I certainly wouldn’t pay a penny more.

Missing – An Interactive Thriller

Ah, FMV games. Long renowned for being a genre mostly populated by utter rubbish, it has become the latest genre to be revitalised by the fact that you can put pretty much any old crap out on Steam and people will buy it. ‘Her Story’ was the real FMV game success in 2015 but a month earlier Zandel Media released ‘Missing – An Interactive Thriller’ on Steam to positive reviews.

‘Her Story’ received a lot of attention and praise in the media and around the time of its release it was hard to move in gaming circles without hearing about it, ‘Missing’ on the other hand was released without quite the same level of universal acclaim. I stumbled upon quite by accident as part of a, yeah you guessed it, Humble Bundle. My only real previous experience with FMV games (Her Story asides) was with ‘Tex Murphy – Under a Killing Moon’ which I played many moons ago. Funnily enough it was the fact that said Humble Bundle contained the entire Tex Murphy collection that inspired me to get it and resulted in ‘Missing’ being added to my Steam backlog.

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Curse you humble bundle!

So what exactly is ‘Missing’? Well, without giving too much away, you start as a man who is tied up, his hands in locked chains and a key dangling in front of him, just to taunt him. On the nearby door are the words ‘Play with Me’. Frankly I’m not sure what kind of games he’s going to be able to play in this predicament, but never mind.

The first puzzle took me right back to being very young, in the days before I had video games. Yes, the first puzzle is one of those god awful slidey block puzzles, where you have to move blocks about until you can move one into a specific place. It instantly brought back memories of this…

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Bane of my childhood

The most intriguing part of this puzzle for me was the way in which your character has to move the blocks around (and does so successfully) despite the fact his hands are both tied up. Strangely enough when you try to get the key straight away he simply can’t manage that. It’s almost like the developers didn’t think the idea through properly…

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Grotesque

Once I’d done it I felt quite relieved that it was over with. Imagine my sheer joy later in the game when I got to do another one! In all fairness they weren’t quite that bad, but as puzzles in video games go I’d prefer to be attaching pulleys to rubber chickens.

Anyway moving on, the game itself tells the story of erm…some guy, the game either didn’t mention his game or it was only mentioned briefly, who has seemingly been kidnapped by some lunatic and put in this predicament. The game is instantly reminiscent of the Saw franchise and I had something of a lightbulb moment as I realised how well the Saw movies might actually work as FMV movies (if anybody’s listening, do it!). Unfortunately we never see nor hear anything of the person who has done this. No bizarre puppets on tiny bicycles for you sir! Instead, our antagonist  taunts you through messages and pictures which seem to suggest that Mr No.Name isn’t a very good father or husband. Presumably ‘less interesting Jigsaw’ isn’t a big fan of our nameless hero.

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After another fairly straightforward puzzle and another FMV clip leave our hero in a predicament we are introduced to our other main character, Detective Lambert, there we get to enjoy a little bit of exploration before returning to he who shall not be named.

Missing was clearly made on a relatively low budget and impressively manages to produce some half decent acting (Star Wars Episode II, eat your heart out) and decent looking backgrounds to explore. The story itself isn’t hugely original or exciting but it did offer enough intrigue to pique my curiosity about the next episode.

The puzzles are probably the weakest point of ‘Missing’. It’s not that they’re not bad, just not particularly inspiring, or exciting. The developer has tried to use quick time events to spice things up and they do a decent enough job of focusing your attention on the game but as is generally the case with QTE’s they end up being a bit of an inconvenience in the end (Although the QTE for drinking coffee and the subsequent achievement? Genius!)

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He who shall not be named.

All in all, Missing is a fairly entertaining game and something a bit different to the norm. At £2.79 for a 45 minute (or so) experience with little replay the game is relatively steep and I’d be hard pushed to recommend it outside of a sale or bundle. Due to relatively poor sales the developer has since closed and there will sadly not be a second episode to continue the story and give our unnamed hero some closure.

Half-Life 2: Lost Coast

At an estimated completion time of 25 minutes it was always going to be an intimidating task to approach the colossus that is Half-Life 2: Lost Coast, but this was where I chose to begin my challenge…I had no choice but to be ready.

For the uninitiated, Half-Life 2 is an absolute masterpiece, no other FPS games came close at the time and I think you could make a compelling argument that even now (13 years later!) that there are still very few which do.

