How I Track Games to Buy

One year I made a spreadsheet, but it was a pain to update/maintain. Before (and after) it was just a text file listing. But for a few years now, I use bookmarks in Firefox. The URL of a game’s store page is the closest thing to a key value, and having the minimal data associated with it in the title is quicker than trying to manipulate it in a spreadsheet and flip between that and the browser.

When I see a game I might be interested in, I bookmark it into one of the following folders:

  1. Buy it.
  2. Conditional on price or possibly whether ProtonDB gives enough reports it works (for non-Linux games). I distill that information into something like: “p? (<$20; w+) TITLE” where p? means “does it run okay on Proton?” If a game does run okay on proton it gets p+ instead. This also now includes games that had exclusivity on another store (w+ means wait a year, explained more below).
  3. Unreleased games that look promising. I’ve never really done preorders. (This is for truly unreleased games, not ones in early access; I don’t have a problem with early access games, if there’s enough content and stability to them to buy them in their current state.)
  4. (Rare, but there) VR-exclusive games that maybe I’ll buy and play someday. For now I lack the necessary reality hardware.
  5. (For those that graduate through the system) Bought games, which are nested inside of a dated folder to track when they were bought.

For the ones I do buy, I add the price I paid (though it happens when I’m deciding to buy them, as I use it to figure out how much I’m spending before purchase). After I’ve played them, I also add a prefix of up to three exclamation points for titles I thought were really good buys.

About 30% of the games I bought last winter got at least one exclamation point. More of those came from the conditional set than the definite-buy group (though the conditional group was slightly under twice the size). On average, for conditional games, the sale prices were slightly below my cutoff price (within a few dollars).

The conditional price is based on several signals, including reviews, particularly negative reviews. If a game is noted to be shorter or lacking in some specific way that makes me wary of buying it, but it seems salable at a lower price (often, reviews note that: “wait for a sale”), that becomes the condition.

The Proton condition is generally less relevant: by the time I play a game it probably works in Proton/WINE. But some games have notes from players for how to avoid crashes or increase framerates, so ProtonDB is usually worth checking for non-Linux games.

The wait condition is because of the store exclusivity some games have now. I disagree with that practice, so I make a point not to buy a game that was exclusive for a full year after its exclusivity expires. There are a ton of games to buy and play, and while many great games get exclusivity, a far greater number do not play such games with their customers. If you want to play games with your company’s reputation by making exclusivity deals, expect to be judged for it. Maybe the money is worth it, but that doesn’t mean gamers have to respect the decision.

Why not use Steam’s wishlist feature? While there is some convenience to that feature, it doesn’t allow for annotations as my bookmarks system does. There are also some privacy implications to wishlisting, but I’m not sure what call I’d make if the wishlist system were more comprehensive.

A few statistics: I currently only have one unconditional game in my list (likely more reflective of not having reviewed my conditional list and promoted some out of it). There are 41 conditional games, and about a third are holdovers. Some didn’t meet my price last time, and others I might decide against getting. There are also 19 unreleased games I’m looking at.

In terms of satisfaction, some combination of luck and effectiveness I didn’t really feel like I had any duds in the latest set of games I bought and played. On the other hand, I don’t necessarily remember all of them from their titles. I remember most, though, and the ones I don’t couldn’t have been particularly bad, because I definitely remember the games I’ve bought and felt like they were a waste—some because they’re just bad, but others because they’re not for me.

That last grouping is particularly interesting to me. Even for games I don’t buy or even consider, some sound like they’d be cool if I enjoyed that type of game. Others feel like if they had a different concept or changed the gameplay (akin to what I discussed recently about Cortex Command), they would be really awesome. There are some games that really nail an aesthetic, but the gameplay just isn’t there.

(You can stop reading now unless you want to hear some brief thoughts on Firefox’s bookmarks system.)

The biggest problem with the system is the lack of polish for Firefox’s bookmarks system. They still don’t have a tab-based bookmark browser, for example. They’ve tried to get that done (getting so far as to even have a version hiding behind a preference at one point, if I recall correctly), with some good work put into it, only to have it skim off the atmosphere before it could land, and now it is bitrotting as it drifts through space. Oy.

To try to look up a game quickly, the easiest way (if I recall its name) is to prefix my lookup with an asterisk in the awesomebar (which restricts it to bookmarks). E.g., “* Amnesia” would show Amnesia: Rebirth, a currently-unreleased game I’ll look at once it’s released (I enjoyed SOMA by the same folks, but while I have played at least a half-dozen horror-style games, I still have mixed feelings about the genre in terms of the gameplay mechanics involved and the lack of player agency beyond run-and-hide).

But if I don’t remember a title, or just want to browse, the bookmarks menu is cumbersome when you’re trying to get into folders inside folders inside folders in a cascading menu. A basic iconized file browser would feel much nicer.


Scores and Gaming

I recently played Cortex Command, a 2D game similar in some respects to Terraria except rather than being built with blocks, it is built with pixels. You are a brain in a vat, and you can control soldiers and robots to assault against another brain in a vat (also in control over forces).