Now I’ve played Half-Life 2 to completion multiple times, the Episodes too, yet Lost Coast has continued to evade me. The Half-Life that got away. I understand that it was designed to show off new features off the source engine and was added to the libraries of people who already owned HL2 as a nice freebie.

To start off with, Lost Coast has aged about as well as Lindsay Lohan, it’s pretty clear that it used to be something special but unfortunately age has not been kind and no amount of botox (or in this case, upping the resolution to 1440p) can quite resolve things.

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Fortunately, looks aren’t everything and for all the dated looking character models and textures I was pleased to find that HL2 plays just as well as it always has. Much like the main game the gravity gun is the real star of the show and is absolutely brilliant to play around with, enemies are relentlessly aggressive and the all out action makes for a refreshing change from the tedious duck and cover routines of many modern FPS games.

Lost Coast itself is little more than a short level in which you fight your way through the combine forces as they attack a nearby town, it ends nicely with a helicopter battle before Gordon Freeman fades away, ready to fight another day. Clocking in at just under half an hour it was a nice place to start working on my backlog. If you’re one of the many with this sat in your ‘unplayed’ pile then I can definitely recommend taking half an hour out of your busy schedule to revisit the world of Half-Life.

 

Stage Three: Plan of Action

Even taking into consideration any games that wouldn’t count it was pretty clear what a monumental undertaking this would be. The sheer amount of hours put into perspective just what an enormous hole I had dug for myself. I’d bought games because they were cheap and I intended to get round to them eventually, unfortunately the sheer quantity of games I’d purchased made it unlikely that I’d ever get round to them all.

It didn’t take me long to realise that completing them all wasn’t going to happen. Life demands more hours than I was ever going to be able to give to this library, sure if I didn’t buy anything for the next couple of years I might have a fighting chance but did I really want to give up on playing anything that would come out in the next few years? Not on your nelly.

It was at that point that I had something of a lightbulb moment. I didn’t need to complete everything in my backlog, I just needed to play them to some extent.

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Illustrated with the finest clipart

I figured that in the case of most games you can usually tell whether or not it’s worth sticking with during the first hour, some in even less than that. As such I set myself a target, play everything on my Steam library for between 30 minutes-1 hour. If I like it then carry on, if I don’t then I can ‘retire’ it and move on to the next thing. I figured that I could make an exception to this role for games where it became immediately clear that I couldn’t persist with them (such as games with horribly dated mechanics) or simply for games that didn’t work properly.

Still, the issue referred to in my previous post still applies, when you climb a mountain where exactly do you start?

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Yeah, probably not there. 300 hours? Not going to happen, if I start there I’ll still only be one game deep in 6 months. Of course in some respects you have to wonder if you can really truly beat a strategy game such as Rollercoaster Tycoon, some strategy games have a story but many others can be played indefinitely. The next on the list aren’t a whole lot more promising either, over 100 hours per Elder Scrolls game? Not any time soon! Maybe the other end of the list is worth a look instead?

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Okay, now that’s a heck of a lot more doable. 12 minutes? 25 minutes?! I might even manage a couple a day at that rate! I love Half-Life 2 so Lost Coast seemed a good place to start, particularly seeing as I have since learned that it’s one of the most owned (but also most unplayed) games on Steam.

If you feel like you’ve heard me ramble about this project long enough then you can breathe a sigh of relief. Thought process in place I’m ready to start my backlog conquest.

Stage Two: Where to begin?

I’m not much of a climber but the one time I tried I found it to be a fairly clear cut progress. I started at the bottom and I worked my way up. It was bloody hard work admittedly, even more so once I reached the steeper parts and my fear of heights started to kick in but even so, I knew what I had to do.

This mountain on the other hand is not quite so clear, after all – where the hell is the bottom?

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Where’s the top?

I figured that before I started even thinking about clearing my backlog I should probably plan out the journey ahead and figure out just how long it was going to take me. This is where the bloody brilliant website How Long to Beat came in. If you’re in the same boat as me and you’ve found yourself with a seemingly insurmountable backlog then this website is a god send.

It lets you enter every single game you own including the format on which you own it, it allows you to filter by system and by how long it takes to complete the game (based on the averages of users who’ve entered their own times). Even better, if you have Steam it allows you to import your entire Steam Library across automatically which probably saved me a good few hours (which could be better spent doing something useful…like working on my backlog!)