It took a bit to get into the game, to get a feel for it. It does have a tutorial, but the initial experience is rather clunky until you get a feel for it. The tutorial only gives a sense of what the game is. It’s a game about digging (you can mine gold to buy more forces) and assault in a pixel-destruction environment.

The tutorial has a small pile of dirt you dig, with gold in it, but in my first attempt it wasn’t clear how much digging I would be doing in the game. They should have buried an object to dig for, just to make the point clear.

It’s a fun enough game, once you learn the ropes and begin trying the combat challenges (called scenarios). But it doesn’t quite gamify itself enough.

I’m currently playing AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! for the Awesome, which is another simple enough game. You jump off a starting point and fall down. You get points for falling close to buildings, among other things. But A for the Awesome has something going for it that Cortex Command lacks: a point system. That’s really all it took to make something that would seem about the same (a fun mechanic without a lot beyond it) into a game that has more depth. Counting up the scores at the end, and seeing what points are needed to get five stars really gives the game a different element that it needs. A challenge, something to dig for.

In many games, there is a narrative structure that provides that challenge. And there may be upgrades that the player can seek out along the way. But these goals, these challenges, are what makes it a game. It’s not just a simulation, but it’s a mountain to climb.

That’s what Cortex Command seemed to lack. It didn’t track points. How did I do last time? Can I do better this time? The past didn’t exist. It was a blank slate every time. That lack of continuity, of any kind of goal, made it less of a game, less likely to draw you back to try again.

It was still a fun enough experience, once you got into it. Same with The Long Dark‘s survival mode in some ways (though they have a story mode that’s really great). Surviving can go on for ages, but every time you start it’s a blank slate again.

Maybe The Long Dark‘s survival mode could add a version more like what A for the Awesome does. I believe they are working on more challenges, which are separate from both survival and the story. Anyway, fun games. Time to go jump some more.


Mondays, Inc.

“Alright, folks, I know it’s Monday, but this weekend we got new numbers and this requires immediate attention. We’re looking worse and worse as the years roll on, and we need to make a change,” said Alicia Pines, the CEO of Mondays, Incorporated. The staff had gathered out in the parking lot for an all-hands meeting.

“Tuesday, they did that taco tie-in a few years back, and they’re doing great. Wednesday convinced couples to take their ‘hump day’ nickname literally, which has made them quite popular. Thursday isn’t doing great, but it has that ‘at least it’s not Monday’ vibe to it. Which is the problem. We’re the laughingstock of the week. Everyone hates us. Friday was already the most popular of the weekdays, then they got that whole casual thing going, a cherry on top.

“The weekenders, Saturday and Sunday, they could be horrible for all anyone really knows about them, but just by being the weekend they get a huge boost. So I want everyone to come back next Monday with some concrete proposals to turn this day around.”

That gave Janice Mary Ellen Mays a whole week to work on her proposal. What would it be? Better recognition that at least four federal holidays fall on Mondays—the sometimes third-day of a weekend? But that left something like 48 other Mondays that didn’t. It might backfire.

And one of the days had to be the least-liked, didn’t it? There were songs. The Mamas and the Papas, The Bangles [Prince wrote it, though. — Ed.], The Carpenters. Take your pick. And that cat in the comics!

The moon thing. Janice Mary Ellen Mays thought about that satellite. It had a mixed reputation, too. Once it was blamed for insanity, and the connection with Monday, a day of traditionally lower mental health and general malaise and illness. Air pollution surely played a role there. All that extra vehicular activity, industrial plants ramping up production, all of it.

What the heck was Alicia thinking? Not every day could be beloved. Some days had to be the awkward and the lesser, didn’t they? What could Monday offer the world that it wasn’t already offering? Mangoes? Mushrooms? Marmalade? Couldn’t be food. That would be seen as derivative of Tuesday’s brilliant play.

Tuesday. All those albums with the anti-Monday songs were released on Tuesdays. Coincidence? Mays wondered. Maybe the whole problem with Mondays was really Tuesday. They hated those few days after long weekends that Tuesday started the week. Tuesday hated being Mondayed. But that wasn’t going to be worth much on Monday, if she got up and told everyone, “We’re the victim of a vast calendar conspiracy by our neighbor.”

There had to be something that Monday could do, some way to shine itself up and get people to proclaim “Thank God it’s Monday.”

Next Monday came along, with a variety of proposals offered. Chuck Bora presented on Mondays getting a mascot. “What, like a bear? ‘Only you can prevent Mondays?'” someone joked.

Betsy Kemp proposed lobbying for more three-day weekends, so that half of Mondays would be covered. She had charts showing that the increased animosity to Tuesdays, tacos or no, plus the increased affiliation of Mondays as a partial weekend-day would make relatively strong gains for the brand. Consensus was, however, that the business lobby would not spring for more days off.

Finally it was Janice Mary Ellen Mays’ turn. She said Monday should own its reputation. Adopt an intentionally antagonistic attitude. “Yeah, it’s Monday. What’re you gonna do about it?!” Let people know they spend a seventh of their lives struggling through Mondays, and tough shit, they should be glad there aren’t two Mondays every week.