So I did that, I entered everything. Games in Steam, other clients such as Origin and all my console games going as far back as the NES and the Master System. I then entered all the games I’d definitely completed so as to remove them from the equation.
So what was the damage?

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Turns out the rabbit hole goes pretty deep. According to this it would take me 74 days and 12 hours to complete the single player mode of every game I have ever owned. Purely in hours that’s 1,788 hours. In real terms I might manage to average 2 hours a day of gaming across a week, in a good week, meaning that it would take me approximately 128 weeks of gaming to beat my backlog. Or close to 2 1/2 years, that’s assuming that I don’t add to my backlog in that time.

The word ‘screwed’ springs to mind.

Now I figured that the final figure probably isn’t quite as bad as all that, some games in my backlog are games that I’ve bought for nostalgia’s sakes and will probably never play to completion (such as the original Tomb Raider), others are games that I maybe own multiple versions of (console/pc versions, remasters etc.) and others are games that technically can’t be completed (sports games, racing games etc.). Even so, it’s a bloody big list and the prospect of even tackling it is quite intimidating. It was at this point that I realised I was going to need some sort of strategy…

Stage One: Acceptance

I’ve loved video games since my childhood and as much as I enjoy a good film, book or TV show nothing has ever quite compared to sinking my teeth into a good video game. Growing up I didn’t have a whole lot of games, I didn’t even know much about new releases. Instead I was quite content with shareware disks, passed on by my Grandad. They’d have quite happily kept me going forever.

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Simpler times, good old shareware!

As I grew up and became more aware of new games releases I’d look enviously at all the new releases on the shelf and envisage the day I could play whatever I wanted. I’d have to save for weeks, months even to afford a new game and once I bought it I’d play it to death. Before you get the tiny violin out though it really wasn’t that bad, sure I only got to play a handful of games but I could cherry pick the ones I really wanted to play and replaying them allowed me to appreciate and enjoy them like I rarely do with games today. If you’d told me growing up that one day I’d have a library of close to 1500 video games to play then I’d have been ecstatic. Heck, I’d have probably settled for 15!

Yet here I am, with a library which spans generations of systems, ranges from AAA blockbusters to small indie titles and spans over 30 years of gaming. Yet ecstatic isn’t quite the word I’d use to describe it, in fact the word overwhelmed would probably be more appropriate.

So how did it come to this?

Buying a gaming PC and getting Steam certainly didn’t help. The prospect of games which could be bought for less than the price of a Freddo, and all at the click of a mouse? Brilliant! Or so I thought…

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65p? The bloody cheek!

The Steam sales were where it all began, they came at me thick and fast and the purchases began to mount up. My thought process was a simple one, it would be rude of me not to buy a once £40 game when it was available for a fraction of the price. Then came the bundles, 10 games for just £4 on a humble bundle deal? Amazing! It didn’t even matter if I only wanted a couple of them, it was incredible value for money. Even better, I was donating the money to charity!

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Bane of my life

In time Steam morphed into it’s own monster, it was no longer a vessel to contain my games but it instead almost became the game itself. I’d find myself buying games in order to complete a series, it didn’t even matter if I’d not played the first game yet, I’d still buy the rest! The sense of getting a complete set became a thrill in itself. I was still playing games of course but I was buying them at a far faster rate than I could play them, let alone complete them.

It didn’t end there though, soon I found myself doing the same with consoles, bulking up my libraries and completing games series’. Of course the advantage of a physical library is that you soon run out of space and thank god or we’d be looking at a far larger amount of games in that first paragraph!

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The horror, the horror!

Now it might still not be sounding all that bad but having so many unplayed games began to become intimidating. I couldn’t enjoy playing a new game because the weight of my backlog was pulling me down. If I went back to replay an unfinished game I’d feel guilt because I wasn’t spending time working on my backlog, it reached the point where it was spoiling my enjoyment of games altogether but of course I’d still buy them if a bargain popped up.

As the title says, stage one is acceptance. Accepting that my game buying habits have got a bit out of control and that instead of buying game after game I should actually take my time to enjoy those I already own.

So why this blog? Well, I’ve always enjoyed writing and I see it as a great chance for me to keep track of what I’m playing and also share my experiences as I do.  I hope you’ll join me and enjoy the journey!

James