Out came her big guns. Let people proclaim themselves the Mondays of society. “I’m a Monday Person and Proud of it,” a T-shirt design offered. “Monday person? Like morning people?” Alicia seemed intrigued.

And that’s how Janice Mary Ellen Mays got fired—on a Monday.


Proud of Y’all

I was going to write about how bankrupt the Republican party is, and how that organization would rank on the functional scales used for diseases and conditions in psychology and medicine, but nah.

I really just want to say how proud I am of America, even some Republicans who are resisting and pushing back against Donald John Trump and have done so for over four years now. I know it’s not over, that it won’t truly be over until we see the election results, and even if Donald John Trump loses, he’ll still be in office until 20 January 2021. But all the same, there are a lot of really good people who do believe that basic decency matters. That human rights matter.

I know Biden talks about the soul of the country. And that’s sort of what I’m getting at, but not entirely. Because even if Donald John Trump loses this election, there will still be a lot of people who voted for him, who support him. It’s very distressing and sad that they cannot or will not see the truth before them. And it was sad every day before, and it will be sad every day hence.

The soul of America will live on even if Donald John Trump is reelected, maybe especially if. The soul of America that I was taught about, alongside its many sins and foibles, was basic decency, human rights, democracy, service, helping, joking, struggling through, getting up when you’re down, and then offering your hand to the next person who needs it.

So many people work every damned day to keep America’s soul going. Keep it up! Thank you!

The truth before us isn’t only how bad Donald John Trump and his enablers and teammates and patrons and followers can be. It’s also how good and kind and hopeful the majority of Americans are.

When we look back on the years of the country under Donald John Trump, we must remember all the efforts to reduce the swelling, to break the fever. The people who brang us cups of juice and made us cheese toast. Maybe Donald John Trump gets reelected, and the country gets turned into the world’s goldest giant resort for schmucks and rubes. But not without a fight. And even if it does, somewhere all these glorious people will still be shining with the true American spirit against the darkness, against the greed, against the gross and ruinous bastards who think we’re no better than a bumper sticker, one for three dollars, or four for ten.

The soul of America is not for sale to Republicans or anyone. It cannot be beaten, shot, arrested, or silenced. It is the ever-present cry for a world of free people practicing their educated guesses and discussing how to make things better for everyone. It rebukes the liar, befuddles the bigot, and distresses the despot. And it ain’t going nowhere.

The election is in nine weeks. Please register to vote (even if you happen to be a Trump supporter, but especially if you aren’t). Please do vote.


On the Government and the Theory of Democracy

Before elected government, there were still governments. In many places it was by the wealthy, by the church, by divine right and that was the only right. There, law was based on status—blood and force and prophecy of who could pull a sword from a stone.

And then came the idea of natural rights, that everyone should be treated with a certain respect because we are alive and that is enough status by itself.

When we speak of democracy, we’re talking about a sophisticated cycle:

  1. People choose their government.
  2. The government performs for a time.
  3. People reevaluate and repeat step 1.

This kernel of scientific government is essential to progress and to maintaining a functioning society. It attempts to strike a balance between unfettered change and conserving the old. It sets a cadence, it gives a ritual, it provides a path forward.

Those who stand in opposition to democracy are standing opposed to the basic educational loop by which we can improve society. They propose something like:

  1. People don’t choose their government. The government is whoever can grab the reins and kick everyone else off.
  2. The government does whatever the fuck it wants. (To be fair, it could be good, but if it isn’t there’s no recourse.)
  3. Ashes, ashes. We all fall down.

Then, maybe, the survivors build something out of those ashes.

But the tried-and-true loop of democratic government is superior, adaptable, dependable. Only it has a flaw. Its flaw is that we have to give up our power and we have to trust that the people will make good decisions over time. Not every time, but that on average the decisions will be better than a dictator’s, better than a business’, and better than any minority interest of any kind, religious, ethnic, whatever.

And that requires the people have a say. But there are those who are afraid of what we have to say to each other. On both sides.

Many fear the racism, the batshit conspiracy, the anti-religious zealotry of so-called Christians. Others fear the cancel culture, the spectre of communism arising from greater social welfare programs, and culture that’s not aligned with their values or tastes.

But that’s society, and that’s what we have to work with. Fear. That we might fuck it all up, and ruin it all, and be left with ashes. But, for all the resistance to Donald John Trump, the conservatives of this country have not admitted that America trusted and allowed for such a grave mistake. We afforded this ruin, including thousands upon thousands who have given up their lives to a virus that this supposed leader did not prepare to act against and that he has largely neglected to manage.

We know our lives may be lost to blunders of impetuosity by our fellow citizens, but we still believe in the cause that over time, on average, we will do better by voting, by choosing. That the flaw that allowed Donald John Trump to exist as a candidate, and then as an elected president, is the same flaw that makes our system work at all. That yes, we can fuck it all up. But no, we do not want to fuck it up, and we will strive to learn the lessons and avoid the mistakes and purge the corruption and right the ship and sail into the bloody sunset!

Anyhoo. The election is in ten short weeks.